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1862 June, Seventh Wisconsin
HEADQUARTERS SIGNAL CORPS U.S.A.
In sight of Richmond, June 4th 1862
Mr. Editor - No doubt your army correspondents are quite numerous since there are
regiments from the Badger State in every department of the army and "Old
Grant" is represented in nearly every one. Notwithstanding perhaps there is
room left of a line from one of the 7th who is on detached duty and has not seen
a man or even a paper from Wisconsin for nearly four months.
Since I last wrote you we have had some hard battles - the particulars of which you had long since - and many brave boys that left home and friends from this country now fill soldiers graves and many more are languishing on beds of pain from sickness or wounds. But such are the fortunes of war. When they left their homes they did it with a hearty good will, to fight and if need be to bleed and die for their country. And when the time for the sacrifice arrives they make it without a murmur.
Since leaving our camp in Georgetown we have seen nearly all the famous Battle fields of Virginia. Many horrid stories have appeared in the papers about the shocking manner in which our dead and wounded soldiers were treated. When at home, I could not believe them all, for I thought it impossible for a civilized and enlightened people to precipitate themselves so much beneath even cannibals. - But when I walked over the battle field of Bull Run, even at this late day, my own vision gave the proof enough.
Before leaving their encampments around Centreville and Manassas, the rebels went out among the different burying grounds and rails, dug up the remains of our brave boys that fell in that awful battle, and left their bones sticking out of the ground to bleach in the wind and sun. And then there were the bodies of five of the Fire Zouaves in full uniform with their heads cut off, lashed to stakes driven in the ground. Judging from the wide, hard beaten road that led to them, thousands had visited them. In their camps too, were found candlesticks made out of skulls that had been taken from the graves. Of course we immediately buried all that was above ground, and every soldier that witnessed these awful sights as he assisted in covering up the white bones swore vengeance. One little circumstance that happened at Centerville is worthy of note. A young man as white as any of us, came to our camp and said "he had been a slave all his life but when the rebels left there he gave them the slip and concluded to be a free man." One of our officers hired him to cook and upon conversing with him, he is quite intelligent, we ascertained that his master had hired him out and he had cooked for Gen. Jos. E. Johnston and staff all winter. He is a very close observer and can tell us of many of their barbarous acts after the battle of Bull Run. From of many of their plans and schemes that he heard them talk over among themselves, one of which was the planning of the battle at Balls Bluff. He tells of hearing them read letters from Gen. Stone and then laugh at the duplicity of the d-d Yankees. And of their talking over the result of that battle weeks before it came off.
What wonder that we meet with losses and so many lives lost without accomplishing anything? There are more Gen. Stones, in principal, than he that is now a prisoner.
Before Yorktown we laid three weeks, preparing for a fight at the very day before we were going to give them battle in real Yankee style they "evacuated." At Williamsburg they made a stand merely to give their forces around the town time to get away. We "pitched into" them, and they soon realized that we were in earnest. Brigade after brigade of their retreating forces was re-called to "clean out "the Yankees. But "little Mac" was right there with us. Although it rained almost all day, our brave boys poured their deadly volleys in quick succession into their thinned ranks. None but those who have witnessed a battle can form any conception of one. There is something grand and awful about a battle that imagination fails to portray, or paintings or fourth of July demonstrations to imitate. The battle was a hard one. Toward evening McClellan rode along the line cheering the boys with his presence, and they cheering his presence with their voices loud and long. They seemed to gather redoubled energy. Then came the rally by Gen. Heintzelman and that "soul stirring" Star Spangled Banner. Then the gallant charge of Hancock's brigade and the field was ours.
We had a line of signal stations along the whole line and as our position in a battle is in the front where we can obtain a view of all that is going on, the shells and balls were plenty and fell, some of them, a little closer than comfortable at least. From Williamsburg they came to Richmond and we followed close behind trying to get a fair fight out of them but no stop until they were, as they think, safe behind their fortifications. We had a fight with them near Hanover Court House, driving them from their position and destroying a railroad bridge. Last Saturday and Sunday we had a very severe fight in the neighborhood of Bottom's Bridge in which our loss, as well as theirs, was very great. But long ere this reaches you, you will have read all the particulars. We are now in sight of the besieged city. Our balloons are in the air nearly all the time. Signal officers are in them and communicate from one balloon to another and down to the ground. Thus we can know in a few moments what is going at any point along the line.
A few days since we were out in front. All was quiet and we had established a line of stations so as to be ready for action as an attack was expected. An old slave came up to us and told us that there was a company of a hundred men at "Massas" eating breakfast. We asked him if they were rebels and he said they were. By means of our signal flag we communicated the intelligence to the next station where there was a brigade. The message was handed to the Gen. who immediately dispatched a company of cavalry to the house designated and took the whole company prisoners.
The General was four miles distant and we had acquainted him with the fact in five minutes from the time we heard the old darkey's story.
I remain yours for the Union
A. V. R.
From the 7th Regiment
Camp Opposite Fredericksburg Va.
June 20, 1862
Messrs Editors: - Permit a Wisconsin soldier, through your columns, to put in a
word of remonstrance against the manner that three regiments from your state
have been and are still being used in the Grand Corps de Army of the department
of the Rappahannock and that, without prospect of remedy, as your readers all know,
this (King's) Old Brigade is composed of the 2d, 6th, and 7th Wisconsin and the
19th Indiana Volunteers organized into a brigade by General King and commanded
by him until he was made a division 'General', afterwards followed, for a
short time, by Col. Cutler of the 6th Wisconsin who commanded the Brigade until
after we had marched to this place the first time at which time and place he was
relieved by the appointment of Capt. John Gibbon, formerly commanding a battery
of artillery - a Regular officer created a Brigadier General by appointment of the
President. Prior to the change and on our way here we done some very severe
marching and since in marching from here to Haymarket, Warrenton, Cutlers and back
still harder work has been done because of the bad roads and hot weather and the
enormous loads in many instances and most of the time a weight of at least sixty
pounds in order that they may march with everything on or about their persons
that the regulations require in addition to three day's rations in their
haversack's as follows: One lined blouse; one blue cloth dress coat, two wool
shirts; two wool pants; two wool socks; one wool blanket; one rubber blanket,
half shelter tent; one pair leggings; one extra pair shoes. Add to this
haversacks with three days rations, canteens, cartridge box and forty rounds of
cartridges - Gun,
together with two from each company as Pioneer's who carry, in addition to all of
the above, one a pick and the other a shovel and, to every ten men in the company,
one with an ax and you can form some idea of what a soldier of the Army of the
Rappahannock carries through the broiling sun over roads shoe deep in mud and
as greasy and slippery as soap.
Whilst they are robbed of the usual and necessary transportation, for even the sick when on a march. Whilst the officers have no other shelter in camp than these same shelter tents, a greater nuisance than which was never imposed upon any human being, and leaves them to huddle up in the wet and mud concentrated on them by these same shelter tents which goes to prove that the government or the commanding Generals are more saving of horse flesh than they are of human life or suffering, the result of all which is that, notwithstanding the cry for more men, nearly every man here would hail with joy the day of his deliverance from what has become almost an unbearable bondage and, if long continued, a certain death - not on the battlefields but by exposure, disease and over exertion, all of which thus far with us been as unnecessary as it has been useless, and with the following result taking the 7th as an example:
We left Madison in September last over on thousand strong, have had no fight (nor never expect to have) and today we cannot muster over six hundred and fifty effective able bodied men and I am informed by those in the other regiments, who ought to know, that their cases are still worse, thus showing that at least thirty per cent of over three thousand men who left Wisconsin last summer have either passed to there graves through the hospital or been sent home, broken in health, having been discharged as unfit for military duty. What then may our friends at home expect of us in the coming hot weather and we are compelled to undergo the fatiguing marches such as we have, carrying such loads, exposed to the heat of the day and the chills of the nights for the want of proper shelter "because the government can't afford transportation" and yet in other divisions and corps the men have had their knapsacks carried for them, especially if they were not able to carry themselves. But enough of this, the only question with us now is can nothing be done, if not, for God's sake, kill us off in battle and don't "do us to death as jack mules."
From the 7th Regiment,
Fredericksburg, June 29, 1862.
As there is much speculation and criticism of this army indulged in by
various prints in the North, I essay another letter to your columns containing a
statement of our doings and present status as far as I know. I know in view of
what other armies have accomplished and won, that we are hardly thought of by
the public, save those who have friends here, yet when the general plans of the
campaign are unveiled by the future historian it will be seen that our army had
to do our duty and occupy our positions. Gen. McDowell, ever since Bull's Run,
seemed to care but little about contemporary fame, and this may account partially
for the lack of brilliant skirmishes and cavalry dashes which glisten along the
routes of other commanders. At least that is the charitable view of the matter.
Sunday, May 25th, as we then supposed, an advance on Richmond was made, Kings Division taking the lead, each brigade advancing by separate routes. Gibbon's took the Bowling Green Road to the left of the Fredericksburg Railroad, camping in Caroline County on the old camp ground of General Field's (rebel) forces-
The fires of the foe were not extinguished when we took possession. We captured several deserters and stragglers besides one Captain of cavalry, a notorious libertine and horse thief, to apply the testimony of the natives to him.
While waiting for a bridge on the railroad to be built we were suddenly ordered back to aid Banks. This we all hated to do as we had hoped to go forward and realize Gen. King's promises to us, to wit; that we would soon have opportunities to win honor, both for ourselves and State; but at Fredericksburg we procured a copy of the Baltimore Clipper, with full accounts of Banks retreat and Col. Kenly's heroism. This nerved each arm with a resolute purpose to "win Honors," while we felt sure our opportunities would be on hand. But the rank and file propose and Generals dispose which request proved to be the grave of our hopes and anticipations. A part of our cavalry and the gallant Penn. Buck-tails got in at the death and how well they did their duty is it not recorded in dashing display lines before the mind's eye of every lover of his country in the Union? what we did I have no heart, or hardly the assurance to tell you.
We marched up to Catlet Station, thence to Haymarket near Thoroughfare Gap, thence back, via Warrenton, to Fredericksburg; a march, were it not in earnest, resembling that of the celebrated French Monarch, who-
"With twenty thousand men
Marched up the hill, and then marched down again."
But it was all military. It was a countermarch through five counties to wit: Caroline, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William and Fauquier. By crowding together several storms of three days duration each and sundry miscellaneous showers, with intervals of severe and hot sunshine between, then adding intense fatigue, temporary fast and hunger, besides muddy roads, knapsacks and other etceteras, to say nothing of the inevitable scolding an enlisted man is bound to take from his superiors, from the meanest expauper on a General's Staff down to the most self conceited Corporal, and the inevitable "close up" of the Third Sergeant, then procuring a topographical description from some good Geography of the counties, and a copy of Lippincott's Gazetteer as date to cull facts in regard to towns, your reader might, if he was a military man and had seen service, form an idea of the march of King's Division against Jackson or the Campaign of the Quartette of Major Generals versus Stonewall Jackson.
It is all over now, McDowell's Virginia Patrol has returned to Fredericksburg. We have resumed guard of secession property. Glory to science.
While in Warrenton we camped on Judge Horner's (Ripon, Wisconsin) estate. The citizens of Warrenton are all haughty pure old Virginia chivalry, wealthy and intelligent. Intensely rebel in their sympathies, they gave us the credit of being the most orderly soldiers they had seen, better than their own troops even. They complained bitterly of Blenker's men. Probably Blenker's "bully Dutchmen" foraged too skillfully to suit the traitors.
While we were marching away a beautiful lady of queenly appearance accosted the officers of Company I, expressing the hope that we would meet again in happier times; but adding that we could never conquer them; that the women would take up the fight when the men were vanquished. Our officers replied that we would never fight the ladies but would surrender at once. Then several elderly ladies responded - those who must have had old memories revived by the sight of the old flag - saying they were sorry to part with us so suddenly and that they hoped the war would soon cease. We bade them good bye and marched.
Good bye, Aurora Rose of the sunny south. Thy lips were never fashioned to utter treason. May you live to repent you delusion and sin. I could not echo such a wish for Floyd and Davis; but may the beautiful belle of Warrenton yet blush to remember her present sentiment's.
The statement that any stragglers belonging to this brigade were captured by guerrillas is false, we never leave any stragglers behind.
On the morning of the 11th of June we reached our present camp on the Rappahannock. It took us several days to get over our fatigue. Lame feet made many limp, but now every one is sullied and sulky because we do not "do some thing." We are reduced to strict military subordination and Gen. Gibbons is bound to make regulars of us. Before our recent march all were supplied with leggings. On the march the boys decided to leggings to be a nuisance and consigned them not exactly to the tomb of the Capulets, but to quite as obscure a burial in the depth of Virginia mud - Soon after our arrival we we were ordered to out on review and as might be expected three fourths of the volunteers of the 3d Brigade came into the field minus leggings. The 19th Indiana, although in better trim than any in the review when President Lincoln visited us, came our this time worse than any. This exasperated the General and he fulminated his displeasure at the 19th in a Special order. The 19th stubbornly persisted in a declaration that they would be d--d if they would take leggings or words to that effect, sympathized with and seconded by the other regiments .- Upon this reaching Gen. Gibbon's ear, he declared that the 19th should "take leggings" anyhow. when the Artillery are out practicing at the discharge of every gun, it is a common question to ask "Will you take leggings now?" A negative reply succeeded by another discharge from the cannon, brings out a sullen mock compliant answer: "Yes, Yes. I'll take leggings," Next Saturday is mustering review day when the great legging mutiny will subside. We have commenced again to drill in earnest. - It was gratifying to the soldiers of the 7th to hear Col. Robinson announce last evening that hereafter every Lieutenant must take his turn in maneuvering the flank companies and that the senior Captains must take their turn in maneuvering the battalion. Those soldiers who have endeavored to do their duty and been insulted and trampled upon, sworn at and outraged by drunkards and expaupers, the scum of Wisconsin, whom the hurry of the recruiting office and the hasty manner of issuing commissions raised into power, will, by Col. Robinson's process, be forced to take their exit. And those officers who are gentlemen will not suffer from association with the commissioned nuisances which more or less always affect a newly organized army. I hope the Colonel will extend his reform so as to embrace non-commissioned officers - sergeants and corporals. By making a roster out of the muster roll giving each private a chance to hold the highest non-commissioned office it will bring out the latent military talent supposed to exist in the ranks. No one then can complain to lack of appreciation. No "mute inglorious" Napoleonic Milton will then bury his talents in a rifle pit but all will rise and become the light of the world. It will be so common to be a corporal that no one in that position will presume to act as if the destiny of the country depended on the chevrons on his arm. Then some of our self inflated sergeants will be humbled. Those sergeants and corporals who have stood on guard with the privates, who are out on every drill, who work and are not haughty, will feel just as good. Hurrah, then, for the normal military drill.
Indications of a long stay here are very manifest but the exigencies of war may remove us to a sphere more useful at any moment. Until Richmond falls, a force will be required to hold Fredericksburg, but fresh regiments would be quite as good here as a brigade of troops like ours. We are to build forts and otherwise strengthen this position, and if the foe assumes the form of guerillas, will be posted in in small force of companies and squads and be an army of occupation in earnest.
Wheat in Virginia is now ripe and Jackson will secure the crop in the best portion of the Shenandoah Valley. The flood last week swept away all the bridges over the Rappahannock at this point but the Pontoon train has re-laid a bridge for teams since. It will take time to repair the damages to the railroad bridge. We are now supplied with soft bread from a government bakery located in Falmouth and last night we had a ration of tea, both luxuries we had not been troubled with since we left Arlington.
The weather is exceedingly hot. Sickness and the privations of the last march have taken a heavy detail from this regiment. The following were sent to the hospital at Alexandria from Company I, and other companies will average about the same number of disabilities. Privates Chas. Smith, S. S. Buck, Patrick Kelly, Edward Ritchie, John N. Peese; and Harker.
There have been some deaths but I am unable, at present, to find the names. Company C. is in Fredericksburg. The number of rations now drawn I believe is 592, quite a reduction on Camp Randall. To remedy this defect, recruiting officers will be sent to Wisconsin to recruit for volunteers. Secretary Stanton is inflicting a vast number of Orders and Circulars on our Adjutant. to publish. To hear them read, much less to remember them, is task enough this hot weather. It may be all right, I don't think it will make any material difference in the conduct of the soldiers as they do not listen and remember but a short time. As you may hear better news from the army before Richmond, I will trespass no longer.
W. D. W.
A correspondent of the N.Y. Times who evidently knows something about Wisconsin and Wisconsin boys has the following items about the division now at Fredericksburg.
On Saturday last a cold rain storm set in continuing through Sunday. Early on
Monday morning the Third Brigade, of Gen. King's Division received orders to
march. The rain poured in torrents. - Packed in an ambulance, jolted over such
roads as only Virginia can furnish and capsized in a swollen stream by way of
slightly varying the monotony of the journey, your impatient correspondent succeeded
in making six miles the first day of the march. We make headquarters for the
night at the house of a Baptist clergyman, who owns a hundred or two acres of
land and some thirty slaves. This disproportion between the soil and the hands employed
to till it excited my wonder. - His two sons were in the Prince William Cavalry, he,
himself, professed to have nary a politic, and to be quiet and peaceable as
befitted his calling but it was easy to see which way his sympathies leaned.
During the second day's march we fell in with a group that Hogarth would have delighted to sketch.
An old Negro, his gray wool contrasting roughly with the deep sable of his skin, was seated on a stone by the roadside, with his hands clasped fondly around a beautiful little boy with blue eyes and flaxen hair. Never for a moment did we dream that the little fellow was not the child of wealthy parents. Judge of our surprise learning that he was born a slave. Near him stood the mother. -"Harriet," as she informed us her name, was a fine looking yellow girl of about twenty-four. Here the beauties of the peculiar institution were amply illustrated. The old black man, his skin as black as night, was the great grandfather of the little white boy, singular effect of acclimation what is not? what a gradation from black to to white if not from lively to serene. Who will say henceforth that the Ethiopian cannot change his skin or deem it difficult to the leopard to dispose of his spots?
Virginia is the land of miracles. Here on the one hearthstone we had a deeply nigritudinons grandsire and a saffron "Una, with here milk white lamb"- his granddaughter. No one could have believed that the child was not of pure Saxon parentage. To test the truth of a proposition advanced in a play called the "Octoroon," I took the little fellow on my knee and examined his fingernails and eyes, but no purple tinge was there; and accordingly I pronounce Mr. Bourcicault, a poor ethnologist, however talented he may be as a translator.
We reached Falmouth on Wednesday morning. After traveling over the barren looking interior of Virginia, the Valley of the Rappahannock bursts on one a perfect vision of beauty. It is as though nature, wearying of the turmoil of the outer world, had wrapped her drapery of green about her and nestled down beneath the quiet hill for repose. There are several beautiful villas about Falmouth. The house in which I am now writing is finished in a fashion that few houses in New York can excel. A thoroughbred Jenkins would (have) it down as a "palatial residence". It has hot and cold water throughout bath rooms, speaking tubes, frescoed ceilings, gas fixtures, is built of Milwaukee brick, - at least it now has several Milwaukee bricks in it,- it has all the modern improvements, in fact, and when the railroad that the Division is now engaged in constructing is completed, will be only five minutes walk form the depot. But the owner is not enjoying it. His wife was in somewhat delicate health and he accordingly removed to Fredericksburg when it was bruited about the the Union Army was approaching.
The people of this section express themselves as very much surprised at the manner in which our troops conducted themselves. The general impression was that the Yankees were coming down to burn and to destroy, in place of which we have made our advent clothed in anything but terror--paying for everything we have and some things we do not. Beyond a few rails, the inhabitants along the road have lost little or nothing and there is every probability that these missing rails Mr. Lincoln will replace when the war is ended and he gets time to go into the woods. It is indeed rather amusing to see the rapidity with which a rail fence disappears when a regiment lights upon it. At the word to go into camp a change is made on the nearest one and it comes down in much less time that was occupied in putting it up.
Complaint came from the Mayor of Fredericksburg today that scores of our soldiers had straggled over there and were marauding. Capt. Robinson, the worthy and efficient Quartermaster of this division, was detailed with a company of men to correct the grievance. I accompanied him. We crossed the river in an old fishing boat. You would have thought it was Sunday in Fredericksburg or that the town was mourning for Jeff Davis or some other benefactor. Not a store was opened, doors, windows and shutters were all closed. A curious eye like Tom of Coventry's would occasionally appear at a lattice but to be withdrawn in an instant. On the corner groups of old burghers - Fredericksbergers - were gathered to watch the process of arresting the straggling soldiers. These latter had thrown the owners into terror but they really had not behaved very badly. They had collected some curious trophies not very well adapted for the camp. One had pillaged a parasol and was parading the streets with it to his own satisfaction; another had got himself up in the guise of the Black Horse Calvary and was urging on his comrade in the most approved chivalric style. but the prompt appearance of Capt.. Robinson and his energetic action very soon put a stop to these little fancies and conceits.
The Mayor, Mr. Slaughter, who at first imagined we intended to wade through slaughter to a town, was so much pleased and surprised at the care shown for the rights and property of citizens, that he could not forbear expressing himself quite warmly on the subject. He said the citizens had submitted to the whims of our soldiers because they thought it would be useless to resist - that they had supposed they had crossed the river by consent of the commanding officer to supply themselves with clothing and provisions of which they were destitute. Capt. Robinson assured the worthy Mayor that our army was supplied with all the necessaries and many of the luxuries of the season and had no occasion either to buy, beg, or steal. So well was Mr. Slaughter pleased with our Northern manners that he invited your correspondent and the Captain to his house to discuss a little champaign - an invitation which we declined for two reasons -first that we don't drink, second we don't believe he had any. I have an appointment with Mr. Slaughter and several prominent citizens of Fredericksburg for to-morrow and will give you the result of the interview in another letter.