Roswell Farnham to Laura

Primary tabs

Page: of 3
Download: PDF (11.76 MiB)
Camp Butler, Newport News, VirginiaSaturday, June 29th, 1861Sister Laura:

Page 1

Your letter commenced June 21st and finished the 25th was rec'd night before last, that is June 27th. I rec'd at the same time a letter from Judge Underwood. I believe I have answered Mary's last letter, so I thought I would answer yours.

We have had some little excitement here this morning and I thought I would commence while the matter is still new. I was up in the Mass. camp making some inquiries in regard to some "Contraband", that comes under my charge when I heard a report that two Louisiana Zouaves had just been taken and brought in by Col. Hawkins Zouaves picket. I did not go up to see them as it rained some and I thought quite likely I should hear from them again. I had been in the tent but a little while when Col. Phelps came to the entrance and called for me, and said there were two prisoners at our guard tent that must be attended to at once. I snatched my rubber blanket, for it was raining briskly, and started. I found at least a hundred of our soldiers around one of the tents and it was as much as I could do to get in I found there the two Zouave prisoners. The guard who had brought this two men in were gone, so I had to be satisfied with what the prisoners might tell me. They were dressed some what in the same style as Duryea's Zouaves. The same red fur cap, with

Page 2

long blue tassel adorned their heads, while the same baggy red breaches covered their other extremities to just below the knee. From the knee down was a brown linen buttoned gaiter, which met the ordinary army brogan. Their body was covered with a dark blue flannel shirt of the ordinary kind, and a jaunty looking jacket of the same color slightly trimmed with red quality. About their waist was a light blue sash. The national of their uniform was coarse serge. They had with them a blanket similar to the one we have, a tin canteen and dipper, and one of them carried in addition to his other accoutrements a common frying pan of small sire. I think there was a haversack among other things, and a single bayonet and cartrouch box, the rest of their arms having been taken from them by Col. Hawkins. Upon being questioned they said they belonged to the Orleans, Zouaves, and that they had come down from near Great Bethel during the night; that they formed a portion of the advance guard of the Rebel army coming in this direction. They were both Germans and he did only one of them could talk English. He said that they had got tired of the Rebel army and wanted to join that of the United States. By order of the Colonel, I blindfolded them, using their own sashes for the purpose and a corporal with four men took them to the Colonel's tent. There they were examined by the Col. and by Col. Bendix in German. They told the same story that they had told me, with many additional particulars. The amount of the whole was that about five thousand men started from Yorktown two or three days ago to come

Page 3

down and attack us here in our entrenchments; that several hundred of the men were so fatigued last night that they refused to march any further, and that they themselves had lain down and slept beside the road and so were left behind by their battalion. Upon waking up, and enquiring the direction taken by their troops and the direction to our camp they concluded to come here. Upon questioning them sufficiently, by direction of the Col. I again blindfolded them and they were taken to the steamer Mt. VernonDaylight. Before this a negro had been into camp with news that about two hundred horsemen had been seen some two or three miles distant from here. Soon after the Zouaves were sent off one of the guard came in from the guard tent saying that there were about fifteen negroes at the lines and that I was wanted. That is generally the message when any of the contraband make their appearance. I went out and found a lot of negroes who have come in with the same message that had been brought in before. Of course these stories as they circulated through camp produced considerable excitement. The men were ordered to be ready at a moment's warning, the big guns were put in shape and a party of scouts sent out to see what was in the wind. They have not yet returned and we are still in a state of uncertainty, altho' it is the general feeling fire thousand men. The steamer "Daylight" Mount Vernon has moved up the river to our left where she can sweep the shore if they attempt to come down that.

Page 4

Sunday Morning 5 ¼ o'clk- I will finish this to you and write to Mary during the day so that it will go out tomorrow morning. This will go in the boat at seven o'clock.

We had no attack yesterday or last night, and probably shall not have one. The scouting party that went out yesterday brought in two more prisoners of the Louisiana Regiment. They were not foreigners. One was from New York and the other from Philadelphia. They had got tired out in their march and during the rain Friday night stopped and went to sleep in a house by the way and got left behind. When taken they were trying to catch up with their battalion. I hear the Capt. of the scouting party make his report and he had seen several other soldiers but did not succeed in taking any. He went within a mile of the enemy's camp, but it was not prudent for him to go nearer, as they had from two to four hundred horse. They encamped last night about seven miles from here and were on their way back. We had no apprehensions of an attack last night. The last two prisoners and that the expedition was simply a scouting expedition.

If there is any thing of interest I will write in Mary's letter. She wants to know if there is any danger of an attack saying that others have written home that there was some danger. I do not think we shall be attacked, neither does Capt Andross. Mary says she cannot keep the sketches that I send home. Tell her that I want them all kept till I get home. Dont loose them or have them torn up. Write soon. Love to Mary.

Your affectionate brotherRoswell Farnham