2nd Regiment, Company F of the Rhode Island Volunteers

Last week I began identifying photographs from a large plastic bin in our backlog.  The bin held a variety of images from various donations over the years.  Loads of great stuff - some of it well identified and unfortunately, some with very little contextual information.   I came across a folder of photographs that piqued my interest.  Sometimes when you work in an archive you find a little trove and then you're down the rabbit hole, so to speak.  I just couldn't get the men in these images out of my head and so I decided to do some research. 





    From left to right: 

    Robertson, Robert
    Osgood, Francis A.
    Salisbury, Smith
    Douglass, David L. 








This folder contained just six images and a tiny note from the original owner.  The note indicates "Groups of members of Co. F 2nd RI Vols taken at Bush Camp, Centerville Va July 17th & 18th 1861 - R. L. Johnstone".  The six images were black and white photographs printed as carte des visites by the Matthew Brady Studio in Washington, D.C.  Each image is an informal portrait of three or more soldiers and luckily is labeled with the individuals last names.  (Note - it looks like Johnstone labeled on the back of the images and then mounted them in a scrapbook, but at some later point they were removed and an unknown person then wrote the names on the front of the card.  A bit of a shame that they were marked but still quite helpful for researchers!)




   Johnstone, Robert L 
   Barnes, (either Joseph C. OR Lewis N.)
   Worger, William
   Taylor, Peter
   Newman, Samuel
   Smith, Albert L. 









Matthew Brady is one of the most well-known American photographers and is particularly known for his battefield scenes that were widely distributed and republished during the Civil War.  He is regarded as one of the first photojournalists.  Under the Matthew Brady Studio, he hired dozens of field photographers who went out into the field with mobile studios.  It's unclear which individual photographer took these particular shots, but Johnstone's note about the date and location of the shoot is highly important to give us clues about the men pictured.  






    Wood, George
    Kidder, George
    Jenks, Theodore W. 








A bit of background about Company F, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers will help.   The 2nd R.I. Volunteers were mustered on June 5-6, 1861 in Providence and were signed on for a three year term only two months after the start of the Civil War.  Company F was made up of volunteers from Pawtucket, Valley Falls, and Central Falls.  These photos were taken just six weeks after the men had joined up and just two days before they were gearing up for their first encounter with the Confederates in the first Battle of Manassas, also known as the Battle for Bull Run.







    Ronan, Francis T.
    Newell brothers, James & John
    (unable to identify which is which) 







A brilliant narrative of the 2nd RI Volunteers experience at Manassas was written by Elisha Rhodes of Co. D in "The First Campaign of the Second Rhode Island Infantry" and published by the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society in 1878.  He writes, 

On the twentieth, we left Fairfax Court House and encamped a few miles beyond, near Centreville.  Here we built shelters with pine and cedar boughs, and this camp is known to this day as "Bush Camp" by the men of the Second Rhode Island Volunteers.  Here we hear our first hotile shot, and although at a distance, yet it served to impress us with what was likely to follow...On reaching a clearing, separated from our left flank by a rail fence, we were saluted with a volley of musketry, which, however, was fired so high that all the bullets went over our heads.  I remember that my first sensation was one of astonishment at the peculiar whir of the bullets,

...the Second Regiment was engaged about thirty minutes without support, when the balance of the brigade was brought on to the field and the battle became general.  The Eighth Georgia regiment was in our immediate front, and received the benefit of our fire.  We had a tradition in our regiment until the close of the war, that the Second Rhode Island nearly annihilated this Georgia regiment...Shot and shell were continually striking in or near our line and the troops became much scattered.  Losing my own company I joined Company F, under command of Lieutenant William B. Sears, and remained with them until the battle ceased and we withdrew to replenish our ammunition.  

...The woods and roads were soon filled with fleeing men and our brigade was ordered to the front to cover the retreat, which it was now evident could not be stopped...The field was soon clear of troops, excepting our brigade, all of which except the Second Rhode Island, were posted farther back from the brow of the hill. The rebels came on in splended order, pushing two light field guns to the front with them.  We received their fire and held in check until the brigade had taken up their march, when we followed - the last to leave the field. The rebels followed us for a short distance, shelling our rear, and then we pursued our march unmolested until we reached the vicinity of the bridge that crosses Cub Run.  Here a rebel battery opened upon us from a corner of the woods and the stampeded commenced.  Many men were killed and wounded at this point and a panic seemed to seize upon every one.  

Photo 1: 
Potter, Thomas R.
Manning, John
Frazier, William H.
Douglass, David L. (his second appearance!)

Photo 2: 
Godfrey, Charles A.
Hughes, Benjamin C. 
Davidson, Jonathan


Augustus Woodbury's The Second Rhode Island Regiment: a Narrative of Military Operations notes that by the end of the first Battle of Manassas, Company F had lost Captain Levi Tower and one other man, three men were wounded and another five were wounded and taken prisoner.  Unfortunately, they weren't identified.  The Rhode Island Collection has a number of books highlighting the history of the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers including a full set of the narratives of the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society.  I researched the full names of the soldiers pictured in the library's Ancestry.com Database.    Perhaps a future blog post will attempt to identify the enlisted men wounded in the battle and trace the lives of the men in our photographs during and then after the war.  

Are any of these men your ancestors?  Can you help fill in the stories of their lives? 

kwells's picture
Kate Wells

As the Rhode Island Collection librarian at Providence Public Library, Kate Wells helps bring Rhode Island history to light by increasing access to the collection and providing research assistance to patrons. In the “Rhode Island Red” blog, Kate showcases interesting materials from the collection, provides research tip & techniques, and highlights local history. Feel free to contact her if you have any Rhode Island related questions; she is always happy to help. Email: kwells@provlib.org.


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