Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict, 12th Regiment Vermont Volunteers.

Additional Details of Gettysburg—Close of the Service of the Brigade.

Camp of the Twelfth Vermont,
Brattleboro, Vt., July 14, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

If I recollect aright, my last letter, from the battle-field of Gettysburg, contained an intimation that in a subsequent epistle I might attempt to set down some additional incidents of the great battle. I take the first opportunity to fulfill the promise—finding it only here, ten days after the fight and many hundred miles from the field. As hitherto, I write only of what passed under my own eye, leaving to others the description of the battle as a whole.

As some of the army correspondents have given more or less erroneous accounts of the wounding of General Hancock, I will describe it as it happened. Just after General Stannard had ordered the Thirteenth and Sixteenth Vermont regiments out on Pickett’s flank, General Hancock, followed by a single mounted orderly, rode down to speak to General Stannard. Lieutenant George W. Hooker and myself were standing near the general’s side. The din of artillery and musketry was deafening at the time, and I did not hear the words that passed between the two generals. But my eyes were upon Hancock’s striking figure —I thought him the most splendid looking man I ever saw on horseback, and magnificent in the flush and excitement of battle— when he uttered an exclamation and I saw that he was reeling in his saddle.

Hooker and I with a common impulse sprang toward him, and caught him as he toppled from his horse into our outstretched arms. General Stannard bent over him as we laid him upon the ground, and opening his clothing where he indicated by a movement of his hand that he was hurt, a ragged hole, an inch or more in diameter, from which the blood was pouring profusely, was disclosed in the upper part and on the inside of his thigh. He was naturally in some alarm for his life. “Don’t let me bleed to death,” he said, “Get something around it quick.” Stanhard had whipped out his handkerchief, and as I helped to pass it around General Hancock’s leg, I saw that the blood, being of dark color and not coming in jets, could not be from an artery, and I said to him: “This is not arterial blood, General; you will not bleed to death.” From my use of the surgical term he took me for a surgeon, and replied, with a sigh of relief: “That’s good; thank you for that, Doctor.” We tightened the ligature by twisting it with the barrel of a pistol, and soon stopped the flow of blood. Major Mitchell of Hancock’s staff rode up as we were at work over the general, and uttering an exclamation of pain as he saw the condition of his chief, turned and darted away after a surgeon. One came in fifteen minutes, and removing the handkerchief thrust his forefinger to the knuckle into the wound and brought out from it an iron nail bent double. “This is what hit you, General,” he said, holding up the nail, “and you are not so badly hurt as you think.”[1]

I was sent by General Stannard, about this time, with orders to the Vermont regiments then actively engaged in front, and did not return until the repulse of Pickett’s division was complete. General Hancock was still lying where he fell. He had just sent a message to General Meade announcing the repulse of the great assault of the enemy, and was evidently more cheerful in mind than he had been half an hour before. I helped to lift him into an ambulance and saw him no more.

I wish I could describe the great cannonade of Friday afternoon, but it was simply indescribable. At one time, when it was at the hottest, I took out my watch and counted for a minute the shells that came so nearly in the line of my sight that I could see them like black spots in the air. I counted six such in sixty seconds. Most of these went just over our heads or I should not be writing this.

The most destructive shot I noticed took effect in the Thirteenth regiment, as it was marching back to resume its place in line after the surrender of the greater portion of the main rebel column. I was hurrying past with an order, when a thud and cry of horror close behind me attracted my attention above the cracking of exploding shell. I turned to find a cruel gap in the column. Of a file of four men three had been prostrated by a shell, together with two officers marching by their side. The outer man was thrown to the ground but I believe not seriously injured; the second was hit and killed by the passing missile; the third was struck in the centre of the body and literally dismembered, one leg, bared of all but the shoe and stocking, being thrown several feet from the body. The fragments of the shell exploding at the same moment killed the sergeant-major of the regiment, Smith, to whom I had just spoken a cheering word, and threw senseless to the ground Lieut. Col. Munson, who was walking at the moment at the sergeant-major’s elbow. For a moment the men in the rear of the file which had thus been swept away halted and drew back aghast; but discipline prevailed in another moment, and stepping over their mangled comrades, they closed up the gap and marched on.

That I have made no mention of individual cases of good conduct on the field, is simply because such were altogether too numerous to mention. The troops of our brigade, being on their first battlefield, were not greatly counted on at the outset by our corps and division generals; and as we afterwards learned, strong supports were placed back of us to take our places when we should fall to the rear. But the supports were not needed. Our men endured that fearful cannonade as steadily as the oldest veteran regiment on the field. They rose into the cast-iron tornado that was sweeping over them, as promptly as if they had been on dress parade, and when their line moved, it was to the front instead of to the rear. They took the only two guns, so far as I can learn, that were taken from the enemy during the battle, and probably lessened Mr. Lee’s army, in killed and wounded and prisoners, at the rate of two or three men for every one of our own engaged. Our friends of the First brigade have been wont to call the Second brigade ”the picnic party.” I am sorry they were not present on the spot to see the picnic party go in, July 2d and 3d.

But one instance of unmanly want of fortitude attracted my notice among our Vermont troops. One young man, struck down by a shot which shattered one leg, as the regiment was hurrying forward, burst forth into loud entreaties to his comrades not to leave him, and rising on one knee tried to stop them by catching at the skirts of their coats as they passed him. They could not stay, of course, and it may have been the next day possibly before he was cared for. Such was the case with many of our wounded. The rule which forbids the rank and file leaving the ranks to attend to the wounded, hard as it seems, is one of necessity, and if more rigidly enforced in all our battles would have saved a hundred lives for every one lost by it.

I was not at Gen. Stannard’s side when he was wounded, having been sent by him a little before with an order to Lieut. Col. Rose, commanding the detachment of the Fourteenth Vermont which supported the Sixteenth in its charge on Wilcox’s brigade. The men of the battalion had just been ordered to cease firing, when I reached their line, the enemy in their immediate front having thrown down their arms. One or two men, in their excitement, paid no heed to the order and kept on firing till fairly collared by Major Hall.

The risks of battle were, I think, more apparent to me while I was going to and fro on this errand, than at any other time; for the rebel batteries had opened afresh to cover Wilcox’s retreat, and I had to cross two places which, owing to the conformation of the ground, were receiving especial attention from them. The ground at these points was being literally swept by grape, and ploughed into long furrows by shell, and it did not look as if a man crossing them had much chance for his life; but I was fortunate enough to get down and back without being hit; and a spent ball which struck a pistol-cartridge box on my side and doubled down a Smith & Wesson cartridge without exploding it, was the only hostile missile that touched me, during the battle.

After Stannard was taken to the rear Colonel Randall assumed command of the brigade, which remained on the field, with the corps, for three days after the battle, while the old brigade with the Sixth corps, which had been held in reserve, pushed after Lee’s retreating army.

I rode over the ground on Sunday, from right to left; but can give but little space to the horrors of the battle-field. I have seen nothing with which to compare them, except Brady’s photographic views of the field of Antietam—and there are in them no evidences of carnage at all equalling what I saw in twenty places on the field of Gettysburg. In the open ground in front of our lines on the centre and left, multitudes of the dead of both armies still lay unburied, though strong burial parties had been at work for twenty-four hours. They had died from almost every conceivable form of mutilation and shot-wound. Most of them lay on their backs, with clothes commonly thrown open in front, perhaps by the man himself in his dying agony, or by some human jackal searching for money on the corpse, and breast and stomach often exposed. The faces, as a general rule, had turned black—not a purplish discoloration, such as I had imagined in reading of the “blackened corpses” so often mentioned in descriptions of battle-grounds, but a deep bluish black, giving to a corpse with black hair the appearance of a negro, and to one with light or red hair and whiskers a strange and revolting aspect. In the woods on our right, where the long musketry fight of Friday forenoon raged, I found the rebel dead (our own having been mostly buried) literally covering the ground. In a circle of fifty feet radius as near as I could estimate, I counted forty-seven dead rebels. The number of the enemy’s dead in two acres of that oak grove, was estimated at 2,000, and I cannot say that I think it exaggerated. On the knoll just on the right of the position of our brigade, occupied successively by two of our batteries on Friday, I counted the dead bodies of twenty-nine horses. As late as Sunday noon, wounded men were still being brought into the field hospitals, some of whom had lain on the field since Thursday.

I could relate other scenes and incidents of the battle, as noteworthy as those I have mentioned, but time and space are failing me.

On Sunday night, after midnight, as I lay asleep, face up to the sky, on the field, a man shook me by the shoulder. It was an orderly with a led horse, who came with a message from General Stannard, directing me to join him at the farm house several miles away to which he had been carried. The night was pitch dark, and how we made out to thread the lines of sleeping soldiers and find our way to the house, I cannot understand; but we did it before daylight. Next day I took him, in an ambulance, to Westminster, a twenty-seven mile ride, and we spent that night in a freight car, one of a train of fifty or more cars, which were filled with wounded officers. Most of them were wholly unattended and groaned the night away on the bare floors. Of course this was the result of no intentional neglect; but the number of wounded, exceeding twenty thousand, swamped all ordinary means of relief. I left the general in Baltimore, while I went to Washington to obtain transportation for him to Vermont, whither I accompanied him a little later. One of the first men I met at the War Department was Brig. Gen. Carl Schurz. He lectured in Burlington, as some will remember, just before this “great unpleasantness” began, and having seen something of the civil war of the Swiss Cantons before he came to America, he ventured the prediction that while there was sure to be war between the North and South, with us as with the Swiss one battle would settle the dispute and there would not be much bloodshed. I reminded him of his prophecy, and he said he had changed his mind about our war, since then. But enough of this gossip. The Second Vermont brigade is disbanded. The Twelfth regiment, having remained on arduous duty in the Army of the Potomac a week beyond the utmost limit of its time—for which it received the thanks of General Newton, commanding the First corps, in a highly complimentary order—took its leave with the hearty goodwill of all with whom it has been associated, and has been mustered out and ceased to exist as a military body. The Thirteenth has also arrived here covered with dust and laurels, and in a few days will be no more as a regiment. Two weeks more will see the other regiments on their way home.

The service of the brigade has not been what most of us expected, for we counted on active campaigns in the field, and hoped to be in at the death of the rebellion. But if less glorious than that of some, the duty which has mainly occupied us in the defence of Washington has been honorable, and more laborious than the average. And though not permitted to see within our term the close of this great war, we have been allowed to have a hand in the greatest battle that has been fought in it, and can go to our homes, feeling that with the glorious successes in the West and the opening of the Mississippi, the back-bone of the rebellion is indeed broken.

And now with prayers for the speedy triumph of the Good Cause, in the service of which it is honor enough to have had even a small share; with heartiest good wishes for his comrades in arms, for many of whom he has formed friendships which will be life-long; and with kindest regard for the gentle readers who have received with such kind interest his hasty and unstudied sketches, your correspondent brings these letters to a close, and takes his leave of camps and army correspondence.

Yours, B.

[1] Four months after the battle I met Hancock in Willard’s Hotel in Washington. He remembered my face and I spent an hour talking over the battle with him. He told me that though his wound soon healed externally, it gave him immense pain till, after a number of weeks, the surgeons opened it and probed it more thoroughly, when, eight inches from the opening, they found and extracted a minie ball and a round plug of wood. The explanation of this curious assortment of missiles to be taken from a single wound was a simple one. Hancock was nearly facing the enemy when hit. The ball passed first through the pommel of his McClellan saddle, took from it the nail and a round piece of wood the size of the ball, and carried both with it into his body. I may add that I possess and prize a note in General Hancock’s peculiar handwriting, addressed to myself, in which he says: “I have reason to remember you and Colonel Hooker on that field, for to you I am indebted for your kindly aid in assisting me from my horse when I was struck and about to fall to the ground, and that incident is of course indelibly impressed upon my memory.”

The Battle of Gettysburg — Personal
Observations And Experiences.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Battlefield of Gettysburg,

July 4, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

The scene has shifted since I wrote you last from the shores of the Occoquan to the fields of Pennsylvania, from pleasant camp life to scenes of battle and frightful bloodshed. My last letter was hardly closed when we got the exciting news that Lee’s army was in full march to the north, through the Shenandoah Valley, and that the Army of the Potomac was on its way north to protect the National Capital—news soon confirmed by the appearance of troops of contrabands and long columns of the cavalry and infantry of three army corps, with forty batteries of the reserve artillery, which came streaming past for four days and as many nights.

On the 23d of June General Stannard received notice that his brigade had been attached to the Third division of the First Army Corps; that it was to hold the line of the Occoquan till the main army had passed, and then was to follow the corps and join it if possible before the great battle which was expected. On the 25th ult. the brigade started. I was sent to Washington that day by General Stannard, on special duty, and did not overtake the brigade till it had passed into Maryland. The march to Gettysburg lasted a week—seven weary days of continuous marching through the mud. Our men, you know, were not inured to marching. Some were poorly shod, for in view of the speedy termination of their service they had not been allowed to exchange old shoes for new; but they marched well. With sore and blistered and often bleeding feet, in some cases barefooted, they pushed along and made their twenty miles, or nearly that, a day, and gained nearly a day’s march on the First corps, before it joined it on the battlefield.

I spent the night of the 28th in Frederick City, which was full of soldiers, and considered myself fortunate to get a cot to sleep on in a private house, where next morning I met Charles Carleton Coffin and Mr. Crounse, the army correspondents of the Boston Journal and N. Y. Times, who directed me to the headquarters of the army, just outside the city. Thither I hurried in a drizzling rain to find Colonel Edward R. Piatt, of General Hooker’s staff, who, being a Vermonter I thought would know where I could find the Second Vermont brigade. As I reached headquarters, I met General Hooker with several officers of his staff, riding away. As he returned my salute, I noticed the expression upon his striking features, and said to myself: “Something is going wrong with Hooker; he is not happy.” Later I learned that he had been relieved; had just turned over the command to General Meade, and was then taking his final departure from army headquarters. Getting directions on what road to follow the First corps; and being lucky enough to hire a horse of a farmer, who accompanied me on horseback to make sure of the return of his beast, I pushed to the north, overhauled the brigade about noon, and was glad to join General Stannard at the head of the column, and to exchange the Marylander’s gray mare for my own horse.

The next afternoon I was sent forward by General Stannard with a report to General John B. Reynolds, commanding the First corps. To reach his headquarters involved a ride of ten miles in the strong current of the Army of the Potomac, moving to the north. The march of an army of a hundred thousand men is an imposing spectacle, though the uniforms be dusty and the marchers footsore. All the roads and avenues throughout a wide stretch of country were thronged with artillery and army wagons; the newly-made but already bare and hard-trodden pathways along the roadsides were filled with troops; the very landscape seemed to move with the movement of armed men.

It was after sundown when I reached the head of the column of the corps, then halted for the night. I found General Reynolds at a little country tavern, about five miles from Gettysburg. He was resting from the fatigue of the day, his tall form stretched at full length upon a wooden settle. He received my report without rising, and scarcely raising his head from his arms, folded under it, made some inquiries in regard to the strength of the Vermont brigade, sent back a message to General Stannard, and remarked that he was glad to have the brigade join the corps, for he thought all the men they could get might be needed before many hours. This was my first and last sight of this brave and able general. Next morning he was beyond the need of men or mortal help, with a confederate bullet in his brain.

When I returned to the brigade, bivouacking near Emmittsburg, the word was running through the ranks that 30,000 rebs were in Cashtown, Pa., twelve miles away. Lee, then, had turned back from Harrisburg. The armies were converging. How long before they would meet in mortal struggle?

The first news that the great battle we were expecting had begun reached us about noon of Wednesday, July 1, when a courier, spurring a tired horse, met General Stannard riding at the head of his brigade, eight or nine miles south of Gettysburg, with word from General Doubleday that a big fight was in progress at Gettysburg; that General Reynolds had been killed and he had succeeded to the command of the First corps; that the corps and cavalry were fighting a large part of the rebel army and having hard work to hold their ground, and that Stannard must hasten forward as fast as possible.

He did so, but the heat was oppressive, the men were tired, and they moved all too wearily till crossing a crest four or five miles from the field, the heavy roar of cannon in front reached all ears. The sound put life into the men, and there was no lagging after that. As we neared Gettysburg we began to see groups of excited inhabitants, most of them women, gathered wherever there was an outlook toward the field. Their anxious faces were bent upon us with varied expressions, some seeming by their sad gaze to say, “Alas, that these too should be food for powder,” while the eyes of others, as they glanced down the long column of the brigade which had more men in it than some divisions, lighted with hope, and they waved us on as to certain victory.

The smoke of the battle was now mounting high over the field, and the “sultry thunder” of artillery, rolling continuously and heavily, filled the air. About sundown, as the brigade reached the outskirts of the field, I was again sent forward to report its arrival to the division commander and was thus the first man of the brigade to reach the actual battle ground.

The artillery firing had ceased, but carbines were cracking on the plain as I rode across it. Passing inside of a skirmish line of dismounted cavalry I took my way to a low hill, which seemed to be the centre of operations. Batteries were in position on the brow of the hill and troops forming along its top. They were what was left of the Eleventh corps, after its retreat through the village, rallying on a new line to meet an anticipated attack from the enemy, then apparently forming for an assault, at the foot of the hill. I rode up to a colonel who was directing the disposition of a line of battle. A white handkerchief was wound around his neck, through the folds of which blood was oozing from a wound in his throat. He directed me where he thought I could find a portion of the First corps, and I found Gen. Rowley, commanding the Third division of the corps, stretched on the ground by a little white house. He was asleep, overcome by fatigue, or something, and his aids would not wake him. They told me to guide the brigade to that point; and after a while, the tired men stretched themselves upon their arms in a wheat field, and sank into the deep and reckless sleep of the weary soldier. There was rest for the men; but not for our general. Gen. Stannard was appointed general field officer of the day, or of the night rather, in that part of the field, and had to see to the posting of the pickets of another corps besides our own. The duty called for a night in the saddle, upon the army lines.

The second day of the battle opened on Thursday without firing, save now and then a shot from the pickets, but we saw considerable moving of troops on our side behind the low ridge which concealed us from the enemy, and doubtless the same process was going on, on their side, unseen by us. The batteries alone on the crests of the ridges menaced each other, like grim bulldogs, in silence.

The three regiments present of our brigade— the Twelfth having been held back and the Fifteenth sent back to guard the ammunition trains in the rear—were placed behind Cemetery Hill, a round hill crowned by a cemetery laid out with an amount of taste unusual in a place of the size of Gettysburg; and General Stannard was notified that he was in command of the infantry supports of the batteries upon the left of the hill, and would be held responsible for their safety.

Our batteries were planted, not actually upon the graves, but close to them within the cemetery —such are the necessities of war. Our regiments lay behind the hill through the forenoon, the men lounging on the grass, till about 3 o’clock, when the ball opened by the whizzing of shell around our ears. The first thrown exploded over the Thirteenth regiment, and two or three men of it were wounded by the fragments. A sudden scampering to the rear of orderlies, ambulances, and all whose duties did not hold them to the spot, followed. The troops were moved a little closer under the hill and made to lie down; our own batteries opened sharply, and an artillery duel followed. The shells came screaming through the air with not altogether agreeable frequency, mingled, for those of us whose duties called us to the top of the hill, with the frequent humming of minie balls. Occasionally a battery horse would plunge and rear for a moment and then drop. As I passed one of the guns, I noticed a fine looking sergeant of the battery, watching eagerly the effect of the shot he had just aimed; as I came back again, two minutes later, he was lying dead by his gun. Men came by us from the skirmish line in front, with gun-shot wounds of arm or leg or head. A company was called for as support to the skirmishers. Captain Foster, of General Stannard’s staff, was sent out to station them, and was brought back in a few minutes shot through both legs. We were told by the old warriors that this thundering of cannon must be the prelude to a charge upon our lines, and all watched to see where it would come. About six, the nearing of musketry firing to our left indicated the spot, and in a few minutes we heard, above the din, the yell with which the rebels charge. There was scarce time to think what it meant, when orders came for our brigade to hurry to the left, where the lines were now being borne back by the enemy. Several regiments had broken for the rear; a batten had been taken, and our brigade was called for to fill the gap. Five companies of the Thirteenth, under Colonel Randall, led the advance on the double quick. The left wing of the regiment, under Lieut. Col. Munson, had been supporting a battery to the right and brought up the rear of the column. General Hancock was rallying the troops on the spot. “Can you retake that battery, Colonel?” was his question, as they came up. “Forward, boys,” was the reply, and in they went. Captain Lonergan’s company of “bould soldier boys” took the lead and rushed at the battery with their Irish yell. Colonel Randall’s gray horse fell under him, shot through the shoulder, and he went on, on foot. The guns were reached, wheeled round and passed to the rear, and pressing on, the boys of the Thirteenth took two rebel guns with some eighty odd of the “graybacks” who were supporting them. This ended the fighting for the night. The Thirteenth fell back to the main line, which, thus restored by the Vermonters, was held by our brigade to the close of the battle, at the point on the left centre at and around which the hardest fighting of the next day took place.

With the darkness the firing ceased, and we then heard from our front that sound which once heard will not be forgotten by any one—a low, steady, indescribable moan—the groans of the wounded, lying by thousands on the battle-field. As the moon was rising I rode out upon the field in front of our lines. My horse started aside at every rod from the bodies of dead men or horses; and wounded men, Union soldiers and rebels in about equal proportions, were making their way slowly within our lines. Some of the latter said that General Barksdale, of Mississippi, lay mortally wounded out beyond, and begged to be brought in. A party from the Fourteenth was sent to search for him, but he was not found till near morning. I saw his body soon after the life had left it, next morning, and, having seen him on the floor of Congress, recognized it at once. He was dressed in a suit of the light-bluish-gray mixture of cotton and wool, worn commonly by the rebel officers, with gold lace upon the coat sleeves and down the seams of the trousers. His vest thrown open disclosed a ball hole through the breast, and his legs were bandaged and bloody from gunshots through both of them. He had fought without the wig which Speaker Grow once knocked off in the Hall of Representatives, and his bald head and broad face, with open unblinking eyes, lay uncovered in the sunshine. There he lay alone, without a comrade to brush the flies from his corpse.

Our men slept Thursday night upon their arms.

Returning to headquarters, simply a spot on the open field where the brigade headquarters flag was planted amid the lines of sleeping soldiers, I stretched myself, supperless—for our headquarters cooks and mess wagon disappeared when the artillery firing began that day, and were lost to sight, though to memory dear, throughout the rest of the battle—on the ground, but had got only an hour’s sleep when I was aroused by an orderly.

General Stannard, anticipating harder fighting on the morrow, wanted more cartridges for his men, and sent me to find the division ammunition train, supposed to be at or near Rock Creek Church, three or four miles away, and procure a supply. Followed by a mounted orderly I went to the place, to find that the trains had been ordered back no one knew where; but that some First corps wagons, probably containing ammunition, had moved up near the field. I spent the rest of the night in search of these wagons, zigzagging around the field wherever I saw a camp fire or light. I stopped at a dozen or more of the great Pennsylvania barns, looking more like large factory buildings than like our New England barns. Each of them was a field hospital; its floor covered with mutilated soldiers, and surgeons busy at the lantern-lighted operating tables.

By the door of one of them was a ghastly pile of amputated arms and legs, and around each of them lay multitudes of wounded men, covering the ground by the acre, wrapped in their blankets and awaiting their turns under the knife. I was stopped hundreds of times by wounded men, sometimes accompanied by a comrade but often wandering alone, to be asked in faint tones the way to the hospital of their division, till the accumulated sense of the bloodshed and suffering of the day became absolutely appalling. It seemed to me as if every square yard of the ground, for many square miles, must have its blood stain. After three or four hours of such fruitless wandering I gave up the search and started back for the brigade. The moon, now setting, had become obscured, and, lacking its guiding light and following a road which I supposed to be that over which I went to Rock Creek Church, but which was really, as I afterwards learned, the Baltimore pike, I found myself toward morning passing under a tall arch, beyond which stood two field pieces in the roadway.

Everything was still around, but as I rode between the guns, a form rose from beside them, and a voice asked where I was going. I explained and was told that I would find nothing in that direction till I struck the rebel lines. The arch was the entrance gate to the cemetery; and the rebel lines were near by at the base of the hill. I had completely lost my way, and but for the warning of the artillery man I should now probably be on my way to Libby prison.

I reached brigade headquarters as day was breaking, and as the cannonade of Friday morning began. A shell struck near my feet without exploding, as I dismounted. A minute later another broke the leg of an orderly’s horse ten feet away. Still another took off the hoof of another horse, close by. It was plain that the horses were drawing the enemy’s fire, and they were removed beyond the ridge behind us. From that time on until the close of the battle, with one or two exceptions, we saw no horses or mounted men anywhere near where we were, except those of the batteries on that front.

The artillery fire was quite sharp for a while in the morning from the rebel batteries opposite us, but died away in an hour or so. It was perhaps intended to divert attention while the enemy was preparing a desperate attack upon our extreme right. Gen. Stannard adjusted a little the positions of his regiments. The Sixteenth was on the skirmish line in front. The Fourteenth was moved forward several rods to a line where some scattered trees and bushes afforded a partial cover. The Thirteenth was placed to the right and a little to the rear of the Fourteenth. No troops were in front of us. The ground had been fought over the day before, and a number of the dead of both armies lay scattered upon it. Fearing that the sight of these bloody corpses might dishearten some of our men, I suggested to the general that it would be well to cover them with some of the blankets which lay about, and aided by an orderly I covered a number of the bodies where our men lay, the living and dead side by side. About six o’clock the musketry firing became tremendous about a mile to our right. We could see nothing of it but the white smoke rising above the tree tops; but the volleys rolled in one continuous crash for six hours. The sound did not recede or advance, and we inferred that each side held its ground.

While this was going on, Gen. Lee, as it turned out, was collecting his batteries behind the crest of the ridge over against us. The ground here is a broad open stretch of meadow land, sloping away from the ridge on which our batteries were placed, in front of which, further down the slope, our infantry lay in three lines of battle perhaps 50 yards apart, and then rising to a rounded ridge over against us, from half to three-fourths of a mile away, which was held by the enemy. Our men improved the lull to make a little protection by collecting the rails which had been fences a day or two before, and piling them in a low breastwork perhaps two feet high. This would of course be a very slight protection for men standing; but for men lying prostrate they proved a valuable cover, and we found we needed every such assistance before night.

About one o’clock a couple of guns from the enemy gave the signal; from seventy-five to a hundred guns[1] were run out upon the ridge right over against us, and for an hour and a half, what old veterans pronounce the severest cannonade of the war was opened directly upon us. The air seemed to be literally filled with flying missiles. Shells whizzed and popped on every side. Spherical case exploded over our heads and rained iron bullets upon us; the Whitworth solid shot, easily distinguished by their clear musical ring, flew singing by; grape hurtled around us or rattled in an iron storm against the low protections of rails, and round shot ploughed up the ground before and majors’ swords, when the order came to “about face” and meet another charge. A body of the enemy, evidently the supporting body of the main rebel column, was coming down to the left of us, apparently aiming at the position of the Fourteenth. The same mode of treatment was applied to their case, with the happiest result. The Fourteenth met them with a hot fire in front, and Colonel Veazey with the Sixteenth, hurrying back on the double quick, took them on the flank and bagged about a brigade of them.

The Sixteenth took in this charge the colors of the Second Florida—a beautiful silk flag inscribed with “Williamsburg” and “Seven Pines”— the colors of the Eighth Virginia, and the battle flag of another regiment, which was foolishly thrown away by the sergeant to whom it was given to carry, who pitched it into the bushes, declaring that he could not fight with that flag in his hands.

With these repulses of the enemy the big fight in effect closed. There was some skirmishing on our left, but no more hard fighting. At dark I was sent out with a detail of men, and stationed a picket line across the front of our brigade, and at 9 o’clock our Vermont regiments were relieved from their position in the front line and allowed to find rest and comparative relief from care a little distance in the rear.

I cannot give the loss of the brigade, as the list of casualties has not yet been prepared. It cannot be much less than 300 killed and wounded.[2] The list of missing will be small. I did not at any time see a man of the brigade making for the rear.

The length of this hurried letter compels me to leave undescribed many an interesting incident of the fight, some of which I may perhaps describe in a future letter. One or two, however, must not be passed over.

Gen. Hancock was shot from his horse while he was talking to Gen. Stannard. I helped the latter to bandage Hancock’s wound and his blood stained my hands. I might say stains my hands, for there has been no water to wash with, and not much to drink, where we have been on this field.

During the last sharp shower of grape and shell, with which the enemy strove to cover their retreat, Gen. Stannard was wounded in the right leg by a shrapnel ball, which passed down for three inches into the muscle of the thigh. The wound was very painful until a surgeon came and removed the ball, but the general refused to leave the field, though urged to go by Gen. Doubleday He kept up till the regiments had marched back and till the wounded had been removed and then sank fainting on the ground and was taken to the rear.

He was about the coolest man I saw on the field, exposing himself in a way that would have been rashness, were it not for the need he felt of animating his men by his example. He was a constant mark for the enemy’s sharpshooters, but nothing daunted or disconcerted him. To his presence of mind and timely orders is largely due the glorious success of yesterday. The general is proud of his troops and they of him; and Vermont may well be proud of both.

The brigade, or the three regiments engaged, is still on the battlefield. We have no tents, no fires and nothing to cook if we had. The men stand or sit in knots near their stacked arms, worn, hungry and battlestained; but a better feeling body of men one does not often see. The big battle is over; and every man is glad to have had a part in it.

Yours, B.

[1] One hundred and fifty guns were employed by General Lee in this cannonade.

[2] The official reports of the loss of the brigade showed 46 killed; 240 wounded ; and 56 missing—total 342. The missing proved to be almost wholly men who had fallen out on the march to the battlefield, and came in before the brigade left the field. Of the wounded 19 died of their wounds.

A Visit to the Battle-field of Bull Run.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Union Mills, Va., June 15, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

The theatre of active conflict has been approaching us sensibly of late. The battle of last Tuesday[1] took place near Rappahannock Bridge and Beverly’s Ford, where the Twelfth Vermont was stationed but a few days ago. Since then the outposts of Hooker’s army and of this brigade, have been in daily contact. This morning we see the dust and hear the distant drums of two army corps, moving back to this line. The impression is general that the next big fight may take place in this vicinity, perhaps rendering thrice memorable the historic ground of the two great Bull Run battles.

I visited that battle ground on Saturday last. The troops of our brigade have long guarded Blackburn’s Ford and have picketed upon the outskirts of the ground; but the actual battle field has been outside of our lines, and traversed so frequently by rebel scouting parties, that it has not been safe to visit it except with a party of strength enough to take care of any squad of “bushwhackers” or Mosby’s rangers.

For our excursion we had Col. Blunt, Lieut. Col. Farnham, Major Kingsley, Captains Ormsbee and Paul, Adjutant Vaughan, Lieut. Cloyes, Drum-Major Downer, and Hospital Steward Hard, of the Twelfth; Col. Randall and Surgeon Nichols of the Thirteenth; Adjutant Peabody, Quartermaster Henry, and several other officers of the Sixteenth; Medical Director Ketchum;. Quartermaster Brownson, Lieut. Prentiss, Lieut. Thompson and your humble servant of Gen. Stannard’s staff; and orderlies and attendants enough to make a cavalcade of twenty-five. It was a party whose capture would have made something of a hole in the Second Vermont brigade, but we saw no armed enemy.

Starting from Union Mills we crossed Bull Run at McLean’s Ford, and struck off towards the battle field, some five or six miles thence in a direct line; but following the windings of the interminable bridle paths which intersect every piece of forest and traverse every valley and field with a network, we made a longer distance of it. For a while we kept near the bank of the Run, edged with trench and breastwork for mile after mile on the southern side. These were Beauregard’s works, and well constructed, as the rebel works generally are in this region. Leaving these we came out in time to a more open country, and Col. Randall and Adjutant Peabody, who were members of the old Vermont Second, at once recognized the neighborhood of their first battle. Soon we were on the spot where Rickett’s battery was taken. The ruins of the Henry house, around which the battle raged and in which a woman was killed, were near us. The rose bushes still grow in the rank grass which covers what was once the door-yard or flower-garden, and blossom as freely as if the storm of battle had never swept over them. A grave, protected by some rails thrown around it, near the ruined chimney stack, we conjectured to be possibly the resting place of the hapless occupant, whose fate gave her a place in the history of the first great battle of the great War for the Union. The grave of Lieut. Ramsay, and the spot where Col. Bartow, of Georgia, fell —once marked by a small marble monument, which for some reason was removed to Manassas Junction by the rebels last summer—are also right there. Plucking some roses to be pressed and sent home as mementoes of the battle ground, we passed on over the field. Guided by Col. Randall we saw where the fighting opened on the right and centre; where the Second Vermont, then a regiment a month old, first went into action; where it did its fighting; where, upon the attack of fresh forces upon our right, it was ordered to fall back; and where its dead were collected and buried. Many of the dead who fell in both the battles of Bull Run, were not buried in graves but simply covered with earth as they lay, and skulls and bones frequently protrude from the little mounds; but the Vermonters seemed to have been decently interred in a row. There are no head-boards to mark the graves, and the grass grows thick over them. We passed by Dogan’s house, still standing though unoccupied; we saw, of course, “the stone house,” windowless and deserted and marked by cannon shot; and we took our homeward way by the turnpike, fording Bull Run at the famous stone bridge, now a bridge no longer.

On the battle-ground I saw not a trace of riflepit or earth-work of any description, and the fighting must have been in the main open standup work. The ground is almost covered in one or two spots with skeletons of horses. Its surface is ridged with graves, and strewn with cartridge boxes, remnants of uniforms and knapsacks, and here and there a rusty bayonet or unexploded shell. Many of the marks of the conflict are doubtless hidden by the grass, which grows probably thicker than before on soil enriched by the blood and bones of fallen patriots and rebels. It is now entirely uncultivated and deserted; but several of the farms around and near it are in a pretty good state of cultivation for Virginia, and in time, no doubt, the plough-share will be driven over its slopes, through grave and cannon rut, and all traces of the great battles will become obliterated.

We returned to camp, after a ride taken all together of from 20 to 25 miles, without casualties.

The weather is dry to actual drought. It is over a month since we have had more than a passing shower. The days are generally clear and hot and the nights uniformly cool. It is good weather for the health of our troops.

The regiments have been taking turns, of late, at out-post duty at Bristow’s and Catlett’s. The Twelfth was drawn back to Union Mills a fortnight since, and remains here. The Sixteenth succeeded it out on the railroad, and was succeeded in turn by the Fifteenth.

You understand, of course, that if I have heretofore mainly written of the Twelfth, it is because many of your readers are especially interested in it, and because it is my own regiment, and not because the others are not as well worthy of notice. All are good regiments. The Thirteenth, Col. Randall, I have not seen in line lately, but I hear that it is in a fine state of efficiency and drill. The Fourteenth, Col. Nichols, I saw on review recently, and admired the precision with which they marched and the general good appearance of the men. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth, Colonels Proctor and Veazey, were reviewed here a while since, by Gen. Abercrombie, commanding the division, who expressed surprise and gratification at their fine discipline and appearance. The following order is official testimony to this:


Headquarters Second Brigade,

Abercrombie’s Division,

Union Mills, Va., May 26th, 1863.

Special Order No. 19.

The General Commanding desires to express to the regiments inspected to-day his congratulations on their soldier-like appearance, and to convey to them the approbation of the Division General.

Gen. Abercrombie speaks in high terms of the Review and Inspection, especially of the manner in which both regiments passed through the manual of arms, and noticed with pleasure the attention that has been paid to drill and discipline by both officers and men.

By order of Brig. Gen. G. J. Stannard,
Wm. H. Hill, A. A. G.


It will not be a satisfactory sight, in some aspects of it, to see these fine regiments, each over 800 strong to-day, going home at this critical period of the war. But half of the men, and perhaps more, will re-enlist before the summer is over.

Yours, B.

[1] The cavalry engagement of Brandy Station.

Spring-time In Virginia—Guarding The O. And A. Railroad.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Union Mills, Virginia, May 19, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

Two weeks of sunshine and warm rains have brought forward the season in this region with wonderful rapidity. The fields are now green; the forest leaves have fairly jumped out of the branches that remained brown and bare till we began to doubt the existence of the slumbering life within; the patches of hard wood fleck with paler green the dark pine forests on the hill-slopes; the oak groves are delightful for shade and shelter; the white blossoms of the dogwood adorn the undergrowth; the song-birds are numerous in kind and quantity; and meadow and woodland are passing pleasant to every sense save that of taste, and that may be included if one chooses to pull up a root of sassafras, which is abundant in the woods. The charms of spring, heretofore alluded to, if I am not mistaken, by several writers both in prose and poetry, are appreciated by none more than by the soldiers. The spring-time gives carpet and canopy and hangings of green to their “truly rural” dwellings, and their life in the open air has many an agreeable feature.

The men of the Twelfth have been enjoying to the full their sojourn in the splendid region at the front, and the regiment has been greatly benefited as to health by the change. The number of new cases of sickness has been reduced to a nominal figure, and the convalescents who have returned from the hospitals in Alexandria have rapidly regained full strength.

In the Thirteenth regiment the same malarial fever which weakened the Twelfth so at the Shoals is prevailing extensively and has proved fatal in four or five cases within a day or two.

The Twelfth regiment, when first sent to the Rappahannock on the 7th inst., was encamped near the river, but was afterwards drawn back for a mile—continuing, however, its guard at the bridge and pickets on the river—to a splendid stretch of meadow land in the edge of an oak grove. No finer location could have been asked for, and the boys would have been well content to remain there though the situation was an exposed one. It was as far to the front, you see, as General Hooker’s army, and the two regiments—the Fifteenth lying about three miles this side of it,—were some twenty miles from supports. Rebel scouting parties were seen daily, and there was a line of rebel pickets on the other side of the river opposite the camp. If the enemy had made a serious attempt to repossess the Orange and Alexandria railroad by a flank movement from the mountain passes through which Jackson came down on Pope, the Twelfth and Fifteenth would have had to fight it out alone. But that danger has passed. Two or three days since, a strong force of cavalry from Stoneman’s corps came up to guard the lower end of the railroad, and yesterday the infantry regiments were withdrawn.

The Fifteenth came back to Union Mills, and resumes its old duty of picketing along the Occoquan and Bull Run. The Twelfth remains out a few miles, the right wing, which includes Company C, being stationed at Bristow’s, and the left wing, in two detachments, at Catlett’s Station and Manassas Junction.

I should like to describe more fully than I have done the region between us and the Rappahannock, its melancholy desolation, deserted mansions, farms without a laborer or sign of cultivation, and solitary chimney stacks, the only vestiges of hundreds of farm houses swept away by the scourge of war, while the few remaining inhabitants have reached a point where the owners of plantations of two or three thousand acres are glad to beg from our troops the common necessaries of life ; but I have not time to-day.

General Stannard retains his headquarters at Union Mills, and devotes himself earnestly and effectively to the care of the troops. It is no light care. The Second Vermont brigade is spread over a line of fifty miles, three of the regiments maintaining a picket line for which the entire brigade used to be hardly sufficient, and two guarding thirty miles of railroad, for the protection of which, a year ago, a force of sixteen thousand men was not considered too large, although then there was no rebel army this side of Richmond. If any one supposes that under such circumstances there is no work for the men, or labor and care for their officers, he has only to come out here to learn his mistake. But as yet we see no fighting. We heard the roar of the recent battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in which our brothers were winning good report though not victory, and wished we were by their sides. There is time yet to try our men under fire. If Hooker is further reinforced from this corps, we shall probably be sent to him; and it is not impossible that we may have all the fighting” we want right here ; but it must come within six weeks or not at all for us, in this term of service.

Yours, B.

Skirmish at Warrenton Junction.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Union Mills, Va., May 4, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

On Friday morning last, the Twelfth broke camp and moved toward the front. The orders from division headquarters called for a regiment to go out to Warrenton Junction, for the protection of the O. & A. railroad, which has lately been re-opened to the Rappahannock and is soon to be again an important channel of supplies for the army, and the Twelfth was selected for the duty. Officers and men were glad enough to leave Wolf Run Shoals, and to go where there was a prospect of more active service, and took up the line of march in high spirits. The regiment reached Union Mills at about 11 o’clock, and there took cars for Warrenton Junction. It now lies in camp about three miles beyond Warrenton Junction, two companies being stationed at Catlett’s Station.

I paid them a visit yesterday. Taking a seat on the engine of a supply train, in company with Colonel Blunt and several other officers, we whirled away. We soon reached the historic ground of Manassas, its plains seamed with rifle-pits and its low hills crowned with earth-works. Thence to Catlett’s our iron horse picked his way over rails which were torn up by the rebels last summer, and have since been straightened after a fashion and relaid, and along a track which is strewn on each side with car trucks by the hundred and other burnt and blackened remains of the trains destroyed by General Banks, and by the rebels in the famous raid on General Pope’s headquarters before the last Bull Run battles. The country from Bristow’s on to Warrenton Junction and beyond, is a fine, open and comparatively level region, in strong contrast with the barren hills along the Occoquan, the scattered planters’ houses showing evidences of more prosperity and the fields under cultivation to a greater extent than in any portion of Virginia where we have heretofore been stationed.

Near Bristow’s we were stopped by a frightened telegraph operator, on horseback, who said he had just escaped from Warrenton Junction, which place he reported in the hands of the rebel cavalry, who according to his account had come in and captured the whole force of Union cavalry there. We heard his story and pushed on to Catlett’s, where we learned a different one, and hastening to Warrenton Junction we soon had the evidence of our own eyes upon the case. A body of cavalry, in the blue uniforms of Uncle Sam’s boys, held the Junction, and the bodies of a dozen dead horses strewn around the solitary house at the station told of a sharp skirmish on that spot. Springing from the train, I had hardly taken twenty steps before I came upon the body of a dead rebel, stretched stark and cold, face upward, in coat of rusty brown and pantaloons of butternut. They showed me papers taken from his pockets, showing him to be one Templeman, a well known scout and spy of Mosby’s command. Passing on to the house I found lying around it seventeen wounded “butternuts” of all ages, from boys of sixteen to shaggy and grizzled men of fifty years. They lay in their blood, with wounds as yet undressed, for the skirmish ended but a little while before we arrived, some with gaping sabre cuts, some with terrible bullet wounds through face, body or limbs. Four or five rebel prisoners, unhurt, stood by, with downcast faces, but willing to answer civil questions. Close by, covered decently with a blanket, lay the body of a Union cavalryman, shot in cold blood after he had surrendered and given up his arms, by a long haired young rebel, who had received his reward for the dastardly act and lay near his victim, with a bullet wound in his stomach. The floor of the house was strewn with wounded men, among them Major Steele of the First Virginia, mortally wounded, and two of Mosby’s officers. Their wounds had just been dressed, and the surgeons now began to give attention to the wounded rebels outside.

From men engaged on both sides, I learned that Mosby, who has recently been made a major for his activity in the rebel service, with 125 men,[1] made a dash upon the outpost of the First Virginia (union) cavalry, at the Junction, about 9 o’clock that morning. The men of the First Virginia were taken by surprise, dismounted and with their horses unsaddled, and after a short fight surrendered. A few who had taken refuge in the station house kept up the fight by firing from the upper windows, till Mosby filled the house with smoke by setting fire to a pile of hay on the lower floor, when they hung out a white flag. They accounted for their surprise by averring that the front rank of the rebels were clothed in U. S. uniform, and they supposed them to be a friendly force.

Major Mosby was, however, a little too fast for once. A squadron of the Fifth New York cavalry, under Major Hammond, happened to be in camp in a piece of woods near by, and making their appearance on the scene while the rebels were securing their prisoners, charged in on them at once. A running fight followed in which the prisoners were all retaken and twenty-three of their captors killed, wounded and made prisoners. Mosby was chased for ten miles, his force for the most part scattered, himself, as it is reported, wounded in the shoulder, and a number of his men wounded who made out to get into the woods and escape capture. The First Virginia lost their major, mortally wounded, one man killed and nine men wounded, and the Fifth New York a captain and two lieutenants wounded. The result of the operation was, you see, altogether in our favor. Three men of the Twelfth Vermont were taken near the camp, by Mosby’s men, but escaped in the skirmish, one of them bringing in a rebel’s horse with him. The pickets of the Twelfth took a straggler from Mosby’s force. A party of the First Vermont cavalry, which is in camp just beyond the Twelfth, joined the pursuit of the rebels but was not in at the skirmish.

Going on to the camp of the Twelfth Vermont I found the men considerably stirred up by the events of the morning which took place so nearly under their noses, and feeling as if they were pretty well out into the enemy’s country; but if attacked I know that the Twelfth will give a good account of itself.

The health of the regiment is improving. Company C has lost another man in the death of Private Stoughton. He was apparently one of our hardiest men, enduring exposures which many men would sink under, and besides doing his own full share of duty often did that of other men, being always ready to take the place of an ailing comrade. He ran right down with pneumonia, gave up all hope from the start, and gave his life to his country without a murmur.

We are waiting with intense anxiety for news from General Hooker’s army.

The season here is little or no earlier than in Vermont. The fields are just beginning to look green and the leaves of the forest trees are not yet started.

The brigade has orders to be ready to march at an hour’s notice. We look for lively work here if disaster overtakes Hooker.

May 6.

The regiment is ordered forward to Rappahannock Station, to guard the railroad bridge at that point.

Yours, B.

[1] Mosby in his Reminiscences says he had “70 or 80 men.”

Headquarters Second Vermont Brigade, Wolf Run Shoals, Va., April 9, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

If I sometimes talk about the weather it is because it is a subject of prime importance in every camp. Upon the weather depend both the movements of armies and the health of the troops, to an extent which can hardly be realized by any one not connected with the army. The risks the soldier thinks most about when he first enlists, are commonly those of the battlefield. After he has been out a while, not wounds or death or capture, but sickness, is his great dread. As long as he is well, if he is a true man, he cares little about the rest. For a month past we have encouraged ourselves with the thought that the season of snows and mud was about over. The inhabitants hereabouts told us that they frequently commenced ploughing in February, and that such gardens as they have were always made or making by the middle of March. This may be so; but we have no evidence of the fact this year. If you could have heard the storm howl here last Saturday night, or seen the pickets wading to their posts next day through snow which frequently in the hollows was over boot tops, you would have come to the conclusion that winter was not “rotting in the sky” in Virginia. To-day the snow still lies upon the shaded hill-slopes, and the air is as chilly, in spite of the sunshine, as in any April day in Vermont. We have now done counting on the speedy return of mild and pleasant weather. It may come, when it pleases the kind Ruler of the sunshine and the storm; but our boys declare that they shall not be surprised to leave Virginia in a snow storm when our time is out next July. The sick list of the Twelfth is larger now than ever before, numbering not less than 120, besides a number who suffer from severe colds but are not sick enough to require the surgeon’s care. This diminution from the effective force of the regiment, while the details for picket duty are increased rather than diminished, tells sensibly upon the labors of the well and strong. But while there is some complaining, of course, all are ready to own that they had far rather do the work of the sick and feeble ones, than to take their places in the hospitals. There have been one or two more deaths since I wrote you last. The Twelfth, heretofore the healthiest, seems to be now the sickliest regiment in the brigade. Why this is so, it is hard to explain. Partly, perhaps, because the other regiments had their “sick spells” and got through the process of acclimation sooner; partly because the measles had a run in the winter and left many men in poor condition to resist the exposures of the spring; partly, perhaps mainly, owing to the unhealthy location of the camp. The last reason will not hold after this. This week the regiment has moved camp to a hard-wood knoll, a quarter of a mile from the old one. The location is higher and the ground much better than the old one. The men erected new stockades before they left the old ones, and when the mud dries will be very comfortable in their new quarters. I wish you could look into some of the new shanties, and see how comfortable. I have one of Company C’s in my eye— stockade of logs, split in halves, laid flat side in and hewed smooth, a good five feet high and closely covered by the canvas roof; door of boards in one side; good floor of pieces of hard tack boxes; bunks wide enough for two men, one over the other, made of smooth poles which make a spring bedstead; sheet iron stove; sofa of split white wood, without ends or back; gun rack filled with its shining arms—the principal ornament of the room; shelves, pegs to hang things on, and other conveniences too numerous to mention—why, it is good enough for the honeymoon palace of the Princess and Prince of Wales, good enough even for a soldier of the Army of the Union.

stockaded tents, 12th vermont

This brigade is now picketing twenty odd miles of line. The Fourteenth guards the lower Occoquan from the lowest ford at Colchester to Davis’s Ford, three miles below the Shoals. The Twelfth and Thirteenth picket from there to Yates’s Ford,. a couple of miles below Union Mills. The Fifteenth and Sixteenth take care of the rest of the line up to Blackburn’s Ford, on Bull Run, where the pickets of General Hays’ brigade meet our own.

The men of the Twelfth have been gratified by the recent removal of the headquarters of the brigade to the vicinity of the Shoals, thus bringing Colonel Blunt in a measure back to them, and the colonel is as glad to be near his regiment as they are to have him here.

Our pickets have been repeatedly fired on at night of late by bushwhackers. The consequence is stricter measures with the inhabitants within and near our lines. Brigade Provost Marshal, Captain William Munson, has been visiting all the houses in this region, searching for and confiscating all arms and property contraband of war, and registering the names and standing as to loyalty, of the citizens. It goes hard with some of these F. F. V’s, to give up the old fowling pieces, of which quite a collection is accumulating at headquarters, some of them nearly as long as Long Bridge, and old as the invention of gunpowder apparently, which have been handed down from father to son for generations; but they have to come.

It is one of the most embarrassing portions of the duty of a commanding officer in such a region as this, to deal properly with the noncombatant inhabitants. The innocent must often suffer with the guilty, from the nature of the case. Colonel Blunt is kind to the sincerely loyal, of whom there are very few, and to the inoffensive, of whom there are more, within our lines, and is looked up to by them as a protector; but the men whose influence contributed to bring about the present state of things, whose sons are in the rebel army, and whose sympathies are with that side, get little consolation when they come to Colonel Blunt to complain. They are informed that as they would have secession and war, and have sown the wind, they must take the consequences and reap the whirlwind. Such dialogues as the following are not infrequent: Citizen, “Good morning, Colonel,” Colonel, “Good morning, sir.”—Citizen, “My name is ——;your troops are stealing my rails; I’d like to save what I’ve got left, and wish you’d order them that ain’t burnt brought back, and stop them taking any more.” Colonel, “H’m, did you vote for secession?” Citizen, “Well,”(hesitating,) “Well I did, colonel, but it is too late to talk about that now.” Colonel, “Too late to talk about rails, too, sir. Good day, sir.” Exit citizen with a large flea in his ear and rage in his heart at “the d—d Yankees.”

But to return to the provost marshal’s operations, I was going to say that enough of information and arms have been obtained to fully warrant the search. Muskets have been found hid in the closets, and cartridges and percussion caps by thousands laid away in the women’s bureau drawers, the possession of which they relinquished with extreme reluctance. Some citizens have been sent in to Washington for safe custody, and it is hoped that this playing peaceful citizen by day and bushwhacker by night is measureably stopped, for the present. Captain Munson has performed his delicate duties, so far as I can learn, with great good judgment and efficiency.

We turn back now from our lines remorselessly all fugitives from Dixie, except contrabands and deserters from the rebel army. Three of them came in to-day, one of them a young man of 25, the other two good looking boys of 17, all of the Fifth Virginia cavalry. They are clothed in the coarse cotton and wool butternut colored jackets and trousers which commonly form the uniform of a rebel soldier when he has one; and tell the often repeated story of scanty rations, hard treatment, and poor pay. The twelve dollars a month which they are paid barely cover the cost of their clothes, at the rates at which they are charged to them, so that the rebel soldier in fact works for his food and clothing, and not over much of either. One of these was a Baltimore boy who joined the rebel army in a hurry, on its invasion of Maryland seven months ago, and has repented at his leisure. They brought their carbines with them, and tell straight stories. They say that an impression that the war is to continue indefinitely prevails now in the South, and is disheartening many who have hitherto held out strongly for the rebel cause.

This being fast day in Vermont, a general order from the colonel commanding directed the relief of the men from all unnecessary duties, and the observance of religious exercises appropriate to the occasion. The unsettled state of the camp of the Twelfth prevented our chaplain from preaching a sermon. I attended divine service in the camp of the Fourteenth and heard a patriotic and excellent sermon by Chaplain Smart of that regiment.

Yours, B.

On Staff Duty. [1]

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va.,
March 21, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

I am glad to be able to announce an improvement in the health of the Twelfth regiment since I wrote you last. The existence of some sixty cases of pneumonia and typhoid fever, of which eight proved fatal in quick succession, alarmed us all at one time. But a change has taken place for the better,—due, apparently, to the increased care and precautions taken for the health of the men, for the weather has continued as trying as heretofore. We had snow and sharp cold weather yesterday and last night, and have a drizzling rain to-day. There have been no deaths within a week past; the number on the sick-list has decreased considerably, and the new cases of fever are of a milder type. The suddenness with which death gave the final discharge, in several of the fatal cases, was startling. In one case, the man was taken sick one day, went into hospital the next, and died the next. In another, the poor fellow had just sent a message to his friends saying that he was pretty sick, but hoped he should get along with it, when he fell into a dreamy, wandering state, complained of the weight of his knapsack, and did not see how he could carry it across the river. Suddenly his breath stopped; the soldier was over the river, without his knapsack and never again to be troubled by its weight.

There is now, I believe, but one man in hospital who is considered dangerously ill; and a week of sunshine, such as we must have soon, will bring the regiment back to its usual average of health.

Colonel Blunt, as brigade commander, has been making his presence felt at Fairfax Station in the right way. The Station is a point of supply for all the troops at Centreville, Union Mills, Fairfax Court House, Fairfax Station and Wolf Run Shoals. The quantity of quartermaster and commissary stores here, is of course very large —and the position is to be held at all hazards. It is now, I am happy to say, in a very much better condition for defence than ever before. Rifle pits have been dug and breast-works by the mile , thrown up, by the men of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth regiments, along the high ground surrounding the Station on every side, from behind which they will be happy to meet any force likely to be sent against them. The picket lines have also been closely looked after; the various departments of supply for the brigade have received attention; and the brigade and regimental hospitals have had the benefit of the colonel’s occasional unannounced presence and quick eye for defects in management. One learns to value energy and attention to his business in a commanding officer, after seeing how the influence of such qualities is felt throughout down to the last private in the brigade.

How long the rebels will leave our infantry regiments unmolested, of course I cannot say; but the way in which our cavalry suffer of late, is a caution to us all. You have heard of the recent capture of Major Wells, a captain, two lieutenants and twenty men of the Vermont cavalry at Herndon Station, Va., some twenty miles north of this place. This was followed up night before last by the gobbling up of a picket reserve of the Pennsylvania cavalry, numbering some twenty men, a short distance to the right of our own picket line on the Occoquan. These surprises of the cavalry, I must say, are getting to be altogether too frequent.

I have, by the way, recently met one or two of the men who were present at the capture of our Vermont cavalry at Aldie, two or three weeks since. Captain Huntoon’s party were thrown off from their guard by a body of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania cavalry which met them on its way in from the outside, and reported no rebels anywhere in the region. The men were hemmed in by the rebels in the yard of a mill, from which they were getting grain to feed their horses. The force under Captain Mosby numbered, according to his own statement, twenty-seven men. Captain Woodward’s horse was killed instantly by a ball in the spine and fell upon Captain Woodward, pinning him to the ground. While lying thus, a rebel ruffian rode up and commenced firing at the prostrate captain, who would probably have been murdered in cold blood had he not managed to draw a small pistol from his breast pocket, with which he was lucky enough to send a ball through his assailant’s body. One man of his company defended himself for some time from two rebels who were trying to seize his horse, which he held by the halter, by striking at them with the bridle and bits. Gurtin, the Rutland boy who was so severely wounded, was seen to stop, with the balls flying around him and after two had gone through him, and deliberately load his revolver, which he had emptied, and discharge it at the rebels, after which he put spurs to his horse and made his escape. He now lies in the hospital at Fairfax Court House in a critical condition, a ball having passed through the bone of the pelvis into the groin, where it cannot be extracted.

Several of the men who were captured with General Stoughton and accompanied him to Richmond, have been paroled and have returned. They say that they were taken to Culpeper that night and the next morning, and remained there over one day, a delay which might have ensured the recapture of the prisoners, had a sufficient cavalry force followed upon their tracks. General Stoughton was well treated at Culpeper by General Fitzhugh Lee, who was a classmate of the general’s at West Point; but after his arrival in Richmond he was taken to the Libby prison, where he now lies in company with 108 officers of our army, who are all confined in one room. A lady acquaintance of the general’s in Richmond had furnished him with some blankets; but he was kept on the same scanty fare as that allowed to the other prisoners—a third of a loaf of bread and a small piece of poor meat per diem. The general and his friends are hoping for his speedy release on parole.[2]

Yours, B.

[1] Shortly before the date of this letter the writer was permanently detailed for duty as aide-de-camp on the staff of the brigade commander.

[2] General Stoughton’s appointment as brigadier general, then pending confirmation by the U. S. Senate, was withdrawn by President Lincoln. This left him without rank in the army. He was paroled, retired to private life, and did not return to the service.

The Capture of General Stoughton.

Camp Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va.,
March 8, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

The Twelfth is now in the seventh week of its occupancy of its present camp,—a longer stay in one spot than it has yet made. We have formed no such intense attachment to our camp at the Shoals that we shall not be pretty well content to leave it, wherever we may be ordered. The region about us is a dreary one; the camp is less pleasant than our former ones; the time we have thus far spent in it has been during the most trying season of the year; snow, rain, frost and mud have told on the health of the regiment, and we have more sickness than ever before, among both officers and men; our picket duty— in pleasant weather the pleasantest duty of the soldier—has been severe ; and though our situation here might be worse in a thousand particulars, we should all be satisfied to run the risk of not bettering our condition by a move.

You are not to understand that we are disheartened—not at all. “The Red, White and Blue,” sung by an extemporized quartette, with a stiff chorus of manly voices, coming to my ear as I write, tells a different story from that. We carry a stiff upper lip under all circumstances. About a tenth of the regiment are off duty from measles, fevers, and ailments of one sort or another. The balance are, I think, more resolute in the great purpose of the war than ever. “There is more fight in me,” said one of our men yesterday, “than ever before. I supposed when I enlisted that nine months in the service would give me enough of war, and I remained of that opinion till quite lately. Now I am in for the war, be it long or short.” The man who said this had no lack of fight in him at the start, mind you, and I believe he represents a majority of the regiment. Fuller acquaintance with the temper and purposes of the rebels, discussion of the issues involved, and especially the news we get from home of the sayings and doings of the miserable “copperhead” journals and their followers at the North, have stirred to the bottom the fountains of honest indignation, and given strength to the purpose and patriotism of us all. The army is unanimous in this feeling, so far as I can judge. Having enlisted to fight traitors, the soldiers as a mass propose to fight them through, and would like to give those at home the same treatment they do those at the south.

March 9.

I was going to complain of the lack of incident here, but since I began my letter, we have been supplied with some of that missing article. You will have heard by telegraph before this reaches you, of Mosby’s dash into Fairfax Court House last night, and the capture in his bed of Brigadier General E. H. Stoughton, commanding this brigade. The camp is humming with the news, but in the uncertainty as to how much that is told of the attending circumstances is truth, I will not attempt to describe this very creditable (to the rebels) occurrence. I beg leave to say, however, that none of the disgrace of the affair belongs to the regiments of the brigade. General Stoughton was not taken from the midst of his command. The Vermont regiments nearest to the comfortable brick house which he occupied as his headquarters, were at Fairfax Station, four miles south of him, while the Twelfth and Thirteenth were a dozen miles away. The risk of exactly such an operation has been apparent even to the privates, and has been a matter of frequent remark among officers and men, for weeks past. How could they protect him as long as he kept his quarters at such a distance from them?[1]

The moral of the transaction is too obvious to need suggestion.

Colonel Blunt has been assigned to the command of the brigade, and is removing his headquarters to Fairfax Station. When he is pulled out of bed by guerillas I will let you know.

Yours, B.

[1] Rev. George B. Spaulding of Vergennes, in a communication to the N. Y. Times, commenting on the capture of General Stoughton, said that his capture had been predicted in a letter from Fairfax Court House, written ten days before the event. General Stoughton’s uncle, Hon. E. W. Stoughton of New York, afterwards U. S. Minister to Russia, took up the matter, avowed his disbelief in the existence of any such prediction, and offered to give $250 to the N. E. Soldiers’ Relief Association for the name and residence of any person who had received a letter containing such a prediction. These were furnished to Mr. Stoughton and he paid over the sum named to the Soldiers’ Relief Association.

More Snow Storms.

Camp Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va.,
February 22, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

I beg leave to withdraw my opinion that the back-bone of the winter if not of the rebellion was broken, in this region. The time is coming, undoubtedly, when both will be shattered; but at present the dorsal columns of the season and of secession are not fractured—distinctly not. I am writing in the midst of the hardest snow storm we have seen in Virginia, and one that would not disgrace the bleakest hillside in Old Vermont. The diary of the weather for six days past may be interesting as a sample of a Virginia winter: Tuesday, a fall of from ten to twelve inches of heavy snow. Wednesday, snow settling fast, and affording material for some tall snow-balling in the afternoon. [Mem. The left wing led by Company C, after a hot battle with the right wing, rallied for a charge, engaged them at half pop-gun range and drove them into their entrenchments;—casualties, two bloody noses and three or four contused eyes from percussion snow balls. N. B. Wounded all doing well.] Thursday, pouring rain, which carried off the remainder of the snow. Friday, high wind, drying the mud rapidly. Saturday, warm, bright sunshine,—air like May ; bluebirds and robins singing, men all out “policing” up the quarters and camp, and enjoying the sweet breath of spring. Sunday opens dark and cold, with a heavy storm of fine dry snow falling at the rate of an inch an hour, drifted as it falls by a cutting east wind, and closes at nightfall with not much short of eighteen inches of snow on a level, and promise of a cold snap of several days’ duration.

Picket service is decidedly rough at such a time, and some mothers’ hearts I know of would ache could they see their boys out on the picket line, cowering under their booths of pine branches through which the snow and wind find easy entrance, and holding their wet and chilled hands and feet to the fires which struggle for mastery with the storm and at best can only avail to surround them with circles of sposh and mud. But we keep up good heart amid sun or storm, and before this reaches the eyes of our friends, sunshine and mild weather will have returned to us.

It may be thought, perhaps, that there is no need of keeping men out on picket at such a time; but our surroundings here have taught us that constant vigilance, by night and day in all weathers, is the price of safety. We are in the enemy’s country, if it is but twenty-five miles from Washington. The inhabitants of this region are all “secesh.” As wherever we have been in Virginia, the young and able bodied men are all gone. The old men are just quiet and civil enough when in the presence of our soldiers to keep themselves from arrest; but render what aid and comfort they give to any one, to the other side. The women are “secesh” without exception; the little girls sing rebel songs, and the hoopless, dirty and illiterate young ladies of these F. F. V.’s boast that their brothers and sweethearts are in the rebel army, and chuckle over the time coming, when the roads settle, when Stonewall Jackson will rout us out of here in a hurry. One or two skirmishes of the Michigan cavalry with White’s rebel cavalry have occurred near us recently, in one of which our side lost fifteen men, and a cavalry picket was cut off but two days ago within three miles of our camp. Our position at this post is, however, a tolerably strong one; we have here, with our two regiments, the Third Connecticut battery, Captain Sterling, six brass guns manned by a fine set of fellows; and we are now connected by telegraph with Fairfax Station and Washington, so that reinforcements could be quickly sent out if we should be attacked. I think we could make a stout fight by ourselves if necessary, and hold the post against a much superior force.

I was about to submit some patriotic considertions in view of the fact that this is Washington’s birthday, but I spare you.

The regiment has sustained a serious loss in the resignation of Captain Landon of the Rutland company, who has been compelled by business interests to retire from the service. He was an excellent officer and will be much missed by his brother officers.

Our new assistant surgeon, Dr. Ross, has arrived and entered upon his duties.

Yours, B.

Return After A Furlough.

Camp Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va.,
February 7, 1863.[1]

Dear Free Press:

Once more in camp! For your humble servant, after eighteen days’ absence on furlough, the change is from the snows of Vermont to the mud of Virginia; from the peace and comfort of New England homes to the insecurity and desolation of this part of the field of war; from sleeping between sheets and eating at tables and other luxuries of civilization, to tent life and camp fare. For the Twelfth, also, the change within the three weeks past is not a slight one. It has exchanged the broad stretches and open region of Fairfax Court House, for a rough and broken country, wooded with scrub oaks and second growth pines growing on worn out tobacco fields, and scantily peopled with scattered “secesh” farmers. Near us, several hundred feet below the level of our camps, runs the Occoquan river, a muddy stream about as large as the Winooski. Across it, on the heights beyond, are earthworks thrown up by Beauregard’s soldiers last winter, now untenanted.

Our camp is on a knoll from which the men have cleared the pine trees. It is much narrower in its limits than our former fine camp near Fairfax, and it is less attractive in almost every particular.

The first battalion drill since the regiment left Camp Fairfax, came off to-day. The men have had all they could do in digging rifle pits, picket duty, constructing corduroy roads,—of which they have made miles between this and Fairfax Station,—and the labor of clearing and making camp; and between rain and snow and mud have had the roughest time they have as yet known. Their spirits are good, however, and as I write, the music of a guitar and violin and well attuned manly voices, serenading the ladies whose presence in camp I have heretofore mentioned, reaches me on the evening air, and tells of light hearts and good cheer.

Quartermaster Sergeant George H. Bigelow has been appointed first lieutenant in Company B, and detailed as quartermaster of the regiment, and private George I. Hagar, of Company C, has been made sergeant major of the regiment, in place of Sergeant Major Redington, promoted.

Camp Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va Camp Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va. February, 1863.


February 14.

The Twelfth and Thirteenth regiments have here nearly ten miles of picket line to guard. There have been skirmishes between the cavalry outposts, sights of rebel patrols, and rumors of coming attack from rebel cavalry, enough to keep us somewhat on the alert; but the long roll has not sounded, nor has hostile shot been fired by us. Colonel Blunt has been practicing the men at target firing, and they are making sensible progress in the modern method of administering the “blue pills” which are the only cure for rebellion. Yesterday and the day before, fatigue parties crossed the river and destroyed the earthworks on the heights commanding our camps; but while the roads are in their present condition we can hardly be in great danger from rebel artillery. The mud in the roads, where they are not corduroyed, varies from deep to bottomless, and the rains are frequent enough to keep the roads from settling. A week of sunshine, however, would again enable armies to move.

The weather is quite mild. It is raining as I write, with the thermometer at 58°, and the mercury has been as high as 70° in the sunshine in our camp during the past week. The backbone of the winter, if not of the rebellion, is broken in this region. We shall probably not have more than one more right cold spell, and shall henceforth expect much warm weather.

The health of the regiment has improved and may now be called pretty good, though many of us suffer from the disturbing effect of the water, which is not as good here as we have found in our former camps. Company C is called the healthiest company in the regiment.

The Second Vermont brigade is now, as you know, a portion of the Twenty-second Army Corps,—heretofore called the Reserve Corps, Defences of Washington—under command of Major General Heintzleman, and the Twelfth and Thirteenth Vermont are on the outer line of the new “Department of Washington.”

Yours, B.

[1] During the month preceding this date, the writer was promoted to a vacant lieutenancy, and received a furlough for twenty days, to enable him to return to Vermont, whither he was called by his duties as President of the Vermont and Boston Telegraph Co., Postmaster of Burlington, and editor of the Free Press.