Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Stinging Indictment of the Government Farms in Northern Virginia, July 1864

Earlier this summer I wrote about the state of Northern Virginia's contraband camps in Northern Virginia in June 1864. The Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen compiled a report on some of the camps that the Union Army had established on abandoned secessionist properties in the Old Dominion the previous year. The group took an overall positive view of developments on the government farms, although recognized the need for more improvements.

Not long afterwards, the War Department also decided to take a closer look at the farms, as well as the new contraband camp on Mason's Island and Freedman's Village on Robert E. Lee's Arlington estate. The department was footing the bill for the camps and surely wanted to assess the merits of the undertaking. On July 20, 1864, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton ordered officers working for the Union Army's Inspector General to conduct an investigation of  Freedman's Village and "all matters pertaining to the organization and control of the Freedmen in the Dept. of Washington." (in Berlin et al. 345.)

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Majors Elisha H. Ludington and Charles E. Compton began the inspection in earnest. On July 30, 1864 they sent their final report to Col. James A. Hardie, the Army Inspector General. The report, which stood in stark contrast to the Friends' optimistic assessment, sent shock waves throughout the Union military. 

Ludington and Compton examined the five government farms in Northern Virginia, comprising some 1,270 acres under cultivation. [1] They noted that the land was "of poor, thin soil, for the most part." (340.) Moreover, "[w]hen occupied it was without fences and overgrown with bush," so that "it was necessary to clear and fence it, with heavy expenditure." (340.) The two assistant inspectors general observed some positive developments after a year of operation:
These Farms appear well, the crops are fair, the employees comfortably cared for, and in all respects the farms compare favorably with others in the vicinity. (340.)
Nevertheless, they determined that the farms exhibited "a loss to Government of an alarmingly large sum," which they calculated to be $69,000 over the course of 13 months. (340-41.) As Ludington and Compton interpreted the accounts:
The expense of the Guard alone amounts to three fourths of the whole receipts. For wages alone there is paid within 3000$ as much as all the farms yield. And yet the crop is put at the highest estimate in amount, and valued at present extraordinary prices. (341.)
The report sharply criticized the entire endeavor, concluding that "[o]nly a very wealthy government can afford such expensive toys." (341.) (emphasis added.)

Freedman's Village and Mason's Island did not fare any better in the inspectors' eyes. In fact, the inspectors found conditions so "disgraceful" on Mason's Island that they recommended that Rev. Danforth B. Nichols, Superintendent of Freedmen for the Department, be removed from his position for his alleged mismanagement of the new camp. (343.)

Even in terms of non-material benefits, Ludington and Compton had nothing positive to add about the Army's efforts:
We fail to discover any improvements in the character or conduct of the Adults. Judging from what we saw, they are of the most ignorant class of slaves. Few have knowledge of any labor above field labor, and are but little skilled even in that. Their erroneous idea that "emancipation" signifies a claim upon Government for support in idleness, has been confirmed rather than corrected. (342.)
The two inspectors singled out Lt. Col. Elias Greene's "theories" about the camps  for particular scorn. (342.) Greene, the Chief Quartermaster of the Department of Washington, was instrumental in the establishment and organization of the camps, and they were managed under his direction. The inspectors rejected outright his policy of refusing to bind out adult contrabands unless their children could accompany them:
This cannot be maintained on principles of humanity, for these people are seldom married -- have little idea of training children, and cannot hope to give them such advantages as are afforded by the Schools at the "Village." Moreover, the necessities of the times compel separations. . . . Nearly every women being burdened with children lessens the chances of her employment. (342-43.)
The inspectors' utter disregard for families seemed no better than the views held by the freedpersons' former masters.

Not surprisingly, Ludington and Compton called for an overhaul of the entire system. They recommended that most women be sent to work in "those portions of our Country where labor is greatly demanded, taking with them their children under 4 years of age." (343-44.) However, hearkening back to their views on separation of families, the inspectors advised that children from 4 to 14 should be held back, supported, and educated "out of the [government's] Contraband Fund." (344.) With respect to the government farms scattered across Northern Virginia, they urged that "all farming operations be discontinued as soon as the present crop is secured." (344.)
Col. James A. Hardie, Army Inspector General (courtesy of Wikipedia).

After landing on the Inspector General's desk, Hardie endorsed and forwarded the damning report to the Secretary of War. On August 4, Stanton sent the document to Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs. The inspectors had challenged nearly all of Greene's efforts to deal with the contraband problem around the nation's capital, and coming days would bring both controversy and change.

Up Next

Meigs rushes to the defense of his subordinate.


I am grateful to the historians of the Freedmen and Southern Society Project who compiled the primary source documents referenced here in Ira Berlin et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, Selected from the Holdings of the National Archives of the United States, Series I, Volume II, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South (1993).


[1] The five contraband farms were likely Camps Beckwith, Rucker, Springdale, Todd, and Wadsworth.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lydia Atkinson Arrives in the Old Dominion to Teach at Camp Wadsworth

During the spring and summer of 1864, the Friends' Association for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen became an integral part of relief efforts in the contraband camps across Northern Virginia. One facet of the group's activities involved the appointment of teachers to educate former slaves living in the camps. The Friends' Association was appalled by reports of child labor abuses on the government farm at Camp Wadsworth and in June 1864 sought to remedy the situation by sending a teacher there. As I have written in previous posts, the Friends' Association chose 20-year-old Lydia T. Atkinson of New Jersey to serve as the teacher at the camp near Langley.

A few months ago I discovered that the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College has Atkinson's diary from the period that she was teaching in Northern Virginia. I wrote to obtain copies and received excepts a few weeks later. I wanted to share with readers some impressions that Atkinson recorded around the time that she began her charitable work in Northern Virginia.

At the end of July 1864, Atkinson's father accompanied her to Philadelphia, where she planned to take an overnight train to Washington. As Atkinson bid her dad farewell, she felt overcome by the pain of separation:
Ah, not until that last sad parting came, did I realize how great a trial it was to leave all that was dearest to me behind. It was hard to leave my home and mother yet father was with me then, but when his dear form was really lost to sight -- it seemed for a moment as though I must spring apart and implore him not to leave me! (Diary, July 24, 1864.)
Following a visit with some friends, Atkinson headed to the depot and boarded the train, which was soon "speeding away towards Washington." (Diary, July 24, 1864.)  According to the teacher, "[i]t was a magnificent night -- the full moon shone gloriously down, lending a strange witching charm to every object we passed." (Diary, July 24, 1864.) As the train continued over the miles of track, Atkinson had a hard time finding some rest:
It was long before my eyelids grew heavy with sleep, the beauty of the scene -- the novelty of my position, thoughts of dear ones at home and the new and untried life I was about to enter kept me wide awake until mid-night, after which I dozed but woke at all places of interest. (Diary, July 24, 1864.)
The teacher was well aware of Jubal Early's recent raid into Maryland:
All was quiet as we passed through the cities -- Wilmington, Havre de Grace, Baltimore, etc. Crossing the "Gunpowder" which a week before had been the scene of such intense excitement while the rebels were in Maryland. I began to realize that I was passing over ground that had been trodden by our bitter foes. (Diary, July 24, 1864.) 
Atkinson's thoughts turned to the nation at war:
When I closed my eyes for a moment to rest, I seemed to be vaguely wandering in a dreamland or among the fairies. I dreaded the day dawn which should bring me to a realization of my position. All was so beautiful and calm whispering to the awakened of the goodness and mercy of Him who created all these beauties and reigns in eternal majesty above us. I marveled can it be that man can look upon such a night and not feel toward all mankind a Christ-like love and charity. Yet at that very hour, thousands in our fair land were engaged in deadly conflict with other thousands conscious only of the bitterest hatred and undying hostility towards their foes. Such, alas, is war. The fearful result of the foul war that has so long attended our nation's glory. (Diary, July 24, 1864.)
Engraving of a freedmen's school (courtesy of Georgia Studies Images).

Atkinson arrived in the nation's capital and arranged for transportation to Virginia. On July 26 she recorded her thoughts and impressions as she headed to Virginia and arrived at Camp Wadsworth; the passage is well worth quoting at length:
At last I have reached my destination and stand on the "Sacred Soil" alone among strangers, home and friends so far away! And how do I feel? I scarcely dare attempt to define the emotions that thrill my heart -- everything is so new and strange around me. . . The wagon come for us this morning about eleven and dear Auntie Bigelow accompanied me to my new home. The country we rode through was very beautiful and at first I enjoyed it -- but as we came on and on each weary mile we passed seemed a broken link between home and dear ones and my heart grew oh so heavy! Had I been alone I should have felt almost despairing, especially when one of the numerous guards found some flaw in our pass and we were obliged to return nearly two miles to the Provost Marshall's office. Of course he had gone to dinner and we must wait nearly an hour, not knowing then but we wo'd have to return to the city. We made it all right however and we were allowed to proceed, but I felt so discouraged! At length we reached the long talked of Camp Wadsworth. Driving in, women and children crowded around the carriage, and when it was whispered the new teacher had come, there were evident signs of delight. (Diary, July 26, 1864.)
Atkinson assumed her new duties at the contraband farm, and by November, the Friends Association could report that "the children under her care had advanced rapidly in their studies, and the adults had greatly improved in housekeeping." (First Annual Rpt. 13.)

A month after Atkinson's arrival, the Friends dispatched another teacher to join her at Camp Wadsworth. Mary McLain soon arrived to work at a second school on the government farm. The Friends placed a high priority on educating the freedmen and women around the nation's capital, and Camp Wadsworth clearly stood at the front and center of their efforts.


Board of Managers, Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Friends' Assn. for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen (1865); Lydia T. Atkinson, Personal Diary (1864).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Fond Farewell to Lewinsville & Langley! Off to Farmwell!

My wife and I just closed on a house in Ashburn, Virginia this past Monday. We are very excited to get more space and to live a little farther from the chaos "inside the Beltway"! Ashburn (Farmwell and Farmwell Station during the 1860s) is situated in Loudoun County, a place steeped in Civil War history. The Battle of Ball's Bluff took place not more than 20 minutes from our doorstep. Armies also marched through the county before Antietam and Gettysburg. And don't forget that Loudoun was part of Mosby's Confederacy. In other words, Civil War buffs would find a lot to like about calling the county home. (If you enjoy wineries, there are plenty of those to explore as well!)

I hope to get more involved with the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable. After all, I won't have to drive nearly as far to attend their monthly meetings. They tend to have a really strong line-up. I also look forward to living closer to a few of my friends with an interest in the war, including fellow blogger Craig Swain and Army of the Potomac expert extraordinaire Todd Berkoff. I trust that both will help me learn more about the area during the war! (Craig, I am counting on you to bring me up to speed on that Civil War-era road network. . . .)

As much as I am looking forward to a new home, I will also miss McLean (Lewinsville and Langley during the war). I've lived here for over five years now, and as readers know, I have spent a lot of time peeling back the layers of McLean's Civil War history. I've written and lectured about Camp Griffin and Camp Pierpont, which served as 1861-62 winter quarters for two Union divisions. I've taken a look at the "Battle of Lewinsville," a fascinating little fight that involved the likes of Isaac Stevens, J.E.B. Stuart, and John Mosby. I also got to know my Civil War-era neighbors, families such as the Mackalls, Means, and Johnstons. More recently, I've become obsessed with the contraband camps that were located in the McLean area from 1863 onward.  

Looking down from the crest of Johnston's Hill, right around the corner from my former home in McLean. Union Army units, including the Pennsylvania Reserves, held parades at the base of Johnston's Hill during the first winter of the Civil War. (See this post, where I discuss the location.)

The surviving landmarks are everywhere around me. I drive past Salona (Baldy Smith's HQ) and the Langley Ordinary (George A. McCall's HQ) on my daily commute. Benvenue, the location of Winfield Scott Hancock's brigade hospital, is an everyday sight on my early morning walks.  Although not as well known as other places like Henry Hill or Dunker Church, all of these landmarks represent a very real tie that my former community has across time to the Civil War.

You may be wondering what this all means for the future direction of the blog, if anything. I still have many stories about McLean in the pipeline and don't plan on giving them up, just because I am moving to another part of Northern Virginia. The same goes for other sites in Fairfax. The endless array of topics accumulating on my to-do list long ago outpaced my ability to keep up. Apparently four years wasn't enough time to cover it all! At the same time, I am looking forward to exploring some hidden corners of Civil War history in my new "neighborhood." So I suppose that what it comes down to is that this is a blog covering all of Northern Virginia (and sometimes DC) and will remain that way.

In the end, I will miss my former community, and my involvement with the history scene here. A special thanks goes out to the McLean Historical Society, which invited me to give lectures and to serve on the board. I've enjoyed living in McLean and learning about what our ancestors did here. Now I turn to a new chapter as I head west down State Route 267 and establish a home in another location so important to Northern Virginia's Civil War history.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Tour of Concord's Abolitionist History

Every summer I take a trip with my wife and kids to visit her family near Boston. I tend to set aside at least a day dedicated to history. After all, her hometown is right down the road from where the shot heard round the world was fired in 1775, and colonial and Revolutionary War attractions abound. At the same time, there is no shortage of Civil War-related sites in the Bay State, and given my interests, I've made sure to include them on my to-do list each year. Last summer I toured Ft. Warren, the site of a Union prison on Georges Island near Boston, and in 2012 I checked out the antebellum and Civil War past of Lexington and Concord. This year I decided to take a closer look at the sites in Concord that are associated with the town's rich history of abolitionism.

As I wrote a few years ago, Concord was a hub of antebellum intellectual and literary life. Famous writers and philosophers, including Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, called the town home. Most of the artistic and intellectual class also shared a passion for abolitionism. Concord served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and townspeople became ardent supporters of John Brown as the situation rapidly deteriorated in Bleeding Kansas.

During my 2012 visit, I hit some of the abolitionist highlights, but I promised to come back and do a more thorough tour. A local non-profit, known as the Drinking Gourd Project, has compiled an excellent walking tour and map, available online and at the Concord Visitor Center.  The group is dedicated to spreading the word about the town's African-American and antislavery history. I decided to concentrate on many of the sites included in the organization's brochure. (Note that in this post I am focused for the most part on places that I had not visited a couple of years ago; readers wanting a more comprehensive view of antebellum and Civil War sites in Concord are advised to read my earlier post as well.)

The Concord Museum on the Cambridge Turnpike.
My first stop was the impressive Concord Museum. As I expected, most of the exhibits centered on the town's colonial and Revolutionary War past, as well as nineteenth century literary life. The museum's Civil War artifacts were featured as part of a special exhibition at the start of the Sesquicentennial, but I was disappointed to see that very few of them are displayed on a permanent basis. Luckily the museum had a room dedicated to prewar social activism, and I was able to view some interesting antislavery-related items.

A view of Emerson's study. The museum has reconstituted the room using original furnishings. A reluctant abolitionist at first, Emerson became increasingly outspoken against slavery. He delivered several antislavery addresses during the twenty years prior to the Civil War.
Display focusing on abolitionism in Concord. Pictured at right are Mary Merrick Brooks, first president of the Concord Ladies' Antislavery Society, and John Brown, who visited Concord in 1857 and 1859. 
"Uncle Tom and Eva," made in England between 1855-60. People displayed such ceramic pieces in their homes to demonstrate antislavery views. These particular figurines were a gift to Thoreau from a slave that he helped escape to Canada. 

One of the few Civil War pieces in the museum. This poster advertises the 1861-62 Concord Lyceum on "National Honor." Emerson was one of the scheduled lecturers. 
Original furniture from Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, where he resided from 1845-47. He penned some of his most famous works at the desk, including Walden and "Civil Disobedience."
Following my stop at the museum, I began my walking tour of some key abolitionist and Underground Railroad sites in Concord. Most of the homes remain private property, so I could only take a look from the street!

The Reuben Brown House (77 Lexington Rd.). Emerson lodged John Brown here when the noted abolitionist visited Concord in March 1857. Aside from Emerson, Brown also met Thoreau during his stay.
The First Parish Church (20 Lexington Rd.), a scene of antislavery gatherings. Both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman spoke here in the years prior to the Civil War. The current structure was built in 1900-01 to resemble the colonial-era church that burned to the ground. 
Franklin Sanborn House & Schoolroom (49 Sudbury Rd.). Sanborn opened the Concord School here in 1855. Among his students were the children of such literary giants as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sanborn was active in the antislavery movement and served as secretary of the Massachusetts Free Soil Association. He traveled to Kansas in 1856 and met John Brown the following year. Sanborn became a member of the "Secret Six," a group which helped to finance and plan Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. He hosted Brown at his home for three days in May 1859. After Brown was hanged in December 1859, his daughters came to Concord to attend Sanborn's school.
This engraving from Harper's Weekly depicts the attempted arrest of Sanborn in Concord on the night of April 3, 1860 (courtesy of Wikipedia). When Sanborn ignored a summons from a Senate committee investigating the raid on Harpers Ferry, federal marshals appeared at his residence and tried to arrest him. A group of townspeople quickly assembled and interfered with the arrest. Local judge Ebenezer Hoar issued a writ of habeas corpus, which prevented the marshals from carrying Sanborn away. 
Col. William Whiting House (169 Main St.). Whiting, a carriage maker, was one of Concord's most active abolitionists. He served as president of the Middlesex County Anti-Slavery Society and as a vice president of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Whiting's house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Aside from John Brown, abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were also guests here.
Thoreau-Alcott House (255 Main St.). The entire Thoreau family, including Henry David, moved to this house in 1849-50. The Thoreaus, all ardent abolitionists, sheltered former slave Henry Williams here in 1851 before sending him by train to Canada. Henry David Thoreau died at the Main Street house in 1862. The Alcott family moved here in 1877.

Concord Town House (22 Monument Square). In March 1857, John Brown spoke here to an audience of around 100 that included Emerson and Thoreau. Both men contributed to the cause. In May 1859, Brown again gave a speech at the Town House, this time raising $2,000. Bronson Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau were all in attendance. Following Brown's trial and execution, Concord held a memorial service at the Town House. Both Emerson and Thoreau played a role in painting Brown as a martyr for the antislavery cause.
Mary Rice House (44 Bedford St.). Rice was a Concord school teacher and a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. In 1864 she collected signatures from 195 pupils on a petition asking President Abraham Lincoln to emancipate all slave children. Lincoln replied: "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it." Today the petition and Lincoln's reply hang in Concord's elementary schools. (See here for the full story.)
Historical marker on Concord's Monument Square indicating the spot where Thoreau was imprisoned in 1846 for failing to pay a poll tax in protest against the Mexican War and the spread of slavery. As the marker notes, Thoreau wrote of this incident in the essay, "Civil Disobedience."
As I waited for my lift home in Monument Square, I reflected on my trip through Concord's past. Here, where the American Revolution began, many townspeople participated in a new struggle for liberty and freedom. Some of Concord's abolitionists have gone down in history as famous writers and philosophers, but they were also political activists of the antebellum North. Their connections to the movement were numerous, and at times radical. Regional tensions took root here as much as on the plantations and in the state capitols of the South. But in the end, the streets of Concord would lead inexorably towards a promise fulfilled.


Aside from the links provided above, the following resources were useful in compiling this post:

Concord Free Public Library, Antislavery in Concord: An Online Exhibition Drawn from the William Monroe Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library (website); First Parish Church in Concord, "History of First Parish"; Rick Frese, Concord and the Civil War: From Walden Pond to the Gettysburg Front (2014).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Passing Through the Old Stomping Grounds, July 1864

Following Jubal Early's defeat at the gates of Washington in July 1864, the Army of the Potomac's VI Corps pursued the Confederates westward to the Shenandoah Valley. Among the Union ranks were men who had spent the first winter of the war at Camp Griffin near Lewinsville, Virginia. They belonged to various units, including the 5th Wisconsin, 7th Maine, 43rd New York, 49th New York, 49th Pennsylvania, and 77th New York, as well as the famed First Vermont Brigade. My ancestor, Pvt. William Baumgarten of Co. K, 102nd Pennsylvania also marched with them. He had only joined the army in March 1864, but had already seen his share of horrific combat during the Overland Campaign.

A stereoscopic view of the 43rd N.Y. at Camp Griffin (courtesy of Wikipedia).

July 20-21, 1864: The Valley to Goose Creek

After suffering defeat at Rutherford's Farm on July 20, Early withdrew up the Valley to Fisher's Hill. The Federal commander, Gen. Horatio Wright, considered the Confederate threat eliminated and ordered the VI Corps and the rest of his force to return to Washington. There the Union soldiers could rest, resupply, and await further orders. (OR, 1:37:2, 419-20.)

Gen. Horatio Wright took command of the VI Corps following Gen. John Sedgwick's death at Spotsylvania (courtesy of Wikipedia). He led his men to the defense of Washington and battled Early at Ft. Stevens.

The VI Corps, along with elements of the XIX Corps, set out during the evening of July 20 from their position near Berryville. The Second Division, including William and the 102nd Pennsylvania, took the lead position in the VI Corps' line of march. [1] Headquarters directed that "[t]he troops will be made to understand that their rations must last them until they reach Washington." (OR, 1:37:2, 406.) After wading across the Shenandoah River, the men pressed on through Snicker's Gap and marched the entire night in wet clothes, taking "brief halts for coffee." (Benedict 492.)

As the sun rose over the Northern Virginia countryside, the columns continued to snake along the turnpike. The tired men of the the 49th Pennsylvania decided to stop in Hamilton for breakfast. According to one diarist from the regiment, "the citizens waved the stars and stripes as we passed through the little village; our bands played and our colors were unfurled." (in Westbrook 213.)

In the afternoon the VI Corps marched through Leesburg and halted near Goose Creek. Here the soldiers rested their sore feet and camped for the night. Those lagging behind on the march were not so fortunate. As the diarist from the 49th Pennsylvania wrote that day, "[John] Mosby is reported in the rear, gobbling up stragglers." (in Westbrook 213.)

July 22, 1864: Goose Creek to Difficult Run & Environs

The wagon train got underway at 4 a.m. on July 22, followed by the VI Corps and the XIX Corps. The day's route took the troops along the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike (today's VA-7). Seeking to protect his columns, Wright ordered that "[t]he cavalry under Colonel [Charles Russell] Lowell. . . be kept well out to the front, flanks, and rear, and endeavor to break up the guerrilla parties in the line of march." (OR, 1:37:2, 412.)

The divisions filed past Dranesville, where the Lees burg-Alexandria Turnpike intersected the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike (today's VA-193). Both roads led towards Washington. To avoid any confusion among his commanders, Wright made clear in his orders that the two corps were to continue on the Leesburg-Alexandria Turnpike.  

After another long march through heat and dust, the Federal force halted for the night in the vicinity of Difficult Creek. Some of the troops progressed as far as Freedom Hill and Peach Grove Post-Office (today's Tysons Corner) before setting up camp.

July 23-26, 1864: Lewinsville, Langley, and Beyond

The next day, July 23, followed a similar pattern. The two corps began their march around 4 a.m. Before long, they would enter the tiny hamlet of Lewinsville (part of today's McLean). Their route took them past the battlefields where some of the men had fought J.E.B. Stuart in September 1861. They also moved over the very ground once occupied by Camp Griffin. Some of these soldiers had lived here during winter 1861-62 as part of Gen. William F. "Baldy" Smith's division. The diarist from the 49th Pennsylvania observed a few differences from those early days:
 [O]ld Camp Griffin has been changed into contraband farms, and our old parade ground is growing a crop of corn. . . . (in Westbrook 213.) [2]
Union Army map showing Lewinsville and vicinity (courtesy of Library of Congress). Wright's men took the road from Peach Grove P.O. (far left), through Lewinsville (center), to Langley (far right). There the VI and XIX Corps picked up the Leesburg-Georgetown Turnpike to Chain Bridge. Camp Griffin sat on the Mackall, Johnston, and Smoot properties and the surrounding land. Living in this area, I am moved to think that 150 years ago, my ancestor was marching past my very neighborhood on his way to Chain Bridge. How the world is small, even across time!
Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont even located his former campsite. As he wrote in a letter on August 8, 1864:
There was the same excavation that we had made for the floor of our tent, the same fire-place and chimney and the same log basement. There was my old bedstead made of barrel staves nailed to two poles, and there was my old stool, which I remember used always to be in the other boys' way and which was always a reproach upon my woeful lack of ingenuity. I found too, the identical cup which has served me with coffee many times -- a good one once, but now rusty and half filled with dirt; and there were many other things that I saw around that little spot, uninteresting to others though quite interesting to me. . . . .  An eventful  season of war and strife has passed since we left that ground, and many that were with us then have been laid low by rebel hands; but peace comes not yet. Our regiment was full and strong when it left Camp Griffin, but not one-tenth of those men are with us now. (in Rosenblatt 243-44.)
Continuing along the pike beyond Langley, the VI Corps headed in the direction of Chain Bridge. Some of the men entered familiar territory once again -- on the high ground near the bridge was where soldiers under Gen. Smith had established Camp Advance and started construction of defensive works in September 1861.

Proceeding down a steep hill, Wright's corps reached Chain Bridge, crossed the Potomac, and halted in a rough line stretching from from Battery Vermont to Fort Gaines and Tennallytown. The general immediately took steps to ensure that his corps received adequate supplies. He urged his commanders to "have the wants of their men supplied as rapidly as practicable." (OR, 1:37:2, 425.)

In the end, Wright spent very little time around Tennallytown. Instead of returning to the front before Petersburg, he was dispatched to deal with a new threat from Early. By the morning of July 26, the men were once again on the move. They broke camp and marched that day to Rockville. The campaign against Early was entering a new and prolonged phase.


The march of the VI Corps through Lewinsville and Langley was a bittersweet homecoming for some. By summer of 1864, the war had taken a terrible toll, and many soldiers never lived to see the old campgrounds for a second time. Others had left the ranks due to wounds, disease, or the end of enlistment. The survivors also looked upon a landscape that had undergone a revolutionary transformation. In place of picket lines, drills, and military parades were contrabands, marking the transition from slavery to freedom. A return to the "stomping grounds" of 1861-62 symbolized just how far the war had progressed since those early days of relative calm and innocence, before the massive bloodletting and the fight for emancipation.


[1] Incidentally, William received a head wound in skirmishing around Snicker's Gap a few days before and may possibly have made the trip by ambulance. The exact timing and circumstances of William's wounding is somewhat uncertain based on available sources.

[2] By summer 1864, the contraband farm, Camp Wadsworth, sat on land where Camp Griffin was once located. (See my post here for more information.) Camp Beckwith, another contraband farm, sat north of the village of Lewinsville.


George Grenville Benedict, Vermont in the Civil War, Vol. 1 (1886); Butler County PAGenWeb, "Genealogical Inquiries" (contains excerpt on Wm. Baumgarten from 1889 book, Presidents, Soldiers and Statesmen, Vol. 1); John H. Niebaum, History of the Pittsburgh Washington Infantry: 102nd (Old 13th) Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers and Its Forebears, 1792 to 1930 (1931); Official Records, 1:37:1, 406-457 & 1:37:2, 272 et seq.; Emil & Ruth Rosenblatt, Hard Marching Every Day: The Civil War Letters of Private Wilbur Fisk (1992 ed.); Robert Westbrook, History of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers (1897).