Unknown Officer, Co. G, 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers, On the Battle

19 07 2021

The following letter from an officer in Company G, Second Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers, giving an account of the battle of last Sunday, will be read with interest. It was addressed to a prominent citizen of this town. It seems that our Company passed thirty-six hours wholly without food, drink, or sleep.

Camp Clark, Washington, D. C.,
July 23d, 1861.

Friend ——:– I suppose, were this, you have heard of our battle and defeat; but thinking that you would like an account from an eye-witness, I will give it to you. We left our camp at Centerville at two o’clock on Sunday morning, and, after marching about ten miles, we engaged the rebels. The Second Rhode Island Regiment, was in the advance, two companies on each side of the road acting as skirmishers, and my own company was the advance company on the road, marching by the flank in four ranks. We were marching in the woods, and could not see where the enemy were, when Col. Hunter came riding down to us and said, “Now, Rhode Islanders, we expect much of you – give it to them!” We assured him we would do it. We then leaped over a fence and found the enemy drawn up in a line and ready for us. We rushed down upon them, firing as fast as we could, but they outnumbered us, and being armed with Minie rifles, cut us completely to pieces. Through some mismanagement, our regiment was engaged with the rebels thirty minutes before any other troops came on the field, receiving a most galling fire. Within the space of ten minutes, Cols. Hunter and Slocum, Major Ballou and Capt. Tower fell, which was a severe loss to commence with. Our men fought like bull-dogs. During the thirty minutes we were all alone on the field out men expended all their ammunition, and we had to rob the dead to last till we were ordered off to replenish. The rebels are armed with first-rate arms, and use them well. They would bring out an American flag in their line and keep it there until they could rally their men in the bushes, and then make a rush upon us. In this way they deceived us.

Our light battery worked first-rate, but was obliged to leave the field for want of ammunition. After a fight of about five hours we were ordered to retreat. On our way back the enemy opened a masked battery upon us, and killed a great many men and horses, and took the light battery, except one piece. The Rhode Island Second Regiment received the highest praise from army officers and the citizens of Washington, for the prompt manner in which they went into battle. The greatest compliment I heard was than of an officer of the army, saying, that if it became necessary to cover the retreat, he would be obliged to take the Rhode Island Regiments and the Regulars to do it, which I thought was very good.

Major Ballou was in the midst of the battle, acting bravely, when a cannon ball passed through his horse, shattering the Major’s leg to pieces, so that they had to take it off. Our retreat was so hasty that we left both dead and wounded. How they will fare the Lord only knows. The rebels are a blood-thirsty set.

You can imagine the shape the men are in at present, when you know that we marched from 2 o’clock in the morning, without any breakfast, ten miles, and immediately attacked the enemy without resting at all; and then our retreat was so sudden that we could not rest. The distance to Washington was thirty miles, which we were obliged to mad before we halted, all without any food except what we could carry in our haversacks, and this we were obliged to throw away. So you see we were on our feet without rest from 2 o’clock Sunday morning, till eight o’clock Monday morning, when we arrived at Long Bridge. The men’s feet are in very bad condition. I never knew what it was to suffer for water before, being obliged to dip it up in the road all muddy, and drink it mud and all. It does not become me to give my opinion of this battle and its management, but I have one and you will, after you have read the whole account.

You must excuse the manner in which this is put together, for I have been writing all day making reports, and thought I would write you, if it was late.

Warren (RI) Telegraph, 7/27/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Pvt. Charles E. Perkins, Co. I, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

11 06 2021
Charles E. Perkins, Co. I, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

Charles E. Perkins at Ancestry

Charles E. Perkins at Fold 3

Charles E. Perkins at FindAGrave

Charles E. Perkins bio sketch

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster





Image: Pvt. Charles W. Gleason, Co. A, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

9 06 2021
Charles W. Gleason, Co. A, 2nd RI Infantry, Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

Charles W. Gleason at Ancestry

Charles W. Gleason at Fold3

Charles W. Gleason at FindAGrave

Charles W. Gleason bio

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster





Image: Officers of 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

29 05 2021
Capt. Beriah S. Brown, Co. H, Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F, Lt. Thomas Foy [ID’d as Fry], Co., H, 2nd RI Infantry Courtesy of Library of Congress

Title: Camp Brightwood, D.C.–Contrabands in 2nd R.I. Camp

Date Created/Published: [between 1861 and 1865]

Medium: 1 photographic print on carte de visite mount: albumen; 10×6 cm.

Summary: Capt. B.S. Brown (left); Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F 2nd Regt. Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry (center); and Lt. Fry (right) with African American men and boy.

John P. Shaw Contributed by Rob Grandhamp
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John P. Shaw Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

Beriah S. Brown at Ancestry

Beriah S. Brown at Fold3

Beriah S. Brown at FindAGrave

John P. Shaw at Ancestry

John P. Shaw at Fold3

John P. Shaw at FindAGrave

John P. Shaw info in this post

Thomas Foy at Ancestry

Thomas Foy at Fold3

Thomas Foy’s Sword

2nd Rhode Island Roster





Corp. William E. Smith, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle

1 07 2020

2nd Rgt. Co. E, Camp Clarke
[Undated] 1861

Dear mother, I am sorry to say that we can’t give eny acount of Esic nor Clark Rodman nor Lieut. Church. Don’e tell Allme as it will worry granmother. We are all well and that is all I can say. Ask father if he recieved them books I sent him and papers.

Give my love to all the boys and girls and tell them we are goin again pretty soon. Tell them I don’t think they care much for us they don’t write to eny of us. Tell all the girls to not be afreaide to write for we shall like to hear from them. Tell the Davidson’s girls to write to me. I want to hear from them all.

I saw many of our Ridgment shot down. I was close to Slocum when he was kild. A hard time we had I tell you. The Second Ridgment, that’s the one we are in you know, stood 45 minutes in front of a ridgment of the Rebels before eny of the rest got up to us. I dee Esic on the field afighting and have not seen him since. After the fight I looked every where for him but could not find him. Tell Dorcas Harvey her husband is here as well.

Don’t let enybody see this letter, if you do I won’t write eny more for if you do they will tell it all around and they write back and it makes a fuss saying that such a one wrote this and that.

Write George and let him know for I can’t. Don’t fret Mother for me for I will come out all rite at the end.

From your soon William E Smith

From Voices of the Civil War: Letters and Journal Excerpts of South Kingstown Men in the Union Army, 1861-1863, Shirley L. Barrett, Ed, Petaquamscutt Historical Society, p. 11

Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster 

William E. Smith at Ancestry 

William E. Smith at Fold3 

William E. Smith at FindAGrave (likely) 





Corp. Patrick Lyons, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Campaign

30 06 2020

Tuesday, July 16, 1861

After waiting long for the final order to march it finally came at last at 1 ocl. P. M. when we started for Washington and thence across the Long Bridge, rightly named being about 1 mile long, and were soon on the “Sacred Soil” of Virginia. We marched 11 miles that day and bivouacked for the night near Balls Cross Roads…

We were brigaded on the March with the 7th New York, 2nd New Hampshire, and the 1st R. I. The time for which the latter Regmt. Enlisted was now very nearly expired but they Volunteered to accompany us on this expedition which shows the stuff that they were made of & which entitles them to the front ranks amongst the Nation’s defenders.

Wednesday, July 17

After thawing ourselves out by some gymnastic exerises & having breakfast with the indispensible hot coffee we resumed out march to Richmond. Our Regmt. Had the right of the Column on this day’s March & consequently two companies were detailed to act as skirmishers & Co. E being one of them was deployed on the left of the column & advanced thro woods and fields till we came in sight of a pretty strong rebel fortification in front of the Village of Fairfax CH. The fort had the appearance of being still occupied thee being apparently Some heavy guns mounted & it was therefore deemed advisable to reconnoitre. Major Ballou was amongst the first to advance when upon a close inspection he found that the fort was evacuated, the guns Quaker ones (wooden).

The enemy apparently left in haste as a great many useful and some valuable articles were left behind and appropriated by our soldiers upon entering it. The writer picked up one trophy in the shape of an officers old fashioned red night cap, which he carried along in his haversack, but which , later he was destined to lose again.

We proceeded thro the Village which was an ancient looking place. The rebel flag floated over the Court House and some members of our Regmt hauled it down and hoisted the Stars and Stripes…

Saturday and Sunday, July 20 and 21, 1861

On Saturday evening the 20th we received orders to be ready to March at 1 ocl. That Night…but not until 2 ocl. Or thereabouts did we start.

The Column separated near Centreville. Our Brigade under the command of Col. Burnside of the 1st R. I. took the road to the right leading South West…Our destination was learned to be Bulls Run and as we had the extreme right of the army we had to march about 15 miles through thick forests and bad roads.

We met with no opposition till 11 A. M. when after having crossed the Stone Bridge over Bulls Run, Cos A and E were sent out to the right and left as skirmishers through dense woods. E had just completed its deployment when the left which extended to the extremity of the belt of woods discovered a force of about 200 of the enemy marching past our left flank through a clearing in the forest and the alarm “enemy on the left” passed along the line amid the greatest excitement.

The order from the Capt, close to the left was speedily obeyed and we fired a volley at the enemy who were falling back pretty lively by this time, believing no doubt from the racket we made, that our whole army was pouncing on to them. The Capt ordered us to advance over a fence at the end of these woods, which we did and again commenced firing. The enemy meanwhile having retreated to the opposite Slope of a hill between us, better known later as the Henry House Plateau. Returned the fire, but up to this time our casualties were few owing to the rebels being obliged to elevate their guns too high in firing over the hill.

We were thus engaged about 15 minutes when Co. A came to our assistance and we advanced to the Henry House on the Slope of the Hill which separated us from the enemy and everyone fired away at will and in some confusion.

It was ¾ of an hour before our Brigade formed line of battle on our right with the 1st R. I. Light Atillery near the extreme right when the battle became general all along the line. The enemies batteries opened on us from all points from woods in front and their infantry becoming emboldened proceeded to occupy a belt of woods on our left and front and put their Sharp Shooters in the tall pine trees opposite the Henry House.

It was here while advancing over the crest of the Hill, pistol in hand, and while getting over a fence, that the brave and lamented Col. Slocum (Col. of our Rgt) was shot in the forehead and died in a short time after being carried tenderly back to the Henry House.

The Major (Ballou) also fell here while riding along the crest of the Palteau receiving a canon shot in the thigh from which he died soon afterwards. Gov. Sprague was nor fortunate, he also rode along the hull and had a horse shot under him but bravely mounted another & repeated the act.

Co. E lost some of its best men here amongst who William Nichols, Corp. Stephen Holland and Henry L. Jacques were killed and Corp. Ezek B. Smith, Isaac Clark Rodman & John Clark, N. C. Dixson were wounded, the three former being captured, Smith and Rodman dying in prison at Richmond.

Meantime we were ordered back to the edge of the woods to get a fresh supply of ammunition. Up to this time everything was favorable for our side & we felt as if we would not be called upon again to take part in the battle…

[But again] the line was formed on the right of our former position, the Brigade in columns of Regts, our Regmt in front. We were not long in discovering that our troops were defeated and in full retreat and our duty was to cover the retreat. We descried a long column of the enemy advancing directly on our line and their batteries opened on us with disastrous effect…

The rout now became pretty general from all parts of the field excepting our force which had to stand in line facing the exultant and advancing foe. Our Cavalry and other mounted men added much to the consternation in their headlong haste to the rear, teams and ambulance got stuck in the mud and blocked the roads. Several Congressmen & other prominent men who came to see the battle in their Carriages added not a little to the confusion, members of all regiments got mixed up together, many of whom threw away their guns and equipment & set out to make their way to Washington.

But meantime, the space between the advancing column of the enemy and our brigade was lessening and we were ordered about face and marched off the field in good order until we came in contact with the disorganized mass near the stone bridge when it became impossible to preserve our organization. The enemy brought a battery to bear on the bridge and disables some ambulance wagons and artillery caissons which blocked it so that the troops had to wade the stream on either side and clamber up its steep banks, the water in the stream reaching breast high.

After crossing the stream the writer and John Allen were trudging along together when hearing some peculiar buzzing behind us looked around and saw a canon ball rolling after us which caused us to run in a zig zag manner till it gave up the pursuit.

Capt. Tower of Co. F was killed at the bridge and I suppose a great many others beside a large number of prisoners were captured among them Lieut. Church of…

…Upon arriving at Bush Camp, thinking we would make a stand here, reoccupied our huts and were soon fast asleep being completely exhausted by the fatigues of the past 20 hours our so…however…we were routed up and informed that the army were to retreat to Washington…

Jerry Quinlan and I kept together and jogged along with the weary throng composed of men from all the different organizations of the army, and I do not exaggerate when I say that we slept wile marching along at various stages of the journey, each one alternately stepping on the others heels, causing a momentary awakening…Traveling all night, the crowd to which I was attached, arrived at Fort Runyon, covering the long bridge, about 9 ocl. Monday morning the 22d.

Here we found the garrison working in hot haste arranging Shot & Shell for the guns & in every way preparing for the expected advance of the enemy, which however did not occure…For several days after we arrived in Camp, stragglers kept coming in by the twos and threes and all had woeful tales to tell of hardships and narrow escapes &c and about the last to arrive was Tom Flaherty with out late Col. Slocum’s horse, which notwithstanding repeated efforts of officers in command of the Chain Bridge to take away from him, he brought safely to Camp & afterwards the horse was shipped to the deceaseds home in R. I.

A few days after our return, the 1st RI bade us farewell & started for home which made us feel rather homesick. We exchanged our smooth bore muskets for their Springfield rifles and moved into their comfortable board barracks, which we did not long enjoy as we were moved to Brightwood about 5 miles from Washington and immediately set to work building fortifications for the defense of Washington.

From Voices of the Civil War: Letters and Journal Excerpts of South Kingstown Men in the Union Army, 1861-1863, Shirley L. Barrett, Ed, Petaquamscutt Historical Society, pp. 7-10

Contributed by Rob Grandchamp

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster

Patrick Lyons at Ancestry

Patrick Lyons at Fold3

Patrick Lyons at FindAGrave





Sgt. James A. Ward, Co. E, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Battle and Company Casualties

27 06 2020

Letter from Sergeant Ward.

Providence, July 27, 1861.

Mr. Webster – I am requested to send you a piece of the secession flag which was captured by our troops at Fairfax Court House. Also, the following extracts from a letter received last evening.

C. A. W.

Camp Clarke, Washington,
July 24, 1861.

I write to inform you that I am in the best of health. I will endeavor to give you a slight history of our march from the time we left Fairfax until our return to this place, which, I assure you, no one in the regiment regretted.

We left Fairfax at about 5 a. m., and marched about four miles, when we halted in a piece of woods, and stopped four or five hours. We again started and marched about 6 miles farther, where we encamped for the night, which made us, as near as I can find out, thirty-two miles from Washington. We stopped about two and a half nights, leaving Sunday at two o’clock a.m., and starting for Manassas Junction, marching in a round-about course, twenty or twenty-five miles, when we came upon the enemy at a place called Bull’s Run, some miles beyond Manassas from where we started. The reason we went beyond was, we expected they would be attacked in front, and in case they retreated, we were to cut them off. It was rather a bad “cut off” for us.

Company E was a flanking company, and we were extended out on one side of the road, to a distance of about half a mile in some places. We could not tell exactly, as we were in a dense piece of woods. As we emerged from it, we came into an open cornfield, in which were hidden about three hundred secessionists, who fired upon us as soon as they saw us. We were all alone, no other company being nearer than a quarter of a mile. Our company received the first fire, and returned it three times before we were reinforced. We have had the praise of doing bravely, and we think the Second Regiment ought to have the praise, as we did the most of the fighting.

As we were advancing at one time, with Col. Slocum at our head, he was struck with a piece of shell in the head, which was the cause of his death. How long he lived afterwards, I know not, but should not think more than twenty minutes. By losing Col. Slocum, we lost a great deal. – Some of us think that Gen. McDowell was but a tool in the hands of the enemy to lead us into a well set trap, to be cut all to pieces. He was seen to hold up his hand on the battle-field, and soon after was wounded and carried off the field. What is more singular, he was only wounded in the hand.

It was a sad sight to see men fall on every side, pierced with the fatal ball. One poor fellow I saw was shot under the right arm. There was a hole made large enough to put your finger in, and every time he tried to breath, as he was dying, the blood would ooze out. It was the only case that moved me. I felt as cool as though I were performing an every day duty.

Company E has lost four killed, certain, and two are missing, besides our Second Lieutenant, Isaac M. Church, who was either taken prisoner or killed. Among the killed is one corporal and three privates, and one corporal missing. They are Corporal Stephen Holland, Privates W. H. Nichols, J. C. Rodman, Henry L. Jaques, killed, and Corporal E. B. Smith, missing. The balls fell around us like a perfect shower of hail.

When we arrived back at Washington, we were the hardest looking lot of men you ever saw, having in our retreat, which was done in the greatest confusion, marched over forty miles without halting more than an hour or two, and had nothing to eat, being glad to get rid of our haversacks on the battle-field. I consider I am good for one more battle.

We have not done much duty for the last two days, and hope not to have any to do for several days more, as we are all tired out.

I send you a piece of the secession flag which was hauled down a Fairfax Court House by our troops. It consisted of three stripes and seven stars. I could only get one color.

Yours Truly,
James A. Ward.

Providence (RI) Evening Post, 7/29/1861

Clipping image

Contributed by John Hennessy

2nd Rhode Island Infantry Roster

James A. Ward at Ancestry 

James A. Ward at Fold3 





Unknown Officer, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, On the Aftermath of Fighting on Matthews Hill

6 06 2020

The following incident is given in a letter from a young officer in the 2d Rhode Island regiment:

“After the battle was fought, I went into a grove where the Secessionists had been concealed. I found the ground covered with the dead and dying. The sight was one that I pray never to see again. One poor fellow with his leg blown off called me to him and asked me to shake hands with him. He then asked me if I had any ill feeling toward him. I replied. ‘No; but I am sorry that brothers should be obliged to slaughter each other in this manner.’ The poor follow burst into tears and said he came from Georgia, and that they would have shot him in his own house if he had not come. I saw many heartrending scenes, too numerous to mention.”

Providence (RI) Evening Press, 7/?/1861

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Contributed by John Hennessy





Image: Capt. Levi Tower, Co. F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

2 05 2020

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Capt. Levi Tower, Co. F, 2nd RI Infantry (Contributed by Rob Grandchamp)

Levi Tower at Ancestry.com.

Levi Tower at Fold3

Levi Tower at FindAGrave





Image: Capt. William H. P. Steere, Co. D, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry

2 01 2019

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William H. P. Steere, as colonel of the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers (courtesy of Rob Grandchamp)

William H. P. Steere at Ancestry.com

William H. P. Steere at Fold3

William H. P. Steere at FindAGrave