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Charles Fairchild Papers, 1861-1864

Manuscript Collection #676

Descriptive Summary Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

Title: Charles Fairchild Papers
Creator: Fairchild, Charles
Repository: ECU Manuscript Collection
Languages: English
Abstract: Papers (1861-1864) including correspondence, letters, account of duties, detailed description of USS BRANDYWINE, etc.
Extent: 0.22 Cubic feet, 145 items , consisting of copies of typescript of original letters.

Administrative Information Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

Accessions Information

February 16, 1994, 145 items (typescript); Correspondence (1861-1864). Gift of Mr. James A. Morgan III, Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions

Copyright Notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Preferred Citation

Charles Fairchild Papers (#676), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.

Acquisition Information

  • Gift of Mr. James A. Morgan III

Processing Information

  • Processed by K. Romer, February 1996

  • Encoded by Apex Data Services


Biographical / Historical Note Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

Charles Fairchild, a Harvard law student from Madison, Wisconsin, enlisted in the 1st Wisconsin Regiment at the outset of the Civil War as the commissary officer. His brother Lucius was a captain in the same regiment. A second brother, Cassius, served in the Western Theater with the 16th Wisconsin Regiment and was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. Charles resigned from the U. S. Army in June 1861 to seek a better appointment with the Navy. Beginning in April of 1862 he served first as an assistant paymaster (Reserve) and later as acting assistant paymaster (regular Navy) aboard the side-wheel gunboat steamer USS MAHASKA in duties including blockade, river patrol, and harbor duty. Both of his brothers went on to become brigadier generals. Lucius, after being wounded at Gettysburg, was appointed secretary of state of Wisconsin (1864), elected governor of Wisconsin (1866, 1872), appointed U.S. ambassador to Portugal and France, and later was a commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Cherokee.

Description Click here to collapse or expand the contents in this section of the finding aid

This collection contains copies of transcripts of Charles Fairchild's letters to his mother and sister in Madison, Wisconsin. Early letters give detailed accounts of camp life, marching, drilling, entertainment, music (Negro melodies, hymns, and individual practice of band members), and dances for commissioned officers (May 27, 1861). Also of interest are his accounts of the march from Camp Scott in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Camp McClure in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and then to Camp Negley at Hagerstown, Maryland, and the celebratory nature and food offerings of citizens along the way (June 13, 1861); a description of Major General [Robert] Patterson (June 18, 23, 1861); and a discussion of military rule in Maryland (June 23, 1861).

While in Washington awaiting appointment to the Navy, Charles wrote letters describing in detail his observations of McClellan's arrangement of the army into Grand Divisions (March 7, 1862) and of McClellan's overall command of the six Corp D'Armie. Also of interest are descriptions of the bakery in the basement of the Capitol building,which supplied the army with fresh bread; the work of the superintendent of the Washington arsenal, Col. George D. Ramsey, in organizing and arming the defenses around Washington; use of the French shelter tents made of linen instead of canvas; and vandalism done to grave monuments at the Arlington House (former home of General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee). He also briefly mentions attempts by Generals Fremont and Lane to oust McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac (April 1, 1862).

Fairchild joined the U.S. Navy as assistant paymaster and included in his correspondence are a detailed account of his duties (April 1, 1862) and information concerning the gunboat USS PORT ROYAL (April 8-9, 1862). His letters in May 1862 discuss his assignment to the steamer USS MAHASKA, which was on station in the James River during McClellan's peninsular campaign and after. Other letters written while he was en route to Fortress Monroe describe seasickness (May 18, 1862); the steamer (May 18, December 5, 16, and 25, 1862); quarters, mess, the crew and supplies (May 18, 1862); a general description of officer life aboard ship (May 18, June 7 and 9, and December 16, 1862; June 18, 1863); and joining several other ships on the James River, including the MONITOR and the GALENA. Also noted are descriptions of the attack on Richmond, their new captain, being stuck on a mud bank (May 23, 1862), Jamestown from the river (May 28, 1862), and a collision with the flagship USS MINNESOTA in Hampton Roads, Virginia (May 19, 1862). Also of significance is a letter in which Fairchild describes the ships being cut off nine miles above Richmond by piles driven underwater into the ground along with strategically sunken ships, all of which were guarded by Fort Darling (June 1, 1862).

Fairchild's correspondence also discusses the interesting naval "lingo," the Southern "rebellion," and the Wisconsin politics of James Rood Doolittle's senatorial campaign (June 9, 1862). Also mentioned are the use of gunboats on the James River as a backup for McClellan in case he was repulsed before Richmond, the visit of several Danish naval officers to learn from U.S. Navy improvements (June 15, 1862), his defense of McClellan's handling of the Seven Days' Battles (June 30 and July 6, 1862), the ships guarding Fort Powhatan (the James River area) against reoccupation by Confederate forces (July 6, 1862), a description of a visit to Jamestown, and McClellan's position and need for reinforcements (July 10, 1862). His letters of August 1, 1862, discuss the MAHASKA being used as a guard for shipping and the Army below Jordan's Point on the James River; the expectation of a battle with a "young MERRIMAC," YORKTOWN, and four tugs, which never occurred; a skirmish with rebel artillery; and a description of the slashing and burning of potential enemy cover (including a plantation) near Jordan's Point by Gen. Fitz John Porter's troops. Also of interest is Fairchild's letter describing McClellan, the town of Norfolk, and the discovery of the location of the 2nd and 4th Wisconsin Light Artillery at Fortress Monroe (August 19, 1862).

In additional correspondence, Fairchild discusses the possibilities of foreign intervention and gives detailed descriptions of the USS BRANDYWINE-- then a stores ship for re-supplying the blockade--(August 22, 1862), of James River Flotilla Commander Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee (September 11, 1862), and of the history of the building of Fort Wool (September 1, 1862). Other topics of interest include Fairchild's seeing "hundred sail of merchant vessels" leaving Hampton Roads; the visit of Admiral DuPont and Assistant Secretary of War [Gustavus] Fox (October 1, 1862); a detailed description and drawing of the "parallels" earthworks used by McClellan to approach Richmond (October 24, 1862)2); a description of the tinder boat and two launches that accompanied the MAHASKA (December 5, 1862); and the process of cleaning the boat (December 25, 1862). Political issues discussed in his letters include the rumor concerning North Carolina soldiers being jailed in Virginia to prevent them from returning home to hold an election to send representatives to the U. S. Congress (December 16, 1862); Wisconsin's sustaining the Writ of Habeas Corpus (January 11, 1863); and the experience of dealing with General Busted, a politically appointed general from New York City (February 2, 1863).

Other topics of interest found in Fairchild's letters include his reports on the MAHASKA being ordered to the Gulf of Mexico to join Admiral Farragut's squadron, their detour to Baltimore for repairs, and his comments on the condition of Farragut's fleet (March 17 and 20, 1863); the Federal Army's defeat at Fredericksburg (May 1863); a ride along Acquia Creek near Falmouth, Virginia, on the Union side with Confederate troops in clear view on the other side (May 20, 1863); and the evacuation of Union troops from the area (June 1863). A brief description of the vast number of sick and wounded from the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg, at which his brother Lucius lost an arm, is also found in his correspondence (July 6, 1863).

In August of 1863, Fairchild wrote of the MAHASKA being on blockade duty in Charleston, S.C. Additional letters note the shelling of Charleston (August 5 and 23, 1863), Fort Sumter (August 14 and 31, 1863), and Forts Moultrie, Wagner, and Gregg (August 31, 1863 and September 9, 1863) in South Carolina; the reassignment of blockade duty off St. Catherine's Sound, Georgia; the description of sea and animal life; the discussion of states' rights and abstract rights in the Constitution; and fishing, game hunting, and sporting (duck hunting) off of Georgetown, South Carolina (October and December, 1863). Also mentioned is his preparation for an examination for qualifying as an assistant paymaster (regular Navy), his being on the sick list with scurvy (February 22, 1864), and his getting a commission (July 21, 1864).

There is evidence that the originals of some of these letters are found in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin in the Lucius Fairchild Papers.

Online access to this finding aid is supported with funds created through the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). These funds come through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services which is administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. This grant is part of the North Carolina ECHO, Exploring Cultural Heritage Online, Digitization Grant Program.

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This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Special Collections Division, J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University. The materials described here are physically available in our reading room. None of the original documents in this collection are digitally available online at this time.
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