from The Worcester Spy, October 16, 1861, (Volume 90 #41) -- The five letter series is by one John Denison Baldwin -- later a member of Congress. 
Editorial Correspondence of the Spy

Letters From The Field


Darnstown, Md., Oct. 6, 1861

I say Darnstown in the date , but I am at the headquarters of Gen. Banks, about a mile and a half from the central glory of that famous emporium, or whatever else it should be termed. While we were passing through the town last night I observed it closely, and counted three dwelling houses, one store, two log barns, and some other edifices of lesser pretentious. We encountered there a squad of the Massachusetts thirteenth, with whom we had a very cordial time, as soon as they learned I came from Worcester Mass., and probably knew Col. Leonard. Their good feeling toward Col. Leonard, and their praise of his excellent qualities, seemed to be unbounded. I learned that they have only six companies at their camp, which is near Darnstown, three companies being at Harpers Ferry or in that neighborhood., and one on special service, somewhere not far from this place.

On the road from Washington and about six miles this side of the city, we drove through another of those famous towns that nobody ever heard of until the recent military movements gave to it fame in the telegraphic dispatches. I mean Tennallytown, which has four houses, not very near each other. Rockville sixteen miles from Washington, is a respectable village of twelve or fifteen houses. It is described as “a regular secession hole.” A secession newspaper was published here until circumstances put an end to its existence. A Union newspaper is printed there now, I am told, which, among other things tells the people of this part of Maryland how much money they are making out of the trade with the Union camps along the river, and suggests times would at once become very bad for them, if the rebel troops could cross the river, and take possession of Maryland.

I think it would do the secessionists at this quarter a great deal of good, although it would make them much poorer, to have a few weeks experience of Johnson and his troops. Our troops are scrupulously careful in their dealings with the people, paying liberally, and paying in something very different from Virginia shin plasters. We dined at a Rockville tavern at a long table, above which hung a series of curiously connected fans, worked by machinery, the “power’ being a little six year old contraband, who made the things “go” by pulling a cord up and down. no persuasion would induce to speak, but he worked steadily while we were at the table, seeming almost to be part of the machinery itself. I noticed that the old landlady gave him a piece of pie when his work was done.

Gen. Banks headquarters are about twenty four miles from Washington, and some nine miles from Poolesville, where are the Massachusetts fifteenth and the headquarters of Gen. Stone. I might guess how many troops Gen. Banks has around him, but if I knew exactly and could tell you the number to a man, I should not deem it proper to communicate such knowledge to the types of a daily newspaper. I dare say the rebels across the river would give a good deal to know, but they will get no assistance from me, directly or indirectly. I shall tell you only that Gen. Banks body guards and a portion of Van Allen’s cavalry are encamped near his tent, and that the Connecticut Fifth, Col. Ferry, and the Massachusetts Second, Col. Gordon, are just at hand, so near each other as to seem almost one camp. These regiments have fine bands of music, one of them being very large and admirable. The generals bodyguard and Van Allen’s cavalry are also very musical.

It was dark when we reached Gen. Banks quarters. We found him at his tents, where the time was passed very agreeably until half past nine o’clock. For an hour or more during the time, a choir from his body guard sang patriotic and other songs and they sang magnificently. The guard consists of a company of cavalry and a company of infantry carefully picked in Philadelphia. A large portion of the are Frenchmen, Germans, and Italians, and from these chiefly the choir was formed. They sang the Marseillaise as I never heard it sung before; and they sang other admirable pieces, among them the Italian National Hymn, the Zou Zous, and the Star Spangled Banner. Such a concert would create a sensation and hold an audience anywhere.

During the evening Gen. Banks received various dispatches, and quickly read them where he sat, in front of his tent. Several of them were from Washington; but one of them, I afterwards learned, came from the river, and told him that the rebels had just then appeared in unusual force on the river at Edward’s Ferry opposite Poolesville. There is some expectation in Washington that the rascals will attempt to cross somewhere in that neighborhood, but our officers in the camps do not believe they will venture on such a movement. We passed the night at the house of Mr. Rice, near the tents of the cavalry, but some of us did not sleep, and I Knowing the contents of the dispatch, lay awake, with some expectation of hearing an outbreak of cannon at the Ferry, followed, perhaps by the long roll at the camps. but there was no alarm and no disturbing “noises of the night” save the barking of dogs and the screaming of geese. Dr. Heard assistant surgeon of the Massachusetts thirteenth, is quite sick at the house where we stopped, and his father and mother are there in attendance upon him.

We leave this morning for Poolesville where greeting from the officers and men of the Massachusetts Fifteenth ( God bless them ) are in store for us. You may be sure that I shall have something to write from that place.

J. D. B.


Poolesville, Md. Oct. 7, 1861

Here I am at the headquarters of the Massachusetts fifteenth, the “pet regiment” of Gen. Stone’s division, as I have heard it called, the regiment that immediately guards his headquarters. A section of the 3d Rhode Island battery is encamped near it. Among the regiments in this neighborhood are the first Minnesota, the Tammany regiment, and the nineteenth and twentieth Massachusetts. but I shall not try and tell you how many regiments are in Gen. Stone’s division. We came hear this morning from Gen. Banks’ headquarters near Darnstown, and found the regiment in the middle of the pleasures of that military holiday, PAY DAY. Paymaster Jordan was here in the midst of operations, and the men were being paid up to the first of September, the privates receiving about $20 each. Only six companies are in camp, the other four, including D, are at the river on picket duty. Dr. Brown is down with a visitation of fever and ague, an old acquaintance of his I believe. The health of the regiment generally appears to be very good. There are a few in the hospital; but none of them are very ill save corporal Hildreth of the Fitchburg company, who seems to lie at deaths door.

This camp is about five miles from Edward’s Ferry and six miles from Conrad’s Ferry. The pickets of the regiment have the care of the river between these ferries, extending from above Conrad’s ferry down nearly to the other; and this (has?) been the liveliest place on the Potomac. There has been some notable artillery practice near Edward’s Ferry by Lieut. Woodruff of Ricket’s battery. He seems to hit as accurately with his rifled twelve pounders as the most accomplished marksman with a target rifle. One day last week when the rebels became very saucy with some of their big guns, he swiftly silenced their battery, and then experimented on a long baggage train of the rebels, three miles off. Such an overturning and scattering of baggage wagons was never before heard of. Who ever goes to the ferries is liable to have some adventures occasioned by such artillery skirmishes. The Massachusetts fifteenth has men there all the time. Thus you will see that Col. Deven’s regiment has the most advanced position here, and that they have on their hands a great deal of exposed picket business. This is why they so much need rifles or rifle muskets. Their smoothbores would be well enough, perhaps in some situations, for the guns are good for guns of that kind. Bur smooth bores are out of place in such service as this regiment has to perform. No other regiment in the whole Union army has more pressing need of being armed with Minie-rifles. Col. Devens has obtained a few, but he ought to have enough for the whole command.

Col. Devens regiment has an extended reputation among the camps for neatness, discipline, harmony, and good behavior, and I am satisfied that this reputation is well deserved. Although the camp, when we arrived was astir with the unusual movements of payday, yet it was the neatest and most orderly regimental camp we have seen. I can now add that the signs of harmony and good discipline are abundant and unmistakable. Col. Devens deserves the warmest praise of every friend of the regiment at home, for his earnest and untiring care of the men. Nothing that touches their welfare, not even the smallest matter , escapes his attention. since the paymaster came, he has interested himself to have the men send home as much of their money as they can spare, and that, he thinks, is most of it; and he has devised a scheme, all the trouble and expense of which he takes upon himself, by which the money to be sent home may be exchanged for checks drawn by himself on one of the Worcester banks, to be paid there if presented six or eight days hence. Already a great deal of money has been exchanged for these checks, some of the Irish boys belonging to the Blackstone company being among the foremost to take them. And in all measures for the welfare of the men, Col. Devens is earnestly supported by Lieut. Col. Ward and Major Kimball. The harmony and mutual helpfulness manifest at headquarters are very admirable.

Poolesville, Oct. 8, 1861.

Corporal Hildreth, of the Fitchburg company, died last evening. he was a young man about nineteen years old, must esteemed in his company. his death was occasioned by what the doctors call “calcareous deterioration of the liver.” He had for some time been troubled by a bad cough resulting from the disease, but have been confined to the hospital only a few days. his father and mother reside in Oakham. this is the third death that has occurred in the regiment since it left Worcester. The others were Melvin Howland, orderly sergeant of the Blackstone company, and Edward F. Ware of the Brookfield company. their graves are pleasantly marked in a cemetery of the village, and the grave stones, arbor vitae, and rose bushes, show how affectionately they are remembered by their comrades of the regiment. Dr. Bates being sick, a great deal of the work falls to Dr. Haven, the assistant surgeon, who gives it through attention.

I may have an opportunity to go to the ferries tomorrow; if so I will tell you what I see and hear.

J. D. B.



Poolesville, Oct. 9,1861

Poolesville is a very respectable country village with a tavern, a small brick church, a post office, and a store. The storekeeper is a shrewd, calculating fellow, who is making a great deal of money out of his trade with the soldiers. there are enough here who would sell whiskey to the soldiers, if they dare, if they dare, but Colonel Devens is a mortal terror to all such fellows. One tried it here sometime since, but the Colonel came down on him in such a way as frightened him from the business, not only him but all others like him. I have heard also of an encounter a whiskey seller had with Col. Devens at Camp Kalorama. The fellow went there with a team. the colonel getting his eye upon the fellow inquired what he had to sell. The answer was “pickels.” He was told to leave but did not do so. At length Col. Devens mounted his wagon and examined the load. A very few pickels were found and many demijohns of whiskey were found. The demijohns were immediately smashed. Of course the whiskey seller was disturbed. He professed to be extremely anxious to know the colonels name, which was given to him, with a request that he would immediately report the affair to the brigadier general, whose tent was at hand. But the scamp went away greatly disgusted, and no other whiskey seller went near that camp while the Massachusetts fifteenth remained there.

This regiment has an excellent reputation for good behaviour. All the Massachusetts regiments in this part of the Potomac are well spoken of in this regard, and there are six of them within ten miles of this place, the second, the twelvth, the thirteenth, fifteenth, nineteenth and twentieth. The people of Poolesville, who have had some experience of disorderly regiments, speak in the highest terms of Col. Devens men. They feel entirely safe with them, and look to them for protection against injury or insult from others. A guard of his men is kept constantly in the village, and now the women do not hesitate to appear in the streets by night as well as by day, as they have occasion, always certain that the presence of any member of this guard will give them security against the most turbulent rowdyism. It makes a Worcester man proud of his county as well as of his state to hear what is said of the good behavior of their regiment; its excellent reputation with the people here is due to the admirable management of the officers as well as the good disposition of the men.

There was a funeral in camp yesterday. The body of young Hildreth of the Fitchburg company was taken away and buried in the village cemetery beside the other dead of the regiment. The ceremonies were very impressive. A file of soldiers under a corporal, the regimental band, the Fitchburg company, and the field officers with the colonel’s staff, on which I was placed for the time, constituted the funeral procession. The religious services conducted by the chaplain, Rev. Mr. Scandlin, were appropriate and touching, and the solemn waiting, and most admirably played music of the band, as the procession marched slowly to the grave, and also at the grave, moved every body. the whole village, men, women, and children, seemed profoundly interested in the ceremonies. They were all at the grave, on the street, or at their windows, and I noticed that many of their faces were wet with tears. Three volleys were fired over the grave after which the procession returned to camp. the regimental band whose very great improvement would surprise and charm their Worcester friends performed wonderfully on this occasion.

The presence of the camps in this neighborhood has completely revolutionized the post office business at Poolesville. heretofore the village post office has been a “one horse” concern, with the horse very small and lame at that. The mails are brought there three times a week and before the regiments arrived the average number of letters sent or received did not probably exceed eight or ten. Now the average is about 5000 and the postmaster would fail to manage the business if he did not receive a great deal of help from Rev. Mr. Scandlin, who acts as the postmaster of the Massachusetts fifteenth. The letters and papers for the soldiers come here by way of Washington. The mail of Colonel Devens regiment alone averages some 600 at each arrival and departure, and on mail days Mr. Scandlin has about as much as he can attend to. His post is certainly one of the most important in the regiment, and the men would miss him exceedingly if he should be taken away from them.

This afternoon or tomorrow morning I shall go to Edwards ferry, the point near which the rebels are most visible and active, and where there has been so much notable artillery practice. You will understand that the Massachusetts fifteenth regiment belongs not to Gen. Bank’s division , but to Gen. Stone’s, and that the river at and between Conrad's and Edward's ferries, and for several miles below the latter is guarded by his pickets. He is now an acting Major General doing his work independently of everybody below Gen. McClellan. There are three Massachusetts regiments in his division, and three in that of Gen. Bank’s, who has pickets on the river below his. it might be deemed improper for me to tell you more of the situation of affairs. Therefore I will only add here that Gen. Stone is one of the most capable, resolute, and active officers in the army. I really wish the rebels would attempt to cross the river somewhere along the line of his pickets. A faithful account of such an attempt would undoubtedly be worth reading.

J. D. B.

No. 4

On the Potomac below Senecca Mills

October 10, 1861

I write this in the tent of Col. Fletcher Webster of the Massachusetts twelveth, about one hundred rods from the Potomac river. We came here last night by invitation of Lieut. Col. Bryan, whom we met at the camp of the Massachusetts thirteenth, Colonel Leonard’s regiment. Colonel Leonard came with us, and we found there two other visitors, Maryland gentlemen, one of whom is a very wealthy farmer residing a mile or two from the camp, whose name has been in the papers in connection with a seizure of cavalry arms and equipments made by Gen. Bank’s some time ago. At that time his loyalty was somewhat questioned., but he has proved to be a very earnest and helpful Union man. Col. Webster is absent but Lieut. Col. Bryan, who is a very courteous gentleman and admirable soldier keeps both the regiment and the hospitalities of the camp in the best condition. This is probably the most exposed camp on the river. The rebels threw shells into it a few days since, which circumstances led to a change in its location. Nobody was hurt by the shells and no injury whatever was done.

I went on horseback from Colonel Devens camp to Edwards Ferry, this morning, and saw what was to see at this noted place. Reaching the ferry I rode along the tow path of the canal, in view of some half dozen rebel pickets. I could have shot either of them with a rifle without leaving the horses back, and they could have shot me very easily with any good gun that has a rifled barrel. But they seemed to be quiet fellows, nowise inclined to do mischief to anybody. A short time since the rebel pickets were constantly shooting across the river at every man who came within range of their rifles.

Colonel Devens was shot at, one day, five times in the course of as many minutes, while going to visit his pickets. Lieut. Col. Ward has been shot at, and, in fact, for a time nobody escaped who came within range of the fellows on the other side. those of our men who were armed with rifle muskets killed several of the rebels, but those armed with smoothbores, had the mortification to see their balls drop in the river without reaching the Virginia shore. but this business of shooting at each other across the river has been discontinued by mutual agreement, and knowing this I felt entirely safe riding along the river, so near the rebel pickets. There is, however, a little cannonading between the parties from time to time. Some three miles away to the right hand, as one approaches Edward’s Ferry, and back from the river, are the entrenchments out of which those wicked looking guns of Lieut. Woodruff have driven the rebels so many times. Only two or three days since he suddenly silenced a battery of rebel guns that approached the river and began to behave very saucily and then perceived a rebel supply train some three miles off in Virginia, he threw shells into two or three of the wagons, sending them “to the land of Canaan,” and producing the greatest commotion among the teams and those with them. The accuracy and effect with which these guns are fired is really surprising.

We left the camp of the Massachusetts fifteenth yesterday, a little after one o’clock, and drove to that of the thirteenth, Colonel Leonard, some nine miles distant near Darnstown. Colonel Leonard was drilling the regiment, and we went to the parade ground to witness the evolutions. Lieut. Col. Bryan after looking on awhile, expressed his judgement of what he say by saying: “Leonard’s regiment is magnificently drilled.” This from an accomplished West Pointer was no small praise. I hear Leonard’s regiment spoken of as one of the best drilled and most effective in the service. The fact that the provost guard for the village of Darnstown is taken from this regiment, tells that the men have a high reputation for good behavior. They have a beautiful camp, and seem to be in excellent condition and spirits. Gen. Banks and a part of his staff came over to visit Colonel Leonard, while he was drilling the men, and expressed much admiration of their movements. Before he left the general visited the hospital of the regiment, in which a few of the men were confined.

It was dark when we reached the camp of the Webster regiment, and this made the scene more striking. This camp has a pine forest behind it, with pine and hemlock trees on every side. it is located in a wild and picturesque place, and when we came into it, the camp fires were shining like an illumination. Colonel Leonard remained there some two hours and then, with a cavalry escort, (for Col Bryan has both cavalry and artillery connected to his command) went back to his own camp, some three or four miles off. before he started there was some talk of certain Pennsylvania sentinels who sometimes shoot at those who approach before hailing them, and I am not sure he did not take a route on which he would encounter no sentinels but those of the Webster regiment and his own.

He considers the Massachusetts fifteenth, twelveth, thirteenth the best regiments in the service, I went to bed last night expecting an alarm before morning, but it did not come. But I hear this morning that the New York thirty fourth regiment, just above us had an adventure during the night, if not an alarm. Some half dozen of them went across the river in the darkness, and sized a rich and wicked old rebel, who, a few days since seduced some of their men into an ambush, where a few of them were killed or taken. The fellows name is Walker. The regiment wanted to lynch him when he was brought into camp. I hope he will be shot. His house with thee haystacks near it is visible in Virginia from an eminence near this camp.

J. D. B.

No. 5

Washington, Oct. 11, 1861

We came here last night from the camp of the Massachusetts twelveth, going back to Washington, in the first place, in search of a decent road for a team like ours, which was an army paymasters wagon, drawn by two horses. the horses were good, but the government was cheated sadly by the maker of the wagon. If I knew his name I would give it in full. before leaving the encampment we went to a commanding eminence on the river, where Col. Bryan has a battery in charge of Lieut. Crosby of the regular army. Here we had a very wide view of the river and of the Virginia shore. No rebels could be seen, but scores of their pickets might have been concealed in the woods on the other side. I examined the country with a glass, but looked most carefully at the house and premises of the malignant rebel Walker, where the scamp was seized last night by a bold squad of the New York thirty fourth. Walkers house is on a hill about two and a half miles from the place where we stood. I know not what will be done with the fellow, though I heard before I left that a strong guard was required to keep the soldiers from tearing him to pieces. Their indignation was not without sufficient reason.

We stopped again at Rockville on our return. Dinner was again laid, and we again enjoyed that funny fanning machine –which to all of us was a hilarious parody of some of the table ideas that may be seen in other parts of the southern country. I feel bound to say here that I have not done full justice to the famous towns that we have visited. Tenallytown has seven houses instead of four as I have said, and Darnstown has five instead of three. But I did the greatest injustice to Rockville, which is really a very respectable village, having perhaps eighty dwelling houses and six hundred inhabitants. The courthouse for Montgomery County id located there. I went all about the village yesterday, resolved to do justice even though it be “a rank den of secesh animals” as I have been told.

“They are fighting terribly at Washington, and have been fighting ever since yesterday afternoon. All the federal troops have left Tenallytown in the greatest of haste, and gone across the river.”

And the excited people really believed all this. I knew it could not be true, for the telegraph would have borne such news to the camps behind us., before we left them. There might have been eight thousand troops at Tenallytown four days ago, when we went up Gen. McCall’s division, then here, had been moved: and they have gone across the river, but not on account of any such fight as was raging in the imaginations of the Rockville people. This report of a battle was probably occasioned by the forward movement of Gen. McClellan, on Wednesday, before which the rebels retired, without showing any disposition to fight. They will continue to retire. I have tried to tell the whole truth in regard to this village of Rockville, but there is one thing still in doubt vis. its distance from Washington. Our driver who has been over the road many times says very confidently that the distance is sixteen miles, but a very respectable looking citizen residing on the road between the two places told us that from his house to Washington the distance is ten miles? and from the same place to Rockville four miles. “Then it is only fourteen miles from Rockville to Washington ,” one of us observed. “Not so,” said he, “it is sixteen miles” from Rockville to Washington. “But how do you make that out, ten and four make only fourteen?” “Ten and four make sixteen,” he replied very positively, and with the air of one who knows. An irrepressible laugh broke forth from our carriage, and the driver exclaimed “you are a genius friend, and your improvements in arithmetic are wonderful When we went to school ten and four made fourteen.” “You need not try your tricks on me, damn you,” he answered with an outbreak of temper, “I’ve studied enough” explained he “to know how much ten and four makes. It was useless to pursue the inquiry, and probably some who read this will think him stupid; but Marylanders up river are sharp enough in some things. They knew how to sponge and cheat our soldiers unmercifully. In most of the camps there are complaints of sharp practices and atrocious prices on the part of those who have anything to sell that the soldiers want. And some of the most respectable of the sellers are constantly on the watch for a chance to turn a penny. An officer of one of the regiments, not a New Englander, by the way, tells this story of a visit he made to a respectable and wealthy family near his camp. Having met the lady at the gate and made the inquiry which took him there, he was asked to walk in. A pleasant conversation with the family followed, when being thirsty he asked for a tumbler of milk and water. It was produced. On leaving, the lady told him that the bill for the milk would be, “one tip?” which he paid of course. “Talk of wooden nutmegs and Yankee peddlers,” he said “nothing equal to the meanness of some of those people in their dealings with us, was ever before imagined!” But they are not all so. The fact is, human nature, with its variations, is pretty much the same everywhere.

J. D. B.


15th Massachusetts VI