Lieutenant John P. Shaw, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

3 10 2011

The following is an extract from a private letter of Lieut. Shaw, Company F, 2d regiment:

Camp Clark,  July 22, 1861.

Here I am safe and sound. We started from our camp, just beyond Fairfax C. H., at half past one a. m. for Bull Run, and marched about 15 miles, going round instead of taking a direct road, so as to get the other side of the enemy. We arrived there about 9 1/2 a. m. Sunday, and the first intimation we had of their whereabouts was a discharge of musketry, although we had a company of skirmishers on each side of the road. Our company was the advance guard, and the instant we were fired upon, Col. Hunter gave our company the order to “advance company front, and let them have it.” Their position was in a thick wood of about 500 feet in depth, beyond which  was a large open lot slightly ascending, and just beyond that was a deep valley with a high hill and masked battery. As soon as we received their fire, we returned it, and fell flat on our faces to reload; while loading they gave us another volley, which passed over our heads. We then arose again and drove them (500 in number) over the hill. As we were advancing they fired again, but fired too high. Reloading, we ran to the top of the hill, and let them have it again, and believe that every shot dropped on man. They then retreated to their battery, firing as they went, 10,000 more firing at us over their heads. one of the shots striking Capt. Tower in the throat and killing him almost instantly. The only words he spoke afterwards were, “Turn me over on my back – go in.” We then had it hot and heavy for about ten minutes, with the assistance of the two companies which were deployed as skirmishers, at which time our regiment joined us. In about fifteen minutes afterwards the 1st came in, and together we fought them 1 1/2 hours, without other assistance, and drove them from their battery to the woods, mowing them down as they retreated with a considerable loss on our side. At that time a division made its appearance on our right and blazed away at them, making great havoc among them, and driving them from the woods back to their battery, (the reason of their leaving it in the first place was that our light battery exploded their magazine.) By this time our troops had arrived to the amount of 20,000, including the regulars, and to every appearance our victory was complete, and we had orders from our Colonel (Burnside) to go into the wood and rest ourselves and take care of the wounded.

Those of our troops who have been in engagements before say it was the hardest battle they ever witnessed, and that they never saw any troops stand fire as well as ours.

In my last I wrote you that I had a lame foot, occasioned by blistering it, wearing the blister off and taking cold in it. I walked all the way to the battle ground with a cane, and threw it away when the firing commenced, then walked back to camp and half way to Washington, when I got a horse without a saddle and rode to Long Bridge.

Providence Journal 7/27/1861

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“Tockwotton”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

1 10 2011

Letters  From The Second Regiment.

Camp Clark, July 22, 1861

To the Editors of the Evening Press: – Dear Sirs, I am oppressed with the long fatigue and overwhelmed with grief, but cannot rest until I have written a few lines to you.

Perhaps the best thing that I can do is to give you a simple narrative of what has transpired, so far as it has come under my own observation. According to orders issued the night before, we took our line of march yesterday morning at two o’clock. As in the advance upon Fairfax, the Second Regiment led the advance, under the command of General Hunter, who was constantly present to direct and to urge forward the Division. By a forced march of what could not have been less than eighteen miles, lasting from two until about nine o’clock, we reached, by a circuitous route through the wilderness, the place of conflict – a place called Bull’s Run. None of us had rested the night before, for more than an hour or two – some of us had not closed our eyes at all. All were greatly fatigued by the forced and lengthy march – during which we only halted a very few times, and then only for a moment or two. The Second Rhode Island Regiment not only led the advancing column, but, as before, performed all the flanking and skirmishing duty – their flanking lines extending for a great distance into the wilderness and the duties of it attended with great labor. About nine, as we were just coming to the edge of the woods through which we had been winding, the skirmishing commenced by our flanking companies, and word was brought to us that the enemy was waiting for us in force on the open space just beyond.

Without taking a moment to rest or to breathe; even without waiting for others in the rear to join them, the officers and men of the 2d regiment listened to a few sentences from Gen. Hunter, and, led by their brave Colonel, rushed with a shout into the open space, and found themselves face to face, and almost hand to hand, with a greatly superior force of the enemy. The battle commenced instantly and fiercely. I can compare it to nothing but the mysterious storm spoken of in the Apocalypse, only every drop was a ball, which mowed, and smote, and cut, with the force of lightning. I did not see a man falter. Led by their officers, who shouted forward, and showed themselves as brave and true as steel, and companies rushed through the storm of death and drove the superior force of the enemy before them. In a few moments the battery, led by the brave Capt. Reynolds, drove into the field, and wheeling, began to pour their death dealing missiles into the ranks of the foe. This seemed to me to be the most terrible moment of this terrific conflict. The enemy, close at hand, seemed to me to conceive the idea of driving our men back and taking the battery. The air seemed to grow dark and was rendered vocal with the storm of balls cutting through it and rending the trees in our rear. Still the officers, themselves among the foremost, shouted forward, and our men not only maintained the unequal conflict, but steadily drove the enemy before them. Perhaps it was not so long as that, but it seemed to me a full half hour before the other regiments came to our support and the enemy were repulsed and driven back. I supposed the day was gained, as I had not doubted but that it would be from the beginning. Of course there were dead and wounded on every side of us. Some of us had been constantly engaged in bearing them back into the edge of the wood and supporting and consoling them as best we could.

As soon as possible the carriages prepared for that purpose were brought up, and the wounded carried yet farther to the rear and placed in the charge of the surgeons. Our beloved Colonel fell gallantly leading on his regiment. He was instantly borne to a house near at hand, and then to the hospital below, and every exertion was made to revive him, but in vain. There was no consciousness, and he survived but a short time. I need not add that we are filled with the profoundest grief at his loss. May God bless and comfort his wife and mother and whole family.

Of the, to me perfectly mysterious, result of the general battle, I have neither time nor strength now to speak, nor of the retreat. I say result of the general battle, for our part of it was a victory. Our officers fought and fell like heroes, and the whole regiment has gained for itself and the State imperishable fame. Our beloved Governor has proved himself to be among the bravest of the brave. He was constantly in the front of the battle, and when his horse fell dead under him, he was instantly with drawn sword cheering on the men, and through the mercy of God he has escaped with only a scratch. The command of our regiment devolved upon Lieut. Col. Wheaton, son of our senior Surgeon, and he has in every way shown himself worthy to succeed Col. Slocum. I assure you he can ask no higher praise than this. By him and his officers our regiment was kept organized and controlled through nearly the entire retreat, while others were broken and scattered.

We know that we owe to him, and yet more to the cool and indefatigable exertions of our brave Governor, that the result of the conflict was not yet more disastrous. He was with us through the whole – forgetful of self – thoughtful only of the rest.

The beloved dead and wounded we were compelled to leave; not, however, until an arrangement had been made with a superior officer of the enemy who had fallen into our hands to have them most sacredly and tenderly cared for.

Of the extent of our loss I cannot now judge. In our regiment, of the dead and those who may be considered fatally wounded, the number I think will fall short of one hundred. This is all I have time to add. May God sanctify to us and the whole nation this great sorrow.

Yours, &c.,
Tockwotton.

Providence Evening Press 7/25/1861

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“Tockwotton”, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the March to Manassas (3)

29 09 2011

Letters  From The Second Regiment.

Centreville, July 20, 1861

Dear Sirs: – I do not wonder that Robinson Crusoe got so mixed up with respect to time. We are almost as bad off already. The only way to find our whereabouts is to find the latest paper and then reckon up the day of the week and month. Our neat and picturesque collection of tents are ilk Turkish cities, where there are neither names to the streets, numbers to the houses, rules of trade, nor fixed time for anything. The only thing that we are held responsible for  is to wait patiently for orders, and when they come, obey them cheerfully and promptly; both of these we are becoming quite experienced in. Yesterday our men turned to and provided themselves with shelter from the sun. Many and willing hands make quick work. Rails from the fences, and trees from the forest, furnished the materials. In a few moments (for it seemed hardly more than that,) long rows of rail-framed and bough-covered houses sprung into view as if by magic. The fires scattered among these extended extempore dwellings made during the last evening a splendid picture. Think of the scores of thousands of armed bands seen in the same condition from the adjacent hill-top, and you can form some idea of the magnificence of the whole scene.

We are still at the side of Centreville where we arrived day before yesterday, and from which our enemies have also fled away, leaving not only their fortifications but some of their guns and other property behind them. This time they have not fled far. Their lines and batteries can easily be seen from the hills near us, as well as our own vast army scattered over the plain. We are now face to face with the enemy, and unless they run again, I suppose that the great battle must be on the morrow, and news of its results will come to you on the wings of lightning. We hope that you will be careful about accepting the reports. Divine Providence permitting, some of us will give to you the earliest reliable accounts. We are pained to night to learn of rumors that are said to have reached and pained you – rumors of battle and wounds and slaughter. What friend it is who invents these I know not, but all know that as yet we have had no battle, and that there are no killed, no wounded nor seriously sick among us. I have spent much time yesterday and to day among the officers and men, and have been impressed with the obvious good health and find spirits of all. Depend upon it, such men, led by such officers, will not quail in the time of battle, nor turn back in their path from the face of the foe. We are favored with officers of rare intelligence and cultivation. Few, if any armies have ever been gathered having so much of these elements in them. From the brave and experienced Colonel chosen, we have the most perfect confidence, and if they do not lead us to victory then you may be certain it is because the God of Battles has otherwise decreed.

Gen. McDowell and many others were present at our dress parades both last evening and this, and expressed themselves much pleased with the appearance of the troops and impressed with the attendant religious services in both regiments.

We were under orders to march this morning, but for unexplained cause the movement was delayed. Again the order came to march at 6 P. M., with two days rations – near that hour, this order, too, was revoked. it is now nearly ten and we are under orders to march at two in the morning. This, I think, will be executed and tomorrow will be the decisive day. Deserters and prisoners are frequently passing through our lines, indicating weakness on the part of our foe, but I lay down with the anticipation of a dire conflict on the morrow. May the God of Mercy, in whom I find confidence and peace in trusting, preside over the strife and guide it to a speedy and just issue.

The whole regiments in which you feel so deep an interest, have never seemed to me so well prepared for the contest. It is wonderful to behold the cheerfulness and to listen to the songs and hymns with which the groves and hills are resounding as I write. I must end my letter, and will lie down with the prayer that the God of the spirit of all flesh will inspire every one of them with a disposition to commit his life and leave all his interests both for time and eternity to the keeping of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have never so felt the blessedness of trust in Him for myself, no so desired it as the greatest of all blessings for others. May God bless you all and have both you and us in His most gracious keeping.

Yours,
Tockwotton.

Providence Evening Press 7/25/1861

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“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.”








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