Tuesday, September 1, 2015

8.The Battle of Fair Oaks: 'thus the Sabath has passed with the most horible seins I ever witnessed'


Like bugler Cutler Edson and Sgt. Eldad Rhodes, their regimental commander, Col. Edward E. Cross kept a diary. Unlike them he did not write almost daily in his tall bound journal. A former newspaperman, he tended to craft narrative accounts covering days or even weeks of the regiment’s experience. Of the eve of his regiment’s first battle, he wrote: “For once I felt that we were wanted.”

Edward E. Cross, bridge-builder (literally but not figuratively), warrior
This captured the sentiments of many men in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. They had been drilling, camping, toiling and marching since October 1861, They had been on the Virginia Peninsula for nearly two months without a fight. At last, as May turned to June, they seemed destined to face the enemy and eager for the battle to come.

First, however, they spent two days building a quarter-mile bridge over the Chickahominy River. Cross led this challenging project. The bridge had to withstand stormy weather and support the weight of infantry, artillery and equipment trains. Its failure might expose the Army of the Potomac to just the divide-and-conquer strategy that opposing Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had devised.
    
The bridge stood.

Following orders on the night of May 31, the 5th crossed the Chickahominy a mile downstream from the bridge it had built, It arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Seven Pines, but it marched through the chaos and carnage after the battle. The next morning, the 5th was part of the attack force that lined up along railroad tracks near Fair Oaks Station and marched into the woods toward the enemy.  

The bugler Edson was in the thick of the Battle of Fair Oaks. “I was in the hardest fight, the balls flying all around me like hail stones yet by the mercy of God I escaped injury,” he wrote in his diary. Sgt. Rhodes was ill but crossed the river anyway and arrived late in the day. Both men helped clear the battlefield the next day. “I have been out among the dead, Strown about friend and foe,” Rhodes wrote.

Although the men of the 5th had cause to be proud of their performance, the Battle of Fair Oaks was a draw. Casualties were roughly the same, 1,132 on the rebel side, 1,203 on the union. The 5th lost 41 dead or mortally wounded, 129 wounded. Little ground was won or lost.

The next move for Gen. George B. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac was no move at all. A Union soldier with sharp eyes could now climb a tree and see the spires of Richmond. Victory was in sight. But the order from the top was to dig in and hold.

Before turning the story of the battle and its aftermath over to Edson and Rhodes, one major change in circumstance on the Confederate side is worth noting here. Gen. Johnston, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was wounded by an artillery shell during the battle. To replace him President Jefferson Davis chose Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday, May 28, 1862: We went up about 2 miles working on a Bridge across the Chickehomony. had a hard time. I was quite unwell with a Diorhea & returned to Camp at night very tired.

Thursday 29: We were on the march at 4 in the morning to resume our labors on the Bridge. I was still very unwell, not fit to be out, but held up; – finnished the Bridge, returned very tired.
Friday 30: We remained in Camp. I was sick abed all day nearly; – made out to go out on Co inspection; – hope to be better soon. I can eat nothing; heard heavy firing all day.

Saturday, May 31, 1862: Weather rainy and rather cool; – I was very unwell; – and went reluctantly to the Surgeons and got an excuse; – in the afternoon heavy firing was heard in front and our division was soon ordered to march; – I was not able to march.

Alfred Waud's drawing for Harper's Weekly of the burning of horses killed at the Battle of Fair Oaks. 
Cutler Edson’s diary:

Saturday 31: orders to march in the after noon. marched up to the front about 10 oc at knight and camped on the field where there was a heavy fight thru the day. passed many wounded rebels. we marched up very still and drew up in  line of battle within a few yards of the enemy where we remained till morning.

Sunday, June 1, 1862: When a heavy musketry fireing commenced on both sides and was kept up till 10 or 11 oc when we was so badly cut up that we  retreted back a little and our artillary soon silenced them. 5 of our company shot dead and a large number wounded. our first Lieut D. Read shot threw the leg. I helped carry him off and took care of him threw the knight. Col Cross and Majer Cook both shot in the leg. the Regt & whole Brigade suffored badly espesily the 64 N.Y. & 61.*

Fair Oaks was the first and last battle for Maj. Cook
thus the Sabath has passed with the most horible seins I ever witnessed. I was in the hardest fight, the balls flying all around me like hail stones yet by the mercy of God I escaped injury. thanks be to his great name for his preserving care. God save me from witnessing such a sean again. it was awful to behold –   the wounded and dying after they were gathered to gether, some in houses in barns and many in the open field. this is the rough side of war.

[*Lt. Dexter Reed of Newport, N.H., left the regiment in November 1862 but later served in the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery. Maj. William W. Cook of Derry resigned his commission July 17. By his own count Col. Edward E. Cross was hit by nine balls during the battle. A Minie ball through the left thigh sent him home for most of the summer.

[The two New York regiments were in the same brigade as the 5th New Hampshire. By mistake, a company of the 5th fired twice on the 64th during the battle.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday June 1: Was quite unwell in the morning. Soon heavy firing commenced in front and continued. I felt better at noon and started on foot for the scene of Battle; – Got there 5 miles from camp about 5 OC PM. The Regt were terribly cut up; – It was a horrible sight; 21 from Co B were killed and wounded.

Monday 2: We were alarmed last night falsely. Slept on the Battle field without blankets or covering; – To day is warm and I have been out among the dead, Strown about friend and foe; – went out and helpt bring a wounded Rebel in to day.

Lt. Charles Howard, younger brother and aide to the general.
Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 2: feele as well as could be expected under the circumstances. all quiet this morning along the lines. went out on the battle field to day and helped bury the dead. Some places the ground was nearly covered, Rebels and Union all together. the rebels retreted and left there dead and wounded on the ground.

helped bury 3 in Co. C, Sargeant Laton that use to live in our village, Corporal Joseph Atwood from Lisbon (a brother mason) & Corporal Parker. 5 in Co. E. I have heard much of the horable seans of the battle field, but it is one thing to read and another to witness. wrote a short letter to my dear family. General Howard has lost his right arm. his Bro Charles wounded in his leg. have heard about 200 killed and wounded in all.*

[*Sgt. Levi A. Leighton of Lebanon, N.H., was 29, Atwood 27, and Corporal Byron H. Parker, also of Lisbon, 28. Brig. Gen. O.O. Howard was hit twice in the right arm but recovered from his amputation in time to fight at Antietam in September. Shortly after the general went down, his younger brother and aide, Lt. Charles Howard, was shot in the leg. He was back at his brother’s side at Antietam. Charles later rose to major and was chosen by Gen. William T. Sherman to report to President Lincoln on Sherman’s march to the sea.]

Cutler Edson plucked this page out of a hymnbook he found on the Fair
Oaks battlefield on June 2, 1862.
Tuesday 3 June: all quiet along the line. we are yet here on the West point & Richmond R.R. washed the blood from my haversack and pants that I got on them in moving the wounded from the field.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday, June 3, 1862: We remained in line of Battle all day. had several alarms. Signs of rain in the afternoon. we have no shelter except what we pick up. are to form a line of Battle tomorrow at 3 in the morning.

Wednesday 4: Rained all night. we fell in at 3 but no alarm coming we were ordered to brake ranks to fall in at a moments notice. a terrible rain all day drownded us out and we changed Camps toward night. had a letter from home.

Thursday 6: am quite sick. Freedom [his brother, a sergeant in the 2nd New Hampshire] came over to see me. we wrote a letter home. Freedom gave me some quinine powders.

Saturday 7: am no better. no grate news gets to us here in the Wilderness. The Rebs are to cut some shine I suppose soon. had orders to sleep under arms to night.

Sunday 8: We were ordered to march in the Morning as the Rebels were supposed to be advancing; moved to a position in the woods and awated their approach but no Rebs appeared. layed on our arms all night. scarsely a sound disturbed the night.


Fair Oaks Station after the battle, June 1862.
Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 8: about 8 oc. we was called into line and marched quickly to the front being alarmed by the fireing of our pickets which seamed to have a smart engagement. Several shells came over from the enimy but done but little damage. our batteries returned the fire and soon silenced them. just recd a letter from my good wife which encourages me. we lay here close by the reb line in the woods.

Monday 9 June: we yet lay here in line of battle. every moment expect an attact. our Baterys throwing some shells and occasionaly we here a crack from our pickets & sharp shooters. about 5:oc we moved back in to the open field and soon the rebs began to shell the woods where we left. wrote a  letter to wife.


Gen, Israel B. Richardson
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday, June 9, 1862: We were up at 4 ready for any emergency. Expected an attack; – Freedom came over to see me and brought me some tea; – It is now 2 PM. every thing quiet; – 6 PM have moved out of the woods. the Rebs are shelling the woods – are under arms.

Tuesday 10: We were in line of Battle at day light. raining; – Were ordered to be ready to fall in at a moments notice. marched in the afternoon a short distance and stood in line of Battle then stacked Arms. Cut a lot of trees for Richardson and Camped for the night.*

[*Brig. Gen. Israel B. Richardson was the 5th’s division commander.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Tuesday 10: some cannonading on both sides but no general engagement. Lieut Col Langley and Capt Barton sick in hospital. we have no field officer with us except our Agitent Charles R. Dodd. a bad condition to go into battle.*

Charles R. Dodd, the 5th's adjutant
[*Col. Cross and Maj. Cook had been wounded June 1. The ill Lt. Col. Samuel G. Langley, 37, of Manchester, resigned before the year was out. The adjutant, Charles R. Dodd, was a 26-year-old first lieutenant from Boston. His job was administrative, not military. In coming weeks, Edward E. Sturtevant, the senior company commander, would lead the 5th. He was promoted to major on July 30, succeeding Cook.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday 11: remained in Camp without much going on. hope to get good news from some where; –  We were Alarmed by picket firing and called under Arms. A false alarm. the moon was in an eclipse.

Thursday 12: We changed fronts in the morning and moved our tents and in the evening we went up to stay behind the entrenchments in case of an attack. Nothing troubled us in the night.

Friday 13: The Rebels this morning opened a smart cannonade on our lines at the Right for an hour on two but we let them bang away – did not ans. Freedom came to see me today. McClellan rode through Camp to day.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday 13: wrote to wife. Saw General McClealon as he reviewed his troops.

Saturday 14: went over to the hospital and fixed up tents for our sick boyes. washed &c.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday 14: We went out on picket last night as a reserve, got a good wetting in the evening; To day we laid in readiness for an attack. everything quiet. were releaved at night. Our Regt changed Camps to the earth works.

Sunday, June 15, 1862: we were buisy making our tents &c; – Sharp picket firing in the afternoon. had inspection in the afternoon.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 15: Went to church to the Irish Brigade after which to the 61 N.Y. the first religious exercises I have attended for a long time. The rebs threw a few shels this morning but nothing very alarming. a skirmish along the line this after noon. a few killed. we was called out in line and 6 companyes of our Regt went out on picket. my co. remained in camp.

Monday 16: Sharp firing about day light on our left but soon seaced. moved our quarters just back of our paripets to guarde our fortification. General McClealon passed by us to view the works. his presents created great enthusiasm amongst the soldiers.

Tuesday June 17 1862: heavy cannonading last knight on our right and some on the left. the work is going on finely. we are having cold knights and warm days. my friend Drummer* is sick at the hospital. for this I am very sorry. wish he could by here so that I could take care of him.

[Pvt. E. Woodbury Young, the 22-year-old Company E drummer.]

[This ends Edson’s bound diary, but he continued on notepaper.]

Camp near Fair Oaks, June 18:1862, Wednesday: continuation of my Diary. Finished our Forts & brest works & advanced our pickets which enraged the rebs so that they gave us fight. our batteryes dealing out to them grape & Canister in such bountiful doses that they soon retreted with the loss of between 5 & 8 hundred killed & wounded as it was estimated by some deserters and prisoners that we took. our loss was in killed wounded & missing about 25.*

[*Exaggeration of enemy losses is a regular feature of Civil War diaries and letters.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday, June 18, 1862: we were under Arms nearly all the afternoon. McClellan rode along our lines this evening; – Soon the Rebels advanced and we had a smart little skirmish without a rifle being fired inside the pickets.

Thursday 19: we laid on our Arms last night behind the breastworks. had an attack from the Rebs. repelled them with grape & shell.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Thursday 19: 8 months to day since I was mustered into the Service of My Country. veryous have bin the changes in that short period and how good the Lord has bin to me and to my dear family in preserving our lives while others have died and for that, good hope we have of the life to come. all quiet this morning along the line.

Friday 20: have bin sick to day with bowel complant but am feeling better to knight. the rebs have thrown shell in to our camp to day but did no damage. went over to see the Drummer. found him quite low. think he has the typhoid fever. our co. grows smaller every day by sickness.


Gen. Joseph B. Hooker
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 20: Freedom came over to see me in the afternoon and remained untill the Rebs commenced to shell us and Hooker* when he returned the fire with Pettits Battery in our Division. soon the Rebs skudaddled.

[*The 2nd New Hampshire, Sgt. Freedom Rhodes’s regiment, was in Brig Gen. Joseph B. Hooker’s 2nd Division of the 3rd Corps. Capt. Rufus D. Pettit’s Battery B was in the 1st New York Artillery.] 

Saturday, June 21, 1862: pickets kept poping occasionally and we were out in line once or twic; – we were rousted up in the night by picket firing and slept under the entrenchments untill morning.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 21: got up this morning feeling quite smart. washed out my cloaths &c. recd a letter from home  date 15th, No. 30. was very glad to recv it as I have bin almost impatient to here from home for several days. I rejoys greatly at the prosperity of the church. Oh! may it continue to aris higher in the divine life untill every member becomes wholy sanctified to God and by its faithfulness many be converted and brot to Christ. Amen.

A smart skirmish took place here to day commencing with the pickets. the rebs trying to drive ours in. they retreted back a short distance whilst our bateryes opened on them so powerfully that they ware glad to retire.

Sunday 22: this has bin the quietest Sabath we have had for a long time. our Chaplain has his discharge and gon home so we are with out a Spiritual leader, but he will be but little missed for he done but very little for us since we left Camp California. I think he has an appointment at Manchester first Church. hope he will do his duty and be faith ful to his flock. Oh: when will the Meathodist Ministry be what they profess; a holey people. Thank God there are honorable exceptions.*

[*Elijah R. Wilkins, the 50-year-old chaplain, returned to the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Manchester. An itinerant printer early in life, he had been the pastor there during the mid-1850s. Late in life he served for 19 years as pastor at the New Hampshire State Prison. He died in Concord in 1908 at the age of 86.] 

Monday 23: another quiet day, but little fireing on either side. went over and took care of the Drummer this fore noon. found him quite feeble and his mind very much affected by hearing of his father shooting Bishop in Lisbon.* I have known it several days but have  kept it from him till this morning when he accidently saw it in a paper. tryed to sooth and comefort him the best I could under the circumstances.     wrote a letter for him to his mother and sent by express the most of the money he had on hand to his sister $55.00. left him feeling much better. hope he will be better in a few days. my health is very good where off  I feal very greatful. my sheet is full and will send it home in the morning. very resptively Cutler Edson.

[*E. Woodbury Young, the drummer, lived on a farm in Lisbon, N.H. His father, Brewster Young, turned violent when he drank. The son had intervened to stop his father’s rages many times. As a favor, Woodbury’s neighbor and best friend, Ralph Bishop, had assumed this role in his absence. One day in June he heard Young screaming drunken threats at his wife and a daughter, who had been ill. Young cursed the growing doctor’s bills and kicked a kettle onto his stove onto his wife. When Bishop came to the rescue, Young grabbed his gun and held it to Bishop’s head. He said he had shot a rooster in the neck that morning and would shoot Bishop. He then stormed into the next room. Young’s wife told Bishop to leave, but Bishop said he was not afraid. He followed Young into the next room. Young fired a shotgun in Bishop’s face, killing him.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday 23: The day was quiet untill near night when the Pickets began a spirreted firing; we immediately formed behind the breastworks; – went to supper at dark & returned. slept under the brestwork all night. rain fell heavily in the night.

Tuesday, June 24, 1862: every thing quiet on the lines. Freedom came over a few minutes in the evening.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Tuesday, In Camp near fair Oakes, June 24: Sent home a leaf of my diary yesterday. a good deal of fireing & Skirmishing along on the line last knight. our Regt. laid out under our entrenchments all knight and the worst of it was they had to lay ther threw one of the hardest thunder showers we have had, but it is of no use to dodg. a Soldier has to obey orders.

this has bin our pay day but nothing for me. recd a letter from Sister Folsom, a good long one. how glad I am that my old friends think of me and occasionly write me. if they only knew with what eagerness I devour there contence. I think they would more of them write, yet I feele very thankful for what I do recv. waid to day, 134 pounds. pritty good for me.

Next: The Seven Days

Saturday, August 29, 2015

7. The rebels 'left this place in a great hurry'


Having achieved their objective of stalling Gen. George B. McClellan’s campaign on the Virginia Peninsula, Confederate troops abandoned Yorktown on May 4, 1862. For the next several weeks, the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers joined in  passive pursuit of them, Many of them still expected to occupy Richmond before the Fourth of July.

Cutler Edson
The 5th was a reserve regiment at a sharp battle in the rain at Williamsburg on May 5, but for the next 26 days, its chief enemies were disease, humidity and terrain.

On the day of the Williamsburg battle, bugler Cutler Edson of the 5th’s Company E took time to gather seashells in the York River to send home to his children. When the regiment left Yorktown he encountered the landmines he had heard rumors about. These were Confederate “torpedoes” buried in the road and rigged to detonate if stepped upon. Edson remarked on the ingenuity of the weapons.

Eldad Rhodes, the sergeant whose diary and letters are the second major source of this series, was ill for most of May but carried on. “The jaundice has a hold on me and I must drive it out soon, that is sure,” he wrote on the 12th.

McClellan was still maneuvering his army with excessive caution. Provisioning such a large force in enemy territory was a challenge, but the pace of the advance toward Richmond, a distance of 35 miles from Yorktown, gave the Confederates time to plot a vigorous defense of their capital.

The last days of May found the 5th sensing, correctly for once, that their first battle was at hand.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 5: Struck tents this morning. packed up and marched in to York town, that place where there has bin much contention. it was evacuated and we had no difficulty in entering. We got here about 11 oc., pitched our tents and camped for the knight. rained all day. about 6oc. orders came to march. struck tents and packed up agan and started in persuit of the rebels who ware at Williams burg. marched till about 11 oc. threw the muddiest road that I ever saw. raining hard most of the time. halted and built camp fires. dryed us some then camped down for rest.

this has bin a hard march not on account of the distance for I dont think we marched more than 5 or 6 miles. gathered sea shells in york river for the children.

Tuesday 6: Started about 6 this morning and marched about 4 miles when we had news that the rebs had left Williamsburg in the knight. we halted and pitched tents. it has cleared off and has bin quite a pleasant day. saw the place at York town where Cornwallis delivered his sword to Washington. it is a small parcel of ground inclosed by a fence with a cedar tree at each end.

Wednesday 7: packed up and returned to York town where we pitched tents for the knight. expect to embark for Richmond when we get orders. we have had to use a great deal of caution whilst in this place. the rebels have planted Torpedoes around in different places. they have used a great deal of ingenuity. it is hard finding them but if one steps on them they explode and kill everything around them. we have lost a few men in this way but they have bin searched out the most of them and marked so that by caution they can be shund. they left  this place in a great hurry, leving there big guns not spiked.

The ironclad CSS Virginia (Merrimac)
Thursday 8: a fine pleasant day. went out and practised this fore noon, the first time I believe since we left Camp California. had dress parade here to knight. Saw one large peace of corn yesterday up 2 inches high. we here glorious news to knight. hope it is true. report is that the Marymack is sunk & that Norfolk is taken and this is good if true.*

[*Union troops took Norfolk on May 10. The Confederates blew up their ironclad Merrimac, which had been refitted as the CSS Virginia, the following day. It is possible that in catching up on his diary after the 5th’s march to and from Alexandria, Cutler mistook the day he had heard of the taking of Norfolk.]

Friday 9: another pleasant day. Sent a letter to wife. recd one from home with one in it from Sis Abbie and one from G. Hoit. went down to the river and washed my self and cloaths. at about 5 oc orders to pack up and march about 1 mile up the river and camped in a young peach orchard, a pleasant place.

Saturday 10: went out and practised 2 hours  this for noon and 1 in the after noon.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday, May 10, 1862: [Before this entry there is a gap of several days in Rhodes’s diary, perhaps a result of the illness mentioned here.] we went out on Co drill in the fore noon; – I was still unwell, am not improving much if any; – our Camp is a very sightly one commanding a splendid view of the River for a long way down.

Sunday 11: A very warm day; we went on an inspection in the morning while on the ground. had orders to march and immediately marched back to camp and struck tents and marched down to the landing and shipped on board the Vanderbilt bound up River. Had a pleasant ride up &c.

The C. Vanderbilt, which took the 5th up the York River (1846 oil painting by the Bard twins, James and John)
Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 11: inspection this morning as usual on the field. prayer by the chaplin but in so low a tone that but few of us could here it. Orders have just come to pack up and be ready to march down to the wharf where we embarked on board the C. Vanderbilt. went about 6 miles beyond west point up the York  river and cast anchor for the knight. the weather was fine and the scenery was  delightful for this country. thus another Sabbath has past with great excitement and but very little religious devotion. feele that I am yet the Lords.

Monday 12: landed here this mourning and pitched our tents in a beautiful wheat field which stood about 10 inches high but was soon trampled down. wrote to  Sis Abbie. Lieut Read promoted to first Lieut., Sumner Hurd to Seckond. Baron Noice to Ordily Seargant.* tent companies divided off with a squad master to each.

[*Like Edson and Rhodes, all three of these men would remain with the 5th New Hampshire for less than a year from this date. Dexter G. Reed and Sumner Hurd were both Company E officers from Newport, N.H. Reed, 22, was soon to be wounded at Fair Oaks, ending his time with the 5th. Hurd, 24, lasted a little longer, resigning after wounds at Antietam and Fredericksburg. Sergeant Baron S. Noyes of Claremont was disabled and discharged in November 1862.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday 12: we land above West Point* and encamped in a large field. I was quite unwell, wors than usual; – the jaundice has a hold on me and I must drive it out soon that is sure.

[*The regiment was moving toward Richmond. West Point is the Virginia Peninsula town where the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers merge to form the York. The town was also a new station on the York and Richmond Railroad.]

Tuesday, May 13, 1862: Weather very warm. I went to the Dr and got excused as I am quite unwell; –  had Brigade drill in the forenoon and inspection; – I felt quite down at the heel I assure you; a fine evening. been slop for dinner.

Wednesday 14: we were in Camp all day. think it probable that we may march soon. I am better of my Jaundice but my teeth are in a bad state.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday 14: had orders to knight to be ready for a march in the morning.

Thursday 15: Revalie this  morning at 2 oc. breakfast at 3 which consisted of hard crackers, Boiled Salt Beefe & Coffee. this is our common living. Struck tents, packed up and was on the march in the direction of Richmond before it was barely light. we marched till about 1 oc. and camped in the woods. rained some of the time very hard. just recd a good letter from wife.

Friday 16: laid here in the woods which is much pleasanter than marching in the mud.

Letter from Eldad Rhodes

Datelined Camp on the Road to Richmond Va., May 17th 1862

Dear Grandparents

I have never I believe written to you personaly since I left N Hampshire thinking perhaps that a letter to one was as good as a letter to each or all of the Family; – But I feel as though I ought to write to you and see if you Grandmother could write to me; – For what do you think when I tell you that I have not heard a word from home since I arrived on the Peninsula, a space of more than 6 weeks.

I sent $40.00 home some time ago directly after being payed off and am not a little anxious to know how it came out; – I can’t think that you have not written for so long a time. the letters probably have been miscarried but I know that your eyes are turned with grate anxiety toward this Peninsula. –

Here it was that Washington 80 years ago delt the death blow to the Lyon of England that had been for years prowling abroad in our Nation. I have seen with my own eyes old Revolutionary entrenchments with large trees growing in them to show their antiquity; –

You have heard ere this all about the evacuation of York Town and the Battle of Williamsburg, how the Rebels skedaddled and run for dear life. You have heard too of the torpedoes and infernal machines that the Rebels planted thinking to destroy us as we marched along after them but the cowardly knaves were foiled in their inhuman designs for but few were killed by them. I saw many guns on the Rebel fortifications with the swab stick in as though they left in grate haste; –

We were in the reserve and did not participate in the fight at Williamsburg but we had all the pleasure of the chase after them through the rain for one day and until mid night; – I have not heard personaly from Freedom [his brother in the 2nd New Hampshire] but have learned that he came out all right.

we after our wild goose chase after them came back to York Town and after remaining in camp 3 or 4 days took boat and rode 35 miles up the river and landed above west point; – day before yesterday we marched some 12 miles toward richmond and camped in a wood where we now remain awaiting further orders. we are some 25 miles from Richmond and if the Rebels will only make a stand then we will show you how to clean them out in a fair fight.

I cant tell much that is going about us. all that we get for news is the flying Camp story except when we get a paper for 25 cents now and then. Weather is very warm and corn is up high enough for howing. If father has not sent the box of sugar  I spoke of, he need not do it as I find that it would be a doubtful case its getting here except it comes by Adams Express; – I have been quite unwell for a fortnight back with the yellow jaundice but am now very much better. have been off from duty but one day with it when  if I had been at home I should have been sick a bed. I got help from pills and cherry and tree bark steeped; –

I dont see why I dont hear from you as other boys have as many letters as they ever did. write soon.

Rhodes diary, Sunday 18: We got orders to march in the morning and at 8 OC, were under way toward Richmond. weather extremely warm; encamped on a hill 5 miles from our last Camp; Freedom and Sergt Hilliard* came over and stayed with us over night. Hilliard had a wound.

[*Henry S. Hilliard had a slight wound from the Battle of Williamsburg. He later transferred from the 2nd to the 5th New Hampshire.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday May 18: packed up this morn and had another Sunday march. went about 3 or 4 miles and camped in a beautiful wheat field, a very warm day. thus has ended another Sabath in the armey with out any religious ceremony. may God grant that the time may soon come when I can worship God in my own native land.

White House Landing on the Pamunkey River was a supply and transportation hub during McClellan's Peninsula campaign.  
Monday May 19: our company marched to White house landing* some 3 or 4 Mi. a way. a very beautiful  place. this is said to be the house that Washington coarted and married his wife. one of the best farms I have seene in Va. our business here was to unlock bails of  cloathing. our Regt. started soon after we did and marched some 4 miles in the direction of Richmond  and camped near Saint Peters Church.

[*White House Landing on the Pamunkey River became a supply and communication base for McClellan’s slowly advancing army. Wounded men from the battles to come around Richmond were sent to a field hospital there and often transferred to larger hospitals in the North. The mansion on the bluff at the landing had indeed been the home of Martha Custis, whom George Washington courted there.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday, May 19, 1862: Got orders to march at 10 toward Richmond. Freedom and Hilliard left in the morning for their Regt. rain began to fall before noon; when on the Road two Rebel officers were conducted by us with a flag of truce toward McClellans head quarters. camped for the night at New Kent Court House 4 miles nearer Richmond. Dont know what the flag of truce had to offer.

Tuesday 20: We remained in Camp all day near St Peters Church instead of Kent Court House –Washington was married in this Church to the Lovely Widow Custis who was living at the White House.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Tuesday 20: Started this morning and went to the Regt some 4 or 5 miles where we all remained thru the day. Glorious news in the papers to knight. the Gov of North Carolina called home her troops.*

[*The news was less than glorious. The governor to whom Edson referred was no doubt Edward Stanley, a North Carolinian with northern leanings whom U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton had appointed to the position in April. After half-hearted and divisive efforts on the Union’s behalf, Stanley resigned soon after emancipation was proclaimed.]

Wednesday May 21: Revalee at 4 this morning. packed up and started in the direction of Richmond and marched 7 or 8 miles and pitched tents near the railroad,

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday 21: We marched at Sun rise toward Richmond. weather very warm moved 8 miles in a hot scorching sun. passed Hookers Division. Saw many of the NH 2nd Boys who lined the road on either side to see us. saw Freedom, Young,* Hilliard &c.

[*Harrison “Harry” Young was a 22-year-old second lieutenant from Lancaster, N.H., the Rhodes brothers’ hometown.]

Thursday, May 22, 1862: Weather very warm untill afternoon when we experienced a heavy thunder storm which lasted 2 hours  much hail fell; – I was not very well to day.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Thursday 22: remained in camp all day. washed my pants &c. wrote to Wife. no particular news from the seat of war.

Friday 23: Marched about 6 or 8 miles and camped about the same distance from Richmond as we was when we started. passed some beautiful plantations, camped in an old deserted corn field.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 23: Weather very warm. we struck tents at 11 OC and marched 5 miles over varigated country; – Encamped 14 miles from Richmond; – had a long letter from Home, the first I have had since I landed at Ship point.

Saturday 24: We expect soon to experience a terrible Battle near Richmond.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 24: Cold rainy day but I keep quite comfortable here in my little tent. just recd a letter from my good wife. commenced dealing out rations of Whiskey to the soldiers, ½ gil at a time knight and morning. this is ordered by Gen McLealon and approved of by our phisitions whilst we are here in this  low swampy land.

Sunday 25:  this has bin one of the most quiet Sabaths I have witnessed for a long time. had Sunday Morning inspection as usual then listened to a short sermon from our Chaplain. read the life of  Gen. Havorlock* and considerable in the Bible.

[*Probably British Gen. Henry Havelock, best known for his exploits in India. His statue is in Trafalgar Square.]

Monday 26: orders to get everything ready for a start at a moments notice but had no orders to march. it is rumered to knight that Richmond is evacuated.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday 26: had a Co drill of one hour in the fore noon. In after noon we were ordered to put our selves in light marching order; – the order was countermanded.

Tuesday 27: our Co with others went out working on a Road, worked until 3 PM. heard heavy firing which I suppose is McDowell; – The firing proved to be Porter who with 10000 men repulsed 15000 with grate loss to the Rebs.*

[*This was the battle of Hanover Court House, in which troops under Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter, a native of Portsmouth, N.H., defeated a smaller Confederate force. The battle was fought to secure a route for reinforcements for McClellan’s army from the Shenandoah Valley. Because Stonewall Jackson’s army defeated Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’s troops there, the reinforcements never showed.]

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

6. 'heavy firing in the Afternoon towards York Town'


In a March 14, 1862, circular to the Army of the Potomac, Gen. George B. McClellan assured his troops: “The moment of action has arrived.” His men were trained, hardened and ready. But how ready was their commanding general?

You have to read between the lines of the diaries of soldiers like Cutler Edson and Eldad Rhodes to get a true picture of the futility of the first month of McClellan’s Peninsula campaign. Edson was a 42-year-old bugler, Rhodes a 21-year-old sergeant in the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers. It was not what they did during April 1862 but what they didn’t do that told the story of McClellan’s siege of Yorktown, Va.

Musicians did double duty tending to the sick, wounded and dead. Naturally caring and old enough to be the father of many men he served with, Edson embraced this role. His diary shows firsthand the consequences of shipping a large army to a warm, pestilent climate and expecting it to thrive. He passed many nights – “knights,” as he called them – holding the hands of sick and dying comrades.

Rhodes’s daily life was different: he dug and lugged, building roads and barricades. His weapons were a shovel and a pick. This betrays a different but no less damning result of McClellan’s failure to seize any advantage his army’s swift move to the Peninsula had gained.

Distant artillery shelling kept both men up some nights – the sound of battle but no actual battle. Then, a month into the campaign, they awoke one morning and the Confederate army was gone. It was also reinforced. And its leaders had developed a strategy to defend Richmond, their capital, from an attack from the east.

A Civil War steamer of the kind  that joined the motley flotilla that transported troops to the Peninsula
Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday, April 4, 1862: got up this morning and went to Camp California to Mr Richards and got my  pay. When I returned the Regt was all redy to go abord the Boat Stemer Croton. just wrote a letter and sent home to wife. We left here about 3 oc. we have 300 on bord this boat. the rest of the regt  in 2  others. passed fort Washington on the Md shore. this is a  beautiful Fort  built of  stone.  

We then passed Mount Vernon on the Va side, a lovely looking place for the father of our country to sleep. had a fair view of the old mansion. it is a long brick building with several smaller out houses with a large number of fruit trees. Sailed till about 9 oc and anchored for the knight.

Mount Vernon in 1860
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday, April 4, 1862: Weather as calm and scerene as the morn of Creation; – we marched down town and got aboard the Government Boat Danalson; and in company with many other Steemers and schooners Steemed down the grand old river Potomac; – passed Mt Vernon at eve the home of Washington. Saw the ancient mansion and the tomb of Washington and here the Potomac sighs beside the Patriot Heroes grave.

Saturday 5: Weather stormy. we were at anchor most of the night; – I was Sargt of the guard; – we got into the Bay at noon, steemed down the Bay at a slow rate for we had a good load. on guard all night

Cutler Edson’s diary
Saturday 5: a little rainy & Foggy which presents a very bright prospect from the shore. Past Port Tabacco on the Md side the river is quite wide here and we had but a very faint view of it. Salt Watter gets back nearly to this place. began to grow rough and we anchored off St. Maryes river.

Sunday 6: Started this morning about 8 oc. a very fine day for saling threw the Chespeke Bay. had preaching on board by Bro Wilkins from the text take my yoke upon you and learn of me &c. Anchored at Fortress Monroe  about dark. this seams to be quite a place. seanery in the harbor this eve is delightful.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday 6: we reached Ft Munroe in the afternoon. layed by for orders and coal and then steemed up the Bay toward York River; – Saw many vessels and Troops at the Fort.

Monday April 7, 1862: Weather stormy and cold. we ran up the York River, landed on the beach, waided a shore, marched back to a pine wood and encamped. everybody buisy. heavy guns are heard at YorkTown where the Rebels are cornered by McLellan.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 7: wrote to wife yesterday. lade here in the harbor all day waiting for cole. this has been a cold stormy bad day. we have nothing but raw meet and hard crackers to eat and sleeping any where that we can get a chance, yet I dont feele to complain.

John Tyler
Tuesday 8: orders came this morning to land us at Hampton Rodes about 3 or 4 miles from here and then march to York town. When we got there the order was countermanded and they are to cary us there in this boat. we returned to Fortres Monroe and then took in cole.  Hampton rodes has bin pritty much all distroyed by fire by the rebels. Saw the old mansion of vic President Tyler.* Newport News is about opposet this place. these hav all bin seans of battle and blood shed but is all in the hands of the union now.

[*John Tyler, the 10th president, lived at Sherwood Forest Plantation in Charles City on the James River from 1842 until his death on Jan. 18, 1862, less than three months before Edson steamed past his house.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday 8: Weather still clowdy and stormy. Remained in camp with nothing to molest or make us afrade. Many troops are stiring – and wagons moving to and from our Grand Army near York Town.

Wednesday 9: I was detailed as Sargt on the road today laying logs to support the wagons. rained in Afternoon. got very wet. returned to my rubber tent. found a good fire awating.

Thursday, April 10, 1862: wrote a letter home &c. heard heavy firing in the Afternoon towards York Town; – am to work on the road tomorrow.

Friday 11: Working on the Road; Freedom* came over to see me as the 2nd Regt N.H.V. were stationed near by; – the boys were looking well. I went over in the evening and had a good long chat with Freedom.

[*Freedom Rhodes, a sergeant in the 2nd New Hampshire, was Eldad’s brother.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday 11: Started this morning about 3 oc. and anchored at Ship point about 6 oc this morning where we are waiting for further orders. ordered to  land just below Ship point about 9 oc where the shore is  lined with soldiers going toward york town. we have bin on the water 1 week and we was very glad to get our feet on teriferma again.

Saturday 12: Saw Esq. Liscom* from Lebanon. was glad of the privelige of meeting an old acquaintance. we are camped near the beach where we get oisters and clams which go first raight after living on raw meat & hard bread.

[*Elisha P. Liscomb, a founder of the Northern railroad and a justice of the peace, lived in Lebanon, N.H. President Lincoln had appointed him allotment commissioner for the state in March 1862. In that capacity he traveled to the front to check on sick and wounded soldiers, but his main task was to bring home soldiers pay to support their families. Liscomb no doubt took a special interest in the 5th, as his son Charles was a 19-year-old corporal in Company C. Charles Liscomb was later wounded at Antietam and died of disease while the 5th was stationed at Point Lookout, Md., guarding Confederate prisoners.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday 12: still working on the Road. the 2nd are still in camp neer by; had a hard days work. Confound this way of working for the Union. we hope soon to be relieved.

Sunday, April 13, 1862: we are to desecrate the sabath by working on the Road; – and this by Gen Howard, A pretended Christian. the 2nd moved today.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 13: by the request of the President we had prayer to day at 12 oc, which was to be threw out the army. it was very appropriate. I enjoyed it very much.

Monday 14: had a good time washing myself & cloaths. orders came from Gen. McLelon to have no bugle calls or drum beting.  the rebels have bin throwing shels wherever they have  heard them.

Tuesday 15: got up feeling poorly this morning. think my constitution is very much broken in  concequence  of the exposure we have had the first 6 or 7 weeks. I hope by the grace and mercys of God that I shal have health and strength to carry me threw the campaign. When I am not well I think much of the comforts of a quiet home.

Lord Cornwallis
May God grant that the time is not far distant when I shal have the privelige of enjoying it. I feel that God is my portion and my all. how comforting & consoling it is to the christian to feele that his treasure is not of this world. A little before morn we had orders to pack up and start in 1 hour. we marched about 6 miles on  to  very near the spot where  Lord Cornwalice delivered his  sword to Gen Washington the 19 of Apr 1776*. this is a large beautiful plane with but few houses present & apple trees are in blossom.

[*Edson was slightly confused on the details. It was Gen. Charles O’Hara, Cornwallis’s adjutant, who surrendered at Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781. Washington declined the proffer of O’Hara’s sword, deferring to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, his own second in command.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday 15: We went on to the Road to work. at about noon we were ordered to march in to camp as our Regt was under marching orders. we left camp about 2 and marched about 6 miles back into the Country toward York Town and encamped.

Wednesday, April 16, 1862: we were in Camp untill 4 OC doing nothing but what most pleased us; – when we were ordered to march we marched back about a mile and encamped for the night. heard fireing at York Town.

Thursday 17: Awoke much refreshed; the sun arose in all the splendor of a Northern Mid Summar. the birds Caroled in the trees with all the melody of Natures Songstress; and the very air seemed to sooth us to rehope. heard heavy fireing occasionaly.

Friday 18: we are still here in Camp sweltering beneath a hot sun. hear fireing every day. on this very ground 80 years ago Gen Bragoin Surrendered to Gen Washington and on this spot Americas destiny was decided in favor of Liberty.*

[*See previous note.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday 18: heavy fireing this morning in the vicinity of York town which commenced about ½ past 1 oc  and was kept up by intervals the rest of the knight. Mr Liscom left here to day for home. the name of this camp is Winfield Scot.    

Saturday 19: 6 months to day since I was mustered in to the Service of the U.S. I went out about 2 miles  where  I could see the rebel works and saw our bateryes shell them. drew our new tents to day. they are quite convenient and we like them very much.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday, April 19, 1862: to day is a day ever to be remembered by America. 87 years ago to day the battle of Lexington was fought.  A year ago to day the Mass 6th was fired on while marching the streets of Baltimore by a mob of Rebels.


Henry O. Kent
Sunday 20: Weather still cold and rainy by inervals. was buisy writing a letter to the Republican which I commenced yesterday. don't know how it will take or whether it will take at all with H.O. Kent.*

[*Henry O. Kent was editor and publisher of the Coos County Republican, the weekly newspaper in Lancaster, Rhodes’s hometown. Col. Edward E. Cross had worked at the paper, then known as the Democrat, in his youth. Kent was Cross’s best friend in the 1850s; they regularly corresponded during Cross’s western adventures. Kent also helped the state of New Hampshire organize regiments for the war and had eased the way for Cross’s appointment as colonel of the 5th.]

Monday 21: had a Division Drill under Richardson* in the fore noon which was very fatiguing. had dress parade in the after noon. as usual heard fireing occasionally through the day

[*Brig. Gen. Israel B. Richardson commanded the 1st Division of Maj. Gen. Edwin “Bull” Sumner’s 2nd Corps. Brig. Gen. O.O. Howard’s 1st Brigade in Richardson’s division included the 5th New Hampshire.]

Tuesday, April 22, 1862: we had inspection by a US Officer to day. heard heavy cannonading on the right wing of our forces at York Town; – went over to Gen Richardsons head quarters with documents from our Regt.

Wednesday 23: had a drill in the fore noon. heard occasionaly heavy fireing at York Town; – The Rebels are to make a stand at the best of their ability.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday 23: Went out with the company on skirmish drill with out playing. the first time I have drilled for nearly 2 months. wrote to wife  today.

Thursday 24: built an oven to day for the left wing, a very large one.* made me a trowel out of a piece of board and found plenty of good clas and poor Brick. Lit it and baked a nice batch of beens for breakfast.

[*Edson was a brick mason.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Thursday 24: had a Regiment drill and very good one too; fireing still goes on daily at York Town. Many of our men are dangerously sick at the Point. the Lieut went down in the evening to visit them. found them very sick.*

[*The first lieutenant in Rhodes’s Company B was Welcome A. Crafts. The hospital was at Ship Point, where the 5th New Hampshire had been the first regiment of Howard’s brigade to land on April 6.]

Friday, April 25, 1862: Joseph Call died at the hospital last night and Robert Cummings died to day at 10 OC and one more will probably die soon.* this is the fruit of our hardships on our march to the Rappahanock and back to Manassas without food and shelter uncared for by the Physicians.

[*Cpl. Joseph Call, a 26-year-old from Colebrook, N.H., died at Ship Point April 23, 18-year-old Private Robert Cummings of Northumberland on April 24. Both were in Company B.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 26: Waited upon Bro Strong over to the Brigade Hospital about 1 mile. he was quite sick but stood the walk  better  than I expected. the hospital is one of the rebel Baracks. hope he will soon recover.* just recd letter from Bro & Sister Folsom. am glad to learn that we have got so good a preacher at Enfield. I hop God will abundantly bless & prosper his labours in sanctifying the church and the convertion of many soles. this is my constant and sincere prayer.

the Regt  are out on patrol duty to day. Drummer is over to the hospital getting wood & watter for them and I am here sheltered from the rain in my little tent. I feele very grateful to God for his goodness to me.

[*Pvt. Louis J. Strong was a 20-year-old native of Canada who lived in Enfield, Edson’s hometown. He was discharged disabled six months later.]

Sunday 27: Went to the hospital to help chop wood and brot watter and took care of the sick all day.   the first Sunday that I have bin oblijed to work all day since I came into the army. our hospitals are in Old rebel Baracks but they are fixed up so they are quite comfortable but it is very hard to be sick from home.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday 27: we were rousted up early in the morning and orderd to be in readiness to march at 7 OC. we were on hand in Season; – and after a march of 3 miles we came to a halt and made our camps; we are to make fascines or gabions.*

[*The 5th was making fascines and gabions (brushwood bundles and barricades) for use in McClellan’s siege of Yorktown.]

Monday, April 28, 1862: we went out to make our gabions for the first time today – had poor luck – heavy fireing and musketry can be distinctly heard. even the whistle of Cannon Balls and shells can be heard.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 28: this is our pay day. got our pay up to the 1st of March, $24.00. went down to the hospital to see the sick and caried them some Oranges which pleased them very much.

Tuesday 29: choped &  carried wood &  watter for the cooks.


Harrison Young of the 2nd N.H.
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday 29: we were at work making gabions. had prety good luck. some Boys from the 2nd were up to day. every thing goes on prosperously. we are out of our place up here in the woods building Eel pots

Wednesday 30: hear heavy fireing at night and during the day. we are still at work and still liked to be.  Sergt Hilliard and Lieut Young were up from the 2nd to day.* had good luck building gabions.

[*Like Rhodes, Sgt. Henry S. Hilliard and 1st Lt. Harrison “Harry” Young were from New Hampshire’s North Country. Rhodes probably knew Young, who was just a year older than him and came from the same town, Lancaster. Young and Hilliard were in Company F of the 2nd New Hampshire. Hilliard left that regiment for an officer’s commission in the 5th in late 1863. He was captured at Farmville on April 7, 1865, during the 5th’s last battle of the war. Young was wounded at the second battle of Bull Run on Aug. 29, 1862.]

Thursday, May 1, 1862: We were up by times and had our quota of gabions out by noon. had a Co inspection at night; – heard fireing during the day toward York Town and beyond. hope Banks will be up in their rear with Mc Dowel soon.*

[*Gen. Nathaniel Banks’s troops were occupied with Stonewall Jackson’s in the Shenandoah Valley. The White House withheld Gen. Irvin McDowell’s forces to protect Washington. McDowell’s absence in particular gave McClellan an excuse to claim Lincoln was thwarting his Peninsula campaign. Many Army of the Potomac soldiers believed this as well. But historians have come down firmly on Lincoln’s side. In the view of most, McClellan mounted the Yorktown siege against a creative but much smaller Confederate force, and his dallying gave the rebels time to devise and strengthen their defense of Richmond.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Thursday, May 1: Sat up with the sick boys at the hospital last knight. Sent 25 dollars for my self and 30 for Bro Strong home by Mr Liscom. helping about the camps to day.

Friday, May 2: called out last knight at 12 o.c. to go with the wagons to the Regt and get there lugage for they were ordered back to camp and be redy to moove to the front at a moments notice but after every thing was all here the order was repromanded and the Regt returned to there work.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 2: We were rousted up at 1 OC in the morning and ordered to be in readiness to march immediately back to our old Camp which we did. we suppose the Battle is to come off soon; – we did not march to battle but did march back to our work; a fools errand.

Saturday 3: We worked getting polls for facines. – Freedom was up to see us from the point. Prof Lowe made a reconnaisance and the Rebels fired at him. A heavy cannonade was kept up all day and evening; the Rebels seem to think they can damage us – poor fools, we will teach them.
The Great Stone Dwelling (now a museum) at the Shaker Village in Enfield, N.H., Cutler Edson's hometown.
Cutler Edson, from letter to Mr. and Mrs. Horace F. Folsom

[Horace F. Folsom was Edson’s pastor back home in Enfield, N.H. The letter was dateline York town, Va., May 3, 1862]

You say you shal expect me home by autumn. that is something I cannot tell but I expect to be home to selibrate the 4th but there seems to be one large cloud between this period and that. If we pass safely through that, I think the struggle will be over and peace soon restored to our distracted nation and we that have come out here to do service and battle for our nation will have the privilege of returning to our quiet homes.

that cloud is the two great contending armyes at this place. we are daily looking for the battle to commence as our army are making great preparations and the enemy are doing the same. I suppose they calculate to do there best here for you know they are pretty much a used up mess and unless they should lick us here and at Corinth I think they will give it up.

There was conciderable fireing along on the line last knight and there is this morning. This is to keep the men from working on the fortifications which is mostly done knights.

Albert G. Cummings
Albert Comins has been promoted 2 months ago. he was put in Sergeant Major and now he has taken another start. he is second Lieut. in Co. A. Mr. Wire is agoing to have his discharge and go home I understand. don’t know but he has started now.*

At 11 oc at knight finds me here agan at the hospital watching around the sick. I1 has died since I was here and I believe he was prepared to meet his fate. There is 2 others that I think must soon fo. I told one of them just now I did not think he could live. he said he wished he had someone to pray with him. I told him I would. I asked him if he was willing to die. he said he was but I fear he is deceived.

A sick bead is no place prepare for this great work. He was very wicked before he was sick and the most of the time since, poor fellow, he hardely knows what he says.

There was part of our sick that were able to be moved [and] started yesterday for N.Y. probably they will get better care there than we can give them here. one of them was Charles Tolcott that used to be with the Shakers.**

There is a great deal of heavy cannonading to knight by the rebels. I can here shells whistle threw the air. think they must fall very near our camp which is about a mile from here. I think little Mc. will be ready to give them all they nead.

It is most 1 o.c. and I must close for the knight and try and try to fill this out tomorrow. I have been quite buisy the most of the time to knight. There is a great deal of work in taking care of 7 sick men.
Sunday morning the 4th. Slept but little last knight. A good deal of fireing all knight but seems quite still this morning.        

[*Albert G. Cummings of Enfield had made first sergeant in November, and his lieutenant’s commission was dated May 12. He was later wounded at Fair Oaks, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville but served out his three-year term of enlistment and was discharged as a captain. He lived in Harrisburg, Pa., after the war. Thomas Wier enlisted from Enfield at age 43, leaving his daughters with the Shakers. Some months after his discharge, having failed to secure the return of his children, he walked into the Shaker village and shot Caleb Dyer, the head elder, mortally wounding him.]

[**Charles L. Tolcott, a 21-year-old private from Plainfield, N.H., died of disease in Philadelphia.]

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday, May 3:  Went to the hospital to knight to sit up with the sick. found some of them very sick.   one had died since I was here  last. I think ther’s  others that will die soon. there has bin a great deal of  cannonaiding threw the knight. wrote to Bro. Folsom. returned to camp in the  morning.
Sunday 4: just had news that York town is evacuated and for us to take 3 days rations and persue them. got all ready to start and orders came to pitch tents agan and stop for the  knight. Bugles blowing, the Band playing, which makes it much pleasanter.

* *

Support crew fills Professor Lowe's balloon with hydrogen.
The “Prof Lowe” in Rhodes’s Saturday diary entry was Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, who was also a native of Coos County in New Hampshire’s North Country. His reconnaissance by hot-air balloon delivered the news – shouted down by his passenger, Union Gen. Samuel Heintzelman, that the rebels were gone.

All the men’s digging, tree-chopping and barrier-building during McClellan’s siege of Yorktown had been in vain. Still, most soldiers put a positive spin on this. Lt. James Larkin of the Fifth New Hampshire wrote to his wife Jenny in Concord: “Once more our army is victorious without a battle. The Rebels have fled before us without a battle and the national flag waves over Yorktown.”

The next day, May 5, the regiment marched to Williamsburg, where the 2nd New Hampshire was among the regiments involved in a sharp battle, but it turned out the 5th was not needed. “I fear that we shall always be the bloodless Fifth,” Sergeant George Gove wrote in his diary.

Such fears would be laid to rest soon enough.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

5.'it blew pritty much all knight but God preserved me and my little tent. bless his name' -- Cutler Edson, 5th NH

[Previous chapter]

March 29, 1862, was the 5th New Hampshire Volunteers’ third day of hard marching near Manassas, Va. The men had hunted their supper – hogs, cows and fowl. An afternoon snowstorm howled into evening. Cutler Edson, a company bugler, wrote in his diary: “this begins to feele some thing like Soldiering.”

Gen. George B. McClellan
For a regiment that had been in the field for nearly five months without fighting a battle, the tramping around, sleeping tentless in bad weather and living off the land turned out to be valuable training for harder days ahead.

This is the fourth chapter of the story of the 5th New Hampshire’s first 15 months as experienced and recorded by Edson and Sgt. Eldad Rhodes. The men’s paths will cross after the Battle of Antietam, but even now their diary entries and letters march to the same beat.

This chapter takes them from their winter home at Camp California through several marches into the Virginia countryside. It closes as they prepare to depart on Gen. George B. McClellan’s Peninsula campaign.

Although there was impatience in some quarters for McClellan to take his mammoth Army of the Potomac into action, he was smart to take his time. Soon enough the 5th would learn whether McClellan’s deliberate ways worked as well when he shipped his marvelous army out to confront the enemy.  

Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday Feb. 19, 1862: played at the Generals.* recd a letter from wife. was very glad to here from home once more. Sent home my old diary & a lot of old letters today. have felt very much proffited by reading the beauty of holiness. it is like food to a hungry man. I feele that my whole trust & confidence is in my Savior.

[*Oliver O. Howard, the brigade commander.]

Thursday 20:  Skirmish drill this fournoon. Brigade review this after noon. recd 2 papers from Wife.

Gen. O.O. Howard
Friday 21: had a good time on Skirmish drill. Visited the graves of some of our Soldiers. 17 graves. 2 of them have good Marble Slabs. one bars this inscription: “he was a good Soldier and always don his duty.” I wish it could be said truithfuly so of every Christian. recd a letter from Sister Abbie. Wrote to my good wife.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday, Feb. 21, 1862: we drilled to day all day. had a hard drill in the afternoon under Gen Howard. expect a grate time tomorrow.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 22: this is the birth day of the father of our Country. it has bin a holly day with us. his fairwell address was read By General Howard. the Manchester Batery was here and we had a great time. recd a leter from wife & Bro Folsom.

Sunday 23: attended meeting in the 64th NY. enjoyed it very much. have not had the privaleg of the kind in some time. one woman present and prayed, a sight I have not seen for more than 4 months.

Monday 24: General inspection. the hardest rain and hail storm I ever new. it was so severe that we did not get threw inspection. went back to our tents till it cleared up then went out again and before we had time to form a line the wind blew a perfect gail and in a few moments half of our tents were blown flat to the ground. the gail was so powerful that the men could not keep there places and the line was soon broken up and the men got back to there quarters the best they could. 

we wated till 4 OC then went out by companyes and past inspection but it was with difficulty that we marched to the parade ground and back again. it blew pritty much all knight but God preserved me and my little tent. bless his name.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Monday, Feb. 24, 1862: Capt Brown has resigned and is going home. Lt Rice is Capt*; we went out for inspection rain and sleet soon came on and we came to Camp. Soon a heavy wind arose and blew every tent in the Regt down with some 10 exceptions.

[*Col. Edward E. Cross had removed Capt. Edmund Brown for incompetence. Lt. Thomas J. Rice, a 33-year-old Bostonian, was transferred from another company and promoted to captain.]

Tuesday 25:  we were buisy in the forenoon repairing damages; – had a drill in the afternoon under Howard. had a hard drill.

Wednesday 26: we had a drill in the forenoon under Capt Rice in the bayonet exercise. had a brigade drill in the afternoon under Howard.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday 26: skirmish this fore noon. Battalion Drill after noon. gave calls at the Generals. washed my cloaths. done some sowing and so fourth.

Thursday 27: rained hard most all knight but cleared off this morning and the wind is blowing very hard. no drill today. preparing to go on picket to morrow. Wrote to Bro Folsom and sent a paper home.

Letter, Cutler Edson to Mr. and Mrs. Horace F. Folsom

[From Camp California, Fairfax Co., Virginia, Feb. 27, 1862]

Our religious privaleges here are very limited. We have had no religious meeting here for a long time but we expect our Chaplain back soon, then I am in hopes our meetings will revive again. I think we might have had them all the time if he had left it with some one to go on a head and took the lead. I keep up our family devotions which I think has proved a great blessing to me & my little tents company. . . .

When we was on picket last I thought it was the last time that we should have that duty to perform but our turn comes tomorrow again. We are to start in the morning and before our time there expires, we expect to advance on to Manassus with about 160 Regts, which will average about 800 each. This will make a large armey. I hope the sight of so large a force will be sufficient to subdue the rebels there without the use of Shells & Ball, but if not we shall give them a few portions of the latter which has not failed in a single instance of cureing since this year commenced.

We are quite buisy in camp today getting ready for a start and you must excuse a short epistle this time. I send a picture of our noble General in this to my folks. Please forward it with my love to them all. My health is very good and I feele glad that we are going to advance.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday 28: Went on picket this morning   Went as far as Edsels hill in to the woods where we made us some shanteys and built fires and made our selves quite comefortable. it was pritty cold but we ware warm enough. marching got here about noon. cold windy knight but we managed to sleep comefortable.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 28: We were inspected early and started on picket on Edsels Hill; we reached our place of destination at noon 9 miles from Fairfax CH. we went to see the carcus of a dead negro who was laying unburied half a mile from our quarters. he was a notorius murderer of our pickets but finally was shot, his just deserts.

Saturday, March 1: we were relieved about 11 oclock and marched back to the head quarters of the Regt.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday March 1: Companyes that did not go on duty yesterday are drilling this fore noon in Manuel exercise. likewise this after noon. it is quite pleasant here by our large camp fire this eve as the stars shine bright above us

Sunday 2: this seams but little like Sunday here in the wilderness. Snows hard this after noon and we have to remodle our house to keep the wet out. recd a letter from home yesterday which was very comforting to me. the men are haveing a great game of Snow balling. better be reading there Bibles.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday, March 2, 1862: We were buisied in preparing for inspection. it began to snow in the afternoon –  we had a grate time snow balling with Co G. we rather worsted them. I think the storm turned to rain in the night; -- a stormy night ensued.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 3: Started this morning for the picket line. it is moved a little bit nearer the rebbels than when we was out before. we had a very bad uncomefortable time. it rained most all knight and our bow houses wet threw so that it was about as bad for us it would have bin out doors. we got but little sleep and come out feeling the worst for wair.

Tuesday 4: went back to Edsels hill this after noon where we found the rest of the regt had advanced on the enimy and our orders ware to follow them in ½ an hour. We did so and we camped at Springfield Station in the grove for the knight where we built bough howeses and fires for our comefort. just recd a letter from Bro Jewett stateing the death of Father which took place on Sunday the 23 day of feb. thus our friends are passing away. I know not how soon it may be my turn. Oh Lord prepare me for the Change. had a good cup of tea & feele pritty well. wrote to wife & sent Jewetts letter.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday, March 5, 1862: We were on our post near old Dangerfields farm. we are in the forest near the New Jersey boys pickets.

Welcome A. Crafts, Rhodes's lieutenant
Thursday 6: We were on our post all day. Crafts* and others went out and killed 3 sheep and a wild Hog; we had half a sheep for our portion cooked by our Camp fire. had a fine supper.

[*Lt. Welcome Crafts of Company B]

Friday 7: did not have any thing to eat but a small dipper of beans. Oh a glorious time is this serving ones country in this manner – all is quiet by Camp fire.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Friday 7: Stayed here in the woods all day in the Smoke which was very bad for our eyes. all quite till 10 OC at knight when the drum beat the long role, a sign of trouble, and our Regt was on a line in 5 minutes. we went on double quick aboute a mile and drew up in line of battle expecting every moment to have a fight as our men ware ordered to load and cap there guns very carefuly. We stoped here about 10 minets with out seeing any thing to fight with and then ordered back to our camps. we were gon about 1 hour and glad to crawl in to our beds again.

Saturday 8: Started back to Camp California which we reached about 2 OC having walked about 12 miles. was glad to get home after being out 8 days. a rather tough time on the whole. we have rebuilt the Brige over [missing] that the rebels distroyed and repaired the road to Birks Station. recd a letter from wife.

Sunday 9: a very pleasant morning.  good Baked Beans for Breakfast. they went well after living on hard crackers & raw pork for several days past. Just recd a viset from James Pearson & Marcus Bartlett from Lawrence. very glad to meat old friends here in a strange land.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday 9: we had an early inspection; I went over to the brick Hospital and had a pleasant time; – everything passed off finely. – we are aprehensive of marching soon

Monday 10: We were rousted up at 1 OC and ordered to march at 6 OC to the front. we marched all day through rain and mud without any thing to eat at all. we marched about 20 miles and encamped on a large field with Turners Division and cavalry and batteries; – laid on the ground.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Monday 10: at ½ past 1 this morning had orders to pack up every thing that we wanted to carry and be redy for a march at 6 oc. all in readyness at the time, we bid farewell to our home at Camp California probably for ever. we left all our tents and shal have to live with out them. it seams sad to leave our old home and to go we now not where, but it is for that we came here and I for one wish to answer the end for which I came here. the whole division started. we marched towards centervill. rained all the fore noon which made it very muddy and hard marching. we marched about 15 miles and camped on Brimstone hill some 2 or 3 miles from centervill.

Tuesday 11: rose this morning feeling pritty old but after stirring round a while and drinking a good cup of coffee and eating sum nice rost Pig that we captured we began to feele quite like our selves agan. then we heard the news that Center Vill and Fairfax ware evacuated which gave us new joy. the country threw which we past is mostly forest with now and then a scatering house which is evacuated. at 11 oc we had orders to march. we went in the direction of Manassus. halted about 3 OC. camped for the knight I understand in about 5 miles of Mannassus. it has been a beautiful day and I have enjoyed it very well except being a little lame carrying my lode which is heavy.

Wednesday 12: We rose this morning at ½ past 4 and made ready for a start a little past sun rise.  marched to union mills 3 miles from Manassus where we encamped. our march thus far has bin short to day and we performed it with ease. this has bin a very strong hold for the rebels but they evacuated it last Sunday.

Thursday 13: Staid at union mills to day. about 30 contry bunds [contrabands: former slaves fleeing to freedom] came in to day. had dress perade last knight and to knight on the same ground that the rebels occupied last Sunday. they burnt the Bridges here. left conciderable provision. nocked in there molases barrels, tiped over there flower and meet barrels, crakers &c.

Ruins of the Henry House, a landmark in the first Battle of Bull Run. 
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Thursday 13: Many contribands were brought in to day and some prisoners; – the genral aspect of affairs is pleasing; Mr Wilkins* arrived to night from N.H.

[*Elijah Wilkins, the 5th New Hampshire’s chaplain, had been on leave.]

Friday, March 14, 1862: I went out with Crafts, the Chaplain and others to the Battle ground of the 21st of July*; – saw many sights and wonders in Menassas. got back at night very tired.

[*First Bull Run. The battlefield was a popular destination for curious soldiers who had time to visit.]

Saturday 15: Weather very rainy. we having nothing but our rubber blankets. took as a natural consequence a severe drenshing; – had a thunder shower in the evening; we were wet to the skin.

Sunday 16: we left our encampment for Fairfax in the Morning. reached the Court House at 1 oc some 10 miles from our former camp; road very muddy. we were tired.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 16: Ordered back to Camp California. all those that could not keep up with the Regt on account of sickness to start first on the R.R. and if we got a chance to ride on the cars to improve it. I being of that number had a chance to ride for the first time since I came to Md. last fall. we walked some 3 or 4 miles where we found the cars and to our great satisfaction we got abord and landed at our old Camp a little before knight. about 60 of us found our tents mostly standing and occupied with another regt,  the 14 NY. but they gave us room which we were thankful for.

Monday 17: got up this morning feeling some better but after stirring round a while the pain in my head was quite severe. Washed out my cloaths and aranged my tent for house keeping agan. thers some 15 or 20 regts camped near here since we went off.


Eldad Rhodes’s diary
Monday 17: we were marched back from Fairfax C House to Manassas after dark last night; – who would suppose that human power of endurance could endure it. Midnight found us at Manassas. Marched up to the Rebels Camp and occupied it.

Tuesday 18: We got a good nights rest in our new Camp, formally occupied by the bloody Rebels. We were much fatigued; - got two letters from Home.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Tuesday 18: 5 months to day since I enlisted. how fast time passes & how many have bin the changes in that short space. have suffered much with my head. it seems to grow harder each day but think it has got to its hight. wrote a few lines to wife.

Wednesday 19: laid abed most of the time till after noon and have suffered but very little pane. this evening feeling very well. recd orders to march back to our Regt to morrow morning which are at Manassus Junction. have bin bakeing hoecakes this eve to cary with me.

Thursday 20: left camp this morning for manassus to join our Regt. Marched to Springfield then took the Cars and rode to with in 1 mile of Union Mills where we got out of the cars and marched about 3 miles where we found the rest of the Regt well quartered in rebel Baracks. I stood the journey very well.

Friday 21: a hard sick day. took an immettick which keep me up till 12 oc. got a very little rest.

Saturday 22:  got up about 10oc this morning feeling a little better but rather feeble for a soldier. think I shal be better in a few days. a good many complaining. think the watter is bad & all camp unhealthy.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Saturday 22: we remained in Camp as usual; 25 men from each Co went out in the afternoon to build a Bridge.

Sunday, March 23, 1862: had Co inspection in the Morning, and divine service in the afternoon; – I hope we soon may move from this unhealthy disagreeable place.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Sunday 23: health the best to day for 2 weeks. for this I cannot feele grateful enough. Searman in the field by Bro. Wilkens, the first I have heard for a long time. it was refreshing to my hungry sole. think this is a very fertile country but it is cursed with Slavery. God grant that this sin may soon be blotted out. Wrote to my good wife.

Tuesday 25: recd a letter from home this morning and wrote and sent one back by Mr. Walcut. then we had order to march. packed up and started about 9 oc. passed threw Manassus junction. saw the distruction of the place that happened when the rebels left. they burnt there stors – could not take with them – and most of there houses. from there we went about a mile and camped for the night

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Tuesday 25: Had orders to march; – started and passed Manassas Junction at 11, encamped for the night 2 miles below the Rail Road; there was about 30000 men encamped near us.
Wednesday 26: Started at 9 OC down the Road. Marched about 12 miles through variable country, now fording streams, now diving through thickets and anon over level fields; – encamped quite tired; – a hard days march.

Ashby graveyard at plantation.
Cutler Edson’s diary

Wednesday 26: Started this morning at 7 oc. & marched towards the Blue ridg. passed some beautiful plantations, one belonging to Mr Snow formerly from Claremont. he went with us some ways. built our Bridges as we went along. Mr Snow was Major when in NH. Marched about 12 miles, waded a river and camped on the rebel Kernels Ashby Plantation in Prince Williams Co. it is a very nice place, good enough for a union man. built our cabins and turned in & had a good nights rest.

Thursday 27: a very pleasant morning. took up our line of march about 9 oc. marched till most knight. drove in the rebels there about 10. Shels towards warington. Made our coffee, eat our hard crackers & raw pork, spred our blankets on the ground and lade our selves down for rest.

Friday 28: ordered to leave our over coats and go in advance to day. Started this morning about ½ past 9 neare Warington junction. quite warm. grass and grain begins to look quite greane. our camp lay about South. about 10 Oc. drove in the Rebel pickets and pursued them till about knight where we had a sharp engagement. drove them over the Rappahanack where they made a stand and fired several cannon balls at us but none took affect, our artilary returning the compliment throwing about 50 Shells which made the rascalls scatter like sheep. after dark returned about 3 miles and camped.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Friday 28: Started in the morning. In advanced guard of Howards brigade. have drove the Rebels 8 miles, shelled them occasionally, reached the river, was fired upon by a Rebel Battery, occupied a hill and supported a Battery while they scattered a Regt of Cavalry. 3 miles from the river the Rebels burned everything

Saturday, March 29, 1862: We awoke much refreshed but hunger began to tell on us we marched back to the Junction; –  our troops all the while collecting cattle and killing pigs got back at last very tired and Hungry. a cold rain set in to add to our misery.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Saturday 29: returned to Warington junction taking a large lot of cattle which we forwarded to head quarters. took Hogs Sheep Fowls &c. got in a little past noon in a Snow Storm. Snowing and rain all knight which made it very bad and uncomfortable. this begins to feele some thing like Soldiering.

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Sunday 30: Weather very rainy and disagreeable. we were in the mud with no further shelter than what our rubber blankets afforded us; – and without much to eat; – a severe storm is this way down here in Dixie; – my thoughts wander to the far North and home and friends seem doubly dear.

Monday 31: quite a change is taking place in our Reg. we are still in the mud here without anything to eat and no progress towards any; – at last hard crackers were delivered to us; – and we dont know how long hunger tells upon us.

Cutler Edson’s diary:

Monday 31: I went out and played for the Sharp Shooters which they are organising out of this division.

Tuesday Apr 1: packed up and started for Alexandria. marched most to Manassas Junction where we camped for the knight with but very little to eat. forded 3 rivers and was wet cold and tired and hungry.   When we got here our co was ordered on picket. our head quartors got a lot of Wheat  Stacks. we collected a lot of rails, built some good fires and dried our selves. Went  out and shot a few pigs. dressed and roasted. they made us a little coffee and began to feele quite chearful after which we camped down amongst the Wheat Stacks. the best beds we had sean since we  left home and after commending our selves to God soon forgot our troubles.

Wednesday 2: Went out and shot a lot more pigs for breakfast and drew hard crackers enough for 2 days. left here about 10. Marched about a mile & ½ and stopped at Manassas junction and camped here. we got our male, 2 letters from home & from Bro Gordon a town report. very thankful.
Fortress Monroe near the end of the Virginia Peninsula
Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday 2: Awoke after a good nights rest on the ground much refreshed; Oh my country canst thou not feed thy faithful Children who are laboring to rebuild what thieves and vandals have destroyed; hard bread came at last, and we marched up to the Junction, encamped for the night. take train tomorrow.

Thursday 3: We got aboard the cars and went down to Alexandria. after much trouble; – we encamped in the suburbs of the City on the ground; – are to take the bote tomorrow for Fortress Munroe.

Cutler Edson’s diary

Thursday 3: Birds singing smartly. they seam to be praising God with there little voices;  how beautiful the passage let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. took the cars about 2 oc  but did not start till about 5. arrvd at Alexandria about 8. made us a cup of  coffee. spred out blankets on the green grass and slept sweetly.