of Bethel and Royalton
by Grant and Lee Fairbanks
Charles Fairbanks was a Bethel farm boy who, at the age of 16, maneuvered his father into allowing him to enlist in the 2nd USSS. With the abrupt departure of their youngest son, his parents were left alone on the farm except for a younger daughter, Addie. They must have suffered much apprehension, bitterness and guilt as they waited for news of their four sons at the front. Charlie joined his regiment after the Battle of Antietam. Soon he found the flame of his patriotism dampened by the misery of campaigning, grim experiences in combat, a bout of jaundice, separation from his tentmate and brother, Alfred (disabled by typhoid fever), and the near-mortal wounding of his brother, John. Charlie was captured at Gettysburg on the 2nd day, marched barefoot 200 miles to Stanton, VA, and ultimately dumped on Belle Island, where he suffered severely from exposure and malnourishment. Just as he appeared to be close to dying from scurvy, he had the good fortune to be selected for a prisoner exchange. Though reduced in weight to 80 pounds, he retained enough vitality to survive transport to the Parole Camp hospital in Annapolis, MD and to regain some of his strength during 9 months of treatment and rest. After that time, the doctors still judged him to be unfit for active service. But he demanded to be returned to duty, and was with his unit for the battle of Cold Harbor, the long siege of Petersburg, the destruction of the Weldon (South Side) Railroad, and the final envelopment leading to the surrender at Appomattox.
Charlie's story could be told in outline by stringing together excerpts from his service record, pension file, obituary and other newspaper articles, as I am doing for his older brothers. However, although Charles says he was disinclined to write about his Civil War experience, he eventually yielded to the pleas of his daughter for a written record. His 28-page memoir, Notes of Army and Prison Life, 1862-1863, written 34 years after the war, gives scant information about Sharpshooter engagements or tactics, but reveals much about Charlie's feelings and the impact of the war on his brothers and their parents. To each excerpt used here, I have added section headings to highlight my view of the meaning of the text following.
I am deeply grateful to Arthur Ruitberg for bringing Charlie's memoir to my attention by sending me a copy. In it I found answers to many questions about the Fairbanks family of Bethel that otherwise would have remained unfathomable.
Original copies of the memoir, which was printed in limited edition for family members and friends, are held by the Vermont State Archives and the Bethel Historical Society. The Bethel Historical Society also has a handwritten version of Charlie's description of his capture at Gettysburg and imprisonment in Libby Prison and on Belle Island. Dated 1864, it is a fresh account written while Charlie was still in Parole Camp at Annapolis, MD; the later memoir incorporates it with few changes.
With the exception of excerpts from Charlie's pension file, all of the material reproduced here is from the Charles Fairbanks Collection of the Bethel Historical Society. We thank the society for allowing this use (Bethel Historical Society © 1998-all rights reserved) and we are grateful to Richard Edmunds, Co-Curator of the Bethel Historical Society Museum, for helping us review the collection and for his significant contributions to our research on the Fairbanks and Bowen families in Bethel, Royalton and Barnard.
The daguerreotypes, memoir pages and other artifacts were photographed using Tri-X panchromatic film, under mixed natural and halogen lamp illumination. High-resolution digital scanning and photoreversal of the negative images was by Brady & Berg, Worcester, MA. Simple image enhancement, cleaning and tinting were done by Grant Fairbanks using Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Ver. 1.0. Illustrations in this section are Copyright 1998 by the Bethel Historical Society and Grant & Lee Fairbanks; all rights reserved.
The Charles Fairbanks Collection was presented to the Bethel Historical Society by Charlie's daughter, Inez (Fairbanks) Foster, and by grand-daughters, Barbara F. Sessions and Rosamund F. Sheldon. Mrs. Foster preserved the bone objects her father carved while in Confederate prison camps. To the small box containing those mementoes, she added this note to her children:
Mementoes of hard times. The three dice and the scarf ring were among the objects Charlie carved from bone while he was suffering on Belle Isle. The postage stamp-like object in the corner is a portrait (presumably of Charlie) cut from a daguerreotype.
To my children: Please keep these articles in this box and preserve them carefully. They were made by your grandfather Charles Fairbanks when a prisoner in Libby prison [and Belle Island]. The bone articles were made from bone which was given the soldiers to make soup of. They were so nearly starved that after eating their soup and meat they pounded the bones to powder and ate that. Time dragged so heavily that Grandpa, obliged to find something to do, fashioned these articles from bone he should have eaten.
He sent them to his little sister, your Aunt Adelaide. There was one more thing in the box-a ring made of bone. This she wore and lost. I have heard her tell how broken-hearted she was over this and how her mother did not scold her, but comforted her. She gave these things to me at my father's request. Will you, my children, care for them and treasure them as I have done and preserve them as a memento of your grandfather, a soldier of the Civil War?
Edgewood, Claremont, NH
February 3, 1928
Written on the sixth anniversary of his death.
Charlie may have been a bit of a rascal, but he was well loved.
(Top) Title embossed on the leather cover of Charles Fairbanks' memoir. (Limited private printing abt. 1897)
(Bottom) The dedication.
["Children's children" would be my father's generation. It saddens me that he never knew of it; I would have liked to have shared it with him. I wonder if any, in that large group of descendants of Lorenzo and Esther, ever read it?
I am the youngest of the seven sons born to Lorenzo D. and Esther B. Fairbanks, named respectively, Augustus [died in infancy], Alonzo, Henry, Luke, John, Alfred and your humble servant, and two sisters, Nancy who died in infancy, and Addie D., residing in Austin, who is now Official Stenographer for the Tenth Judicial District in Minnesota. and who expressed a wish (after we had all enlisted) "that she was a boy that she might enter the army as a drummer."
PATRIOTISM AND YOUTH
I was born on the 22nd of June, 1846, at Bethel, Windsor County, Vermont, where I resided with my father, attending school winters and working on the farm summers. During the early spring of 1861, when my brothers Luke and John happened to be at home, the "prospects of a war with the South" was the theme most discussed by the town's people. I well remember the patriotic utterances of my brothers Luke and John, and when Fort Sumpter was fired upon by the Rebels, both enlisted. I remember that John was milking one of the cows on the eve of April 12, 1861, when he heard the news of the fall of Fort Sumpter. He did not finish milking, but started for the nearest recruiting station, where he, together with my brother Luke, enlisted in Company F., 3rd Regiment, Vermont Volunteers.
I remember how I longed to be a soldier about that time, and how I implored my father to let me go as a "drummer boy" with Luke and John, but was kept quiet by being informed that I was "only fifteen years old" and had better stay at home.
After coming home on a three days furlough, dressed in full uniform, Luke and John left for the seat of war with their regiment, leaving my brother Alfred and myself at home to assist in carrying on the farm, but from the time that Luke and John enlisted we held frequent councils of war in the "barn yard", and between ourselves had decided to "go to war", when, the day following the battle of Lees Mills, Va., April 16th, 1862, we learned that brother Luke was severely wounded. Our patriotism diminished a little at this news, but we came to our senses when, about the 25th of April, Luke was brought home with an ugly wound on his left arm. The sight of the wound and the suffering of our brother after his arrival home had brought our idea of going to war back to us with the spirit of real patriotism, and we both said we would go to war, but our farm work kept us busy until after planting, during which we "drilled" with our hoes in corn, potato, and hop fields until haying time.
TEN SHOTS WITHIN A TEN-INCH RING AT 100 YARDS
Brother Luke had recovered from his wounds and returned to his Regiment, and our haying season was fast drawing to its close, when one night Brother Alf and I learned that there was an officer at the village who was getting recruits for "sharpshooters", and as each was born with a gun in his hands, we decided to try and enlist as sharpshooters.
How well I remember the day! Father wished to finish haying that day, August 11, 1862, and he started for the hay field with a scythe on his back to mow the last piece of grass "down on the lower meadow", near the White River. Instead of following him, Alfred and I took a turn around the hill and left our scythes in some bushes and ran as fast as we could go to Bethel village, a mile or more, where the recruiting officer was stationed. It was a sultry August day, and when we reached the recruiting headquarters we found several townsmen there. Some who were willing to enlist as sharpshooters if they could "shoot well enough", while others were there to rub the ears of those who were little weak in [the] knees. But my brother Alfred and I were there to enlist, and when I stepped up to Col. H. R. Stoughton, the recruiting officer, and told him that "I wanted to enlist", he shook his head and remarked that I was not old enough for soldier, and certainly was not old enough for a sharpshooter. Then brother Alf come to the front. He would be 18 years of age the following October, Oct. 22, 1862. Col. Stoughton thought he would do.
The next thing was to make a target. The soldier, in order to be competent to enter the sharpshooters, was required to shoot ten shots one hundred yards offhand at a ten inch ring, and if each shot came inside the ring the man was accepted.
Alfred stepped up and put every shot inside the ring, and was accepted by Col. Stoughton, but I had told my brother not to sign his name unless I was allowed to enlist with him, so he refused to enlist without me. Then Col. Stoughton called me up to make the target, which I gladly did, though I must confess it was with fear and almost trembling that I took the rifle in hand to determine whether or not I was fit for a sharpshooter. There was a large crowd of townspeople present, who seemed to be about evenly divided in favor of my going to war, but after making the first shot at the ten inch ring target, there was a cheer from the spectators, for I had put a bullet nearly in the center of the bulls eye, which was about two inches in diameter. The remaining nine shots were put inside the ring about as per sketch with a cheer from the crowd after each shot.
"WITH TREMBLING HAND"
As soon as I had finished, Col. Stoughton took me to one side and said that in order for me to be accepted my age would have to go on record as eighteen years, and a written consent for my father would have to be filed. I knew that I could easily pass for eighteen, but it would be stretching the truth to give my age as such, for my last birthday was June 22nd, when I was sixteen. The next thing and what I feared most, was getting a written consent from my father. I had run away from him that very morning, when I knew he needed my services in finishing haying; but I was bound to be a soldier, so after Col. Stoughton filled out a blank for my father to sign, giving his consent, I took it and started homeward with a doubting heart, for I expected my father would laugh in my folly, and bid me to go to work in the hay field.
The distance from where I made the target to my home was two miles by road and about a mile by crossing the White river. I chose the latter route, because I could make better time and know the result sooner. On arriving at home I told my mother of my intention to enlist; that Alfred had enlisted; that I wanted to go with him in the same company, using the best arguments possible, until mother finally said, "well, if your father is willing I will abide by his decision, but I know that he will not consent to your going so young".
Father was still in the hay field, where I went, carrying the blank permit in one hand, with pen and ink in the other. I found him mowing under a butternut tree near large hollow stump. I have always thought that he was not surprised when I appeared to him thus, for he did not ask me where I had been or what I had been doing. I laid the matter before him as plausibly as possible, and was emphatically informed that I was "too young" and that "he needed me at home now that all of the other boys had enlisted". But I did not intend to be subdued so easily, and tried to influence him to give his consent by promising to send him my "State pay", which was eight dollars per month. This proposition fell flat, as he informed me that "money was a poor inducement for giving up his last and youngest son to be shot at". Up to this time in my life I had never felt inclined to disobey my father, but now with all my patriotism fired to that extent which would carry me to the very front of battle, and with all due respect to him, I deliberately informed him that if he did not sign the consent to my enlistment, which he now held in his hand, that I would run away and enlist in some other state organization and he would not know where I was; but if he would sign the paper now, I would write to him every week and keep him informed of my own and brother Alfred's welfare. This seemed to weaken him, and he immediately sat down on the hollow stump and with trembling hand signed the "death warrant" as he styled it, and in handing the paper to me put the ink bottle and pen on the old stump and continued mowing, while I went my way in joyful glee to the recruiting station, wading the White river on the way.
Before dark I was enlisted and on my way to Woodstock, Vt., where we went into camp on the fair grounds, sleeping in barracks,. After about two weeks spent in drill, uniforms were given to us and my brother and I were permitted to go home on furlough, for three days, before going to the front.
We felt grand in our blue uniforms, and it seems to me in looking back to that eventful period in my life, that I made a rapid stride toward full manhood within the first week after enlistment.
When we arrived home dressed in our new uniforms we presented ourselves to father and mother, falling into line in the "old kitchen" and going through the various steps and movements which we had learned in camp. I remember how disappointed I was that father and mother did not compliment us on our general appearance, but looking back, having children of my own, I can imagine how our parents regarded us, knowing better than we did what was in-store for us.
JOINING THE REGIMENT
After three days at home we started back, saying "goodbye" to our friends as though we were simply going away for a day or so, little knowing of the many hardships which were in-store for us.
Upon our arrival in camp again we were informed that an order had been issued by the Commander of the camp, to prepare to start for Washington at once, and within 24 hours we were all enroute, some three hundred raw recruits, for the front.
It was about Sept. 18, when we arrived in Washington. The battle of Antietam was fought the 17th, and our regiment, the 2nd U.S. sharpshooters, [was] in the battle. This aroused our patriotism and made us impatient to reach the scene of action. We were forwarded at once to Harper's Ferry, Va., after remaining in Washington twenty-four hours, which gave us time to look the public buildings over. The dome of the capitol was not then finished, and there were no pavements in the main streets of the city. Hogs were rooting the loose soil on Pennsylvania Avenue and on Capitol Hill, where now you can see the best pavements in the world.
Upon our arrival at Harper's Ferry we were immediately started on the march to Antietam, Md., and as we passed the place where John Brown made himself famous, we joined in singing "John Brown's Body". This was our first march and the distance to the Antietam battleground seemed very long, but we arrived there late in the afternoon, and found our regiment in camp on the very ground where they had fought only a few days previously.
The old veterans who enlisted in 1861 greeted us as "new recruits", and seemed pleased to have their ranks filled again as their losses in the battle of Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam had been severe, while sickness had taken many good and brave men from the ranks.
After [receiving] our [Sharps] rifles and four days rations, which consisted of hard tack, salt pork and coffee, we were shown to a space in the company's street, where we could build our tents, which we did, with the aid of some of the old veterans. I remember the kindness of the 1st Sergeant Dan Squires in assisting us to make some coffee on the evening we joined the company. He also assisted me to fix a suitable place to sleep. He made a bunk of small poles by placing the ends on a rest, which was held by two forked sticks driven in the ground. I had never "camped out" a night in my life before and one can imagine where my thoughts were as I "turned in" for the night. Of course my brother Alfred was my tent mate and the next morning I recollect that we referred to the councils of war we held back of the barn at home [when we] resolved to enlist. Now we would have been glad to have held a council and [decide] to go home, but made up our minds to do our duty, and from that time on we never spoke of our home pleasures.
After a few weeks in camp the Army started on the march toward Fredericksburg, Va. The hard tack and salt pork did not quite fill the bill of fare which we had been having, but Alfred and I voted that it was all right and made the best of it. The first day's march from Antietam was a hard one for us, as it was the first time we had been obliged to carry a rifle and sixty rounds of cartridges, besides a piece of shelter tent and woolen blanket; but we kept up with the regiment and went into camp near a stream, fifteen miles from Antietam.
Alfred and I were so tired that we did not stop to put up a tent, but placed four rails, which we took from a farmers fence, across a low place to keep us from the ground, and went off to sleep, only to awake to hear the bugle and drum at 5 o'clock the next morning. After making coffee we ate our hard tack and pork on the bank where we had slept, and were soon on the march again.
After marching until about 1 o'clock the second day, we halted in some woods for dinner and rest. The sun was shining brightly and it was a perfect November day. It was while sitting on the ground after dinner that I thought something was crawling up my back, and I suggested to Alf that there was a "Greyback" on picket under my shirt. I had seen some of the old veterans picking lice from their shirts, but hardly expected to catch them quite so soon. I couldn't stand it any longer so I took off my shirt and looked along where I had felt the "varmint," when I discovered a good fat body louse. The old veterans were greatly amused to see me looking after him, as of course I called their attention to the louse when I found it, and all pronounced it the largest louse they had ever seen.
While discussing the "Greyback," Old Joiner, a recruit who enlisted when I did, in looking over my shoulder at the louse, discovered something on one of my shoulders, a "red spider" he called it, but Sergeant Dan Squires of our company made an examination and said it was a "wood tick." It had buried itself under the skin, and the "boys" had a big time dislocating it, and just as they succeeded in getting the "tick" out, orders came to "fall in," and before I could get my shirt on, the company was on the march.
I shall never forget that first louse, but that was only a beginning, for within a year from that time I could pick them off my shirt by the dozens.
"A 'HOMESICK' BOY"
On the third day of the march I was attacked with jaundice. My skin was as yellow as saffron; even the whites of my eyes were yellow, and great blotches came out all over my body. My appetite failed me; salt junk, and hard tack even, did not tempt me to eat. I was obliged to fall out of the ranks; brother Alf was with me by permission of the Captain until the surgeon came up, who, after examining me, wrote a pass for the Ambulance Corps to pick me up. After lying beside the road for an hour or more, [I was relieved that] the Ambulance came along and I was loaded in, with three other sick ones and rode until the regiment went into camp that night. The roads were very rough and the "jounce" of the Ambulance nearly killed me, as my head was aching badly. So I resolved not to ride the next day, and went to my company and attended sick call. Next morning the surgeon gave me a pass to march at will and to take Ambulance if I could not keep up. I did not keep up with my company, but came into camp at night two hours behind them, after a march of about fourteen miles.
That night I was a "homesick" boy. I had just begun to realize the hardships of war, and could have appreciated a good bed with a cup of mother's herb tea before "turning in," but thoughts of home would not do, so, with the aid of Alfred, I fixed myself for the night and tried to sleep. Morning found me in a restless state, though a little improved in color, the yellow having partly disappeared. I kept with my company and marched with them for the next four days until we arrived at Warrentown, Va., about the 1st of November, 1862, where we laid in camp for several days. It was here that Gen. McClellan was relieved of the command of the army and was succeeded by Gen. Burnside. I was able to attend the grand review Nov. 10, 1862, which was given in honor of Gen. McClellan. I shall never forget the enthusiasm manifested by the troops, as he rode in front of the line, on his black horse that day. It was a grand and a sad sight, for the men loved their commander.
"GOOD AND BRAVE MEN SACRIFICED"
Gen. Burnside then took command and divided the army into three grand divisions. Gen. Sumner was placed in command of the Right Grand Division, which comprised the II and IX Corps, and our regiment, 2nd U.S. Sharp Shooters, [was] ordered to report to Gen. Summer's headquarters for duty. This we did and were in camp near the "Lacy House," in which Sumner had his headquarters, from about Nov. 17, until we broke camp to go into the Fredericksburg battle Dec. 13.
The weather was cold and raw; considerable snow fell, and ice formed in our canteens. We crossed the Rappahannock river on the eve of Dec. 12, 1862, and laid on our arms all night. Our artillery had been firing across the river into the city of Fredericksburg all day, before we crossed.
The next morning after crossing the river, Alf and I thought we would visit our brothers Luke and John. We found them in line on our right. They seemed troubled to see us there, as they knew that a severe battle was to be fought: both had been in several battles and this was to be our first.
While we were talking with them, the rebels fired their first shot from a cannon, on the heights above us, and the shell exploded on the left of the 4th Vt. Regiment, near where we were talking, killing and wounding several men. The shot caused some lively actions on our part, and without any ceremony we hurried back to our regiment and arrived just in time. [The Sharp Shooters] were deploying as skirmishers in front of Gen. Sumner's Grand Division, and we soon moved up to the front where the rebels could see us. Our artillery across the river opened a terrific fire and many of their shots fell short of the enemy's works and made us "lie low" to escape being killed by our own men.
Very soon the rebels began to shell us. George M. Clay, who was lying beside me, had his knapsack on: it was filled with writing material and various nick-nacks, which he had brought from Vermont. He was lying flat on his face, when a solid shot from the enemy struck the knapsack and filled the air with paper etc., Clay escaping unhurt but nearly frightened out of his wits.
It was about this time that I saw the first man wounded. He belonged to the 14th Brooklyn Regiment. Both legs were shot off below the knee and while he was being hurried back to the rear on a stretcher, [he] was suffering severely. The sight of this wounded man, instead of making me timid, had a tendency to madden me, and I jumped up and suggested to the Captain that we move to the front. This act nearly cost me my life, for the rebels saw the move and poured shot after shot into that locality.
We remained in line and under fire all that day, but withdrew under cover of darkness the following night, and re-crossed the river, the whole army following. Burnside had been defeated and thousands of good and brave men sacrificed.
Notwithstanding the fact that I have heard veterans remark since the war, that after their first battle they knew no fear while approaching the next, I have always considered that statement a matter of boasting and am free to say that my first battle led me to dread the next.
We marched to Falmouth, Va., about seven miles, and went into camp where we remained a few days. Then the whole army was ordered to march although we did not know where we were going. Burnside had to move the army to keep the people and politicians still, for everyone knew that something ought to be done; and everyone was exclaiming, "why don't the army of the Potomac move?"
In less than two days after we broke camp, the whole army was "stuck in the mud" and [we] had to return to our old camp, where we spent the winter of 1862-63. The march went on record as "Burnside's Mud March." Many of the men took colds and the sick list was large.
ALFRED DISABLED BY TYPHOID FEVER
During the winter at Falmouth, Va., we did picket duty out on the Rappahannock, the rebels being on the opposite side. Sometime in Dec. 1862, or Jan. 1863, Alfred and I were detailed for picket, going out one day and returning the next. When going out a snow storm set in which proved to be a blizzard. Six or seven inches of snow fell, and we had no fires. Alfred took cold, and when we arrived in camp next day was very sick and feverish. I called the surgeon and he pronounced the disease typhoid pneumonia, and had him removed to the hospital tent where I took care of him for several days. After the fever turned he did not recover, so was sent to the general hospital. As a result of this fever, heart disease set in, rendering him unfit for field duty. He was then transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps, where he served out his time, but never regained his health…
After my brother's departure I was all alone, or so it seemed to me; but a soldier of my company by the name of George B. Joiner, came to my rescue. He consoled me by assisting me to cook and in helping to get my wood etc., until finally he came to bunk with me, and ever after he shared bitter and sweet with me, a good friend and a noble hearted fellow…
Daguerreotype of an unidentified sharpshooter.
[A good man to be with in a tough fight, by the looks of him. The knife in his belt is not for peeling apples. GF]
CHANCELLORSVILLE AND 2ND FREDERICKSBURG
We remained in camp in Falmouth until May 1, 1863, when we marched to Chancellorsville. Gen. Hooker took command of the army and May 2, 3 and 4, fought the battle of Chancellorsville, Va.
Our regiment was in the thickest of the fight. When the troops of the Eleventh Corps gave way May 3, our regiment was in their front and came near being captured. We were under fire all day and until about 9 o'clock, when Stonewall Jackson was killed [wounded; his left arm amputated, Jackson died of pneumonia on May 10].
At the time I was at Chancellorsville with my regiment, Luke and John were eight miles below at Fredericksburg, Va., where the 1st, 3rd and 6th Corps, under command of Gen. Sedgwick, had crossed the Rappahannock to undertake what Gen. Burnside had failed to do, namely: carry the Heights and flank Lee's army.
It was in this fight, known as the 2nd Fredericksburg, that my brother John was severely wounded...
Two days after the fight I went three miles down the line to see how Luke and John came out of the fight, and it was with trembling voice that I inquired for them, after finding their Sergeant. But I soon found Luke and was informed by him that John was probably mortally wounded, and had gone to Washington on a boat from Fredericksburg. Luke and I compared notes, and congratulated ourselves that we were not left on the other side of the Rappahannock with the twenty thousand poor fellows, whose lives were sacrificed by the foolish move of Gen. Hooker.
CAPTURED AT Gettysburg
We went back to our old camp, where we remained until about the last week in June, when we again broke camp and started to stop Lee's army from invading Pennsylvania. It was a long forced march; the weather was hot and dry; our baggage trains could not keep up, therefore on our last day's march before the battle of Gettysburg, we had no rations. July 1, we marched thirty-two miles, arriving on the battle field at 8:30 p.m. We could hear the cannon all the afternoon, but the firing ceased about 7 o'clock.
That night we slept on our arms, and the next morning, July 2, were ordered forward into line of battle. The only nourishment we had that morning was a cup of coffee. My coffee having given out the day before, I boiled the bag in which I had carried it, and got a high colored but not very palatable cup of coffee.
Before leaving Falmouth, our regiment had been assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 3rd corps, under Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who had always believed in sharpshooters for skirmishers, from the fact that we had Sharpe's breech loading rifles, and therefore could load and fire very rapidly.
Gen. Sickles placed our regiment in front of the line of battle, and moved his whole corps to the front and right of "Little Round Top," near the peach orchard on the Emmetsburg road. This was about 1 o'clock p.m. About 2:30 p.m. a detail of sharpshooters was called for, to advance in front of the skirmish line, and eleven men from my regiment, including myself, were detailed, and moved forward to draw the enemy's fire and reveal their whereabouts, as nothing could be seen of them in our front.
After advancing about one-third of a mile, over a knoll and down into a ravine, the rebels, Longstreet's Corps, began their desperate charge. Three lines of battle appeared in our front and left flank so suddenly that all of us that had been detailed were captured. The slaughter of rebels in this charge was something awful. Scores of men were swept down by our artillery, which from an elevated position, sent shot and shell crashing lengthwise through their ranks, but still they moved on toward our troops, who were awaiting them in line of battle. I watched them go over to where our line was and saw our troops fire volley after volley, and then charge, driving back what few were left to tell the tale of slaughter.
The rebels had kept us, after taking our rifles and ammunition, in the thickest of the shelling. Our shot and shell were bursting and doing havoc all the while for nearly an hour, when the prisoners were taken to the rear, near Gen. Lee's headquarters, where we were questioned by his staff officers as to the arrangements within our lines. They did not get much reliable information, as we were all "yankees' and knew how to deceive our enemy, which we did.
Ira Carr, Ledrue M. Rollins, and Corporal H. C. Congdon, of my company were captured with me, also George W. Dimond, of Company H, whom I knew very well, and with whom I bunked during my captivity, sharing with him part of a woolen blanket, which would hardly cover us both. I had thrown all my luggage away in order to keep up with my company on the march July 1st.
"...THE NIGHT MORE DREADFUL..."
The night of July 2, 1863, will always remain fresh in my memory, from the fact that it was the first night of my captivity, and we had not had a particle of anything to eat since the afternoon of the 1st, except the coffee spoken of above. There were several hundred prisoners gathered together by 9 p.m., and as we were not allowed to have any fires, the darkness, together with the groans of the wounded rebels, made the night more dreadful than any I had ever experienced. I could not keep the thoughts of home and home comforts from my mind, for those are thoughts that come to one who is beginning to feel the pangs of hunger. I resolved not to think of, or long for good things, but wait with the rest of my fellow prisoners, for something to happen which would give us something to eat. Few of us closed our eyes that night.
Early on the morning of the 3rd, the battle was resumed, and shot and shell began to drop into our midst, occasionally wounding or killing some one of our number. About noon we were moved back to the rear about a mile, just out of range of our shells.
Just after reaching the place where we stopped, I saw two rebels going toward the front (probably these men were cooks for some squad), with a lot of corn cakes, simply Indian meal stirred up with water like chicken dough and baked hard. These cakes were about three-fourths of an inch thick and eleven inches in diameter. The two men had about thirty of them. They had run a stick through the center and each had one end of the stick on his shoulder. They were hurrying by us when they happened to notice that we were "yanks" and stopped. I motioned them toward us, doubting in my mind if the guard would allow me to talk with them; but I was so hungry that I ventured to open up conversation by asking the two men if they would not like to trade some " corn cakes" for this, holding up a little booklet for keeping scrip in. The scrip, or bank bill, being laid under two straps which crossed each other and by turning the cover over, the scrip or bill would come under the straps, to the great astonishment and amazement of the rebels. They both exclaimed, "Oh! That's a yankee trick." Being in a hurry to get something to eat, I was just going to tell them that I would give it to them for two corn cakes, when they surprised me by offering to give me five, and I then told them to make it six and I would trade. The accepted my offer and I took the cakes and all of the eleven prisoners who belonged to my regiment, gathered around me, and in less time than it takes to write these lines relating the fact, I had broken the cakes into eleven pieces and they were devoured. I shall never forget the expression on the faces of those comrades as I began to give each a piece of corn cake.
"...THE SADNESS OF THE DAY"
Soon after eating our lunch, we saw Picket's Rebel Division of A. P. Hill's corps, under command of Gen. Longstreet, going to the front to make a charge on our lines. In less than an hour after, they were engaged in one of the most deadly conflicts of that or any other war. Picket led the charge with 15,000 men, two-thirds of whom never came back to tell the story. I would recommend all who have not read the account of that charge to do so at once, for it shows what private soldiers will do when ordered by their superiors, and you will wonder how a man as capable as Gen. Robert E. Lee was, could order a charge where all the circumstances were against his men.
Those of us who witnessed the return of Picket's division, after being driven back with such heavy loss, will never forget the sadness of the day. Although they were our enemies we could not help admiring their bravery.
The night of the 3rd of July was a long and dreary one. The number of prisoners had increased, until there were about three thousand all in one squad, representing nearly every regiment in our army. The morning of the 4th found us in not a very favorable position to celebrate, but we knew that the rebels were beaten and expected to be recaptured, and if we could have escaped going to Richmond, by such a move, all of us would have considered it a fitting celebration. But fate was against us, for about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, we noticed a commotion among the rebels, and very soon we had orders to "fall in." At this time I was trying to trade my shoes for corn bread with a rebel, not having had anything to eat since the day before when I traded the "yankee trick" as stated. I was offered eight corn cakes for my shoes, and believing that we should all be recaptured, I accepted the offer and divided again with my comrades. I afterward learned that some had got some biscuit of a rebel and had eaten them without dividing with me. I found later that such an act was characteristic among men who were on the verge of starvation. At this time we had been only two days and nights without food, except such as I have stated; but my shoes went for bread and I shared equally with all of my comrades.
FROM THE PENSION FILE
December 2, 1879
. . . myself and said Fairbanks and many others were taken prisoner while on the skirmish line, by Picketts Division of Rebel troops, and were sent to and confined on Belle Isle and in Libby Prison, and kept there until the 1-day of Nov. A.D. 1863, when he was exchanged or paroled and sent to Annapolis; that; during said confinement we had no vegitable or salt and said Fairbanks had a very severe scurvy and was very low, his joints were swollen and flesh cracked, and he was wholly unable to walk and in this weak condition was exposed to the weather and had no care or treatment for a long space of time, contracting Rheumatic troubles . . .and when he was sent to the Hospital at Annapolis, Md., I did not suppose that he could live but a very short time.
(signed) Henry Clay Congdon
[Cpl, Co. E, 2nd USSS]
Oct 1st /63
U.S. Gen. Hospt
I now take my pen in hand to inform you that I am alive and well as could be expected under such circumstances. I was taken Prisoner at Gettysburg the 2nd of July. from there we marched to Stanton, Va. and from there we took the cars for (Richmond). when we got there they put us in the Libby Prison and kept us there one night. then they put us on (Bell Island) and I was there just 10 weeks. we left there the 28th of Sept for City Point, where we found our boats. the Rebs liked to starved us, and when I got on board of our boats I ate so much it made me sick and they sent me to the Hospt. we live first rate. we arrived here yesterday morning about 6 o'clock. well I can't write any more this time. I want you should write to me as soon as you receive this. if John is at home tell him to send me a little money if he has got it. tell me where Alf is and Luke.
Direct to Charley Fairbanks
U.S. General Hospital
(don't put on the Co nor Regt) Annapolis, Md.
MARCH TO THE POTOMAC
About two o'clock on the afternoon of the 4th we were started on the "double quick" under a strong guard, and marched from the battle field toward the Potomac river. The roads were wet and ragged and before night my bare feet began to be sore, but the march continued in the darkness. All night we marched, but very slowly. We would march fifty rods and stop and so on, until, toward morning I began to be so weary that each time we stopped I would drop asleep, only to be awakened at the point of a bayonet in the hands of a guard being thrust against my legs, with the command, "come there, you Yank, fall in," and at times I almost decided to tell them to end my existence then and there, for I could go no farther, but I kept on and on until morning when we stopped within about fifteen miles of Gettysburg at daylight. Here the rebels gave us a pint of flour each, nothing else, no salt, no meat or anything to cook it with. Some of the prisoners put water with the flour until very thin and drank it. George Dimond and I stirred ours in a pint cup until we made a thick dough, then wound it around a stick and ran it back and forth through the blaze of the fire until is was dried, and ate it.
We reached Williamsport, on the Potomac, about dark the night of the 5th of July. Arriving there we found that Kilpatrick had engaged the enemy's cavalry, who were guarding a pontoon bridge, over which Lee expected to escape with his army into Virginia; but Kilpatrick cut the bridge loose, and it floated down stream, the river being very high. The Union and Confederate dead were lying on the field where they fell. All of the dead Union soldiers had been stripped of their uniforms by the rebels. The prisoners were marched close to the river bank and as fast as the troops arrived, they were ordered to build breastworks from the river, in a half circle, to the river below, leaving the prisoners within the enclosure.
Lee expected that Meade would attack him that night, and so did every Union prisoner, for we could see the camp fires of our army only a few miles distant. I consider that Meade made the gravest error ever made by a commanding general, in not attacking Lee on July 6th, or 7th, for it was two days before the rebels got a pontoon bridge laid and began to cross into Virginia. In the meantime they had taken four thousand prisoners across in an old ferry boat, carrying sixty at a time. As soon as we touched the Virginia side we were started on the march toward Stanton, Virginia, one hundred and sixty miles distant.
ON BLEEDING FEET
The first day's march in Virginia covered fifteen miles, passing through Martinsburg, which was without exception the most patriotic place I ever saw. The whole population were out to greet us, and bade us have good cheer, as the stars and stripes were following us, not far in the rear. I was surprised to hear this from people living in Virginia. There was a whole brigade of rebels camped in and around the town, and by showing us sympathy, the people were not only endangering their property but their lives.
The ladies had cut and buttered whole baskets of bread, and placed them along the roadside to be handed out to us as we passed by. Before we reached the town the guards had orders to bayonet the first man who stepped outside the ranks to get anything of the citizens, and the cavalry guards were ordered to shoot any who attempted to distribute eatables, but in spite of all this, there were two or three cases where young ladies forced their way between the guards, who had their sabers drawn ready to strike, and gave us bread. There was manhood enough left in the arch rebels not to strike a woman.
Finally after a general stampede by the prisoners for something to eat, verging almost upon a "bread riot," the rebel officers in command informed the citizens that the prisoners would be "halted" just outside the town, where they could deliver such eatables as they might deem proper, which the did, thereby giving us a bite of home made food, which was very acceptable. It was three days after we crossed the Potomac before the rebels gave us anything to eat again. The second day after we left Martinsburg, we arrived at Winchester, thirty-four miles from the Potomac, where we rested for one day. Here they gave us one quart of flour and a half a pound of fresh beef for two days rations. The flour we dried on sticks, and the beef we devoured raw, before it had time to spoil.
The next day we started for Stanton, Virginia, ninety-two miles distant, where we arrived in five days, on July 15th. We marched two miles south of the town to a pasture, where before going through a pair of bars, we were searched for our money. They also took from us our canteens, rubber blankets, tents, etc., and then turned us into the field like a lot of cattle. Here we were exposed to the weather for five day, there being only one small tree in the lot. There were showers each day, when I was wet to the skin, and had to remain so until the sun came out of the fog the next morning, and dried my wet clothes. The nights were so cold we could not sleep on the wet ground, so, without blankets, we had to walk all night to keep warm. Each day they gave us one pint of flour with a small piece of fat bacon one half inch square, with nothing to cook either with, so we of course had to eat the raw material.
It will be remembered that I started from Gettysburg, Pa., without shoes, having "swapped" mine for corn cake. Two hundred miles over a turnpike road, through rain and shine, for fourteen day, barefoot, was an experience which I hope no one will be called upon to endure. Each day my feet bled profusely. I tore pieces from the bottom of my trouser legs to bind them up, and when we arrived at Stanton my left trouser leg was torn off within two inches of the knee. We suffered in this open field until the 4th of August, when we were again searched for "greenbacks," taking all money found on our persons, after which we were placed on board dirt cars and shipped to Richmond, with an old "rattle box" of an engine to haul us.
Arriving there on the morning of the 5th, we march hurriedly to Libby Prison, where we were crowded in, three or four hundred on each floor, with four small windows at each end to admit light and air. We were kindly told by the guard that the "first man who showed his head at the window would be shot." For two days and nights we were kept in this uncomfortable place when we were taken to Belle Island, about one-half mile from the city. Here we were surrounded by earth works, within an enclosure of four acres, where were confined over four thousand prisoners without shelter, except a few "Cibley tents," the majority of the prisoners being exposed to the weather night and day. They gave us five ounces of stale bread and two ounces of meat to each man at 10 o'clock in the morning. This was our breakfast and dinner. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon we received five ounces of bread and one pint of soup, bean and rice soup alternately. The best we ever had of either, did not have in it three spoonfuls of rice or beans, and the soup was so thin that if you blew the scum from the top you could see the beans or rice at the bottom. It was no uncommon sight to see two comrades holding the third up, he being unable to walk alone, with no ailment but starvation.
Each day there was a long trench dug just outside the camp, and every morning a score or more of the brave boys were laid to rest, with no other ceremony than the work required to cover up their naked forms.
Around the camp there was established what was known as a "dead line." This was a slight elevation one foot high by two feet wide, running around the camp, inside the breastworks, where the guard was stationed about fifteen feet distant. It was instant death for anyone to step or sit on this "sacred place," for the guards were instructed to shoot without warning anyone who did so. Several poor fellows were shot while I was there.
I remember one instance in particular when two or three hundred prisoners came in from Sherman's army. Before they were instructed as to the "dead line," or even knew of such a thing,, two of them sat down on the "line" and immediately was heard the report of two rifles and both the poor fellows lay back dead. The bullet which killed one of these men wounded another soldier in the foot, near me. The guards who fired the shots got thirty days furlough.
At another time there was a commotion in camp, caused by a report that Richmond had been taken, which set all of the prisoners to cheering. The guards were ordered to fire into the camp, which they did, killing and wounding several innocent men.
"ATTACKED WITH SCURVY"
About the 10th of August I was attacked with scurvy, brought on, I suppose, from being deprived of salt and nutritious food. My limbs became swollen and flesh cracked under each joint in hands, feet and limbs. I did not give up or weaken in mind as I felt sure that to give up was death, and when I found my comrades talking about the "good dishes" our mothers used to cook, I lectured them for their foolishness and told them my only thought was of what my father fed his hogs, which if I could have, would be all I would ask. I busied myself in making different articles from the bones which were given me as rations. I would pound up and eat all except those pieces which I worked into dice, rings and scarf pins, etc. My daughter, Inez, has a collection which I made while I was on Belle Island.
The ground upon which we camped was sandy, being surrounded by the water of the James river, and nearly on a level. We got our drinking water by sinking a flour barrel into the ground and it would fill with water. The sand would become very damp each night after the sun went down, and at midday it would be so dry and hot it would burn our feet. Of course the great change from the dry heat to the dampness brought on malaria, chronic diarrhoea and rheumatism to such an extent that there was hardly a man who was not affected more or less by disease, to say nothing of hunger and starvation.
It was utterly impossible to keep clean. The only clothing I had was what I had on when captured, which consisted of a woolen shirt, blouse and pants. Each day as long as I was able to sit up, I took off my shirt and pants and killed the lice between my thumb nails. This took about two hours of each day. I have seen a thousand men with bodies naked to the sun at one time, picking lice from their garments. I was able to do this up to within ten days of the time of my parole, when I became so weak that I was unable to wait upon myself, and my condition after ten days of neglect, so far as the body lice were concerned, was something horrible to relate. Down each seam of my pants was a white streak of "nits" or eggs laid by the body lice. My hair was long and full of vermin. Little scars on my scalp show to this day where the skin was eaten off. During the last ten days of my imprisonment I was counted as "one of the yanks what would not live," but my will power kept me alive.
About ten days before I was paroled, a squad was ordered out for parole, and among them were two "Penn. Dutchmen," whose names I cannot now remember. They had been very kind to me, and as they bade me good bye, I asked them if they would be so kind as to write to my mother when they got inside our lines, and tell her that I was alive and would get out of prison soon. I can remember how they look when I told them this. The expression on each of their faces seemed to convey the thought, "he don't think so himself but he wants to send his mother a happy message." Each promised to write my mother, and left me there. I knew from their appearance that neither of them expected that I would ever get away.
Ten days later, Sept. 28, 1863, word was passed around that another squad was to be paroled, and only those who were sick, one hundred eighty six men, were to be selected from the four thousand. My heart almost stopped its action when the thought came, "what if I am left behind this time" but I did not give up, so when the Rebel Sergeant began to call the names of those who had been selected, a comrade near me began to keep count of the number of names called. I was being supported by two men whom I had asked to hold me up, but as the number increased and my name was not called, I began to grow weak. When one hundred eighty had been called, one hundred eighty-one, one hundred eighty-two, and I knew there were only three more, I heard my name, and that was the last I knew until we reached City Point, where I heard faint cheers from the men, and while being carried on a stretcher I saw the stars and stripes floating from the mast of a steamer, and then I saw the name "New York," and knew no more until on board and being fed by some member of the Sanitary Commission, some kind of broth.
After a ride of twenty-four hours we arrived at Annapolis, where I suppose I was carried from the boat to the hospital, where I came to myself, and discovered that I had on the whitest night shirt I had ever seen. The walls of the room in which I was, appeared to be as white as snow. There were three women in the room--the whitest women I ever saw--in fact I seemed to be in paradise. My head and face had been shaven and everything about me was clean, but I was very weak. The nurse told me when I asked for food, that the doctor said that I could have nothing but liquid for a few days, as my stomach was shrunken so small that there was great danger. I was told that twenty men had died coming from City Point to Annapolis on the boat, from over eating, and within two weeks after our squad arrived in Annapolis, eighty out of the one hundred eighty-six men were dead. There were twenty-six corpses in the dead house at one time. Most of these died from starvation, or from the results of it.
Two weeks after arriving at the hospital I was able to walk, I was weight and tipped the scales at ninety-five and one-half pounds; when captured I weighed on hundred forty-five.
Soon after my arrival at Annapolis I had a letter written to my mother advising her of my safe arrival within our lines.
FROM THE PENSION FILE
November 29, 1879
. . . Said Charles Fairbanks was admitted to said U.S. Genl. Hospital [Brattleboro] December 8, 1863, from U.S.A. Genl. Hospital Annapolis Maryland. His disease was scurvy contracted while in Rebel Prison at (Libby) Richmond Va. and on Belle Island, as I was informed and learned that he had been an inmate of said prisons. Said scurvy was produced by exposure and want of proper and nutritious food, in other words, exposure and starvation. He was returned to his Regiment, at his own request -- although not fit for duty -- March 11, 1864. . .
(signed) Edw. E. Phelps
[Surgeon in Charge]
My dear mother,
You cannot think how glad I was to hear from you and learn of your good health. That is all anyone can ask for it is far better than riches; what would I give if I was as well as I was before I was taken Prisoner. but I never can be. oh, mother, it is hard, hard, indeed to be sick away from home. but thank god I am better than I was the last time I wrote you. I got some cod liver oil, and today I feel much better, and I trust I will soon be as well a usal [as usual?]. I don't want you should worry about me for I am coming home, sometime this spring if nothing happens more than I know of now. I should like very much to see aunt Larissie before she departs this wicked world as you say to a bright and happy home above, where troubles are unknown, and wars can not enter; there we will all find a resting place, and if the time is near at hand let us die for our country. you say you think Henry will get his discharge. It is my earnest wish that he will succeed. If Alfred is at home tell him to have one good time for me. Mother I hope you are enjoying life but I suppose you do not take much comfort as we are all in the service, but "don't fret. for Charlie," he will come round all right in the end. I have got my box I found 3 prs of stockings, one pair of gloves and a necktie. The pickles were very good I tell you. I wish you would send me a small box, and put in my Spencer that I wore home and I will send my coat home.
Direct to Chrls Fairbanks
3rd Battallion Camp Parole
and then I will be sure to get it. I am sorry I did not get the suggar you sent me. I wrote to Father the other day. I hope he is well tell him a letter would be very acceptable I am sorry for Allen Dunham poor boy, he little knew what he had to get through when he Enlisted. I hope he will get along well but he has got to hoe his own rowe perhaps he is capable of it. I hope so. there has many a poor boy been spoilt, since this war Commenced, but thank god, I have a mind of my own, and no one can take it from me. Well, mother I must write Addie a few lines. write soon and a good long letter. Accept this from your son with much love.
Charlie 3rd Battallion
Well my dear sister
I must say a few words to you as you was so kind to write to me. I hope you are a good girl and mind mother. help her all you can, Addie, and you will never be sorry, and when she is dead and gone you can not think that you was not good to her. there is a day coming my dear sister when we must all part in this world, perhaps to meet on a more peaceful shore. but always be a good girl, go to School and learn your lessons; don't let anyone get the better of you in your studdies. and when I come home for good (that is, if) I ever do we will go to School together. I have got to go to school two or three years yet before I can call myself a man. now My Dear Sister, read these few words careful and think if it is not a good advice, and I will try and come home and see you. I sent you two novels. did you get them? I must close give my respects to all of my friends and write soon to your brother.
Charlie B. Fairbanks
March 31, 1864
I will just write you a few lines and inform you that I still live, although my health is very poor at present. but I am hoping now I have got here that I shall feel better. I have had rather a hard journey to travel. you see they took us round by Fort Monroe to get us to Alexandria. it took us about four days to go there. but it is all over now and I will say no more about it at present. I was somewhat supprised this morning when the Express man came and told me there was a box for me. it was the box you sent last fall. Evry thing was spoilt but the 2 pair of stockings, a pair of gloves and a necktie_and a bottle of pickles, they was most spoilt, but they looked good to me. Father I wish you would just write a few lines to me once in a while and let me know how things go on in Bethel. I used to have a home there, and a good home it was to. but now I should not know it if it was not for my very good memory. I am sure I do not get any letters to assure me that I have got Parents there. was not I a good boy to work when I was at home but when my Country was in need of volenteers to save her I was just the boy to go and offer my Services and leave my dear home and friends. it was not for money that I laid my life down. it was for the love of my Country. to be sure I have seen hard times, harder perhaps than folks anticipate. I wrote to Mother yesterday and hope I shall have the pleasure of reading a letter from home soon. I did not tell Mother the right directions. You want to direct to
Except this with much love From your son Charlie.
Love to all.
[Abbr. closing? Not clear.] Father
ccd dd[Spelling and capitalization true to the original.
Charles' letter to his father was apparently overlooked when other letters held by the Bethel Historical Society were transcribed. Working with Richard Edmunds, Co-Curator, we discovered it on April 3, 1998. As far as we know, this is its first publication. Copyright 1998, Bethel Historical Society and Grant & Lee Fairbanks. Used with permission]
Ragamuffin Charlie; daguerreotype.
[This probably records Charlie's appearance early in 1864, when he was still on parole but released from his initial hospitalization. He must have regained some of the weight he lost on Belle Isle, but how aged he looks for his 17-18 years! GF]
Wednesday Eve, April 6/64
Dear Brother John,
Your very kind and welcomed letter has been rec'd. and carefully read this afternoon, & I hasten to answer it. I assure you, John: I was very glad to hear from you but was sorry to hear that your shoulder troubles you. I should try hard to get a pension if I was you. and I have no doubt you would get it, and you deserve it if any body does, that has been in the service. I rec'd a letter from Luke today. he is well and in good spirits. I should judge by his letter that he did not care whether school kept or not, but enough of this. you say you are making suggar, & I will just warn you to look out for your suggar tub or I will have my nose in it within a month. The Govenor is trying to get us home untill we are exchanged, & I hope he will be successful in his attempt, but do not much expect it. if he does I will help you do your spring work; if not I can stay here and they can go with their furloughs and I will go the other way. as you say I will take care of number one. I have not got much money now John perhaps I shall have soon. I have 20.00 which I want to use. if you get very short write me and I will send you some, if I have any. I could have got a thirty days furlough yesterday for 10.00 dollars. but I could not see the point. when I buy a furlough, it will be after I am out of the service. I should like very much to go to Bethel again and presume I shall. I don't see any sign of an exchange now, and never shall not till they come to Gen Butlers terms, and they cant see the point at present. this is the lonesomest place I have been in for some time but I will soon get used to it. Yes! I was glad to get out of the Wilderness! I can tell you I had a good old time (how are you little jesus) horse Greeley. it has been raining for the past week, and is very muddy. today has been very pleasant & I hope it will continue so in the future. if my health was good I should go to work on a farm, but my health will not permit it. I feel better than I did when I came here have been taking cod liver oil I think it helps me. One thing I am proud to say is that I have not drank a drop of liquor since I left Vt, and if I know myself I shall not drink another drop, not till my feet step on safer ground than Annapolis; boys are getting robbed evry day here on account of drinking, mutiny[?]. Els[?] in the world we live here pretty well for soldiers--but enough of this. you did not say anything about Maria. of course she is well or you would have said something about her. give her my most worthy love tell her I want my mustash colored, a week from next fall. I was supprised to hear that Mr. Meserves folks had started on a journey. what are they thinking of. old folks to. I never heard of such a thing. I hope Alf will be at home ere this reaches you having a good time. I will drop this subject now and bid you good bye while I write Mother a short note. hoping to hear from you soon John, I will close. much love
Charlie B. Fairbanks (Direct to)
RETURN TO VERMONT
After six weeks in hospital I was able to travel and was sent with others from the Marine General Hospital Annapolis, Md., to the General Hospital at Brattleboro, Vt. While en route to Vermont, I stopped, with others, at a soldiers retreat on Bedloe's Island, New York Harbor, to await transportation. While there I ate at the same table with rebel prisoners, who, after hearing my story of starvation on Belle Island, tried to uphold their Government by arguing that they had no more to give us. I knew that to be false, for all of the time while in captivity, there was any quantity of stale bread piled up within sight, enough to have fed twice the number.
A very happy surprise was the meeting of my brother John at the Soldiers Retreat on Bedloe's Island. I was seated at the mess table with hundreds of other soldiers, and was telling a comrade by my side of my experience in rebel prisons, since the battle of Gettysburg, when he asked me what regiment I belonged to, and where I was going. As I told him, I happened to catch the eye of a soldier opposite me, who seemed to be more than interested, when all at once I recognized my brother John, whom I had not seen since on the battlefield of Fredericksburg in Dec. 1862. It was a joyful meeting; and had we not both become hardened by the scenes and hardships of war, I think that we would have both wept for joy. Tears were not the fashion in those days, so we shook hands across the table and made the most of the happy meeting. My brother John had been transferred to the invalid corps and, as a Sergeant, had come on from Brattleboro, Vt., with a squad of men. He was about starting back to Vermont when we met, so I went with him and had his assistance, as I was not very strong.
Arriving at Brattleboro, I went to the house of my brother Henry, who had been drafted and was encamped and on duty at the Hospital. After staying with him all night, I reported at the hospital and was assigned a bed in ward five. I found several men whom I had known at the front, in this hospital. After remaining here for two or three weeks, I procured a ten days furlough and went home to find my mother the same dear soul whom I had left over a year before, and while I was not much older, I was certainly wiser than when I enlisted.
"TRYING TIMES FOR MOTHERS"
Father had managed to partly do his farm work alone, but had no heart to work after the battle of Gettysburg, as I was reported "mortally wounded and missing." Mother showed me answers to scores of letters, from officers and men and from hospitals, where she had written to learn of my whereabouts, until finally she had given me up. One of these letters was from a comrade John C. Quinby, who enlisted with me from Sharon, Vt. He wrote a very consoling letter, telling her how bravely I went into the fight; that he saw me fall mortally wounded. When in fact he was not at the front that day and knew nothing of my whereabouts or condition when he wrote the letter, except that I was reported wounded and missing. A short time before I arrived at the hospital in Annapolis, my mother received a letter from one of the Pennsylvania Dutchmen, who left me on Belle Island, as stated, and within a few days she received a letter from me, and then she awaited my return home. Those were trying times for mothers.
I suppose the saddest day of all was in August 1863, about a year from the time when I carried the pen and ink into the field for father to sign my "death warrant" as he called it, and after signing it, he laid the pen and ink in the old hollow stump, where it remained. While mowing in the same place a year later, he found the same identical pen and stock, with the broken ink bottle, which had become broken by being frozen during the winter. He did not work any more that day as I was then "missing." Mother told me of these circumstances upon my arrival home.
After my ten days expired, I went to Woodstock and saw the Adjutant General of the State and got a thirty days leave of absence, and remained at home until it expired, when I returned to Brattleboro, Vermont, remaining in the hospital until I began to feel able to do duty again. May 1st, 1864, I filed a request to be sent to my regiment and about May 12th, or 15th, I left Brattleboro for the front.
One of the most important events of my life happened in Brattleboro, while I was paroled prisoner and in hospital. I became acquainted with a young lady, who, after my discharge, became my wife, and who has shared life's burdens with me until the present time. The fact that we have lived happily up to the present time, is evidence that I have not changed my estimation, which was formed of her, when a soldier boy.
July 6th, 1865
My Dear Mother
Having made up my mind not to go home till next Monday, I think it my duty to inform you that you may know where I am. doubtless you know where I am and the circumstances. & will you please say to father that I will be there next week to help him do his haying. I am enjoying myself finely here with my dear Emma and regret leaving very much. But shall be at home monday sure.
I suppose the people in Bethel think strange that I was not there to the dance. But it happens so that I do not dance so much as I used to. I had a very good time here the 4th & did not celebrate much either. There I have written all that I can and am going to make Em write. you need not let anyone get hold of this letter on my account for you know what a place Bethel is for stories.
Charles Fairbanks; daguerreotype. [This is a miniature, probably made for Emma, abt. 1865. GF]
Emma Jane Weatherhead; daguerreotype. [This is also a miniature, probably made for Charlie, 1864-65. Charlie married his "dear Emma" on December 23, 1868, in Brattleboro. GF]
As you see Charlie has left the letter for me to finish. you can just imagine my surprise to see him Sunday morning for I did not expect him before Monday. I can assure you it was a very happy surprise. We enjoyed the 4th as well as we could under the circumstances. Charlie was quite sick. But he is perfectly well now, and I guess you would think so if you should see him act.
Just guess what he is doing for me while I write you? I do not believe you can so I must tell you: he is sewing some ribbon on my Slippers--plague him about it when he comes home. Charlie has not been home-sick any yet and we have not quarrelld many times. Ha ha. He thinks he must go home by Monday, but we do not want him to. Augusta sends her love to you and Addie. Tea is ready and I must say good-by.
REJOINING THE REGIMENT
I joined my regiment June 5th, 1864, just in time to take part in the battle of Cold Harbor, June 6, which was a hard fight. Also a skirmish June 7 and 8, when we marched around to Petersburg, Va., and had a battle June 17.
As soon as our line of battle was fully established around Petersburg, General Grant began to make arrangements for a siege, by building covered roads for supply trains, and bomb proofs for the men. My regiment was stationed in "Fort Hell," which was located in the front line of works, and within four hundred yards of the rebel line and forts. Our picket post was within speaking distance of the rebels, but under cover of earthworks.
We went on picket every other day, and were constantly under fire during day and night, from the 1st of July, 1864, until April 2, 1865, except at such times when we made a truce with the rebels in order to relieve our pickets.
On the evening of July 29, 1864, my regiment was ordered to be ready to march, with our equipments so arranged that no noise would occur from our movements, and about ten o'clock in the evening we were marched over our line of breastworks, and as we passed through were told in a whisper, that a rebel fort in our front was to be blown up as soon as light dawned the next day, and we were ordered to fire at every living thing seen in our front as soon as daylight, until the mine exploded and then to be ready to move forward. While waiting quietly for the explosion, many of the men lay down, but I was on the watch to see the result. All at once I saw the earth rise in mid-air together with cannon, parapets and human beings; at the same time a low, rumbling sound was heard, and fire and smoke shot upward from the rebel fort. The men were dazed at the fearful sight, and did not move forward as quickly as they ought, giving the rebels time to rally and meet us when we charged, which they did, and opened their artillery from another fort. Our troops held the line for a short time, and then fell back behind our works, and nothing was gained by the explosion.
In December we marched to the south side railroad and tore up several miles of the road. After having a sharp skirmish with the enemy, we came back to our "bomb proofs" at Petersburg, and remained there until April 2, 1865, when we charged the enemy's works, taking Petersburg and Richmond, completely routing the rebel army.
In the fall of 1864 our regiment had become so small, only eighty men fit for duty, that we were ordered to disband, and my company was transferred to Company G, 4th Vt. Vols.
Not having recovered from the effects of my prison life, I was unfit for full duty when transferred to said Company G, 4th Vt.
WITH ADJUTANT HAWKINS
About the time I joined Company G, Gardner C. Hawkins was made Adjutant of the 4th Vt., and my brother Luke being Captain in the 3rd Vt., and knowing of my ill health, got me detailed as orderly for Adjutant Hawkins. I also had the care of his horse, a beautiful buckskin. When our troops went into the fight at daybreak, Apr. 2, Adjt Hawkins ordered me to take care of his horse and be sure and have it ready if we drove the rebels, and if we were defeated to be sure and find him, so when our troops charged I kept within reasonable distance with the horse. Within an hour after our regiment started on the charge, I heard that Adjt Hawkins was killed. I quickly mounted the buckskin and rode up on the field to search for him. Finally I found him where he fell shot through the head
I immediately went after the Ambulance, as I saw that Hawkins was alive. We loaded him into the Ambulance, took him back to the Division Hospital, and laid him beside several badly wounded men, as no one thought he could possibly live.
He was left there and as our army was fast following up the rebels, I took a last look at Adjt Hawkins and rode the buckskin horse toward the front, finding my regiment about dark. I kept the horse several days, and finally turned him over to the Brigade Quarter-master.
I never heard from Adjt Hawkins again, and supposed that he was dead, until in Jan. 1893, I read an article in the Boston Journal signed "Gardner C. Hawkins, late Adjt 4th Vermont Vols." I immediately wrote him, and the following is a reply to my letter, with which he sent me his photograph.
No. 8, Oliver St., Boston, Feb. 1, 1893
Charles Fairbanks, Esq., Concord, N.H.,
My dear Comrade--I cannot find words to express my surprise, or my great pleasure in receiving your very kind letter of Jan. 29th. I have never heard a word from you since the war. I remember you very well although I should never recognize you if I should meet you on the street, and I presume you would never know me.
Of course we have both changed a great deal in the 28 years since we last met. I enclose you a photograph taken about six months ago. It does not show the scar on the right side of the nose where the ball entered, but you will notice the left ear where the ball came out. I had for a number of years a very distorted face: a large bunch on my nose, and the left side of my face was swollen the entire distance from the eye to the ear, but I think that I am very fortunate that I got out of the scrape as well as I have. It was greatly in yours and my favor that we were so young that we could endure hardships then better than we could now.
I well remember the transfer of the sharpshooters to the 4th Vt., and your brother, Capt. Luke Fairbanks had more to do about your coming over to help me than any one else, as he came to me and told me how you had suffered and was pretty well "played out," and told me it was a question of getting you some light duty, or sending you to the Invalid Corps
I was very intimate with your brother Capt. Luke, and he always showed a great kindness toward me. I have never heard what became of him since the war, and I wish you would write me where he is.
I certainly had a great fondness for that "buckskin" horse. It was the first one I could ever call my own, although of course I did not own this one except for the time being.
You were not with me I think at the time we procured the equipment for him. I was promoted to 2nd Lieut. in the 3rd from a private soldier, and I did not have th3e necessary funds to procure a uniform and the necessary trapping for an officer, and I very soon made Adjutant of the 4th, and an additional expense falling on me for procuring a "mount." I was somewhat puzzled to know what to do. Finally Sam Spofford of the 3rd, who now lives in Boston, and I see him almost every week, volunteered to "procure" for me the necessary outfit of horse equipments, but he distinctly told me that he would be obliged to "purchase' this outfit between sundown and sunrise, and to my great surprise, and I might add pleasure, one morning I found a very nice outfit. I have always supposed that a battery encamped near us belonging to the 5th Corps, when taking account of stock they missed certain articles.
I remember very well about asking you to have the horse ready so that if the "Johnnies" gave way in our charge that morning, I had an idea that I might want a horse to catch a few of them, and I was also equally sure that if we were repulsed and they made a counter charge, a horse would be a great necessity for me to "move fast" to the rear.
I have not the slightest recollection of seeing you after I was shot, but the soldier who drove the Ambulance back to the Div. Hospital was Charlie Smith from my native town Woodstock, Vt., and about two years after the war in visiting Woodstock he told me the story of my being put in his Ambulance, and that it seemed to him that I was entirely unconscious the whole ride. Dr. Meigs the surgeon of my regiment was the first one to see me after I arrived at the Div. Hospital, relates the story of his attempting to help me out of the ambulance by taking hold of my boots and pulling me out; of course my head and shoulders were assisted by you probably and Charlie Smith. I had very recently had a nice pair of boots sent me by my brother then living in Boston. I remember one item about these boots, that the postage was $3 as they were sent by mail. I of course was very proud of a fancy pair of Boston made boots, and Dr. Meigs says that he could hardly keep from laughing to hear me use "very strong words" in accusing him of trying to steal my boots. I saw Dr. Meigs five years after the war in Boston, and you may be assured that he greatly enjoyed relating to me this circumstance.
Will Vaughn as you may know is a Woodstock boy, and I have seen him several times since the war. He was hit that morning probably at the same instant that I was while the command was attempting to cross over a high knoll where the rebels were giving us double shotted cannister. He is much more of an invalid than I am, as he was badly hurt in the legs and back.
After I was discharged in the fall of '65 in trying to get a settlement with the Government, I had a hard time in getting rid of that horse as it stood charged to me at the Department. After a long correspondence I at last got Col. Floyd of the 3rd to send a paper giving the facts that when I entered the action all horses were at the rear, and that I never having joined the regiment again, the Government probably recovered the horse.
I presume that the officer that you gave the receipt to hearing that I was killed, made up his mind that I would not care much more about the receipt after that.
The Woodstock Standard published April 14 '65 my obituary and I have one copy of that paper which I generally look at April 2nd of each year, and I naturally say "how those newspapers do lie"; still I am not offering this copy that I have for sale at two cents, the going price.
You will probably read in the Journal of yesterday the article, by Col. Albert Clarke, which says that Lieut. Randall of his regiment, the 13th Vt., was only 16 years old when he was a 2nd Lieut. This of course overlaps me but at the same time my father was not Col. of the 3rd Vt., and I was a very poor boy, and received my promotion at the hands of such good and kind officers in the 3rd Vt. as Capt. Luke Fairbanks and others.
I do not think I remember your brother, John Fairbanks, of the 3rd. Perhaps he never joined the regiment after being wounded in May, '63, as you state. I wish that your letter had been ten times as long. There is nothing in this world that I so much enjoy, outside of my own two little daughters, as the letters I receive from my old companions in arms.
My oldest, Mildred, 11 years old, and also my little daughter Betty, 7 years old, constantly tease me to tell "war stories." They are both in the country at school, and I am going to send out your letter for them to read, as nothing gives them greater pleasure than to hear from any of my friends so near to me as you were April 2, 1865.
I do hope if you are ever this way you will come and call on me. I was in Manchester last week, but I scarcely ever go as far as Concord, although my oldest brother lives at Salisbury, New Hampshire.
I am the youngest of seven brothers and entirely unlike your record, I am the only one that went to the front to "play turkey shoot."
Hoping to hear from you again at your early convenience.
Very sincerely your friend,
Gardner C. Hawkins
THE WAR ENDS
From the 2nd of April our army followed up the rebels until the 9th, when Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox.
On the afternoon of the 7th of April, I thought I would go and see if my brother Luke had escaped the bullets during the past few days. I found him with his Company in high spirits, as he knew the war was nearly over. I marched with him until toward night when all at once we heard sharp firing ahead. The rebels had made their last stand and the battle of Sailor's Creek was short but a bloody fight. We hastened on and just as we arrived on the field it began to grow dark. The rebels had retreated and left their dead and wounded behind. As we came up where the dead rebels lay, Luke said to me, "Charlie, I wish you could get me a revolver." I started to find one for him by examining some of the dead rebel officers who lay two or three deep where they had made their last stand. I saw a dead officer, as I supposed, and he had a nice sword and a revolver in his belt. I made for it and just as I got hold of the leather part of the scabbard, he rolled over and groaned, turning his white face toward me. I was never more frightened in my life. I gave up the hunt and reported my experience to Luke.
It was a happy day for us when Lee surrendered his army. If for no other reason, I was glad I had endured the hardships of field and prison life to be present on such an occasion. Hats were thrown high in the air, and it did not matter whether they ever came down again or not.
Our army marched back to Burkville Junction, where we learned the sad news of the assassination of President Lincoln. This was the saddest day of any which I experienced during my army life, just at the time when the soldiers were to be permitted to pass in review before the grandest and noblest statesman of the age. The assassin's bullet made it impossible, and took from earth the man of all others whom the soldiers loved.
The next day after the news of the death of Lincoln, our Corps was ordered to march to Danville, N.C., a distance of one hundred miles, which we did in four days without straggling. We knew that our marching was nearly done and therefore could cover almost any distance within reason.
After remaining here four weeks, we were transported to Richmond by cars, stopping near Belle Island one night, which gave me a chance to visit the very place where I had suffered so while in the prison pen. It was a great satisfaction to me to stand upon the ground where I had been a captive, a free man, but it was a sad thought that came over me as I remembered the many brave men who had died there from exposure and starvation.
The next day while passing the tobacco warehouse, or Libby Prison, where I staid the first night before going to Belle Island, I got permission to fall out of the ranks so that I might look into the room where three hundred of us were huddled together, waiting for we knew not what.
From Richmond, we marched to Fredericksburg, Va., passing over the very ground where brother John was wounded, and where Alfred and I saw our first battle Dec. 1862.
Many were the thoughts that revolved in my brain, one of which was, "how little I knew what hardships were in store for me when on the battlefield of Fredericksburg in the fall of 1862" and I almost laugh to think how "green" I was.
Passing over the battlefield, we crossed the Rappahannock and marched to Washington, where, after the Grand Review of all the Army, we were discharged.
"PROUD TO BOAST"
During my three year service I was in the following battles: Fredericksburg; Chancellorsville; Gettysburg; Cold Harbor Va. and Petersburg June 17 and through the siege, being under fire from July 1, 1864 until April 2, 1865; South Side Railroad; the final attack April 2, 1865 and at Appomattox when Lee surrendered his army.
While I was a prisoner of war my regiment was engaged in the Spotsylvania and Wilderness battles, and before I enlisted, the Seven Days Fight, South Mountain and Antietam.
In writing these memoirs I have simply related such circumstances as come to mind after a lapse of thirty years. There were many pleasant experiences when in camp, especially when in winter quarters that I might write about, but the things which come more clearly to mind now are those experiences which I have related here. During my entire service I was never reprimanded by my superior officers. I performed my duties as best I could, and today I am proud to boast that I served as a private during the war from 1862 to 1865
Very truly yours,
Late Private Co. "E" 2nd U.S.S.S., and Co. "G" 4th Vt. Vols.
END OF CHARLES FAIRBANKS MEMOIR
Claremont, New Hampshire, Feb 1922
Charles Fairbanks died on February 3rd at Edgewood, the home of his daughter, Mrs. Frank H. Foster, aged seventy-five years. Mr. Fairbanks was born in Bethel, Vt., June 22, 1846. He was a veteran of the Civil war, being the youngest of six brothers who all enlisted from Vermont. He was but sixteen years of age, at the time of his enlistment in Berdan's regiment of sharpshooters. He was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, was imprisoned on Belle Isle, finally exchanged and re-enlisted in a Vermont regiment, in which he served until the close of the war. He was in the battles of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellor[s]ville, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox. He was well known throughout New Hampshire, where his work as a Special Examiner of Pensions for the Pension Department from 1882 until 1893 brought him wide acquaintance among Civil War veterans. While stationed in New Hampshire, his headquarters were in Concord. During Cleveland's second administration, he was retired but was re-appointed by President McKinley in 1897 and transferred to Boston, Mass., where he continued in the same service, until illness compelled him to relinquish active work in 19O8. Since this time, his home has been in Claremont. Following prayers at Edgewood Monday morning, Feb. 6, by Rev. C. B. Etsler of the Universalist church, the body was taken to Brattleboro, Vermont, where funeral services and interment took place, that having been the home of Mr. Fairbanks, during his early married life. The body was met there by a delegation of his old comrades in the G. A. R. He is survived by his wife, a daughter Mrs. Frank H. Foster, of Claremont, a son, Charles Fairbanks, of Seattle, Washington, a sister, Mrs. Adelaide Denison of Riverside, Cal., by five grandchildren and two great grand children.
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