Camp near Conrad's Ferry October 24, 1861 Thursday morning
The violation of every rule
and maxim of military law, the
exaction of the extreme penalty therefor.
Such is the summing up of the
massacre near Leesburg. Does it
awaken you to the fact that politicians
are not generals?
But how shall I tell you the story
of these trying days? I wrote a
hasty word as our line was forming
on Monday night. We marched
gaily and willingly off in the moonlight
toward Poolesville, at nine o'c in the
eve'g. We supposed we were to
cross at Edward's Ferry, to aid in
a victorious advance upon Leesburg.
The men marched splendidly. At
Poolesville we first met the faint
shadows of the coming gloom.
A few stragglers of the 15th Mass. (Col.
Devens) "Our companies are all cut to
pieces. Our Capt is shot. Our Lieut. Col.
has lost his leg. We have all been cut
and took the road to Conrad's Ferry.
Then we began to meet the flying and
scattered soldiers. One with only an
overcoat. Another with only a blanket.
Another with even less. They all told one
story, of flight, and death and
despair. Still we pressed on. Our
men were eager to reach the Ferry.
We got there at about three o'c in the
morning. 18 miles in between 6 & 7 hours.
Then came the rain and then came
the order to stay where we were.
The morning broke a wild, gusty, rainy
[?] upon our shelterless and weary
regiment. The only house near where the
reg't stopped was filled with the
wounded. As soon as I could
get away I galloped down to
the place of crossing. I saw them
letting down a wounded man on a
stretcher into the canal boat. It was
Captain John Putnam, a clever fellow of
the N. E. Guards. I turned & went down
to the river, meeting on my way a
dead one and as I passed one of
the soldiers who carried him turned up
the face, and said, "Yes this is one of
the Tammany boys." I went to the
river, to a flat boat full of wounded
found Dr. Hayward, of the 20th.
Sam Putnam's son, was in the boat
badly wounded. I spoke to him. He
was bright but evidently sinking.
I asked him if I could do anything
for him, telling him who I was. He
said eagerly "I should like to see
Lieutenant Higginson." I said I would
bring him. Then I asked about
Caspar Crowninshield, Abbott, Lowell,
Holmes. Caspar they thought was
wounded. Abbott, safe. Lowell &
Holmes both wounded. A little
while after Caspar turned up. He
was in the primitive costume of
his overcoat and drawers, but full of
cheery pluck, calm, clear and
a young hero in bearing and aspect.
He gave a clear account of himself.
I was compelled to go back to the reg't.
I sent Lieut. Higginson down, did what
I could for the men, snatched a
[illegible] breakfast of a hard boiled egg and
a cracker under an apple tree. Wet
[Oh?] so wet, & cold and tired.
I had been in the saddle about 24
hours & without sleep and I got
into the house among the wounded
and fell asleep on a camp stool.
Soon we were off again to put the
regiment in camp under cover of a
brigade we came was under orders
to cross the river, but like a
good General as he is, he determined
to disobey his orders, and put us in
Camp. He came over just as we
got in camp and order 5 companies
to go on picket along the river bank
As Col. [S----?] with part of the 19th
reg't was to be withdrawn from the
island. Still it rained. I went
to bed with a sick headache and here
I will leave this circumstantial
narrative, which gives no idea of
the scenes as they arose, but is the
best that my tired pen can do,
to tell you of the fight as I glean
it from various sources.
First it was a criminal blunder
of Col. Bakers. The men crossed at
the worst point of the river, they
had only a few boats to cross with,
retreat was impossible and in their
[own?] slowing they were the inferior
force to the enemy. But the men
fought well. Col. Devens tried to
hold himself excused. But in my
judgment both he & [Col. Coggswell?]
& Col. Lee would have shown themselves
more fit to be Cols. if they had
refused to obey Baker's order to
still raining. We were ordered to
strike our tents, and move back
out of cannon range from the river.
We came to our present camp.
Genl. Hamilton then ordered me to take
3 companies to the river & post
pickets & keep a look out. I
started. At about 3 o'c I returned
to report to the General the position of
things on the river. When I found
Genl. Banks & Genl. McLellan in his
quarters. I enjoyed hearing McLellan
talk for 1/2 an hour. I will tell
you all about it bye t' bye. Then
Genl. Hamilton then ordered me to return
& cross to the island at night
and remove some stores which
had been left there. I started off
again. I got my preparations all
made, when an order came, at
about 8 P. M., "Take your com-
panies at once to Edward's Ferry
to cross. The enemy is in force there."
I drew in my pickets, and got ready
to move promptly, when I was
met, just as I started, by a
mounted orderly, with a note ad-
dressed to the officer in command
moving towards Edward's Ferry. [and await?]
further orders." I turned back. The
mounted orderly had orders for Genl.
Hamilton & did not know how to
find him. It was dark and I
took my horse & rode with him up
the canal to Genl. Hamilton's quarters.
Our reg't had started for Edward's
Ferry before the orderly arrived.
When they got there, they were ordered
to return & did so. This made
the third night of fatiguing marching
or guard duty and today they
are just done up. My three
companies got their rest however
at the river. It turns out that
we were to support Stone, but Mc'
lellan suddenly determined to with-
draw him, & so the countermanding
order. Tonight I go back to the river
and go over to the island to remove the
government stores. That will
give me a lively night again.
I ought to be very tired, but excitement
makes me feel the fatigue very
You will see that Mc'
Lellan is bent on whitewashing Stone
who is a West Point graduate.
I cannot exuse him. Though
[Senator?] Baker & President Lincoln
[ . . . ] is my authority, had
[ . . . ] commission as
[ . . . ] Lincoln insisted on
[ . . . ] Mc'Lellan's protest
Baker refused to obey Stone's command
and retreated to produce the commission
Stone let him have his way & so
the disaster. I say Stone ought to
have commanded his whole division
and no account of political
weight should have over [over?]
him. Mc'Lellan I found out in
Washington can't have his own way
in everything. McLellan, I know,
finds this mishap a sore thing and
a great trouble to his plans. He
says Baker's conduct is against
every military idea of the simplest
kind. You cannot help [?] pleaded
with Genl. McLellan, but it is yet
a question whether he had power
eno'. Or rather in my mind
there is no question. All our
mishaps are political. Military
achievement was never the
result of a caucus. One good
remark of McLellan I recall.
"Well said he so far we seem to
always to meet the enemy with an
inferior force at the point of attack."
I hear this morning from the 20th
that Holmes is doing well. Poor
Lieut Putnam is dead. He [?]
& even seem to have [behaved?] well.
Col. Lee & Major Revere are prisoners.
Providence seems to have watched
over the Mass. 2d does it not.
It has saved us from Bull Run
& now from a worse blunder.
For what has it reserved us?
I hope & pray for the guidance of
a good General, unhampered. I
must go back to the Ferry.
Good bye. Love to all. God
bless you. The impression now is
that we shall remain quiet here
& make no advance. Stone has come
back. He succeeded in recrossing at
Edwards Ferry last night.
I telegraphed you because I thought
rumor might be hurting us.
hurry & press & very [sleepy?]