from The Southbridge Journal, 9 May 1862 (Volume 2 #12), contributed by Mike Branniff
| Army Correspondence of the Journal
From the Fifteenth Regiment
Camp Winfield Scott
Mr. Editor: There is nothing special that we can write which will interest our friends at home, more than to confirm what they see in the daily papers. but we wish to let them know our whereabouts, and what we are doing in the grand Union army. We left Hampton, Gen. Porters division taking the lead, and found it very warm all that day. We passed places where dwelling houses, which have stood, which the rebels have burnt in their retreat. There were only three dwellings on our march to where we encamped the second night. The rebels seem to have a very revengeful spirit, destroying everything that is of any value in their retreat from us.
Most of the fighting done thus far has been done by the sharpshooters and batteries. The second day of our onward march, we passed artillery and infantry, regiment after regiment; it seemed as if we were trying to see who could get at the rebels first. We saw lying by the road side greatcoats and undercoats, pants, blankets, stockings, etc., which our soldiers had thrown away to relieve themselves of burden, that they might reach the enemy in their retreat; but it was of no use, they retreated to fast for us.
We came through Little Bethel and Big Bethel, and found some earthworks and entrenchments there. The position was a good one to hold for they were completely surrounded by woods. I should judge that our light artillery are very good marksmen by the manner in which they hit the appointed mark for the last three days. General Sedgwick’s Division stopped in a large field, where we encamped for nearly a week. During the time, the regiment was ordered to go into a swamp, some two miles, to guard the Minnesota Regiment while they were cutting down trees, and putting them across the road they were making for our artillery to cross over. It was very unfavorable weather indeed, for it had rained incessantly the day previous, and it rained the two days we were in the swamp. We returned to camp at night, consequently we had to march a good share of the way nearly up to our knees in mud and water in a drenching rain, and as our Sibley tents were turned over to the Government , together with most of our teams while in Alexandria, we were deprived of their shelter and convenience. We laid down in our wet cloths to sleep for the night, under a temporary covering made of our rubber blankets.
On our rising in the morning, we discovered a balloon going up in the air to a great height; in a few moments we saw it coming toward us, and soon coming down at a rapid rate. It finally came down in our field, within thirty rods of the 15th’s camp lines. In it was Gen. Porter, who had a very narrow escape from death. The rope which was attached to his balloon broke, and he had the privilege of going nearer the starry firmament than he thought of when he left the earth.
The whole of Gorman’s brigade, consisting of the 15th Massachusetts, 1st Minnesota, 2d and 34th New York Regiments started from camp on Friday, the 17th, inst., went two miles, when we encamped in a small lot. Companies I and H were ordered to report immediately for picket duty about one mile from camp in the swamp. We found it very cold and wet, it having rained so much the three days previous, we had a reserve of two thirds of the Company, back in the woods about fifty rods, the other third was put forward to the edge of the woods, in three squads of men, to guard the out post of our lines. The squads were divided into reliefs, to be relieved from there posts once in two hours, the whole squad remaining on picket six hours, and relieved by the same number of men for the next six hours, the whole being under the supervision of the non-commissioned officers.
We were about one third of a mile from the rebel battery and fort. The Sharpshooters were on our right directly in front of the rebel fortification. While we were on duty we saw the rebels run out under cover of their battery and set fire to a dwelling house, and then retreat back in double quick. Our Sharpshooters are tip top marksmen, which are detailed by Sedgwick’s Division. They pick off the men so that they cannot man or fire their guns. I wrote this in sight of the fortification.
April 12th The sun rises clear this morning and sheds its radiant heat, which is a great relief to us who have been standing in the cold damp swamp all night, without any sleep. We were relieved from picket duty at nine o’clock by Capt. Watson and Company. Our daily duties are very light to what they have been heretofore, with the exception of being aroused in the morning at four o’clock to drill for an hour. The brigade has moved across the field to make room for the rest of Sedgwick’s Division. The camps are well packed in now. The 15th has the honor of guarding Sedgwick’s and Gorman’s headquarters.
April 16th Our batteries have been firing an occasional shot during the night. At one o’clock in the morning our pickets saw a number of rebels coming toward our lines, which caused a general alarm to be given to the whole camp. A number of shots were exchanged, and it was thought it would bring on a general engagement, and I can assure you we were all up and in line in a very short time. We did not return to quarters, but stayed in our regimental line and were called upon again before morning, and had orders to stay in line all night. We obeyed the order willingly by lying down in line till daylight.
April 19th, The day brings into our mind the attack that was made on thr 6th Massachusetts Regiment one year ago. It is commented upon by us through our Regiment with a good deal of feeling; yet Mr. Editor, we can look back to that time, and well do we remember the anxiety of the public. But thanks to an over ruling providence, the situation of the Union army is far different now, our late brilliant victories brings life, and makes us more anxious to meet the enemy. What must be the case with the rebels? To our minds it must be one of mistrust if they know of their recent defeats. Quite a number of Confederates have come over to our lines, and given themselves up within the past three days. They tell us there is more that would come over if they dared to.
General Gorman’s Brigade relieves General Dana’s Brigade at 9 AM today. We are stationed within fifteen rods of our battery, in Regimental line in the woods. Our guns fired shot and shell once in twenty minutes during the day. We also have a Brigade working party out with their shovels and axes making an elevation for our big siege guns. Allowing one hundred twenty five men for each regiment it would make for the whole Brigade, three hundred that are employed from day to day in the Division making preparations for the great attack. Co. I took their turn to go forward to the batteries on picket duty during the night. We were divided into three reliefs and were put in so as to guard the pieces. There were advance pickets out twenty rods in front of our lines, and some firing at the left of us but our front line was not disturbed during the night; had a very wet and rainy night. The whole brigade was relieved from picket duty on Sunday morning.
April 20th, It has rained very hard today at intervals the sun has come out of its obscurity for half an hour, when it would recede behind the clouds and the water would again come down from the skys in torrents. The government has just supplied us with linen tents, somewhat larger than the rubber blankets. We make a temporary shelter the same as we did with the rubber blankets. We find the rubber blanket is just the thing to put on the ground to keep the dampness from us when we sleep. Some of the company have returned to duty who were in prison in Richmond and we find that their life in prison was not a very agreeable one. yet they had some pleasing incidents to relate of their sayings and doings while absent from us. Lieutenant Bartlett has returned to our company, which gives us our compliment of officers again. We hailed his arrival with hearty cheers. Capt. Studley has returned to the place that has been temporarily filled by the former in Capt S’s absence in Richmond.
April 22d, Gormans Brigade are again on picket duty, one third of each company are required to keep guard their portion of the time tonight. We have had heavy showers today with alternate sunshine. Our batteries have been quiet today, but our pickets have been uncommonly busy with their rifles continually firing during the day.
April 23d, Gorman’s brigade relieved this morning from picket duty by Gen. Berry’s Brigade. Had a very quiet night. Company E and F took their turn at picket duty on the outpost. Heard distinctly the men the men at work on their fortifications and heard their drums beat and their bands play during the night. There has been no drumbeat or any music on our lines since we encamped in this field. It is very warm today and the boys improve their time by cleaning their cloths in a brook a short distance from the line in a swamp. There are five springs within a short distance of each other along the edge of the swamp. The water is very clear, which is considered a great thing for the soldier to have in his march towards the South.
We shall endeavor to find something that will interest your readers after the taking of Yorktown, which we expect will be soon. The Massachusetts State Allotment Commission Agents have called to see us, and Company I boys subscribed over three hundred dollars a month for the allotment roll.