Letter from Cheyney W. Nields, from Catlett’s Station, Va, April 20, 1862

Transcribed by Historian Kevin M. Brown.

Camp near Catlett’s Station, Va
Sunday, Apr. 20, 1862

Dear Mother,

It has been raining hard all day and to make myself comfortable I have been sitting with cousin Tom by the fire for an hour with the rain beating down upon me until the severity of the storm forced me to take refuge in a little hut made of leaves, brush, & blankets which Tom (who is always ingenious) put up to shield himself from the rain. You know I suppose that the government does not allow us tents now and we are obliged to get along for shelter the best way we can. I don’t know when I have spent as uncomfortable a time as I have since we arrived here yesterday.

We are “bivouacked” in a swampy woods, so full of water that if you stand for any length of time in one place there is danger of sinking and disappearing from view altogether.

We left Alexandria yesterday a week ago.  Wilbur has told you of course that he and I parted at Washington. How I wished that he and Jim could have been with us until we left.

Mott and Jim Creigh actually felt depressed when they left and told me that they felt as if some one was wanting to —— up our party.   After parting with Wilbur, I returned to Alexandria and found that our company had marched for Centreville. I immediately started for the  depot in order to get on the cars to overtake them before they should reach Mannases [sic] and when I got there, I had to assume the charge of the ammunition train. I waited until I thought there was no prospect of the train leaving & then returned  to the hotel where I met John Clarke who was waiting also for a convenient train with his father and George.

We remained all the next night in Alexandria and the following morning got off on an excursion train and arrived at Mannases [sic] before the company got there. We remained at Mannases [sic] 4 days occuying the quarters so lately deserted by the rebels. Wilbur has given you a full description of the place by this time and I would not say anything about it. Where we are encamped at this time is 12 miles(?) beyond —— Junction and within a short distance of Warrenton Junction.

On last Wednesday, while we lay at the junction, a foraging(?) expedition under the command of Capt. Hall started out toward the Occoquan River. At the captain’s request, I accompanied him with Capt. Kingsbury, Assistant Adjutant General to Gen. Reynolds. After riding about 8 miles, we came to the Occoquan River and I (on horseback) with the rest forded the stream. After we got beyond, we were in a country never before visited by our troops, the first evidence of which was a boy suddenly deserting his plough on our sudden appearance from behind a woods and running frantically to the house, alarmed the whole family. The women appeared on the porch while the man of the home retreated rapidly across the fields. The small party of cavalry who acted as our escort were highly amused at the display, but before the day was over they saw two other scenes of the same kind. The roads were in a horrible condition and the [wagon] trains that came with us had hard work to get through the deep mud. The road we passed along was the same on which the rebel camp or a great portion of it, retreated from Mannases [sic] and army wagons, dead horses and mules and an immense number of cannon shot and shell lay scattered along the road in every direction. I might have sent you home a thousand relics of that retreat if I could only have found transportation for them. As it was, I only secured a love letter from a dozen others from in the camp of the “Hampton Legion” which may amuse you.

We went about 8 miles beyond the Occoquan and stopped for dinner at the house of a pretend Union man. And our horses being too much worn out to take back half the forage we discovered, we were obliged to return with only about $150 worth of raw [illegible along crease line] hands upon(?) Persons(?) who have visited Manassas Junction alone and who are always ready to censure McClellan for not advancing —- to —- that the rebels had but 60,000 men, but if they had seen the line of mud hut encampments which we saw that day extending from Manassas to a point 4 miles beyond any place ever visited by either(?) our troops or upon[?] reflection[?] they would be convinced (as I was) when I was told by a resident that the rebels had a force of 150,000 men about that stronghold all winter.

We are now within 12 miles of the Rappahannock. Our cavalry had a skirmish with the rebels day before yesterday, I understand, and 12 of them were killed. I will try to follow yours,