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Operations of 1861 about Fort Monroe.

Joseph B. Carr, Brevet Major-General, U. S. V.

Fort Monroe--and the old Hygeia Hotel, since torn down. From a Lithograph.

On the 24th of May, 1861, I arrived at Fort Monroe, with my regiment, the 2d New York Volunteers. Two days before Major-General B. F. Butler had arrived and assumed command of the department. Previous to our arrival the fort contained, besides the regular garrison of four companies of artillery, the 4th Massachusetts Volunteers, a regiment of “three-months” men. We went into camp just over the border of Mill Creek, a stream dividing the fort from Virginia, and pitched our tents on a plowed field near a mansion known as the Segar House. This camp was first called Camp Troy, and, later, Camp Hamilton. Pickets were placed immediately on our arrival, and at once began operations by the capture of nine Confederate officers--one of them a surgeon. The prisoners were brought before General Butler, confessed to being in arms under the Confederacy, and stated that, when captured, they were on their way to join their regiments after a day spent in looking after their homes, located in our neighborhood. General Butler saw fit to release them unconditionally.

Within a few days of our arrival in camp we were ordered to proceed to Hampton Village, where we expected to encounter Confederates and acquire our first knowledge of warfare. In this we were disappointed; the Confederates had departed, having burned the bridge at Hampton. Save for the evident approach of war, that portion of the peninsula occupied by Union troops in 1861 seemed a paradise. Great fields of corn and wheat grew on the sunny plain, and the neighboring farms teemed with stock of all kinds. But the villas and mansions of the inhabitants were deserted and uncared for; families were scattered, industries stopped, and sources of income abandoned or destroyed. The lower portion of the peninsula, to within a few miles of the Bethels, was occupied by General Butler's troops. Within the limits of his command General Butler sought to maintain strict discipline, and to that end issued various orders relating to the rights and duties of his command, [145] but particularly the rights of property-owners in our vicinity. Foraging and depredations of all kinds were forbidden, and as a rule the orders were obeyed, yet cases of disobedience constantly came to light, for it was only by stern experience that officers and men were taught the peculiar duties of a soldier. Food was at times irregularly issued to the men, and again was unwholesome and repellent, thus rendering the soldier doubly liable to fall under the temptations of generous foraging.

Some of the clothing issued to the men during the early days of the civil war was made of the vilest “shoddy” and literally fell from their bodies. In Fort Monroe men in the 2d New York Volunteers appeared on parade with blankets wrapped about them to conceal a lack of proper garments, and sometimes stood sentinel with naked feet and almost naked bodies. The only reason for this hardship was the dishonesty of contractors, and the lack of experience and celerity in the subordinates of the Quartermaster-General's department at Washington.

Among the liveliest soldiers encamped on any field were our neighbors Duryea's Zouaves. The Confederates had dubbed this regiment, from their baggy red trousers and reckless bearing the red-legged devils, and had invested them with the characteristics of the Bashi-Bazouks. A private letter from a Confederate, read in camp, said: “We have no tear or your New York, Troy, Vermont, or Massachusetts men, but I own that we do not want to meet those red-legged devils around our houses or hen-coops.” It was a well-known fact that the Zouaves' rations included chicken, roast pig, ham, corn, and other first-class food. By the verdict of numerous squads in all the regiments, many articles of food near at hand were declared “contraband of war,”

1.-light-house, Fort Monroe. 2.-Chesapeake hospital, Hampton, Va. 3.-Sally-Port, Fort Monroe. From War-time photographs.


Arrival of the original “contraband.” from a War-time sketch

on the ground that if left on farms or in gardens “aid and comfort” to the enemy might ensue. There were few cases of real lawlessness, consequently the “Beauty and Booty” proclamation1 of General Beauregard was uncalled for, and even in the vague and uncertain light of that day was absurd.

The negroes in Virginia, learning of our presence, began to arrive at our camp in large numbers. While other commanders were hesitating and quibbling over the question, General Butler promptly declared slaves of Confederates “contraband of war,” inasmuch as they gave, or had given, aid and comfort to the enemy. Contrabands at this date were not anxious to serve as soldiers, and no commander had the temerity to employ them as such. Commanding officers were seriously in error as to the value of men in the early days of the war. In my regiment, 118 men were discharged for disability, who enlisted later in other regiments, making first-class soldiers.

During the time in which General Butler was in command at Fort Monroe, he developed remarkable ability in civil organization, and showed courage and determination in any project in which he was interested. While just and even generous in dealing with the men in his department his manner was decidedly autocratic. He rarely tolerated conduct savoring of insubordination, and yet under peculiar circumstances he overlooked it.2 [147]

Among other prominent soldiers at Fort Monroe, at this time, was General J. W. Phelps, then colonel of a Vermont regiment. Brave, cool, and capable, he was thoroughly liked by his men and by his superior officers. He spoke with a long, drawling “Yankee” accent, and his piquant sayings were very entertaining. Hating display and egotism, he invariably showed his displeasure when in the presence of men who were guilty of either. A dapper young lieutenant attached to one of the regiments at Newport News had shown great fondness for his dress uniform, supplemented by a scarlet-lined cloak, and dislike for ranking his personality below the chief-officer. Strutting into General Phelps's tent on one occasion, he said, without salute or preface, “I am going down to the fort, sir.” “Are you?” said General Phelps, as he took in at a glance the gorgeous uniform scarlet-lined cloak and superabundant self-esteem of the young man. “Are you? Neow, I guess not, young man. Go to your colonel, get his permission, and then, if you can get mine, you may go down to the fort. Not otherwise. Go, now.” On another occasion when the camp was all commotion and excitement owing to firing in the direction of our pickets, General Phelps, not excited in the least degree, walked into the writer's tent, and said, “Carr, that's not picket shooting. It is your men shooting p-e-e-g-s.” His surmise proved correct.

Entering General Butler's quarters the colonel saluted, and said, “You sent for me, General?” “Sit down, sir,” roared the exasperated chief; then, wheeling in his chair, the general recited the crimes charged, and, concluding, said, “I'll send your whole regiment to the Rip-Raps; what have you to say, sir, in your defense?” The colonel, now as angry as his chief, rose, and said, “I have this to say: Any man who says that my men are guilty of the crimes you enumerate, lies, sir!” “Do you dare tell me that I lie?” roared the general. “I tell you or any man uttering the charges, that he lies,” was the reply. General Butler stared at the colonel for a few seconds, then, taking a cigar from his pocket, tendered it to the colonel, saying, “Smoke, Colonel, we will talk of this matter later.” General Butler showed no further resentment, but thereafter favored the colonel. Events proved that the regiment was innocent of the crimes charged.--J. B. C.

Camp of Duryea's Zouaves, near Fort Monroe. From a sketch made in July, 1861.


On the 10th of June, 1861, occurred the disastrous fight at Big Bethel,--battle we scarce may term it. Up to this time but few soldiers had been under fire, and the confidence which must exist between men and officers to make an army effective was lacking. To the want of that experience and confidence a great measure of the failure at Big Bethel may be attributed.

At noon of Sunday, the 9th of June, General Ebenezer W. Peirce received an order to go at once to headquarters at Fort Monroe. Arriving at General Butler's quarters, he was shown a plan of attack on both Little and Big Bethel. Minute directions for conducting the attack were given, and Peirce was assigned to command the expedition. The march was begun about midnight, June 9th. Peirce was to lead one column from Camp Hamilton to a point near Little Bethel, where the column advancing from Newport News was to meet him, and together they were to surprise and attack both Bethels. The troops taking part in the action on the following day were 5 New York regiments, the 1st, 2d, 3d, 5th, and 7th, detachments from the 4th Massachusetts and 1st Vermont, and a detachment of United States Regular Artillery (11 men), with 2 field-pieces, under command of Lieutenant Greble. Reports credit us with 2500 men engaged; I believe we had not less than 3500 men. General Butler had taken precautions against errors

Uniform of Duryea's Zouaves.

when our men should meet, having given the watchword “Boston” to be shouted when unrecognized troops should approach. Colonel Bendix, of the 7th New York regiment, did not receive information on this point. The several detachments were approaching the point designated as a place for meeting, and some troops had already departed for the rear of Little Bethel, when Townsend's (3d New York) and Bendix's troops approached each other, a dense wood having intervened for part of the march. Bendix, seeing troops in gray uniforms approaching,--the uniform of early regiments were in many cases gray in color,--and supposing them to be the enemy, opened fire on them with musketry and one piece of artillery. The watchword was shouted, but Bendix, being ignorant of its significance, continued firing. Townsend retreated a short distance, and the error was then discovered. Duryea (5th New York) and Washburn (1st Vermont), who were in advance, hearing the firing, concluded that the Confederates had reached their rear, and immediately retraced their march. The possibility of surprising the enemy was now past. The shots of Bendix's and Townsend's men had aroused the Confederates, and preparation for defense was made by

The opposing forces at Big Bethel, Va.-June 10th, 1861.

Union Forces: Brigadier-General Ebenezer W. Peirce. 4th Mass. (5 co's), Maj. Horace 0. Whittemore; 1st N. Y., Col. William H. Allen; 2d N. Y., Col. Joseph B. Carr; 3d N. Y., Col. Frederick Townsend; 5th N. Y., Col. Abram Duryea; 7th N. Y., Col. John E. Bendix; 1st Vt. (5 co's), Lieut.-Col. Peter T. Washburn; Regular artillery (4 guns), Lieut. John T. Greble (k).

Total Union loss: 18 killed, 53 wounded, and 5 missing = 76.

Confederate Forces: Col. J. Bankhead Magruder. 1st N. C., Col. Daniel H. Hill; 3d Va. (detachment), Lieut.-Col. William D. Stuart; Va. Cavalry Battalion, Maj. E. B. Montague; Va. Howitzer Battalion, Ma;j. Geo. W. Randolph.

Total Confederate loss: 1 killed and 7 wounded = 8.

[149] them. About this time Peirce sent for reenforcements, and the 1st and 2d New York regiments, under Colonels Allen and Carr, were hurried forward. The latter was ordered to wait orders at New Market Bridge. Advancing through Little Bethel, which they found evacuated, to a position near Big Bethel, the troops under General Peirce found the Confederates occupying a strong position, well intrenched, with earth-works covering the bridge, which crossed a stream running in front of the Confederate position. Colonel J. B. Magruder, formerly an officer in the United States Army, was in command, having, it was said, about 1800 men under him, but having actually only 300 or 400 men and about 5 guns.

Duryea's Zouaves moved up the road on the left of the woods, and the fight opened by the discharge of a Parrott gun in the Confederate works. Greble, with his battery, consisting of 2 6-pounder guns, took position on the road with Bendix's regiment and 3 companies of Massachusetts troops. Duryea went through the orchard and cornfield, Townsend on his right and rear. The Confederate firing was inaccurate for a time, but soon the range was found, and our troops were soon seeking the shelter of the woods, after a vain attempt to drive the enemy from his works. A short time after the troops had gone to the shelter of the woods, or about 11 o'clock, A. M., I arrived on the ground with my regiment. Orders to go forward had been received at 7 o'clock, and we marched as rapidly as possible; yet the delay incident to dragging a gun, by hand, for ten miles, and the time used in getting the gun over the burned bridge at Hampton, with the hot and wearying roads, made an earlier arrival impossible. On approaching, we were surprised and puzzled at the condition of the troops. For at least one mile from the scene of action the men and officers were scattered singly and in groups, without form or

The 4th Massachusetts regiment fortifying camp Butler at Newport News. From a sketch made in 1861.


Fortified Church. Confederate earth-works. Confederate earth-works at Big Bethel. From a sketch made April 4, 1862.

organization, looking far more like men enjoying a huge picnic than soldiers awaiting battle. I reported my regiment to General Peirce, who consented to give me support for a charge on the Confederate works. Colonel Townsend promptly volunteered to support me with his regiment, and departed to make the necessary preparations. Having placed the 2d New York on the right and left of the road, I was preparing for the charge, when a message reached me from General Peirce, stating that, after consultation with the colonel, he found that troops could not be formed to make the charge effective, and that during the consultation an order had been received from General Butler ordering a retreat; therefore, I was commanded to cover the retreat about to commence. The pursuit made by the Confederates was easily checked by the 2d New York, and the men reached their camps without further mishap. The only firing occurring after 12 o'clock on that day was from the gun brought up by my regiment, and in command of Lieutenant Greble. About one dozen shots had been fired when Greble was killed. The gun was abandoned on the field and Greble's body was left beside it. I called for volunteers to rescue the gun, and.Captain Wilson, with his company of the 2d New York, responded, and in the face of the enemy gallantly rescued the gun, bringing it in with Greble's body lying on it. Major Winthrop's death during the early part of this engagement was a notable event.3 Although unattached to any regiment, he had volunteered for the expedition, and was killed [151] while far in advance of the troops, and within one hundred yards of the enemy's works. General Butler arrived at Hampton Creek in time to meet the men coming in, but saw no part of the engagement. Among the first officers met by Butler were a major and lieutenant-colonel from one of the regiments engaged. Both were seated in a carriage driving leisurely home. Butler noticed the odd style of retreat, and also that there was crockery in the bottom of the carriage. The effects of this battle have been variously stated. Save as an encouragement to the Confederates, it had no important result.

After the battle of Big Bethel and up to the arrival of General McClellan the events of the war in and around Fort Monroe were, with few exceptions, of minor importance. On July 1st, 1861, Brigadier-General Peirce, under orders from General Butler, occupied Hampton, and at once proceeded to intrench. In this work the volunteers were assisted by former slaves. When General Magruder sent some cavalry to Hampton with orders to burn the village, a stampede of the Union soldiers occurred. Our forces on the east side of I the bridge were greatly surprised when the disorganized troops and the contrabands came dashing over. The Confederate cavalrymen sent to burn the beautiful village remained, and at night we saw flames issuing from several buildings. We

Major Theodore Winthrop. From a Portrait.

could readily discern the incendiaries going about the streets setting fire to the houses. In August, 1861, General John E. Wool was appointed to succeed General Butler in command at Fort Monroe.

Early in the fall of 1861 I was ordered, with my regiment, the 2d New York, to report to General Stone for duty in operations about Ball's Bluff, but Colonel E. D. Baker, with his regiment, was sent in my place. It appeared, later, that Colonel Baker had desired that he should be substituted, and when objections were made he succeeded in overruling them [see p. 123].

After the battle between the Monitor and Merrimac [see Vol. I., p. 692], General Wool, seeing the advantage of opening the blockade of the James River, prepared for an attempt to recapture Norfolk.

President Lincoln, with Secretaries Stanton and Chase, came to Fort Monroe, and on May 8th, 1862, the order was given and a movement made. Rear-Admiral Goldsborough, who had been ordered to assist, attacked the Confederate batteries at Sewell's Point retired, and for the hour, at least, the expedition was abandoned. News came to headquarters later in the day that General Huger was preparing to retire, and General Wool, after a trip to Willoughby's Point, decided to land his troops at Ocean View, thus taking in reverse the Confederate works. The landing of our troops was easily effected, and had more energy been displayed it is doubtful whether the enemy would have had time and opportunity to commit to the flames so much valuable material of war. While the movement was progressing, a delay [152]

Ruins of Hampton, Va. From a sketch made in April, 1862.

was caused by a dispute between two general officers as to rank. Our troops finally entered the intrenchments of the enemy unopposed. The mayor of Norfolk met General Wool and formally surrendered the city. While our troops were absent on this expedition, General Mansfield and myself were summoned to Fort Monroe by President Lincoln. Arriving there, Lincoln said: “Colonel Carr, where is your command?” “At camp Hamilton, sir.” (My command was the 2d, 10th, and 9th New-York, and the 9th Massachusetts.) “Why are you not on the other side at Norfolk?” “I am awaiting orders.” Turning to Mansfield, Lincoln said, “Why are you here? Why not on the other side?” “I am ordered to the fort by General Wool,” replied Mansfield. President Lincoln with vehement action threw his tall hat on the floor, and, uttering strongly his disapproval and disappointment, he said finally: “Send me some one who can write.” Colonel LeGrand B. Cannon, of Wool's staff, responded, and Lincoln dictated an order to General Wool requiring that troops at Camp Hamilton be at once ordered to Norfolk, and that the troops already there be pushed rapidly forward. The order was issued, and I reported to General Viele at Norfolk and was assigned to the command of the exterior lines of defense at Portsmouth. The delays occurring in forwarding and pushing the troops allowed the Confederates time to burn the Navy Yard at Portsmouth, and to destroy the shipping. These troops remained at Norfolk until about June 1st, when we received orders to report to McClellan at Fair Oaks. General Wool was relieved of his command soon after the affair at Norfolk, and General John A. Dix was appointed in his stead.

1 This proclamation by General Beauregard was dated “Department of Alexandria, Camp Pickens, June 5th, 1861,” and was addressed “To the Good People of the Counties of Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William,” in which, referring to the Union forces, he says: “All rules of civilized warfare are abandoned, and they proclaim by their acts, if not on their banners, that their war-cry is ‘Beauty and Booty.’ ”--Editors.

2 On one occasion, when residents were complaining of acts of vandalism, Butler was informed that a certain regiment was guilty. Lieutenant Butler, the general's nephew, then quite young, was sent to summon the colonel of the regiment. Entering the colonel's tent, he said, “Colonel, Uncle Ben wants you, and is going to give you hell!” “Who is Uncle Ben?” inquired the colonel. “Why, General Butler!” “Very well, I will attend, but not to ‘ get hell,’ young man, I did not come here for that purpose.” “That's right,” said the lieutenant, “I like to see men who are not afraid of Uncle Ben.”--J. B. C.

3 J. B. Moore, of Richmond, writes as follows:

Major Winthrop headed a force, intending to turn our left flank. On our left was a slight earth-work. About 75 yards in front of this was a rail fence. Our attention was called by cheering to his advance. Looking up, we saw the major and two privates on the fence. His sword was drawn, and he was calling on his troops to follow him. Our first volley killed these three; those following, being protected by the peculiar formation of the ground, were not injured, but upon the fall of their leader they beat a precipitate retreat. I was among the first to reach these men. All were dead, having been instantly killed. Major Winthrop was shot in the breast, and the others in the head. About ten days afterward, a flag of truce came up asking for Major Winthrop's body. Having assisted in burying him, I was sent with the party to find the body, which was given to his friends. Among the incidents of this skirmish, none is more indelibly impressed on my mind than the gallant bearing of this unfortunate young man, when I first saw him, calling his men to follow, and confident that he had accomplished his object.


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