Friday, February 24, 2012

"All of Us Smelled Bacon"

Monday, February 24, 1862, on picket duty

The news from Tennessee has arrived and none of it can be called good. Fort Henry and Fort Donelson have fallen to Grant. These forts, well positioned and well garrisoned, were supposed to secure western Tennessee and prevent the Yankees from invading Alabama and Mississippi. Now, both have fallen in less than two weeks. With the forts gone, can Nashville stand? Our entire defensive line in the west has crumbled. What is happening to our country and our cause? Someone must be held to blame for this but who? We have some bad generals including ours. Who is this Grant and why don't we have someone like him?

I would suppose that many of us will be transferred to the west to establish some sort of line to protect the country's interior. Donelson's brigade of Tennesseans will probably be the first to go. I did not know that the Fort was named after him. Perhaps he should have been in command. I think they will send many of us South Carolinians but then who would be left to turn all this earth? We noticed that the fires around the officers tents were burning later than usual last night. I feel good that they are agitated as they have done so little to be agitated about.

This is a sickly place. The plantation plutocrats, during the sickly season, leave for more healthful climes. We others, having no wealth and no title save citizen must go where we are told and stay there. Our numbers are decreasing due to illness and we are not likely to have these fellows replaced. Things will just get worse as the demands for troops in other places cause our numbers to be further depleted. We will all imbed our spades in the earthworks, place our caps on the handles and march off to Tennessee. The Yankees here will see that our works are still manned and will leave them alone. Let the Yankees get all sick and die. It will serve them right. They could have stayed home and avoided the black vomits and bloody fluxes but they would rather invade the homes of others. How would they like it if we did the same to their homes?

The grumbling of our bellies will give away our positions. One moonless night, while on picket duty, Hancock, Holton, White and myself took a bit of leave from our picket post. Duncan, Castles and Lynn stayed behind to make things look good. All of us had seen the glow of lights coming from a farmhouse a bit about a mile away. We were hoping that where there was a farm, there would be victuals.

We dusted ourselves off to make us look presentable. Holton, being the youngest at seventeen tender years, knocked at the door. It took a moment but a lady of some years answered gruffly. Holton pleaded our case, citing that we few defenders of our country's liberties were in need or some simple repast. Appealing to her sense of patriotism made not a dent in her defense of her larder which she claimed was bare. Our noses told us different. All of us smelled bacon. Holton and White between them offered the woman forty dollars in Confederate paper money. She remained steadfast in her denials as we grew weaker being so near and yet so far.

Before I left my home in Beaufort to go and join up in Columbia, I had closed out my account at the bank and took my entire fortune in coin. Calling the woman's attention to myself, I produced three silver dollars from the old country from my pocket and rustled them noisily.
The noise attracted a man who I took to be her husband. The sight and sound of hard money overwhelmed the both of them. We left the farmhouse with full haversacks. I was a bit poorer but certainly fatter.

We ate nothing until we reunited with the others. Their eyes bulged as big as our haversacks as we disgorged their contents. There was bacon, beans and corn for all. A rhubarb pie did not travel well in my haversack but no one cared. We ate everything and saved nothing. We slept very well that night. May the Yankees rot.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Spare us from Lee..."

Sunday, February 16, 1862, Garden's Corner

It has been so very long since I have completed an entry in this diary. To tell the truth, there has been so little of note to enter. The spade is still the weapon of choice, although certainly not our choice. We still arise early and settle late. Our rations are still deficient in both quantity and quality, especially the latter. The prohibition on hunting with public ammunition is still in place. My uniform is now too large for me but I hope to be able to fill it out as it gets warmer and the rations get better.

We do not dig all the time. Every now and then, some of us Lancaster Hornets are ordered to do picket duty far in front of our works. We watch for the Yankees and I think that I have seen them watching back at us. We are not supposed to have fires as the smoke would give away our position and subject us to a bombardment from their gunboats. We build them anyway, trusting that our officers are too comfortable in the rear to bother us. It is necessary that troops on picket duty have warmth. A fire is also necessary to cook up our rations and to boil up some coffee or whatever we have been issued that passes for coffee. I prefer tea to coffee but there is no tea. This is a cruel war.

On occasion, that General Lee, "Granny Lee", comes by to inspect us and satisfy himself that the work we are doing with our spades meets his expectations. We see his staff officers more often. He might not be much of a general but he does look well on a horse.

He has a new mount, purchased I hear, from someone in the 60th Virginia. He is called Traveller and comes from somewhere in my old state. The horse is supposed to have a pleasant gait. All the better to carry him away when the shooting starts.

The Yankees never sleep. More than once or thrice, the long roll of the drummers has sprang us out from under our blankets to go and meet some new landing or movement of the enemy. More often than not, either nothing has happened or by the time we get to the site of the alleged altercation, the need for us has passed. I do not recall the last time that I fired my musket. If we do not die from exaustion or starvation, we shall die from boredom.

We hear news that things in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky are very lively. Good for them. After we have won this war, they will have glorious stories to tell the folks back home. We here, on the other hand, will regaler astound our kith and kin with stories of how quickly we hearned to throw dirt. They will disown us. Spare us from Lee and let us see some of this war.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Diary Background Notes

Monday, 06 Feb 12

I'm breaking with the usual diary entries in order to catch everyone up on certain things. Some time ago, I had said that there was a reason why the Union Navy took Hilton Head Island as opposed to somewhere else along the Atlantic coast. With such a large force, they could have landed anywhere but chose Hilton Head Island specifically. There were two reasons.

The  South entered the war with an agricultural economic base. The North was much more industrial than the South. The Confederacy needed to create a wartime industrial base quickly if it were to fight a war of independence. Even quickly takes time. Although the Confederacy did rather well in building factories to supply war material, it started from behind and stayed there for the duration of the war. All the cards in Richmond's hand needed to be played.

These cards would include supplies from foreign sources in Europe. During the war, dozens of ships would bring war supplies from Europe to Southern ports to support the Confederate war effort. Of course, the Union wanted to intercept such shipping. The blockade runners were steam-powered and could outrun any sailing ship the North had. Also, many of the blockade runners were of shallower draft than the Union warships and could go where the Union ships could not follow. The Union had to figure out a way around these problems.

The solution was to build steam-powered ships that could run down the blockaders. A massive ship-building program was begun. Hundreds of steamers were built. But keeping a Union ship on station under steam 24 hours a day requires a great deal of coal, spare parts, heavy machinery and lots of laborers  and facilities somewhere to provide repairs and maintenance. This require a great deal of space and deep water. 

The deepest water south of New York City is at Hilton Head. Hilton Head would serve as the headquarters of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron for the duration of the war. The Union would base attacks in South Carolina and Florida from Hilton Head. Since Charleston was where the war began, the Union had a special interest in taking it back. Several major expeditions against Charleston originated at Hilton Head.

The movie, "Glory", with Matthew Broderick, told the story of the 54th Massachusetts, a black regiment led by white officers. The climactic ending had the 54th attacking Battery Wagner, an earthen fort guarding Charleston. The real campaign, including a great deal of activity not shown in the movie, began at Hilton Head. 

The second reason involved my new home, Beaufort, more directly. The Charleston and Savannah Railroad ran between those cities. Having rail connections between these two major cities was a boon to the Confederacy. If the Union threatened one city, the Confederacy could use the railroad to bring reinforcements from the other. As long as the railroad remained intact, the Union's goal of capturing Charleston would be that much more costly.

Raids would be mounted from Beaufort to capture and destroy the C & S to cut reinforcements to Charleston. More on this later. Can't give everything away.