Roswell Farnham to Mary [Farnham]

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Newport PortsMay 27th, 1861Monday 3 o'clk P.M.VirginiaDear Mary:

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This morning when we left Hampton we expected now to have had a severe battle. But we have occupied this point without seeing a single soldier. (This is a sheet of paper that Stearns found in a secession house that our surgeon has taken possession of for the use of the sick. The above heading written in ink was written by the rebel owner of the establishment, and I suppose the name of the town where we are is Newport, tho' I don't know. We are on the point of land formed by YorkJames river and the bay - the point north or above the mouth of the river, I suppose we are not far from the old York town battle field.) (wrong)

We left Hampton this morning about 5 o'clk. The reveille beat at 3 1/2 o'clk at which time we shu attended roll call, then took our breakfast and struck tents, moved our baggage into a neighboring barn & by 5 were ready to start. The Northfield Company remained behind to guard our baggage. The men took with them only what they could carry on their backs - over coats, blankets & knapsacks & haversacks. We were ordered to be prepared for two days without tents or provision, rain or shine. Every man had forty rounds of cartridges. No one knew where we were

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going, except our Colonel, and those who asked him about our destination were told that we were going where we were ordered if we could get there. Every body expected a fight. To lett let you know what we carried I will give you a list of the contents of my haversack - viz: 1 Rubber blanket, 1 Bottle cold tea, 1 bottle cough medicine, 6 spare pistol cartridges 1 spare 1 roll bandages sliced ham, bread, cheese & cracke & crackers enough for two days, 1 lemon, 2 apples, &c. Those who carry knapsacks of course carry that amount and their over coats in addition. We came from Fort Monroe in the Steamer Catalina, with four brass field pieces. Col. Phelps, who has charge of the expedition, came in the Monticello with two of our companies, and landed before our company reached the wharf. There were two other regiments in other steamers. It was expected that we should be not as we attempted to land, but not a shot were fired or a rebel seen. We are now encamped in a fine wheat field, with the grain well headed out. We have no tents, but the boys have all put up shanties, covered with thin blankets, to keep off the sun. There are about seven of us here in our shanty, lying in all sorts of comfortable positions.

The secessionists who live in the vicinity have all left and (what few household goods they have left arebehind them were gradually disappearing until the officers put a stop to it.) In the nearest house, they found a dragoon officer's uniform with "O. D. D." on the front of the cap. It is supposed to stand

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for "Old Dominion Dragoons". As Major Worthen threw himself upon the bed in the house he noticed something rather harder than th he thought for comfort and upon examination found between the mattresses a fine cavalry sword, while some others found a silver mounted holster revolver. The slaves about here are some what astounded. They are free for the present at least. (One old grey beard said that he should not work any more.) Some of them say that their master gave them two pounds of pork and told them to run for the woods or the Yankees would kill them. We came here as unexpectedly as an army would be to any peaceful village in Vermont. There are now two thousand troops on the point, and four brass field pieces, with one regiment on ship board that cannot land today on account of the wind. The Mass regiment who came up behind us were fired at by the battery on Sewells Point, but no damage was done that I learn. We expect quite a large free here at men and are to have an entrenched camp. This is to be the centre of extensive operations. Col. Phelps has the entire command here, and of course the Vermont Regiment feel proud of his their position.

We some expect our tents and other baggage tonight but if they should not get here in season we shall be very well protected by our blankets. The very boys, who yesterday were growling & complaining at every thing, altho' in comfortable tents, are now enjoying all our discomfort, with the utmost

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good nature. (When we have every comfort that can be had in a good camp two thirds of the) men are finding fault with everything, but give them the prospect of a fight and everything look bright.

Tuesday afternoon- We are still here in the same place. We are at "Newport News" on the James River - on the line between Warwick and Elizabeth City - the names of two counties as I judge from the map. If you will look on a large map you can see exactly where we are. It is the most southern point that extends into James River from the north - near Hampton Roads. The position commands the water communication between Norfolk and Richmond. We feel as tho' a very important move had been made. The whole Regiment is now at work by turns in the trenches that are being dug for our protection. We slept last night without our tents and made such shelter as we could improvise. Some The whole line put up frames of rails and covered them with green boughs or thin blankets. Rubber blankets were served out to the whole line just at dark so that none suffered from the dampness arising from the ground. The reveille beat this morning at day break - 4 o'clk, and immediately after roll call, we all went to the boat that came in during the night to get our baggage. By five o'clk the lines for the entrenchment were finished and shovels, spades, and picks served out and the ground broke for the first entrenchment of Camp Butler.

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I can write with some comfort now as our tent is up and my baggage has come so I have ink & pen.) Capt. Andross personally superintends the entrenchment in front of the Bradford Guards. (He says it seems like old times, when he was railroading.) The embankment is to be four and a half feet high and slope off to the edge of the ditch which is four feet wide & from four to six feet deep - (Of course our engineer has not made the mistake of Gen. Pillow in the Mexican war & put his ditch inside the embankment.) A section of the fortification would present an outline something like this . Behind such a shelter our men would be safe against any ordinary attack. The Vermont Regiment is in the centre, the Mass. on our left and the New York German Regt. on our right. The line of the entrenchment is something like what you will find on the enclosed paper. The probability is that we shall remain here for some time. This place will be fortified so that it cannot possibly be taken. Several other regiments are to be ordered here at once and this place is to be holden. Our Colonel is the man of the post. All officers are to report to him, both of land and sea forces. We consider ourselves remarkably fortunate in having such a commander. He will not be superceded here at present and our only fear is that he will be promoted and we loose him.

When we left Hampton to come here yesterday we had eight men in the hospital. Some that we supposed were the toughest we find are the weakest and others that were

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really sick are getting strong. (Taylor, of the Telegraph, who had the dispepsia all winter, and supposed himself to be consumption, has done his duty all the time, with one or two day exception, and digest his full ration of salt beef and hand bread, and today has been digging with others in the trench. Dr. Bilbourne this forenoon had change of a Virginia horse, with a rope harness, drawing rails for the embankment, and was inclined to be angry because Capt. Andross was going to excuse him at the end of his hour. The Capt. very considerately allowed him to keep at work. The Doctor is tough and hearty, and pulls about a tooth a day, as he is the only man in the regiment who has a set of dental instruments. He makes short work of tooth pulling and nobody can accuse him of showing much nervousness.)

All the boys are doing well. The sick are none of them in danger. Four or five have the measles and the rest have the dysentery. They are all at Fort Monroe. We have none sick here. Our only trouble has been in regard to water, but we have better here, altho not like that from Vermont springs. We drink but very little cold water, mostly coffee. Our Regt. is very fortunate in its tents. We have large bell shaped tents, at least sixteen feet high in the centre, which some of the Regts. have square tents hardly high enough for a man to stand up in except in the middle. We have in fact been well provided for from our first start and should feel grateful to the government of Vermont and especially to Gen. Baxter for what

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we have received. About the only thing that is not just right is our canteens. They are made of rubber cloth, and water, after being carried in them a few hours, tastes like a decoction of sulphur and India Rubber. Most of the boys carry water in bottles in their haversacks to drink, and fill their canteens with water to wet a handkerchief or sponge to be carried in the cap to prevent sun stroke. The New York Reg'ts, all have tin canteens with woolen cloth. Those are the best, as the cloth can be wet and the evaporation keeps the contents cool. Our haversacks are of india rubber cloth, and perhaps better on that account. But meat carried in them a couple of days smells a little strong; (our stomachs are not delicate however.

I have written so much that I shall have to stop. Let Harding read most of it and if it is in proper shape I wish he would send it to McIdoe.)

The Massachusetts and German Regts. have been stealing every thing that they can lay their hands upon, in the shape of chickens, pigs &c. &c. Major Worthen, who is officer of the day, has just taken about

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a dozen Massachusetts men laden with plunder & carried them before Col. Phelps, who will deal pretty severely with them. A boy just tells me that a Mass. Captain has just been arrested and is to be sent to fort Monroe to be court martialed, for inclining his men to go out and steal what they could.

We have just learned that Col. Phelps has been appointed Brigadier General, in command of the Brigade at this point. Col. Washburn will have command of our Regt.

(I want you to keep all my letters till I come home for I cannot keep a journal & I want to copy the letters into a book if I get home.

Lieut. Peckett wants you to go & see his wife & say to her that he has not seen a sick day since he left home. He is perfectly well now and will write soon. I shall write often. Continue to direct to Fort Monroe, Care of Capt. D.K. Andross of the Vermont Regiment. Daniel Johnson's leg is lame so that he did not come here with us. He may go home. Love to all. Can you or Laura copy most of this for McIdoe.

Your affectionate husbandRoswell Farnham