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Doc. 73. attack on Santa Rosa, October 9, 1861.

Letter from a Wilson Zouave.

camp Brown, near Fort Pickens, Oct. 10.
dear son: Yesterday morning, the 9th, between three and four o'clock, our camp was suddenly aroused by the firing of quick and heavy volleys of musketry in the direction where our farthest guards were posted. In a few moments the drums beat for every man to rally, and though the companies at present together assembled under arms in pretty quick time, they had scarcely received an order before the tents were almost entirely surrounded by the enemy, who had left the opposite shore about midnight, in large force crossed over to Santa Rosa in boats, rafts, and scows towed by small light-draft steamers, landed about two miles up the island, and then marched down to our encampment. On their way to our quarters they were first hailed by one of our picket-guard, who, getting no friendly response, fired into them after giving the proper alarm, and then fell instantly from a shot in the breast. He was quite a young man, a member of our own company, and, though seriously regretted, his death at the post of duty and danger is regarded as highly honorable both to himself and to his company. The outer guard, after exchanging several shots with the enemy, were compelled to retire. As the secessionists advanced toward camp, they encountered and killed a couple of the inner guard, which ran in, and then the rebels were right upon us.

When the Southerners fired the first volley in our camp, we were drawn up in line across our parade-ground, about one hundred and fifty feet beyond the rear of our tents. Had we stood directly in front of their fire, instead of having the end of our line toward it, many of us would have fallen. As it was, no one was hurt. For a while the air was filled with whistling balls, and as we did not know whether we were surprised by hundreds or thousands, there was considerable confusion, and our force was somehow divided, one portion being with the Colonel, and the other with the Lieutenant-Colonel. Things were just now in a very trying shape, as it was impossible to say what would be the result of any movement ordered by our officers. The Colonel was withdrawing his men by degrees toward the fort, when the regulars from that place, who had heard the alarm, came down in double-quick time to our relief. While our officers were uncertain whether to risk our lives by engaging with unknown numbers or wait for aid from the fort, the secessionists plundered the [175] officers' tents, and then set fire to the entire camp, destroying it all excepting the tents of one company and half of those belonging to the company located along side of us. They went through each avenue of tents in parties, setting every thing on fire. Among other violent deeds, they murdered a member of our company, who had been sick in quarters for some time. His name was Dennis Ganley, a man of thirty-five or thirty-seven years. He leaves a wife and three children residing in Williamsburgh, New York.

It was growing light when the enemy commenced their retreat, and then their part of the fun was over, for they had just started on their return to their boats, when a warm and vigorous pursuit was commenced by both regulars and volunteers. When too closely pressed they turned and made some show of fight — those that were in the rear; but the mass of them threw every thing loose away, and ran as fast as they could for the place where they landed. Dozens of the rebels and a few on our side were killed in the running fight to the beach, but it was during the reembarkation that vengeance was visited upon them. Those in boats escaped with comparative ease, but as they crowded upon unmanageable scows and rafts, which had to be towed back, it was impossible to get out of musket range for a long time, and while in that pitiable situation our men poured volley after volley into them. They fell by scores; it was a perfect slaughter. They left behind about forty of their number prisoners, who say that the Southerners came over especially to destroy the “Wilson Zouaves.”

They killed but ten of the volunteers, and half a dozen regulars. Flags of truce have passed between the two commanding officers, as to dead, wounded, prisoners, &c., and the secessionists say that in killed, wounded, and missing, their loss is between three hundred and four hundred. We suppose they have some of our men prisoners, as a dozen or so are missing — among them two of our company. Among the property burned in our camp were the new uniforms presented to us by the State of New York, and which were worn for the first time on dress parade last Sunday. New tents are now going up in place of those destroyed, and we shall soon be all comfortable again. There was an alarm again this morning, and the men were out ready for an attack in five minutes, but fortunately the alarm was a false one. I think the enemy are too sore to give us another turn just yet, but the rebel prisoners say that they will repeat their visit before long. We will have to sleep with one eye open, be ready for them when they come, and do our best. We hope to have more force the next time they give us an early morning call. There is but one war vessel lying here at present. She gave us no assistance during the attack yesterday morning; but I understand that a part of her crew are to come ashore at night after this, and assist us in keeping watch, and also aid us in repelling any invasion of the island. There is one thing to be remarked in this affair. With one or two exceptions the men shot during the darkness of the night were all killed instantly. Nearly all the wounding happened to the secessionists when they were at the beach making their escape. I am all safe. Your affectionate father.

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