Woburn Weekly Budget - March 28, 1862
Headquarters 22d Reg. Mass. Vols.
Near Hampton, Va.
March 28, 1862
A scribbling friend, who corresponds with the press at home, remarked to me just now, that when there is nothing to write about there is time enough to prepare a letter, and when there is an abundance of material we have no time. It is even so, for when we were at Hall's Hill, and "every thing quiet on the Potomac", time dragged, but now that we are in the midst of stirring incidents we can hardly steal a moment to write in. My last was dated Fairfax Court House, and we left that place on Saturday, the 15th. The night previous was a busy one indeed. We had orders to cook rations for three days, and gangs of men were detailed, and kept running most of the night for water and wood. It was a cold, drizzling night, but the chilly effect was somewhat softened by the huge camp fires, the cooks bustling about, and the men passing to and fro in busy preparations for the next day's march. One sutler appeared on the ground just at the right moment with a well stocked team, and he was soon surrounded by a hungry crowd, all anxious, almost ravenous, to get a supply of good things to help out the rations while on the march. So great was the excitement that a guard was posted, and the men fell in and marched up to the sutler's tent in single file, each man as he approached being obliged to fall in to the rear and be served in his turn. This file of ration hunters continued their march until midnight, when they were ordered to break ranks; but they were at it again before daylight, and continued their efforts until ordered into line. The haversacks of the men looked fat, and for one day at least it was evident they would live well.
The reveille was blown before daylight, and we were orderd to be ready at six o'clock. The grotesque huts of which I spoke of in my last, were torn down, blankets rolled up, and at the appointed time, we fell in. The morning was cold with a misty rain, which did not promise much for our comfort, but we must go, nevertheless, comfort being an article which we were supposed to have left at home, and which we must not expect out here. We marched through Fairfax, now densely populated with sutlers and traders of all kinds, whose solemn countenaces as they saw us (their lawful prey) slipping through their fingers, were in keeping with the gloom of the weather. They had occupied every store on the street, and really they had succeeded in making the old place look gay, and it was almost to bad to disappoint them, but we did. For once we had a good road to travel on. The Alexandria and Winchester turnpike is a wide, well made road, and being macadamized there is very little mud. The only fault we could find in it was, it cut up the shoe leather "right smart". As we advanced, the mist of the morning changed to rain, and by noon we were quite wet. The column in which we were extended for miles, and it was a grand sight to see the long lines of artillery, cavalry and infantry, like a gigantic serpent winding over the hills, on their way to strangle secession. We passed a great many dwellings on the route, all, with one or two exceptions, uninhabited, and all in a dilapidated state. Several of them had been occupied by pickets, and were coverd with inscriptions; one I noticed had a sign which stated that it was the "Hotel de Whiskey", a name suggestive of the taste of the occupants.
Cloud's Mill, Near Alexandria, Va
Arriving at Cloud's Mill about four miles from Alexandria, I concluded to dine, and waited for the regiment (I having pushed forward in order to get an idea of the size of the column) and thus had the opportunity of examining the building. It had been occupied as a picket station, and the windows and doors are barricaded, and pierced with port holes. The mill is a very large building, and in a peaceful time turned out large quantities of flour. Leaving this place, a short distance further we crossed a creek, swollen with the rain, and rising rapidly. A rude bridge had been thrown over it by the pioneers, and we passed in safety, but a little later it was washed away, and it was stated that one soldier was drowned in attempting to ford it. The distance from Fairfax to Alexandria is fourteen miles, but we came to a halt within two miles of the latter city.
About three o'clock we reached the headquarters of Gen. Summer's division, and to our great joy found the tents still standing, though the troops had advanced. Our regiment was sent into "Camp California" , formerly occupied by the New York 57th regiment. The tents were very small, and our men were crowded, but we were too well pleased in getting shelter from the pelting rain to make any complaints. Some of the tents had seven men in them, but five was the greatest number that could lie down, and those were obliged to move together when they wanted to turn over. There being a stove in our tent, we made a rousing fire, and drying our clothes forgot our fatigue of the day over a ration of hot coffee. Next morning was pleasant, and we had leisure to examine our situation. We were on a slope near the turnpike, in a rather damp locality, and appearance were against the cleanliness of the 57th N.Y.V. The Alexandria Theological Seminary was a short distance on our left, and the Potomac just before us. As far as we could see camps extended, and there will probably be very few such opportunities of seeing so large an army in this country. Soldiers were constantly passing along the road, and the city appeared to be full of troops ready for embarkation. We were quiet on Sunday, but Monday drilling began again, and it was evident we were not expected to rust out. On Wednesday, we were informed by special order that Gen. Heintzleman would be assigned to one of the corps de Armee of the Army of the Potomac, and Gen. Porter's division would be attached to his command. Not long after, the same afternoon, we were ordered into line and marched to Alexandria. It was said our regiment was to do provost guard duty, some said all the time, but we were reserved for something else.
Methodist Church, Alexandria, Va
We entered Alexandria about dark, and the right wing was quartered in the Methodist church, on Washington Street. The pastor of this church was a rabid seccionist, and last spring was "suppressed" by the Union troops. The church is a neat brick edifice, handsomely frescoed inside and well fitted up. It has a capacious vestry, and convenient committee rooms. Cos. A and F were quartered in the vestry, and others in the body of the church. The other companies of the regiment had quarters in other parts of the city. A large guard was detailed at once to go on guard in the city, and we continued on this duty until Saturday afternoon. My first impressions of Alexandria were very different then those obtained by my second visit. It now seems to me very much like Salem, in Massachusetts. It is an old city, and has been built by men who have amassed wealth on the sea, and who have made here their homes. The public buildings are substantial, and many of them highly ornamented, and the greater part of the private dwellings are very fine, far exceeding those of Washington. King street is a dirty thorougfare, though alive with business. The business brought by the army seems to have more than compensated for what it stopped, and it is still a lively city. Provost duty will never be dull as long as soldiers can get rum. Our duty was principally to pick up soldoers who had strayed to the city without passes, and send them back to camp. Several hundred were disposed of in this way, on the first day; afterwards they were more careful how they were seen by one of our boys, and it was amusing to see them skulking round corners to avoid arrest. Thursday, about sundown, the fire bells rang an alarm. Our boys crowded out of barracks and as far as the street corner where they were stopped by the guard. Pretty soon a hose cart came jumping along the pavement, closely followed by an engine, both drawn by New York soldiers and a crowd of small boys. We wanted to go to, but it was no use, and we tried to content ourselves with the notion that it wasn't much of a fire, anyway. Presently, however, word was brought that the provost guard was wanted, and we quickly fell into line and double quicked to the scene of the conflagration. It proved to be a small structure of no great value, but "Union, No. 6" was playing, and we were put to work on her. The New York boys were busy on the deck, so the Massachusetts boys took over the lower brakes, and worked with a will until the flames were subdued. There is a new steam fire engine in the city, but it did not get there in time to do any good. The engine houses of Alexandria are first rate, well fitted up and convenient, and the engines appear to be very good, but the firemen must have been secesh and have left, for there were no signs of them about. During Thursday night, orders came to cook rations, and Friday we got ready for another move. About two o'clock in the afternoon we left our quarters and marched down to the wharf, where a large fleet of transports were waiting to receive us. Gen. Porter's division was all together, and embarked as soon as possible. There were a number of steamboats which are familiar to Boston folks, such as the Nelly Baker, Nantasket, State of Maine, etc. Our regiment was put on the steamship Daniel Webster, formerly a California steamship, and we had, considering the circumstances, very good accommodations. There were about 1015 men on board. Our company was quartered, or rather we staid on deck. We got on board about dark and the vessel steamed out and anchored for the night. The night proved wet and stormy, and there was little chance for sleep. I found a place between the shaft pit and the bulkhead, about as long and as wide as a coffin, in which I spread my poncho, laid down upon it with my head on my knapsack, and drawing my rubber blanket over me, slept very soundly. I woke up at daylight, feeling a little cool about the feet, but with my clothes dry, and after a little excercise felt very well. The rain cleared up soon after daylight, and at 10 o'cloc we started down the river. The sun came out warm, giving us a chance to dry our blankets, and the decks were soon crowded with soldiers anxious to see the sights. When we went aboard, the other companies crowded below, and we could not get down, and had a very uncomfortable time of it, but as soon as it came clear they were anxious to come on deck, and not a few got angry because we would not give up our good places to them. It was a good deal like life; one man is today in the height of power and despising those below him, and tomorrow the object of his contempt may be as far above him. It was a grand sight, the shore crowded with spectators, the long line of transports steaming down the river, in the light of that beautiful morning, and the whole had more the appearance of a gala-day,than a warlike expedition. The scenery of the Potomac is not so grand, as I had always been led to believe, though the many delapidated mansions along the banks may have helped to give this impression.
The home of Washington looked splendidly, and as we passed, the boats of the fleet tolled their bells, and the bands played. We continued to steam along until about ten o'clock, when, having arived at the mouth of the river, we came to anchor. During the last half of our journey of Saturday, we were accompanied by small gun boats of the Potomac fleet to guard against any attack from rebels who may have been lingering near the river.
Saturday night passed on deck, and we were rather more comfortable than on the first night. Our company was not alone, Cos. G and B, and parts of others lay on deck. Sunday morning dawned warm and pleasant; a light wind sprung up soon after sunrise and continued all day. At 3 o'clock we were in sight of Fortress Munroe, and came to anchor there just before sundown. It began to rain at dark, and we were ordered to get ready to disembark, so strapping on our knapsacks, we waited for further orders. We remained this way until near midnight, when we were told to turn in, as we would not go ashore that night. I was standing in the gangway near the cabin stairs, out of rain and doubting if I could better my condition that night, laid down on the floor and slept soundly until reveille. At home we would have thouht it hard to leave a pet dog in such a place overnight, but soldiers can stand anything, and so we came out bright the next morning. We got ashore about seven o'clock, and soon afterwards saw Capt. T. J. Porter. He has only two Woburn men with him now. Capt. J. Franklin Bates was there commanding a company in the 99th new York volunteers, which is stationed near the fort. We could not get in the fort, but had a chance to look around, as we halted there an hour or two. Quite a smart litle village is built up there, including a fine hotel, a church, and dwellings and offices for the accomodation of the officers of the post. Near the water battery is the famous Union Gun, surmounting a snd breastwork. We have all read so much about this place, that it did not seem at all strange to us. As we came up to the fort, the Rip Raps, we saw before us a little to the left, Sewall's Point, and in the distance Newport news, all were familiar.
The Great Fight between the Merrimac and the Monitor, March 9, 1862
But the principal object of interest was the little Monitor, which lay quietly among the shipping not far from the wharf, a little cloud of steam issuing from her pipe alone indicating that she was ready. She looks just as the illustrations represent her, or as the Southeners say, like a "Yankee cheesebox on a slab", and her praise is in the mouths of all the denizens of the fortress, who speak of her in ecstacies. They are now anxious to have the Merrimac come out, in order that their favorite may annihilate her, which they are confident she will do. Having landed our stores, we took up our lines of march for Hapton. On the road we passed two large houses put up for accommodation of the contrabands, and there was an army of the wooly heads turned out to see us go by. Crossing the bridge, on the causeway we came to a little village where is situated the bakehouse of the 16th Mass. Reg. Here we saw some of the Woburn boys, and a little further on, passed their camp. We continued our march past the residence of Ex-President Tyler, over Hampton Creek, where sldiers were digging for oysters. Crossing the bridges, we entered the streets of Hampton, now a heap of ruins. Judging from present appearances the town must have been a large well built place, the buildings mostly of brick, and of good dimensions. Now there is not a building standing, nothing but brick walls and heaps of rubbish. What a monument of teh rebellion, this will be, as it will be may years ere Hampton is what it was before the brutal Magrudor applied the torch to its devoted dwellings. About half a mile from town we halted in a field, and piched our ponchos, and arranged a camp for the night. These ponchos were given out to us at Camp California, and we pitched them now for the first time. Each man has a piece, which is about the size of a rubber blanket, and two fastened together make the roof. A rubber blanket closes the end, making a snug hut for two. A heap of stubble or straw make a bed, and we can lie down as comfortably as a pig in a sty. Our cooks were along with us, and we had hot coffee with our hard crackers. There was a little rain during the night, just enough to settle things. By the way, we always have a rain when we march. Next morning, we struck tents and got ready to march. Just before starting, Gen. Martindale rode up and made a short speech, in which he said that we were about commencing our march into the interior of Virginia; we would meet friends and foes, but all property must be respected, stating by the articles of war they had a safeguard placed upon them, and explaining the crime of breaking a safeguard, which is death, ended with the hope that there would be no one in the 22d who would incur that penalty. Leaving our camping place our brigade marched about three miles on the road to Newmarket, halted and pitched camp. we passed on the route several camps, mostly artillery, and we were told there were others ahead. As soon as we halted, Co. A, Capt. Sampson, was sent out as picket on our right flank. The remainder of the regiment settled for the night.
Wednesday morning, Capt. Sampson came in with his command and reported having been fired at by rebel pickets. At ten o'clock the regiment fell in, and started off on the Big Bethel road for a reconnoisance. All along the road were beautiful residences surrounded by fine farms, and but few white persons were in sight. There was known of the desolation which we have been accustomed to see, all houses looked neat and trim, and the farms well kept. Our little column proceeded cautiously, halting often, and inspecting closely the woods along which the road wound. Once it was thought a rebel was actually in sight, and a sharpshooter took a look at the object through his telescope; but it proved to be something else, and we went on. We marched about eight miles and halted insight of a collection of houses a short distance on our right. Almost at the same time, a fire was seen to shoot up from a spot in the yard of the largest house. Several persons were observed near it, but they were made out to be negroes. After observing it a while, and consulting, it was thought best to return, as we were already two miles farther then it was first intended to go. It was surmised that the place where the fire was seen was a rebel picket station, and the fire was a signal. We marched back to camp, halting but once. About two miles from camp, two negroes sprang up from among the reeds in a field where they had been lying, and ran towards us. Hastily jumping the fence, they joined us with every appearance of joy at having reached what they deemed a haven of safety. Capt. Dunning of Co. D. immediatley engaged them as servants, and they were soon invested with his baggage, and marching along as if they had always been with us. These were the first slaves I ever saw on the run, and their wild looks as they passed the fence, were ludicrous as well as pitiful. They gave their names as Gabriel Johnson and Reuben Brown. They ran away from Richmond, and had been about three weeks on the road. They accounted for their slow progress by the fact that the road was full of guards that it was necessary to move with great caution. They were taken to Gen. Porter's headquarters, and gave hime some valuable information. By the way, we have two contrabands with us. Lieut. Crane and Orderly Bennett went out to Manassas Junction, the day before we left Fairfax, and on their way back picked up two colored boys who had seceded from their master. They are half brothers and named Andrew Stewart and Jim Knight. They are stout fellows, and can do a great deal of work. Andrew is the Lieutenant's boy and Jim makes himself generally useful to the sergeants. They have a fund of homor, and afford the boys a great deal of sport.
We are now about eighty-five miles from Richmond, and hope to lessen the distance very soon. The roads are good, the weather is splendid, and we can now go forward with ease. We expect to do so as soon as all of Heintzleman's force is collected together. Yesterday, Gen. Smith's division passed us, with the intention of clearing the rebels out of Bethel, if they were there, and camping in that place. It was rumored last night that they found the place unoccupied and encamped without opposition. They marched by us in light order, teams in the rear carrying the knapsacks. This attracted the notice of our boys, who thought it the best way for carying knapsacks that has yet been invented. Our regiment continue in good health, and although we do not stand in danger of surfeiting ourselves with the rations, we manage to live. When we camped near Hampton, one of the 16th boys came up to see us, and gave me a loaf of soft bread; it was the most acceptable present which I have had since coming here, as I was hungry enough to have eaten anything, and you can judge how welcome a new loaf was.
I began this letter a long time ago, and have written it a little at a time; it is the only way I can get up one. We hear the mailwil not leave Ft. Munroe for four or five days to come. We can't expect to have a very good chances to send home or here from there but I will do my best to keep up the correspondence.
John Lord Parker