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In Their Own Words

November 15, 1861

Civil War Friendly Fire Episode

From Camp Marion, Va., Samuel Burney of Cobb’s Legion wrote to his wife back in Georgia of a sad event–Confederates unknowingly firing on Confederates:

“… I will tell you of a most melancholy occurrence which took place last Wednesday, November 13. Tuesday night at 12 o’clock we were ordered out on a secret expedition… . We marched about six miles to a dark swamp and remained deathly still ‘till about daybreak. We then went on further ‘till we had gone three or four miles and then halted. This distance we marched in mud and water over ankle deep. We halted, as I said, and were told to load our guns quickly and quietly as we were in two miles of Newport News and were two miles lower down that we intended to come. The guide led us in the wrong road. We had loaded but a few moments when two pickets of our rode up and inquired of us who we were. We told them we were Cobb’s Legion and asked them who they were. They said they were Cumberland Cavalry, and, thinking all was right, they wheeled on their horses to leave. Just then someone said, “They are Yankees!” With our, “Mark, fire on them!” And the infantry companies fired, those on the right first. We were on the left and thought we were in an ambush when we heard the righthand companies fire. The boys got behind trees. I squatted in a tree top. Lieutenant Colonel Garnett and Major Bagley and Captain Morris of Burke County were out in front of the battalion. Major Bagley was killed and fell from his horse. Colonel Garnett’s horse was crippled, and Captain Morris’s hand was shot and his horse killed. Captain Morris had one of his men shot in the leg, which was amputated. There were no Yankees there, but our men thought so and fired on the above men… .”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), “Dear Mother: Don’t grieve about me. If I get killed, I’ll only be dead.”: Letters from Georgia Soldiers in the Civil War (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1990), p. 86.