Monday, April 9, 2012

April 9, 1862: John VanAllen & the 2nd NJ Brigade

In April 1862, the Second New Jersey Brigade, consisting of the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiments, was transferred to the Virginia Peninsula under the command of Brigadier General F. E. Patterson, assigned to General Joseph Hooker's division.

On April 9, John J. VanAllen, of Belvidere, a medical steward in Company E, 7th NJ Volunteer Regiment, wrote to his daughter from the James River during the Peninsula Campaign.  He wrote, "Daughter Mary:  I received your letter bearing date March 30th.  In answer, I will say that I am well and was glad to hear you were all well.  It makes my drooping spirits glad to hear that those I love so well are in good health.  May God's blessings be with you all.  I would love to see you all this morning, but no, I cannot; my country needs me; its laws and constitution must be preserved. 

"I am down on rebellion and abolitionism. The Abolitionists have for more than twenty years been trying by their acts to dissolve this glorious Union and the best government the sun ever shone [sic] on, and the Southern rebels have stolen our government property, trampled on our glorious stars and stripes, set up a tyrannical government of their own - a government of rapine and plunder.  They have robbed the people and country where ever their armies go.  I have seen old men and women robbed of everything and their property burned and stolen by the rebel banditti.

"Our army on the Potomac have great confidence in our leaders, General Geo. B. McClellan, the President, and Secretary of War.  We think that through them we will crush the rebellion and abolitionism , and peace, harmony and good old Democratic principles will be restored to the distracted Union.

"Our friend [Franklin Pierce] Sellers, of The Intelligencer, is much mistaken if he thinks the army on the Potomac is in favor of freeing the negro and making free territory   of the Southern States.  They would every one lay down their arms if that was the case; it is to save the Union and preserve the laws that we fight, and we will leave it to the people to settle their own question on slavery.  I saw in Mr. Sellers' paper that the 2nd New Hampshire regiment on the Potomac held an election and voted for abolitionism.  I say it is not so.  We were close neighbors on the Potomac, and no such election has been held.  So much for him!

"We are still on the river; we have been on the water four days and nights.  We had one of the worst storms that I ever saw.  We are leading our troops this morning at the mouth of the James river, 30 miles from Monroe and two hundred from Washington.  We expect a fight to-morrow at Yorktown.  I tell we are soldiers now in earnest.  Nearly all were sea sick on board, but it did not affect me any; I had to help the sick; the Doctors were all awful sick; I think I shall practice medicine when I get home.  We are having a big time just now; about 40,000 men and horses are landing; we have to throw the horses overboard and let them swim to shore; the men pull off their coats and wade to shore.  I am still on board with the Doctors; I think we will take a plank for it.

"No more at present; kiss the little ones for me; I will write soon again and tell you about our voyage.  Good bye and God bless you. J. J. VanAllen." 

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 5, 1862: Theodore Carhart & the 1st NJ Brigade

In early April 1862, the First New Jersey Brigade, consisting of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiments, was in Camp Seminary [Fairfax Seminary], Virginia.  Corporal Theodore "Dora" Carhart, of Belvidere and later Phillipsburg, had enlisted in Company D, 1st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment in May 1861 at age 22 years.  On April 5, he wrote a letter to his father.

Carhart wrote, "Father, you do not comprehend the position the First New Jersey Brigade holds, and I feel very proud to tell you that we are on the right of the whole Corps de Armee. We are considered the best in the whole Army of the Potomac.  We stand today for the first Brigade of the first Corps de Armee of the Potomac, and to cap the climax, I belong to the first Regiment.  The other day when General [Irvin] McDowell reviewed his corps, [General George] McClellan, and part of his staff, as mere spectators, were present, and a host of others, and among them the usual number of Senators and Representatives, and your humble servant, stood, with a crowd of others close by them, as spectators also, and when General [Philip] Kearny rode by on his splendid gray charger, in review, they all inquired, 'What Brigade is this, with white gloves, blackened boots and shoes, and march so elegantly?Why it beats anything I ever saw for volunteers.Why our regulars can't do any better.'  Someone spoke out and said, 'It is the First New Jersey Brigade.'  The answer, 'Oh! That's Kearny's Brigade is it?  Yes. Well, they are not only the best looking but the best drilled on the field.' 

"Well, as it is getting late, I must close. Give my love to all, Dora."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards  

Monday, April 2, 2012

April 4, 1862: Birdsall Cornell & 1st NJ Cavalry in Virginia

By April 1862, members of the First New Jersey Cavalry were camped in Alexandria, Virginia.  Sergeant Birdsall Cornell, of Company K, sent a dispatch to The Belvidere Intelligencer on April 4 to report on a recent scouting mission.

Cornell, of Branchville, Sussex County, reported, "On Tuesday of last week, two battalions of our Regiment, under Colonel Sir Percy Windham, started on a scout and did not get back 'till Thursday night. We passed several miles (on the other side of the Occoquan) through the camps that the rebels had recently deserted, and I was surprised to find their quarters so warm and comfortable.  They had but few tents, and for the want of them, had built log houses as a shelter.  The logs are of pine, and very straight, and all the houses show that they had taken a great deal of pains in their construction.  All that I had examined had good floor boards, and 'bunks' had been made, and plenty of straw provided to lie upon.  The chimneys were of sticks plastered with mud.  Whole villages of these houses we passed at different places on our route towards Dumfries, and we found a great many loose things scattered around, such as cartridge boxes, dirks, Bowie knives, &c. (some of them with blades nearly as large as cutlasses), and bushels of letters frm lovers and friends.  Some of these letters aroused my sympathy as they depicted such a woeful state of misery and destitution at home, but the greater part of them breathed a fierce spirit of wrath against the Yankees, until Forts Henry and Donaldson fell into our hands.  These reverses to their arms somewhat changed the tone of their letters, and many were getting evidently alarmed. 

"One of our boys found an old fish horn, which for want of something better, they used as a trumpet, and Yankee 'tin skimmers' in considerable numbers had been fastened to their coats as shoulder scales (the object of them being to ward off the force of a sabre stroke).

"Last spring, the rebels burnt the bridge across the river at Occoquan village, and endeavored to obstruct the fording place two miles above by throwing in large rocks  blown from a quarry, having square corners and sharp edges.  In crossing at that point the other morning, the horse of Henry P. Cook, of Warren, a private in Company K, lost its footing and both horse and rider were carried some distance down the river, as the water was high and running rapidly.   Cook finally, after running great danger of being drowned, brought his horse out on terra firma on the same side they  had went in - returned to the place where we had bivouacked the night previous, dried himself, crossed the river safely, and joined his company again by the middle of the day. "

Cornell noted many Virginia farmers had left their homes.  He wrote, "The greater bulk of farmers have run away and joined their fortunes with the secesh, leaving everything behind.  A house not far from our Camp was deserted containing furniture that had cost not less that five thousand dollars - all has since been swept away by soldiers and others.  I called not long since at a large mansion, vacated by its proprietor, and found much valuable furniture, and among the rest was a piano worth perhaps five to six hundred dollars.  In this house, I picked up a will dated 1757, or one hundred and five years ago.  The person who made the will disposed first of his real estate, then of his personal property, and the balance which was in money, be divided equally among his heirs to be invested expressly in the purchase of healthy young Negro girls of the proper age to commence breeding - just as a farmer at the North   would but with some two year old heifers, and expect to raise calves from the spring following."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards