July 2011

Baird writes home to his parents concerning his first real engagement in battle. The 3rd Michigan Infantry skirmished with rebels at Blackburn’s Ford in Bull Run, VA on July 18th and covered the retreat of Union troops at the Battle of Bull Run (First Battle of Manassas-named by Confederates). Baird mentions both battles, although does not clearly distinguish one from another. James Beck, mentioned in the letter, enlisted in Grand Rapids, MI, but was not from Hastings as Baird indicates. No James Beck appears in the vital records of the county. The link at his name provides more information about his story and the incident with the cannon ball, he was injured a bit more than Baird indicated.

Arlington Hights
U.S. Army, July 26, 1861

Dear Parents,

                Since I last wrote to you our Regt has had a long march into Virginia, and I have already been witness to two battles. If you have not already heard, you will have heard before you get this of the battle of Bulls Run and its disastrous results to the Federal army. And as you will doubtless get a more correct description than I can give I shall not say much about it. However you may depend we had a tough old time. Our Regt was not engaged in either battle (except the right and left companies as skirmishers). We left chain bridge  the 16th and late on the 18th we came up to the rebels when our artillery opened a brisk fire upon them. The rebels returned it with considerable effect killing several of our men. The whole brigade was thrown into the field when an engagement too place which lasted about four hours. Our Regt was held as a reserve, though we were exposed to the cannon shot of the enemy and often to their musketry, without the [illegible] means of defense or the privilege of returning their fire. One cannon ball fell into Co. F Striking James Beck  of Hastings on the knee, however not so as to injure him much as the ball was spent. Several musket balls fell into our company and striking near our Capts feet. A great many cannon shot and shell went over our heads with tremendous velocity often striking only a few yards beyond us. In such cases we had to hugg the ground pretty close. We did not lose any men in the 3rd, but the 1st Mass and Twelveth N.Y. was considerably beat up. The Mich 2nd lost a few men. Finding the evening [illegible] the brigade was withdrawn about two miles to await for reinforcements. (Our brigade of 3,000 men were drawn up to oppose 30,000 of the enemy) Last Sunday [July 21st] the battle was begun again on the extreme right and was fought with dreadful effect, the loss on both sides was immense. The roaring of the cannon was almost constant and the wall of musketry was like the continual muttering of distant thunder. Our brigade with three others, supported by a number of batteries occupied the left wing.

A little skirmishing however was all that was done on the left except by the batteries which threw shot and shell all day without receiving a single shot in answer. The battle was fought within sight of the Bluridge mountains. The country through which we passed is almost entirely deserted by the inhabitants. Crops are extremely poor, and I should think by the appearance of everything that the soil was entirely exhausted. And if we cant whip out the rebels, if the crops are poor all over the south as they are in Virginia they will soon starve out.    

My health is as good as ever yet. Give my best wishes to all my friends, and my love to Uncle and Cousin.

Please write soon to

Your Affectionate Son

Matthew Baird


Who’s Matthew Baird?


Text corresponding to transcription. HCP Collection

A couple of notes from the end of Baird’s first diary. Please let us know if you are able to decipher the word marked [illegible] from the image to the right.


Never break over the truth. There are many who are called men of wit who make a practice of entertaining others with their brilliant stories and fine speeches, but they invariably break over the truth. A man of wit (falsly so called) can never be an honest man. Always tell the truth in everything, if you do appear awkward.

To Wash__

1 Gray woolen shirt, marked with a gray woolen patch on corner of flap

1 pr woolen socks marked each at tops with do do

1 pr Cotton drawers, marked on waistband, with do. do.


Who’s Matthew Baird?

Written at the end of his first diary, this list is Baird’s self-imposed rules for his conduct and reveals much about his character.

Rules for every day

Rule 1. That I will arise in the morning as soon as I awake.

2. That I will endeavor to direct my first thoughts to my Heavenly Father, thanking him for his kindness during the past night and ask his blessing upon me during the day.

3. I will endeavor to obey implicitly and without complaint my Captain and other officers over me.

4. Will endeavor to discharge each duty assigned me with alacrity, and to the best of my ability.

5. Knowing my [tendency] to ill temper, I pray God to give me strength to overcome it and to assume each day assume each day a manner which will be pleasing and cheerful to all.

6. I will regard each of my comrades as a gentleman and endeavor to treat them as such.

7. Days when I am not on duty I will spend in profitable reading or [illegible] and in visiting friends.

8. Will endeavor by precept and example to persuade my comrades to forsake the paths of sin and to seek a change of heart.

9. Will read each day in the Bible as much as is profitable, and will try and meditate upon the goodness and mercies of God.

10. Will try and maintain in my heart a true patriotism, and love of country

11. Will endeavor at the close of each day to review the past and ferret out each fault and error and to rectify the same and that my last thoughts may like my first be centered on God.

12. Knowing my inability to reach the least of these rules by my own strength I have but ask God to direct me, and bring me off triumphant and at last save me for Christ’s sake.


Who’s Matthew Baird?