Oct. 22nd 1861
My Dear Wife
I have been at last into Virginia but did not stay long. At midnight, Sunday the sound of the "Long Roll" roused us and we were quickly on the march to the river. We crossed into Virginia early in the day. About 11 o'clock Co. B was sent forward to skirmish. We soon engaged the enemy's cavalry and we were obliged to fall back to our main body. In this skirmish we lost Capt. SIMONDS and some of our best men. Capt. Simonds started with me to fall back on the reserve but did not get in. Whether he was killed or captured I know not but I have reason to fear the former. There were of the 15th in the action 620 men and officers; a part of Baker's California Brigade; and a few other Massachusetts troops. Our force was a little more than 2000 men. We fought the Devils till dark and then retreated to the river where many surrendered. Eight hours and a quarter we stood before a terrific fire from greatly superior numbers. The woods were swarming with the fellows.
General BAKER who was in command on our side was killed. He fell pierced by seven bullets. His body was brought off the field. Lt. Col. WARD lost a leg. He was brought off and is doing well. The rebels shot us down like dogs after we had surrendered. A few managed to escape by swimming the river with the bullets falling like rain all around us. Many were shot and killed in the water. The orders was given for everyman to take care of himself. I saw Col. Devens and Major Kimball preparing to swim, so I stripped off all my clothing except my shirt, drawers, and socks and with Colonel DEVENS, Lt. EAGER, Fred SIBLY, A.A. SIMONDS and George S. ROSS we took some branches of trees for a partial support and struck out for the opposite shore which we succeeded in reaching.
Oh, didn't the bullets sing merrily around our heads on the passage. The only thing that I saved was your picture in the locket. Tell Mr. THOMPSON that the big pipe is in the Potomac. We threw our arms and equipments into the river to prevent their being of service to the enemy. The Colonel and Major threw their swords as far as they could into the river. I pointed the bayonet into the mud and drive the piece down almost to the lock, leaving it as a mark to start from next time I travel into Virginia.
Of the 620 men that we took into battle not over 200 came back. Half of our company (B) is missing. Of my mess all are here except George GILCHRIST and Granville HOSMER. They are most likely prisoners. I thought that I would rather take my chance of drowning than fall into the hands of the enemy. Many of our poor fellows were drowned while trying to swim the river. It was awful to hear the death shrieks of the poor boys and to see them go under having no chance to help them and expecting to share in their fate. One whom I supposed to be SK WALKER drowned near me when about halfway across the river.
I found a couple of dry shirts when we landed and put them on and with 2 overcoats and a blanket that I managed to secure and wrap around me, I commenced my weary march of nine miles to camp. It was a rough journey as I was tired, hungry and my feet were protected only by socks. I got over it finely however, and taking a tremendous drink of gin I lay down and slept from midnight until this morning just as soundly as though rebel bullets had never been heard. I lost what money I had and the Testament you gave me. I shall get along well enough, however, for Col. DEVENS and Lt. EAGER are both indebted to me for their safety and will not, I think, let me want for anything. Our officers gave us the highest praise saying that we fought like veterans and did all that men could do. We saved our colors but they are riddled with bullet holes. George DANIELS has two bullets shot through his arm but the wounds are not dangerous. I cannot write anymore just now. This will show you that I am safe.
Your Affectionate Husband,
Walter A. Eames