The David Whitney Story

Part II – Chapter 5

David's Military Service

Section 2

In Defense of Washington

Camp Vermont

At Camp Vermont in Northern Virginia, David Whitney and his 15th Regiment comrades performed mostly drilling and picket duties, protecting the national capitol region from possible attack from the south. At the end of November, the 15th Vermont, along with the 13th and 14th Vermont Regiments, were ordered to Bull Run, which at the time was the very front line in the defense of Washington.

These three Vermont regiments were sent to reinforce the troops guarding the strategically important Orange and Alexandria Railroad. On the march there, they ran into early winter weather, with drizzling rain turning to snow. They bivouacked the first night at Fairfax Court House and the next at Fairfax Station. The following day, the 15th Regiment went on to Union Mills near Bull Run where they stayed untl December 4th, marching then the thirty miles back to Camp Vermont.

Back in Camp Vermont too late for Thanksgiving, the 15th Regiment was granted the day off on December 8 as their day of celebration. Many spent their free time reading and playing games, but the highlight of the day was the distribution of a pint of oysters to each man. The regiment's commanding officer, Colonel Redfield Proctor, had purchased the oysters using the money, over $100, that his quartermaster had raised by selling off provisions and other supplies. Many men cooked their own oysters, but some pooled theirs and had plenty of stew to go around. It was a very satisfying holiday meal in comparison to their usual daily fare.

Fairfax Court House

On December 12, the Vermont regiments left Camp Vermont for good and moved to Fairfax Court House; the 15th set up camp about a mile south in a chestnut grove. Here the soldiers from Vermont—familiar with the resources of forests—split large, straight-grained chestnut trees into planks and boards to construct stockades and officers' quarters for their encampment, replacing the tents they had lived in at Camp Vermont.

A Raid by Confederates

About two weeks later, on December 28, the 15th Vermont was dispatched to the nearby town of Centreville because of artillery fire heard in the vicinity at Wolf Run Shoals. A subsequent Confederate cavalry raid behind Union lines at Fairfax Court House led to a first response of ordering the 15th Regiment back to the court house. But changes in the raiders' actions required the 15th to remain on guard all night at all approaches to Centreville.

The next morning, the Confederate cavalry left the Union-held area, and the 15th returned a few days later to its camp in the chestnut grove. Before long, however, the regiment moved to Fairfax Station, where it remained till spring, being occupied primarily with military drill and training and with the construction of rifle pits in defense to the southeast.

Supply Train Skirmish

Elements of the 15th saw action that spring, but contact with Confederate units was limited. On May 7th, the regiment went to Bealeton Station in Fauquier County further west, where they were joined the next day by a calvary unit. These two units shared picket duty for several days before David's regiment returned to duty at Bull Run in Fairfax County, where they set up camp at Union Mills.

On May 30th, a small detachment of 25 men from the 15th Regiment's Company E were on a supply train attacked by another group of Confederate raiders accompanied by artillery fire, but they apparently survived. Around June 10th. the 15th Regiment was ordered further down the Orange and Alexandria railroad but, after a few days there, returned to Union Mills, using improvised transportation from what was left at two stations that had been burned previously by Confederate forces.

Image from Library of Congress Collection

Orange and Alexandria Rail line, Burned-out Buildings in Background