Description of journey to Ft. Lincoln by steamship, contents of knapsack, Potomac River, reception in Washington D.C., description of Ft. Lincoln and neighboring forts, reorganization of unit. Description and photograph of Colonel Augustus A. Gibson.
December 1, 1862
Dear [Mr.] Richards,
It is with pleasure that I write you this letter and hope it will be a set off to the last bungling affair I sent you, but you will excuse it when you think how tired I was. You can picture “the situation” we were in 3 days & nights in a storm steaming down the Chesapeake & Salt Water.
On last Thursday week morning we were ordered to “prepare.” At 10:30 the command was “sling knapsacks” [and] for the first time we had the “darned” things slung on us. To give you an idea what a soldier has to carry, I will enumerate the different articles. Knapsack to 50 lbs., 3 days rations, blankets 6, Accouterments 4, & 40 cartridges – in all some 80 lbs. besides extras, and gun of 14 lbs.
Nothing of interest happened on the boat. ♠ I saw the points of interest on the Potomac [River]. Mathias Point is a projection of the land in a short bend of the river & looks to me as a splendid place to plant a battery for offensive purposes on the river. Aquia Creek, I noticed, was alive with transports. The Potomac River is very broad, say 2 ½ to 3 miles, & continues so for a 100 miles, then narrows to 1½. Ft. Washington is a little below Alexandria on the Maryland shore and is very formidable. We let go the anchor at Alexandria. I noticed in [Alexandria] a very long building lit up. I guess it was a hotel converted into a hospital. ♣ Also on a hill above the city is Fort Sigel. They had better keep quiet in Alexandria, I should think, by the looks of the “boys” that peeped out of the (mud??).
Next morning [we] weighed anchor and steamed to the city of Washington, let go the anchor some ½ mile above the arsenal at the terminus of U.S.M.R.R. ♥ [The] captains of [each] company went to the War [Department] Office and reported. While off, we were supplied by the women with pies, apples, milk (adulterated with whiskey), coffee, etc, etc. We pitched in as men who had been at sea on short rations for 3 days will pitch in.
At 11 we slung knapsacks & fell in & forward marched not knowing where nor whither [we were going]. We marched through some streets thinly built, crossed Pennsylvania Avenue and up some hill east of the Capitol. The ladies hung out the Stars and Stripes & we acknowledged the compliment, & continued our march for some 5 miles out of the city up & down the hills, then climbed up to Fort Lincoln. Tired and sulky as a bear, in that amiable and enviable predicament I wrote you my last letter. It was my good luck to fall in with an old friend & I fared well as to “Bed and Bread.” The most of the boys put for a barn hard by.
Next morning we pitched our tents & arranged things in general. Since then I have been in the woods chopping stockades for winter quarters, wielding the axe like a “good ‘un.”
Fort Lincoln ♦ is an earth work of about 1 acre, surrounded by a deep ditch of 10 ft. deep & 20 wide [with] a very strong abatis in front of it. It mounts 30 guns & 4 mortars. They are mounting a Swivel 100 lb. rifle gun [at present]. Some 500 yards below is the Maine Battery, a wicket work with earth thrown against it & embrasures for light field pieces. In different places are masked batteries all around. Connecting with the many forts here is a rifle pit some 18 miles long. These forts, viz: Lincoln, Mahan, Thayer, Saratoga, Bunker Hill, Slemmer, Totten, Slocum, Massachusetts [later called Fort Stevens], etc., etc., are the defenses north of the Potomac, all mostly garrisoned by the 112th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers 2nd Heavy Artillery. All these forts are built on hills describing a semicircle, the city as a centre. I can’t say [anything] of the forts on the Virginia side [but] I suppose they are built on the same principle. These forts are from 4 to 6 miles from Washington.
Should an attack be made from the Maryland side, Fort Lincoln is the first to be attacked. At the foot of the hill, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad turns to[ward] Baltimore [as does] the Turnpike thru Bladensburg. We have our pickets on the bridge that enters Bladensburg looking out [for] what goes out to Maryland. The country around Washington is so many independent little hills forming two circles and every one of them crowned with a fort. The spade has done its duty here, I can assure you – every hill a fort, every vale a rifle pit. Should the Rebs attempt the capture of the city, I would think Fort Lincoln itself would beat them off. Think then of it being supported by 58 more of the same sort, more or less.
Schooley’s Battery has lost its independence and is now part and parcel of the 112 PV 2nd Heavy Artillery, Battery M., [and our commander is] Col. [Augustus A.] Gibson. Col. Gibson [was formerly] a Captain in the Regular Army [and] was wounded in [the War with] Mexico [where he had his] heel shot off. He was lately commander at Fort Delaware before the war. He is the best shot in the Artillery, except Gen. [Braxton] Bragg, CSA. He used to set a dry goods box in the bay at Fort Delaware and set it on fire with a shell. A good shot that!
December 1, 1862
You must pardon me for not writing you sooner than this, but really I have been so tired & disgusted with traveling & so busy fixing our winter quarters that we have bare time to eat.
We left Fort Delaware last Friday week in the boat [named] “Philadelphia” for Washington. We were 3 days & nights steaming down the Chesapeake bay and up the Potomac River, all that time we had but crackers, pork and & salt water ham. Besides it was stormy & wet and the boat had no accommodations whatever, being merely a small tug boat. The rascals put us 250 men in that miserable affair unworthy of the name of a boat. I slept all the while on the “hurricane deck” & by it caught a bad cold, which, thanks, is over. We arrived in the City on Monday & were marched through five miles of it without any halt, then climbed up a big hill to Fort Lincoln & slept for the night on mother earth.
By this time we have been to the woods cutting logs for winter quarters & everything is getting on satisfactory. The country round about is very beautiful. The scenery is grand and from Fort Lincoln you can see the dome of the Capitol oe’r topping every hill. The country all around us is bristling with fortifications & rifle pits for the defense of the City of Washington D.C.
Schooley’s Battery is now in the 112 Regt PV 2nd Heavy Artillery, in garrison for the defenses north of the Potomac under the command of Colonel Gibson, Regular Army. Should you hear of the 112th moving forward, I hope you will see that they have given a good account of itself. I would wish they would short[en] this war though — make it a terrible short, sharp and decisive war instead of lingering in the war & keeping thousands from their homes and firesides.
I hope dear Annie that you are quite well & happy & at home, and that your parents too are all well. Please give them my highest regards & respects. I hope that you will excuse this bungling letter. I expect to go to the city and see some more of the country shortly, then I shall send you a more interesting letter.
Dear Annie, I shall come to the “commencement“ of the end by hoping that you will write soon, very soon, for I am quite anxious to hear from you.
Accept, dear Annie, of the warmest love of your – William B. Phillips
Care of Capt. Schooley
Battery M. 112 Reg. P.V.
LETTER 7 NOTES
♠ The boat that transported William Phillips and his comrades of Company M up the Chesapeake and Potomac River was the side-wheel, iron-hulled steamer USS Philadelphia. (See images in banner above.) The Philadelphia was built in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1859 as the commercial vessel of the same name. She was operating as a trading vessel between Acquia Creek, Virginia and Washington, D.C. at the outbreak of the Civil War. She was seized 21 April 1861 in accordance with a Presidential order and sent to the Washington Navy Yard to be outfitted for naval service. Commanded by Lt. William N. Jeffers, she operated on the Potomac River both as a patrol and troop transport vessel.
♣ The hospital is not identified but may have been Aspinwall Hall of the Fairfax Seminary. It was used as a union hospital throughout the war as were a large number of other public buildings.
♥ Railroad corruption in the rail industry prompted the enactment of the Railways and Telegraph Act of January 31, 1862. This legislation enabled President Lincoln to take possession of railroads and run them as required to preserve public safety. The War Department would supervise any railroads taken over by the government. Few northern railroads were actually seized under the act but those that were seized were organized into the United States Military Railroad (U.S.M.R.R.). The railroads, faced with this tough legislation, immediately fell in line to aid in the Union war effort for fear of being seized. Profiteering and corruption immediately fell off and trains began to move in an expedient way.
♦ In December 1862, Brig. General J. G. Barnard, Chief Engineer of the defenses of Washington, reported to the the Secretary of War that, “Fort Lincoln is situated on an eminence, overlooking the extensive valley formed by the Eastern Branch and its tributaries, and commanding the Baltimore turnpike, the railroad, and several minor roads, which, passing through or near Bladensburg, lead into Washington. At the foot of this eminence was fought the battle of Bladensburg [during the War of 1812]. The narrowness of the summit, on which it is situated, is unfavorable to a good trace. The exterior batteries and rifle-pits, however, thoroughly see the ground over which assaulting columns must pass, and the bomb-proofs and magazines, arranged as traverses, protect the long and narrow interior from enfilading fires. A 100-pounder [Swivel gun] is being mounted in the northeast angle, which will sweep the sector from Fort Slocum around to Fort Mahan. The Commission recommend reversed casemates in the northeast angle of counterscarp and a few additional platforms for guns on the western long face. An additional magazine is in construction. From the fort the ridge runs easterly to the Eastern Branch, about three-fourths of a mile distant. About midway is a half-sunk battery for field guns, connected with the work by a double caponiere. At this point the ridge falls abruptly 40 or 50 feet, and the line is continued by rifle-pits to the extremity, where a powerful battery has just been built, terminating this part of our line. A deep, and for three fourths its length impenetrable, ravine takes its origin near the fort, and runs behind and parallel to this ridge. On the spurs immediately south are two half-sunk batteries for field guns, bearing upon the margins of the Eastern Branch.”
The forts defending Washington D.C. were designed by engineers using the same standard treatise on field fortifications but no two forts were alike. Laborers piled up earthworks so that parapets 12 to 18-feet thick faced exposed fronts. Within the ramparts, field and siege guns were mounted on platforms to lay down a wide angle of fire. Outside the earthworks, a steep slope led down to a dry moat. beyond this ditch, felled trees in front with sharpened branches pointing outward (called an abatis) ringed the fort. Work parties cleared all brush and trees in front of the fort for up to two miles, leaving no cover. Fort Lincoln had 34 guns within its 466 yard perimeter earthworks and protected the approach of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Baltimore (Bladensburg) Pike. It was located at the present-day Fort Lincoln Elementary School on Fort Lincoln Drive. Fort Saratoga contained only six guns, by comparison, within its 153 yard perimeter earthworks. There was also a minor lunette between Forts Lincoln and Bunker Hill. Fort Saratoga was located in a present-day recreational area behind 1821 Jackson Street.
Differences between Fort Delaware and Fort Lincoln, daily labors at the fort, evading the Provost Guard, seeking creature comforts.
[December 14, 1862]
[Dear Mr. Richard,]
…Colonel [Augustus A.] Gibson can conduct business without giving furloughs or passes, so paying you a visit is smoked. In Fort Delaware, the officers down to the 2nd Lieutenant displayed their epaulettes, feathered hats, & the glories of dress parades. But in Fort Lincoln it is played out & now the pick & shovel has to be taken. Instead of the Regal Dress [and] Present Arms of a Dress Parade, it’s this: “Front Rank, Take Picks. Rear Ranks, Take Spades. Form. March.”
Front rank, take picks, rear ranks, take spades. Form. March.
I slipped [away] to Washington last Thursday and spent the day in dodging the Provost Guard &c and try for a little of the creature [comforts] but that’s forbidden to the soldier in the city. However, we managed it by employing a nigger to buy it for us. I put into a good cup of tea with some good lady there and it was a big thing. Yesterday the boys of Captain Blair, Sam Rogers, David Richards, Bill Matthias & David Rees paid us a visit. They are digging a new fort called Fort Slocum. ♠
This fort is the Headquarters of the Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Division of the Defenses of the Potomac. We are just now very busy building out stockades for winter quarters. They are very comfortable.
Please send me stamps so I can write home.
The boys are all pretty healthy & wicked as usual. We have plenty of privileges here [and] can go all around “on the sly.” The country around is magnificent [and] delightful. It would pay you to come and see the city & its surroundings. Potatoes, turnips, cabbage, and chickens has all been enrolled and drafted for a circle of 3 miles. They will report at the mess in Fort Lincoln shortly.
Give my best respects to Mrs. Richards & a kiss for little Netty. Best respects to Miss Howell & Henry & all the acquaintances.
I shall now conclude with highest regards. Yours truly, — W. B. Phillips
LETTER 8 NOTES
♠ Fort Slocum was built by the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry and named for its commander, Colonel John S. Slocum, who was killed at the Battle of First Bull Run. It contained 25 guns and mortars. It guarded the intersection of the left and right forks of the Rock Creek Church Road. From March 1862 until the summer (perhaps later), Batteries K and E of the 2nd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery were barracked at Fort Saratoga, “but left camp at 6:30 am daily and marched to Fort Slocum” where they worked on enhancing the fortification until evening, :returning to camp at 6 or 6:30 pm.” (Ward)
Sightseeing in Harrisburg, Reception in Philadelphia on way to Fort Delaware, reaction to Rebel prisoners, comparing Fort Lincoln to Fort Delaware. This letter was written by William Davis.
[Washington, D. C.]
December 16, 1862
Dear Mrs. Richards,
No doubt ‘ere this you have come to the conclusion that I had entirely forgotten you, not having written to you for some time or since we left Harrisburg. I feel it my duty to write and make some kind of an apology for my negligence. I can not think of any excuse excepting that old complaint of putting off till tomorrow from day to day and aware that you often heard from us through several correspondents. But I am at the same time convinced that you deserved a part of my letters as showing some appreciation for your kindness to me while with you so I hope you will excuse and I’ll try and be a better “Boy” for the future.
I suppose friend [William] Phillips has given you a full description of this place in Mr. Richards letters, so I shall refrain repeating the same as my description powers are inadequate to make any improvement on the same. I shall give you a feint idea of what has passed and how I feel since I left the little town of Hyde Park, [PA]. I can assure you I am somewhat better feasted on matters of Divinity since I left and feel if I come out of this at the end of 3 years or during the war all right, I shall never regret the things of the past and especially if this Rebellion is closed honorably.
While at Harrisburg, I visited the “Governor’s Room” and the “[Lunatic] Asylum” and other places of interest which revived my patriotism and convinced me that we had something worth fighting for if nothing but the original signatures of the immortal Washington and other great statesmen of 1812 that formed this great and good government with their free institutions.
Our trip to Fort Delaware was full of interest – especially in the passing of [Philadelphia,] the Quaker City, with the warm greetings and kind treatment received at the hands of the fair ladys of that place. When we arrived at Fort Delaware, I realized the fort that we were at was in earnest. Looking at the Prisoners ♠ was a curiosity to me, to think that men of the same colour and appearance as ourselves could raise up against the government formed and made by statesmen born principally on Southern soil. I tell you it made me quite impatient to talk with them.
We spent about 3 months at Fort Delaware and assure you feel glad that we are removed. We are not penned up so close as we were there on the island and have a little room to turn in and while away leisure moments with in sight of the “Capitol – the central power of our government – where all eyes are turned at with great anxiety watching the changes from day to day surrounded by thousands of brave and willing souls, young and old, ready to sacrifice there lives if needs be in upholding the laws and Supremacy of its power as given to them by the illustrious dead felt here in Grant. It will be one of our best victory’s if Grant can take Vicksburg ♣ and get the Mississippi open and divide there Southern Confederacy. I think we ought to have a victory there to cheer up the Potomac Army as the Rebs had rather the best of the last move in holding their position.♥
I see little Nettie has not forgotten us. We are glad to find she speaks of us and hope that soon a happy day will arrive when we can return a kiss for her remembrance. We often speak of her & recall all the chats we used to have at the table. My kind regard to Mr. Roberts & to Mr. Richards & all enquiring friends. Oh yes, I almost forgot. You said somebody soon was expected to stay with you. I am glad to hear it. You can give [Page 6 missing]
[Your friend, — William Davis]
LETTER 9 NOTES
♠ Most of the Confederate prisoners confined at Fort Delaware in late 1862 were captured at the Battle of Kernstown [VA] in the early Spring of 1862. There were also some non-military political prisoners and captured blockade runner crews confined at the fort.
♣ Gen. U. S. Grant made several attempts late in 1862 to take Vicksburg, the Rebel stronghold on the Mississippi River, but was unsuccessful until the following summer.
♥ William Davis is referring to the Battle of Fredericksburg [VA], where General Burnside’s Army of the Potomac was repulsed by Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in heavy fighting with catastrophic losses on December 13, 1862.