Sunday, June 12, 2011

Week 8 - June 10th - June 16th,1861 - First Blood/ Encampment at Roaches Mills Virginia

This was a fairly slow week for the 1st Connecticut Regiment, although it did culminate in their first war casualty. The week involved some activity with the Colonel and mainly telegraph line work and railroad reconnaissance. Note that the Battle of Big Bethel took place on June 10th, and although the 1st Connecticut was not involved several of the members made notes of this battle in their correspondence.

Private Wolcott Marsh (Rifle Company A) visited the Marshall House in Alexandria on June 15th and noted that the wooden stairway where Elmer Ellsworth had been killed was cut away by Union troops as souvenirs (Mercer and Mercer, 2006). Private Horace Purdy also mentions this in a letter and sends a piece of the stairway to his wife. Unfortunately the current location of this momento is unknown.

From the journal of Private Horace Purdy:

Monday, June 10th 1861

The Colonel (Burnham) drunk. He abused Sgt. [Milo] Dickens shamefully at the morning drill without any cause at all. The difficulty was with him and not the Sgt. I went on picket guard this morning for the first time. My watch was brought from Washington it having been there to be repaired. The Stars + Stripes were hoisted in camp today. Governor Buckingham has been here and reviewed us.

[Note: Some accounts state that Burnham suffered from a neurological disorder than made him appear as drunk in the eyes of observers. Although the letters of Wolcott Marsh note on June 16th that the "Boys are getting disgusted with Colonel Burnham. Some companies starting petition to have him removed".]

Tuesday, June 11th 1861

Hard thunder + lightening [sic] last night but to shower passed over without any rain here. I came off picket guard feeling a little tired but otherwise I felt good. I commenced a letter to Gussie. I received one from her and one from Harriet N. York.

Wednesday, June 12th 1861

Our drills are changed to earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon. We drill now from 8 ½ to 10 ½ O’clock AM. And from 4 to 6 o’clock P.M. The day has been very warm. An engine with two cars passed our camp at 7 pm going towards Alexandria with an escort of soldiers on board. This is the first train that has run over the road since we have been encamped here.

Thursday, June 13th 1861

Capt. [Eliakim] Wildman acted as Lieut Col and drilled the right wing of the regiment this forenoon. Lieut Stevens went with a party of us to bathe at 11 o’clock. We were obliged to have a commissioned officer with us in order to pass the guard. [Private Benjamin F.] Skinner got mad about a bed in the eve and left the tent. It has been a beautiful day.

Sunday, June 16th 1861

About 400 of our regiment headed by Gen Tyler went up the railroad to reconnoiter. While I with a detailed party was at work putting up telegraph poles and wire. One of the platform cars filled with our soldiers was fired into near Vienna and seriously wounded one of Capt. Comstock’s Co. Busbee [Private George H. Bugbey of Hartford, CT, Infantry Company A] by name. One of our scouts were we were at work on the telegraph saw some men setting fire to the track between us and the train which had gone up. Frank Platt and myself rolled a hand car down to camp as soon as possible to get men to go up and drive then off. But when we got up there they had left without doing any damage. So we had our trouble for nothing. We saw some men ahead up the track just on the edge of a piece of woods which we thought to be the enemy but they proved to be our own. In a short time the train came down with the wounded man with the west. Some of us took the train and others of us took the handcar and went in to camp.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Camp Life in May 1861 - Pvt. Philip Hudson, Infantry Company A, 1st Connecticut Volunteers

Private Philip W. Hudson of Manchester Connecticut enlisted in Infantry Company A of the 1st Connecticut Volunteer Regiment on April 20th, 1861.

Here is a post of a letter he wrote home from Virginia on May 17th, 1861. It provides good details of the regimen of camp life at this time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week 7 - June 3rd - June 9th 1861 - Encampment at Roaches Mills Virginia

Now advanced into Virginia, it was still a fairly uneventful week for the 1st Connecticut volunteers despite a few alarms and the capturing of a prisoner. Conditions at camp appear to be fairly bad. Captain Wolcott Marsh complained to his wife that the food was not decent for a hog to eat and that he would not reenlist under the current Colonel [Burnham] (Mercer and Mercer, 2006). Private William Cooley noted that he had a bed tick but no straw to put in it.

In a letter to his wife Pvt. Horace Purdy wrote that if he didn't by something extra to eat everyday he would not get along and described the fare as "pork and soup one day, and soup and pork the next". Furthermore, on June 8th Purdy reiterates the opinions of Cooley and Marsh: "I am not rugged enough to stand the exposures incident to camp life especially when we are under a Colonel like ours who seems to have but little regard for his men whether they have straw to sleep upon or bread to eat. Since we have been here we have had but little straw (and some have had none at all) to sleep upon. And nothing but hard sea biscuit to eat for bread. Yesterday the old Col. (now Brig. General) came to our camp and when he found out our condition he gave the Col. a severe talking to after this manner. What do you mean? Do you want to kill all my men? What are those two waggons [sic] doing yonder? Send them to the city and get some soft bread for the men. You have been drunk nearly ever since you have been here. If you do not do better you shall forfeit your papers. The General [Tyler] also set to work to have straw brought to the camp and before night three large loads of straw were hauled on the ground and the men scrambled as if for their lives to fill their beds fearing that it would be gone before they could accomplish it".

On the 9th he wrote: "Our bread was hard sea biscuit. It is about equal to pine chips and for me about as nourishing. The coffee was also miserable as usual." So obviously not everything in camp life was improved after the chewing out of the Colonel by the General.

Another common occurrence from this point on are rumors of further advance, especially on Fairfax Court House, the closest point defended by the Confederates. With the close proximity of the two opposing forces, the animosity begins to build as can be seen in letters home.  On June 4th Purdy wrote: "As near as I can find out I think that we shall start soon for Fairfax where there has been some disturbance with the secessionists. If we go we may have a little brush with the fellows if they do not run as they have done heretofore. I think though that the latter will be the case for we shall not go but with a lean force if we go but with numbers sufficient to make our way through them. The secessionists are full as bad as reports make them out to be. The old fellow who was taken prisoner told the people here at the last election that any person who voted the union ticket he would have them hung the next day. Night before last a party of them went to a Union mans place and took 2 of his horses and drove them away. One of our pickets fired upon one last night but did not hit him. I believe I would shoot one as quick as I would a dog that had stolen my dinner if I should find one and knew him to be such and he should run instead of giving himself up as a prisoner". 

From the journal of Private Horace Purdy

Tuesday, June 4th 1861

An attack expected last night. An extra number of pickets were sent out. 30 more rounds of cartridges were given to each man making in all 40 rounds. We slept on our arms but there was no attack. I took a bath this morning before breakfast. Bought some strawberries for my supper. A brother [Pvt. Adna B. Dean] of Chas. Dean’s, a member of Capt. [John C.] Comstock’s Co. [Company A], came to my tent to see me, Chas. having sent his respects to me through him by letter.

Wednesday, June 5th 1861

More rain. Nothing of importance today.

Thursday, June 6th 1861

I was detailed for guard this morning. Cloudy misty and some rain. It rained very hard during guard mounting. I felt well when I went on duty, but very soon my head began to ache intensely. Was nearly down sick all day but did my duty nevertheless. My post has been at the guard tent over the prisoners, several fellows who have been sent there for punishment.

Friday, June 7th 1861

Had a diarrhea, headache and a lame back this morning and being very tired I took my bed as soon as I came off guard which was about 9 o’clock. I was so sick that I could eat no dinner or supper. Recd a paper from the [Danbury] Times Editor (Osborne) with extracts from my letters in it.

Saturday, June 8th 1861

On the sick list today. I spent the day on my bed, walking around the camp, reading, writing &c., Commenced a letter to Gussie.

Sunday, June 9th 1861

I feel well today. An inspection of arms, equipments, &c., at 9 o’clock. I got a pass for Geo. Allen [Corporal George B. Allen] and myself and we went to a house near the old mill which we use for a hospital to see [Pvt. H. Wellington] Gibbs – [Pvt. William J.] Murphy – Blissard [sic - actually Blizard according to records, this would be Pvt. William H. Blizard who was discharged the following day] and others who are sick [all from Infantry Company E]. We also took a walk and found some strawberries. As we have no chaplain for the Regt. we have had no services today.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Week 6 - May 27th - June 2nd 1861 - Discord in Camp and the Regiment Finally Advances Into Virginia

This was a pretty eventful week for the 1st Connecticut, which began with their Colonel, Daniel Tyler, promoted to Brigadier General and Lt. Colonel George S. Burnham succeding him as Colonel of the Regiment.  About this same time (May 28th) General Irwin McDowell assumed command of the Union Department of Northern Virginia. Private William H. Cooley of Infantry Company H wrote that the regiment was eating poorly because a cook was stealing food and selling it; however, the cook was replaced and the food situation improved.

The end of the week saw a minor disturbance as the Colonel of the 3rd Connecticut Volunteers, John Arnold, was forced to resign his command on May 29th. He was replaced by Major John L. Chatham of the 1st Connecticut. As a result of this change, Captain John Speidel of Rifle Company B was promoted the Lt. Col. of the regiment and Captain Theodore Byxbee was promoted to Major.

The next day, following skirmishes at Arlington Mills [Co. E, 1st Michigan Volunteers] and Fairfax Courthouse on June 1st, the 1st Connecticut Regiment moved into Virginia and set up camp at Roaches Mills, Virginia. They would not withdraw from Virginia until after the Battle of Bull Run in late July.

Cavalry Charge at Fairfax Courthouse - Harper’s Weekly, June 15, 1861
Entries from the journal of Pvt. Horace Purdy:

Saturday June 1st, 1861

A disturbance in the 3rd Regt. Capt. Bixbee [Theodore Byxbee - Meriden] and Co. [Infantry Company F were sent over by General Tyler to arrest their Col. [John Arnold - New Haven]. His men rallied around him to prevent his arrest. Our regiment were ordered under arms to go over and put a stop to the difficulty, but our services were not required. The disturbance was on account of a misunderstanding between their Col. and the Gen. Some unnecessary severity on the part of Gen. Tyler together with the misunderstanding nearly caused a quarrel between them. Their Col. finally gave himself up, and this eve Major [John L.] Chatfield of our regiment was promoted to Col. by Gen. Tyler subject to the sanction of our Gov. Buckingham. Tomorrow he takes command of the 3rd Regt.

Sunday, June 2nd, 1861

At 12 o’clock last night we were marched from our camp across Long Bridge and into Virginia. About 5 miles over the heights to Arlington Mills where the N. York 12th Regt. were on duty and relieved them, they returning to Washington. We arrived about 3 o’clock A.M. after a hard march. We had a hard shower last night before we left which made the roads very muddy and consequently it was hard to march. I was detached for guard duty as soon as we had breakfasted on the rations which we carried with us. The Regt. pitched their tents on a lot near by for temporary quarters. I was very tired and slept when I was relieved from duty. The day has been very warm. Capt. [Eliakim E.]Wildman being sick he did not march with us but arrived during the day.

Crossing the Long Bridge 1861 -

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The 4th and 5th Weeks - May 13th - 26th - Washington City.

Things were pretty quiet for the 1st Connecticut Regiment during this time, with the exception of the false alarm on May 25th, and most of the information I have is from the letters of Pvt. Horace Purdy and Capt. Wolcott Marsh. Purdy also wrote close to 40 pages of letters home during this time.

The regiment was camped north of the city near Glenwood Cemetery and close to the 2nd Connecticut and 7th New York Regiments. Aletter dated the 19th calls this "Camp Buckingham". Note the condition of the men when any type of march is made, they are clearly still very green. In his letters Purdy notes suprise that "the stoutest and most rugged men we had were the first to give out". Still Purdy wrote that the "president considers us one of the best regiments in Washington and Gen. Scott says he thanks God that one of the regiments has come ready for service."

Entries from the journal of Pvt. Horace Purdy:

Monday May 13th, 1861

We had our breakfast on board of the boat [the steamer Bienville, see previous post] this morning. A detachment was sent ahead early to clear up the ground and pitch our tents near Glenwood Cemetery north of the city. Afternoon the regiment was marched to our encampment. The day was very warm and a number of our men gave out before we arrived there. [Purdy's letters home note that on this march the regiment marched past the Capitol Building, the Treasury, and the Patent Office].

Sunday May 19th, 1861

I got a pass this morning and went to the city and attended Dr. Ryan’s church (Methodist). He preached an excellent sermon in which he eluded [sic] to the present condition of our country in a very feeling manner. Text Dan 6-10. One of the members, a good Bro., took me home with him to dinner after which I went to camp where there was preaching at 4 pm. Text Proverbs 30=5. I went to the city again in the eve and attend church. Wellington Gibbs and Edgar Wildman was with me. It began to rain after we started and rained hard all the eve. Dr. Ryan preached from Eph. 5=16.

Monday May 20th, 1861

Wrote a letter home. Received one from Harriet from N. York. Commenced writing one to her. The day has been stormy.

Tuesday May 21st, 1861.

Pleasant. I went over to the Brooklyn 14th Regiment in the eve to see their chaplain Bro. Inskip but did not as there was only a detachment sent there to pitch their tents, the remainder of the regt and Bro. Inskip are to come into their camp tomorrow.

Friday May 24th, 1861

Ellsworth assassinated in Alexandria on Wednesday 22nd. [Note- this is a mistake. Col. Ellsworth was killed in on the 24th of May].

Sick with a diarrhea. I got some medicine from our surgeon Dr. Stearns. I have done no duty except dress parade at 6 pm. The 3rd regiment [Connecticut] came and encamped near us today.

From a letter dated May 24th: I have heard this morning that a secession flag was taken down last night at Alexandria and the Stars and Stripes hoisted in its place by the N. York 7th Regiment and a party of Texas Rangers (a portion of Gen. Twiggs force which was in Texas).

Saturday May 25th, 1861

I was up a good deal last night, had a touch of Cholera morbus. A shower after breakfast. At 1 ¼ o’clock we were ordered away as we supposed at the time to battle. We marched as far as the Long Bridge but did not cross over into Virginia. The alarm was a false one or at least a small affair caused it. We were forthwith marched back to camp. Not feeling well, it was too much for me. I was obliged to give up my knapsack both ways going and returning.

Sunday May 26th, 1861

I was detailed for guard duty this morning but I was relieved just in time to attend the preaching in the P.M. under a large oak tree on our parade ground. Text 1st John 1=8.9. We have no regular chaplain for our regt. This man has come hear from the city once before and kindly volunteered to preach for us. I do not remember his name.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Third Week - May 6th - 12th, 1861: The Regiment Travels to Washington

Because of the closure of routes through Maryland (especially through Baltimore) other routes and modes of transportation were used in early May of 1861 to get Union troops to the endangered Federal capital.  The journal and letters have a good account of this three day trip on the steamer Bienville, as does Capt. Wolcott Marsh in a book of published letters (Mercer and Mercer, 2006). The 1st and 2nd Connecticut Regiments departed New Haven on the 9th on May and arrived safely in Washington D.C. three days later. Along the way they passed Mt. Vernon (the home of George Washington) and even encountered President Lincoln on a passing steamer on the Potomac River.  I provide some of Purdy's unpublished account below.

Thursday May 9th 1861, onboard the steamer Bienville

The day has been pretty warm and very dusty. Mr. C. Wheeler, one of my old shopmates, was to the camp and staid until we struck our tents and marched off from the ground to go to Long Wharf to take the steamer Bienville enroute for Washington, which was about 4 ¼ oclock pm. We arrived at the wharf and went on board at 6 oclock. The other steamer to take the 2nd regiment came in while we lay at the dock. We left the dock at 10 ½ oclock, rounded the east end of Long Island during the night.

Friday May 10th 1861, onboard the steamer Bienville.

I awoke about 4 oclock this morn and went on deck just in time to see Long Island as we were leaving it and to see the sunrise. 8 oclock – out of sight of land. Clear and pleasant, the weather fine. The sea is calm and there is just swell enough to give an easy motion to the steamer. At 10 ¾ oclock we passed a Danish Barque and signaled her. We gave her three hearty cheers. Hazy in the P.M. So called Baltimore (a comical fellow, a member of the Waterbury fellow) is cutting up his pranks and raising --- generally. All the men are in good spirits a few who are beginning to be seasick.

Saturday, May 11th 1861, onboard the steamer Bienville.

Smith’s IslandCape Charles and the sand banks of Cape Henry appeared in view about 6 oclock this morning. We are now in Chesapeake Bay. 7 ½ oclock passed and signaled a Swedish vessel. About 3 oclock met two steamers, one of them a U.S. Mail. 3 ½ oclock entered the mouth of the Potomac River. Hazy and scarcely any wind at all. On account of the removal of lights and buoys by the rebels, we anchored at dark on a bend in the river. After placing a guard fore and aft and at the sides of the steamer to keep a look out (for we were very near the Virginia shore). We retired for the night.

Sunday, May 12th 1861, onboard the steamer Bienville, Washington D.C.

The crew began to weigh anchor about 4 oclock and we immediately started on our way up the river again. At 5 oclock met a war steamer, the Mohawk. She rounded up to us and her captain inquired where we were from and were bound, how many men on board, etc. He told us to go on up the river while he would go on down and meet the other steamer with the 2nd regiment. Virginia and Maryland are on each side of us. At times we are almost in hailing distance of either shore. About 8 oclock as a part of the regiment were eating breakfast below we passed Mount Vernon, the home and tomb of Washington. In passing our band played and dirge and a national air. Passed Fort Washington soon afterward. Passed Alexandria about 9 oclock. A war steamer lay off there to keep the rebels quiet. A little later and we cast anchor in the river near Washington about halfway between the Arsenal Yard and the Navy Yard. While we lay there a steamer came from the dock passing very near us having on board Abraham Lincoln with a military escort. It was nearly noon when we were landed at the Arsenal Yard where we spent the remainder of the day very pleasantly. I spread my blanket on the grass and wrote a letter home to Gussie. We stacked our arms in the Armory and went on board the boat to quarter for the night.


Mercer, S.M., and J. Mercer (eds.). 2006. Letters to a Civil War Bride: The Civil War Letters of Captain Wolcott Pascal Marsh, Heritage Books, Westminster Maryland, 536p. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Second Week - April 29th to May 5th - Settling In

During this time the First Connecticut Volunteers were still stationed in New Haven, Connecticut. Purdy describes the encampment as near the hospital whereas Pvt. Gustavus S. Dana of Company A recollected that the camp was at "Oyster Point" (Swift, 1965). The weather was poor, Sgt. Andrew Knox of Company E described it as very rainy, snowy, with thick ice building up on tents. According to Pvt. Horace Purdy:
"It was very cold night last for the season and I feared when I bunked in my tent that I should lie cold but by putting on my overcoat and three of us lying together spoon fashion with our three blankets over us together with our military overcoats on top of them and myself in between the two I lay as warm as toast, though many of the men lay cold."
Rations were also poor causing much discontent in the ranks, and resulting in the courtmartial of some members (from the journal of Horace Purdy):
Tuesday April 30th 1861, New Haven, Connecticut

“Discontent amounting to almost mutiny in our company on account of our rations. A Sgt. belonging to the Meriden company was court-martialed for disrespect to the Col. Cold in the eve I retired with the toothache”.

Wednesday May 1st 1861, New Haven, Connecticut

“Rather cool for the season. Three Sgts. and one Corp. in the regiment were reduced to the ranks and two Privates dismissed from the service and their uniforms taken from them for bad and unsoldierly conduct.”
However, in letters to his wife Purdy himself did not find it to be too bad:
May 2nd: "This morning we had a piece of tough beef steak, a third of a loaf of bakers bread (a 6 cnt loaf) and about a pint of hot coffee. The food is plain, but healthy though many found a great deal of fault. Many of the men are becoming dissatisfied with the army rations. It is so very different from their accustomed fare at home. It is no worse than expected and if they will only give it to us in quantities sufficient, I think it will be better for us with our out doors exercise than the dainties which we have been used to".
Purdy, however, did have something to say about the election of the non-commissioned officers:
May 5th: "As for me being promoted to the position of Corporal it is not so. But had our election been a fair one by ballott I should have had that place or a higher one. The election of officers to fill the vacancies ... was done by acclaimation in a hasty moment, most of the men being new recruits did not know the as to vote understandingly".
Besides rigged elections and preventing frostbite and general starvation, most of the time was spent drilling.