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Three Civil War Letters from 1862
Translated and edited by Brynjolf J. Hovde (Volume IV: Page 74)


In a court of law the evidence of an eye-witness is highly prized; it is no less valuable before the judgment bar of history. This does not mean, however, that the testimony of the witness is to be taken as final truth on all the points he touches upon. His testimony must be subjected to the cross-examination of critical study; and in the course of that cross-examination it may be brought to light that the witness was not a good observer, or that he was not in the proper position to observe the whole action but only a part of it, or that in his statement of what he saw he tends to exaggerate one part and minimize another part of the action. Thereupon his testimony must be compared with that of other witnesses, and its parts properly weighed. When this process of critical study is finished, the testimony is assigned its proper place in the great body of evidence on the particular incident to which it relates, and it is quite possible that, upon reading the correct and complete account of the incident as based on the whole body of evidence, the eye-witness may himself exclaim: "This is not what I saw!" And he will be perfectly justified in that exclamation, for he did not see all that, but merely a part of it. It is as such fragmentary but first-hand eveidence that the Civil War letters that follow are to be read.

The first two letters are devoted mainly to a description of the battle between the "Monitor" and the "Merrimac," the significance of which is common knowledge. These ships were not the first ironclads in existence, as Americans are prone to believe, for both the French and the British had armored vessels before 1862. But this was the first time an ironclad had operated actively against wooden ships, and the engagement on March 8 conclusively proved the superiority of the former. It was also the first time that ironclad had contended against ironclad (March 9), and both parties claimed the victory. The real importance of the battle lies in the fact that on the eighth the Federal Navy's control of the seas, without which the war could not be won, seemed doomed, whereas, on the ninth, the "Monitor" regained it. The testimony of an eye-witness of the battle will therefore always be important.

The third letter describes certain aspects of the Peninsular Campaign in 1862 under General McClellan. The general plan of McClellan was to transport his large army by sea to Fortress Monroe and then move up the peninsula, cross the Chickahominy River, and thus surround and capture Richmond. The plan was entirely feasible, and with McClellan's superiority in numbers should have been successful. Everything, however, depended on quick action, for if the Confederates were given time to concentrate their forces, nothing but the most painstaking siege could drive them out of their fortifications. But, instead of boldly throwing his splendid army into action, as Lincoln wished him to do, General McClellan proceeded with the utmost caution and wasted time in siege operations where storming parties should have been sent in. In the latter part of May, Stonewall Jackson was creating a diversion in the Shenandoah Valley by threatening Washington. It was the psychological moment for McClellan to strike the Confederate General Joseph Johnston a sharp blow: Jackson being away up north he could not assist Johnston, and nothing would so effectually relieve Washington as to place Richmond in imminent jeopardy. McClellan seems to have realized this and to have prepared for the long expected attack. But he proceeded too cautiously, as usual, and General Johnston anticipated him by attacking first. Thus was fought the battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines. The Union Army was on the Chickahominy River; two of McClellan's five corps, Keyes' and Heinzelman's, had crossed it and were in direct contact with the enemy; the other three corps were in comparative safety on the north side of the river. Johnston determined to attack the two exposed corps. Our letter-writer must have been with one or the other of these, probably with Keyes on the left wing, for he seems to have got into Fair Oaks Swamp. A heavy rainfall on the night of May 30 caused troop movements to become very difficult, and the water in the river rose to a point where the bridges might be swept away at any moment, thus cutting the two exposed corps off from both assistance and retreat. Johnston attacked on the morning of May 31, and drove the Union left back about two miles; McClellan did not send assistance at once, but merely ordered General Sumner to hold his corps in readiness to move at a moment's notice; but Sumner did more than that, w he marched his corps to the bridges, and upon finally receiving orders to cross he did so at once, and saved the day. On the morning of June 1 the battle was resumed, and now the Union forces drove the Confederates back to the point which they had occupied when the fighting first began. McClellan reported a victory, but in reality it was the Confederates who gained: they had effectually stopped the Union advance for the moment, thus gaining time for Jackson to move south; they had inflicted heavy losses upon the Union Army without sacrificing any territory; and they had again taught their opponents respect for their fighting qualities. McClellan never again had so favorable an opportunity to strike at Richmond, and the summer passed without decisive results. {2}

The identity of the writer remains a mystery. The letters were unsigned in Morgenbladet. The

only tangible clue that might perhaps lead to his identification is his statement towards the close of the first letter to the effect that his was "the First Regiment"; but an attempt to discover which First Regiment he belonged to has been unsuccessful. There were no less than seven First Regiments of infantry and artillery (the writer does not indicate in which arm he served) engaged in the battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, {3} among them the First New York Light Artillery, which was also at Newport News at the time of the battle between the "Monitor" and the "Merrimac." He may therefore have belonged to it, especially as he mentions looking forward to the enjoyment of a furlough in New York. However, as far as we know, it was not this regiment, but Companies A and K of the Twentieth Indiana Infantry, which were ordered down upon the beach at Newport News on March 8. {4} It is therefore impossible to say with any certainty that he was a member of the First New York Light Artillery. The letters merely indicate that he was a common soldier, very sure of the righteousness of the Union cause, normal in his love of amusement and in his dislike of death and suffering, and steadfast in his courage.

March 31, 1862.

. . . [Sic] Good Heavens ! What an unpleasant racket grenades and bombs have created about me since I wrote to you last! And I consider myself fortunate that up to the present moment I have escaped destruction. About the middle of February, together with a few thousand men, I was shipped by vessel to a place some miles away from here to attack some enemy batteries which were always causing trouble for such of our ships as were destined to our great Fortress Monroe. We were aided by thirteen steam gunboats and some larger warships. Early on the morning of the fourteenth we neared our destination, and it did not take long before the thundering began. The enemy directed his fire at our ships, but received in return a shower of bombs, which spread death and destruction. After two or three hours of this cannonade the enemy slackened his fire, and then we were hurriedly brought ashore in small boats and achieved a landing without any loss of life. We were immediately ordered into formation, and charged the earthworks with fixed bayonets and shrill hurrahs and other noise and yelling, more like the shrieking of pigs than anything else. This business of making such a terrible noise is a peculiar characteristic of the Irish. We made short work, and our losses were small. The enemy fled when he saw that his resistance was in vain. We took more than thirteen hundred prisoners that day. There were many dead and wounded. {5} Of course, it becomes a habit by and by, but it is, nevertheless, very shocking to observe one's fellow men being wounded and maimed; personally, I have stood above some such completely overcome and almost speechless from uneasiness of conscience and with tears in my eyes. "Well," I have thought, "what harm have we done one another? None -- no, none whatever. We have never seen one another, never so much as exchanged an impoliteness,

Days passed, and then came the eighth of March. It was a beautiful spring day, mild and pleasant, typical of what at home in Norway we call "the smiling spring." Together with my company, I was on guard duty at some distance from the encampment proper. We had finished our midday meal, {6} and thereafter several of us crawled up on the roof to look out over the bay and across to the other side, in order, if possible, to discover something of the enemy's movements over there. We had a small glass through which to look, and which passed from hand to hand. At the mouth of Norfolk harbor (Norfolk is a city about three Norwegian miles from here) we discovered some steamships heading out and steering a course straight toward us. We did not suppose, however, that they would dare to come the whole way, inasmuch as there were two frigates just off the shore with about a hundred guns, and since we ourselves had a battery of the heaviest cannon (Hervy qveen [sic] ) on the shore.

Among the approaching enemy ships we observed one which had the appearance of a house-roof with the corners broken off. Anything like that, of course, we had never seen before, but when we recovered from our amazement we soon concluded that it must be the vessel of which the newspapers had spoken, and which was supposed to be constructed of iron so as to be bullet proof. The signal station waved with its numbered flag a message of the impending danger, and suddenly we heard the alarm drum -- the piercing note of a trumpet -- and the shout, "Fall in!" There was great excitement. Some ran at top speed; others rode so fast that the bellies of their horses seemed to touch the ground. They had to inform and to strengthen the outposts, in case there should be a land attack as well. {7} The field artillery was harnessed, the cavalry stood ready to make its dash at the first word of command, but we had to remain at our posts for the time being, and I was thus able to observe every movement . . . [Sic] The moment was at hand, and there was a death-like silence in the air. The vessel with the above mentioned flat roof was now near the shore and steered straight at one of the frigates. {8} Then the firing began. More than fifty cannon balls were directed at the roof, but with great surprise we noted that they had no effect; they merely glanced off and spent themselves. One salvo after another was delivered by our cannon, but to no purpose. Half an hour passed by, -- and one of our frigates sank, taking with her over two hundred seamen. The other ship had been run aground, as she had been so badly damaged at the water line that she was on the point of sinking. {9} The unfortunates who were on board her were fired upon by many of the enemy ships, which had by this time arrived. {10} Those who were not killed or wounded were forced to seek safety on land. After a while the vessel blew up, and the explosion was so violent that I was thrown to the ground. Thereupon we who were on land came in for our share of punishment, and for more than two hours seven vessels hurled bombs into our encampment. A large part of the roof of our barracks was shot away, but there was nobody at home. Still, we were not safe anywhere. Some soldiers, I among them, were sent down toward the shoreline; we were to see to it that no enemy troops affected a landing. {11} We were under fire several times and many bombs fell about us, one directly in our midst. -- The officers commanded: "Fall down!" an order which was instantly obeyed. -- The bomb exploded but all that happened was that some earth was spattered on us, though two men were slightly wounded. Had we not that time been lying flat on the ground, many of us would have perished, for the projectile bursts asunder only after it has struck the ground, and therefore the fragments are likely to spread upward or horizontally. When I am speaking to you of bombs I had better explain how they are made. The ones I mentioned were as large as two human heads and weighed about a hundred pounds. The bomb is of hollow metal, filled with powder, and is shot from a cannon; a fuse is ignited in the process of firing, and this burns until it reaches the powder; then it explodes, and can kill as many as a hundred people when it lands in a close group. The bombardment continued until darkness fell; then the enemy withdrew to rest until the next day. That day arrived after a sleepless night, for we were under arms throughout the whole of it. A steam frigate had come to our assistance from Fortress Monroe, {12} but had the misfortune to run aground; she awaited the same fate that had befallen the two vessels that had come to such a sorry end the day before.

At dawn the guns began to thunder again and the projectiles to shriek through the air. When it had become light we were able to see still another peculiar ship that was booming away most terribly. We could see her move back and forth, but we could not distinguish anything, except something that looked like a great round basin. We saw her firing upon the infernal machine that had done so much damage the preceding day, -- consequently we, too, must have acquired a monstrosity of some sort; {13} and for several hours these two were engaged in combat, without doing each other any perceptible injury, even though they rammed into one another. However -- nothing availed. During the afternoon the enemy retired. It was easy to understand that he must be weary of the game. Later on we learned that a shot had entered the hull and had killed and wounded eleven men. That is the end of this tale, though it might be added that the United States lost five million dollars and a few hundred lives. {14} Since that day nothing has occurred here, except that one of the big guns exploded while firing upon an enemy vessel. We stood about by the hundreds, I too, you may well know, curious to see what was going to happen, but I came near paying for that curiosity with my life. Imagine! -- Three men fell dead at my side, and the brains of one of them were spattered all over me. Many were injured, but not I. After having helped carry away the dead and wounded, I went to my quarters, but -- and this I fully assure you -- many a hot tear coursed down my tanned face. No, that moment I shall never forget; we never suspected any danger. It certainly is true, as the saying goes: "We little know what lies before us." Several young sailors, whom I learned to know in New York, have succumbed and have closed their eyes for ever; three of them perished off shore here.

During the last three weeks there has been great commotion here, as a new attack is expected every day. Thousands of men have been digging trenches in order to strengthen our position, and most of the time we have had plenty of hardship. During the few moments that have been allowed us for rest, I have been so tired that I have dropped down and slept like a stone. Mails have usually been unsafe and several times entirely cut off, so that no letters could pass either out or in, but the time has passed in the hope that things will straighten out again.

Well, the winter has been quiet, both as far as news and battles have been concerned, because conditions then render maneuvers difficult, but now everything seems to be thawed out and set free from the bondage of winter, and now there is activity at every point of the compass. We have surrounded the enemy by both land and water, {15} but the circle is large as yet, though daily closing in; therefore I hope the stubbornness of the South will soon be broken; but thousands upon thousands will perish before we are finally relieved.

April 5, 1862

I am still in good shape, but it now begins to look as though we are going to get into the worst of it here. I should not mind it if I could avoid the fighting, for I am reluctant to die, but when I am called upon I shall go, and if everything goes well then all is well, and afterwards I want to return to peaceful occupations again; if I am killed, then I suppose that is the will of Providence.

. . . [Sic] You ask me if it is not awful always to be out, as we are, in woods and meadow, night and day, keeping a watch upon the enemy. I do not deny that I have been a little nervous and worried, especially in stormy weather, for at night one depends more upon the ear than upon the eye; but we know that the enemy must endure the same weather, since, after all, they are no more than human beings. Of course, I have been shot at occasionally, but whether the enemy was aiming at me or at some tree-stump, I cannot say, because it is difficult to distinguish an object in the dark. {16} This much is certain, such things as pigs and other animals have very often put me on my guard against the enemy himself. I am not easy to approach when at my post, for it takes very little to draw my fire. If rifle and bayonet are not sufficient, we carry revolvers in our belts, which are loaded with six charges, all of which can be fired in less than a minute.

Whenever I have been mixed up with the enemy I have feared less for my life than that I might be captured, for -- let me tell you -- there are Indians in the Southern Army, and if they get hold of us we are forthwith SCALPED, that is: they flay the hide off the head with the hair still on it, and then let the man go. That is the cruellest treatment a man can get. There are also other bloodthirsty hounds in the South, who have taken our soldiers prisoners, bound them to trees, and used them for target practice. It is related that some prisoners a while ago came to a woman plantation owner in the South, and that she asked that they be shot, so that she could be there and have the pleasure of dancing in their blood. What a terrible female! Other dangers also exist, for in many places where we have advanced it has been found that the water has been poisoned so that many have died of it; the same has been true of such food stores as they have had to leave behind and which we have tried to make merry upon. In this way some time ago forty men died in one day, most of them officers. {17} There you have evidence of the humaneness of the slave states. As a matter of fact, they come of a bad stock, the population there being a mixture of Indians, Negroes, Mexicans, and Spaniards. But I will say this, that nothing will avail them; they will all be conquered, and they will themselves suffer the consequences of their actions. It will take time, however, for the area of their country is very great and we have to fight our way forward, foot by foot.

You mentioned that last fall you had a terrible hurricane over there. A month ago we had one such, and it was so severe that it blew wagons end over end on the highways, and even blew down houses. Here the wind was so strong that we could not stand erect. We were at drill, but more than half of us were blown down, and we had difficulty getting home, as the sand from the beach filled our eyes. The roofs were blown off several barracks; still, no one was hurt here, though there were casualties elsewhere. We have spring now -- yes, I might well say summer -- and have begun to use our flannel coats. I think I shall be able to stand more heat now than last year, so that the climate will cause no discomfort. We have been more than fortunate, we of the First Regiment, in being sent to these parts, where the air is so fresh; it is to be hoped that we may continue here, but I do not believe we shall, though I know nothing for certain. It is not unlikely, however, that I shall soon be in Richmond, the capital of Virginia, with more than a hundred thousand inhabitants. Our troops are advancing in that direction now from three points. It would not surprise me if you now were weary of all this political gossip, parts of which you will find quite unintelligible, but do not forget that I sit and write in a veritable Sodom, with noise and commotion within doors, drums and tumult outside, and now and then a cannon shot from the enemy, sometimes at our ships, sometimes at our encampment, to keep us in suspense if nothing else, but seldom causing any damage.

CAMP FAIR OAK [sic], June 19, 1862.

As long as conditions are as they are, as long as I cannot do better, I know you will forgive me if I write with pencil. An active soldier cannot expect to have it otherwise, -- he is here today, there tomorrow, and very often it is out of the question to try to carry along anything but the clothes on his back; if he has his weapons, then he is well situated. All of May passed quietly at Newport News, about which I wrote before; the enemy was driven back on all sections thereabout by the middle of the month, and the few troops which remained lived in peace, so that we called ourselves "the Home Guard." We passed the time reading newspapers, bathing sometimes twice daily, and eating and drinking. When our regular rations did not taste good enough, we went out and bought something better. Yes, those were pleasant days. However, one must take the evil along with the good. The city of Norfolk, just across from here, with its forty thousand inhabitants, was to be taken, and we received marching orders. We started off, a few thousand strong, but before we got there word was brought that the city had surrendered without resistance, consequently we were sent back to our old place. {18} Soon after, the twentieth of May arrived . . . [Sic] We had rigged up a theater which was opened that day. I was along, and amused myself immensely. We sang a couple of numbers on the stage and received tremendous applause . . . [Sic] Almost all of May I was indisposed, not exactly on the sick list, but I hardly felt well a single day. I finally began to improve, however, for the constant bathing helped me. We had hoped to see New York again toward the end of May, and daily expected to receive our furloughs; but -- that was not the way it turned out. We suddenly received telegraphic orders instantly to join the army at Richmond, since the enemy had concentrated there en masse and had forced our army some distance to the rear. {19} To make a long story short -- two hours after this news arrived we were steaming away at top speed, and were scheduled to reach our destination the next morning, and so we did. But it was hard on us, as we were forced to march and countermarch for three whole days and nights, through rain and storm, always drenched to the skin, and at night there was nothing to do but to lie down in our tracks, with no more shelter than our oilskin coverings, and with the wet, soft ground beneath.

Yes, it was unpleasant, you may be sure; but a soldier must put up with the lack of many things. Dry bread and water were our rations for some days, nevertheless we were forced to do hard labor throwing up breastworks to protect us against the enemy, who attacks us day and night. Well, we finally halted where the battle was fought on the thirty-first of May and the first of June. {20} On the first day we were beaten back, and seventeen cannon had to be left behind to fall into enemy hands. They could not be carried along, as nearly all the horses had been shot. Fifteen thousand of our troops {21} were forced to run away from their camp leaving behind their standing tents and their knapsacks, which, however, gave the enemy little comfort; he was compelled to leave it all again the next morning, because we had received reinforcements during the night, and our soldiers drove the enemy out at the point of the bayonet. All the knapsacks belonging to our soldiers had been cut open, and all that our enemies could use had been taken out, for they are poorly clad and as a rule they have only a pair of trousers and a gray cap. But they fight very well, nevertheless, because they are fed with all sorts of fables and fine promises. Money they do not get, for that sort of thing is a luxury with them . . . [sic] except paper money, which they are forced to accept. However, when parts of their territory are taken by our troops, then their money becomes mere waste paper.

This was certainly a terrible battle. Our losses were nearly 5,000 men; the enemy losses, according to their own account, were 8,000 men. They left behind them 1,200 dead on the battlefield the day they were compelled to withdraw, and we about the same number; the rest were wounded. {22}

It will nauseate you when I tell you in what condition I found the field on the fifth day after the battle! {23} The place was hardly endurable on account of a pestilential odor; for in this heat everything had begun to decompose, and lay there -- a mass of horses and a few hundred men still unburied, almost as far as the eye could see. There had not been time the first days after the battle to bury them, because a fresh attack was expected and it had been thought more necessary to erect defenses in the form of breastworks and trenches. But thereafter a large quantity of inflammable materials were spread over the dead horses, and fires begun; there was not time to dig them down. There was many an evil-smelling fire, and lying in amongst them were not a few human beings. I thought it was unforgivable on the part of the commanders that they did not care for the dead. It was a horrifying spectacle, these sodden, bloated bodies, which had already become quite black, with maggots pouring out of their half-eaten faces. Good Heavens! I thought; are those human beings! or -- what is man! Some few are usually buried well under the ground after such a battle, but here I could not see but that the dead remained lying above it exactly where they fell, and with only so much earth heaped upon them that they were covered, and generally not even that, for it was no unusual thing to find arms and legs protruding from under the earth. A comrade and I went farther on, out into a swamp where we had to wade through water well up toward our knees, with branches and tree-stumps everywhere, making it very hard to pass through. Even here, however, there had been fighting, for we found two of our enemies who had been wounded, and -- who were still alive, but that was all, for they were unable to speak and far gone with starvation and suffering. I, poor devil, would very much have liked to help them, but what could I do? Nothing -- nothing! I had to depart with sorrow in my mind and a heavy heart. I had to crawl back again over tree-trunks and other almost impassable obstructions, and leave the dying there alone with Providence. As far as that goes, I believe they had already ceased to suffer, as all consciousness seemed gone, and I think it must have been but a very short time till their souls left their bodies. I had been proceeding thus in deep thought, and, without

All goes well enough when one is in good health, and I thought the days were passing quickly; but then I became ill, very ill. I do not suppose I was strong enough to stand all this exertion. The doctor pronounced it calenture [klimatfeber], but only a light case. Twelve days have now passed, and I have finally begun to recover; but I am so weak that I tremble in every limb merely at walking a few steps. I am so wasted and thin that you would never recognize me if you should see me; even the little flesh I had has quite disappeared, and my skin seems to cling to my bones. My complexion is a yellowish gray with several dark spots. During my illness I have hardly been able to take any nourishment; now, however, a ravenous appetite is growing upon me, but I regret to say that I find very little of the food that would be most appetizing. If I were only near enough to you so that you could fetch me some good food! e. g. some milk porridge or other milk food, which, as far as I remember, I have not tasted since I was in Norway. The country hereabout I cannot describe this time. I sit here and look about me -- only great plains and forests catch the eye. Turning my glance to the sky, I see that it is light blue, with here and there some light colored moving clouds. A fresh southerly breeze invigorates the air and refreshes my surroundings; at the present moment I breathe an air so fresh and cool, but in an hour it may be almost burning hot again.


<1> The three letters herewith submitted were discovered in the files of the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet (Oslo), under date of May 27, 1862, and July 24, 1862, respectively, by Professor Theodore C. Blegen. He made copies of them, and sent them to the translator with the request that be convert them into English and edit them.

<2> James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States, 4:24-27; War of the Rebellion. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series I, vol. II, p. 38-44.

<3> Frederick H. Dyer, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, (Des Moines, 1908).

<4> Report of Brigadier General Jos. K. F. Mansfield, commanding the First Brigade, First Division, Department of Virginia, at Newport News, March 10, 1862. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 4-5.

<5> The editor has been unable to find any record of this engagement. There is no mention of it in Charles R. Cooper, Chronological and Alphabetical Record of the Engagements of the Great Civil War (Milwaukee, 1904), in Dyer, Compendium, or in Official Records. It seems strange that this is the case, if the writer has correctly described the size of the expedition, and if he is right in his estimate of the number of prisoners taken. There is a bare possibility that he may be referring to the seizure of Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. But the enemy batteries there could hardly threaten ships bound for Fortress Monroe; furthermore, that engagement took place on February 8 and 9, 1862, not on February 14, although there was intermittent fighting there throughout February, but again none, apparently, on the fourteenth.

<6> According to the report of Flag-Officer Buchanan, who commanded the Confederate squadron, the "Merrimac" left Norfolk at about 11:00 A. M.; all Union authorities agree that it was shortly after noon, which was probably the time they sighted her. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 8-10.

<7> This particular passage is written with such a fine sense of climax as to compel the conclusion that the writer was no mere drudge, but a man of imagination and of education. The Confederate land forces did approach within a few hundred yards of the Union outposts at Newport News, and held themselves in readiness to attack. The evident preparedness and superior strength of the Union forces, however, made an attack foolhardy. See report of Major General John B. Magruder, C. S. A., commanding the Department of the Peninsula, in Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 13-14.

<8> The "Merrimac" began firing with her bow gun as soon as she came within range. She passed the U. S. S. "Congress," and steered straight for the "Cumberland," firing all the time, and rammed her, "causing her almost immediately to sink." See the Secretary of the Navy's annual report, December 1,1862, printed in Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 1-4. It is rather strange that the writer fails to mention the ramming of the "Cumberland." The crew remained on duty, firing the guns as long as they were above water. Therefore the writer was probably not far off in estimating that "more than two hundred seamen" went down with her.

<9> This was the "Congress." There is no official evidence that she was so badly damaged that she was on the point of sinking before she was run aground. That maneuver was executed to save her from the vicious prow of the "Merrimac." Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 1-4.

<10> Buchanan reported that six Confederate vessels took part in the battle, three steamers and three gunboats, the latter carrying only one gun each. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 8.

<11> At this point it would seem that the writer's eagerness to get on with his story to the part where he himself played an active role leads him into error. It was not after the explosion of the magazine of the "Congress," but several hours before that "a number of troops were sent down toward the shoreline"; in fact, it was while the Confederates were trying to float her and carry her off. Her officers had hoisted white flags, but General Mansfield, commanding on land, sent two companies of riflemen (which, however, do not seem to have been from any "First Regiment," to which the writer says later that he belonged) down to the shore, opened fire with all his ordnance, and "retook" the "Congress," i. e., drove the Confederates off. Thereupon the Confederates fired hot shot into her and set her afire. She blew up, according to Flag-Officer Buchanan "a few minutes past midnight," according to General Mansfield "about a o'clock in the morning," and therefore not "after a [short] while," as stated by the writer. Inasmuch as the shore party was probably not over seven hundred yards distant from the "Congress," it is not unlikely that the explosion threw the writer to the ground. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, P. 4-10.

<12> The "Minnesota."

<13> The "Monitor," of course. She had long been expected by the Confederates; on February 24 Major General Benjamin Huger, C. S. A., at Norfolk, wrote to the Secretary of War at Richmond that "the Ericsson [iron-clad] battery has arrived. . . . "Actually she did not arrive till the evening of March 8. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 17, 44.

<14> In an attempt to sink the "Monitor" by ramming her, the "Merrimac," which had lost her iron beak in her encounter with the "Cumberland," sprang a leak. Lieutenant Worden, commander of the "Monitor," was injured by splinters from a shell which struck the pilot house near the aperture through which he was looking to direct his ship. Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 1-4; James Ford Rhodes, History of the Civil War, 114-116 (New York, 1923). Lieutenant Jones, who commanded the "Merrimac" on March 9, reported: "Our loss is 2 killed and 19 wounded. The stem is twisted, and the ship leaks. We have lost the prow, starboard anchor, and all the boats. The armor is somewhat damaged." Official Records, series I, vol. 9, p. 10.

<15> This statement is not historically accurate. Richmond and the Confederate army were being threatened from the north (if the presence of a Union force south of Washington, intended primarily for the defense of that city, can be said to have constituted a threat in an active sense), the east, and the southeast.

<16> This is an instance of scrupulous truthfulness on the part of the writer, which is very effective in establishing his veracity as an historical witness. The obvious exaggerations that follow below do not necessarily militate against him in this respect. Tales of atrocity by the enemy are common coin in every army and in every war, and none are too fantastic to find believers, even by the most truthful of men, as those who lived through the World War can testify. When our letter-writer sticks to his own personal experience his words have the ring of truth; when he transmits hearsay the tone is quite different.

<17> In Newton A. Strait's Alphabetical List of Battles, 1754--1900, 154 (Washington, D. C., 1905), the translator finds the following notation: "February 23, 1862 -- Forty-two officers and men of the Missouri Cavalry poisoned at Fayetteville, Ark., by a quantity of poisoned meal left behind by the Confederates." It is quite probable that, in order effectively to warn their men against helping themselves to what the enemy left behind, the Union commanders had given wide circulation to this incident.

<18> General McClellan received news of the evacuation of Norfolk on the morning of the eleventh. The Confederates destroyed the "Merrimac" before they retired, to prevent her falling into Union hands. Rhodes, History of the United States, 4:6.

<19> General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate forces about Richmond, was confronting the Union Army under McClellan at this point. The Federal forces were not, of course, actually "at Richmond," as might be inferred from the letter; but they were within six miles of the city, and at one point the Federal outposts were within four and one-half miles. Harper's Encyclopedia of United States History, vol. 3, "Fair Oaks."

<20> The main facts concerning the battle of Fair Oaks or Seven Pines have been set down in the introduction, ante.

<21> This is certainly an exaggeration. There were probably not over fifteen thousand troops engaged on either side, and only the left wing of the Union forces was compelled to fall back.

<22> Union losses were actually 5,031 men, of whom 790 were killed, 3,594 wounded, the rest captured or missing. The Confederate losses were 6,134 men. Dyer, Compendium, 901; Rhodes, History of the United States, 4:28.

<23> Anyone who has taken the trouble to examine a few of the official photographs of Civil War battlefields knows that the following description is not even slightly exaggerated, but is probably an exact recital of what the writer actually saw.

<24> This was probably only a minor skirmish. This letter is dated June 19, and on that day the writer had been ill and hors de combat for twelve days (see post), which must mean that he ceased taking an active share in the fighting on June 7. But the records contain no mention of any considerable fighting on this front between June 1 and June 7. It is barely possible, however, that this was the skirmish at Union Church, which occurred on June 5, and could thus be described as having taken place on "the fifth day after the battle," the day on which the writer crossed the battlefield.

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