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Letters from members of the First Maryland Potomac Home Brigade Cavalry

Submitted by: Mark Dudrow

Note: Camp Conocheague (near Williamsport, Maryland), December 23, 1861 in Adams Sentinal issue of January 1, 1862, signed by Clayton. Clayton could not be identified from the roster of the regiment.

CAMP CONOCHEAGUE, Dec.23, [1861]

R.G.HARPER, ESQ. - Dear Sir:-

With a carpet bag for a writing-desk, and a knapsack for a chair, seated in a small tent, 6 feet by 8, I will give you some few items which may be of some interest to the many readers of your time-honored journal.

On Wednesday last, late in the evening, we had marching orders. In half an hour the boys were all in saddle and ready to march - leaving but a guard at camp - Those that were left (your correspondent being one of them) received orders on Friday to strike tents and join the join the company - We brought our cooking utensils, etc. along with us, together with the cooks, who rode the extra horses, and appeared quite merry all the time. It was quite a comical scene. Orderly Sergeant HORNER was in command of the squad.

We left the camp at Frederick on the morning of Saturday, reaching Camp Conocheague at about 3 o'clock in the evening. We found the boys "gay and happy" and very much pleased with the change.

We are now within sight of the Rebel pickets, one mile west of Williamsport, Md., which,, by the way is a town of considerable importance at this time, on the Potomac. The citizens were thrown into the wildest excitement on Tuesday morning in consequence of a report that the rebels had made their appearance, in large numbers, at Dam No. 5. and Falling Waters intending to cross and plunder the town. The Union troops are prepared for an attack, which is hourly expected, at Dam No.5 or Falling Waters.

A detailed guard of 32 men, 16 of the Keystone Rangers and 16 of the Cole Rangers, commanded by Captain COLE, and Lieuts MORRISON and VERNON, went on a reconnoitering expedition on Friday to Dam No.5, and while there observed a party of rebels felling trees. A round was fired at them by our party, when they (the rebels) scattered in all directions. On Thursday, Perkins1 Battery was engaged in shelling Honeywood Mill, across the river, but the shells took no effect, the distance being too great.

In the evening a party of five men from the Battery went across and fired the mills, capturing a large number of picks, spades, blankets and fire arms. On Friday a young man from one of the infantry companies, bravely volunteered to go across the river, and fire a large brick house where the Rebels have had their headquarters. There was a large quantity of shells secreted in the house, the explosion of which was terrifically grand.

Our camp is in a pleasant situation, at the edge of a pine woods, one mile from the Potomac, on the Greencastle road. We have good quarters for our horses having built barracks of saplings, thatched with straw and pine branches. Some of the boys have very tasty huts, built of logs, plastered with mud. We are now in a battalion - Capt.C FITZSIMMONS commanding.

The Captain is one of the best of good fellows. There is a large force in the neighborhood of Williamsport, probably 6,000 men and 1200 cavalry, and Perkins' celebrated Battery. The Massachusetts 13th Regiment, Col.Leonard, is east of the town; also the Pennsylvania 29th, Col.Murphy.

The boys all, without an exception, express a willingness to go into "Dixie" You may rest assured that the "Keystone Rangers" will give a good account of themselves when they meet the Rebel hordes. There is a number of our men carrying dispatches to and from the different camps We enjoy excellent health, and all are in fine spirits hoping soon to meet the enemy, and give them a warm reception.

The weather is very cold today, we have had a little snow. We congregate around large log fires, which are kept burning day and night. It is said that the rebels are in possession of Martinsburg - their pickets extending to the river. Lieut.HUNTER has been appointed Battalion Quartermaster. All letters should be addressed to Williamsport, Wash.Co.,Md care of Capt. JOHN HUNTER.

Yours, &c CLAYTON