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Confederate scout William Downs Farley at Williamsburg

17 June 2013 No Comment

When the scene of military action moved to Williamsburg on the peninsula, Farley threw himself into the battle and lived up to his previous standards of intrepidity. Staying mounted was his biggest challenge, and we gain a firsthand account from a letter he wrote his mother. 

My dear mother,

Knowing how anxious you would feel about me when you heard about the Battle of Williamsburg, I write this first opportunity… 

I made two very narrow escapes the day before the battle: lost my own horse, lay concealed in the bushes for half an hour, then joined in a fight against the enemy’s cavalry; captured another horse—splendid fellow; was again cut off by the enemy, was chased for a mile and had my horse wounded in two places; had to take to the woods for a second time, on foot I worked my way by eleven or twelve o’clock at night to our friends.  

Monday morning having no horse, I told General Stuart I would go into the fight with the infantry, capture another horse and then act as his aide again.  

Went into the 19th Miss. Regt.—then on picket in front of the enemy killed four men before the battle commenced; one of them Capt. of the 47th N.Y. Have his sword, a fine one.* Soon afterwards the whole regt. Advanced, made a charge, the Col. Was killed, we kept advancing and falling back, fighting all the time and steadily driving the enemy before us. This part of the battlefield is universally considered the hottest. Two of the flag bearers on the 19th Miss. Were shot down…I caught up the colors myself and bore them for some time, until one the officers requested me to give them to a member of the regt. I did so, he was immediately shot down; another took it, and I think he was wounded.  

There was considerable confusion …on account of the death of field officers; and I actually took command of the 19th Miss., the 9th Ala., and some shattered companies from other regts. Leaping upon stumps and logs, I discovered the enemy’s battery was silenced from the forts. Shouting to the men to come on ad take it, we did so. Running forward for some distance in front and our own forts no knowing (on account of the smoke) that we were friends who had taken the enemy’s battery, continued firing upon us, and I was struck by a piece of our own shells in the breast, and knocked down, but not much hurt. I leaped up and caught on of the Yankee officer’s fine horses which was left with the battery, and rode full speed to our forts and stopped them from firing on us; then went to Gen’ls Johnston, Longstreet, and Stuart—who found together, and communicated the first joyful intelligence that we had whipped the enemy and taken their battery. The enemy afterwards received reinforcements and continued the fight until night… 

I have written this in great haste, on my saddle, I have slept and ate little in several days, but am perfectly well and can stand anything… 

God bless you and keep the detestable Yankees from your home. Pray for the success of the Confederacy.  

*Stay tuned to learn the fate of the sword Farley captured at Williamsburg and to learn of the sword he was awarded by the governor of Virginia.

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