Our Army Correspondence – – No. 5.
In Camp, four miles from Centreville,
Twelve miles from Manassas Junction,
Friday, July 19, 1861.
Dear Independent: I am writing under difficulties, first, there is not table or even a board to write on, so I write on the crown of my cap holding it in my lap, as I sit leaning against a stack of guns while the sweat runs down and drops off my beard. We started from Camp Sullivan, Tuesday the 16th inst., about noon, marched to Washington where we united with the Rhode Island Regiments, 1st and 2d, and the New York 71st with several companies of regulars and the U. S. Light Artillery. We began to feel good as we field across the long bridge and came insight of the extensive earth works which cover all the heights on the Virginia side near the bridge or at any point of crossing on the river. The troops at work on the entrenchments gave us cheer after cheer as we passed them and at a quick step and with right good will we pushed on into Old Virginia. About 10 in the evening we went into camp, spread our blankets, and slept sweetly without being disturbed. The next morning we were up at the dawn, and after hard bread and meat again resumed our march. A fight was in prospect at Fairfax, and as we drew near the renowned spot we got our men in order and marched on still and quiet, without music. Soon a long line of earth works came in sight on the brow of a hill, but instead of its belching forth shot and shell upon us as we filed through the narrow valley, all was still, and the grand fortification showed itself no more belligerent than any other big pile of dirt. Soon our men were upon the works, but not a single soldier of the ten or twelve thousand said to have been at this place could be seen, all had left. In a few moments more we found ourselves in Fairfax. That renowned depot of Southern troops looked about as lonesome as the fortifications, for nothing of the human kind could be seen save a few negroes, and now and then a woman or child peaking from the windows. We passed through the grand street of the town, consisting of six or eight buildings, into the Court House yard, where we stacked arms, and the command was given, rest! Thus we found ourselves in possession of Fairfax Court House, and all without firing a gun or shedding any thing but sweat which was poured out pretty freely to be sure. The Colonel and staff took possession of the Court House and our regimental colors were planted upon the roof in the midst of prolonged shouts.
We learned that the Southern troops left about two hours before our arrival. On visiting the deserted camps we found they must be left in the greatest haste, as much valuable property was left, provisions, clothing, blankets, tents, &c. The boys found revolvers and knives, a few matches, some rolls of dimes and quarters where they had been paying off &c. Nearly every one had some sort of trophy. In some places they left their breakfast all ready, table set, and the “hoe cake baked,” in other cases they had only got the dough mixed up ready for baking. – Flour meal, beef, pork, corn and other stores showed that food was abundant with the rebels. The men got so excited in the plunder of the camp that they did not respect private property as they should; where they learned any one was in the Southern interest they went in and helped themselves. As soon as the officers learned what was going on they at once stationed guards and put every man under arrest who was found plundering, and did all they could to prevent any outrage, but enough was done I fear to give us a bad name. The orders now are very strict and the greatest care is taken to have all private property respected.
Thursday, the 18th, we marched from Fairfax to this point, which is about four miles from Centreville, and the same distance from Bulls Run which is the strong position of the rebels for the protection of Manassas Junction. The day we got here three companies of the Massachusetts 1st got into an ambush and were badly cut up. The Boston Fusileers, a company of one hundred and one, had but twenty-one men reported up to noon to-day, and the other two companies suffered but not so severely. There is the greatest excitement among the troops, some 60,000 being encamped within four or five miles, all they ask is orders to go on and clean them out. Old Gen. Scott come out to-day and says he shall not permit a single life to be rashly thrown away, that more lives have been lost now than we needed to take the whole of Bull Run, Manassas Gap and all. Bull Run is a very important point to the Southerners, as they get all their water for the Manassas Gap Railroad and for the use of the troops at that station, from this same Bull Run. The rebel troops are stationed in a large wood and they have batteries erected all about, and the position is very strong to hold for a short time, and cannot well be taken without a risk of considerable loss. The cars from Richmond have been run night and day of late bringing on reinforcements. It is thought that no other stand will be made after Bull Run and Manassas Gap until we get to Richmond. The troops are terribly excited, it is fearful to see men with the tiger fully aroused in them. To-morrow we expect to go in on Bull Run in some way, but nothing can be known previous to orders.
Gen. Wilson (long Jim)* was here today with Hon. T. M. Edwards**. Gen. Wilson seems unable to leave us. God bless his great heart, how much I wish he was in his prime. I reckon he would not leave us as long as the war lasted. I don’t know as he will now. Our men are in good health. The climate is not going to kill us. We are all right in that direction.
Concord Independent Democrat, 7/25/1861
*Likely Congressman James Wilson. Sketch of General James Wilson of New Hampshire
**Likely Congressman Thomas M. Edwards Wikipedia
***No individual named Trim is listed in the company roster, so this is likely a pseudonym.
Contributed by John J. Hennessy