Monday, December 24, 2012

"...Home, Sweet Home."

Wednesday, Christmas Eve, 1862, Picket Post, Rappahannock River

We are cold. We are wet. We are hungry. We are ill-clothed. We are ill. Even so, our muskets are clean and our cartridge boxes are full even if our bellies are not. Our morale is very high. It has been some two weeks or so since the big to-do on this side of the river near Fredericksburg. We still talk about as if it were yesterday. We find it helps us to forget that we are suffering.

Our suffering is but nothing compared to that of Burnsides' Yankees. We shot them up rather badly. Those who survived the slaughter pen intact spent the night on the battlefield with the dead and wounded for company. We heard gunfire all during the night as any movement on their side was answered with a shot from ours. The following day, they left the field and retreated across the river to the tune of our musketry.

Burnside has barely budged since that day. We suppose that his army is licking its wounds from the licking we gave it. We had entertained the thought that after such a defeat, they would go home and leave us alone. If this were to be, they would have left some many days ago. As they are still there, we expect that Lincoln will make good Burnsides' losses and he will try us again in the spring. If he does come at us again, we will have to shoot them to pieces again. At some time, they'll have to run out of Yankees.

And what of Burnside himself? Will Lincoln keep him on or send him packing? As far as we are concerned, he can stay around a little while longer. We do not care to break in a new one so soon after breaking in the old one.

If we are indeed going to go into winter quarters, we will need some shelter worthy of the name. The few tents in the regiment are reserved for the officers. There are some saws and axes about. Some of us have some experience with carpentry. It should be nothing to throw up a few cabins of logs in which we can spend the winter in luxury. At least when we die of starvation, we will be warm.

This is the second Christmas Eve of the war. We are still in the field, as are the Yankees. Neither side seems able to convince the other to yield. There will be another year of this war and there will be more effusion of blood.

The effusion is suspended, at least temporarily, for the season at hand. Some moments ago, we heard music from the Yankee lines. I think it was John Brown's Body. When they concluded, we heard Bonnie Blue Flag responding from our side. After a few more selections, a band of theirs struck up some less martial airs. They played Lorena and Just Before the Battle Mother. We had no band to compete with theirs but I did hear a few fiddles, a guitar and a harmonica from our side. We did have  a fifer, Boy Stephen in the company but he was discharged earlier this month. Our drummer, Boy Lewis, has transferred to Company D. 

There must be some Dutchmen on the other side as we heard something like Silent Night but the words were in their own tongue. We sung back at them with Greensleeves. There is no firing. The singing is spirited. Both sides are singing Home, Sweet Home. I won't write anymore.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"We Killed Them in Waves."

Saturday, December 13, 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia

It is not the cold that is causing me to fumble my pen. There are reasons other than the weather that renders a body numb to what it may see or hear. I must not explain this right away as I must enter into this book the events that have transpired since the last entry before I forget them. The events of today cannot be forgotten no matter how much I will try.

There were many dozens of us waiting at the Guineas' Station for another locomotive to take our train to wherever its cargo of soldiers and cannon could meet Burnside. Some os us, having been discharged from the Richmond hospitals too soon, filled the air with much coughing and hacking. The station agent received a telegram stating that no locomotive would be forthcoming and that the senior officer present was directed to put us all on the march with all haste to Fredericksburg. None of us had a musket and few had any rations but off we went, under the command of an artillery lieutenant who had been on his way home to Lynchburg.

We left the station to fall in and I noticed this one soldier in a slouch on the end of a bench. Someone called to him to hurry up. It was when he did not respond that we realized that he was dead.

It was not a great length of march, probably no more than ten miles. Since we started so late in the day, we required to spend the night spread out across farmers' fields without tents, little rations and only a few blankets. When we fell in, without breakfast, on Thursday morning, I noticed that our ranks had thinned some. 

After a short but cold and hungry march, we arrived at the army's new location across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg which had been occupied that very day. We were met by officers who knew where the various divisions of the army were located. These officers broke us up into parties and took us to our divisions where others took over and led us to our brigades. It was nearing dark before I entered the camp of my company.

I was greeted by the welcome sight of my pards, including Bill Adkins, who was wearing my blanket. My blanket. My thick, heavy blanket from home which kept me from freezing all last winter, the same that I was looking forward to being reunited with was now draped across the shoulders of the only person who looked warm. He said that he was keeping it protected for me. How could I ask for it back? I thanked him and said that he could keep it. Along with the uniform in the package I received at the hospital was a vest, two pairs of wool stockings and a pair of flannel drawers. My old blanket would have been too warm anyway.

Corporal Flynn was there and when I enquired about my musket, he tossed a spade to me. My welcoming party rapidly turned into a working party which included myself. As we dug into the hard ground, we talked and I was informed of all that has happened since my involuntary absence. 

The regiment had been in the Shenandoah when I took sick. A good many of came down sick at the same time but I was the only one who required treatment in a general hospital. Since my leaving the regiment, the regiment left the Shenandoh. Indeed, Jackson's entire force left the valley once Burnside became frisky and threatened Richmond. Now Lee's entire army was reunited and standing between Burnside and the object of his affections.

The regiment suffered more casualties at Sharpsburg than I was aware. John Fail and Elias Frazier, neither of which I knew,  were killed there. Our colonel, Dixon Barnes, died of his wounds. Peace to his ashes. Cadwallader Jones is our new colonel. Harper and McDow have died of disease and Lieutenant Wade has retired. Troy Crenshaw is still away from us, still suffering from his wounds at Second Manassas. 

This now brings me to the momentous events of today. First, I must state the positions of the army relative to each other. When I finally get old, or at least older, I will no longer remember. Our Jackson was on the right of the line. Our division of Hill's was inside from the far right. Taliaferro's division was on our right. To our left was Hood's division. Hood was the far right of Longstreet's wing of the army. Longstreet and a good deal of our artillery was in a fortified position on some heights across the river from Fredericksburg. Gregg's brigade, which included us, was in reserve. Facing us, in the city, was the infernal horde of Burnside. 

They hit us on our right first. Our regiment was observing the battle from our protected reserve position on a rise when we were dreadfully surprised by a blue line of battle. We later found out that this was Meade's division. We were fairly surprised and broken up by Meade. General Gregg was killed while rallying his brigade to hold our position. General Early's division supported us and we were able to fight out the attack. We stayed and they withdrew.

At this point, we were able to just watch as the next period of battle began. It was Longstreet's turn to be attacked. That Burnside sent brigade after brigade uphill across open fields without cover against infantry and massed artillery firing from behind the protection of earthworks. We killed them in waves. As one wave was repulsed, another took its' place in the attack. I lost count of the number there were so many. As each wave was thrown back, we could see so many bodies. And they kept on coming, and dying. They never came close to our lines. As we were so far away, we could not assist Longstreet but he probably did not need us.

It is now night and I am writing this by the faint light of an astronomical oddity of nature called a borryallis. There can be seen so many bodies. They cannot all be dead; there are too many moans and calls for help. There is still frequent gunfire from Longstreet's men.

It is very cold. The vest and drawers help but I would like a blanket like my old one. I can see Adkins and hear him. He is sleeping quite well. After such slaughter as we witnessed today, how can the Yankees expect that we would ever surrender? 

Monday, December 10, 2012


Wednesday, December 10, 1862, Guinea's Station, Virginia

Nearly everything has gone wrong. I was assured that I would be discharged from the hospital on Monday last. It is now two days later and although I have been discharged, I am scarcely closer to rejoining my regiment than I was when still in the hospital.

Two days ago, several folks from the Provost Marshal's department entered the hospital and spoke with the surgeon in charge. Shortly afterwards, there was a general call for all able-bodied men to prepare for discharge and departure from the hospital to rejoin the army in the field. I saw several who, being motivated by their sense of duty, struggled to rise from their cots and join the ranks. Others who, moments before the entrance of the marshals, were nearly dancing suddenly became lame when called upon to do their duty.

A steward brought me the uniform that I had arrived in. The stockings and braces were missing. I was holding up my trousers, counting how many holes I would have to patch when I felt a hand on my shoulder. When I turned my eyes were cast upon a young lady of tender years who presented me with a parcel wrapped in paper and tied with string. This package she gave me. She did not and I could not utter a single word. She turned on her heel and walked towards some other ladies.

Although it was not explained to me, I gathered that these ladies were from an aid society and their purpose was to distribute material needs to the soldiers in the hospital. In all the disruption that filled the hospital, I think no one noticed my opening of the parcel. Inside was a new uniform including stockings and braces. And a pair of drawers.

And now I sit in a railroad station, wearing my new uniform. I have sat here for some hours along with many others, waiting on a locomotive engine to come and replace the broken-down one that has stranded us here. It my own fault that I am here. Had I not gone to have my likeness taken in my new uniform, I could have boarded an earlier train. Now, thanks to my vanity, I twiddle this tintype with my fingers as I listen for the whistle of approaching relief. Jackson needs me and I am not there.

There was no explanation for the urgency of the marshals earlier. Obviously, something has happened or is happening that requires all of us who can to defend our country. And here I sit, twiddling. Disgraceful. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

"...where is Jackson?"

Sunday, December 7, 1862, in hospital, Richmond.

It is time to leave. I have spent enough time being the object of curious interest to the practitioners of the medical arts. Let them find some other canvas. Sadly, there are so many more for them to practice on.

It was this Friday past that the surgeon in charge of this wing came to say that I could return to my regiment on Monday next. At that moment, I no longer minded the oatmeal gruel that I was eating. I am now looking forward to the salt pork and hard crackers that I will feast on once I return to camp. As the weather is turning colder, there will be little else to eat but I do not care. It will be worth it so long as I may see my pards again. I will even suffer Corporal Flynn gladly. 

There is much to do before I take my leave of this place. I have made some friends here and I will have to say good-bye to them. It is not likely that I will see any of them again. Somewhere in this place is my uniform. It will probably require a great deal of tender nursing itself before I can wear it with any sense of respect as a soldier. I do not need to be concerned about my new rifled musket as it was left with the Ordnance officer before I left camp.

There are questions that I have. Will I be issued rations enough to sustain me until I rejoin the 12th? Will transportation be arranged for me or will I be left to my own devices? And where is Jackson?