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

29 09 2011

Letter  From The Second Regiment.

Centreville, July 19, 1861

To the Editors of the Evening Press: - Dear Sirs – I had no time to mention in my last that on the march from Washington to Fairfax the 2d Rhode Island was the advance regiment, and through the whole day performed all the flank service. This is very tedious. The lines extending a great distance on either side, the men must with great labor make their way over fences, walls, ditches, &c., also through entangled forests, and soon become very weary. This was performed by our companies cheerfully, and all day. Remember, too, that we were in an enemy’s country, and expected each moment to come upon a foe, still not a man wavered. Led by our brave and experienced Colonel, in whom we have even increasing confidence, the whole regiment marched steadily on, and the enemy fled before us until we entered Fairfax in triumph, and pulled down the traitor flag they had left floating there. Some excesses were indulged in by the men upon the property of those known to be acting with the rebels, but this was soon checked by the officers, and good order at once restored. I am happy to be able to say that I was not able to trace any excess to the members of the Second Regiment. Of course the men were allowed to distribute the property captured in the fort, &c., as they pleased.

The number of men in and about Fairfax could not have been much, if any, less than eight thousand, and such was the haste in which they left it on one side, as we entered on the other, that they were compelled to leave not only much heavy camp property, but many of their tents and personal effects. We found munitions, provisions, &c., scattered along the road the next day. This confirms the accounts given to us, that many of the troops were in very enfeebled condition. In several instances they left their sick behind them. The night was spent at Fairfax, and on the morning of the 18th all were fresh and ready for a new start.

The march commenced quite early and warm work was anticipated by all. In this we were not disappointed. After an hours march a halt was ordered, and the men lay down in the woods through weary hours until late in the afternoon. We then marched on towards Centreville; we soon learned that the enemy had fled from that place also. This put an end to the thoughts of battle for that night. We are now in pleasant quarters just at the edge of Centreville, where we are awaiting orders to move on again. This is a fine situation, and the people though secessionists are getting quite accustomed to us and growing quite favorable, and vieing with each other in good will and kind acts. Their rights and homes are all respected and they are forming quite a different opinion of Northern people. Beyond us a short distance last evening, several of the advance regiments were run into a masked battery and some loss was suffered, not very great, however.

Manassas Junction is about eight miles from this place. The enemy are in force there, and how soon we are to advance on them we do not know. It is now noon and we are waiting and all in readiness for the order to march. I passed carefully through the encampments of both regiments a few hours since, and I have never seen the men look so well or appear in better spirits. You will doubtless hear from us again soon and we trust that the account will be satisfactory. The weather is fine and all things about us pleasant. My man made his way to us from Washington this morning and filled the whole camp with joy by bringing us well-filled mail bags. I cannot spare more time from my welcome letters for this scroll.

Yours, in haste,
Tockwotton.

Providence Evening Press 7/23/1861

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Canonicus

27 09 2011

The anonymous author of this letter to the Providence Evening Press signed his name as Canonicus. Like Tockwotton, Canonicus is a name with local Rhode Island significance.

Canonicus was a Narragansett sachem, or chieftain, born sometime around 1565. When Reverend Roger Williams and his followers left the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 Canonicus granted them permission to reside on a large tract of land that became the beginnings of Providence Plantation. Today the agreement is referred to as a deed. Opinions vary. Here’s a depiction of the signing of the agreement, Williams in the pointy hat, Canonicus making his mark:

Today Canonicus lends his name to an avenue in Newport, a Baptist Camp in Exeter, and over the years there have been four, count ‘em, four USS Canonicuses (Canonici?). Here’s one, commissioned in 1864:

Canonicus’s grandson was Canonchet, and his name would later grace the home of Rhode Island Governor William Sprague and his wife, Kate Chase. Before that Canonchet was the leader of the Narragansett during King Philip’s War.

Canonicus died in 1647. Rev. Williams wrote that without the sachem, there would have been no Rhode Island.





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

27 09 2011

Fairfax Court House, Va., July 18.

I write this letter upon the ruins of a table in the late hospital of the Confederate army.  I use a rebel pen, upon insurgent paper, and the thoughts of Canonicus shall find conveyance in secesh ink. The place is utterly deserted. The rebel troops are far away, and families have fled in terror. A small body of men from the 21 New Jersey regiment, who came as escort to the provision wagons, have attacked their guns over the way, and now loll upon the dirty piazza of the deserted Farmer’s Hotel. A squad of Ellsworth’s Zouaves have strolled over this way from their encampment, and are roaming from house to house, clambering in at the windows, scaling fences, and otherwise exhibiting their red fezzes to much advantage. From them I learn that their regiment is hard at work upon the railroad, repairing the destructive ravages of the rebels. Burnside’s brigade, with other troops of the centre column of the grand army under McDowell, left early this morning in pursuit of the flying (ahem) South Carolinians! They will be overtaken at Manassas. Long trains of wagons are slowly passing along the road, and I remain behind to send as brief an account as possible of our expedition so far, to anxious friends at home.

We never expected to leave Camp Sprague. Bets were offered at considerable odds that we wouldn’t, but found few takers. So often had marching orders been issued and then countermanded, that our patience was exhausted, and we made up our minds to chew our rations to the last barrel, and then go home. Home! I hope that we all will again see the little State of Rhode Island, but I am afraid that many of our boys will fall upon Virginia soil.

We left Camp Sprague Tuesday afternoon with as little baggage as possible, and with three days rations stored in our haversacks. We joined the other regiments of the brigade on Pennsylvania avenue, to wit: the New York 71st and New Hampshire 2d, and then marched over Long Bridge to take our position at the head of one of the columns of Gen. McDowell’s army. The bands played Dixie as we marched over the lengthy fabric, and the structure shook under the hammer-like foot-falls of four thousand mud sills on their way into secession.

We touched the sacred soil, which looks not different from any other average quality of dirt, and passed through the solid gateways of strong picket fences, and under the shadow of Fort Runyon, and took the Columbia road. Pressing on steadily we left Falls Church and Arlington Mills behind. At intervals along the road we would pass the pocket guards and exchange salutations with them. About ten miles from Washington we halted at Davis’ Cross Roads, and made preparations to bivouack for the night. The men munched away on their unpalatable crackers and junk, and wrapping themselves in their blankets sought soft places on the turf and went to sleep. Strong guards were posted all around, and pickets sent out and the men slept with their guns in grasping distance.

No alarm occurred during the night, and in the morning the men arose, and after watering the horses and filling their canteens, again they started.

We now went directly towards Fairfax Court House, with a column nearly 12,000 strong. At intervals along the road we would come to places where the enemy had filled up the pathway with felled trees. These obstacles were speedily cleared away by the sappers and miners of the regular army, and we, with our wagons and teams, kept on the even tenor of our way. One tree, an immense one, had been so placed that its butt rose high in the air. The rebels undoubtedly thought that it would present an insuperable obstacle for at least a while. We merely removed the fences at the roadside and marched around it, with no delay whatsoever.

As we neared the stronghold, we all expected to fight. The report had gone around that the picked regiments of the Southern army, (there were at least three from South Carolina) were strongly entrenched – that they numbered 8000 men, and had cannon in plenty, so planted as to rake every conceivable avenue of approach. The Colonel – our own Burnside – rode in amongst us, told us to be cool, not flustered, and to obey every order of our officers. The men smiled grimly, and took a tighter clutch on their muskets. Two companies of the Second Rhode Island Regiment were sent out as scouters. The Rhode Island Regiments had the right of the column, and had there been an engagement must have suffered terribly. But we marched into Fairfax unmolested. As we approached along the road, and discerned the earth redoubts, and looking on either side would see the high embankments behind which we knew the most desperate resistance could be made, we could hardly credit the fact that the enemy had fled. Many even then thought that the enemy redoubts were only a piece of strategy to lure us further on. The earthworks are about ten feet high, and were constructed of sand bags. It was doubtless the labor of many days to build them.

So precipitate had been the flight of the enemy that they left behind their camp equippage, large amounts of provisions and hospital stores, with which our men speedily made free.

I must reserve for another time a filler description of our entree, and conduct in the place. I write now in haste to send this back by a detachment on its return.
We lived well the night we halted in Fairfax. Yankee stomach digested the dinners prepared for the chivalry, and Northerners lived as Southerners calculated to. Our dirty fingers were plunged into jam pots, and we drank their whiskey, tea and coffee, ate their sardines and pickles with gusto, and hunted indefatigably for relics. In one yard a whole company threw away their knapsacks. Searching these, we appropriated whatever struck our fancy. We found pistols, Sharp’s rifles and bowie knives, and the owners not being present to reclaim the same, we took care of them; and here I will advertise that if any South Carolina gentleman has lost a gridiron, with a label attached marked, “J. V. Quitman Guards, 2d Regt. S. C. V.,” he can have it by applying to the undersigned, (if he can get it.) I picked it up in the road. It is handy to sling by your knapsack on a march, and bully to broil pork by the camp fire.

The place, when we took possession, was utterly desolate. Every man, woman, chick and child had cleared out, and ll that welcomed us were a few old darks, who verily thought it was the custom for ‘dem Northerners” to be addicted to cannibalism, and in the habit of satisfying the pangs of hunger with niggers, raw, roasted, and on the half shell.
The half of what I wish to say, I cannot write – I haven’t time. The enemy have fled, and are [ends]…

Providence Evening Press 7/22/1861

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What’s a Tockwotton, and What’s That About a Comet?

23 09 2011

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 regiment’s first night under the stars?

Well, for now I don’t know who Tockwotton was. It wasn’t uncommon for soldier correspondents to assume a nom de guerre - literally a name of war, or war name – in their dispatches home. Hopefully I’ll turn up something on his identity, but I really haven’t had time to dig into it yet. Volume III of The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations says that Tockwotton is a cove in Washington County, and a hill at Indian Point in Providence. Also, The Tockwotton Home is a non-profit assisted living center in Providence that was established in 1856.

Now, as for this comet:

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.

Notice Tockwotton didn’t say a comet or a shooting star, but the comet. And he said this in such a way that implies readers would know what he was talking about, which doubtless they did. Above is a rendering of the comet by a fellow named E. Weiss.

When I read Tockwotton’s comet comment, I was immediately reminded of the final chapter of Adam Goodheart’s outstanding 1861: The Civil War Awakening, which I can’t recommend highly enough and from which I’ll borrow liberally below. Goodheart used the Great Comet of 1861 – known also today by its geek-given name C/1861 J1 - as a device to describe what was happening during the period in which the comet was visible to the naked eye in North America, from roughly late June, 1861. Mary Chesnut wrote about the Great Comet in her “diary”:

Heavens above, what philandering there was, done in the name of the comet! When you stumbled on a couple in the piazza they lifted their eyes – and “comet” was the only word you heard.

Julia Taft Bayne, a playmate of the Lincoln children in the White House, recalled seventy years later how, while watching the comet’s pyrotechnics, a Negro woman of Washington predicted:

You see dat big fire sword blazin’ in the sky? De handle’s to’rd de Norf and de point to’rd de Souf and de Norf’s gwine take dat sword and cut de Souf’s heart out. But dat Linkum man, chilluns, if he takes de sword, he’s gwine perish by it.

Julia repeated the story to Willie and Tad, but had the good sense not to mention the bit about their father. The boys ran off to their father to repeat the part of the story they knew. Julia continued her story:

I noticed him [Lincoln], a few evenings later, looking out of the window intently at the comet and I wondered if he was thinking of the old woman’s prophecy.

On the Fourth of July, the New York Herald ran this:

The present is a year productive of strange and surprising events. It is one prolific of revolution and abounding in great and startling novelties. Our own country is resounding with war’s alarms, and half a million of Northern and Southern men are preparing to engage in a deadly conflict. And meanwhile all Europe is threatened with one tremendous revolution, growing out of our own, which will shake thrones to their foundations. The premonitory symptoms of change are already observable here and there. Even Russia will not escape; for the troubles in Poland and the emancipation of the serfs have already made her empire ripe for revolt. In China and Japan, too, the hand of revolution is also busy. This is indeed  a wonderful year; for while all the world is more or less filled with apprehension and commotion, a luminous messenger makes its appearance in the heavens, to the consternation of astronomers…That we are entering, to say the least, upon a new and important epoch in the history of the world, all these wars and rumors of wars, these miracles on earth and marvels in the sky, would seem to indicate.

Goosebumps?

For the average American the Great Comet disappeared in August, though a Russian astronomer caught the last official glimpse in April 1862. “And then”, Goodheart notes, “it was gone, continuing on its own mysterious errand toward some incalculable future rendezvous, beyond human sight.”





“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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