Col. Orlando B. Willcox, On the March to Manassas

12 03 2013

Fairfax Road

July 16

My glorious Molly,

Off once more on the march. This day we go no further than about 8 miles & anticipate no opposition. To-morrow we got to Fairfax & expect there may be fighting. Keep as calm & trustful…as possible.

I received Father’s kind letter, but for the last few days have been too busy to write any thing but business, orders, etc. The 4th Mich. has joined my brigade, also a light battery, D, 2d artillery, Capt. Arnold.

It is impossible to say or conjecture what will be the event of the campaign. It seems to be thought the enemy will fall back. If not we must drive them back.

My heart is too full for my eyes, surrounded as I am by my staff, to trust writing the impulses of the moment. I can only say God bless & keep you & bring us & the children all together soon.

Love to Father & Mother, Caro, Frank, [?] Wm. Blodgett, & all. Kiss my children.

Orlando

——————–

In Camp

Centreville, Va.

July 20, 1861.

My dear Marie,

I have received a letter from your beloved pen & it gave me supreme pleasure. It was written in such a calm, cheerful spirit. It has no date (don’t forget to date your letters), but you say i will have left Alexandria before receiving it.

We marched from Alexandria on the 16th with the whole brigade of 12 regiments, Ricketts’ Battery, Arnold’s battery (in my brigade) & C Company, 2d Cavalry, all composing Col. Heintzelman’s Division. The Brigade commanders are 1st, Franklin, 2d, O. B., 3d, Howard. The next day we marched: Franklin for Sangster’s Station & I for Fairfax Station, both points on the Railway. The roads did not diverge for some distance, so that I was kept back by Franklin, who moved very cautiously & slowly, till 12. At 12 I overlapped him by chance & got on to Fairfax Station & took eleven prisoners & a Secession flag & pushed on towards Fairfax Ct. House, but found it already occupied, & turned back & camped at the Station. Had I been able to march straight from the Pohick, alone with my brigade without being delayed by Franklin’s brigade, I might have caught a thousand of the rebels at least.

As it was, the rapidity of a single hour secured for my brigade the only prisoners taken & only flag that I heard of being captured by all the army. Ten of the captives were caught by Capt. Butterworth & one by Sergt. Beardsley of F. Co., son of Beardsley hotel keeper of Detroit. (They were brought up to Gen’l McDowell, who questioned them yesterday and attracted thousands of eyes.)

The next day we all marched to this point. Our division, as well as most of the troops, are camped on the long sloping sides of the hills overlooking Little Rocky Run. Centreville stands on top of the Western Ridge opposite me. We are right on the Blue Ridge & the scenery is magnificent. Just now there are thirty or forty thousand troops bivouacked almost in sight, & Gen’l McDowell is reviewing a Division of 12,000 men on one slope.

All are in good spirits. The affair of Tyler’s was but a premature & mistaken attack & was not a repulse. It showed the enemy’s position in a thick wood about 2 miles from us, & displayed our artillery to great advantage. Nothing could have been handsomer [than] the action of Ayres’ Battery. Ayres is a classmate. There [are] quite a number of my class here, all in conspicuous positions. Ayres, Burnside (not a general as you suppose, but like myself a brigade commander). Tillinghast, chief quartermaster, & Fry, adjt. gen’l. The latter does everything he can for me at Hd. Quarters. He is an old friend. His offices were useful yesterday. I got him to appoint Parker to muster in those of the present regiment who wish to remain & the number is already quite respectable, & hourly increasing.

There is a rumor at Fairfax & Alexandria that I was killed the other day, but Prof. Cooley who is here goes down to-day & will telegraph you.

Love to all, & kisses for babies. The 2d Mich. lost but 5 or 6 killed & wounded.

Orlando

Robert Garth Scott, ed., Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, pp. 283-285.





Spin Ain’t Nothin’ New, Just Ask the Carthaginians

18 12 2011

Carthage

If you’re not already familiar with the rumors of Yankee handcuffs at First Bull Run, go here and get caught up (this article will be at the top of the page since it also carries a “handcuffs” tag – scroll down to the first article and read forward, if you get my drift). If you’re already hip, read on.

A little more fuel on the fire comes from Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox - thanks to Jim Rosebrock for jarring my memory on this. On page 301, Willcox describes an encounter with the enemy some days after his capture at First Bull Run:

Among our visitors who were numerous & mostly for curiosity, were a few of my old Army friends, generally polite but not one of them did me any good & some were insulting. Almost every stranger inquired, “What di you come down here for? Do you expect to subjugate us?” But, after all, it was from strangers that I experienced the most courtesy & most tangible comfort. Col. Lay, from the U.S. Army but now on Gen. Beauregard’s staff, came to inquire about the handcuff story which [had] created so much noise in the South. The story was that 30,000 handcuffs designed for the rebels were brot by Gen. McDowell & were captured. Both Ricketts & I denied it point-blank, & offered, if they could find them, to be the first to wear them. Lay afterwards came back & expressed Gen. Beauregard as satisfied, but to this day the tale never has been corrected, but has been kept alive to foment the passions of the South.

So, this story of handcuffs seems to be just that, a story, one likely propagated to further demonstrate the dastardly nature of the Northern opponent. It seems unlikely that so many handcuffs could, first, be carried on to the field (they were big, heavy, bulky things and would have required dozens of wagons to transport) and second, have been completely lost to history, physically speaking.

But what is the source of the story? How did “Gossip Zero” come up with the idea in the first place? Well, I may have stumbled across a clue in the book I’m reading right now. I picked up Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization, by Richard Miles, because I had a hankering to learn about the Punic Wars. 142 pages into a 373 page book and the first of the three Punic Wars hasn’t even started yet. The Carthaginians are still going at it with the Hellenic cities of Sicily, mostly Syracuse. Hannibals and Hamilcars abound – what, are there only two names in Punic? It’s all very confusing, and the long string of Scipios haven’t even been introduced by the Romans. Needless to say, I’m learning a lot, but If you’re into ancient history you’re better served by Elektratig.

So, back to the handcuffs. Miles lays out a compelling case that for several millenia, first the Greeks, then the Romans, and then those who followed in the study of classical history have conducted a very effective smear campaign against Carthage. In this case – but for sure not in the case of our Civil War – the history was written by the victors. And as we know, educated men in the 19th century were by and large educated in the classical sense: one attended university to become a gentleman, not an engineer or a journalist, or even an accountant or attorney. So learned folks – the kind of folks who made officers – were typically well schooled in Greeks and Romans. We often run across mentions of folks like Cicero and Cato in their writings. So I wonder how well the following anecdote was known at the time, and if it was perhaps the genesis of the Yankee Handcuffs myth. On the aforementioned page 142:

In [Sicilian Greek historian] Timaeus’ account of the later wars between Carthage and Syracuse, the complex strategic reasons why it was important for Carthage to intervene militarily in Sicily, like those of the Persians in Greece, were reduced to little more than a wish to enslave Hellas [Greece], beautifully articulated in one episode by an apparent discovery of 20,000 pairs of manacles in the Carthaginian camp after a victory [by Agathocles of Syracuse, I'm guessing], or simply a hatred of all Greeks.

Is this where the Confederates got the idea? Makes sense to me. It wouldn’t be the first time history was plagiarized in an attempt to stir up support. P. G. T. Beauregard had borrowed liberally from the rhetoric of the defense of New Orleans some 45 years earlier in his “Beauty and Booty” proclamation (the word then was that Sir Edward Pakenham had promised both to his men if they would take the city). Proving it, on the other hand, is problematic.





Preston’s Report

19 04 2008

The report of Col. Robert T. Preston of the 28th Virginia Infantry mentions his regiment’s capture of members of the 1st Michigan Infantry, including its brigade and former regimental commander, Col. Orlando B. Willcox.  Willcox remembered his encounter with the 28th VA and its commander, and identified the Captain – of Preston’s report (from pp 295-296, Forgotten Valor: The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by Robert Garth Scott, see here):

It must have been with great difficulty that the 1st Michigan cut their way back from their position, for the enemy were now on two sides of them, & I soon found were approaching on a third side.  These were the 28th Virginia.  A party of their scouts or skirmishers were coming up a road in the woods, when I discovered them & ordered the three or four men who had gathered about me to fire upon them, & shouting at the same time” bring up the whole regiment!’ as loudly as I was able, the enemy’s party beat a hasty retreat.  The men said one or two fell.

This little affair roused my strength a little, & had my horse not been wounded, possibly I might have been bound on him & escaped.  The poor steed (a magnificent dapple grey stallion) followed me like a dependent child.  But I had scarce strength enough left to form a plan; my only purpose was to get to the rear before the regiment, still fighting manfully, knew that I was down.

With Capt. Withington’s assistance, I now crossed a fence & was going across a bit of open field holding my right arm with the left, & Capt. Withington’s right arm around my waist, when in this helpless condition we were assailed by Col. [R. T.] Preston, who charged on horseback at us, thundering loud oaths, pointing his revolver & demanding our surrender.  Of course there was nothing left us but to comply.  The stout colonel (for he was a stalwart man with a grizzled huge beard & loud, gruff voice) then demanded who I was, & when I told him, he hallowed like a bull, “You’re just the man I’ve been looking for.”  I replied, “I am an officer & a gentleman, sir, & expect to be treated as such.”  He assumed a milder tone & politely told us [to] keep our swords.

Captain Withington was later Colonel William H. Withington of the famous Stonewall Regiment, the 17th Michigan Infantry.  He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Bull Run, as was Willcox.





Now Reading…

6 11 2006

“Forgotten Valor” The Memoirs, Journals, & Civil War Letters of Orlando B. Willcox, edited by 087338628001_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_.jpgRobert Garth Scott.  The story of how Scott came by the Willcox papers alone is worth the price on this, though I never pay retail.  One of those historian’s dreams, similar to that lived by Mark Snell and the Franklin papers, where a family member casually mentions that they have “some” of their ancestor’s papers in the attic/crawlspace/shed, and the researcher is greeted with a literal trunkload of closely packed, unpublished material.   I’m reading the book primarily for Willcox’s depiction of life in the antebellum army and for his description of events leading up to and including BR1 (Willcox commanded a brigade in Heintzelman’s division, was wounded and captured in the battle, and spent over 12 months in captivity as part of a contingent retaliation for the anticipated treatment of captured Confederate privateers and guerrillas).  This book is loaded with “good stuff”.  For one thing, the officers in the pre-war army were very close – on one occasion OBW describes camping in the field in Kansas: I used my canteen as a pillow and [Nathan G.] Evans rested his head upon my body, and what a delicious sleep that roadside nap at midnight!  Get your mind out of the gutter, things were different back then.  Also, OBW would have had a tough time swinging a dead cat on the field at Bull Run without hitting a classmate or friend – for instance, Evans commanded the brigade stationed on Beauregard’s left at the Stone Bridge, the same small brigade that blunted the advance of the brigade of Ambrose Burnside (OBW’s classmate), which was at the head of the division of David Hunter (whose father-in-law leased his Wolf’s Head tavern in Chicago to OBW’s brother-in-law prior to the Black Hawk War).  Threads.  Fascinating.

Something about which I don’t know a heck of a lot is the experience of those men held captive for so long at the beginning of the war, during a time when other prisoner exchanges occurred frequently and rather speedily.  Part of the time OBW was incarcerated with Col. Michael Corcoran of the 69th NYSM (not to be confused with the 69th NYVI).  While his memoirs treat Corcoran neutrally, if not kindly, in a letter to his wife he pulled no punches:

As one instance, Col. Corcoran, whom these people [the Confederates] profess to despise, & who has certainly less claim on their respect than any prisoner here of equal rank, has his letters every week.  How omnipotent is humbug!  The Irish Lion is as near an ass [as] can be, & yet he not only overshadows us all at home but has more privileges here than anyone….it galls me to the quick to have a low-bred, uneducated, selfish, cunning foreigner toadied by our too generous people on all occasions.  When I add to that he came into the war with no love for the country but at the instigation of Bishop Hughes to practice himself & his countrymen in arms for acting in Ireland, you can judge still better of my indignation.  Yet his name is mentioned in Congress & every where before mine & every other.  Why, my dear, he has not expressed one intelligent idea, even on the subject of the war, in the whole nine months I have been with him.

Ouch!!!

I’m finding this a good read as well as an essential resource.  A keeper. 








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