Doc. 242.-the Vermont Regiment.
Headquarters 1ST Regiment, V. V. M., Newport News, Va., June 1, 1861.When I wrote you last, our regiment was located in the Hygeia Hotel, a house that is capable of accommodating 1,000 instead of 6,000 guests, and in which eleven of us were packed in a room 12 × 16, instead of the whole company; but we have changed our position twice since then, the particulars of which I will endeavor to relate to you. I see by the papers that our regiment captured Hampton, taking 300 prisoners, and have performed sundry other exploits, which would almost render us immortal. May be I had better say nothing of our doings, fearing the truth would lower us in the eyes of our friends; yet I think I will proceed, for the truth will out eventually. May 23.--Five companies of our regiment marched over to Hampton, a village of about 1,000 inhabitants, containing a female seminary--it is three miles N. W. of the fort. On coming near the village, a secession officer rode up to Col. Phelps, asking him the object of his visit? The reply was, that we intended to destroy any hostile battery that might be erected there, and disperse any armed force. He was requested to remain where he was while the said officer might return and consult with his superior, but the Col. told him he thought he should continue on. The secession officer rode quickly back, and soon was seen a thick black smoke arising. The Col. taking the first platoon of the Swanton company, pushed forward double quick and soon discovered that the bridge had been set on fire in the centre. Three barrels of tar were set on fire and were burning briskly, but our boys soon extinguished the fire by tearing up the planks and throwing them into the water. Soon the bridge was mended and we all marched across, but no enemy appeared against us. The officer, I know not his name, said they had nothing but a home guard, formed to protect their homes, and did not wish to quarrel with us. Upon that our Col. gave the order “right about face, march,” and we were on our way back to the fort. Thus ended the battle of Hampton. A negro told us they had a small field-piece on the bridge, which they thought at first they would fire at us three or four times and then run, but upon seeing so many of us they threw their cannon into the water and ran away without firing a shot. All the white inhabitants fled at our approach, leaving none but the darkies to receive us; they flocked around us in large numbers. They do not fear us, notwithstanding their masters telling them that the Yankees would kill every one of them, or else take them and set them hard at work. They say they never have had so many holidays before in their lives as they have had since we came here; their masters have run away, leaving them to shift for themselves. Every day numbers of them come into camp from places twenty miles distant, asking protection. They all unite in berating their masters, not wishing to see them again. One negro came into camp the other day, who had been shot not long since by his master for attempting to escape. He says he would kill him if he could get a chance. Judging from what I have seen and heard, it would not be a very difficult matter to free every negro in the State. They call us Mr. Lincoln's men. They like them they say. They bring in eggs, strawberries, &c., to camp, and give us all the information they possess of the movements of the rebels. They will be a great aid to us in the great struggle which is commencing. May 25.--We were ordered to leave the hotel, as Gen. Butler desired it for a general hospital. We marched across the bridge on the north side of the fort, and encamped on  Seager's farm. Just west of us are encamped the Troy Regiment, and north of them are Col. Duryea's Regiment of N. Y. Zouaves. They are a rough set of fellows, aching for a fight. Not finding any other enemy, they have pitched into the rebels' cattle, hogs, and any thing else eatable wherever they could find them. The country near them will suffer wherever they go. You little know in Vermont the evils of war. Could you but see, as I have seen, houses for miles around, stripped of every thing, windows broken, every thing left desolate, you might have an idea of the state of things here. Sunday, May 26.--We had divine service, conducted by our chaplain, Rev. Mr. Stone. It was very solemn to us, I assure you. He spoke very feelingly, having a good occasion for it; for, on the morrow, it was expected by every man in the regiment that we should have a severe conflict with the enemy, and not a few of us might fall. He exhorted us to be true to our country, and do battle in its cause manfully, praying that the God of Battles might watch over us, bringing us safely and victoriously through the fight, and that every man might be prepared to meet whatever fate awaited him. May 27.--We were aroused at 51 o'clock A. M.; ate our breakfast; filled our haversacks with two days rations, consisting of four hard crackers and two pieces of fat pork; struck our tents, and were on the march at 6 o'clock A. M. We knew not where our destination was to be, but expected to go to Sewell's Point, to take those batteries that our ships have been engaging with so many times. We expected to have a hard fight, for we supposed the enemy had a large force to receive us; but not a man in the regiment hung back; all were ready and eager for the fray. Some that had been sick, and, in fact, were unfit for duty, refused to stay behind, but shouldered their muskets and went with us. We embarked on board the steamer Cataline, and were soon steaming up the river. An hour's sail brought us to this point, where we landed unmolested. The Harriet Lane was here to protect us, should the enemy appear. The Rutland and Middlebury companies had gone on ahead. They were drawn up in line along the shore, and had nothing to do but to wait patiently our coming. After marching to the place intended for our camp — a wheat field — and having our guns, knapsacks, &c., all went at work hauling up cannon, bringing stores, &c. After this, “the boys” went to work fixing places to sleep in, by putting up rails and covering them with brush, under which I enjoyed as good a night's rest as I ever had on a feather bed in Old Vermont. I was tired. Our tents, camp utensils, &c., were left behind. The Fourth Massachusetts Regiment followed us, and were stationed on our left. May 28.--Our camp equipage arrived this morning, and soon our “houses” were up again, ready for their old occupants. The Seventh Regiment, N. Y. V. M., was landed here this morning. They lay off the landing all day yesterday, unable to land; the boat being of too heavy draught to land at the wharf, and the wind blew too hard for them to land in small boats. They are placed on our right. All of them are Germans, with two or three exceptions; many of them are unable to talk or even understand English. We may have some trouble with them, especially when they are on guard. It would please you to see them when they are relieving guard, or when some one attempts to pass them — they cannot go through with the formality of receiving the countersign and passing a man. Some of our boys make some ludicrous mistakes occasionally. As soon as our tents were pitched, we were set at work fortifying our camp, (a plan of which I will endeavor to make and send you.) Since Tuesday we have been hard at work, not even ceasing on this, the Sabbath day; for we wish to be prepared for the enemy. We sleep on our arms every night, expecting an attack from 8,000 men that are preparing to march upon us from Yorktown. Our Colonel has command of the post, which does not please the Massachusetts boys. There are about 2,500 men here, including a few regulars who are to work the cannon; of which we have four fine brass field-pieces: one 6-pounder, placed on the extreme right; one 12-pounder, on the right of our regiment; one 6-pounder, on its left; and one 12-pounder, on the extreme. left. A battery of heavy guns is being erected on the shore, to command the river. I do not know how many guns are to be placed there, as they have not arrived here yet. Look upon the map of this State, and you will see that the James River, near its mouth, runs a few miles directly south, and then turns to the east; in this bend, on the south side, is our camp. The name of it is Camp Butler, and the name of the place is Newport News. There is no village here; though there are two wharves and one store. The merchant continues his trade, and says he is glad we came, as now he has customers, while before he had none. This point is nine miles west of Fortress Monroe. A boat runs up here every afternoon. The Harriet Lane remains here to come to our aid. She is a small vessel, carrying eight or nine guns;) but is a tough customer to deal with, as the rebels will find. No rations were dealt out to us till the second night after our arrival; consequently, some of our boys became quite hungry, having had nothing but those four crackers, and some of them took the liberty of stepping out and helping themselves to some eatables that the rebels had left behind in their sudden flight. Where a man remained at home and attended to his business, he was not meddled with; but when they found a house deserted, and the owner a soldier in the rebel army, his eatables were not allowed to spoil. I do not think there are ten white men within five miles of us, among the farmers. I know of but two, and those  boys who have been out, saw none in their travels. But there are plenty of negroes; and they bring forth their masters' stores plentifully. The boys of our regiment generally remained in camp, and attended to building the embankments. But the Massachusetts boys and the “Dutchmen” went into it quite extensively. The latter have filled their camp with horses, mules, carts, wagons, and often furniture; but Gen. Butler has put a stop to such proceedings. He has given strict orders against any one's plundering the enemy, and the consequence was, that the day his order was received, over fifty men were put under guard. They were out when the order was received, and when they returned, laden with spoil, both were taken care of, much to their chagrin. But four or five of our regiment were caught in such disgraceful acts. Night before last, those long looked — for provisions came, and if you ever wished to see a set of fellows highly delighted, you ought to have seen the B. L. G. When box after box and package after package were opened, containing the choicest delicacies of “home,” many a blessing was showered upon the generous donors, as we ate the cakes and cheese, butter, and other dainties too numerous to mention — delicacies that we have been strangers to for four weeks--I was going to say four months, for that seems to be the length of time that I have been absent. But when you come to be deprived of the best of living, and feed upon the hardest of crackers, salt pork, beef and coffee, you will then be able to appreciate food that you now call quite plain. If we could but have more vegetables we could get along very well. We do not expect pies or cakes, nor nice wheat or brown bread, but we do think we ought to have something better in that line, than these crackers, (shingles the boys call them,) called pilot-bread. If any more provisions are sent, put in a good supply of Boston or soda crackers, and some vegetables. Those Havelocks were received before we came here, and right glad were we to get them. Our faces and necks have become badly sunburnt, so that some of them were quite sore. All are black enough, I assure you. The good people of Burlington will be long remembered by the Light Guard. We shall endeavor to merit the kindness bestowed upon us, and not betray the trust reposed in us by turning from the enemy as long as there is hope of success. A few of our company are sick, but none are dangerous. All are doing well. The embankment we have been building, is 110 rods long, 6 1/2 feet high, and 5 feet wide at the top, and 10 at the bottom, sloping outwards to the bottom of the ditch, but so steep that you could not climb up to the top. The inside of the wall is perpendicular, large timbers being set in the ground, (most of which were brought from the woods by hand,) and the dirt pounded down hard. The ditch is 7 feet deep and 8 feet wide at the top; the bottom is to be set full of wooden pickets, sharpened at the top. It would not be very pleasant to fall into it. One part is built, and we are at work on the bastion on the right, and shall have to help the others, as I fear these never will be completed. I find the Vermonters are a little better to work than most other men that I have seen. Our tents have little piazzas built out in front covered with boughs, which makes them quite pleasant in this hot climate, the thermometer standing at from 70 to 80 degrees. I am thus particular about our fortification, thinking that any thing we fellows do would be interesting to you.
A. S. H.