The Civil War History and Letters of then Private Robert Doyne Dawson, Company D to his Sister, Rebecca Dawson.
History and Letters written and transcribed by Ms. Clara Warner, granddaughter of Sergeant Dawson (Webauthor's Note: Pvt. Dawson was promoted to Sgt. on Dec. 20, 1864); Webpage and Commentary by the Webauthor, David L. Welch
Thanks to Clara Warner, for transcribing and contributing this information on her grandfather Sergeant Robert Doyne Dawson for the 100th Pennsylvania Website!
Please read Sgt. Dawson's biographical profile also contributed by Ms. Warner!
Photo on Right: Image of Robert Dawson in his uniform with frock coat and rifle/fixed bayonet.
Photo on Left: Image of Robert Dawson as a civilian taken after the war.
ROBERT DOYNE DAWSON - THE CIVIL WAR YEARS
By: Clara Warner
Robert Doyne Dawson (referred to as RDD for the sake of brevity in the rest of this history) enrolled as Private in Co. D., 100th Regiment Infantry at Darlington, Pa. on August 30, 1861. He had just turned 20 years old on January 20th of that year.
The One Hundredth Regiment, or as it was more commonly known, the Round Head Regiment, was recruited in the south-western counties of the state of Pennsylvania. On September 2, 1861 the regiment, which numbered twelve companies, was ordered to Washington. The Round Heads were under the command of Colonel Daniel Leasure who had also been active in recruiting them. They were joined at their encampment on Kalorama Heights by Company M of the One Hundred and Fifth Regiment under Captain Leckey and on October 7th, were joined with the Eighth Michigan under Colonel Fenton and the Fiftieth Pennsylvania under Colonel Christ. As the ranking officer, Colonel Leasure was placed in command of the brigade, and was ordered to proceed with it to Annapolis, there to join the command of General T. W. Sherman (not the famous W.T. Sherman of the March to the Sea) destined for the coast of South Carolina.
Soon after its arrival, Colonel Leasure requested from the Secretary of War, in behalf of the Round Heads that the Highlanders, Seventy-Ninth New York, might join their brigade. This request was granted and General Isaac Stevens was assigned to its command. After organizing and training these men they were loaded on vessels ranging from ocean liners down to harbor ferry boats. Altogether there were fifty ships. The Round Head Regiment and five companies of the Fiftieth Pennsylvania embarked together on the Ocean Queen. They set sail on October 19th and rendezvoused at Fortress Monroe. (See RDD’s letter of Oct. 26, 1861)
Sealed orders were distributed among the ships masters and on October 29th the entire fleet put to sea. On the second day out the fleet was overtaken by a violent storm, which raged with unabated fury for thirty-six hours. (RDD describes the storm and the damage in his letters to his sister on Nov. 17th and Nov. 21st) The signal was given that each ship should look after itself and on the morning of the 3rd of November, with all other vessels of the fleet scattered and out of sight in the storm, Colonel Leasure opened his orders and read "sail for Port Royal Entrance" On November 4th the gale subsided and the fleet got together at the entrance to Port Royal Sound. Despite the loss of lives and ships in the storm, they attacked Forts Walker and Beauregard on the opposite points of Hilton Head and Ladys Island. (see map on following page) After the rebels abandoned the forts, Sherman’s troops landed to take full possession. They found everything in good order including tents full of soldiers gear and personal effects. (letter of Nov. 17.)
Strong fortifications were at once begun and heavy use was made of RDD's brigade. They soon experienced much sickness from fatigue and the process of acclimation to the delightful but malarious climate of a southern coast. (see Letter of Nov. 21)
One month later General Sherman detailed General Steven's brigade to take possession of Beaufort, South Carolina. Beaufort was occupied by Steven's brigade on December 11, 1861. He had with him the 50th Penn., 97th New York, and the l00th Pennsylvania and the 8th Mich.
In the book "Hilton Head Island in the Civil War" the 100th Pennsylvania is described as Scotch-Irish background from the western, mountainous part of the state and as being mostly tall, rough, and good scufflers. Upon arrival at Beaufort, the brigade was surprised to find the whole town completely deserted by the white citizens. The freed slaves, left with no restraints upon them by their former masters, had looted the town almost from top to bottom. (In RDDs letter of Dec. 12th he describes the town and finding books to send home) He also mentions in this letter "the nicest road that I ever saw" made of oyster shells. The road he described was actually a very important road and the only one between Beaufort and Charleston, S.C. It was constructed of crushed shell and called the Shell Road in books about the Civil War. General Steven's pickets were stationed for 10 miles along this road and except for this road the surrounding area was either cypress swamp, pine barren or carefully cultivated and diked plantation fields. The chief military duty of the troops for the next five or six months consisted in picketing Barnwells and Port Royal Islands, on the Coosaw, across which on the main land, upon the "Shell Road" leading to Charleston, a Rebel force was stationed, covering the approaches to the railroad connecting Charleston and Savannah.
In (RDDs letter of January 13th, 1862 he describes the following battle of New Years Day as "opening the ball".) General Stevens had been hiding a fleet of flatboats collected from the negroes on various plantations, and on the last night of the year 1861, under the light of a half moon, with the mist on the river, he loaded his troops aboard the flatboats with two Navy howitzers and started them around Port Royal Island to the ferry station and Seabrook Landing. The fleet moved upriver with the U.S. Navy gunboat Ottawa ahead to cover the advance and three other black painted vessels, like her, further astern. At dawn from the pine woods came the first Confederate volley. The Ottawa began to fire back and downstream the other gunboats let go with eleven inch shells. The Pennsylvanians went in at the double, their bayonets high, but Lee was not wasting men today. His field officers had orders to withdraw before intensive attack.
The confederates fell back slowly into the woods, flanked and covered by a detachment of forty-two cavalrymen who put a raking fire into the Pennsylvania ranks. The rebels abandoned the earthworks, hauled out the guns as best they could by mules under fire and slowly retreated through the woods to Seabrook Landing and a possible defense there. The Federal troops came after them when they had leveled the earthworks and taken care of their dead and wounded.
They seized the battery position at the landing with the rebels in calculated retreat, and as a final gesture on the part of the Navy, the gunboats tossed some of their big caliber shells in the few houses that made up Gardens Corner. An officer and three soldiers were killed and 17 wounded. That had been the price to clear the Coosaw River and displace two light artillery batteries at Port Royal Ferry and Seabrook Landing. During the occupancy of Beaufort and while at Hilton Head, many sickened, and some died, among them Lieutenant James L. Banks, of Company F and Boyd Elder of Company D. (RDD describes the death of Boyd Elder in his letter of February 9th, 1862)
The next eighteen letters written by RDD dated Dec. 12, 1861 through May 21, 1862 describe his stay at Beaufort, South Carolina until he left there on June l, 1862. (Webauthor's Note: See February 1, 1862 Letter).
After much planning on his part, General Stevens felt an assault across the Coosaw aimed at the severance of the Charleston-Savannah railroad would be the next step. But he was out voted by General Hunter who had relieved General Sherman. Benham, with the approval of Hunter, wanted to make a frontal assault upon James Island, take that and then go forward and penetrate the inner Charleston defenses and seize the city. Stevens had absolutely no trust in the ability of either Benham or Hunter and wrote to his wife. “ l am not in very good spirits tonight, for the reason that I have two commanders, Hunter and Benham, who are imbeciles, vacillating and utterly unfit for command - Benham is an ass - a dreadful man, of no earthly use except as a nuisance and obstruction." Stevens would prove to be right in believing that they would lose too many men and still not be able to take this particular position.
On the first of June, General Stevens, with the Round Heads, Highlanders, and the Eighth Michigan moved by transports down the river. They were joined at Hilton Head by the twenty-eighth Massachusetts and the Forty-sixth New York, and on June 2, proceeded through Stono Inlet to James Island, landing near Legareville. Five companies, A, F, D, I, and H, of the Round Heads were on the advance vessel with General Stevens, the six remaining companies, under Colonel Leasure, following immediately after. The transports had been seen by the enemy hours ago when they left Port Royal Sound. Benham persisted in his incredible plan of attack. He sent forward over the sandy ridges of an abandoned cotton field the Eighth Massachusetts, and after them the Seventh Connecticut and the Twenty-eighth Massachusetts. They advanced into plain sight of the Confederates and were met again and again by grape and musketry. The Federal troops were driven up, back, and out. What was left of these troops were promptly joined by Colonel Leasure's brigade led by the Round Heads, and with them were the Third Rhode Island, the Highlanders. They took a terrible lashing as they tried to cross the field. It was impossible. Men dropped down among the dead and wounded and began to hunch backward, using as cover the slight ridges of where the cotton had been planted. But they brought a great number of their wounded with them, and the Highlanders hauled away some of their dead, and a pair of prisoners. The Confederates had won a great victory.
For Benham's blundering, 685 men had been killed or wounded in the attack.
(RDD tells of this battle in his letter to his sister of June 17, 1862)
An evacuation of James Island was ordered and on the 4th of July the brigade returned to Hilton Head. (See RDD"s letter of July 8) The brigade then went on to Beaufort and received orders to go to Virginia. The brigade was taken down river to Hilton Head and embarked there aboard the Vanderbilt. They cleared Port Royal Sound on July 13th, and on July 16, 1862, Stevens led his men ashore at Newport News, Virginia. (RDD's letter of Aug, 3)
On the 4th of August the regiment was moved by transport to Acquia Creek and then by rail to Fredericksburg where the troops under General Stevens from South Carolina, (RDD's troops,) and those from North Carolina, under General Burnside, were united and were put under the command of General Reno, to be known as the Ninth Corps. With Pope's army being threatened by concentrated rebel army, Stevens on the 13th moved forward to Raccoon Ford to dispute the passage of the rebels. After holding position for three days, General Reno, who had now come up with the balance of his corps, discovered that the rebels had greatly superior numbers of men and decided to withdraw. At midnight of the 19th, they retired to the line of the Rappahannock, crossing at Ely's Ford. While they were making a series of marches disputing the passage of the fords of the Rappahannock, Stonewall Jackson made his famous move to Manassas Junction.
On the evening of the 28th they were camped on the battle ground of the first Bull Run fight. The Following morning Steven’s division was divided with the One Hundredth under Colonel Leasure. General Stevens remained with Colonel Leasure remarking that the "One Hundredth would be the fighting brigade that day". Colonel Leasure’s two regiments were deployed in line of battle to support the other divisions which were nearly outflanked. Companies A, F, D, I, and M of the One Hundredth were sent forward as skirmishers. After much fighting the ammunition was all spent and Stevens was ordered to retire. Under the face of terrible fire, the skirmishers were withdrawn with great difficulty and the One Hundredth suffered fearful loss.
It was now nearly night and they were reaching their former position when Stevens was ordered to support a troop enveloped in the woods. Stevens had but a small brigade of five hundred very weary men. with the rest of his division having been ordered from him early in the day. When asked by his superior if they would fight, Stevens replied "Yes, these are my Round Heads". After securing one position they turned left to charge, and as the enemy scrambled up the opposite bank of a cut, it poured heavy fire on the troops. Since it was useless to attempt to hold the position against the overwhelming force bearing down on them they were ordered to fall back. Of the four hundred and fifty who had joined in this last charge, but one hundred and ninety eight came back unhurt. Taking up a new line, they rested during the night and on the morning of the 30th the battle was renewed but the Union army was forced to retire and fell back to Centreville. (See Map of Battle of Bull Run on following page and (RDD’s letter dated Sept. 6th.)
The Following day was the Sabbath and the fight was not renewed. On Monday, the One Hundredth formed and advanced in column through a meadow and a wood with the 4th New York following and the 79th New York in advance. Emerging from the wood into a field but partially cleared, the column encountered a rapid fire of musketry from the enemy. General Stevens hastily formed lines of battle in person and drove the enemy back beyond the partially cleared ground and into the edge of a field of corn. Fifteen minutes after the battle had begun, Stevens was instantly killed by a musket ball in the head. In the meantime, the enemy was driven back still farther through the corn and General Kearny riding up to the One Hundredth, now without ammunition, asked support for a battery. The men responded with a cheer. The battery was placed in position and brought to bear over the heads of the rebels. A few minutes later, General Kearny rode into the enemy's lines and received a fatal bullet while trying to return to his troops after discovering his mistake. The troops remained in possession of the field and the battle was soon over with the Union victorious.
The One Hundredth next participated in the battle of South Mountain on September 14. This was a battle easily won by the Union due to the amount and condition of extreme military destitution of Lee's rebel troops. McClellan did not follow up the next day and this gave Lee a chance to regroup. In (RDDs letter of Oct. 23rd he tells his reason why he thinks McClellan did not follow up.) But it later proved to be a blunder on McClellan's part. This gave Lee time to order what was left of his army to a town called Sharpsburg, down behind the high ground that overlooked Antietam Creek. While Lee placed his guns on the hill, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac waited through a fog and lost the three-to-one advantage they could have had. The battle of Antietam the following day would prove to be the worst battle of them all. It killed and wounded more Americans in one day than any other fight in the war. McClellan failed to follow Lee the next day when he retreated across the Potomac. This also could have been the time that RDD talked about when he questioned why McClellan did not follow up,
On the 11th of October, 1862, the brigade was sent to Frederick City to intercept the rebel raid of Chambersburg but was unsuccessful.
On November 19, the corps arrived opposite Fredericksburg and went into camp. On the 12th of December, the regiment crossed the river and with the corps occupied the city of Fredericksburg. Colonel Leasure was ordered to send his most reliable skirmish regiment out on the 14th and the One Hundredth was selected. It was pushed forward toward the enemy and deployed to cover the retreat. But so quietly and skillfully was the withdrawal accomplished, that the suspicions of the enemy were not aroused and the troops all crossed in safety without molestation. (See RDDs letter of Dec. 16 and map of battle of Fredericksburg)
Early in the year of 1863 the troops were ordered to Kentucky and the One Hundredth arrived in Lexington on the 28th of March. After remaining one week in camp, they moved to Camp Dick Robinson (RDD’s letter of April 23) and were later moved to Middleburg (letter of May 12, 1863) and to Columbia. Early in June, the corps was ordered to the support of Grant at Vicksburg and embarked at Louisville upon transports to Young's Point on the Mississippi. (see RDD’s letter dated June 11, 15, and 18) Shortly after they returned to Snyder's Bluff, and debarking, marched to Milldale Church in the rear of the besieging army and took position facing toward the Big Black. On the 29th the command moved some ten miles further out and took position at Flower Hill Church to guard the fords of the Big Black where it remained until the memorable 4th of July when Vicksburg was surrendered. General Sherman moved to attack Johnston, who had fallen back to Jackson, and bridged the Big Black on the afternoon of the 4th.
On the10th, the advance entered the enemy's picket lines near the Insane Asylum, just out of the city. Line of battle was formed, and advanced to within three hundred yards of the enemy’s works. This position was held until the night of the 13th when the brigade was relieved. The loss in the command during this time was considerable, the men being obliged to remain prostrate upon the ground, many a fellow being struck dead where he lay. In (RDD’s letter of July 25th he tells of lying in the woods with bullets whistling over their heads.) On the morning of the17th, the rebels evacuated the city of Jackson and it was quickly occupied by the Union troops. On the morning of the 18th, the brigade marched to Madison Station where it was engaged in destroying the railroad. (RDD tells in his letter of July 25 of being "out tearing up the Jackson & Memphis rail road Saturday & Sunday last".) On its return, the corps was moved back to its old camp at Milldale.
The campaign, though short, had been sharp. The heat of the weather added to the fatigue and anxiety experienced and, worse than all, the abominable water of the Yazoo and the Big Black telling fearfully upon the health and spirits of the men. The above is according to the book "History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” but according to (RDD’s letter of July 25th it was because "the old buggar General Parke" marched them too much in the heat of the day and killed more men than the battle did.)
From Vicksburg the corps, now under command of General Parke, was ordered to East Tennessee and moving by boat to Cairo. The regiment proceeded by rail to Cincinnati and then to Camp Nelson in Kentucky. While here many of the men were attacked with a fever of malarious congestive type of which many died. When the division started on the 25th of September for East Tennessee, one fourth of the men in the regiment were left in hospital and many of those who moved with the column were greatly enfeebled by disease. (RDD’s letter of August 20th from Camp Park, Kentucky describes the fatigue and the sickness of the men.)
At Blue Spring (between Knoxville and Greenville, Tenn.) the enemy was met and a brisk engagement ensued and their forces were scattered. (RDD gives a good accounting of this battle in his letter of Oct, 17th.)
From Knoxville, the division marched to Lenoir Station on the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad, where the regiment went into camp and erected comfortable quarters. They were hardly settled before Leasure’s brigade was ordered by General Burnside to proceed to Knoxville without delay. The enemy had attacked some troops of the Twenty-third Corps and further trouble was anticipated. It was evening when the order was received, and at day break on the following morning they had arrived and reported for duty to the commanding general. Its services, however, were not needed. The troops were held for four days in waiting exposed to intense cold, without shelter tents. In (RDD’s letter of Oct. 25th he does not mention the weather, but he is concerned about the lack of food.)
At the end of this time they returned to camp at Lenoir. But, on the morning of November 14th, they were ordered to return with all possible dispatch to Knoxville, Longstreet having crossed the Tennessee at Kingston and now threatening to cut off the troops south of the city. Seven companies of the One Hundredth were detailed as escort to the division train and the remaining three, A, F, and D, under Captain Hamilton. were detailed to remain and destroy government property at Lenoir. The Union troops reached Campbell's Station first, and a stand was made which enabled the trains to reach Knoxville in safety. Entrenchments were hastily thrown up for the defense of the city and, on the morning of the 17th, the troops had all arrived and were in position. Longstreet laid siege and closely invested the place. On the morning of the 29th after frequent charges by the rebels without advantage they made a grand assault on Fort Saunders, the principal work, defended by the First Division. The siege was continued until the 4th of December, when learning that General Sherman was coming up on his rear with a strong detachment from Grant's army at Chattanooga, Longstreet retreated towards Virginia and the garrison, which was suffering for want of provision, was relieved.
On the 9th of December, the command marched to near Rutledge. and on the 18th to Blaine's Cross Roads. ( See RDD’s letter of Dec. 23. 1863)
On the first of January, 1864 while subsisting on less than two ears of corn a day per man, the entire regiment, with the exception of twenty- seven, re-enlisted to the number of three hundred and sixty-six for a second term of three years. RDD reinlisted at Blaine’s Cross Road on December 28th, 1863 according to records on file and along with the rest of the men started the trek home that would take them a month They had immediately started for home on a veteran furlough. The midwinter march over the Cumberland Mountains was very severe, many of the men being barefoot and without adequate clothing, no supply trains having reached Knoxville during the continuance of the siege. At Cincinnati the regiment was paid, and on the 8th of February reached Pittsburg, where the men were dismissed to return to their homes. This accounts for the lack of letters home again until his letter of June, 1864. His trip to Beaver Falls would prove to be the last time he would see his mother or his sister, Rebecca, alive. He had not seen his family for two years and five months.
On the 8th of March. 1864, the veterans rendezvoused at Camp Copeland near Pittsburg and with them a sufficient number of recruits, who had been gathered in during the brief furlough to raise its combined strength to nine hundred and seventy-seven men. A few days later, the regiment proceeded to Annapolis, Maryland, the rendezvous of the Ninth Corps. There it was brigaded with the Twenty-first Massachusetts, and the Third Maryland, forming the Second Brigade of the First Division. Colonel Leasure was placed in command. After leaving Annapolis, the brigade reached Bealton Station on the 2nd of May and having moved with Grant's army to the Wilderness, on the night of the 5th, was placed on picket. The Ninth Corps was an independent command and was regarded as a reserve to the army, but the enemy was attacking in great force and the Ninth was ordered in. Colonel Leasure was directed to lead his brigade over the works, into the dense woods in front, find the enemy's position, and attack him in the flank. After pushing a half mile through the dense underbrush with dead and wounded of both sides strewing the ground, it was discovered that the enemy had retired to his earth works, where they were waiting an attack. The exhausted troops returned to where the rest of their brigade was lying. At four o’clock in the afternoon the enemy suddenly opened a furious attack. Colonel Leasure ordered the One Hundredth and the Twenty-first Massachusetts to charge, and following up with the Third Maryland, routed the enemy and recaptured the lost works securing many prisoners and several stands of colors. The brigade remained in possession of the captured works until the following afternoon, when it was relieved and rejoined the division.
On May 9th the corps crossed the Ny River and took position in front of Spottsylvania Court House where General Stevenson, in command of the division, was killed. Colonel Leasure was directed to assume command and push the enemy back towards the Court House, which was accomplished with only small loss. On the 12th, the fighting was renewed and continued during the entire day and far into the night, falling heavily upon the Ninth Corps, the One Hundredth Regiment sustaining considerable loss. In the severe engagements at the North Anna on the 28th of May and at Cold Harbor, Va. on June 1st through the 12th they participated and lost many men. (Webauthor's Note: See RDD letter of June 18, 1864 and letter of June 23, 1864)
After crossing the James, the regiment was engaged in the series of battles in front of Petersburg, prelude to the siege, in which Captain Morrow was killed and Lieutenant Colonel Matthew M. Dawson was mortally wounded. (RDD describes the battles of Petersburg in his next four letters home)
The Ninth Corps was next involved in the battle called the Mine Explosion. A regiment of Pennsylvania coal miners in Burnside's corps dug a long tunnel and planted four tons of black powder beneath a Confederate fort. The explosion at dawn on July 30th blew a huge gap in the otherwise impregnable trench system and for about an hour left the way wide open for the Army of the Potomac to march straight through and bring Lee’s army to destruction.
But Burnside entrusted the assault to a commander who was a drunken coward and the soldiers were left to lead themselves. The Confederates repaired their lines before Burnside had time to apply heavy pressure and the Federal attack failed, with heavy loss. ( RDD describes witnessing the explosion in his letter of August 8, 1864)
On the 19th of August, the enemy attacked the Union forces while occupying a position upon the Weldon Railroad, and pushing their way through between the lines of tile Fifth and Ninth Corps, achieved some success. RDD was wounded in the battle of Weldon Railroad that day, along with about 100 other Union men, he was taken to City Point and from there on to Mount Pleasant Hospital in Washington D.C. The rest of his letters that were saved were written from there with the last one being October 8th.
RDD’s mother Elizabeth Reed Dawson died October 22 and his sister, Rebecca, died on October 29 most likely while he was still recuperating from his wounds. It is possible that he wrote more letters home during the remainder of the war but they were not kept by anyone. The letters Rebecca had kept so faithfully before she died were probably later kept by his brother Dan, as he had also kept the letters written to him after the war years,
RDD was promoted to sergeant on December 20, 1864 and returned to the battlefield sometime between his last letter on October 8 and December 20th.
During the winter of 1864, the regiment remained in quarters with the corps. At the moment when the Union forces were about to move on the spring campaign, the rebel leader massed his troops, and before light on the morning of the 25th of March, made a sudden attack upon Fort Steadman with the design of breaking the lines and destroying vast military stores at City Point. Even though the attack failed for the rebels at Fort Steadman, at some point on that day RDD was taken prisoner. He was confined in Libby Prison. The ninth corps went on to make the final assault upon the city of Petersburg on April 2nd, closing a long list of engagements in which the One Hundredth Regiment participated during its four years of service. They had fought in most of the important battles and had lost many men but were then returned to City Point where they were all mustered out of service and free at last to return to their homes.
History of Pennsylvania Volunteers" by Samuel Bates, "Hilton Head Island in The Civil War" by Robert Carse, "Tales of Beaufort" by Nell S. Graydon, "Antietam" by William Frassanito, "Civil War Battlesites" by J.W. Carnahan, and all of Bruce Catton's books on the Civil War.
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