James Metcalf Redfield (b. 1837) was the son of Heman Judd Redfield (1788-1877) and Abigail Noyes Gould (1795-1841) of Batavia, Genesee county, New York. James enlisted as a sergeant in Co. A of the Fourth Mich. on June 20, 1861.
The following extract of a letter by Sgt. James Metcalf Redfield to his father was published in the Spirit of the Times (Batavia, New York) on 3 August 1861.
Extract of a Letter from a Volunteer –
James M. Redfield
The following extract of a letter from Jas. M. Redfield, to his father, H[eman] J[udd] Redfield, of this village, under date of Washington, 25th of July, may not be uninteresting to many of our readers, as it shows a little of the privations and hardships of the private soldier in this war.
“We left here a week ago last Sunday for Cloud’s Mills, Va., about six miles east of Alexandria, marched the whole distance, arriving there about seven in the evening; remained there until Tuesday morning, when we received orders to take our place with the Fire Zouaves, Michigan 1st, one New York and one Vermont regiment, in the left division, 3d Brigade under Maj. Gen. Wilcox, for the purpose of advancing upon Fairfax Court House. We commenced our march about eleven o’clock A.M., arrived at Fairfax Station on the R. R., the next day at noon; the station bore every appearance of having been lately occupied by the enemy. Here we captured seven of their Picket Guards. The station is, I believe, about two miles and a half from the C. H., — south –- we made no halt here, but pursued our way, and had advanced within a mile of the C. H. when orders came for us to return to the station. We then learned that the rebels had retreated without striking a blow. We remained at the station one night only, and Thursday afternoon we left and took up our march for Centreville and Bull’s Run, whither Gen. McDowell had preceded us. We left half of our regiment (the Michigan 4th) at the station, as a guard for the property, provisions, &c., found there. We had arrived within three miles of Centreville, when the other half of my regiment was ordered back to the Court House; we had then marched some five miles, and we were obliged to turn back unwilling and disappointed, for we all knew there would be a brush ahead, and we were anxious to have a hand in it. We remained at the C. H. until after our defeat at Bull’s Run, and until our forces were all in full retreat towards Washington. We brought up and protected the rear, the only regiment that returned in anything like good order. We left the C. H. on Monday, and arrived here day before yesterday, very much fatigued, and not a little vexed at our forced hasty retreat. Nothing has been gained by this hasty advance of our forces, while I do not think that we were prepared for any demonstration of the kind, and ordered to do so, and when Paterson was not near enough to support him. There are so many contradictory reports that I cannot write you much concerning the battle, which is terrible. It is very difficult for us soldiers to ascertain the true state of affairs for we have no means of getting the news.
I am very tired, having been on guard all last night. I am writing with the ground for a desk, and must therefore beg you will excuse my soiled paper, and bad writing.
Published on August 10, 1861 in the newspaper “Spirit of the Times” in Batavia, New York.
Camp Mansfield, Meridian Heights,
Washington [D. C.]
Aug. 3, 1861
My Dear Father:
I wrote you a few lines last week immediately after our arrival here from Fairfax C. H., but as I was tired I do not suppose my letter was worthy of the name. I gave you as many of the particulars concerning our hasty retreat from Bull Run, &c., as I could collect. You have in all probability ‘ere this received full particulars concerning the fight at that place, so that it will be unnecessary for me to enter into any description.
As you can see by this letter we are still in or near Washington, patiently waiting for the time to come when we shall be moved once more into the country of the enemy. Our location is far from being a healthy one, although we are encamped on the top of a hill, and to all appearance healthy, but the water we have to drink is very poor, and to the south-east of us there are some commons on which has accumulated for some reason or other a quantity of carrion, the foul air which is almost constantly wafted to our camps and renders it very unpleasant as well as unhealthy, and to this and the bad water is attributed much of the sickness with which we are troubled. About one tenth of the regiment are at present on the sick list, and the number is increasing rather than diminishing.
What is your opinion concerning the legality of holding the troops sworn in for three years, before Congress met, more than three months? Much has been said here in relation to this subject, and several regiments which have been in service three months only, have returned home, although they took the oath to serve three years. I should not be much surprised if there should be some trouble in the regiment to which I belong, as soon as our first three months have passed. For my part, I enlisted for three years and am bound to stay as long as I possibly can. Still, if my regiment should, in any event, want to go home on the 16th proximo, I am in doubt as to what I should do. I would not much like to enter any other regiment. Will you give me your opinion?
Published in the August 24, 1861 issue of the newspaper “Spirit of the Times” in Batavia, New York.
Camp Union, Va.
August 13th, 1861
My Dear Father,
I received your very kind letter of the 9th inst., yesterday, and I assure you it received a very hearty welcome. I can scarcely thank you for publishing my poorly written and composed letter. Still, do as you have a mind to with them. You flatter when you deem them fit to appear before the public. I have received the papers you sent me. I only wish I could express to you my gratitude for them. Anything in the shape of reading matter — especially newspapers — is highly appreciated by all us soldiers whose stock of reading is so small.
You will see from the heading of this that we have changed camp grounds since last I wrote and that we are again in Virginia — the advance Regiment. We left Meridian Hill about six o’clock last Thursday morning, on an order the day before, and are now encamped about two miles and one half from Georgetown, nearly west. Our camp — which we have styled “Camp Union” — is very prettily situated on a clover patch near the road, and I judge it will prove by far a healthier one than was our last. Already in fact the men have commenced regaining their good spirits, which when we were on the Hill, they had quite lost.
Just before we came here, we were Brigaded in Sherman’s Brigade, with three other Regiments, a body of Cavalry, and what was formerly Sherman’s — since Ayres’ — Battery. We have been furnished with a blue uniform in place of our grey one, which bore too close a resemblance to that of the Secessionists; also new guns, with which (being minie muskets), I think we can do better execution than we could with our old Harper’s Ferry muskets.
We have had very heavy rain for the last two days and our camp now is almost afloat. It is raining so hard we are obliged to be in our tents, and in order to keep our few little articles dry, to pile them up in the water on boxes or something else, and cover them with our rubber blankets. These tents of ours are not of the best kind. They leak like a sieve when it rains hard, and sitting in them under such circumstances is like taking a shower bath with our clothes on. I was out on picket guard night before last. On our last picket 2½ or 3 miles from Falls Church, it rained very hard all night, which made guard duty an arduous one. We were posted in the edge of the woods near a barricade across the road, and I stood nearly all night with the water as high as the tops of my shoes. I came back a little the worse for wear I can assure you, and have no desire to go picket again when it rains.
We are constantly expecting an attack from the rebels, and are obliged to be constantly prepared to repel one. Last Friday night we were alarmed about 10 o’clock, and in seven minutes the whole regiment was drawn up in line of battle; ours was the first company on the ground. Saturday, as we were on dress parade, about six in the evening, we received orders to march to the railroad, near which one of our pickets had just been severely wounded, to repel an expected attack; marched there, 2½ miles, in quick time, laid on our arms nearly two hours, and returned again, to camp without getting a shot.