“Tockwotton”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas (1)

22 09 2011

Letter from the Second Regiment.

Fairfax, Va., July 18.

To the Editors of the Evening Press - Dear Sirs: – We left Camp Clark on Wednesday at 1 o’clock. The 2d regiment led the way, and the 1st R. I., 2d New Hampshire and the 71st New York were met on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were large throngs of people lining the wayside, and hailed us with friendly and enthusiastic greetings. It was really quite an ovation, and is another evidence of the estimate in which are troops are held. We hardly paused at all in the city, and the march into Virginia over the Long Bridge commenced at once. This bridge is properly named, being more than a mile long, and like all the others I have seen in this region, in wretched repair. We marched steadily onward until night. The principal thing that excited our attention was the miserably cultivated and sterile condition of the soil. The better cultivation of the New England farms more than ever evinces the advantages which they have over us in soil and climate. At dark we turned aside into an open field, about twelve miles from Washington, and lay down for the night on the ground. This was new business to some of us and gave us a fine opportunity to study the moon, stars and the comet. The dew was heavy, but the night clear and we slept soundly.

It was a magnificent sight. The numberless camp-fires and noise of some forty thousand men comprising our whole division.

At daylight the line was again formed and all moved wearily forward, and that too with expectation of immediate conflict. Guns were loaded, flanking companies thrown out, and we looked constantly for the appearance of the enemy. The roads were an improvement upon yesterday, portions of the country better cultivated and the rest quite wilderness-like. The houses were generally closed and forsaken, showing the secession proclivities of the people. “The wicked flee,” &c. All were on the alert, and every precaution taken to prevent surprise. Some four miles on, we found the road obstructed by fallen trees. This was repeated four times, but occasioned us trifling delay. Just before Fairfax extensive earthworks were thrown up, and we confidently expected to find batteries and thousands of men behind them ready to resist us. But in this we were disappointed, the enemy’s forces having a full hour before taken to flight. Not only their fortifications, but much of their camp property, &c., were left. Bread, meat, &c., just ready for the oven; packages of blankets, partly burned; hospital and all its stores; table furniture, and things too numerous to mention, were among the spoils. It was curious to see the men busy among the letters and papers, whole bundles of which were left behind. Passing this we soon entered Fairfax in triumph, without resistance. The secession flag was still waving from the Court House, but was instantly torn down, and taken by our gallant Governor to the Colonel in command. This is a thriftless place when compared with a New England village, but will serve us very well for this night’s quarters. The enemy had fled only an hour or two before our arrival. Fires at their quarters were hardly extinguished; water warm, &c. They have probably fled to Manassas, where we hope to follow them. The men are quite weary, the flanking duty, especially for miles in the woods on either side, being very fatiguing. All are well and in the best spirits, and a night’s rest will make all right for fresh service to-morrow. The beautiful country about this town literally swarms with armed men, ready and eager for the fray. How the troops are officered you will learn from papers at Washington. Excuse the pencil, as I have no pen.

Yours, &c.,
Tockwotton

Providence Evening Press 7/20/1861

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4 responses

23 09 2011
What’s a Tockwotton, and What’s That About a Comet? « Bull Runnings

[...] This letter to the Providence Evening Press from a member of the 2nd RI infantry, published 7/20/1861, raises a couple of questions. For one, who was and what is a Tockwotton? For another, what’s this comet he talked about watching during the regiments first night under the stars? [...]

23 09 2011
cwbattlemapart

Very informative description of the march and the surrounding countryside…never heard “thriftless” used to decribe anything of late.

Can you imagne a camp of 40,000 with campfires. Must have been awe inspiring. Of what Comet do they speak of. Halley’s or some other?

Thanks for posting.

Brian K

23 09 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Brian,

Contrary to popular belief, the area through which the army moved was not verdant, lush farmland. “Played out” is the term that comes to mind. The South had a lot of two things, land and cheap labor. This did not encourage scientific, economic farming methods,

Also, keep in mind there were not 40,000 men in McDowell’s column. 30,000 with a 5,000 man reserve (Runyon). About.

As for the comet, see this post.

25 09 2011
Chris Evans

Mentioning the campfires reminds me of a passage in the book ‘Tom Taylor’s Civil War’ where from a mountain during the Atlanta campaign the writer looked down on thousands of campfires of the armies that Sherman had assembled with him. It really must have been incredible.

Chris

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