First Vermont Infantry
Robert J. Coffey
LAMOILLE NEWSDEALER: JUNE 14, 1861
LETTER FROM CAMP BUTLER
FROM CAMP BUTLER, NEWPORT NEWS, VA. JUNE 24, 1861
DEAR FRIEND LYMAN --- Your letter, your mother's and Mr. Walkers were all received and much welcomed yesterday. They found us all well. We have moved twice since I wrote to you before, besides routing four companies od seccission troops in Hampton which the Vermont regment had the honor of doing without the loss of a man, and destroyed a large drag cannon by throwing it into the river. The spot where we are now encamped is about 12 miles from Fort Monroe. It is noted for being the spot where Lord Cornwallis landed his troops, but two or three days before he surrendered at Yorktown, which is about 25 miles from here. It is on the James River about five miles from its mouth. At this point the river is about six miles wide. A large secession battery is directly opposite us here, which will be taken this week if not surrendered without attack. Our camp is in a field of wheat and corn of over one hundred acres. The wheat was a beautiful crop, in the milk about a week ago; the corn four or five inches high, and a small field of potatos large enough to eat, which are all destroyed now. There is three regiments here now, but by this week there will be 15,000 men encamped on this field, as it is the headquarters of the southern division of federal troops. It is to be an entrenched camp, and our regiment have got theirs nearly finished. It is built by cutting posts nine feet long and setting them in the ground three feet, then throwing up the dirt until there is a ditch ten feet deep and ten feet across the top. It is about five feet thick on top, and slants from the top to the bottom of the ditch, and is slanted on the outside. It is impossible for a man to jump, or get out of it. The bottom of the ditch is stuck full of pointed stakes about three feet long, which might be apt to prick some of the seccessionists slightly, if any of them should fall into it.
The reports which have got into the northern papers about the Vermont regiment having 80 killed and wounded &c. is untrue, as they have lonely lost one man and that by sickness, Benjamin Underwood of Bradford Company. But very few are sick in camp, and them mostly by the measles, but all are now doing well.
We are getting fed a little better now than we were when we first come here. The different towns have sent some provisions for their companies which makes us feel a good deal more patriotic. We understand that the State has a larger supply for us on the way, which we all hope nothing may happen to.
Our rations have been one pint of coffee, two hard biscuits, a small slice of pork or a piece of meat, one half gallon of beans to a man once a week. This is not half of our due to a man, as we are entitled to three-fourths pound of meat, one pound of hard bread, or twelve ounces, if soda biscuit, or sixteen ounces soft bread (a thing which I have not tasted for three weeks or better since we left Vermont), one gallon of beans or rice per day. But we have reason to suspect we are going to get enough, if so we will be happy set, if we have nothing happen very fatal. It is very warm here but healthy.
The terror which prevails throughout the country when any Vermont troops arrive in their vicinity cannot hardly be described, they immediately fly and leave all behind. Around and near our camp are some large plantations. The slaves have all left and go where they please. Every one that wants to go north can do so if he wishes, as there is no one to pursue him. They are engaged in picking strawberries, and peas, and killing and bringing into camp and selling and giving away all the time. Many come up and help on the entrenchments every day, riding in master's carriage or on his best horse, and perhaps make some officer a present of it before they go home. They are a lot more intelligent than what you think for. They understand what the war is for and all say they will help the north whenever they can.
I was sent out as a scout last Friday and saw a number of miles of the country about the camp in my travels. I did not see anything of importance, only a body of cavalry, but I was not discovered by them and got back to the camp safe. I have been on guard down in the woods for the last 24-hours and rest today. We have no sleep for 24-hours when on that duty. It is lonesome duty and an important and dangerous one to perform. The sentinel next to a week ago tonight was shot twice by southerners from the woods in the night, but was not hit. This was at Hampton. Everyone that wants to come into camp, except the soldiers of the camp, are blindfolded and led up to the Colonel's tent, do their business, and are led off again. We cannot say for certain whether we shall be attacked here or not, but if we were we shall be quite safe behind the breastworks, while the other side must loose a great many men without any protection.
Tell your mother that I take heed to her advise daily and try to be a good soldier for my God and my Country. The first regiment is composed of men of morals and education, which makes profanity, vulgarity, and intemperance scarce to what it is in most of the other camps. Most of the leisure time is spent in singing patriotic songs and harmless games of amusement. There is good order and not much more noise than there used to be in the old school house.I receicer your papers in good time and am much obliged to you for them. No more this time as I am called off for duty, but please write soon and give my love and best respects to all.
Yours truly and respectfully,
Submitted by Deanna French.
See also: Coffey's Medal of Honor citation.
Correspondence from the 4th Vermont Infantry
Photograph from Ed Italo's First Brigade Collection
Postwar correspondence regarding the Soldiers Home in Bennington