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2nd Rhode Island Infantry Letter

 
2nd Rhode Island Infantry Letter (Image1)
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Item Number: UL1848
 

 



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Written by a soldier who was killed in action at the battle of the Wilderness, Va., in May 1864

Excellent Gettysburg campaign letter as the 2nd Rhode Island is marching through Maryland on their way to join the fight at Gettysburg!


6 pages, 5 x 8, written by Henry T. Blanchard in a very neat pencil hand to his parents. Comes with cover addressed to Mr. Horace K. Blanchard, Prov., R.I., Care of L.D. Anthony & Co., with partial Washington, D.C. postmark, with stamp cut off.

Camp near Manchester, Md., July 1st, 1863

Dear Parents,

I received your kind letter of the 24th June yesterday morning and was very happy to learn you were all well. When I last wrote to you from Centreville we thought we were going to stay there a short time. We even laid out camp and the officers had drawn wall tents, but the day after I wrote to you we had orders to be ready to move at a minute’s notice. We left there a week ago Sunday the 26th, and marched to Drainesville, from there to Poolesville. Since the 26th we have been continually on the move until today which we are having to rest in. We have marched from 15 to 20 miles per day and one day we marched nearly 25 miles. We are roused out at 3 o’ ck. mornings, pack up our things, make coffee, and start by 4 or 4 ½ A.M., and march until 7 or 8 o’ ck. at night. Night before last we marched until dark and started again at daylight. Yesterday I was so tired that I dropped out of line and took my own time, and reached the regt. last night about an hour after they had halted. The rebels are about a day’s march ahead of us, and as we march on they fall back. Yesterday just before our advance entered Westminster, the rebels left and our cavalry pursued them, and they had a small skirmish outside of the town. Westminster is a pretty town and the largest I have seen in Maryland. The main street is about 1 1/2 miles long. There are a number of churches, hotels, & stores there and a female college. The rebels cleaned out one or two shoe & boot stores and also a number of grocery stores. There is a report that the rebels are bombarding Harrisburg. They have cleaned the farms of nearly all the horses there was. There is a great many citizens here in Maryland and if they have a mind to could do a great deal toward protecting themselves from raids &c. Instead of that, as soon as a rebel makes his appearance they leave their farms and everything and get out of the way. I hope every man that leaves his farm and runs away will lose everything he has got. As we pass along the roads and through the villages the people crowd the sides of the roads and some come for miles to see us. As a general thing they are an ignorant set as I ever saw. There were some very fine people in Westminster. When I came through there the ladies were taking biscuits & pies and giving them away to soldiers. One young miss about Mary’s size came to the door as I was passing and asked me if I was hungry, and upon my telling her, I was slightly, she brought a plate of nice biscuits all buttered &c which I and one of my comrades done justice to. We offered to pay, but they would not take anything. Last night we were mustered in for 2 months pay, but as we are now on the march we will not get paid for some time. Yesterday, the 36th New York which belonged to our brigade left us at Westminster to go home their time being out. They took the road for Baltimore, but after going a short distance they found a bridge burnt, and for fear of being captured they were obliged to retrace their way and now lay a short distance back of us. It is reported that [General Joseph] Hooker has been relieved and is under arrest. Also that Gen. [John F.] Reynolds, who used to command the First Corps, is now commander of the army. Another report is that Little Mac has taken command again. We do not believe much now days until we know it be true. Where we go from here is more than I know. There is nothing but our Corps on this road. We are nearly to the Pennsylvania line. When you write again you will oblige me by sending me a little money. The next town we pass through is Manchester. A part of the residents are Secesh and the rest Union. When the Rebels passed through, the Secesh people made a great hurrah about it giving them eatables &c, so the Union people are making great preparations to receive us. Our regt. is on the advance when we start again, so I suppose we shall have the first pickings, but I must close. Tell Mary I would write to her but I am very tired and Horace also. My love to you all. My health is tip top. Write soon and let me know all the news.

From your affectionate Son,

Henry

Excellent content as the 2nd Rhode Island is marching to Gettysburg!

This letter came from a large group of war date letters written by Henry T. Blanchard to various members of his family. He signed all of them either Henry, or Henry T.B. Some had covers, but many did not. This includes a cover [stamp cut off] addressed to Horace K. Blanchard, in Providence, R.I.

Henry T. Blanchard, was a 21 year old machinist, from Providence, R.I., when he enlisted as a corporal, on June 5, 1861, and he was mustered into the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. He was promoted to sergeant, on October 5, 1862; and he was killed in action on May 6, 1864, at the battle of the Wilderness, Va. He was shot in the head and killed instantly. His Captain, John P. Shaw, said of Henry, "His loss is mourned by everyone acquainted with him. He was every inch of him a soldier and a perfect gentleman."


The Second Rhode Island Infantry

Under the first call of the President of the United States for additional troops to serve three years or during the war, the Second Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers was organized. The work of enlistment was spiritedly prosecuted under an order from Governor Sprague, and Camp Burnside was established on the Dexter Training Ground, in Providence. The command of the Regiment was given to Colonel Slocum, promoted from Major of the First Rhode Island, an officer of great personal bravery, who had gained reputation in the Mexican War. Colonel William Goddard, of the Governor's Staff, was detailed temporarily to act as Lieutenant Colonel, who on being relieved was temporarily succeeded by General Charles T. Robbins. At the request of Colonel Slocum, Colonel Christopher Blanding assisted in drilling the Regiment. To add to the comfort of the men, a thousand rubber blankets were presented to them by the firm of A. & W. Sprague. Many other tokens of interest and regard were also received by officers and men, and the citizens of Lonsdale made a liberal donation to the hospital department. An elegant stand of colors was presented to the Regiment by the ladies of Providence, through Colonel Jabez C. Knight. The ceremonies of the occasion were appropriate and impressive. The colors were assigned to Company D, Captain Nelson Viall, who had served with honor in Mexico.

All things being in readiness, the Regiment struck their tents at 2 o'clock, P.M., June 19th, 1861, and marched to Exchange Place, where, in the presence of a large crowd of spectators, a short and spirited address was delivered by Bishop Thomas M. Clark, who also invoked the Divine blessing. Resuming their march to Fox Point, they embarked on board the steamer State of Maine, and the Battery accompanying the Regiment, under Captain William H. Reynolds, on board the steamer Kill von Kull.

On the morning of June 22d, the Regiment, accompanied by Governor Sprague, Hon. John R. Bartlett, Secretary of State, and Bishop Clark, arrived in Washington, warmly welcomed, and encamped in Gales' woods, near Camp Sprague. On the 26th, the First and Second regiments, with their respective batteries, paid their respects to President Lincoln, by whom they were reviewed. While in camp, the Regiment was brigaded with the First Rhode Island, 71st New York, 2d New Hampshire, and the two Rhode Island batteries.

In this brigade, commanded by Colonel Burnside, they marched to the battle of Bull Run, leading the column. On that sanguinary and disastrous field, it was the first, with Captain Reynolds battery, to engage, and fought the enemy forty five minutes without support, losing 28 men killed, 56 wounded, and 30 missing; among the former, Colonel Slocum, Major Sullivan Ballou, and Captains Levi A. Tower and Samuel J. Smith. The men stood up bravely under a heavy fire from the rebel batteries, but to no purpose. The color company was a conspicuous mark, and the regimental colors were completely riddled by balls. Dr. James Harris, Surgeon of the Regiment, was unceasing in the performance of his professional duties through the day, often exposed to danger on the field, and always having words of cheer for the wounded and dying. After the retreat commenced, he remained at his post, and gave himself up a prisoner, rather than be separated from those who so much needed his attention. The death of the brave Colonel Slocum, left the Regiment in the command of Captain Frank Wheaton, of the United States Army, then acting Lieutenant Colonel, to the Colonelcy of which he was subsequently promoted. Captain Viall, on the fall of Major Ballou, assumed the duty of a field officer, and was afterward promoted to Major of the Regiment. Captain William H. P. Steere received the commission of Lieutenant Colonel in the same. In retiring from the field, the Regiment preserved its order, and on returning to Washington established temporary quarters at Camp Clark. It subsequently occupied Camp Sprague, and removed thence to Camp Brightwood, where it remained till March, 1862, occupied in drilling, picket service, clearing away forests, and building Fort Slocum, a worthy monument to the memory of its revered commander.

On the 26th of March, the Regiment moved with the Army of the Potomac, to enter upon the campaign of the Peninsula. During the siege of Yorktown, it was constantly employed in picket and other important duties. On the evacuation of that place by the rebels, it formed a part of Stoneman's advance in pursuit, and participated in the capture of Fort Magruder, at Williamsburg, saving a regiment that had been badly cut up by unwisely drawing upon it the fire of the fort at eight hundred yards distance. It continued with the advance of Stoneman during its operations on the Pamunky and Chickahominy rivers, was the first to take possession of White House, took part in the battles of Mechanicsville and Seven Pines, and at Turkey Bend was detached with the 7th Massachusetts, to guard Turkey Bend Bridge, and remained there till Porter's corps crossed. After the battle of Malvern Hill, when the army fell back to Harrison's Landing, the regiment was assigned to the rear as a cover. On the 5th of July, it was in position on the west side of James River, opposite City Point, occupied in throwing up breastworks.

When the Army of the Potomac withdrew from the Peninsula, the Regiment proceeded to the vicinity of Yorktown, where it remained a week destroying earthworks, and August 29th it embarked for Alexandria, where it landed September 1st. It shared the fortunes of Pope's Bull Run campaign, was in position at Elk Mountain on the 17th of September, during the battle of Antietam, and subsequently, after performing a variety of fatiguing duties, marched with Franklin's corps to a position in front of Fredericksburg. In the assault upon that city, December 13th, it acted with spirit and efficiency. In the preliminary movements of Franklin's corps, this Regiment was the first to cross the river, in face of a heavy body of rebel infantry and artillery, and deploying as skirmishers, drove in their pickets, a movement executed with the coolness and precision of a regimental drill. Here, Colonel Wheaton was ordered to the command of a brigade that had been under the command of General Howe, and the command of the Regiment devolved on the gallant Colonel Nelson Viall, who received his commission on the field. This he subsequently resigned, and the temporary command of the Regiment fell to Lieutenant Colonel Goff, an able and highly esteemed officer. He was succeeded by Colonel Horatio Rogers, Jr., transferred from the 11th R.I. Volunteers. After the battle of the 13th, Colonel (now General) Wheaton received from the Regiment the gift of a superb sword, belt and silver spurs, as a testimony of their regard for him as an officer.

In the mud expedition that followed this attack on Fredericksburg, the Second Rhode Island participated. It subsequently went into winter quarters, and was employed in picket duty and the usual camp routine. On the 2d and 3d of May, 1863, the battle of Chancellorsville was fought. On the morning of the 3d, the Regiment supported General Gibbon's division in carrying Salem Heights, near Fredericksburg, having two men slightly wounded. In the storming of Marye's Heights, on the afternoon of the same day, the most terrible portion of the conflict, and in some sense a separate, independent battle, the Regiment, led by Colonel Rogers, performed deeds of conspicuous valor. At a critical moment, it largely contributed towards checking the enemy when our forces were being driven on the right, and saved a New Jersey regiment, hotly pressed, from annihilation and probable capture.

The battle of Gettysburg, Pa., July 1st, 2d and 3d, next followed. In reaching this field of Union triumph, so dearly purchased, the Regiment made good time, and toward night of the second day, having marched about thirty miles, it took position on the field of battle on the extreme left, as a portion of Sedgwick's reserve. During the whole of the 3d, though not directly engaged, it was constantly moving, under a storm of shells, to different parts of the field, in support of points pressed, losing one man killed and three wounded, and on the following day was on picket on the further edge of the battlefield. In pursuit of the retreating rebels, the Regiment had a picket skirmish at Williamsport, July 12th, in which three men were wounded. Continuing its march back into Virginia, the Regiment made camp near Warrenton, July 25th, having marched, going and returning, nearly three hundred miles.

On the 9th of October, following the battle of Gettysburg, the rebel General Lee put his army again in motion, to turn the right flank of the forces under Meade, and make a push for Washington; but the falling back of the Federals upon Centreville and Chantilly completely checkmated his purpose. At this point, the 6th corps, including the Second Rhode Island, occupied the extreme right of the line. In the advance of the Union forces upon Rappahannock Station, November 7th, which resulted in the rout of the enemy and the capture of 1600 prisoners, the Regiment was held in reserve; and in another successful advance across the Rapidan, November 26th, it participated. A quiet winter at Brandy Station intervened, when on the 4th of May, 1864, the Army of the Potomac began the grand movement that ultimated in the capture of Richmond, and the overthrow of the rebel confederacy. The marching and fighting of the succeeding four or five weeks, to reach the Chickahominy, comprises a part of the history of the Regiment.

In the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania Court House, and all along the succession of flank movements, it bore an honorable and conspicuous part, and in the sanguinary battle of Cold Harbor, a few days before its term of service expired, added another to the laurels won on other fields. On the 11th of June, the three years' men, under the command of Colonel S.B.M. Read, returned to Providence, and on the 17th were mustered out of service. By order of Governor Smith, they were received by the Division of Militia under the command of Major General Olney Arnold, and escorted to Howard Hall, where a bountiful collation had been provided, and a formal State reception took place. Colonel Read was wounded in the head and leg, May 12th, on the third day of the battle of Spotsylvania Court House, and was promoted from Lieutenant Colonel on the 1st of June following, for gallant conduct in the battles of the campaign in which he had participated up to that date.

At the date of the mustering out of the first three years' men, Companies A, B and C, comprising recruits enlisted from time to time, conscripts and re-enlisted veterans, remained in the field before Petersburg. Wishing to preserve to the close of the war the identity of a Regiment that had served so faithfully and bravely, Governor Smith authorized a reorganization, dating from the muster out of the original Regiment. Companies D, E, F, G and H, were recruited and sent forward, and regimental relations were once more established, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Elisha H. Rhodes, breveted Colonel April 2d, 1865, for gallant services before Petersburg.

On the 6th of July, 1864, General Jubal A. Early, with a portion of the rebel advance, crossed the Potomac, near Antietam, into Maryland, and made a raid on Washington. The Sixth Army Corps, including the Second Rhode Island, and Batteries C, D and G, were hurried to the defense of the Capital, and reached there just in season to save the city, and to aid in driving the enemy, who had approached within shelling distance, back into the valley of the Shenandoah.

The pursuit of the rebels was continued, first under General Wright, and then under General Sheridan, who had been appointed to the command of the Department. In the battle of Winchester, September 19th, the Regiment behaved with great gallantry, and had nine men wounded, one mortally. After this battle the Regiment was detailed as part of the garrison of Winchester, to protect it against guerrillas, as well as to escort trains to the front. It was there when the battle of Cedar Creek, October 19th, was fought, and remained until December 1st, when it rejoined the Army of the Potomac, and passed the winter of 1864 and 1865 in doing siege duty in the trenches in front of Petersburg, Va. The Regiment was engaged in all the skirmishes that took place during this period, the most important of which were Hatcher's Run, December 10th, 1864; Hatcher's Run, February 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, 1865; Fort Fisher, Va., March 25th, and Fort Stedman, same day.

In the attack on Petersburg, April 2d, 1865, the Regiment took a prominent and important part. The night before, the 6th corps was massed in front of Fort Fisher, ready for the assault. Just at daybreak, Sunday morning, the lines advanced under a heavy fire, and carried the enemy's main lines by storm. The Second Rhode Island started in the second line, but were the first to reach the works, and planted its colors on the parapet. The enemy fled in great confusion, after their lines were pierced. Lieutenant Frank S. Halliday, acting Adjutant of the Regiment, with a small party, carried a rebel fort mounting two guns, and turned them upon the enemy. The whole affair was a glorious success, and caused the evacuation of the city on Monday morning, April 3d.

In the battle of Sailors' Creek, Thursday following the above, April 6th, the Regiment displayed great prowess. About 5 o'clock, P.M., the division to which it was attached, advanced on the enemy's lines, and the Second Rhode Island attacked a part of the Naval Brigade, commanded by officers of the late rebel fleet. The Regiment charged to within a few feet of their lines, when it met a severe flank fire, which forced it to retire. The action as so close that men were bayoneted, and knocked down with the butts of muskets. In the confusion, the colors of the Regiment were captured, but were quickly retaken. The place where it charged was swampy, with water at least three feet deep, but the men pushed gallantly forward, and regained all the ground lost, causing the enemy to flee in great confusion, who left a part of their wagons in Federal hands. The loss was severe in officers and men, but there was a proud satisfaction in knowing that the efforts of the Regiment hastened the surrender of Lee and his army. Captain Charles W. Gleason and Lieutenant William H. Perry, both gallant officers, were killed. They were loved and respected by the Regiment. They entered the service as enlisted men at the beginning of the war, and by merit rose to their positions as officers. In this battle the conduct of officers and men was in the highest degree commendable. The new men, who went into action for the first time, fought like veterans.

After the fall of Richmond, and surrender of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, the Regiment left that city for Washington, D. C., May 24th, was mustered out of the United States service at Hall's Hill, Va., July 13th, and left for Providence on the 15th.

It reached its destination by the train from New York at 12 o'clock, midnight, July 17th, accompanied by the 11th & 58th Massachusetts regiments, bound to Readville. The regiment was received with the cheers of waiting friends, the salute of the Marine Artillery, and the presented arms of Company A, Pawtucket Light Guard, Captain M'Cloy. After the reception, they formed and were escorted to Washington Ha1l, where they partook of an ample collation, prepared by L.H. Humphreys, under the direction of Captain Henrie Crandall. The Regiment had often been severely depleted by sickness, and by losses upon the battlefield.

After the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862, it could number only 250 effective men. It numbered on its return, 345 officers and men. Under general orders from the War Department, General Meade directed, March 7, 1865, the names of the following battles in which the Regiment had borne a meritorious part, to be inscribed upon its colors, viz:

First Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Malvern Hill, Antietam, Fredericksburg. Marye’s Heights, Salem Heights, Gettysburg, Rappahannock Station, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Fort Stevens, Winchester, Hatcher’s Run, Sailors’ Creek, and Appomattox.

Source: The Union Army, Vol. 1



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