Winchester, Va., July 18, 1861.
Mr. Editor: – Our Regiment, the 6th Infantry North Carolina State Troops, arrived here on the 16th. After leaving Raleigh we had a very pleasant time, but going through to Petersburg without stopping, and arriving there late at night, jaded us considerably. We arrived there about 12 o’clock at night, very hungry; but the good people of the city had supper ready for us, and we were ready for the supper. Early next morning the regiment was formed and we marched over to the Soldier’s Haven, where an ample breakfast was prepared for us, and after attending to this pleasant duty we expected to embark for Richmond; but cars were wanting, and two companies only, under Lieut. Col. Lightfoot, proceeded with the baggage, the remainder being left at the Soldier’s Haven, under Maj. Webb, to spend the day. After getting a dinner really sumptuous, two more companies proceeded, and late in the evening the remainder left also, and at 12 o’clock at night the last of us was in Richmond. Well, Mr. Editor, probably you are a little curious to know where the Soldier’s Haven is. I will endeavor to tell you, so that if you ever come to Petersburg and do not visit this spot, more dear by far to a soldier than any other turf around the Cockade City, you would do violence to a soldier’s feelings.
The beautiful Appomattox rolls its waters between it and the Cockade City. On its left lies a grassy plain, at whose border rises several beautiful hillocks, and deep ravines between. These hillocks are enclosed, and shaded by beautiful trees which offer a most refreshing shade to the weary soldier, while the heavy grass gives him a couch on which to rest his weary limbs, and gushing rivulets all around afford water in abundance. On the river side stands a long table, groaning from day-break until midnight under the weight of food. This is a place as romantic as the Vale of Tempe, far-famed, and holier than any other spot, with rich memories of the kind friends, and the sweet enchanting smiles and cheering words of the nymphs fabled of old. In my lonely marches, when worn down with fatigue and exhausted with hunger, I imagine I can see the clever faces of the men and angelic forms of the ladies (God bless them) of Petersburg. Some spots of earth may be forgotten, but the Soldier’s Haven, on the banks of the Appomattox can never be obliterated. May she stand eternally There is not another such place in this world.
Wearied and jaded by a six hours ride we got to Richmond about midnight, and at four next morning took up our line of march for the depot of the Virginia Central Railroad, our destination being Winchester. Arriving at the depot after a march of several hours through a heavy rain and muddy streets, judge of our vexation when we found no cars ready for us. Breaking ranks, we put ourselves under shelter as we could, and picked up cakes, pies and other eatables in infinitely small quantities, there being no haven for the soldier in Richmond as there is in Petersburg; but root hog or die was the word. About 2 o’clock it cleared away, and we marched up to capitol square, where President Jefferson Davis reviewed our regiment and made us a short speech, complimenting the old North State very highly. The Band played Hail to the Chief, Old North State, Dixie, and other patriotic airs, after which we marched down to the depot and embarked for Mannassa, where we arrived about 10 o’clock the next day. Mannassas is strongly fortified. The people generally have no idea of the strength of the place. The Yankees never will come through there. It is an utter impossibility. The troops were eager for a fight; but had no idea of getting one, for it is rashness to attack it.
After resting and getting dinner, we embarked at 5 o’clock on the Mannassas Gap Railroad for Strasburg, eighteen miles from Winchester. Long and anxious we sat in our cars waiting for the engines to take us off. The regiments began to hold dress-parade. The sun sank to his couch of fire, and night closed in, but no iron horse drew us off. Tired and weary from our night’s journey before, sleep found us, and many a soldier thought he was bounding over the mountains to join the army at Winchester; but day came and we were still at Mannassas Junction, and at about sunrise, without supper or breakfast, we started to Strasburg, and arrived there in the evening, pitched tents, and got supper – Col. Fisher being indefatigable in his exertions to render us comfortable. Tattoo was beat at 8 o’clock and tap immediately after. This astonished us. Soon the officer of the day came round and informed us that we had received a dispatch from Gen. Johnson to come on immediately, and we were ordered to march at midnight. I was preparing to lie down to take some sleep when the order came for the Captains to form their companies, march to the Quarter Master’s tent, receive their ammunition, and put out to Winchester, twenty miles. Without sleep for three nights, it was rather rough. Twelve o’clock drew on. I had fixed on my pistols and sword, filled my canteen and haversack, and was ready to form my company, when the bugler should give his blasts. Just then the rain commenced falling in torrents, and the order was countermanded until the rain should cease. About 2 o’clock the rain ceased, the bugler gave his blast, and soon the companies were formed, received their cartridges, and put out to Winchester.
After marching 9 miles we halted and got water, when we learned the Gen. Johnson had formed his line of battle, and that a detachment of Gen. Patterson’s troops were trying to turn his flanks and cut off our Regiment. Entirely ignorant of the country, we took up the line of march, and hurried on to effect a junction with Gen. Johnson. On arriving at Winchester we hated a few minutes to get water, and immediately marched through the town to the other side and were immediately placed in line of battle, and rested our weary limbs upon our muskets. Our positions was an excellent one, being posted about 500 yards to the left of the centre, behind a small hillock, which is a natural breastwork. Here we stood, amid the shocks of new mown wheat, awaiting the Yankee vandals, until about 10 o’clock at night, when Col. Fisher announced that after much trouble he had supper for us. We stacked arms, and all then lay down, making our bed by tearing down wheat shocks, and spreading our blankets over us, in which condition we took a heavy rain. We were kept in line of battle until about 2 o’clock yesterday, and our baggage being left behind, and after it arrived being packed away so that we could scarcely get to it, yet Col. Fisher himself, took our negroes, went back to town, had us a good breakfast cooked and brought to us. No man ever lived who thought more of his men that Chas. F. Fisher. No officer ever toiled harder than he to render them comfortable, and to do this, he shrinks from no labor no matter how menial. For be it remembered that a great deal of out breakfast on the morning of the 17th was cooked by the hands of Chas. F. Fisher. It is useless for me to say how our Regiment loves him. At 2 o’clock yesterday the troops were all ordered to their quarters and strong pickets posted in advance. The enemy, after advancing within three miles of us, fell back towards Martinsburg, and we joyfully went to pitching tents. And yet, not withstanding our suffering, not a murmur was heard, but all stood to their arms, and longed to see the foe.
This is a strong position, and the key to the Valley. We are well posted, and defy Old Abe to come down on us, which I do not believe he will do; for whenever he comes down to Winchester we will reddened the valley with their blood. They never can take this place.
We are here in camp in good health, no sickness, and in good spirits, and have but little expectation of a fight, though the enemy is only 12 or 15 miles distant, and may advance at any moment; but when he does come down, he will feel the effects of our heavy batteries and muskets in a way that will not be palatable. More anon.
P. S. Excuse this hasty epistle, I am worn out and tired. This morning (19th) we march to Martinsburg, I presume; at least we march.
(Raleigh) North Carolina Standard, 7/27/1861.
Contributed by John Hennessy
* While the author is not identified, from the narrative it is apparent he was a captain in the regiment. The only captain in the regiment at First Bull Run with initial “Y” was R. W. York of Co. I. See here.
R. W. York at Ancestry.com