Roswell Farnham to [Mary Farnham]

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Camp Butler, Newport News, Va.June 11th, 1861 -Tuesday -My Dear Wife:

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I intend to write as often as I can to you and especially when anything of more than ordinary interest occurs. Yesterday was an active but disastrous day for our troops. As to myself I am perfectly well with the exception of being rather stiff and feeling quite old. About eight o'clock Sunday evening the captains of the Woodstock, Bradford, Northfield, Burlington and Rutland Companies rec'd orders to get their men in readiness to march at midnight. None of them knew in what direction they were going, or what work was to be done. I had some intimation of what it was going earlier in the day, as the guides were taken from cannons the negroes, who hae come under my charge, and I was directed to look up several trusty men who knew the road - I did so. Later in the evening I went to Col. Phelps to enquire if I could go with our company. He said I was expected to go with the guides. The reason that I asked the question is that the Col. had told me that I was to attend to my duties as Provost Marshall can nothing else. About half past eleven o'clock the men were called into line in perfect silence. Each company on its own parade

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ground between its own tents. The same number of men were detailed from the Mass. 4th. Regt. and three companies from the German or N. Y. 7th Reg't.

Lieut. Washburn was assigned to the Command.

Just after twelve a steamer came up from Fort Monroe to let us know that every thing was in readiness, as we were to act in concert with two regiments from Hampton near Fort Monroe. We were all expected to be at the point of attack at about 3 o'clock A. M. We from this post were to take their enemy in front and the detachments from Ft. Monroe were to attack them in the rear. The troops we were expecting to surprise consisted of a picket guard of three hundred men and it was the expectation that we should surprise and take them without any loss on our part. They were stationed at a hard pine meeting house, about the size and appearance of a Vermont school house of the last generation, called "Little Bethel Bethel". This was: said to be six miles and a half from our encampment, altho' we learned to our cost that it did not very much from thirteen. The negroes all reckon distances across the country and nearly all the roads run upon two sides of each plantation, as the planters do not wish the roads to run across their estates, and they are laid out at an oblique angle to the direction of the road we passed over.

We started started about half past twelve, the guides in front, a company of Mass. Rifles next to act as skirmishes, the Vermont Companies next, in the order

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I first gave them, then a brass twelve pounder drawn by four miles, then the Mass. Companies, their the Dutch or German companies, drawing a brass six pounder by hand. This labor was assigned to them as they were not expected to go the whole distance. I was with two of the guides in the extreme front until there were some apprehensions that we might run upon scouts, when eight of the Mass. Rifles Regt. were sent forward. You might have had some few apprehensions that would have troubled your sleep had you known that I was trampling over Rebel country under such circumstances but I was comforted some what by the reflection that I had within reach of my right hand an argument that would convince convert about five traitors or false guides of the error of their ways. I must do our old friend Hiram Stevens the Past Adjutant, the justice to say that he run away from camp in disobedience of orders, and he was in the front much of the time with me, and some of the time in advance with the Mass. Scouts. But he was no faster than all the men to go. The Capt. got permission to change two who were on guard for two sickly ones. By some hocus pocus three got exchanged.

About eight or nine miles form camp we came upon the road leading from Hampton to Little Bethel Bethel. The German companies under Col. Bendix stopped with their field piece, to protect our rear and to maintain the post at all hazards.

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The main column kept on its course towards Little Bethel. As we came upon the road we saw that it was full of footprints of armed men going in the same direction as ourselves. Soon we found a canteen and from its make we concluded that the Zouaves were ahead of us. We hastened forward as the road was very good and the air delightful. The head of the column had advanced about half a mile and a half when we heard rapid discharges of musketry in our rear, with repeated discharges of a large gun. After a few moments consultation Col. Washburn ordered a countermarch and the boys took the double guide with a cheer. Of course nobody knew what the firing meant but we all supposed that the rebels had lain the ambush for us. We went over the intervening mile and a half pretty quick. As we neared the place where we had left the Germans we saw smoke rising but the firing had nearly ceased. We were drawn up in line of battle, but there was no enemy in sight. We waited a while the boys picking up canteens and knapsacks, that had been thrown off by the wounded.

Wednesday, June 12th, Morning. The rest of the boys got their letters finished yesterday before the boat left, so that their friends will get their letters sooner than you will this. I was busy just at the time when I wanted to write. Some negroes had to be sent to Fort

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Monroe, among them a suspected spy and I had to attend to them, and while I was doing this, and making out my report the others finished their letters and got them on board the steamer. I felt sorry for I wanted you to hear from me as soon as any body, but you will get the news by the other letters that I am unhurt.

To continue my account. Upon examining some of the haversacks that were picked up, they were found to be marked with the number of a New York Regiment, not with us. The horrible truth flashed upon us that the terrible firing that we had heard had been between friends. It was soon ascertained that Col. Townsend's Reg't. was on its away from Hampton to support us, when they came in sight of Col. Bendix and his force. Col. Bendix had been ordered to hold his position at all hazards. He saw approaching upon his three companies and single field piece a whole regiment. He shouted out the battle-ery "Boston", but there was no reply, and then he opened a murderous fire, both of musketry and cannon which was briskly returned. Soon the regiment fell back and Col. Townsend advanced alone between the fire of both parties and gave the rallying word "Boston" when the firing ceased. When we got there Townsend's men had fallen back some distance. In one house were nine men severly wounded - I went into see them. Not one of the poor fellows uttered a groan. They were all from Townsend's Reg't. The Germans did not have a man hit. In a short time Duryea's Zouaves, who we correctly supposed were

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in advance of us, came running back, alarmed at the firing. They had been as far as Little Bethel, but took only three men of the enemy's picket. They had been as much too fast as we were too slow. We had several miles further to march than we had expected, and the Zouaves instead of getting to the rear marched right up in front, giving the enemy time to escape. I should say that at the time we halted when we heard the firing in our rear the rebels began to fire upon us from their our houses. One ball passed through the coat skirt and pants, grazing the legs of sergeant Sweet, of the Woodstock Company. Capt. Andross stood within a few inches of line, the ball passing between them. The rebels who did this were all taken prisoners and one house at last burned.

As soon as it was learned that the Zouaves had been to Little Bethel and the enemy had escaped, our expedition was properly at an end and we should have returned. But the leading officers, upon consultation, concluded to move on to Great Bethel several miles beyond, and about seven o'clock we came in sight of the enemy's battery at Great Bethel. At once the cannon and howitzers were thrown forward to the front and centre and commenced the fight at once. Townsend's Reg't. had two brass mountain howitzers. The Zouaves advanced through the woods to the right of the guns and kept up an annoying fire upon every thing they could see show itself above the parapet. Before the line Col. Washburn's men were

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formed our left wing. Our company stood within hearing distance of the road on our right, where most of the general officers stood. Before the line of battle was fairly formed an aid was sent off to Ft. Monroe past haste, and the tone of the order as given by Gen. Pierce indicated to us pretty plainly that we were in a desperate strait. The firing continued for some time, when and aid hastened up to Col. Washburn with the remark that the only chance of doing anything was for Washburn to turn the left flank of the enemy. Of course we did not start with much encouragement. We filed rapidly past the centre, through the woods where shell and shot were falling rather promiscuously. None of our men got hit but it was a new kind of music to most of us, but none seemed very much alarmed. After some trouble we came upon a ditch, about three feet deep, running in the direction we wanted to go, We took that at once at We fell into that at once and soon came out into an orchard, from which we descended into a swamp thro' which a sluggish creek run. The men rushed through the stream, although nearly up to their waist, and hurried on to a natural embankment behind which a portion of the enemy were entrenched. The men rushed up upon the embankment and commenced firing & such a storm of balls as was poured upon those - the entrenchment, as for a time silenced them. They had us at a great disadvantage, for we had to expose our whole length upon the ridge to get a

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a sight at their heads. The only reason that half of us were not killed in that we rained such a storm upon them that they did not dare show their heads. The firing had been kept up some ten minute when the order came "cease firing", and we started on our return. As we passed the orchard I have spoken of they took us on the flank with grapes and canister and as we got into the woods, shell and shot followed us pretty rapidly. As we came out to the open ground we found that the retreat had commenced. There were no arrangements for the dead and wounded and they had to to he carried on such mule carts as could be found. A great many men gave out from exhaustion as we had been up the whole night, and we had carried with us only a small bunch of crackers and hard eggs. The engagement lasted two hours and a half, although it did not seem so long.

We started for home twenty minutes before one o'clk and reached our camp about six o'clock. Thirty hours harder work probably no man in the regiment ever preformed, and this labor too without food. I went to bed without eating any supper.

Gen. W. Flanders got a ball in his shoulder and it is still there. Capt. Andross got his arm and shoulder bruised in some way thatbut he does not know how.

The whole number killed on our side does not exceed fifty, the number wounded I dont know.

I will write again soonRoswell Farnham

Laura may copy this for [McIndoe]. The steamer is whistling.