“W”, 2nd Vermont Infantry, On the March to Manassas

23 12 2011

Resting Place, two miles from Centreville, July 19, 1861.

Messrs. Editors of the Free Press:

As we are having a few hours rest to-day, I will give you a short description of our march to this place, and whatever I may have of interest to write.

On Monday last we had orders to have three days’ rations cooked, and to be ready for light marching; that is, with rubber and woolen blankets, haversacks, and canteens – all our other camp equipage to be left in camp. Our boys went to bed Monday night, quite happy at the prospect of an advance. The long roll beat, and the regiment was called out, just before daylight next morning, and the first four companies – being A, I, D, and G – were led off a short distance from camp, where they awaited further orders. We had heard that our pickets were attacked and the telegraph wire cut, but after waiting an hour we went back to camp, rather down in the mouth, the alarm proving a false one. We soon received orders to march at twelve o’clock, but did not get started until nearly two. There were two brigades front in and two in the rear of us; and as we came upon an eminence now and then, and saw the long line of glistening bayonets, we could not but feel a sense of security and imagine ourselves a match for the whole rebel army. We came on in a westerly direction, by steady marching, until about sundown, when we had a hard march until about ten o’clock, moving in that time only about two miles. It seems the rebels, upon our advance, had burned the bridges across a stream some forty feet wide, and our whole division were obliged to cross in single file, upon a log, hardly wide enough to cross in the day time, much less in the night. You may imagine that it took some time for so many thousand men to  cross in this way. We marched along a couple of miles, where we found the brigades encamped.

It was one o’clock before our regiment arrived, and I think I never saw men so completely tired out. Many a poor fellow fell out by the roadside, preferring to be left behind in a hostile country than to go forward without rest. We were allowed only three hours sleep, and started again next morning at eight o’clock. We marched through  a country heavily wooded; indeed, we had to travel in the woods almost all the way, with the exception of the last three or four miles. Our journey was very much impeded all day Wednesday by trees which the rebels had felled across the road, and in some places our pioneers were obliged to build new roads entirely. On account of these obstructions, our march was rather slow.

About noon we reached a point in the road where we found a regiment drawn up in line of battle. The sight cheered us up, as we were told that an Alabama regiment of riflemen had crossed the road only a few moments before, on the retreat. They succeeded in escaping, however, leaving their camp with provisions enough to supply our whole division for two or three days. The rebels did not suffer from hunger, as they had all kinds of vegetables, with the necessary apparatus for cooking. We stopped for the night about a mile South of their camp, and men were immediately sent for provisions, as our three days’ rations had nearly run out. Two or three men from Company B succeeded in taking a prisoner, who had been out as picket guard and had been left. He was armed with a rifle and revolver, but gave himself up willingly. He seems to be quite intelligent, and says he volunteered thinking it was his duty to do so. He appears to be confident that we cannot get possession of Manassas Gap, and reports a great concentration of rebel forces at that place. He says that Gen. Beauregard has visited their camp several times within the past week. – We spent the day, yesterday at rest, within hearing of the cannonading, at Bull’s Run.

Our men were of course enraged when they heard the news of our repulse at that place, and are longing for a chance to blot out the disgrace of the disaster.

We did not start until five o’clock, when we moved on in a westerly direction towards the scene of the day’s conflict. Companies B and G, under Major Joyce, were left behind with the baggage and ammunition wagons as a rear guard. We did not have a very pleasant march, as we were obliged to carry our load of cartridges up a steep hill, the horses being too tired to do so, having come all the distance from Washington without feed. Our pleasure was not at all heightened when we learned that we were two miles in rear of the main body, with 800 rebels hanging upon our rear. We caught up with the main body at ten o’clock, having marched about six miles. We are about four miles from Bull’s Run, and six miles from Manassas Junction. An advance upon these places is expected to-night or to-morrow.

We have several brigades about us, with artillery and cavalry. I have been out a little ways, and come across our old friends the Minnesota and N. Y. Sixteenth regiments. Both regiments are in good spirits and enjoy general good health. Lieut. Pierce of the Sixteenth, Capt. Stetson’s Plattsburgh company, is quite sick in their camp, and is not expected to live. Our own regiment is enjoying first-rate health, with the exception of a few who are sick in our camp. We have come through without a single accident; while one of the Maine regiments has had two killed and two seriously wounded – all the results of carelessness. I hear somebody has sent home word that Capt. Drew is sickly. This is not near as bad as some have made it. He was quite unwell while we were at Camp Fairbanks, but only for a short time, and is now as well as ever. He will be found all right when we come upon the battlefield. As for “Father Sharpley,” (as he is called through the regiment,) he is as young and boyish as any of us, and is the life of the whole camp. Lieut. Weed had gone back to our camp with a strong guard for our wagons. We are awaiting orders to march to Centreville, but I hear we are to have reinforcements before we go on to Manassas Junction. I have no doubt but that we shall have a warm time there; but I imagine the rebels will find out that “the Yankees” will fight. We were visited today by Messrs. Canfield, Shaw, and Page, and a few days ago by L. G. Bigelow, Esq. Of course, we were much pleased to see Vermonters. I hope they will report us all right.

Yours Truly,


Burlington Free Press, 8/2/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy