Daniel Webster Littlefield was born on February 11, 1837 in Ellisburg, Jefferson County, New York, the son of James Pennell (1792-1856) and Anna (Saunders, b. 1803).
Vermonter James reportedly fought in Harrington’s company, Fifty-fifth New York during the War of 1812. According to one source James “was foremost a millwright, a licensed Baptist minister who pastored until 1833, a farmer, a politician and . . . an alderman of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan.” He married Phoebe Smith in 1820 and married his second wife Anne Saunders in 1833 in New York. James and his first wife settled in Ellisburg, Jefferson County, New York where they lived until sometime between 1841 and 1844 when they were living in Cicero, Onondaga County, New York where James worked as a constable. By 1850 Daniel was attending school with his siblings and living with his family in Cicero, New York.
Daniel’s family left New York in 1851 and eventually settled in western Michigan. In 1856 James died in Grand Rapids. By 1860 Daniel was working as a grocery clerk working in Grand Rapids’ First Ward, and living with his mother and family in the Fifth Ward.
Sometime in early 1861 Daniel probably joined the Valley City Guard, the prewar Grand Rapids militia company whose members would form the nucleus of Company A.
Daniel was 24 years old and probably still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted in Company A on May 13, 1861. (Company A was made up largely of men from Grand Rapids, and many of whom had served in various local militia units before the war, specifically the Valley City Guards, or VCG, under the command of Captain Samuel Judd, who would also command Company A. Curiously, Daniel is not found in the 1905 Third Michigan Regimental history, although he is listed in the 1905 Seventh Michigan cavalry Regimental history.)
Shortly after the battle of First Bull Run, on July 21, 1861, Daniel wrote a detailed report on the role played by the Third Michigan in the events of July 11 to 21, 1861, covering the action at Blackburn’s Ford to the federal retreat from Bull Run.
We were ordered Tuesday [July 11] morning to be ready to march with three days rations in our haversacks, by 2 o'clock; consequently by half past two our tents were struck and our entire baggage put into wagons to be carried over to Camp Blair (the skirmishers were encamped in the rear of the 2nd Mich. reg.) and we were on the march. We went down the road below Camp Blair and along the river by the Clair [Chain] bridge singing "Patriotic songs" on the first days march.
Mrs. Richardson (our brigade colonel's wife) rode beside her husband at the head of the column, she is a bold, bright looking young woman but not very handsome.
It had rained all night before our march, and the weather was cold.
About 2 1/2 [miles] this side of Virginia we were joined by a brigade from Arlington Heights; this brigade contained about 1,400 good looking men, when our brigade fell in I brought up the rear, it formed quite a little army. We came to a halt at V____a [Vienna], to remain for the night, soon after our guns were stacked, a large camp fires were kindled from every combustible material that could be procured.
Some commenced cooking their rations others too tired to cook, if they had anything, threw themselves on the ground, wrapped their blankets around them and were soon in the land of dreams.
For a distance around was brilliantly lighted up with camp fires. Officers passing to and fro in the distance giving orders, their bright trappings glimmering in the lurid light, altogether formed a splendid sight.
The country we passed through today is better in appearance than that immediately along the Potomac, but buildings are dilapidated, the farms are run down, the people with a few exceptions look dull and shiftless. The whole country shows the destructive effect of slavery.
I got up this morning very early to take a walk about town [Vienna?]; saw the ruins of a train of ours fired into by the rebels from their masked battery, some of the Ohio reg. who had some of their friends brutally murdered, was here and swore vengeance on their murderers.
There was a store here, some one said the owner was a secessionist, some of the Ohio boys took the lead and broke down the door and the boys rushed in and took what they wanted and some more. I did not think it was right to steal and destroy private property in that manner, if it is excusable, it is not policy, for if we go through the country that way, many will join the southern army that otherwise would not; is this our protection?
I am sorry that some have joined our army for the purpose of plundering and stealing, how can human nature sink into that scale of existence an still be dignified by the name of men.
At half past six [a.m.?] we were on our way to Fairfax C. H. We expect little resistance. I saw little piles of feathers along the road and concluded that somebody had done a great deal of hunting that night.
When we got within three miles of Fairfax, came to a halt and wait for an attack. We were ahead of the time, and soon everything was fixed & I began method (or modus) -- Fairfax must be taken, the 1st 2nd 3rd brigades were to enter the town from the left the road leading from Alexandria, the fourth (our brigade) had to go through the fields in point or center, and the 3rd to the right. We, "the skirmishers" were thrown out and saw some cavalry towards Fairfax but they run and we still advanced. But soon saw the 3rd brigade enter the town without any resistance and we came to a halt. Charles Lyon told me to take one of the boys and go ahead and buy something to eat for him and us, so a man by the name of Barker [?] and myself started; the first 4 or 5 houses we stopped at were vacated but being determined not to come off without something went over and thought we would wait until our party came up; we stopped to a house, the people had been out in the woods to wait until after the battle was over, they seemed very glad to see us.
I told them I had some money & if they had anything eatable to spare perhaps we could trade. One of the laddies replied, certainly, but do not mention money. We were about to take some meat offered us when I heard a crash followed by the jingling of glasses. "O! dear! they have broken that nice door all to pieces, will you not be so kind as to go over and stop them?" I asked if he was a secessionist? she told me as he was neutral & was a very fine man. I said I would try and see what I could do, and started on the run and told Barker to follow and told him, going, that we must make them believe we were sent as guards. We entered by the glass door, most of them were in the dining room drinking some liquor that they had found & were smashing the dishes and throwing the furniture around & silver ware. It was a splendid house & as well furnished as any I ever saw. I met a man coming down stairs with a small rosewood box, I thought might contain some valuables and made him lay it down & then rushed into the dining room yelled to them in my commanding voice to hold on! There were about twenty of them unarmed, except four or five had revolvers. They said the house belonged to a secessionist & they were agoing to tear it down or burn it up and wanted to know what I had to say about it.
I said we were sent by Col. Richardson to guard the house; you know what the duty of a guard is. I want every man to leave this house immediately; this man is not a secessionist and if he was here he would treat every one of you. Take those small demijohns to camp & treat your friends, but don't take anything more; one man had drawn his revolver; all was still for a moment; when one of them told the boys, if this man is not a secessionist and these men are guards, we had better go. I took my position at the door and took away things as they passed out, and laid them in piles; while Barker was inside making them lay down some valuable articles and hurry out.
After an exciting time we got them out, but some more soldiers were coming, so we posted ourselves, Barker at the front door and I at the back door and kept everybody out.
I saw a carriage coming up the turn followed by a one horse lumber wagon containing some trunks. I was glad when the ladies run down and told me what the trouble was. The men drew up and helped out an elderly pleasant looking woman & a young lady. I thought it was Carrie Merchant and began to wonder how in the world she came out here but as she approached I saw her eyes were black and she had a rather bold look.
As the man came up I told him what we had done, he shook my hand and said he was very much obliged to us, the women said, we thank you ten thousand times, how good you are, you noble men; while the young lady smiled very sweetly when she saw my broad grin, I heard but these words "you are very kind.” I walked into the house and showed them what they had done, and what we prevented them from doing. When I pointed to that rosewood box you ought to have seen the girl. I thought that there was something unusual about her, for she made for me, but turned her attention to the other box; she took it in her arms and hugged and kissed it; I began to wish that I was the box. Her exclamations of joy were beyond bounds. "I forgot this box when we packed some of our most valuable things, it contains all of my school things, diploma & all." (The "all" & most prized I suppose were a lot of love letters.) But some soldiers began to make a noise and come in so we returned to the doors and drove them out and guarded the dooryard and had enough to do, I assure you for some time. When Mr. Barker went over to one of the regiments and got a guard.
The young lady had left the room when we got through and I was about to start when the woman wished to know whom she was indebted for so much kindness and handed me a paper and requested me to write our names and said, "if you ever get wounded, sick or anything, while in this part of the country, be sure to come here that I may partially repay you." I thanked her for her kind offer and told her we had but done our duty, and were doubly repaid by their kindnesses. We went into the hall to get our traps, was surprised to find our haversacks and canteens filled. You ought to have seen how roguish the girl looked when I took up the haversack. When we started, Mr. Burton said we must write and let them know how we got along and after the war was over we must come and spend a few weeks. "Yes, write when you are coming and I will be at home and have the pleasure of entertaining you, myself.” Her father said, "Lillian has spoken, we shall expect you." We told them that we hoped that we should have the pleasure of seeing them under different circumstances, if they remained here, we will still be of the same nation & bade our new friends goodbye, and started to find our party, feeling quite happy after getting out of that scrape safely, and to think our little Lieut. would have a good supper.
We found our brigade instead of coming to Fairfax had turned and gone back to the road that leads to Germantown, and also we were four or five miles behind. We came into camp about 7 o'clock, & was not Charlie [Lyon?] and Peter [Weber?] glad to get cold ham and bread. We are to take lodgings in a meadow.
Thursday morn [July 18]
Nothing happened worthy of note last night. We were aroused to arms by a false report. The boys were calm and fell in, in good order.
This morning we are ordered to march, our skirmishers are the fourth advance of the whole division and will undoubtedly see some pretty hot time, but all seem anxious for a fight, and bring this thing to a close; notwithstanding of what we expect a "battle,” they all are as cheerful as if they were going to a picnic. I don't know what the plans of movement are, but the rebels will do what they have done, retreat, and will fight as they retreat.
We are about two miles from Centerville on a hill, about 12 miles back is a quite large dirt [?] battery, and had the rebels had the courage to stand, they might have done us some considerable damage; our boys passed through Centerville very quietly, molesting nothing. As we gained the top of the hill by the battery, the beautiful level tract of land in front of us, and the "Blue Ridge" looming up in the distance formed the most beautiful landscape I ever saw. As I looked upon the beautiful scenery about me I could hardly think that I was one of the invading army, producing all evils that a war like this necessitates to subdue a rebellious people.
There is a large camping ground on the left of the battery; one of the inhabitants told us that the "rebel troops" left between midnight and sunrise. We went through another camp ground a mile south of Centerville, found lots of traps, also letters received by the soldiers.
When we started again we are to start as skirmishers.
When we left the deserted camp grounds we took an advance, throwing out six pickets about half a mile ahead, they soon brought in a man that gave us information as near as possible, that they were about a mile ahead. Our pickets found the enemy and returned, but could not tell where they intended to give us battle. A message was sent back and soon the battery came thundering down the road. We opened right and left to let them pass. They drove their horses along on full gallop, they stopped, planted their batteries on an elevation about half a mile this side of a house and barn, where the enemy troops were first seen, and our two rifle cannon commenced fire upon them; some troops were seen leaving them and run into the woods to the left.
Our skirmishers were ordered to go about a mile ahead of the batteries deployed "Rezind down" when we got our position the enemy commenced firing & it was delightful to lay there in the hot sun, while the cannon balls were flying & whistling over our heads; the first ball struck about four feet from the men on our right. Soon the enemy's cannon ceased firing, we laid there in suspense not knowing what would be the next orders, all the boys were perfectly cool & picked berries, cracked jokes about the war, etc. Soon we were told to advance into the woods and thicket to find the enemy, we went cautiously, feeling our way along; we went in as coolly as if we were looking for wild game. Soon after we entered the groves saw lots of meanly made bush huts covered so thick with evergreen that we could not see through. Of course, there they were in waiting for us. Not one flinched & for my part I felt quite unconcerned and took some crackers out of box I found open on my way; our sergeant could hardly keep from laughing at the absurdity.
Soon we heard a report at the left in the thick woods, followed by a sharp volley, we wheeled to the left in deployed line of skirmishers while our right kept up a brisk fire; we advanced in a stooping position behind bushes, corners of fences, and from tree to tree, looking out sharp for the rebels (spelled rebles).
I saw the boys take deliberate aim & fire, at last I got sight of one through the bushes, & shot. I do not know whether I hit him or not, but he changed his position very sudden. I loaded and went on & saw some rebel troops along the bank of the ravine & brook that separated us. I posted myself behind a large tree & saw the smoke of a gun aimed at me. I jerked back my head, "yip" went a ball just ticking me. I stuck my gun out by the side of the tree and fired at him just as he was emptying the powder of his cartridge. He threw up both his hands and fell forward on his face. I stood there for about fifteen minutes behind the tree & shot, aiming at the piles and saw lots of rebels fall but could not tell if I killed any more than one or not. The last four or five minutes that I stood there behind the tree, I could not move from one side to the other, for the unceasing vollies that were pouring at random upon us.
The bugles had sounded for us to retreat & most of them had gone & gone out of the range of the fire, but there I stood & a little ways from me lay my companions in battle snugly nestled behind a rock while the bullets were flying and glancing over them.
I thought I should never get out alive; but soon the firing abated and I started to retreat on full run keeping the trees in range with them. My friend Chancy Graham, who by the way has been to "Pikes Peak" & is the coolest genius you ever saw, found me, soon I hear the command to fire by company & I jumped behind a tree when the bullets whistled by us in every direction tearing the bark off from either side of the trees, we stood behind, as the bullets were ripping by us & knocking the leaves from the trees. Chancy asked me a question that made me laugh, laugh one of our good old hearty laughs. He asked me if I thought it was Providence or bull head luck that kept the bullets from hitting us. I told him it was the trees at present, but if we got off alive it must be by the help of "God.”
I looked off in the left in a clean spot and saw some men (mostly of N.Y. 12 reg.) falling and I thought it would come my time next, but was perfectly cool and retreated from tree to tree & bending low when there was no large trees near.
We heard a cannon ball or a volley of musketry, we all threw ourselves on our faces until we got over the hill out of range of their guns, in climbing down the hill I heard the rebels yelling like a lot of wild beasts, because 8 or 10 thousand (I don't know but more) had driven back eighty men. It made me so mad that I turned around and fired at random for the first time, then stepped behind a tree and looked. Here my friends got away from me & I did not see them again until next night.
I fell in with some skirmishers and was ordered to fall in on the left of the 1st Mass. Reg. & after being ordered first one way & then another proper authority some of us boys fell out. I went down a ravine for safety. I was completely exhausted and almost melted, when I gained a place of comparative safety I partly laid down on a hill in the shade of small trees, in a gully washed out by the water. I lay there some time dreamily amusing myself watching in front of me as the cannon balls were splashing through them (the trees).
I had not been there long in that state when a man came along and asked me if I was wounded. I told him I was not but was exhausted. He turned some water out of his canteen on my head & said I better remain where I was at present. I laid my head on my hands and strange as it may seem went to sleep. I was awakened by some gravel that was thrown into my face by a cannon ball striking the bank above me. I jumped up and found that all except a few stragglers had retreated behind the guns, and all were preparing to fire again; in the meantime the rebels were firing. I picked up my traps & keeping in the ravine until I got directly in front of the guns, & ran up between them while they were firing; before I had got the range of our our batteries again, & as I came up, a ball struck one of the artillery men and took off his leg, he was passing shot to the loaders, two men carried him in rear behind behind a blast [?] house. As I got up one of them yelled to me "for God's sake lay down your gun & pass those shot this way." I took his place for a few minutes when I was soon relieved. The rebels could have done a good deal of damage but their guns were all aimed too high.
I went behind the log house and found our Capt. G. [?], and some of the boys, they came up and shook hands with me & said they thought I would be dead; our Capt. told us to follow him to a place of more safety & we went into the woods. It was fun after we were safely seated to see the cannon balls tearing & slashing through the trees. The Capt. told us there the object of skirmishing. what we did, by forming into a brigade in line of battle, was to find how & where the enemy was situated, to have us concentrate them there for defense, play on them from our batteries which consists of five cannon, two rifled.
From the place I could see them carrying the wounded & dead bodies to Centerville. I could look at the mangled bodies and hear the groans of the dying with comparative indifference, knowing it is the natural consequence of war.
After half past six both sides stopped firing & we all retreated back to Centerville. I never was so much impressed in my life as when we came across the 3rd [Mich.] reg. & have my friends run for me, catching hold of both hands & arms, shaking me almost to death. They had heard I was killed. Capt. Judd said he trembled to see me go into the woods and he never expected to see me come out alive.
Col. Richardson said we done good service & saved the whole brigade from being cut to pieces.
We are now lying in front of a house in Centerville as guard.
Friday July 19, 1861
Our brigade went forward in the hill in front of Bull Run & began the entrenchments for the defence, our skirmishers to the rear to guard the baggage wagons & lay around low in the shade & rest. We remained in that position all day, while the right & left flank were taking their position. There are lots of reporters, speakers, & citizens out to see the battle, and the eyes of the whole U.S. are upon us. We must be doing something more before long.
I went back to the hospital see the wounded & also see the surgeon perform some operations, most of the worst work was done. I saw a lot of mangled limbs, that had been amputated & thrown into a heap; & also 15 or 16 dead bodies that were laid along in a row, on a piazza.
I looked upon these with comparative indifference. I feel quite unwell tonight but am bound to hold out if possible for there are so many cowards trying to be sick.
Saturday [July 20]
Last night we expected an attack, our brigade held their position all night; but if the center are attacked it was to fall back to Centerville where there was a large battery. We were stationed in a field on either side of the road, & in case the center retired to let them pass by, & then engage the enemy & keep them back if possible, until our brigade formed themselves in line of battle to protect the battery, then we were to file, right and left from the center & run around to the rear.
No attack was made so that plan was lost. We heard the car whistle all night & thought the enemy were receiving reinforcements, they came out in squads, & firing into what they supposed to be our lines, hoping we would return the fire & find out our position; but not a gun was fired from our side.
Today we kept our position (and in bugle call) but no great movement was made on our side; some northern men that were pressed into service of the southern army came to us; we learned from them that on Thursday we had killed about 800 men. They said our battery made bad work in their masked batteries & in the reserves beyond; more of the enemy's batteries have been discovered on the right along the hills and near the "blue ridge.”
This morning I felt so bad I went to the Dr. of the 2 [Michigan?] reg. and asked him what was the matter with me. After telling him my symptoms (for he was close by & is a very nice man) he told me I must have a few days rest, or it would work into something serious, and I must not sleep in the dew tonight; so I have engaged the chance to sleep on the piazza Cavenaugh [SGT, A co.] who was melted on Thursday.
I feel quite sick & weak this morning. Charlie Lyons looks miserable but he will have to lay out; we are stationed to guard a hospital. Here we are lying in the shade; my friend Barker is sick this morning; the skirmishers had to work too hard on Thursday.
All was quiet last night and is now; but I see thousands of men going down to the right from B. – Aides des camps are dashing here giving hurried orders -- it looks as if we were going to have a large battle today.
I hope not, we are not prepared; we have not got ammunition enough to silence those masked batteries and they are again to make a grand stand here instead of at Manassas (so that man said that came over to us). I had a talk with him, he told me about a canal that supplied the junction with water, if we can take that and the batteries about Bull Run, we can cut them off.
They commenced firing on the left wing about 8 o'clock. Our men have advanced about two miles from where the fighting first commenced. The contest is going to be a hard one. I have a good view from here. I have borrowed a glass of the surgeon & from the "haystack" upon which I have crawled & leaning against in the shade. A person's feelings while viewing a battle are similar to those experienced while looking at a large and destructive fire, only more intense. The roar of the powerful artillery as one report breaks into another continuously; now and then you hear the thundering of a whole battery, and steadily gun answers gun in stern defiance.
The heavy and unceasing volley of musketry; while you see the shells bursting in the air, and see clouds of the smoke rapidly rolling up and disappearing in transparent gasses, & to think of the poor fellows that may be sent to their last resting place at every discharge -- is quite exciting. . . .
[This was a transcription done in 1941, then perhaps again in 1985, of a series of letters which Littlefield wrote soon after the first battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. These are also found in the collection of St. Mark’s Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. See Jean Heibel’s The Crown of Pearl Street: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmann’s Publishing, 2000, pp. 90-99.]
Daniel was promoted to Sergeant, probably in the winter of 1861-62, and absent on leave from August 19, 1862; by September he was recruiting in Michigan. In October he was reported First Sergeant on detached service at Brigade headquarters.
He soon returned to Michigan, however, and by the first of November he was in Grand Rapids where, on November 6, 1862, he was transferred and promoted to Second Lieutenant, Seventh Michigan cavalry, commissioned as of October 24, crediting Grand Rapids where the regiment was being organized. Rebecca Richmond, teenage daughter of William Richmond, one of Grand Rapids leading businessmen, and who frequently mentioned Littlefield in her diaries, wrote on November 1 that Littlefield “has left the Third Infantry and joined the Seventh cavalry here [in Grand Rapids] as Lieutenant.”
The First Battalion of the Seventh Michigan cavalry left Grand Rapids for Washington on February 20, 1863; the balance followed in May. The seventh was initially attached to the Provisional Cavalry Brigade and participated in the defenses of Washington until June of 1863. The Seventh participated in the occupation of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on June 28, in action at Hanover, Pennsylvania on June 30 and in the battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3 as well as the pursuit of Lee’s forces back into Virginia.
By July of 1863 Daniel was a First Lieutenant, commissioned on June 6, and on the staff of General Pleasonton from June 28 through August. However, according to one former member of the Seventh, Daniel was in fact a member of Custer’s staff during the battle of Gettysburg in early July. Frank Milbourn of Company D wrote many years after the war that sometime during the night of July 4, as the confederates were withdrawing from Pennsylvania, he and Littlefield “located the enemy’s train and our Command captured it.” Another source, however, claimed that around the time of Gettysburg, Dan was in command of a company in the Seventh.
In any case, by September the Regiment reported him sick in Grand Rapids, although there were no local reports about Daniel being home sick. Nevertheless, he had in fact at some point returned to western Michigan. The Eagle wrote on October 15, the day Dan had just left to rejoin the Seventh cavalry,. The paper noted that Littlefield “has been spending a short furlough among his friends in this city,” adding that “The Lieutenant has, by his bravery in the field and noble military bearing everywhere, won many new friends wherever he has been, and made himself beloved by his friends and acquaintances at home, whom, one and all, will invoke the God of battles to protect him, in the performance of his hazardous duties to his country.”
Daniel did indeed return to Washington, DC, but never rejoined the Seventh cavalry, and instead remained in Washington recovering his health.
According to Rebecca Richmond, Daniel intended to come back home to recruit his health if he could extend his furlough. She wrote in her diary on Saturday, January 8, 1864, that Dan “was just convalescing, having had camp fever. He intended coming home to recruit his health as soon as he could get an extension of his furlough. He sent to Mary [Rebecca’s sister] and me a cabinet-sized photograph of General Pleasonton and staff, conspicuous in which group is Dan himself. He is very kind to remember us so.”
He failed to recover, however, and died of smallpox on January 4 or 6, 1864, in Washington, DC. Upon learning of his death, Rebecca wrote in her diary on Wednesday, January 12, that it had been a “Pleasant day and a delightful moon-light evening.
I rode down to church this evening and, after service I proposed to convey Mrs. Church, Martha Kendall, Milly Hess and Hobart Chipman to their respective homes. While we were awaiting the arrival of the sleigh we entered into general conversation. One of the party remarked ‘How unexpected were the tidings of Dan. Littlefield's death.’ Why, the remark was a perfect shock to me! Dan Littlefield's dead! of whom I heard only four days since as preparing to come home! It seems the intelligence arrived here yesterday by a letter to his mother, Mrs. L., written by a nurse in the hospital where our lamented friend passed his last days. He was attacked by small pox, and, though the crisis favorably passed, his system, enfeebled by previous illness, could not rally and he survived by four days. He died on the 4th instant. Poor Dan! He was a noble, brave, energetic, faithful soldier, and a true, kind hearted fellow! We shall miss him much in our social circle and all who knew him will remember him kindly for he ever had a kind word and a smile for all. Dan is the 8th of my friends who have been laid to rest in soldier's graves. His age was 26. Poor Clara Calkins, his betrothed, is nearly heart broken. She was entirely prostrated and unconscious for a time.
Daniel was initially buried in Columbian Harmony cemetery, which was reportedly the burial ground for those men who died from contagious diseases. (It was also one of the first all-black cemeteries in Washington.) In 1868 the remains of all Civil War soldiers buried in Harmony were reportedly removed reinterred in Arlington, National Cemetery, although no record of Daniel’s interment in Arlington is listed.
In May of 1864 his mother applied for and received a pension (no. 33741).