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

4 10 2011

Letters From The Second Rhode Island Regiment:

Camp Clark,  July 23, 1861.

To the Editors of the Evening Press: – Dear Sir: Among the vast crowd of facts and thoughts I hardly know that will be of the greatest relief to your readers. The Regiment is now mostly together again, and getting quietly settled in their quarters. Rations, blankets, &c., have been served out, and every possible thing will be done at once to make the men comfortable. New and spacious quarters are provided, where the wounded will at once be placed and carefully attended to .

The roll of the companies has just been called and the result is as follows: 28 killed, 56 wounded, and 30 missing. Total 115. This is even more favorable than I feared when I wrote last evening, and we trust that the missing ones will all return to us and that nearly if not all the wounded ones will recover.

Among the lost I include Col. Slocum, Major Ballou, and Captains Tower, and Smith. Of Col. Slocum I have spoken already. The whole camp mourns for him. His absence fills all with gloom, and has made the whole day seem to us like a funeral ceremony. ‘Tis not the loss of a skillful officer alone, that many of us mourn, but a warm-hearted and faithful personal friend whose place we see no means of filling. Major Ballou, also, showed himself among the bravest of the brave. He was constantly in the thickest of the fight, cheering the men by his voice and by his example, to yet greater valor. Even after he fell, he continued to shout to the men to press onward. He was as we know, a gentleman of most amiable character and high culture, and has now crowned his distinguished life, by a heroic fall, He was yet alive when the army retreated, but no hope was entertained by Dr. Wheaton that he would survive. Captain Tower, fell early in the battle, while boldly leading his men to the charge. He merely requested to be turned over, and died without a struggle. Captain Smith, after having led his company bravely through the strife, and performed all the duties of a gallant officer, was instantly killed by a ball from the masked battery which fired upon us on our retreat. To see him and others, thus literally mowed down in their defenceless condition, and to witness the crashing together of guns, wagons, carriages, horses and property of all sorts, into masses of hopeless confusion and ruin, was to me the most terrible part of the whole affair

The standard bearer of the regiment, John M. Durfee, who escaped unhurt, is deserving of special mention and praise. Though the balls were showering upon him like hailstones, and though the colors which the ladies presented to us was completely riddled by them, he not only bore it proudly aloft in the face of the foe, but waved it fearlessly far in advance and called constantly for the men to follow and defend it. An officer of another regiment shouted to me in his admiration – “That fellow alone is worth a thousand men!” Doubtless the steadiness of the men and the entire success of this part of the conflict are very much to be attributed to his bearing. It is no small part of the credit of the well disciplined and bravely led company of Capt. Viall that they furnished to us such a standard bearer.

But time and space would fail me to go into particulars. You may rest assured that the reputation of the State has been well sustained and that the high praise which is bestowed upon the 2d regiment has been richly earned. Had the decided advantage gained by them been followed up by others with half their promptness and valor, our defeat would have turned out a glorious victory. I am surprised to notice with what intelligence the men now discuss the incidents and the management of the combat. Also, with the vigor they are now recommending the work of preparation for renewed conflict. Do not imagine that there is the least discouragement here. We have only sowed the dragon’s teeth, and armed hosts are springing up like magic. The returned regiments with often all but trifling losses will soon be reorganized. A vastly larger army is already gathering about us, and when, with more experience, able general officers and in better discipline, it shall again take the offensive, woe to them upon whom shall fall its pent up vengeance.

I will only add that our men are rapidly regaining their strength and cheerfulness. The wounded (including Freeman) are doing well, and let our friends and all who mourn remember that their loved ones have fallen nobly and in the cause of freedom. In this and in the grace of God may they find consolation.

Yours, &c.,
Tockwotton

Providence Evening Press 7/26/1861

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Lt. John P. Shaw, Co. F, 2nd RI Infantry

3 10 2011

The Lieutenant Shaw who authored this account of his experience in the Battle of Bull Run is most likely John P. Shaw, who would die a captain in the regiment during the Overland Campaign in 1864. Here’s a photo of Shaw courtesy of the Library of Congress:

The LOC info on this image:

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.

Notice the distinctive early war Rhode Island blouses and Shaw’s name stenciled on the folding camp stool at right. The regiment encamped in Camp Brightwood in the fall and winter of 1861-62.

Several sources, including the Official Army Register (which is probably the culprit), list Shaw as killed at the Wilderness on May 5, 1861. However, Augustus Woodbury’s history of the regiment has this memorial biography:

Captain John P. Shaw, son of General James Shaw, was born in Providence, January 3rd, 1834. He was instructed in the common schools of Providence, and became by occupation a jeweller. He was married, September 13th, 1854, to Amanda O., daughter of William P. Brightman. At the outset of the rebellion he joined the First Rhode Island, as sergeant-major, and, on the formation of the Second, was appointed second lieutenant of Company F. He was successively promoted to first lieutenant, July 22nd, 1861, and captain, July 24th, 1862, of Company K. He was particularly efficient as a drill and recruiting officer, and, while as lieutenant, during the absence of his captain, he received, in special orders, the congratulations and commendation of Colonel Wheaton, for the “entire success with which he had performed the duties of a higher grade.” In battle he was known as a brave and gallant officer, and was selected more than once to perform services of a peculiarly difficult kind. He fell in the bloody battle before Spottsylvania Court House, May 12th, 1864. The generous words of Colonel Edwards, in his farewell order to the Second, on the departure of the Regiment from Cold Harbor, have already been given. In a private letter to General Shaw the colonel rendered an additional testimony of his regard: “Captain Shaw died fighting so bravely, was so conspicuous among the bravest, that I could not help noticing him particularly. I and all that knew him are fellow mourners.”

And Elisha Hunt Rhodes describes Shaw’s death in his diary entry Line of Battle Near Spottsylvania Court House, May 13th 1864:

In front of our line there was an open plain for perhaps two hundred yards and then there were thick woods. The Rebels formed in the woods and then sent forward a small party with a white flag. As we saw the flag we ceased firing, and the officers jumped upon the parapet, but as the party approached they were followed by a line of battle who rushed upon us with yells. Our men quickly recovered from the surprise and gave them a volley which sent them flying to the woods. From the woods a steady fire was kept up until after midnight. The guns which I mentioned above were still standing idle in the angle and neither party could get them. A Brigade of New Jersey troops were brought up and attempted to enter the angle but were driven back. General Sickles’ old Brigade (the Excelsior) were then brought up, but the men could not stand the terrible fire and instead of advancing in line only formed a semicircle about the guns. Capt. John P. Shaw of Co. “K” 2nd R. I. Volunteers was standing upon a stump and waving his sword to encourage these men when he suddenly fell backwards. I shouted to Major Jencks that Shaw was down. I ran to him and found him lying with his head upon an ammunition box. I raised him up, and the blood spurted from the wound in his breast, and he was dead. As I had lost my pistol I took his and placed it in my holster and will, if I live, send it home to the Captain’s father.





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.