#12 – Lt. James Curtis

13 02 2008


Report of Lieut. James Curtis, Acting Commissary Subsistence, U. S. Army, of the subsistence of the Army from July 16 to 22

O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 340-342

ARLINGTON HOUSE, VA., August 1, 1861

SIR: In obedience to your order of the date of yesterday, I have the honor to submit the following report of my operations in conducting subsistence stores to the army of General McDowell during its recent advance to Centreville and Bull Run:

On the 16th day of July a train of fifteen wagons from the Maine regiments, under charge of one Graves, wagon-master, reported to me at the storehouse of Lieutenant Grey, Second Artillery, A. C. S., near Fort Corcoran. These teams were in excellent order and under good management. These wagons I loaded with stores that day. On the morning of the 17th July I received from Capt. O. H. Tillinghast, A. Q. M., U. S. A. fifty more wagons. Of these I loaded forty-nine the same day, making in all a train of sixty-four wagons. These last teams were hastily put together, and not used to work, and were illy provided with extra materials to supply breakage, &c. The teamsters also were a great many of them utterly unfit for their business. In fact, the management of the train was a matter of great difficulty. One wagon, which was broken, I left behind in charge of Lieutenant Grey.

At 4 p.m. of the 17th I started for Falls Church with my train, intending to camp at that place for the night. But the teams worked so badly, and there was so little organization, that I was obliged to make frequent stops to keep together. There were some ten or twelve of the teams that were unable to pull one-half an ordinary load, and these caused me great trouble.

From 7 p.m. of the 17th instant until 3 a.m. of the 18th I was engaged in getting my train over the hill just beyond Camp Tyler, which is the worst on the whole road. I was obliged to change and double teams, and after getting over my teams were perfectly exhausted. I therefore stopped until daylight, to feed and give my train a few hours’ rest. At about 8 a.m. I moved on, reaching Vienna at 12 m., where I rested until 2.30 p.m.

In rear of my train I had sixty-five beef cattle. These I found no difficulty with. At 2.30 p.m. I moved on from Vienna with an escort of twenty men from the New Jersey regiment stationed there under Col. W. R. Montgomery. This was the first escort I had had. When near Fairfax Court-House I received an order to go by way of Germantown and to follow by the Centreville road. I came up with my train and cattle with the rear of the Army just after dark, and as it was impossible for my teams to pull farther that night, I camped, under the instructions of Captain Tillinghast, alongside of the road. There were at this time some ten or twelve of my wagons back on the road. I found that if I delayed to help these worthless teams over every little hill I should not be up in time with the mass of my stores, which I knew would be much needed. These teams, however, all joined me within two days, except one wagon, which was, I believe, turned over and badly broken, and left behind.

On the morning of the 19th, in obedience to your orders, I distributed the contents of forty-nine wagons to the division of Colonel Heintzelman. I then had two forage wagons, making in all fifty-one wagons that had come up, or thirteen wagons still behind, which joined afterwards, as I have stated. I found the men in an almost starving condition, and it was impossible, under the circumstances, to make out papers or go through any formalities. I divided the provisions in my train equally  as possible, and, by your order, parked my train near headquarters; the cattle near, and sixty-five in number, as when I started. Some of my other wagons having come up, I turned over six or seven with their stores to Lieutenant Hawkins, Second Infantry, A. C. S., by your order.

Having done this, you directed me to repair to Fairfax Station, to take charge of and forward all supplies for the Army. I arrived there at about 6 p.m. of the 19th, and immediately took the necessary steps to prepare storehouses and clear the track of the obstructions which the rebels had placed upon it, and which were very formidable, they having filled the deep cut there with trees and earth at least ten or twelve feet in depth and for a space of about two hundred feet.

I had on the 20th received a lot of rifle-cannon ammunition and one hundred and fifty boxes of small-arm cartridges, directed to Lieutenant Strong, Ordnance. These I was obliged to unload below the cut, and about a half mile from the station. On the morning of the 21st Capt. H. C. Symonds, C. S., sent me about ten thousand rations. I also received from Capt. E. O. Tyler, A. Q. M., on this date, five wagons, complete, and three thousand pounds oats, and from the camp at Centreville about thirty boxes muskets (old). This was all I had on hand on the evening of the 21st.

During the day I had been engaged in telegraphing the War Department of the progress of the battle, as near as I could judge. When the retreat commenced I telegraphed the War Department, “Shall I abandon this post, and by what roads” The answer was, “No.” I then telegraphed, “I have a large quantity of rifled cannon and small-arm ammunition. Shall I send it in by train?” To this I got no answer. I then received a dispatch directing me to throw everything from cars and send them in for troops, which I accordingly did. I did not send back the ammunition, because they telegraphed their intention to send more men and hold the position, and I judged also that, after the severe fight, if our men made a stand, they would want it. I therefore retained it, with everything on hand, as I stated.

We remained at the station expecting the arrival of troops until about 3 a.m. of the 22d, when our pickets reported that the northeast road to Alexandria had been blocked up by felling trees across it, and that the rebel cavalry were making their appearance near us. Shortly after this the War Department ordered the abandonment of the position by way of the railroad track to meet the cars which were on the way. Colonel McCunn of one of the New York regiments, was in command. The retreat was conducted in a quiet and orderly manner, every man being in his place. But upon arriving at Burke’s Station, where the First New Jersey three months’ men were, the scene beggared description. They lined the track, crowded into and ahead of our ranks, and acted other wise in the most disgraceful manner. I could see no officers, and it was a mere armed mob. In this shape, with our own ranks in good order, but surrounded by the citizen soldiers of New Jersey, we met the cars, upon which they speedily crowded, leaving us the best chances we could get after they had finished. I need not state what the result would have been had there been an attack upon us. The property which I had in charge at Fairfax Station I was obliged to leave, as I could not transport it. The twenty horses belonging to the wagons were mostly ridden in by teamsters and irresponsible persons, but the five wagons and three thousand pounds of oats were left behind. The teamsters were not willing to take them around by the roads at a time when we all supposed that the enemy was in full pursuit.

To sum up, there was left at Fairfax Station about 10,000 rations, 150 boxes small-arm cartridges, 87 boxes rifled-cannon ammunition, 30 boxes (about) old fire-arms, 5 wagons, and 3,000 pounds of oats. This is all I know of.

After reaching Alexandria I reported to Captain Symonds there, and to you in person near Arlington.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


First Lieutenant, Fifteenth Infantry, A. C. S.

Capt. H. F. CLARKE,

Chief Commissary General McDowell’s Army, Arlington, Va



3 responses

14 02 2008
Richard Symonds

So who is this Captain Symonds referred to?

Richard Symonds


14 02 2008
Harry Smeltzer


This is the kind of thing that can eat up a whole day. But in this case, we are lucky that Henry C. Symonds was a graduate of USMA, #12 in the class of 1853, born in and appointed from Mass. He’s Cullum #1590. According to Cullum, he was a Staff Captain – Comm. of Subsistence, in the defenses of Washington from May 11, 1861 to Spt. 1, 1861. He went out west to Louisville in a similar capacity, earned brevets to Lt. Col. and Col., and resigned on Nov. 17, 1865. He was then a merchant in New Orleans unitl 1870, and up until the publication of Cullum he was an educator in Sing Sing, NY.

A google search turned up a geneaology site for Symonds’ that you might want to check out:


If you scroll down to entry #221, you’ll find a William C. who was born Feb. 10, 1832, which would make him 21 in June 1853, so that fits for age. Place of birth is not listed, but it says he had a son Nathaniel born in Ossining, NY (known as Sing Sing) on Sept. 19, 1878. So, I think this is our guy. According to this, he died in Los Gatos, Calif., but lists no date. If I knew the year he died, I could find the USMA necrology.

It looks like there are Putnams in his lineage as well, but I think everyone in New England had a Putnam in the closet.

According to this article:


it appears Symonds was involved in something called “The Great Hog Swindle” in Louisville in 1864. (The parentheses in the address screw up the hyperlink…copy and paste the whole thing into your browser to get to the article.)

And this NYT article:


is about the marriage of a daughter of Colonel Symonds in Sing Sing in 1889.

Do you see what happens when you start pulling threads? I could be at this all day. But I’m not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

I mean it.

Richard, please let me know if this is YOUR Henry C. Symonds.


15 02 2008
Richard Symonds

I don’t think that is my guy, but it is very interesting. My family is/was from Massachusetts and there is a Charles, I think, who was killed in the ACW who was one of my grandfather’s uncles. If I read the genealogy page correctly that line died out with Nathaniel in Ossining (I know where that is). I can go back in my family pretty easily until about 1820 with a William (have forgotten the middle name) Symonds in Connecticut who moved (back) to Springfield MA. Thank you for this. I am a Vietnam vet, and my grandfather was in Cuba in 1898, and I like military history.


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