Charles Fairchild Papers

Manuscript Collection #676
Fairchild, Charles
Physical description
0.22 Cubic Feet, 145 items , consisting of copies of typescript of original letters.
Preferred Citation
Charles Fairchild Papers (#676), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1861-1864) including correspondence, letters, account of duties, detailed description of USS Brandywine, etc.

Biographical/historical information

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.

Scope and arrangement

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 (27 May 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 (13 June 1861); a description of Major General [Robert] Patterson (18 & 23 June 1861); and a discussion of military rule in Maryland (23 June 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 (7 March 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 (1 April 1862).

Fairchild joined the U.S. Navy as assistant paymaster and included in his correspondence are a detailed account of his duties (1 April 1862) and information concerning the gunboat USS Port Royal (8-9 April 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 (18 May 1862); the steamer (18 May, 5, 16, & 25 December 1862); quarters, mess, the crew and supplies (18 May 1862); a general description of officer life aboard ship (18 May, 7 & 9 June, and 16 December 1862; 18 June 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 (23 May 1862), Jamestown from the river (28 May 1862), and a collision with the flagship USS Minnesota in Hampton Roads, Virginia (19 May 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 (1 June 1862).

Fairchild's correspondence also discusses the interesting naval "lingo," the Southern "rebellion," and the Wisconsin politics of James Rood Doolittle's senatorial campaign (9 June 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 (15 June 1862), his defense of McClellan's handling of the Seven Days' Battles (30 June and 6 July 1862), the ships guarding Fort Powhatan (the James River area) against reoccupation by Confederate forces (6 July 1862), a description of a visit to Jamestown, and McClellan's position and need for reinforcements (10 July 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 (19 August 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--(22 August 1862), of James River Flotilla Commander Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee (11 September 1862), and of the history of the building of Fort Wool (1 September 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 (1 October 1862); a detailed description and drawing of the "parallels" earthworks used by McClellan to approach Richmond (24 October 1862); a description of the tinder boat and two launches that accompanied the Mahaska (5 December 1862); and the process of cleaning the boat (25 December 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 (16 December 1862); Wisconsin's sustaining the Writ of Habeas Corpus (11 January 1863); and the experience of dealing with General Busted, a politically appointed general from New York City (2 February 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 (17 & 20 March 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 (20 May 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 (6 July 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 (5 & 23 August 1863), Fort Sumter (14 & 31 August 1863), and Forts Moultrie, Wagner, and Gregg (31 August 1863 and 9 September 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 (22 February 1864), and his getting a commission (21 July 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.

Administrative information
Custodial History

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

Source of acquisition

Gift of Mr. James A. Morgan III

Processing information

Processed by K. Romer, February 1996

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

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

Key terms
Personal Names
Fairchild, Charles
Fairchild, Lucius, 1831-1896--Family
McClellan, George B. (George Brinton), 1826-1885--Military leadership
Corporate Names
Brandywine (Frigate)
Mahaska (Side wheel steamer)
United States. Army--Military life
United States. Navy--Military life
Maryland--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
Pennsylvania--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
South Carolina--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
Washington (D.C.)--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives
Wisconsin--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives