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 I provide some of Purdy's unpublished account below.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 Island – Cape 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.
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