The first encampment in Virginia

Encampment in Virginia

Washington in September, 1862, while relatively secure from the easy capture which would have been possible in the summer of the previous year, was not in a situation of such safety as to preclude anxiety, for Pope had just been beaten at Bull Run and Lee’s army was north of the Potomac in the first of its memorable invasions of the loyal states. On the very day of his check at Antietam, September 17th, the Nineteenth Connecticut Volunteers reached the capital, and the next day moved into the hostile state of Virginia, bivouacking near Alexandria.

In this vicinity the regiment was destined to remain for many months, and to learn, as far as was possible without the grim teachings of actual experience, the business for which it was gathered. At first there was a constant expectation of orders to join the army in active operations; the county newspapers for many weeks noted regularly that the regiment was still near Alexandria, “but orders to march are hourly expected.” It was good fortune, however, that none came, for not a little of the credit of its later service was due to the proficiency in discipline and soldierly qualities gained in the long months now spent in preparation.

The task of giving the necessary military education to the thousand odd men fresh from the ordinary routine of rural Connecticut life, fell upon the shoulders of Lieutenant-Colonel Kellogg, and by all the testimony available, most of all by the splendid proof they later gave, it is clear that it was entrusted to a master hand. Matters of organization and administration at first engrossed Colonel Wessells’ attention; ill health soon supervened, and later he was given the command of a brigade. The regiment from its beginning was Kellogg’s, and he received in due course the commission vacated by its first commander in September, 1863.

A thorough and well-tried soldier himself, he quickly gained the respect of his command by his complete competency, and its strong and admiring affection was not slow in following. There are men among us to this day for whom no superlatives are adequate to give expression to their feelings in regard to him. As the regimental history records of their career “there is not a scene, a day, nor a memory from Camp Dutton to Grapevine Point that can be wholly divested of Kellogg. Like the ancient Eastern king who suddenly died on the eve of an engagement, and whose remains were bolstered up in warlike attitude in his chariot, and followed by his enthusiastic soldiers to battle and to victory, so this mighty leader, although falling in the very first onset, yet went on through every succeeding march and fight, and won posthumous victories for the regiment which may be said to have been born of his loins. Battalion and company, officer and private, arms and quarters, camp and drill, command and obedience, honor and duty, esprit and excellence, every moral and material belonging of the regiment, bore the impress of his genius. In the eyes of civilians, Colonel Kellogg was nothing but a horrid, strutting, shaggy monster. But request any one of the survivors of the Nineteenth Infantry or the Second Artillery to name the most perfect soldier he ever saw, and this will surely be the man. Or ask him to conjure up the ideal soldier of his imagination, still the same figure, complete in feature, gesture, gauntlet, saber, boot, spur, observant eye and commanding voice, will stalk with majestic port upon the mental vision. He seemed the superior of all superiors, and major-generals shrunk into pigmy corporals in comparison with him. In every faculty of body, mind, heart, and soul he was built after a large pattern. His virtues were large and his vices were not small. As Lincoln said of Seward, he could swear magnificently. His nature was versatile, and full of contradictions; sometimes exhibiting the tenderest sensibilities and sometimes none at all. Now he would be in the hospital tent bending with streaming eyes over the victims of fever, and kissing the dying Corporal Webster, and an hour later would find him down at the guard house, prying open the jaws of a refractory soldier with a bayonet in order to insert a gag; or in anger drilling a battalion, for the fault of a single man, to the last point of endurance; or shamefully abusing the most honorable and faithful officers in the regiment. ‘In rage, deaf as the sea, hasty as fire.’ But notwithstanding his frequent ill treatment of officers and soldiers, he had a hold on their affections such as no other commander ever had, or could have. The men who were cursing him one day for the almost intolerable rigors of his discipline, would in twenty-four hours be throwing up their caps for him, or subscribing to buy him a new horse, or petitioning the Governor not to let him be jumped. The man who sat on a sharp-backed wooden horse in front of the guard house, would sometimes watch the motions of the Colonel on drill or parade, until he forgot the pain and disgrace of his punishment in admiration of the man who inflicted it.”

It is not hard to understand the hold he gained, through a personality so striking and forceful, upon the men of his command; they were but boys for the most part, in point of fact, and open to the influence of just such strength, and perhaps also just such weaknesses, as they saw in this splendidly virile and genuine, and very human character.

Colonel Kellogg was a Litchfield County man, a native of New Hartford, and at this time about thirty-eight years of age. His education was not of the schools, but gained from years of adventurous life as sailor, gold-hunter, and wanderer. Shortly before the war he had settled in his native state, but he responded to the call for the national defense among the very first, and before the organization of the Nineteenth had served as Major of the First Connecticut Artillery. He lies buried in Winsted.

For more than a year and a half the regiment was numbered among the defenders of the capital, removing after a few months from the immediate neighborhood of Alexandria, and being stationed among the different forts and redoubts which formed the line of defense south of the Potomac.

Important as its service there was, and novel as it must have been to Litchfield County boys, it was not marked by incidents of any note, and furnished nothing to attract attention among the general and absorbing operations of the war. It was, still, of vast interest to the people of the home towns. The county newspapers had many letters to print in those days from the soldiers themselves, and from visitors from home, who in no inconsiderable numbers were journeying down to look in upon them constantly. There were of course matters of various nature which gave rise to complaints of different degrees of seriousness; there was not unnaturally much sickness among the men in the early part of their service; there were political campaigns at home, in which the volunteers had and showed a strong interest; there was a regrettable quarrel among the officers in which Lieutenant-Colonel Kellogg was placed in an unfortunate light, and the termination of which gave the men an opportunity of showing their feeling for him. All these matters were well aired in type; meanwhile the regiment, doing well such duty as was laid upon it, grew in efficiency for hard and active service when it should be called for.

The possibility of a call to action at almost any minute was seen in April, 1863, when orders came that the regiment be held ready to march. Reinforcements were going forward to the Army of the Potomac, now under Hooker, in large numbers; but the Nineteenth was finally left in the Defenses. Thus months were passed in the routine of drill and parade, guard mounting and target practice, varied by brief and rare furloughs, while the lightnings of the mighty conflict raging so near left them untouched. “Yet,” it is related, “a good many seemed to be in all sorts of affliction, and were constantly complaining because they could not go to the front. A year later, when the soldiers of the Nineteenth were staggering along the Pamunkey, with heavy loads and blistered feet, or throwing up breastworks with their coffee-pots all night under fire in front of Petersburg, they looked back to the Defenses of Washington as to a lost Elysium.”

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