Last page of Baird's letter with poem "Our Flag". HCP Collection.

In Baird’s own words, this letter is “extravagantly long”, containing details of picket duty and interesting gossip from home. We unfortunately do not know to whom the letter was written, but we do have an indication of Baird’s sense of humor for the first time.  The photo to the right contains the text of the poem found at the end of this 6 page, over 1,000 word letter all written in pencil (for which Baird apologizes)!

Wednesday Morn

Sept. 11th 1861

Dear Friend.

I received you kind letter of Sept 1st last evening, but have been detained from answering it till this morning on account of our Company being detailed for picket guard, and as a matter of course I had to accompany it.

Pickets are used for the purpose of giving warning to the camp in case of the approach of an army to begin an attack.

This is a very particular duty and has thus far in this war proved to be a very dangerous one.

A great many have been killed on both sides by pickets firing at each other. Company E has been detailed for this duty almost exclusively for the last few weeks. So you see, I have had some experience in this part of war. One day and night last week, I was on a post within full view of a rebel fort on Munson’s Hill (it is about three fourths of a mile from where I stood.) and about five miles from Washington city on the road to Manassas. This fort occupies a beautiful and commanding site, and to every appearance from where I was, might be made a very formidable place. Sunday and Monday, the 8th and 9th, I was on a post so near the rebel pickets, we could hear them talk, and in part their pickets and ours did get to talking with each other in rather a rough sort of way. Many harsh words passed between them, and they often answered each other by discharging their muskets back and forth.

Monday morning the firing grew so warm that the rebels threw several shot and shell from the fort at our pickets, however without any harm.

For my part, I have not had the privilege of firing at a single secesh yet, nor can I say that I realy desire to. The two armies have now agreed to cease firing at each others pickets. There are from three to six men on a post.

But now I must tell you something about the post I occupy at present. It is about three miles west of our camp on the railroad running from Alexandria to Vienna. I have two comrades with me. We have a little bough house to protect us from the sun. Behind us is a thick deep forest into whose shades the strongest eye would not penetrate at night. Before us is the railroad with its winding [illegible] running through sunny fields, and shady groves, now along some steep hillside. Now through a tiny vale, then it plunges into a deep cut where it is lost to view. Just below the railroad is a deep ravine through which courses a pleasant little stream overhung with huge rocks and towering forest trees. And here as it passes along unheeded by the desolating hand of war and untainted by treasons foul breath. As it rushes over heavy boulders, or along smooth pebly banks, or plunges and foams at the foot of a steep precipice, and then dashes on through the [illegible] shade of a wide spreading tree, whose ample and luxuriant branches reach far over the mossy banks and then playfuly murmurs out into the broad sunlight, it ever sings all its course the songs that were sung by our grandsires, the sounds of liberty. And I have no doubt if it had a human voice it would cause the surrounding hills to resound with the music of the Star Spangled Banner, or with the thrilling notes of Hail Columbia. At least it would not lend a voice to the traitors cause, nor whisper one word of comfort to its disunion in its expiring hour. And in this beautiful spot we are to spend the day. We expect to be relieved at night. But I must say a little about home matters. I received a letter from home a few days ago and they stated that brother Samuel [sibling] had enlisted in the cavalry company at Battle Creek and was expecting to go to Missouri to join Gen Fremonts command. I will give you a list of the names of those that enlisted (in the same company) and with whom you are acquainted.

Emery Jackson, Mr Holman, De Witt Keyes, Daniel Toles, Elanzo Gilbert, Jacob Mott, and Sam’l Baird. They stated too that Mary [sibling] had broken one of her arms. There appears to be several out and out rebels down in Barry [County] and they don’t carry any colors to disguise it either. Secession seems to be quite a prominent theme with them, and certain young ladies, say they hope every northern boy that goes south to fight will get shot. Patriotic young ladies, They have a small thimble full of humanity and a considerable loss of common sense.

I have never written to Noah yet but I think I shall if I have time, but I suppose you often write to him. So if I do not get time to write, you will please give him my best respects, and tell him I would be happy to hear from him, and also give him my address. I saw Aaron’s wife last winter, I think he married her out of pure love, for she is not much handsomer than myself, which you of course know does not excel, but she is spoken of by every one as an excelent girl. But I am realy sorry the widow Polly is married, for I shall miss a good chance then won’t I? But never mind she’ll get tired of him after awhile. You will please remember me to Jackson Russell, tell him I said my best respects to himself and wide from the battle ground of Virginia.

You spoke of its being such a beautiful Fall morning, when you wrote, but everything retains the hue of summer here yet. Scarcely a leaf is turned to show the change of season. The weather is beautiful and warm. We have been expecting a battle here for a long while, but everything seems to move slowly. Yet it may come when we think not, like an avalanche, terable in form and power.

Enlcosed I send you a photograph of General McClelan commanding the Army of the Potamac. He is a shrewd, far seeing man and [two words obscured by tear] with all, and under him we may hope to subdue secession and restore peace and tranquility to the Union. Words cannot express my grattitude to you for the kind wishes you express in my behalf. While there are some who would desire that evil might befall those who have gone to fight for their country there are others whose hearts are not quite so calloused in whose sympathies we may find a place, and whose kindest wishes and sincerest prayers we know are ascending to Heaven in our behalf. You will please excuse me for writing you in pencil, but I am so far from camp and have no ink with me and I am on duty so constant that I have to write whenever an opportunity offers.

But my letter is getting extravagantly long and I must close and I presume you will wish I had sooner before you have read it through.

With my kindest regards to you parents and my best wishes for yourself.

I remain yours
Write soon, write often, truly and sincerely
To your Friend                 Farewell, Matthew


Our Flag


Where is the banner that doth wave

Beneath the sky, on land or sea

So beautiful, so bright, so [tear in paper]

As thee, our noble Flag, as thee

Well may the laws of Freedom feel

Proud when they see that standard above?

And proudly draw their sacred steel

T’ defend the banner of the brave

Matthew

~~~~~

Who’s Matthew Baird?

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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?