Unknown Officer, Co. C, 1st Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas

8 10 2011

The Rhode Islanders at Fairfax.

We have the pleasure of printing a part of a private letter from an officer in Company C, 1st regiment. How noble the spirit which it breathes! Rhode Island may well be proud of her sons, when they go forth to fight the battle of the country with such pure and lofty purposes.

Fairfax Court House,
Wednesday noon, July 17.

We are safe and well at this place, which we reached about noon this day, having left Camp Sprague yesterday at one o’clock.

We had a hot, hard march of about twelve miles, bivouacked for the night, which was pleasant, but with a heavy dew.

The last hour’s marching was very slow and cautious – picket guard thrown out in front and each flank – but we moved steadily, firmly forward – every face stern, with a purpose in it.

We found breastworks all along for a mile or more, which could have been easily defended, but the rebels ran from there as from all points, fleeing in such cowardly haste as to leave everything behind, – knapsacks, blankets, even the medical stores in the hospital. Had a brigade, which was to meet us here on another road, arrived in time, the enemy would have been taken in their own camp. As it was, Rhode Island was “ahead of time,” came in alone, and the rebels were off, giving us only the usual chance of seeing their heels. The movement of so large a body as this is much less free and easy than a smaller one. An army, or even a brigade, is more unwieldy than our two noble regiments, who moved as one man, to the inspiring voice of our Colonel.

Some of our troops (in other brigades) have helped themselves lawlessly to everything portable. Where is the old law and order feeling among us, which respects even the rights of an enemy, and I do not share the enthusiasm for “spoils.” I was sorry for any trespass, which brings reproach to our army without discrimination of parties.

I have only time to add that this Fairfax justifies the general reputation of southern towns. Its dilapidated houses and primitive court house being no exception to the Virginia style.

Add to this the empty streets, the homeless negroes, the miserable jail and empty post office, with all the decay and dirt of a southern hamlet, and you have “Fairfax Court House,” the famous bug-bear of the secessionists. The rebels having fled, of course there was neither attack nor defence of the place, nor victory in our possession; but it is firm and final so far. We “play for keeps” in this great game of war.

What our next move will be I cannot advise you, for we are a small item in a grand army, though I know to Rhode Island hearts our two regiments seem an army in itself. God keep them, and us – those who await us in our far-off homes. I know old soldiers who will stand fire better than they can talk of home to-day. You know as well as I what we are here for. It is no time for words. A few hours may tell the story of life or death for some of us. But we are cheerful and hopeful to a man. I confess to the spoils of war so far as the writing on confederate letter paper goes. This sheet was taken from the running quartermaster’s desk. When and where my next may be written I cannot tell, but you must wait with courage and patience.

We bivouac here to-night. Rations rather hard – but a soldier’s life is no holiday, and his real wants are so few that there is no just cause for complaint. There is only one movement for the north to make, and that is Forward!

Providence Journal 7/20/1861

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