22ndMass / USSC Boston Branch
"Here's a yellow sash for six feet of Virginia soil..."
Captain John F. Dunning, 22nd MVI, Co. D
Woburn Weekly Budget - May 14, 1862
Headquarters 22d Reg. Mass. Vols.
May 14, 1862
Thursday morning a little before noon we got orders to go on board the transport Elm City, and accordingly the 22d Mass., 25th N.Y., and a few from the 2d Maine embarked for West Point. The river was full of transports, and it was some time before we got under way. At anchor, off the landing, lay the U.S. Mail steamer Ocean Queen, having on board sick and wounded soldiers to be sent to New York. Many of the boats had ladies on board, a portion of whom were army nurses, and all were lavish of their smiles and encouraging words to the soldiers. Soon after leaving Yorktown we came up with the transport Sea Shore, which was flying signals of distress, having broke her crank. We could render no assistance, and resumed our course. The Elm City proved to be a good sailer, and the trip up the York River seemed more like a pleasure excursion than a military expedition. The day was one of the finest, and teh scenery along the shore quite interesting. The banks were level for the most part, but there was numerous little villages and farm houses, which gave evidence of more thrift than any we had before seen in Virginia. They seemed also to be inhabited, which added much to their cheerfulness, for nothing is more gloomy than the deserted homestead we have in so many instances encountered during our stay in this State. A sail of about three hours brought us to the head of the York River where at the junction of Pamunka and Mattapony rivers is situated the town of West Point. This town is the eastern terminus of the York and Richmond Railroad, and was taken possession of by our troops on the day of the evacuation of Yorktown. The rebels at that time were at this point and our advance had a skirmish with them. In their retreat their road lay past this point, and on Wednesday theor advance engaged a portion of Franklin's division which had just landed, and a desperate fight occurred. Our men stood their ground nobly, though the rebels had the advantage of position, being in the woods, but suffered a heavy loss. I was told that our boys severl times repulsed the rebels and were in turn repulsed by their calvary, until our gunboats arrived within range and soon settled the affair. When we arrived, a large barn near which we bivouacked Thursday night contained fifteen dead bodies, and a larger number of wounded, and all the buildings in that vicinity, some dozen or more, were used as hospitals or dead houses. Some of our poor fellows who were wounded early in the engagement had their throats cut when the rebels drove our forces back. I have always thought that perhaps the stories about rebel atrocities might be exaggerated, but seeing is believing, and my experience on the peninsula satisfies me that some of the rebel soldiers are worse then savages. Our men in many of the regiments were rendered furious by what they saw and heard, so much so that when four rebel prisoners were brought in under guard Friday morning, for a while their safe passage to the landing seemed extremely doubtful. I should say by way of explanantion that we did not land at West Point, but on the south bank of the Pamunka, across which lies the town. Friday afternoon we moved a short distance further up the road, and encamped on a sandy plain which had been planted with sassafras. This plant grows very abundantly, and a great many acres are covered with it. The 13th New York has named their camp "Camp Sassafras", a very appropriate designation one would say to look about us. The soil may be very good for growing herbs, but is not a comfortable camping place. The sand is so dry that it is easily moved, and we are in effect upon an ash heap, so dry, hot and dusty was it. By digging about six feet good water is reached, and every company became proprietors of wells, which proved very convenient for cooks.
Our division was at a stand-still here, while other divisions as they landed were sent ahead on the road to Richmond. Saturday our brigade had a drill or a review, we hardly knew which, as visitors at headquarters doubtless occaisoned it. Sunday was a very pleasant day, but there was little in its observance which would enable one to determine the day, though it was more like Sunday then our fatigue Sabbaths in the Yorktown trenches. Gen. McClellan rode through the line to Gen. Porter's headquarters and was vociferously cheered by all the troops. He had got the rebels in Chickahomany Swamp and was confident of bagging them. Monday night orders came to provide three day's rations and be in readiness to march at 5 o'clock next morning. During the day I visited a portion of the woods near our camp which was the scene of the battle. The trees bore marks of bullets, and our party succeeded in securing several mementoes. The woods had been burned over during the week, and much that was left on the ground had been burned.
At three o'clock Tuesday morning reveille was sounded, and the entire division got ready to move. By five we were under way, but did not move more then a half a mile when we halted, and there remained waiting for something for several hours, until the sun had got high and warm. Starting again we took the road to Richmond. The heat soon began to tell upon the men, and overcoats and blankets strewed the road on either side. The road was very dusty and this with the heat which, loaded as we were, soon became exceedingly oppressive, made our march one of the most difficult ones we have ever had. We passed many farms, and contrary to our expectations found that the owners had planted thier land, and in many cases the young crop had begun to peep through the soil; one field of corn I noticed where the young blades were several inches high. All the houses along the route display a white flag, which probably means simply "let us alone" as no expressions of joy at our presence or sympathy with out enterprise is shown by those whom we see. We reached this place about dark, and bivouacked for the night, being too tired to pitch tents. we had come about fifteen miles, and had been hurried most of the way, so much so that many found it impossible to keep up with the regiments, and came in afterwards, some not until morning. Cumberland is a landing place on the Pamunka river about twenty miles from its mouth, and supplies for the army are landed from schooners which can run up to this point. There are about one or two houses here, but this is enough for a village in Virginia. This morning the soldiers put up theor ponchos, and are now quite comfortable, resting from their fatigues of yesterday. It began raining about nine o'clock, and we are in hopes it will lay the dust before we march again. It is said that our troops had a skirmish with rebel outposts yesterday, and they are probably not far from us. we recieved our home mail this morning which have been delayed since we left Yorktown, and got a good supply of home news. We expect to be on the move in the morning.
John Lord Parker