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March, 1863, The Second Wisconsin

Near Pratt's Landing Virginia
March 4th, 1862

The 175,000 men constituting the Army of the Potomac are not idle; from nearly every regiment the available quota can be daily seen repairing and building corduroy roads; forming new roads; building docks along the a Potomac - while some are scouting the neck of land between the a Potomac and Rappahannock rivers east of us for the purpose of gathering such mules and horses as are fit for the service from rebel sympathizers. Verily there are numerous other duties we could enumerate but defer for fear of tiring you patience - it is enough to know that we are as busy as the bee when May Flowers adorn Mother Earth.
The Second Wisconsin Regiment has been particularly employed ,besides furnishing men for the above duties, as well as for picket details from the Second have been made for secret expeditions.
Recently 1,000 of the best fighting men were called for from the Army of the Potomac. The Second and Sixth Wisconsin and Seventh Indiana regiments were chosen. The Second and Sixth repaired in light marching order to Pratt's Landing and embarked on board the beautiful steamer Alice Price and steamed down the Potomac; at night - as Erebus - we anchored near Matthias' Point and all lay down to rest.
Early dawn found us again plying our way down stream. At 10 o'clock A. M., we were hailed by one of Uncle Sam's gunboat's - run alongside made things right and pursued our journey. The gunboat was a sentinel guarding the Potomac at that point watching smugglers and escaping deserters.
The width of the Potomac from Matthias Point to the Maryland shore is twelve miles. We run along sufficiently close to see the earthworks that were built and used by the enemy last spring at Matthias Point causing considerable anxiety for the safety of out boats traversing the river by that point.
On either shore dwellings and plantations could be seen presenting every appearance of comfort and happiness - such did we look upon it, at least the scenery is quite picturesque!
At 11 A.M. we reached the mouth of the Potomac, and endeavored to land just opposite Point Lookout but it was impossible, there being no dock -,half a mile from shore was as near as we could get. 
The Chesapeake Bay lay in front of us and naught could be seen save a vast sheet of water.
Off to our left, a black object can be descried, and as we move nearer, it proves to be a merchant ship.
We "about faced" and run up Cone River - a stream renowned for furnishing the finest oysters in the world, landed and threw out skirmishers - awaited two hours for the result. Presently a civilian was brought to the boat on horseback from whom was obtained beneficial information.
His horse was taken charge of and he was requested to go aboard and point out the channel of Cone River up as far as Heathsville landing.
Ere we shoved from shore, however, a great many contrabands flocked to the beach and told us all they knew. (In our opinion, "intelligent contrabands" are played out.) 
We moved cautiously up stream under the guidance of our stranger friend, (passing nice little plantation on either side - the river is about the width of LaCrosse,) until we reached the dock - a distance of six or eight miles from the mouth.  Here all disembarked except one company who were left to protect the boat from surprise and marched as rapidly as possible towards Heathsville, the county seat of Northumberland county where we arrived about 3 O'clock p.m. and found everything prepared for the comfort of the Southern conscript officers who had only left four or five hours prior to our appearance in Heathsville.
Col. Fairchild, who was in command of the expedition, questioned the citizens, searched the post office and captured a mail bag full of letters etc., etc., while some of the soldiers were cooking their dinner in the streets, others dining at the hotel, the remainder partaking of oysters at a restaurant, who told us that he had gathered and prepared the same in consequence of an anticipated meeting of the citizens of the vicinity to confer with the conscript officers but that they had left and he was glad of it for he liked our money best.
After the hour's duration we retraced our steps and arrived at the boat a distance of four or five miles at dusk and camped along the shore. We had not long been there however when orders were given to repair to the neighboring plantation and gather up the large quantities bacon that, we were informed, were stowed away for the use of the southern army. Soon could be seen at least a dozen "go-carts," drawn by oxen, driven by contrabands wending their way to and from the boat hauling us in the finest bacon extant, principally hams. Thus 15,000 hams were secured. In the meantime a squad went out gathering up mules and horses and came in with fifteen or twenty.
Not being able to take the live stock on board it was necessary that other arrangements be made; therefore a detail of thirty men from the Second was resorted to, that some might return to camp by land taking the captured mules and horses with them.
At daylight, the detail started out into the interior and such a squad never was seen before - some on horses with bridles and saddles and some without either, managing their steeds with ropes - other on mules with straps for bridles and believe me in two or three cases bridles were manufactured out of tan old sail torn in strips. Thus were mounted thirty infantry of the Second Wisconsin Regiment wending their way through the enemy's country eighty five miles outside of our picket lines.
On our route we passed through the counties of Northumberland, Westmoreland and King George picking up horses, mules, saddles and bridles. We gobbled up a Lieutenant of the Ninth Mississippi regiment, O. H. Cox, who was on a leave of absence visiting and a gentleman purporting to be a contractor for the Southern Confederacy. He had on his person a large a mount of Southern money and a pass signed by Gen. Lee.
We were three days and nights on the way arriving at camp during a very heavy snow storm with eighteen horses and thirty-one mules.
Our arrival was indeed gratifying to Gen. Meredith and Col. Fairchild, both of who had become somewhat alarmed about us.
The steamer returned with the Sixth and a portion of the Second the day we left them. The Seventh Indiana did not land but returned the same day.
The whole expedition peculiarly benefited the government to the amount of $12,000 (
Apx. $180,000 in 2000 dollars, ed) besides dispersing rebel conscript Officers, and learning a portion of the country which is magnificent - Everything appears to be in a prosperous condition while two or three new dwellings were being erected along the route, the country is thickly settled and there are white males at every house - we passed through three or four pleasant villages - affairs seem to incline that the denizens were ignorant of the disastrous agitation now pending between North and South.
On the 1st. inst., drill as ordered, and yesterday being a beautiful spring like day, the hills adjacent were covered with soldiers and bayonets, which glistened profusely.
We presume preparations are being rapidly made for an early movement - Last spring we moved from Arlington Heights on the 10th of March, toward Centerville.
The weather is fine, and the roads are fast drying up. Unless more rains greets us it may he well for us to count upon a movement of some description soon.
Rumors have been ripe here for two months past that we were to return to Wisconsin and relieve one of those regiments there - probably the 25th. Letters have also been received from Wisconsin to the same effect, but we feel sanguine nothing of the kind will ever take place.
An article appeared in one of the Madison journals saying the Second were "over 600 strong - hale hearty" such is not the case; the aggregate for duty is 270? 
This includes the officers.

We have been permitted to peruse a letter from one of the brave "Belle City Rifle" boys who was severely wounded in the head by a minnie ball at the battle of South Mountain. He has been in hospital ever since that time till within a few weeks past. His letter is dated at "Convalescent Camp near Fort Barford, Virgina, March 8, 1863." we copy the following paragraphs:
*** "My head is probably as well as it will ever be as I have no reason to expect a perfect restoration of the fractured bones. I expect to go to the regiment before long and if I ever get a chance I will made some of the "reb" pay dear for my sore head.
I am not in the least discouraged and think our cause just as noble and holy as it was the day I enlisted and when I go into battle again, I shall fight with the same determination as we did in the past.
I should like to know why some of the young men don't hang those cowardly curs in the shape of peace democrats? I shall soon believe the North as well as the south are against us. 
I think a few hempen cravats would have a beneficial effect up in Wisconsin as well as in Indiana and Illinois. I am glad the conscription act has passed and, if need be, I hope they will take every able bodied man in the North!
I have been here about a month and am getting rather tired of it, and want to get back to the old company as it is pretty small at present and every old member is worth a half a dozen recruits. I think if there was any pride or courage in the young men of Racine they would come down and fill up our thinned ranks."
The tone of the whole letter is of the same tenor, interspersed with family news and inquiries after absent friends.

Correspondence of the Sentinel
EDITORS SENTINEL:-Though the deeds of the "Old Second" coupled with the "Iron " Brigade have passed into history, it may be uninteresting to many of your readers acquainted only with the outline of their service to learn more of the details of the gallant deeds they performed, the dangers they incurred and the hardships they endured in the bloody campaign of '62 winning a name that will be a prestige to future generations of Wisconsin "braves". 
I will therefore endeavor to present to you a truthful and brief retrospect of the services of the 2d during the past six months, gathered from persons who were active participators in all its struggles.
Commencing at the period when McClellan was retreating from the Peninsula and Pope was advancing viz Gordonsville without any support, with no line of retreat or base of supplies, and liable at any time to be overwhelmed by the combined forces of Lee and Jackson - this was no doubt a Carbonic movement of Mr. ----- though not what we might expect from so great a student of so celebrated a war manager - when on the 11th of August, General King received orders to join General Pope at Cedar Mountain, arriving there in time to witness the disasters of that gallant struggle. 
It would be impossible in this small space to recount the particulars of a forced march through the dust of a Virginia road, the wading of rivers and hurrying along beneath the sweltering rays of an August sun, giving a glance at their line of retreat via Culpeper Court House until on the 20th they reached the Rappahannock Station and camped.
On the morning of the 21st, they held their reveille to the music of artillery. About noon of that day it was ascertained that bodies of rebel cavalry were crossing at a ford a few miles above the station. Gibbon's brigade was detached to drive them back, a feat they successfully accomplished, killing and wounding many rebels with little or no loss on our side, with the exception of Adjutant Dean's being captured, while carrying orders to the right of our line of skirmishers. 
To hold this ford, the 2d U. S. Sharpshooters and Cos. A (Capt. George H. Stevens) and G, (Lieut. Hill) were detailed; deploying as skirmishers and concealing themselves in the long rushes that grow along the banks of the river they kept up a destructive fire on the rebels until dark; at 10 o'clock at night they were relieved.
They remained in camp here until the afternoon of the 23d sustaining, in the meanwhile, a terrific fire from the rebel artillery of solid shot shell and railroad iron. 
In the afternoon they marched to Washington; the day following, they passed through the own camping from it a short distance. Breaking camp here in the 26th they marched to the Rappahannock towards White Sulphur Springs. 
Here the enemy were found to be in position and the left wing of the 2nd was immediately deployed as skirmishers receiving, as they did so, a heavy fire from the enemy's artillery from which they sustained some loss. 
The skirmish was continued until eleven at night, each party directing his fire by the flash of small arms and the glare of artillery. About noon on the following day, the 2nd was again en route, falling back by way of Washington, Haymarket and new Baltimore. So pressed for time were they on this march that the rations were delivered out while marching, no time for halting now, no time for cooking, for the enemy were in the rear and preparing to give them a reception on the old battleground of '61, so said busy rumor and our boys were willing, aye, ready to believe it, for it was at bull run, if anywhere thy wished to pay their devours to the enemy once again. At "peep o'day" the 28th of Aug. The march was resumed. Gen. Hatch's Brigade on the right, Gibbon's following in order thus: the 2nd on the right, followed by the 19th Indiana, the 6th and 7th Wisconsin - slowly advancing in this order, thick pine woods flanking them on either side, Hatch's Brigade some distance ahead, until they arrived near Gainesville. It was there that firing was heard from Hatch's Brigade, and almost instantaneously cannon were belching destruction into the left of Gibbon's Brigade.
Battery "B", advancing at a gallop took position on the right; Col. O'Connor, immediately bringing the 2d to a front at this moment received orders to advance in line of battle and take the rebel battery. In explanation of this movement, I should say that Gen. Gibbon was not aware of the enemy's being in force here, but judging from his own orders, supposed it to be simply a detached party. The 2d, advancing, as rapidly as possible, soon arrived at an open fields; then the commands "Fix Bayonet," "forward" giving them new energy, they dashed on at the double quick and a charge bayonet in gallant style. Soon, however, a murderous fire of musketry and artillery brought them to a halt,, disclosing the fact that they had an enemy to deal with three times their superior in numbers and in good position, stone fences serving them as breast-works. Returning fire with interest, Companies A and B were ordered to advance as skirmishers while the remaining companies were ordered to lie down. No sooner were the skirmishers fairly deployed than the rebels came down charging in panic style rending the air with inexorable yells and hooting,
As though men fought on earth,
And fiends in upper air."

Now was the moment when firmness and coolness were necessary, if ever, and right worthily both officers and men proved equal to the emergency. The skirmishers, being directly between two fires, were ordered to lie down the remaining companies in line firmly awaited the charge of the rebels, the men grasping their pieces with a tighter grasp and expressing their impatience in low mutterings in such honest if not classic phrases, as, "Come on G--D--You," then one well directed volley and the rebels go to the right about. Now the skirmishers, falling back as they best could, joined the Regiment while the work of destruction went on in successive firings and re-firings. Let it be remembered that up to this time the 2nd had borne the brunt of the contest alone for the space of full fifteen minutes, the time covered in the foregoing description. Then the 19th Indiana, the 7th and 6th Wisconsin arrived on the field successively and took position, hereafter the fighting was one continued fire, neither side yielding ground, or, if yielding, regaining it again, until night threw her pall over the scene and compelled both sides to desist, Gibbon's Brigade falling back to the woods leaving pickets to protect the wounded.
Contending against such odds, displaying such courage, determination and obstinacy, Gibbon's brigade on this day showed itself well worthy the proud epithet of Iron.
We cannot pass by without bestowing a few words on those whose deeds have made their names conspicuous, though in a contest where all were brave, we would not be thought doing an injustice to those whose names are not mentioned.
In Colonel O'Connor, we lost a brave officer. Wounded in the arm early in the engagement he courageously refused to leave the field but soon after he received a wound in the groin which proved mortal. Lieut. Col. L. Fairchild then assumed the duties of commander and right nobly he sustained them; though in the hottest of the fire he fortunately escaped unhurt. Major Allen, (now Col. of the 5th Wisconsin) too, when danger was pressing, was there, and though twice wounded gallantly performed his duties. Capt. Randolph, of Company H fell bravely at his post. Lieut. Jones of company A was conspicuous for his daring.
Of the Color Guard, all were killed and wounded. The last of these to grasp the colors, Color-Corporal Joseph L. Minor, though wounded in the leg, still bore them until receiving a second wound in his other leg which laid him prostrate. He was compelled to yield them into other hands. Captain Smith of Company E. was severely wounded. Lieutenant Baldwin also of Company "E" was wounded; also Lieutenants Kelly of Company "C" severely, Bell of Company "I", and Eslinger of Company "K".
The 2d went into this battle with twenty-six line and staff officers and four hundred and twenty three enlisted men. Lost in killed, Officers, two, enlisted men, fifty one; wounded, officers, five, enlisted men, one hundred and ninety five.
Here, for the present, I must close, promising, at some future time, to continue down to Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg.


One universal cry of indignation against the base and cowardly sympathies with traitors, at the North, who are doing their utmost to embarrass the administration and compel an ignominious surrender to the South comes back from our brave boys in all parts of the great field where they stand confronting the foe. The following manly letter is from Col. Fairchild of the veteran 2d Wisconsin, himself a Democrat, to a relative in Madison
BELLS PLAINS, VA March 18, '63

Dear James:-Yours of the 9th inst. I have just read with much pleasure and also with feelings of deep sorrow; pleasure to have you express such good loyal sentiments; sorrow to know that there are any considerable number of men in our state who dare openly proclaim hostility to his holy war.
It would be bad enough to know that they thought treason of that kind; but that public sentiment has so fallen that any man in this time of tribulation and sorrow would dare to lift his voice agn'st the Government is almost past belief; yet I know it is so.
It is but poor encouragement to the soldiers in the field, for if this is not a just war on our side, then we are no better than a band of robbers, but if it is a holy war, waged for a holy purpose, the army should hear nothing but words of hope and encouragement from those at home.
Any man who makes serious opposition to the Government at this time is no better than a traitor as such he is regarded by the army.
Men who advocate peace on any grounds, this side of the "Union as it was," is, whether he intends it or not, an enemy to the country.
There is but one feeling in this army and it grows stronger daily, to continue the war until victory rests with us, even if it takes every man and dollar in the North. the end is to be victory and every means should be used to secure that end.
There will be a sad day of reckoning for those who are opposing the government when the army returns home - it will barely favor disloyal men.
I feel more than I can express on this subject. I cannot imagine how any sane man, who is not a traitor at heart can stand up and advocate such principles. Should resistance be offered to the conscription I hope the guilty one will be hung on the first tree. This is no time to be lenient or merciful to such criminals.
All men should be willing and glad to contribute their means and, if necessary, their lives on their country's altar; he who is not falls short of being a good citizen. I have all confidence in our cause and feel sure that we shall be victorious over the traitors both South and North. Were the Copperheads to hear the opinions of the army, they would at least be more prudent from motives of fear.
We do not believe that this is a fit time to stand stately and quibble and find fault with the government so long as the government is pushing the war vigorously to a victorious end. It is a time for all men to put their shoulders to the wheel and give a long, strong, hearty, willing, helping push and when this is done we shall push forward to a speedy triumph.
I hope, and you can not but belief, that those who now express their opposition will take a sober second thought, change front, and enter like patriots, in earnest support of the right.
Your Friend,
Col. Fairchild
Second Wisconsin


March 18th, 1863
Friend Sandford: there are many indications that the Army of the Potomac will soon be in motion. Orders that usually precede the immediate advance of the army have been issued. The Spring Campaign of 1863 will be opened ere many days by another great battle in the vicinity of Fredericksburg. The many who have friends here will soon be anxiously waiting for news of our victory or defeat and are interested in the present condition of the army on which, to a great extent, depends its success in the next engagement.
After the failure of our second attempt to cross the Rappahannock, a feeling of discouragement and discontent existed to an alarming degree among many of the soldiers, which resulted in frequent desertions. The method adopted to remedy this evil by our present commander has been very successful. The despondent tone indicating a want of faith in the success of our cause had disappeared and one of confidence in the triumph of our arms under the direction of Gen. Hooker has replaced it to a degree that gives a strong hope of victory to our army in the future.
The Second Wis. Regiment has been greatly reduced in numbers by the battles in which it has been engaged but has suffered very little by deaths from disease.
Among the late promotions in our regiment for faithful performance of duty is that of John Huggins of Co. F to the post of Commissary Sergeant. Walter Stone has been detailed as clerk at Division Headquarters. There are twenty-five members of Co. F present with the regiment which is probably as many of its original number as it will ever muster for duty.
As ever yours truly

MARCH 30, 1863

The expedition of Col. Fairchild of the Second Wisconsin to the Northern very successful trip.
The command consisting of two hundred and forty on from the Second Wisconsin regiment and twenty cavalry left Belle Plain in steamers on the night of the 25th and arrived at the landing on lower Machodoc. In Westmoreland County, the next morning at daylight, Lieut. Col. Kriss immediately stated across the Neck with the cavalry for the purpose of breaking up the ferries and capturing rebel cavalry reported to be in this section while the infantry debarked and marched up to Newton's plantation where a large quantity of grain was stored. A few shots were fired at the infantry by the bushwackers; but the scouts sent out after the guerrillas returned unsuccessful.
At night Colonel Fairchild surrounded his force with a breastwork of cordwood in anticipation of an attack; but no hostile demonstrations were made; the next day the work of loading the barges was resumed. Three hundred pounds of bacon, one thousand pounds of pork, two hundred and thirty bushels of wheat, three thousand bushels of corn, fifteen bushels of white beans and a large quantity of oats were secured. The teams of the farmers were impressed; and the slaves, jubilant at the prospect of freedom, worked faithfully. A number of the latter returned with the expedition . The cavalry seized a number of valuable horses and mules, captured several prisoners and broke up the ferries at Union wharf and Rappahannock. Colonel Fairchild also burned a schooner engaged in smuggling contraband goods into Virginia, bringing away her anchors, chains, cables &c.,
A number of citizens begged permission to come on board the steamers and come up to Belle Plaine. They report terrible suffering on the part of those suspected of loyal sentiments and state that there are now on the Neck, hundreds on the poorer classes who would rejoice at an opportunity to escape from the rebel army.
Some of the leading inhabitants have oppressed the populations most outrageously and are employed as tools by the rebel authorities to enforce the conscription and spy upon the movements of our army.

April 1863