Baird mentions many locations in this letter to his sweetheart Maggie Bowker. Please click here to open a map detailing the route he likely took.

Fairfax C. H. Va.
Wednesday, June 24th, ‘63

My own dear Maggie,

You will doubtless be surprised to find that I am at Fairfax to-day after receiving My letter of the 20th. But I don’t expect to be here at this time (2 p.m.) to-morrow. We didn’t leave here Saturday as we expected, but finally got started about 2 p.m. Sunday. We went out on a reconnoitering expedition, towards the Rappahannock. We rode out as far as five miles [illegible] and Gainesville (Where I got your letter of the 14th this morning) and Stoped for the night. I was on picket all night. About ten next morning we were again on the move, and reached Warrenton about noon. This is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve seen in VA.

Between Centreville & Gainesville we passed over a portion of the Bull Run battle ground. I will spare your feelings, however, & and not describe what I saw there. At Warrenton we halted untill near night, when our brigade, leaving the ballance of the column (there were three brigades in the column, all cavalry & artillery) passed out on the route towards the Rappahannock, and marched untill about midnight, when we again halted at a place called Beales’ Station on the R.R. five miles from Falmouth, the 5th Mich. Cav’l continued the march to the Rappahannock, a portion of the regiment crossing the river, the remainder of the brigade passed at the Station untill late the next day (yesterday) when we again moved off returning to Gainesville by another route, leaving Warrenton to the right. We bivouacked at Gainesville last night, and this morning at early light were again on the move, arriving here about 12 hr.

We are not allowed to pitch our tents, however, as we expect to march again ere night, (rations are now being issued for the journey.) It is said we are going to Harpers Ferry; but I don’t pretend to know, for it is impossible for a soldier to tell anything about what he is going to do until after it is accomplished. There was another fight (at Smoker’s Gap in the Bull Run Mountains, I have been informed) on Sunday, our forces again coming off victors, we heard the cannon plainly from here in the morning, & untill we got nearly out to Gainesville, where it ceased. I expected we would have a fight on our last trip, Surly, but we didn’t See a reb.

Well Maggie, I received your kind, fond letter of the 14th this morning, and though I was Somewhat low Spirited, when I was call up from my Starlit bed, owing to my fatigue, but your dear letter revived me greatly, and be assured, dear girl, the Sentiments it expressed are fully appreciated.

Oh; what raptures it brings to the soldier’s heart. Surrounded by so many dangers as he is, to know & feel, that there is one behind him, whose heart beats for him with the warmest of love’s impulses. Oh; Maggie, I know you love me, and believe me your affection is received gratefully, & returned with the warmest devotion. Your kiss I received thankfully, only wishing it were real, a dozen in return.

Now this letter is very lengthy, & I’ll write as often as I can. My love to all, write as often as you can,

Goodbye for this time,
Truly & affectionately yours,


Upside down at the top: I have left your father’s letter unanswered for want of time [illegible].


Who’s Matthew Baird?

Oct. 2nd

Nothing has occurred since my last date of any importance, till with in a very few days.

The rebels have evacuated and abandoned their works on Munsons Hill and the hills adjacent, and have retreated with their whole advance line toward Bull run. The Union troops now occupy those hills and our advance line is thrown out as far as Fairfax. Where I heard the rebels a few weeks ago playing in division the ever glorious Star-Spangled-Banner, now the air resounds with the strains of that noble tune sung and pledged by true, loyal, and patriotic men.

Considerable excitement was created in this and other camps belonging to the 4th brigade. The day-before-yesterday, by rumors being circulated that the enemy were returning upon their lately abandoned works and had begun an attack upon our centre. The rumors were however false. The reason why the Brigade was called and (which was done) was because we had received orders to march or to hold ourselves in readiness to march, and the alarm was sounded for the purpose of testing the energies of the men. A real fighting spirit was manifested. We have orders now however to hold ourselves in readiness to march at a moments notice. The camp is all quiet however at present. People still continue to seek safety in Washington. Three teams are passing along while I am writing, fleeing from the country, and the rebels, and seeking safety within the Union fortifications.  


Who’s Matthew Baird?

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?