Elisha Hunt Rhodes.

The first campaign of the Second Rhode Island infantry online

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Battles of the Rebellion

No. 1.



Secoe-d Rhode Islaintd Iistfaji^tey.




Battles of the Eebellioint,




No. 1.

" Qtiaeque ipse, miserrlma fidi,
Et quorum purs magna fui."



Silts K V S. U I I) E It.

1 .S '. .s .

I'uiNTKU uv ruoviDicNcu i'::i.ss comi-any.




(I.;il(.' Liruii'iiiint-roloiu'l C'uninianding Second liliude iHlaiul lin'nn
Brevet Colonel United StiUeit Volunteers.)






A few years since, it occurred to some of tlie comrades re-
siding in tliis city, "vvlio served in tlie United States Army and
Navy during tlie war of tlic rebellion, to form themselves into an
association under the name of the "Rhode Island Soldiers and
Sailors Historical Society," for the purpose of collecting, as far
as they were able, documents concerning the civil war, and of
putting on record some of the unwritten history of that contest,
in the hope that their labors might, perhaps, be of value to the
future historian. As a part of the means to this end, these
comrades have, from time to time, written and read before the
Society papers treatuig of their own experiences and recol-
lections of notable events as they saw them. In the belief, that
these papers will be pleasant reading for all who were inter-
ested in the great conflict, and contain many facts of historical
value, as well as tend to keep alive memories of patriotism,
bravery and self-sacrifice. It is proposed to publish them in
a series of pamphlets uniform in size and style for preserva-
tion. The initial number. The Campaign of the Second Rhode
Island Infantry by Colonel Rhodes, is here presented. It was
read before the Society, November 3rd, 1875, and was the first
one of the series. Others are in preparation and will speedily

Providekce, July, 1878.



Upon the call of the President of the United
States, in the Spring of 1861, for troops to serve for
the period of three years, measures were taken to
oro-anize a regiment to be known as the Second
Rhode Island Volunteers. It Avas my fortune to be
one of the first to volunteer for service as a soldier
in this command, and I propose to relate in plain and
simple language, my experience during the first few
weeks of the war, including a description of the
First Battle of Bull Run, as seen from the standpoint
of an enlisted man. I am aware that I have selected
a diflicult subject, as perhaps no campaign of the
War of the Rebellion has given rise to more contra-
dictory statements and reports than the one I shall


attempt to describe this evening. In the excited
state of the people at this time, and in the absence
of a proper appreciation of military affairs, skir-
mishes were magnified into battles, and the highest
importance was attached to events that in after years
were considered of very little if of any consequence.
If in the course of my paper I am obliged to fre-
quently refer to myself, I know you will excuse me
when you remember that this paper is a personal
narrative, a record of what I saw and felt, and not
a history of general events.

I enlisted at the armory of the First Light Infan-
try Company, in Providence, R. I., and assisted in
organizing a company composed of about one hun-
dred and forty men, which command, after being
properly officered, was tendered to Colonel John S.
Slocum as part of the regiment to be raised. The
number of recruits offered from all parts of the State
was largely in excess of the number required, and
rendered it necessary that some organizations should
be declined, and as the Infantry had already sent two
companies into the First Rhode Island Detached Mili-
tia, our company was ordered to disband, much to our


disappoiiitiiiciit. Tweiity-Hve men, howtivcr, were
selected from our ranks and assigned to a company
commanded by Captain William II. P. Steere. My
name was included in the number selected, and I sud-
denly found myself changed from an " Infantry " man
to a "National Cadet." This company was mustered
into the United States service as Company "D,"
June 5th, 18()1, in a building on Eddy street, Prov-
idence, and ranked fourth in the regimental forma-
tion. Uniforms were issued, consisting of the so-
called "Rhode Island blouse," grey pants, and hats
looped up at the side.

On the seventh of June the first parade was nuide
and the regiment proceded to Exchange Place and
there listened to an official announcement of the death
of the Honorable Stephen A. Douglas. On the eighth
the regiment went into camp on Dexter Training
Ground, which was named in honor of the Colonel of
the First Rhode Island Detached Militia, "Camp
Burnside." Sibley tents were issued and our camp life
began. Our company being unable to procure tents
passed the first night in a carpenter shop on the cor-
ner of Cranston and Gilmore Streets. One member


of the regiment was drummed out of camp to the
tune of the rogue's march, creating quite a sensation
not only in the camp but among the citizens of the
city. I remember that we made several parades, and
on one occasion attended Divine service at Grace
Church and were addressed by Rt. Rev. Bishop
Clark. The colors which the regiment carried into
the field were presented by the ladies of Brovidence,
June twelfth, by the hands of Hon. Jabez C. Knight,
Mayor, and the scene was one long remembered by
the men.

A battery of light artillery, armed with James
twelve pounder guns, had been organized, and
under command of Captain William H. Reynolds
was attached to the regiment. This battery was
known afterwards as "Battery A, First Rhode Island
Light Artillery," and at the close of the Bull Run
campaign Avas detached from the regiment.

Rumors of our intended departure for the seat of
war had become numerous, but for reasons best
known to the authorities our breaking camp was de-
layed until June nineteenth, when tents were struck,
baggage and knapsacks packed, and the regiment


moved out of eunip, and marching by way of High,
Westminster and South Main Streets, took the
steamer State of iNTainc near Fox Point. The Bat-
tery embarked upon the steamer Kill-von-kull. The
streets were crowded with people, and we left the
wharf amid the tearful farewells and cheers of our
friends. Rations of bread and salt beef were served
on board the transport, and we had our first taste of
army fare, having lived sumptuously while encamped
in Providence. The novelty of the trip banished
sleep from our eyes, and we passed the night indulg-
ing in such mild demonstrations as military disci-
pline would permit. By early morning we were in
New York, and after touching at the wharf for
orders, we steamed away to Elizabeth, New Jersey,
where we landed and took the cars for Baltimore via
York and Flarrisburg, Pennsylvania. All day we
slowly rolled along the track and on the afternoon
of the twenty-first found ourselves in the vicinity of

Rumors had been heard along the route that an
attack was to be made upon us while marching
through Baltimore, and the excitement in the regi-


ment ran high. Three ball cartridges were issued
to each man in the cars, and as we had the old style
of flint-lock gun, altered to percussion, we found
each cartridge to contain three buck shot in addition
to the ball. Most of the n^en carried revolvers,
although strict orders had been issued against the
practice. In the search which was made by the offi-
cers for concealed weapons, I managed (as most of
the boys did) to save mine from capture. It was
dark when we disembarked at Baltimore and we
found the streets crowded with people. Strict
orders had been given us to answer no questions and
hold no conversation with any one. Silently we
slung our knapsacks, and taking our places in line
began the march. Cheers for Jefl^". Davis were given
by the crowd on the sidcAvalks, and some abuse was
heaped upon us, but we kept on our march, ready
to repel an attack. My knapsack contained a load
sufiacicnt for a dozen men, and with aching back I
tramped on, not daring to stop for fear of the crowd.
As I look back upon this short march, I remember
it as one of the most fatiguing ones I ever experi-
enced. But I learned a useful lesson : never to put
more in a knapsack than I could comfortably carry.


After takinar the cars for WashinErton we heard
many rumors of intentions to run us off the track,
which kept the men on the alert, and fears of an
attack caused sleep to be out of the question. It
seems strange now to think of our alarm, but at the
time it was dangers unseen, more than seen, that
troubled us.

On the morning of June twenty-second the regi-
ment arrived in Washington, and we had our first
view of the Capitol. Forming column, we marched
out New York Avenue, a distance of about three
miles, to Gale's Woods, where we found a camp ad-
joining the l)arracks occupied by the First Rhode
Island Detached Militia. Our camp was called " Camp
Clark," in honor of Bishop Clark, who accompanied
us to Washington. The boys of the First Rhode
Island greeted us with hearty cheers, and we were
soon made at home in their comfortable quarters.

The next few weeks were passed in perfecting our
discipline and knowledge of a soldier's duty. Our
camp was a centre of attraction for the Washington
people, and the evening parades of both regiments
were witnessed by thousands. The parades were


held in the camp of the First Regiment, the Colonels
alternating in command. Rumors of intended move-
ments were continually reaching camp, and every
skirmish in Virginia was magnified into a battle.
While stationed at " Camp Clark " we experienced
little, if any, of the unpleasant and disagreeable part
of a soldier's life. Rations were issued in bulk to
both regiments, and cooked under the supervision of
the commissary of the First Rhode Island. The daily
fare consisted of roast beef and plum pudding for
dinner, while the morning and evening meals were
more like what one would expect to find at home,
rather than in the army. I remember well our dis-
gust at receiving, just before we started on the Bull
Run march, an issue of army rations composed of
hard tack and salt pork.

On the eighteenth day of July we broke camp and
moved out into New York avenue, where we found
the brigade to which we were assigned, which up to
this time we had known only in name. The brigade
consisted of the First and Second Rhode Island Vol-
unteers, the Second New Hampshire Volunteers and
the Seventy-first New York Militia, the whole un-


der command of the senior Colonel, Ambrose E.
Burnside. Excitement ran high in the streets, and
as Ave moved through the city we were loudly
cheered by the people. Crossing the Potomac, by
Long Bridge, we took the road to Fairftix Court
House. It being late when we crossed the river,
only a short march was made, and we halted for the
night at Annaudale. This was our first experience
in sleeping without tents and by camp fires. Rails
were soon collected and immense fires started, we
imajrininir this to be the correct thing for soldiers
to do, although on a hot July night.

Early the next morning, the nineteenth, we re-
sumed the march. Co. " D," Captain Steere, was de-
tailed as flankers, and we started ofi" with little, if any,
idea of our duty or danger. I remember we found
an old railroad embankment covered with black-
berry bushes, and the entire company stopped and
ate their fill. This march partook more of the char-
acter of a pleasant ramble than that of an armed
force looking for an enemy. About noon, in company
with two other men, I found myself on the summit of
a hill, and looking back to our left and rear I saw the


si3ires of a town that we had passed unnoticed. I
reported the fact to Captain Steere, and with his
glass we decided that it must be Fairfax. Captain
Steere formed his company into a square, and in
this manner w^e entered the town by a side street
and below the Court House. The rebels, in their
haste, had left many articles lying in the streets,
and if we had not been restrained by the good sense
of our Captain, we should have loaded ourselves
with the useless trumpery.

Halting in the main street we were soon joined
by the head of our regiment, that came in by the
main road. The rebel flag was taken down and the
Stars and Stripes raised by one of our men. It fell
to our lot to be placed in camp in the grounds of a
mansion which had been occupied by the rebel com-
manding general. In looking about the house I
found among some loose papers a subsistence return,
showing the number of men to whom rations had
been issued the day before. I gave the paper to
Captain Nelson Viall and he sent it to army head-
quarters. The passion for pillage broke out, but
was quickl}^ suppressed, though many ludicrous


scenes occurred. I remember one man entering camp
■with a Bible under one arm and an immense enjjrav-
ing of the Father of his Country under the other.
An officer obliged him to restore the articles to the
house. A piano, from which the strings had been
taken, served as a cupboard for some of the boys.
The inhabitants had fled and we had the town all to

On the twentieth we left Fairfax Court House and
encamped a few miles beyond, near Centreville.
Here we Iniilt shelters with pine and cedar boughs,
and this camp is known to this day as " Bush
Camp " by the men of the Second Rhode Island Vol-
unteers. Here we heard our first hostile shot, and
although at a distance, yet it served to impress us
with what was likely to follow.

About two o'clock, on the morning of July twenty-
first, we left "Bush Camp," and marching down the
hill, through Centreville, found the roads obstructed
by wagons and troops that had failed to start on time.
Soon the Second left the main road and struck off
to tiie right, through a wood path that had been
much obstructed. As we led the brigade the task of


clearing the road fell to us, and hard work we found
it. About nine o'clock in the forenoon we reached
Sudley church, and a distant gun startled us, but we
did not realize that our first battle was so near at
hand. We now took a side road that skirted a
piece of woods and marched for some distance, the
men amusing themselves with laughter and jokes,
with occasional stops for berries. On reaching a clear-
ing, separated from our left flank by a rail fence, we
were saluted with a volley of musketry, which, how-
ever, was fired so high that all the bullets went over
our heads. I remember that my first sensation was
one of astonishment at the peculiar whir of the bul-
lets, and that the regiment immediately laid down
without waiting for orders. Colonel Slocum gave
the command, "By the left flank — march!" and
we commenced crossiilg the field. One of our boys
by the name of Webb fell off of the fence and
broke his bayonet. This caused some amusement,
for even at this time we did not realize that we
were about to engage in Ijattle.

As we crossed the fence, the rebels, after firing a
few scattering shots, fled down a slope to the woods.


We followed to the brow of the hill and opened fire.
Our battery came into position on our right and
replied to the rel^cl artillery, which was sending
their shell into our line. Of what followed, I have
very confused ideas. I remember that my smooth
bore gun became so foul that I was obliged to
strike the ramrod against a fence to force the cart-
ridge home, and soon exchanged it for another.
There was a hay stack in front of our line, and some
of the boys sheltered themselves behind it. A shell
from the enemy striking the stack covered the men
with hay, from which they emerged and retook their
places in line. About this time, Private Thomas
Parker of Co. "D" captured a prisoner, a member
of the Louisiana Tiger regiment, and as he bronght
him back to the line was spoken to by Colonel Slo-

Colonel Slocum had crossed a rail fence in our
front and had advanced nearer to the brow of the
hill than the line occupied by the regiment. As
he returned and Avas in the act of climbing the fence,
he fell on the side next to the regiment. I, being
the nearest man to him at the time, raised him up,


but was unable to lift him from the ""round. Calliuo-
for help, Private Parker (mentioned above) dropped
his gun and came to my assistance. Together we
bore him to a small house on the left of the line and
laying him upon the floor, sent for Colonel Burn-
side, Surgeon Francis L. Wheaton and Chaplain
Thorndike Jameson, who all arrived in a few mo-
ments, a lull in the tight having occurred. Chaplain
Augustus Woodbury and Assistant Surgeon James
Harris, of the First. Rhode Island Detached Militia,
were already in attendance. With the sponge, from
my cup, 1 washed the blood from his head and found
that the bullet had ploughed a furrow from rear to
front through the top of his head, but had not
lodged. His ankle ( I cannot call to mind which
one) was also injured, having two wounds upon it.
While unable to speak, yet he appeared conscious,
and at my request w^ould remove his hand from his
wounded head. When it was decided to place the
Colonel in an ambulance, I took a door from its
hinges with my gun screw driver, and assisted in
carrying him on this door to the ambulance. Colo-
nel Slocum, as is well known, fell into the hands of
the enemy and died of his injuries.


But to go back to the battle, the Second Regiment
was engaged about thirty minutes without support,
when the balance of the brigade was brought on to
the field and the battle became general. The Eighth
Georgia regiment was in our immediate front, and
received the benefit of our fire. We had a tradition
in our regiment until the close of the war, that the
Second Rhode Island nearly annihilated this Georgia
reiriment. Since the close of the war, I have seen a
paper, written and printed in the South, which gives
the Second Rhode Island the credit of having broken
up and destroyed the Eighth Georgia so completely
that it had to be reorganized. Shot and shell were
continually striking in or near our line and the
troops became much scattered. Losing my own
company I joined Company F, under command of
Lieutenant William B. Sears, and remained with
them uirtil the battle ceased and we withdrew to
replenish our ammunition.

About three o'clock in the afternoon the enemy
disappeared in our front and the firing ceased. We
considered that a victory had been won. The
wounded Avere cared for and then orders came for us


to retire to a piece of woods in our rear and till our
boxes with ammunition. We found the First Rhode
Island in the woods with arms stacked and some of
the men cooking. I remember of meeting friends
in the First Regiment and congratuhiting them on
our victory, little expecting the tinale of our day's

The firing, which had gradually receded, now
seemed to be nearer, and soon a shell fired into the
woods told us that the enemy had returned to renew
the combat. I cannot explain the causes for w^hat fol-
lowed. The woods and roads were soon filled with
fleeino: men and our brio;ade was ordered to the front
♦o cover the retreat, which it was now evident could
not be stopped. Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Whea-
ton who, on the fall of Colonel Slocum, had assumed
command, posted the regiment to the left of our first
position and behind a fence. The field was soon
clear of troops, excepting our brigade, all of which
except the Second Rhode Island, were posted farther
back from the brow of the hill. The rebels came on
in splendid order, pushing two light field guns to the
front with them. We received their fire and held


them in check until the brigade had taken up their
march, Avhen we followed— the last to leave the field.
The rebels followed us for a short distance, shelling
our rear, and then we pursued our march unmo-
lested, until we reached the vicinity of the bridge
that crosses Cub Run. Here a rebel battery opened
upon us from a corner of the woods and the stam-
pede commenced. The l)ridge was soon rendered
impassible by the teams that obstructed it, and we
here lost five of the guns belonging to our battery.
Many men were killed and wounded at this point,
and a panic seemed to seize upon every one. In my
opinion (looking at the matter from a more safe
standpoint than I occupied that day) a few deter-
mined men might have captured the rebel guns and
the crossing been effected in safety. As our regi-
ment was now broken, I looked for a place to cross
the stream, not daring to try the bridge. I jumped
into the run and holding my gun above my head
struggled across with the water up to my waist.
After crossing, the regiment gradually formed again,
and we continued our march to Centrcville where
we found Blenker's troops ■ posted across the road to


protect the retreat. We passed through their ranks,
and entered our old grounds, " Bush Camp," suppos-
ing the retreat to be at an end.

Tired, hungry and wet, we laid down, only to be
awakened about eleven o'clock that night to resume
the march towards Washington, in the midst of a
rain storm. The regiment filed out of camp and
marched to Fairfax Court House, in good order and
rested in the streets. Crowds of soldiers were hur-
rying by and the streets were blocked with trains.
After halting a few minutes we started again and
soon, in the darkness, rain and crowd, became
broken up to some extent. Of the horrors of that
night, I can give you no adequate idea. I suffered
untold horrors from thirst and fatigue, but struggled
on, clinging to my gun and cartridge box. Many
times I sat down in the mud determined to go no
further, and willing to die to end my misery. But
soon a friend would pass and urge me to make
another effort, and I would stagger on a mile further.
At daylight we could see the spires of Washington,
and a welcome sight it was. About eight o'clock I
reached Fort Runyon, near Long Bridge, and giving


my gun to !iii officer, who was collecting them, I
entered a tent and was soon asleep. Towards noon
I awoke and, with my company, endeavored to
cross Long Bridge, but fell exhausted before reach-
ing the Washington side. My officers kindly placed
me in an army wagon and I was carried to camp,
where, after rest and proper care, I soon recovered


Online LibraryElisha Hunt RhodesThe first campaign of the Second Rhode Island infantry → online text (page 1 of 2)