Brookline Historical Publication Society
PUBLICATIONS, NO. 7.
Letter from Brigadier-General Edward A. Wild to the Brookline War Committee.
Camp Hooker Chicamoxon Md.
Doncaster Budd's Ferry &c. &c.
Tuesday Nov. 26, 1861.
James A. Dupee Esqr
Brookline War Committee
Dear Sir, I write to acknowledge again the liberality of your Committee. The two huge boxes arrived in safety just at Thanksgiving; and by the way, we did our best to observe the Day, in New England style; but our means are limited in this region. I opened and distributed them rapidly, I assure you. For they were just the thing, a superb article. I allude to the Shirts 100, and 100 drawers. The mittens also will be of immense service. But the stockings mentioned in your second letter, and with additions the next day mentioned by Mr. M. B. Williams, have not yet arrived. When they do, they will be gratefully received, and acknowledged. Even the packing will be of use, if we stay here a little longer. For we have commenced building log houses for winter quarters; and there is lumber enough in those boxes to floor & fit up the quarters of the officers of Co. A. The strong brown wrapping-paper also is enough to paper all the walls and roof. We think of tarring it, and so making a tight roof. Even the wrapping twine was of a superior quality, and came in demand. Our log huts are not built by orders from Head-quarters; but only to occupy our men's thoughts, and keep them from grumbling and brooding over our long continued inaction. But in truth, we do not expect to occupy them long. Day by day we look for the signal to start off down South : in which direction, or by what means, we have no inkling as yet. We rather expect to cross here, and press gradually on to Richmond. In that case some other troops may succeed us here, and inherit our sumptuous residences. And after the war is past, the slaves (if there shall be any??) can occupy them for 4 generations, and, find them luxurious, compared with their own. The glorious news from the Naval Expedition gives new promise, of more prompt action. Please convey our thanks to all those ladies who contributed the Stockings. We feel grateful, even before their arrival, for the kind devotion to the cause; and to Company A., in particular. May we always deserve it. Thus far they do. the men of Co. A. Witness their behavior the other day in the affair alluded to in your letter; they were steady as bricks. The only signs of fear, or expressions indicating a disposition to back out, came from a few men of Co. E., who were mixed in with us in the hurry of embarking. But I silenced them very summarily. I suppose that I ought to give you a circumstantial report of the whole affair. Thursday Nov. 14., This schooner attempted to pass up the Potomac. The rebels as usual fired at her. We have become accustomed to the noise of cannon so that now we take but little notice; although occasionally a shell will burst pretty near the camp., or a ball pass through some of the barns or shanties. With the exception of one long interval of five days, we have had more or less firing every day since coming here. The rebels do not shoot well; they seldom hit a vessel in motion; though sometimes they come pretty near a fixed object. Our batteries do not reply very often; only when there is some object to be gained by it, but when they do, they hit the mark. Whenever there is a good wind, and the tide favorable, several vessels are to be seen passing up and down, by day as well as by night. On this occasion the wind, which was strong in the morning, died away and the schooner was becalmed before getting out of range. The tide turned down stream, so they had to drop anchor. The rebels, who had been blazing away at her all the forenoon, now began to hit her. The crew rowed ashore and abandoned her, leaving the foresail and mainsail set. Seeing that no one came to her assistance, the rebels drew some field pieces up the other shore, and out upon a long sandy point. This brought them a mile and a half nearer to their mark than before. They then pushed out in boats, one of which came over & boarded the schooner. The battery in the meantime firing at everything they could see. All this while, Lt. Candler had been scouting along the shore, and watching their movements with the greatest anxiety; he tried to get assistance to tow her into Matawoman Creek, from the Regiments in that neighborhood, but without success. As soon as he saw the rebel boats starting out, he despatched a messenger on horseback down to our camp, 3 miles or more. We had been taking it very quietly as I said before, notwithstanding that we heard such constant firing;
never Courtmartial, when the messenger rode up, inquiring for the Colonel. He had gone to dinner. I happened to be the Officer of the Day : so I immediately ordered Co. A. under Lieu. Chandler down to the landing place. I adjourned the court, and followed after. We got out the boats, and bailed and manned the largest. Meanwhile the Col. returning, sent another Company (E) after us. Co. F. also had picket guards posted along the shore, and these joined in the chase. All embarked promiscuously in 15 boats or so, large and small but all the rest merely rowed across Chicamoxon creek i mile and then ran a couple of miles along the banks. There they came within long shot and fired rifle muskets (which carry very accurately) at the rebels aboard the schooner. They are sure of having hit two of them. I had taken the largest boat, with Lieut, Chandler and a party of 33 all told. We crossed the creek and kept on, rowing the whole 3 miles, putting straight for the schooner, anticipating a fight. But we presently saw the rebels leaving her, and soon after the smoke began to rise. Then we began to comprehend their game; though we expected also that she would blow up. As soon as the battery saw our boat coming up, they quitted the skirmishers, and turned their whole attention to us. We pulled on, laid her alongside, and directly tackled the fire, which looked formidable enough, indeed hopeless. For the flames had burst up through the hatchway, long before we reached her; had caught the rigging, and burned off half the mainsail, (which was left set) running clear up to the top. She was loaded with firewood, carrying a very heavy deck load. The fire had reached this too. And we had nothing but the boat-bails to work with. We had to throw over some of the deck load, and cut through the deck. After a hard struggle and a long one we conquered : not till the cabin was completely gutted and two bulkheads burned through. The main boom also was spoiled. We then hoisted the anchor, set the jib and flying jib, and towed her off, with the help of little breath of air just rising. All this time the rebels kept pelting away at us without intermission. They fired eighty-three shots at us, as counted by those on shore; for we were too busy to attend to the reckoning ourselves. They were whistling and plunging all the time, close to us on all sides; apparently just grazing us. They would go through the mainsail with a peculiar loud report, like a rifle, sharp. One shell burst within 3 feet of my head. Yet not a man was injured. Providence is still reserving us for some further work. Co. A. behaved admirably : perfectly steady. Lieut Chandler stood up through the storm, as cool as the mainmast. After we had got under weigh, some of our field pieces came down on the gallop, to the top of the bluff and began to return the fire, silencing the rebels and dispersing them instanter. We fired but 6 shots. We had worked the schooner a little distance up the Potomac, when a steam tug hove in sight. I sent a small boat up to hail her and claim her assistance. She came down, took the schooner in tow, and we pulled all the way back to our camp, reaching there at nightfall. Since then we have been more watchful. But though many vessels have passed, none have been becalmed. Lieut. Candler has had for his special province to search out and gather up all the boats on our side of the Potomac, above and below. Quite a little fleet is accumulating here.
Whatever you send or write, should still be directed to Washington or via Washington : as we do not communicate with any other place. I have never met Lt. Col. Benedict, but if I should hereafter, I would claim acquaintance with him on the strength of your letter. You must bear in mind that we are not all encamped together, but are stretched a dozen miles along the river. We have never been nearer than two miles and a half to any regiment of Sickles' Brigade. Our Regiment is encamped by itself in a very good location, sheltered from the storms in two directions, though exposed to the North and West. It is convenient and seems healthy. But it is nearly as cold as at home, if not quite. This region is much more stormy than that of Boston. The storms are more frequent and more violent. We have had many already. One of them blew down more than half the camp of the 26th Pennsylvania, but in our sheltered position, it only levelled 8 or 10 tents. We have adopted various devices for keeping out the cold. The most popular and successful plan is that of digging a trench across the tent, covering it, and keeping a constant fire therein. A short flue coming up outside, makes a capital draft. In the Sibley tents an open fire in the middle of the tent works well in ordinary weather. But in these strong winds the smoke becomes troublesome. A part of a stove, with a piece or two of funnel running up toward the apex, obviates this difficulty. But then stoves have become scarce. All there were in this region have been divided round. Our log houses are built with chimneys of course. My respects to the Committee My regards to the ladies.
Yours very truly
Edward A. Wild
P. S. The box of stockings has not yet arrived
Sat. morn, early Nov 30th