Anticipating the call of the Governor, recruiting had begun so promptly that by the 16th many companies were ready to report with more than the minimum required, and Rifle Company A of Hartford, with George S. Burnham, Captain, Joseph R. Hawley, 1st Lieutenant, Albert W. Drake, 2d Lieutenant, had completed its organization with full ranks. This company and Rifle Company A, Captain John C. Comstock, left Hartford for the rendezvous at New Haven, April 20th. The regiment was at once organized with Dan. Tyler of Norwich, as Colonel, George S. Burnham, Lieut.-Colonel, and John L. Chatfield, Major.
The First arrived at Washington via Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac May 13th and proceeded at once to camp at “Glenwood,” about two miles north of the Capitol. May 31st Lieut.-Colonel Chatfield was promoted to the Colonelcy of the Third Regiment, vice Arnold resigned. Major Spiedel was made Lieut.-Colonel and Captain Theodore Byxbee of Meriden, was made Major.
These were days of intense excitement in Washington, and false alarms were frequent, but cool heads were in control of the Connecticut Brigade. On the day of Colonel Ellsworth’s funeral, all Washington was subjected to a false alarm, the long roll was sounded, and the First was hastily ordered out and marched to Long Bridge, when the alarm having subsided it was ordered back to camp.
At midnight, June 1st, the regiment broke camp at Glenwood and crossing Long Bridge, marched to Roach’s Mills on the Alexandria & Leesburg railroad, where it established camp, relieving the 12th New York. About June 16th a detachment of the First, under Colonel Burnham, was ordered up the railroad as escort to General Tyler in a reconnaissance. The train was made up of miserable rolling stock, and the couplings parted so frequently that the detachment was compelled to return after passing a short distance beyond Vienna. As the train was passing Vienna on its return, it was fired into from an ambuscade, and George H. Bugbee, of Infantry Company A, was severely wounded. If we except Major Theodore Winthrop, who fell at Big Bethel seven days earlier, this was the first blood of a Connecticut soldier in the Civil war.
The next day the First was ordered on the same duty, but was relieved by the 1st and 2d Ohio regiments, the 1st Connecticut going to the grounds in the vicinity of Long Bridge, where with a large number of other regiments it was reviewed by the Hon. Simon Cameron, Secretary of War. As the review closed the First was ordered hurriedly to the relief of the Ohio regiments which had been fired into at Vienna. On the next day the First went into camp at Falls Church, then considerably in advance of the main lines – a position peculiarly exposed to attack, as the rebels could easily reach its rear by way of either Balls’ or Bailey’s Cross Roads.
The First Regiment was joined by the Second on the next day, and soon after by the Third Connecticut and the Second Maine regiments, all of which were organized as a brigade, under command of Colonel Erasmus D. Keyes. On July 16th the entire army under immediate command of General McDowell began its advance toward Manassas, and Keyes Brigade, designated as the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, had the advance – the First Regiment covering the left of the head of column as skirmishers and the Second covering the right. They bivouacked the first night at Vienna, and the second at Germantown, arriving at Centerville on the 18th.
At midnight of Saturday, July 20th, the brigade was advanced via Warrentown road toward Bull Run, and was detached to guard the Warrentown road during the detour of the flanking column via Sudley Ford. It remained in this position until about 10 A.M., when it was beyond Youngs Branch, farther west.
Colonel Keyes in his official report said:
“The order to advance was given at about ten o’clock A.M., and from that hour to four P.M. my brigade was in constant activity on the field of battle. The First Regiment Connecticut Volunteers was met by a body of cavalry and infantry, which it repelled, and at several other encounters at different parts of the line the enemy constantly retired before us.
“Before recrossing Bull Run, and until my brigade mingled with the retreating mass, it maintained perfect freedom from panic, and at the moment I received the order for retreat, and for some time afterward, it was in as good order as in the morning on the road. Half an hour earlier I supposed the victory to be ours.”
Before night-fall the entire brigade reached its former campground at Centerville in good order, and under orders, bivouacked as was supposed for the night; the men suffering much from fatigue, at once going to sleep on their arms. About 10 o’clock P.M. peremptory orders came to continue the retreat to Falls Church. The road was now comparatively clear, as the disorganized part of the army was already far advanced on its way to Washington. About 9 A.M. the next day the regiment arrived at Falls Church, and, in a drenching rain, struck its tents and dispatched its entire camp and garrison equipage, together with that of the Second Maine, which had left the brigade, to Alexandria. The three Connecticut regiments marched that night to the camp of the First and Second Ohio regiments, which they found deserted. Occupying this standing camp during the night, it spent all day Tuesday, July 23d, in packing and sending to Alexandria the camp and garrison equipage of the First and Second Ohio and the Second New York regiments, leaving not a vestige of anything useful to fall into the hands of the enemy.
The First remained in Washington until July 27th, when (their term of service having expired on the 22d) it started for New Haven, where, after tedious delays, it arrived and was mustered out on July 31st. The regiment was splendidly armed and equipped; eight companies with Springfield rifled muskets, and the two flank companies with Sharps rifles. The clothing was much of it very inferior, though all possible effort was made to remedy the defect.
A few of the companies were old militia organizations which preferred to retain their old regimental letters, thereby occasioning some confusion, but the exigencies of that short term of service did not warrant dallying with trifles. Too much credit can never be accorded the members of the three months’ regiments, who from pure patriotism, without promise or hope of bounty or reward, eagerly enlisted to repel the enemies of their country; and who had with still greater alacrity would have enlisted for the war had the call of President Lincoln permitted it.
This early service was an excellent school for the citizen soldiers of the State, and by far the larger part of those who participated were soon again in the service for three years or the war, fully one hundred and eighty from the 1st Regiment holding commissions. Connecticut can always look back with pride on her three months’ volunteers of 1861.