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

Post image for War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

June 15, 2012

War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld

Camp near New Bridge, June 15.

Dear Father, — I have had a pretty narrow squeak from being sent to Richmond in advance of our army. The circumstances under which I came near being taken were as follows. I went out Friday, June 13, with a light wagon and four horses and a negro driver named Sam. I am caterer for our mess now, and was going out to get some butter and eggs, etc. I went out to Hall’s Mill some six miles from camp, and the place where our outpost pickets are stationed. From here, I took a road to the right, which led me to Mrs. Brockenborough’s, the wife of a doctor in the rebel army. I bought 36 pounds of butter and a few onions, and turned round to come home. I should have told you before that Hall’s Mill is situated at a point where four roads meet. One, the road I came on, which goes on to Hanover Court House. Another goes to Richmond, and on the prolongation of this latter road away from Richmond, I was getting my butter, etc. When I passed our pickets at Hall’s Mill, they said that it was safe for me to go to Mrs. Brockenborough’s as our pickets were there. As I said, I got my things all safely and turned round to go back to H.’s Mill, and from there home. When within 200 or 300 feet of the mill, I saw cavalry proceeding at a rapid rate towards Old Church, coming from the road to Hanover. At first I thought that it was all right, as the pickets had told me that our scouting parties had gone out in that direction. I thought, though, that their uniform looked rather light and so told my driver to stop while I crept up nearer them. I went into some woods on the right of the road and crept along the fence till I came within 50 or 60 feet of the rascals, and could plainly see that they were Secesh. At first, indeed, I could hardly believe that they were rebels, but thought they must be some regiment of our cavalry dressed in gray, but I remembered that we had none dressed that way. I could see and distinguish the officers by a broad gold stripe which they had on the pants and caps. The men were dressed in all kinds of clothes. Some had gray clothes, some the bluish gray, some white shirts, some red, and in fact almost all the colors of the rainbow were there. The coverings for their heads were of all sorts. Some had caps and others slouched hats, etc. A bend in the road I was on concealed the wagon from them while passing the mill, but when they had passed by the mill a few rods, there was nothing to conceal us from them. Luckily they were riding away from us, and so happened not to see us. I waited nearly an hour for them to get past us, and then turned the wagon round. I was afraid to do it before, because I thought it would attract their attention to move while they were so near. In order to turn, my man had to drive still nearer the mill where the road was broader, and this took him beyond the bend, so that he came in sight of some of them feeding their horses. They saw him, too, but made no effort to catch him. The only reason I can assign is that they took our wagon for one of the farmers’ wagons belonging in the vicinity. There must have been two thousand cavalry in all, and after them three pieces of artillery. As soon as I had the wagon turned, I set the horses off on a good smart trot, expecting to see the cavalry pursuing me every moment. No one came, however, and I thought that I was all safe. I luckily knew the way to Old Church, and followed it as quickly as I could.

clip_image002[3]I was going in the direction in which the horses are faced, when I first came in sight of the cavalry. I then turned round and went in the direction of the arrow, and thought myself safe, thinking of course that the enemy would never dare come as far as Old Church. When about a quarter of a mile from Old C. I saw the rascals burning the camp of the 5th Cavalry, and the main body drawn up in line along the side of the road. I was thus cut off from our camps, as there was no other road I could take to get back. I instantly drove my horses and wagon into the woods on the right of the road, hid there in the bushes, and covered over the tracks of the wheels. I then went to the road where I could watch the rebels and not be seen. Pretty soon the main body started and went on to White House. Stragglers and pickets stayed behind, however, making it impossible for me to leave the woods. Besides, I did not know but what they might have infantry with them, and intended to occupy the place. As it turned out they went on to Garlick’s Landing two miles from White House and from there to Tunstall’s Station and then across the Chickahominy at Charles City. It was a bold and brilliant dash, well executed. The enemy had all the information they wanted in regard to the position and number of our troops, from the inhabitants around there, one of whom we have arrested, he having been seen the morning the rebels came, at H. Ct. House. He will swing for it, I suppose. We had only three companies of cavalry (5th U. S.) to oppose all the rebels, and of course they could make very slight resistance to 20000 men. The camp of two companies of the 5th Cavalry, on picket at Old Church, was burned amidst loud cheers from the rebels, which I arrived in time to hear. After being in the woods some little while, three men from the 5th Cavalry came in, they having been in the fight which the three companies of the 5th had with the rebels. Two of them had lost their horses. I got a negro who was by the roadside to let me know if any rebels came along, and I myself stood where I could look down the road. Soon I came where I could see a company of rebels, as I thought, coming towards me, and the negro motioned me back into the woods. These cavalry were in their shirt-sleeves and in the dust looked just like the rebels. I went back into the swamp a little way and waited there. A horse belonging to one of the 5th Cavalry neighed and drew the whole body of cavalry into the road to the wagon. I heard them talking there for more than an hour, and as it was getting pretty dark I started for home, walking through the woods. There was a private from the 5th Cavalry and my driver with me. I wandered through the woods, losing my way and expecting to meet with the enemies’ pickets every minute. At about 1 o’clock in the morning I saw some of our pickets and called to them. I was in as much danger of getting shot by our own pickets as by theirs, for they are not apt to challenge when they know the enemy are near. I saw them first, and called to them, and found out the way to camp. At three o’clock, after tramping along through forests and woods, and mud knee deep, I came to a church where I met a Lieutenant Winsor, who was in my class for a year. He very kindly lent me a horse which I rode home to camp. I never was more grateful for any favor than I was for the loan of this horse, for I was worn out mentally from constant watchfulness for the enemy and for pickets, and the cords of my legs were sore enough from tugging through the mud, swamps and woods, besides not having eaten anything since morning. I got back to camp a little past four and glad enough I was to see it. The general and staff had all given me up and expected that I was a prisoner in Richmond. They all were very glad to see me.

The next day I went out with some cavalry and found the wagon and brought it home. The horses and contents of the wagon were gone. I am quite confident now that they were our own men who were there, and expect to get the horses in a few days. From seeing them in white shirts and from the negro’s warning I thought they were Secesh. I shall be mighty careful how I go again foraging.

The enemy burned some schooners and stores at Tunstall’s Station and captured some of our wagons. It is a shame that they escaped so easily. There was nothing to prevent them from going to White House and burning up everything there, and then we should have been in a nice fix. I was not afraid when I saw them as I should expect myself to be, for I had a sort of feeling that I should get off. I could have taken to the woods by Hall’s Mill and gone where cavalry could not have followed. I was excited enough though, and the feeling, combined with the feeling I was not going to be caught, was rather pleasant than otherwise. . . .

We shall not advance until we receive reinforcements, and those may not come for some time. McClellan won’t move, in my opinion, until he is certain to whip, and to be certain of doing that we need reinforcements. . . .

Previous post:

Next post: