Thursday, May 31, 2012

"...great deal of thunder coming from the east..."

Saturday, May 31, 1862, Smith's Farm, Virginia
We have arrived at a new place, our third since arriving in Virginia. The regiment is not fully settled in but I did not want to await until I get settled in to write this as I may become so settled in as to fall asleep.

Our new camp is at Smith's farm north of nine-mile road, east of Richmond, quite close to the Chickahominy. In fact, we are so close that one might as well say we are in the swamps. This is no place for an encampment. As the days get warmer, we are sure to be heavily affected by the fevers incumbant to such a location. The mosquitos are everywhere and in everything. There is little sweet water here. Soldiers being that special breed of folk, will get their water by whatever means is easiest and they will suffer fluxes for it.

But here we are and here we stay until told otherwise. We are unfamiliar with the location or strength of the Yankees or even if they are close at all. Together we will strike down mosquitos while waiting to strike down the Yankees.

Our colonel has resigned. R.G.M. Dunovant, who was our colonel from the first is no longer in the army. We do not know why he should do this when every man is needed. Our lieutenant colonel, Dixon Barnes, is now in charge of the regiment. I suppose he will be promoted to full colonel before too long.

The officers have it all over us enlisted folks. They may submit a piece of paper through proper channels stating that they will be resigning their commissions and leaving. We privates are not allowed that priviledge. We may indeed leave but our superiors call that desertion had will have us shot if caught.

Our brigade has been expanded by two more regiments. We were three and now we are five regiments. The new ones are the First South Carolina  and the First South Carolina Rifles. This could be confusing to some. The rifle regiment is known more commonly as Orr's Rifles after it's commander. We shall have to continue our drilling but expand it tio include moving with five regiments instead of three. Brigadier General Maxey Gregg is still our brigade commander.

We have not yet had the opportunity to forage in or around Smith's farm but suspect that that time will come. At present, we shall have to make do with the usual hard crackers and salt pork. It has been some time since any of us in the squad has received a package from home.

We are in for a good drenching and need to get up the shelters quickly. There is a great deal of thunder coming from the east where the Yankees are.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Branch Repulsed Them With Great Losses..."

Wednesday, May 28, 1862, on the march northeast of Richmond

After our last foray, we did not venture far at all from our camp or picket post. Let the cavalry make those long journeys near the enemy's lines. They are faster and can get out of a scrape better than us foot soldiers.Given what happened last time and what could have happened, we consume our moldy crackers and salt pork with nary a complaint.

But that was in the past. We are now on the march again, heading in the general direction of east where McClellan and his hourde of minions is known to be, straddling the Chickahominy east of Richmond. The brigade had been watching McDowell and his army in and around Fredericksburg and the Rappahannock. Now that we have abandoned that position, who will keep him away from Richmond?

All those who claim to have inside knowledge of affairs beyond Richmond say that Jackson is playing havoc with the Yankees in the Valley. We are under the supposition that he is drawing enemy forces away from Richmond to allow Johnston to better defend the capitol. I wish Jackson would come down here and play a little havoc.

There has been a battle near Hanover Courthouse in Hanover County. Branch's brigade on North Carolinians mixed it up with some of McClellan's yankees on the far right of their army. Branch repulsed them with great losses inflicted upon them.

It is time to abandon our comfortable, reclining positions along the road and once more form up for a march. It's destination and purpose may some day be revealed to us.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

"They Had Their Muskets Leveled on Us..."

Saturday, May 24, 1862, in camp near Summit Station, Virginia

The rains have come and it is none too pleasant. The water falls more often and in greater amounts. Some of the boys had made shelters by digging a trench in the ground and erecting a raised covering of branches. Those are now small ponds. The rest of us bear on as best we can. Although it is spring here, it can still become rather chilly, especially at night. There is not a man in the company with an overcoat. If we were back in South Carolina, the weather would already be uncomfortably warm.

There are still raids and probing actions with patrols on foot and on horse. Our cavalry will sometimes pass through on their way to find out what the Yankees are up to. We stop and ask them for news.

One of Jeb Stuart's cavalry troopers from the Ninth Virginia said that the Yankees are still on the north side of the Rappahannock. Even so, we must be watchful as they come across to our side to do great mischief. I am sure that we do the same to them.

Once again, we decided to test our mettle against the Yankees and brave danger by conducting another raid of our own. It was not an approved government raid. We called it a private enterprise expedition and who better to mount it than us privates.

We remembered that during the last expedition, we had left behind one solitary hen. We thought that by this time, she surely will be sitting on a great many eggs and would appreciate some assistance in taking care of them. Under cover of a friendly darkness, we slipped away towards our goal. Our party was the same as last time, Castkes, Crenshaw, Holton and myself plus Duncan. As the original four of us had made this journey before, we had a faster and easier time of it. We still had to watch out for our own patrols and those of the enemy.

When we came to the still-abandoned farmstead, we could see the henhouse but heard nothing. Either the hen was asleep or someone else had befriended her in our absense. Duncan entered and came out shortly saying that there was no hen or any eggs. Of course we were disappointed to think that some evil might have befallen that poor hen and we were not there to protect her.
Even though the house had been searched during our last visit, we felt compelled to search again lest there be hams apleanty that somehow we had missed.

We treaded lightly up the front steps and froze like statues when we heard the cries of a chicken involved in some mortal terror. We threw caution to the winds and charged the door, muskets at the ready to dispatch the fox or coon or whatever other brutish animal who was attacking our friend.

Duncan entered first, followed by Crenshaw and then the rest of us. Castles was last in. There was neither fox nor coon. Instead, there was not one brutish animal but five, wearing blue uniforms. They had their muskets leveled on us the same as we on them. For a very long moment, no one said a word. One of the Yankees spoke first. "Hello, Rebs", he said. Duncan returned, "Hello, Yanks." The same Yankee said, "Reckon you're as hungry as we are." 'Reckon so, Yank. There's not enough there for you folks, never mind about us. We'll leave you alone and go find our own pickins somewheres else." They agreed that it was a good idea and we backed away out the doorway. Then Crenshaw tripped and fell down, discharging his musket.

None of us exactly recall what happened next. All we remember is that the Yankees were retreating out the back door about as fast as we were out the front. We made it back safely, even though the sound of our beating hearts could be heard a mile away. We do not know what happened to the hen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"I Will Know It By Its Odor"

Saturday, May 17, 1862, Summit Station, Virginia

Ever since we moved to this place, we have had to be more wary. The Yankees are on the other side of the Rappahannock. This means they are only five or six miles from here. They send out mounted patrols to feel our lines. I am sure that we do the same. A patrol from the Thirteenth was captured. It is not as it was in Beaufort where we were somewhat protected by the numerous salt marshes, making it difficult for the Yankees to approach us. Here, the Yankees have many ways to find us. Let them come find the Lancaster Hornets and we shall sting them badly.

Our shelters, our shebangs, require continual efforts of repair to ensure protection from the elements. From time to time the wind comes up and blows our roofs off. And no matter what we do, when it rains, which is a bit more often than in South Carolina, the roofs leak. It is still better than sleeping without any protection at all.

There is a farm stead some two miles away, and another one a bit further away from us and closer to the Yankees. The further one was deserted, the family having relocated themselves to areas not tinged with blue.

We were not supposed to venture that close to them and so far away from us but our curiosity and stomachs outranked our better senses.  There were four of us- Castles, Crenshaw, Holton and myself. It was not quite full dark when we set off. On the way, Crenshaw remarked that if we were found heading towards the enemy by one of our patrols, we would be arrested and shot as deserters. Crenshaw never should have come with us as he had no shoes and slowed us down. He was hopeful of finding a pair.

After the shot as deserters remark, we advanced with a greater degree of care and took to the shadows when possible. Several time we heard noises that caused us to go to ground. We could never tell what the sounds were or where they were coming from. Night will play tricks on sounds.

Like stealthy Romans of old approaching an encampment of Germanic barbarians, we advanced upon the objective. There were no lights visible. Castles and Crenshaw went to the house while Holton and I went to the barn. We both smiled broadly as we heard the cluck of a hen. O chickens, come to us who starve and nourish us to protect you from the Yankees. Instead of the feast we expected to see, there was one solitary hen sitting on a clutch of eggs.

There were several nests in the henhouse but only hers bore eggs. We saw several broken eggs on the floor and many feathers plus some blood. Had someone beat us to the banquet? Were they Yankees? If so, were they far away by now or still hard by? How much longer dare we stay?

Not wishing to tarry any longer, I reached underneath the hen to get her eggs. She then attacked me, not caring  that I was many times her size. Her defense was worthy of a colonelcy but the eggs were given up. My hand was bloody but the idea of a tin plate of eggs soothed the pain. At that point, Holton directed my attention to my feet where there laid a Yankee haversack and tin cup. There was blood on it and we assumed that it was effused courtesy of a hen in defense of her property. Quickly, I stuffed the eggs in my new-found prize and we left the hen alone to replenish her nest for future raids.

At the same time we left the henhouse, Castles and Crenshaw were leaving the house. Crenshaw was sporting a new pair of boots as the sole reward for raiding the house. Everything else of value was gone. I tried to tell Crenshaw that the boots were fit only for riding and as that he was in the infantry, his being shod in that manner would do him little good but he would hear none of it.

Two days later, his poor feet declared their liberation from their leather prison. He swapped his boots to a mounted officer for his shoes and both were happy.

About that haversack. When we returned to camp, I inspected the contents hoping to find some nourishment of value abandoned by its previous owner. Alas, several of the eggs we gathered had been smashed and mixed with some previously smashed eggs. Everything smelled to beyond Heaven. Three eggs were saved and made some small repast when shared between the four of us plus Corporal Flynn who did not ask how we obtained them. There was a fine housewife in the haversack but no matter how hard I cleaned, it still stank. I threw the entire thing away, haversack and all, saving only the tin cup.

The next morning, I noticed the haversack had disappeared. No matter. I will know it by its odor.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Bill Caston is Dead."

Saturday, May 10, 1862, Summit Station Virginia

We were comfortable at Milford Station. That we were comfortable enough was probably reason enough to order us to move to this place. We are now much closer to Fredericksburg, and still on the railroad that brought us out of Richmond. The brigade is about five mles south of Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. Somewhere in or hard by the town is another Yankee army that is threatening Richmond from the north, working with McClellan to the east of Richmond.

We built new shelters, having abandoned our previous ones before properly breaking them in. As we were packing to come here, someone suggested tearing down the shebangs so that no one else could use them. Someone replied that we had best leave them be as we may have to come back this way some day. That could very well hold true. We have constructed new shelters and hope to be here long enough to season them. Whether we stay or go will depend on the Yankees.

Bill Caston is dead. We left South Carolina without him. He and others had taken sick and were placed in a hospital in McPhersonville. We had believed that once he was recovered, he would join us. He who sees all has seen fit to remove him from this world. It was Chaplin Betts who had received word of his death and shared this sad news with us. He is spared any further suffering in this world. He was a good and brave soldier.

We occupy our time with a great amount of drilling now that we are a brigade of three regiments. There are rumors that additional regiments will be brigaded with us. We shall see.

Now that we are much closer to the Yankees, it is necessary that we go on picket duty more often than we did at Milford Station. We do not want the Yankees to steal a march on us.
Now that we are relocated, we shall have to find a well-stocked farm somewhere near.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"The Water is Good Here"

Thursday, May 8, 1962, Milford Station, Virginia

It is such a pleasure to come back to Virginia. The regiment is settling into camp. We do not do a great deal of picket duty. We are engages in substancial drilling. We drill drill more than we ever did when in training at Camp Lightwood Knot Springs north of Columbia. We are now brigaded with two other South Carolina regiments, the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth. We must learn how to march and maneuver as a brigade and not just as a single regiment. Maxey Gregg is our brigadier general. He is a lawyer from Columbia, I have been told.

Some fifteen or so miles north of us is the Rappahannock River and the town of Fredericksburg. Somewhere on the other side of the river is supposed to be yet another great host of Yankees. I can only suppose that we are here to halt then should they cross the river to our side. McClellan and his great army is advancing up a peninsula between the James and York Rivers. His objective is the capture of our capital. That force opposing us here is drawing our own forces away from the defense of Richmond.

They do not know us. Even if we lose Richmond, as long as we have an army in the field, we will fight for our freedom. As long as a single Southern patriot remains, we will fight.

The weather is becoming warmer, a bit too warm for my comfort as I much prefer colder climes. Our rations are better than what we were fed back in coastal South Carolina. The quality of the fare is perhaps only slightly better. The quantity is measureably better. And the water. The water is good here. We do not have to concern ourselves with the incoming tides making our drinking water foul. It is cool and clean.

Not all of us Lancaster Hornets, the Company I boys were able to make the journey to this place. There were fevers that occured at the same time that the regiment was ordered to move to Virginia. From our own squad, Bill Caston was given to the medical officers. We have so very few tents to shelter us from the elements. We have been able to cut our way into the forests and bring forth materials to construct shelters known as shebangs. A shebang is comprised of two or four or as many upright poles as are thought necessary to  provide the desired protection. Cross poles are laid in a horizontal position, fastened to the uprights. At this point, any sort of covering is stretched across be it cloth, a poncho (and there are few of these to be spared), or, more commonly, branches arranged something along the lines of how the English thatch their homes. There will be several layers of covering material. This is cheap and easy to construct but requires continual vigilence as there will be leaks when it rains. As it is open on all sides, it is quite airy.

Our furniture, if that is a proper term to use here, is anything not nailed down , and those items whose original purpose has passed but we have managed to find a use for. Hardtack boxes can be converted into chairs and tables and even firewood if there are enough to spare. A nearby barn or outbuilding, no longer in use, or perhaps even still in use, is considered fair game for a midnight requisition.

We should not get very settled in as there are rumors that we will be marching somewhere soon.