Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 1862: Pvt. DeWitt Clinton Blair at Harper's Ferry

In April 1861, Belvidere attorney and banker DeWitt Clinton Blair, son of Belvidere Bank president and railroad owner John I. Blair, recruited a militia company shortly after the confederate troops fired artillery at Fort Sumter.  Blair paid for railroad transportation of his company from Belvidere to Trenton, and after learning that the four militia regiments had been filled, he paid to transport his recruits back to Belvidere.  Captain Blair returned to his law practice in Belvidere and New York City.

In June 1862, Blair enlisted for three months as a private in Company G of the 22nd New York National Guard Regiment, known as the "Union Grays" because of their gray militia uniforms.  The uniform consisted of a gray single-breasted frock coat cut in the French style, with red collar and cuffs, trimmed with white piping; gray trousers trimmed with a red stripe edged in white piping; a gray cap with a red band and top, edged with white piping; and yellow leather leggings.   The "Union Grays" were soon assigned to guarding the arsenal town of Harper's Ferry, Virginia.  Blair was assigned to a cannon crew, which was placed on a hill at Camp Aspinall.

On July 18, 1862,   Blair wrote to his friend Jehiel G. Shipman, a Belvidere attorney, "Mr. J.G. Shipman, My old friend, I feel under obligation to you for your kind letter of the 10th instant.  I have thought of Mrs. Shipman & yourself quite often since I left home.  I have resolved in several occasions to drop you a line, but the fact is I never have a moment which I can call my own.  The noise and confusion in Camp drives all my thoughts away.  When we left N. York, I supposed our destination was Washington, but the order was countermanded & we pitched our first camp in Baltimore.  We remained there but a short time.  The order came at midnight to arise from our slumber, take down Tents, sling knapsacks, shoulder arms, forward march.  At daylight next morning, we found ourselves in the sacred soil of Virginia.  We marched down the Shenandoah Valley until we reached Bolivar Heights, when we planted our Tent poles.  Our position never was very much opposed.  But we held the post of honor as we were the advance Guard in General [John E.] Wool's Department.

"We had very little rest here, as the long roll sounded almost every night & we had to spring to our arms at a moment's notice with the delightful expectation of meeting a body of Colonel Ashby's Cavalry, who infested this part of the Valley.  Again orders came from Wool for us to fall back near Harper's Ferry & commence throwing up earthworks.  We did not have all this work to do ourselves.  Four hundred contrabands [slaves] came in to play & we looked on for a time, which was a very satisfactory arrangement so long as it lasted.  The only trouble was they did not quite finish the job.  They are by nature just as lazy as white folks.  It was very amusing to see these fellows work.  One would take half a shovel of dirt & throw it up on the bank, then stand for some time to see it run down again.  One contraband swore he would do no more work.  The Officer gave him to understand that he would very soon remove all such foolish ideas from his head.  The Negro still refused to work.  The Officer then placed on his back four thick overcoats & a knapsack filled with brick & dirt & then made him march at a double quick for half an hour, at the end of that time, the contraband caved in, & concluded he could stand the pick & shovel better than this new mode of work.

"Our camp is on a side hill & was doing very well.  Last night, Company G, of which I am a member, received orders to strike our Tents & remove to the top of the hill & take charge of a Battery of 12 guns.  This is quite a compliment to us.  I have a 24 Pounder now upon which I hope to finish my letter.  Our Regiment has had hard work since it has been in service.  We made five new Camps in six weeks.  You have no idea what amount of labor it takes to arrange a Camp in a proper manner, the ditches that have to be dug, the police duty required day after day.  Our Battery commands all the surrounding hills for some 2-1/2 miles.  I can, with my 24 Pounder, shell out the Rebels at a still greater distance.  We commanded Bolivar Heights also.  It was here that Stonewall Jackson halted with his advance body of Cavalry some six weeks since.

"I have fallen off in flesh very much, but have gained in strength.  I am in good health & spirit & will do my duty should we be ordered into action.  This Rebellion can, must & shall be put down.  I have never yet been discouraged. We must expect to lose a few battles, but what of that?  We have won a dozen & can win a dozen more.  If necessary, we in the North ought to be able to force the Rebels into the Gulf of Mexico.  Tell your young men to lay aside their law Books & come & live on fat pork & hardbread.

"I have not the time to say to you in this letter one quarter of what I would like to say.  You must excuse haste & all mistakes.  Take the will for the deed.  If I mistake not at the signs of the times, you will hear of a battle in this Valley before long which will take you all by surprise.  If Troops are not sent to General Pope, he will be forced to fall back in this direction.  We may receive orders soon to move forward.   Everything looks like it just now.  I have had no opportunity to think of the business arrangement you have mentioned in your letter.  I will think of it.  At present, my thoughts are confined to the duties of a soldier.  Remember me to Mrs. Shipman & George.  I hope the little Daughter is well.  I received a Rail Road letter from Father a few days since, which I shall answer the first chance I get.  I must clean my 24 Pounder Gun first.  I would be pleased to hear from you at any time.  Direct all letters thus: D. C. Blair, Comp. G, 22 Regt. N.Y.N.G., Harper's Ferry, Va.  If we move on, all letters will be forwarded to the Regiment.  Yours, Blair."

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards  

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that Mr. Blair enlisted as a private, notwithstanding his social position and the privilege he could have claimed.. Says a lot for a man.