"Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?"

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 18, 1863. "The intelligence and enduring virtue of the nation is in the ranks."

"Fairfax Station, VA. March 18th, 1863
E.D. Keyes, Captain Co. H., 16th Regt.

"Mr. Editor – All is quiet at Fairfax. Colonel Stoughton has made a forward movement, - the first of the season. About only a year ago Manassas was taken by a single Yankee, and we sincerely desire that the Colonel may have equal success. Although I do not fancy his style, and presume that he fancies it still less, yet I am a Stoughton man, and of course am ready to whip the first one who says that he is glad the Colonel has been captured; for I consider him a brave and loyal man, and possessed of talents and acquirements equaled by few of his age. No doubt it is considered pure carelessness on his part, and having his headquarters so far from his command. But campaigning in Virginia has proved fatal to most aspirants to military glory upon the sacred soil. Indeed, the commanders who have not made fatal mistakes in this department have been so few, that he can console himself with the fact of belonging to a very numerous class whose names are found in the catalog of blunders which have brought upon us but a series of calamities instead of victories.

"I have heard it talked in camp, many a time during the past few weeks, that Fairfax could be surprised the General and Staff captured, and horses stolen and all be out of our reach before assistance could be rendered. Therefore we were not surprised when the thing was done. But other Generals have made their headquarters at Fairfax, when their commands were at a distance, and no doubt are equally to blame with Col. Stoughton, if any blame attaches to him. The fact is we have been exposed at many points during the past two months. When regiments are scattered over a large space, not within helping distance of each other, rebel cavalry can have it all their own way, when they come in such force as they did two months ago, and the only wonder is that they have not visited us before.

"While the Col. was spending the evening at Fairfax Station with some friends, some ten days before he was captured, a spy visited his headquarters, representing himself as a Federal Captain. The same man was recognized among the rebels at the time of the raid. They crossed our line which is some six or eight miles from the courthouse, with the countersign in some places and others it is presumed they crossed without being noticed by our pickets, who probably on so rainy a night neglected their duty, as is too often the case. On arriving at Fairfax, some of them took off our guard and posted theirs instead, while others went to the quarters of the officers and called them out, a very unmannerly act, to be sure, but they all escaped except Col. Stoughton. Col. Wyndham, commander of cavalry was away in Washington. Col. Johnson of 5th N.Y., escaped out a side window in his nightclothes and crawled under a barn, waiting until the rebels were gone, when he started in pursuit of them with cavalry which had been stationed about two miles from the courthouse, to the number of 200.

"Zimri Messenger of Springfield, Vt., who was acting as orderly at the telegraph office, was taken and placed upon a horse and made to lead five other horses, two of which were the Colonel’s. He made bad work of riding and leading, purposely I presume, and being careless withal, let go of the Colonel’s horses, one of which was found the next day and brought back to the Court House. Finally after riding a couple of miles, he got changed onto a horse which was saddled and having learned that there was a John in the company, and there being a little excitement to the rear, which took the attention of those around him, he started back towards the rear of the column when on being asked, “Who goes there?” he said ,“John,” and that he was going back to help Capt. Moseby who was the leader of the rebels. So he passed on, but soon turned away from the column and scampered for dear life, no doubt displaying horsemanship which would have surprised the rebels who lately had him in charge. During his ride with his captors, he was struck in the back by some weapon which has rendered him unable to do duty, and he is now in the hospital.

"This incident excites quite as much of laughter as indignation. The rebels are smart and they have plenty of opportunities for showing their smartness. And they will continue to play their tricks just so long as we place small forces here and there, surrounded by spies, who can communicate information beyond our lines everyday and the week. And these traitor spies are protected in rights which they do not possess. Their property has been guarded by the Second Vermont Brigade when every bloody rascal of them ought to be driven out of the country. To allow so many spies to remain in the vicinity of Washington is the extreme of folly to say the least.

"Gen. Pope struck a right lead when he ordered traitors to be sent beyond our lines, or suffer a worse fate by remaining. Why we see spies everyday. I would hang them or drive them out of this country, and make Northern Virginia as desolate as the plains of Nebraska. They you will not hear of rebel raids within twenty miles of Washington, when we have thirty thousand federal soldiers within the same distance.

"Signal lights were thrown up from Fairfax the night after the raid, also several times the week previous, by secesh; and the same thing has been done many times during the past winter. Now soldiers who have brains have no respect for such trifling as this.

"The male residents of Fairfax have been sent to the old Capital Prison at Washington. This is a step in the right direction; but like many other steps in that direction, it comes too late.

"Sometimes I have wondered that our armies have not become demoralized. But now I have greater faith in the Republic than ever. When I witness the patience, the sacrificing devotion of those in the ranks, I exult in the faith that the old flag shall yet again wave over every State of the once United. The brain of the Army is in the ranks, and I might almost say the intelligence and the enduring virtue of the nation is in the ranks, and here is the hope of Liberty. If demoralization exists at all it is among the officers, and ever has been.

There is no position which man can occupy which requires more of sterling integrity, than that of being an officer in an army which is fighting for Liberty. The officer who lacks in natural honesty soon becomes a thief, and he has plenty of opportunities for exercising his propensity, for Uncle Sam has lots of property lying around loose.

"The 14th, 15th and 16th have to-day been digging rifle pits in expectation of a visit from Stonewall.

"We have no politics in the 16th, but to carry on the war until the rebellion is put down. So we watch with some interest the movements of copperheads at home. And for everyone who would hold back one iota of strength from the Army, we lay up curses sufficient to damn a whole community. We fight against rebels upon principle, and have for them some respect, but for the men at home, who sympathize with traitors in arms, there is growing in the Army the most intense hatred. And the Army will cherish that hatred as a duty which they owe to Liberty. We are all desirous that the government should raise more men, so that every step gained cannot be lost. I think if 200,000 more men are brought into the field, that three-fourths of the able bodied men of the 2nd Vermont Brigade will re-enlist.

"I believe that the men of the 16th are well pleased with their officers, and well they may be, for we have been treated first rate. Men who are really sick, are granted all the indulgence that could be asked. The regiment is well drilled and looks clean, with but few exceptions, as when it left Brattleboro. And this I consider a high compliment to both officer and soldier."
~ E. D. Keyes, Captain, Company H. writing as "Duane" to the Bellows Falls Times, published March 20, 1863.

"Camp Near wolf run Shoals Va. [March 18,] 1863 

"Dear Parents ... As we have wrote Several times Since the affair at the courthouse it is unneccesary for me to mention in this letter only that it is considered a most shameful affair here & has we think cost Stoughton his commission as general which by the way he never had received the president sent in his name to the Senate to be confirmed but before they acted upon it he was taken prisoner & the president withdrew his nomination. at least that is the report

"The typhoyed pneumonia & typhoyed fever are both raging very high. there having seven died in our regiment within the last sixty two hours one of them was from our company. his name was Roderick R. Williams. he enlisted from windsor, but I understand that his father resides in Cornish, N.H.

"I understand that there is one or two companys in the reg. that do not report but from thirty to forty for duty, & where there Should be 18 Lieutenants there is not but Seven reported for duty.

"There was an order to night calling for one man to vollenteer from each company to enlist into the Second Rhode Island Battery to Serve there until our nine months expire & if the battery is Seperated from the Brigade before that time then they will rejoin their company. 
The one that vollenteered from our company was Fred. P. Mather. they are to report to Col. Blunt on or before the twentyieth of this month

"Col. Blunt still remains in command of the Brigade & he is liked by all of the command." 
Jabez H. Hammond, West Windsor, age 20, Sgt. Co. A, 12th Regt Letter No. 33

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