Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"...the sleep of the fat and happy."

Wednesday, July 24, 1862, Richmond

The excitement of doing something new has worn off. All we do is stand, under arms, at the entrance to the South Carolina Depot. We look threatening and vigilant but really, it is quite humdrum. I find it difficult to stay awake and so does Hancock. We watch but all we see are wagons coming and going. Sometimes they come in loaded from one of the railroad depots, loaded with supplies for South Carolina troops. The supplies will be kept in this depot warehouse until they shall be disbursed to the troops in the field. Most often, the supplies coming by rail are loaded into the wagons at the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad depot as it is through that railroad that the most direct connections to the Palmetto State may be affected.

When we are not standing and standing and standing, we sleep a good deal on the mealy bags. We have three hours off our duty to explore and have some entertainment and excitement. At the end of our guard mount, it takes considerable will to turn a deaf ear to the sweet call of sleep.

Today, however, the calls of hunger drowned out all pleadings of sleep. We are not actually hungry. There is enough to eat here even if it is a little-varied menu. In addition to the salt pork and hard crackers, we do get some beef and a few onions. There are no pies, cakes or other delicacies. We cannot help but look upon the many bundles and boxes at the depot and wonder what sweet treats might be contained within. But we are soldiers and must do our duty. Stealing is not doing our duty.

After our mount early this afternoon, Hancock and I vowed we would sacrifice our sleep and venture forth from the depot and search for victuals that normal folks consume. We had heard that the Exchange Hotel at the corner of Fourteenth and Franklin put on a good feed so off we went, promising to bring back something for Castles and Duncan.

This was our first time seeing the city and what a grand sight it was. This is a big city, numbering 38,000 souls I am told. The buildings are big and tall, some as tall as four stories. The traffic in the streets is busy and crowded. We saw drays, broughams, Concords, runabouts, runaways and phaetons. Many of the omnibusses sported liveries for the many hotels in the city. As we were not exhaulted enough, we went on foot.

There are so many uniforms here. Uniforms by the hundreds walked and rode everywhere. Hancock said he thought he saw everything from the common private to a field marshall. We were stopped twice had had our papers examined by members of the police guard. Having our papers with us and knowing private Henry Chanbers kept us from spending a most uncomfortable night in the stockade.

We arrived at our goal, the Exchange Hotel. Boldly we entered, fully expecting that within moments we would eat ourselves into a state of intoxication. A big negro in a fancy black suit of clothes interrupted our stride and politely but very firmly asked us to leave. He stated that we were not the proper sort of folks that would find our stay a very pleasant one. There were two of us and together we made one of him. We might have made an issue of it and a mess of him but behind him were regiments of officers with more gold on their sleeves than Midas had in his temple. We promised our two comrades we would not return empty-handed so for their sakes, we retreated in search of something other than a prison cell.
We left muttering what we would do to that blackguard if we had our muskets and bayonets.

Not far from the Exchange was the First Market, on Seventeenth. All sorts of foodstuffs were there for sale to those who had money. Everything was very expensive. We had no idea that the war had caused such inflating of prices but we had some money and there was that promise to Castles and Duncan. I had been hoping for some fresh fruit but it was too early in the season to find much other than some peaches picked too early and some poor-looking plums. There were greens and onions and peas in abundance. I would have charged a Yankee gun for a sweet watermelon.

We had exhausted most of what little money we had on greens, onions and one mincemeat pie when we smelled bacon. Two stalls down from us we saw several hams hanging along with assorted game and fowl. The stall keeper saw out longing stares and called us over. He was a Dutchman and praised us in his thick language for being patriots. He said that he had come over from Europe after the failed revolutions of 1848. After that he said that he had a special price for those who wore the grey in defense of heighmatt, which I think is home in his mother tongue. Even with his "special price", it was far beyond our miserable depleted resources.

I was not about to go back and face our pards with greens and onions so I gritted my teeth and reached into my pocket for a gold quarter-eagle. The expression on that Dutchman's face closed the deal without a word being said. We left his stall with three hams. We would feast.

Whilst returning to the depot, more savory smells assaulted our nostrils. They were coming from the American Hotel on Twelfth and Main. We should have gone straight back to the depot but we still had not eaten anything and we had foolishly left the mincemeat pie with the Dutchman. Rather than go in through the front door and face the sale fate as happened with the Exchange, we went to the back as it seemed that the smells were originating there.

We were stopped by two negroes, who we took for "employees" of the American, named Samson and Horace. We explained that we were hungry and that the smells from their kitchen attracted us to the back of the hotel. We offered one of the hams to them if they would cook one for us. They listened not and ordered us away.

No sooner had we turned away than a stout negro wench came flying out of the doorway brandishing a most deadly weapon, a wooden spoon. This was a spoon as stout as the warrior wielding it. It looked as if she could drive nails with it and we watched as she stuck it under the nose of Horace and threatened the both of them with dastardly punishments if they got between her and our hams. The boys cowered and she bade us come into the kitchen which was in a building separate from the hotel. She said she was called Eliza.

She took one ham and sliced it up into thick steaks quicker than one of Jeb Stuart's troopers can slice a Yankee. She took our greens and onions and threw them into an already boiling pot. Fresh-baked bread and sweet butter graced the table. Soon, all of us, Samson and Horace included, ate and ate and ate. I was in such pain and did not mind a bit. If I had died right then and there, I would have died happy. We left the peaches and plums with Eliza, exchanging them for one of her pies. We left them with one ham and many thanks for a fine, fine meal. We gave Eliza ten dollars Confederate which was all the paper money we had and I gave her thirty cents, silver. She looked amazed and she gave me a big kiss on the cheek. Then it was my turn to look anazed. Samson and Horace just roared.

We were quite late returning to the depot and Castles and Duncan were very cross with us for not relieving them. We produced the last ham and Eliza's pie and they turned silent. We took over the watch from them and they took their loot to the back of the depot. We heard laughter, squeals and the giggles as made by young girls. All of us will sleep the sleep of the fat and happy tonight.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"There are newspapers here...

Tuesday, July 22, 1862, Richmond

We arrived at the South Carolina Depot somewhat late thanks to our mishap with the wagon wheel. While Essex watered the mules, Chambers took the four of us and handed us over to an officer who quickly passed us on to a corporal who inspected our orders and gave us back to Chambers. We are to act as guards for the Depot to ensure that no supplies go to unworthy hands. We are not to assist in loading or unloading any wagons or in any other form of manual labor. Our sole interest is to be wary and on guard at all times. Two of us stand guard under arms for three hours and then are relieved by the other two for three hours. We return for a second round of guard duty and hen the other two do the same. At the end of a total of twelve hours, the Depot is closed and two of us may do as we please while the other two stay inside the locked Depot.

We arrived almost at closing time so all four of us stood guard to get all of us broken in before tomorrow. We have a space towards the rear of the building where we have placed our blankets and haversacks. I am sitting on a bag of meal and think that one or two more of these will make for a fine mattress. The Depot is located on the south side of Main Street between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets.

There are newspapers here and much to read. The Daily Dispatch of the nineteenth carries a report that says that the Yankees on Hilton Head Island are raising a regiment of negroes from that area. There is also a piece about the Yankees being in Janesville in Lee County.

Today's edition of the same newspaper has a story quoting a Northern source concerning the size of their army. It is stated that there are more than 600,000 Yankees out to subjigate us with another 300,000 on the way. It concerns us little. The more Yankees there are against us, the easier it will be to hit them when we shoot. I will save these newspapers and any others that may come our way. The rest of the boys back in camp will want to read these.

We arrived too late to be fed but Essex did find a few biscuits for us. We combined them with what we brought in our haversacks and called it first rate. If we are lucky, all of us will get a chance to sample whatever edible fares may be nearby. Just what else is there that we may indulge in?

Friday, July 20, 2012

"I'm a citizen of God's country."

Sunday, July 22, 1862, south of Richmond

While Henry Chambers and Essex try their hands at repairing a bad wagon wheel, I will rest under a poplar tree and pen some few lines.

Chambers is with the Police Guard of the army provost marshal. Essex is a slave working for the army. Our wagon has developed a bad wheel and all of us have tried to make it right.

This morning, the four of us reported to Major Boyle as ordered yesterday by Lieutenant Williamson. We are ordered to Richmond. We boarded a waiting wagon with Chambers and Essex, who was our driver. There were some supplies in the wagon but nothing looked edible. We are to report to the South Carolina Warehouse to act as guards. We were relieved to know that we were not to be jailed or shot for that "raid" on the farmhouse some time ago.

Before the wagon went bust, we had a chance to talk with each other. Chambers was detailed to the Police Guard this last December. Essex and himself were ordered to take these supplies to the capital and since we were detailed there as well, to go along and save on transportation.

Essex was born a slave to a family in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. The family hired him out to the army. I have noticed that there are a fair number of slaves employed by the army as laborers. Essex said that he was sixty-eight and started to work in the tobacco fields from the time that he was ten until his back gave out. He was then a polisher until his master hired him out to the government a year ago. He has driven this wagon since.

Essex wears bits and pieces of what might be called a uniform. Lord knows where he got it. He tries to act like a soldier and we humor the old slave. Hancock asked him how he felt about things now that there's a war on. Essex said that be it peace or war, it was all the same to him. He just hoped to do his fair share for his country and die in his own bed.

Hancock was not satisfied to let the answer lie and pressed the issue. Hancock complimented Essex on being loyal to the Confederacy and its noble struggle for freedom even though he was a slave. Essex said, "Sir, I do not fight for y'alls freedom or the freedom of a country where I ain't not a citizen. If the South wins its freedom, my situation will not change. I don't know that this old slaves position would change much of any if the North wins this fight. I am not a citizen of that country neither. I fights for my own country." Castles said, "Essex, of what country are you a citizen?" Essex shot back, "I'm a citizen of God's country." It was quiet after that until we threw the wheel.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"What have we done now?"

Saturday, July 19, 1862, Laurel Church, Virginia

The great series of battles we endured ended two weeks ago and still we are recovering from them. We still are mending our clothes and clean our muskets. Buttons are becoming rare as we seem to have lost more than the supply would allow for. Many of us have more Yankee buttons holding our uniforms together than Southern ones. I cannot say Confederate buttons as the only ones that I have seen yet are those on the frock coats of officers. As the officers must provide for their own clothing, they have the means to buy proper buttons. We of the enlisted ranks must get by with buttons whose origins were other than military.

Our rations are getting better at least in terms of quantity if not quality. We of the "Dandy Eights Mess" are becoming accustomed to a steady diet of salt pork and hard crackers. We sometimes refer to the salt pork as, "salt horse". We mean it as a joke but sometimes wonder about the animal origins of our meat.

The sicknesses are still with us and are getting worse. I have been afflicted twice with the flux since going into this encampment and have recovered. As long as the flux does not turn to the bloody kind, I will be satisfied if sore. The brigade needs to move from this area as it is so unhealthy. There are so many of us down with something that if a new battle were to occur, we could not muster a proper corporal's guard.

Some minutes ago, Lieutenant Williamson called Corporal Flynn over for some words. When they finished the corporal came to our campfire. He told Castles, Duncan, Hancock and myself to report to Major Boyle tomorrow at seven of the clock and to make sure that we take our muskets and accoutrements. Major Cornelius Boyle is the Provost Marshal for the Army of Northern Virginia. What have we done now?

Friday, July 13, 2012

"The fever and the fluxes..."

Sunday, July 13, 1862, Laurel Church, Virginia

Our new camp is now established and I would suppose that it is somewhat better than our last one that we gave up in order to go forth and whip McClellan. This new place is Laurel Church, on the river road south of Richmond. The water is a little better here than when we were in the swamps by the Chickahominy. It is still quite hot when it is not raining and raining when it is not hot. We drill in the heat of the sun and in the humid aftermaths of the rain.

When we are not drilling, we are putting ourselves back together from our recent battles. We are all becoming adept at playing the seamstress and there is much to sew. One can follow the progress of this regiment by the trail of buttons that have taken leave of their uniforms. Anyone with a scrap of fabric that might prove useful for mending  rips and holes has many friends.

Some few packages from the ladies have caught up with us. The Ladies Aid Society of Lancaster sent a package with a letter enclosed written by their president, Mrs. M. P. Crawford listing who made what garment or foodstuff. There were several pies but the package must have  taken too long to find us as none of them were edible. One of them looked like it was once a strawberry rhubarb pie and that would have been mighty tasty. There were some eggs packed in sawdust and straw and those were mighty good.

Castles got a package from his people at home. There was nothing to eat  but he did try on some new trousers. Many of us have wore out our shoes and there are no replacements. None of the packages had any shoes. When is Richmond, less than ten miles away, going to start clothing our army?

During one of our several battles of late, we repeatedly encountered much that was abandoned by the retreating Yankees. We would have liked to have taken our share of the spoils but our officers were insisting that we not stop, that we should push on. At one point, and I cannot remember at which of the battles it occured, we were running after the Yankees and I saw that I was running straight towards a fat Yankee knapsack. I resolved to catch it on the run and rejoice in its contents later. As I grabbed it by the strap, a bullet severed it and the knapsack had to be sadly abandoned.

The sick lists grow longer. There are some worrys that our numbers may be reduced through sickness to the point where we will no longer be able to discharge our duty. The fever and the fluxes are our chief afflictions.

The Yankees are still around somewhere but until we or they feel refreshed enough to try at one another again, things will be quiet.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"...Lee, Lee, Lee, it is all Lee"

Friday, July 4, 1862, Virginia

I do not know where I am. I do not know where I have been, somewhere near H--l I would suppose. I am alive and perhaps well. There are many others who are neither. I can remember the long roll being beaten on  Wednesday of this past week. We fell in under arms and marched towards  Meadow Bridge, spanning the Chickahominy. there we spent the night. 

The following morning, Thursday, the brigade, minus the 14th, marched across the bridge into the the inferno. It did not take long for the Yankee guns to find the range and welcome our approach with shot and shell. As the brigade was in reserve, we were ordered into a protected area, out of danger. Even so, we suffered a few casualties. There we spent the night but did little sleeping. There was a good deal of praying whenever we were not bragging.

On Friday, the brigade was advanced to the front of the lines. We advanced against their earthworks and took them after a brief exchange of musketry. We flattered ourselves by thinking that the Yankees had run from us. We saw Jackson come up on our left, flanking the earthworks at which point their occupants advanced to the rear. For several hours, we pursued the enemy across fields and through forests, taking and giving fire. We spent the night on the field of battle. We were much too exhausted to let the groans of the wounded keep us awake. Our own captain, Vanlandingham, and three other captains were wounded. The regiment suffered at least 100 casualties.

On Saturday, we rested, buried our dead, and made ourselves ready for the next fight.

On Sunday, we marched in the direction of Frayser's Farm in an attempt to cut off McClellan's retreat. We realized by this time that he had abandoned his positions along the Chickahominy and was looking to move his army to a place of comparative safety.

On Monday, the last day of June, we marched to the farm and there we caught it. Longstreet had preceded us along the route of march. The Yankees had some well-placed artillery shelling us, trying to protect the rear of McClellan's army. We were sent in to re-enforce Longstreet. Whatever shells that missed Longstreet's troops fell in our ranks. The 14th South Carolina suffered the most.

On Tuesday, the first day of the last half of 1862, there occurred the greatest artillery engagement of the world. McClellan had placed a great many guns atop Malvern Hill. For us to cut off McClellan from his base and chew him up, Malvern Hill had to be won. We sent grey flesh against black iron. The slaughter was terrible and the hill remained in their hands. They gave it up only when it suited them to do so. Our brigade was not engaged and even if it had, I doubt that the issue would have changed.

It is now Friday and we await the orders that will direct us into tomorrow's battles. I think that we have given a good account of ourselves to this point. All of us are dirty and tired. Our uniforms need mending or replacement. Our cartridge boxes need replenishment as do our bellys. There seems to be little trouble filling the former. 

All of us can now say that we have seen the elephant. Those of us who were in Fort Walker during the naval engagement last November said that we had seen that great beast even though so little of the enemies attentions were directed at us. It was the troops at Fort Beauregard that caught the Devil, not us. Even the few small engagements near Beaufort did not prepare us for what has happened during the course of the last seven days or so. The elephant we saw there was a pigmy. Here, we have seen a whole herd and a good many of us were crushed in the stampede.

I saw much and perhaps a kind Providence will allow me to forget much. At Gaines' Mill on Friday, I witnessed the discharge of muskets and the discharge of one's stomach contents. I saw men fall as if killed only to reserrect themselves once their faint had passed. I saw Flynn act in a most animated manner but cannot recall hearing anything he said. Several times during these battles, some of us, myself included, emptied our cartridge boxes and had to fill them by taking cartridges from the fallen. They did not appear to mind. Terry and Castles, Vincent and Carter, White and Hancock all fought like true men. Even Adkins, new to the company, and never having tasted fire before, did his duty. In our company, Jim McDow gave his last and best for his country.

We started this campaign five miles from Richmond. We stand now at least three times that distance from our starting point. We have taken on an army bigger than our own and beaten it several times in one week. We put our bayonets in their backs and prodded them along against their will until they no longer threatened our capital.

And it is Lee, Lee, Lee, it is all Lee. I take back any hurtful word I ever uttered about him. It is due to his genius that against all odds, we have prevailed. This Lee knows how to make war.