Letter from Austin, Matthew S.

Soldier: Austin, Matthew S.
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 5th Infantry
Home State: New Jersey
Date Written: Saturday, September 6th, 1862
Location: Near Alexandria, VA.
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Battlefield, Combat Description, Desertion, Eastern Theater, Family, On the March, Warfare
Camp 5th N.J.Vols.

My Dear Father

Your letters of Aug 19 and Sept 4 were received today. The first since leaving Harrison’s Landing. I have not written since we commenced the retreat from the above point from the principal fact that there has been little opportunity to do so, together with every inconvenience to hinder. When not on the march, the time would be occupied in procuring provisions and in issuing and stoppages on a march are only ling enough to procure and cook the same. We left Harrison’s Landing on 15th ? with eight days provision in sugar & coffee and six days in meat - two days being in the Haversack - on the sixth day we encamped in front of Yorktown and issued the balance of provisions - two days. Division was ordered to move at a moments notice and provision to be issued for these days - a good portion of the night was consumed in obtaining a few articles only. On the 22nd at an early hour we started to go aboard transports. All the day was consumed in getting the first & third brigades aboard - it was tedious indeed and the men were but partially supplied with cooked food - had not had time to procure it. Some 2800 were put aboard the steamship “Baltic”, so crowded was the Baltic that there was not room to lie down. The 23rd the men got out of fresh water and meat and there was great noise and confusion. There was no place to make coffee even. It was a perfect prison. During the afternoon of 23rd and after the Baltic got into Potomac River, she got hard aground, steamer “New York” bound down, took off a part of us and we lay along side “Baltic” until 214th. The same date reached Alexandria and encamped in the city, on an open lot. On the 25th moved out some 3 miles - on the Manassas Road - on 26th (Monday) drew six days provision - preparatory to a speedy movement. On 27th got off, by R.R. for Manassas - same evening encamped on R.R. to Warrenton, 14 miles from Manassas. 28th started back to Manassas and division came up to rebels at Broad Run (Bristor’s Station) and engaged the enemy soon putting him to flight. On 29th encamped at Manassas Junction; 30th marched to Centerville and then to Bull Run. When division was engaged with enemy, as also, on the following day (31st) Division arrived at Centerville about 1 am on Sept 1st (Sunday). Changed its position once while at Centerville. Monday (2nd) pm started for Fairfax C.H. and took as heavy a rain (for an hour) as one can will conceive of. Division went into line of battle in support of Kearney where it remained until next morning. Same day passed through Fx C.H. to Fairfax Station on Manassas R.R. (some 4 or 5 miles south of first named place) Continuing S.E. we encamped for the night at a point some 20 miles S.W. of Alexandria. Continuing our march on the 4th, we came into the Acquia Creek Road some 12 miles South of Alex. - with little time to rest we made the last named place about 3 pm having marched about 20 miles. We were tired and hungry and dirty - some shoeless - some almost without clothes - none with more than one shirt - some without any and the 3rd Brigade less than 1800 strong. The division not over 5400 all told - containing 16 reg’t as it does.

These long and rapid marches and engagements ? the ? very rapidly. Today I suppose the division would number 1000 - about half that too, are unfit for duty. On the 5th we changed camp again and today are under orders to move. An effort will be made to allow us some rest - the officers of the division have gone to Lexington to procure a ? of last named order and there is an impression among field officers that we will not be called upon for active service, except in a most urgent case. My personal property was destroyed last Sunday on the cars at Bristor’s Station, including knapsack, blankets, books, flute etc. - everything complete - as well as all the camp and Garrison equipment of the division - excepting the personal property of officers, which had been placed on wagons provided. I was with the reg’t at Centerville and the property of the Division was under charge of guards from each reg’t. The papers have given an account of these events, doubtless before this.


M. S. Austin
Com. Serg’t.
Fifth N.J. Vols.

Phila Sept 11th

I will go up tomorrow evening - by which time I presume you will have the chevrons done & I will enclose these to M S A. by attn

Yours truly, R A

Sunday morning
Sept 7, 1862

I will make a finish of by letter by asking you to by letter, the chevrons I wrote for before. They are everything to me on a march, or when near a city, as at present. I cannot go to Alexandria without a pass signed by a host of officers with Q.M.S or C.S. ? (all the same) we avoid this pass business.

I wish “Adam’s Express” would hurry up that box. I certainly want a clean shirt now and one to change, while I get the one I have washed. Regimental teams have just arrived at Alexandria from Yorktown. We had a rumor that they were lost in a storm.

A large number of desertions occurred from this Reg’t while at Alexandria on our way up- some have been returned and from 275 at the battle on the 31st, we have got up to 409 - perhaps more as they come in at all times of the day.

Capt Acton’s father was here yesterday on his way to get the body of his son. Capts Acton and Abbott were buried side by side on the battlefield - the former of the 5th - latter of the 6th. Lt. Brill of the 5th was killed and Lt. Berry taken prisoner (Berry was acting Q.M.) Capts Woolsey and Gamble were wounded - the latter from a pistol in his own hands - he has returned to duty. Major Ramsay of the 5th in his command of the 8th.

Sergeant Major and Hospital Steward of 5th are deserters.

Evening - Reg’tl teams arrived from Alexandria this pm. Horses suffered much on the passage.

Clothing is now being distributed, blankets, shirts, stockings etc. etc.

Today has been the most quiet Sabbath. ? we left Mattawoman last spring.

After next issue of provision I will write again.

I am glad you spent so pleasant a time in your recent visit.

It would require a length of time to give minute details of all our movements.

Love to all ...


M. S. Austin
Com. Serg’t 5th