By Gordon Thorsby
Reminiscences of Private Brazil Monroe Damon, 1st U.S. Infantry (part two)
Upon reaching Fort Leavenworth in 1861, the 1st U.S. Infantry Regiment witnessed the entire post in turmoil. The first thing Private Brazil Damon did was find some newspapers, where he and the other men caught themselves up on Fort Sumter, the riots in Baltimore, and the call for 75,000 Federal troops to quell the rebellion. Damon recalled, “many of the soldiers in our command had not seen a town for many years and most of them had plenty of money, having no way to spend it on the frontier so we painted the town a deep crimson.”
General Nathaniel Lyon collected 2,500 regulars, while Franz Siegel brought 3,000 volunteers and a detachment of regulars under Major Sturgis. Damon’s group of soldiers was part of this regular detachment under Sturgis. "We crossed the river into Missouri about the first of August, joining with forces under Lyon about the 5th. On the 9th, our scouts reported the enemy near Wilson’s Creek. General Lyon planned to surprise them and he planted a battery of six guns under Captain Totten and Lt. Du Bois overlooking their position before daylight.” The battery’s infantry support was the detachment of regulars; Damon’s.
Damon continued, "At five o’clock [AM] our battery opened fire, but we found them fully prepared, and a battery replied on the opposite hill to our early salute. We were sent along the creek through a cornfield to dislodge the battery. In the midst of the cornfield, we were met by an overwhelming force of 2,000 Confederates and would have been annihilated only for a portion of Totten’s battery under Lt. Sotalski protecting our retreat. As it was, the ground was strewn with our dead. I knew nothing more of how the day went until late in the afternoon. I had been left in the cornfield with the slain” [Damon wounded].
“I awoke with a burning fever and tongue parched with thirst. Near me lay a comrade and in attempting to quench my thirst from his canteen, I found he was not dead but shot through the head, his eye lying out on his cheek. He was from my company and his name was Zurley. My wound had been caused by a piece of shell striking me in the jaw and neck tearing the flesh away to the bone.
"Binding our wounds as best we could with our handkerchiefs, we decided it would be prudent to remain as quiet as possible until nightfall, not knowing who were the victors. The groans of the wounded were terrible while we lay there hardly daring to move.”
At nightfall, the two struggle to travel to their lines but were weak from loss of blood.
“We at length came to a little creek where we bathed and refreshed ourselves. Zurley pulled his eye from its socket and said it would make food for the little fishes and besides, it was of no further use to him,” remembered Damon. At daylight, Zurley and Damon continued on to find no opposition, and three days later reached Leavenworth.
Along with these two wounded regulars, Nathaniel Lyon had been killed, Captain C.C. Gilbert was badly wounded, and a number of his comrades in the 1st US were killed. Damon recorded the losses as 223 killed, 731 wounded and 292 taken prisoner. Damon described the aftermath as “making a casualty to one fourth of our little army. For three long months, we were kept busy escorting the dead to their final resting places and firing the regulation salute over their graves."
Source: Chesaning Argus, April 14, 1894.