Monday, February 25, 2013

"That was some pumpkins".

Wednesday, February 25, 1863, Camp Gregg, Virginia

With all the time that I have that is not taken up with duties of a martial nature, and that is a good deal of time, there is scarcely any reason to not to be making an entry in this journal  on each and every day. There are simply too many temptations in camp and I am but mortal. When the weather permits, it will do this army well to resume active campaigning.

One such temptation is the playing of cards. It takes place in every tent and cabin in the regiment and I suppose it runs through the entire army. Jackson abhorrs such things and woe to he or they should Jackson catch them at it.

Even so, I will admit that I have been known to try my luck with the cards, knowing full well that I am no good at playing. It is something to pass the time. Some engage at cards but they do not play. They are too serious at it for it to be called play. These are the same folk that one would do well to stay away from. I know this instinctively; others learn from experience.

Duncan, Crenshaw and myself were walking between two rows of huts when we heard the laughter and whooping associated with a card game coming from one cabin. Crenshaw said that we should enter and he pointed to the large volume of smoke coming from the stick and mud chimney as evidence of a warm cabin. Duncan and I knew better. In that cabin were people who would steal the coins from a dead baby's eyes. We excused ourselves and bade him well. He went in and we went on.

It was not long before Crenshaw returned to our cabin looking lost and fragile. The day before, Lieutenant Williamson, with the help of Corporal Flynn, distributed the contents of two wooden boxes, courtesy from the generous and patriotic ladies of Lancaster County. Earlier in this war, since I am from Beaufort and the regiment is from the upcountry, I always felt guilty at accepting any gift from those who supported their boys as I am not one of them. 

That feeling of guilt passed some time ago. The boys accept me as one of their own and I accept whatever treasures come my way from my new "relations". This time, there was nothing to eat and we all were disappointed. There was, instead of hams and apples, quite a bit of winter clothing. I received a wool shirt and a pair of shoes in the general distribution. Duncan benefitted from a receipt of a pair of canton flannel drawers and a pair of socks. My shoes were much too small but I kept them in the hopes of trading them for a scarf or mittens much the same as what Castles aquired. Poor Crenshaw was not there and he was entitled to nothing. A good scarf and mittens help one to stand on guard duty in the cold.

When we saw poor Crenshaw, not only had he lost his socks but his shoes as well to those mosquitoes who bled him. He was lucky to have escaped with his trousers intact. Of course, Duncan and I had to take him under our wings lest he get frostbite and allow Surgeon  Prioleau to practice his trade. I gave up my new shoes and Duncan gave up his socks, his old ones.

There are other social distractions, strong drink being one of them. In the wrong hands, or stomachs, it can cause a great disturbance. Hancock, knowing that he drew guard duty in the snow, warmed himself before reporting to his post. Within five minutes of him starting his beat, he was approached by Corporal Flynn. Hancock challenged the Corporal as according to regulations. However, Flynn could not understand he challenge as Hancock's speech was slurred by his artificial warmth. Hancock got ugly and Flynn got uglier. Hancock was relieved and sent to the stockade.  Someone had to walk Hancock's beat and Holton drew the dirty duty. 

The following morning, when Hancock was released from the stockade, Holton was there to meet him and promptly struck him in the jaw. A general engagement ensued and now they both are in the stockade. That was some pumpkins.

Lincoln has seen fit to replace Burnside after he ruined his best army twice, once at Fredericksburg and once during the mud march. Joe Hooker is now in the saddle.  It is a pity. I would prefer Burnside.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"No one was watching the picket line"

Saturday, February 7, 1863, Camp Gregg

The weather is proving to be a more formidable enemy than the Yankees. The weather is affecting everything, every aspect of our existence. This diary is quite far behind in its' recordings. It is cold. It is wet. We spend most of our day, every day, trying to keep warm and dry. The roof of our shelter, which we had every reason to be proud of, welcomed the rain as a friend. We hate the roof as we hate the Yankees.

We have forgotten what it is like to be dry. If the roof could be made proof against the rain, we could dry our soaking uniforms inside near the fire. As long as it leaks, we cannot get dry. The firewood that we cut has not had time to season properly and so it resists our attempts to cause it to ignite. We have to wear down its resistance before it surrenders any warmth.

Duncan protested when asked to go outside and bring in some more wood. He said that the rains had rendered the firewood useless. I had to teach him an old trick. He is right in that the wood is too wet to burn but only on the outside. I split some had showed him that the insides were dry. As it was raining at the time, the both of us got wet.

The weather is less kind to the Yankees. Burnside had moved his army against us again last month. We were hoping to whip them as we did at Fredericksburg last December but the weather did it for us. Burnside did not move very far or very fast before the rains ruined his roads, causing him to return to his camps. We fired not a shot.

Sickness is rampant. No one can hear Corporal Flynn yell at us for all the coughing and sneezing. The regimental hospital is overloaded. The most recent folks on the sick list are being sent away from the regiment for lack of space. I have heard of few deaths this winter so at least that is some good news.

More good news. We have been paid. After months of doing without, our paymaster has finally caught up to us. We are all flush again with our eleven dollars a month times eight months. It did not take long before all of we high privates broke into small groups playing chuck-a-luck and other games of chance. Many went from flush to flat in just a few hours.

We had a snowball fight the day before yesterday. It started with only a few participants from Orr's Rifles and the 13th. The friendly altercation attracted a great deal of attention and it escalated rapidly into a general melee. As I was doing nothing profitable with my time, I found some snow and joined in. 

It was fun for awhile but then it turned ugly. As the combat continued, the snowballs had more rock than snow. Several went down, bleeding. I saw three bloody teeth on the snow near me. Someone produced a flag and, of course, it became an object to be attacked and captured vigerously. It was defended just as vigerously as the snowball fight turned to fisticuffs. While I was still able to do so, I made an honorable retreat. So many were injured that our officers gave us merry ned for depleting the brigade's ranks of men fit to fight the enemy.

As things are now quiet, the regiments pull picket duty in turn. Ours comes around about every two weeks. The last time we went to the picket posts, we took over the shelters of the previous regiment to be there. They, or perhaps the regiment they relieved, had built some rather swell shelters. We were warm and dry for he first time in some time. We liked being out of camp and on the line.

While we were last on the line, there occurred an incident that was beyond belief. At one point on the Rapphannock, there was Duncan, Hancock, Crenshaw and myself. Castles, Barton and Holton were warming themselves inside the shelter. Hancock and Crenshaw were closest to the enemy across the river. A Yankee halooed across the river to these two and Crenshaw responded. Duncan and myself heard nothing as we were too far away. 

The Yankee called upon Crenshaw to come to the center of the river to talk and trade. Duncan and myself knew nothing of this until Hancock came to tell us. The three of us hurried to the riverbank to find Crenshaw and this Yankee already moving towards each other. I looked across to the other side whence this Yankee came and saw a number of blue heads poking up. Not knowing if this was an honest encounter or a ruse, I dropped to the ground and took aim at the approaching enemy. I aimed at him as I knew that I could hit him but was not confident that I could kill any of those on the opposite shore.

The two got closer and I got colder. I was lying part in the snow and part in the water but dared not move as I did not wish to reveal my concealment. Crenshaw went to the shelter to arouse the rest.  Hancock was near me but did not take aim. More Yankees came to their riverbank as we were re-inforced from the shelter. I was fearful that my hand would go numb from the cold and I could not bring down that Yankee who, by this time, had made contact with Crenshaw. I also feared that my shaking would cause my musket to discharge prematurely and bring on a general engagement.

We saw them exchange things between themselves. In my cold-induced fog, I think I saw a Yankee level a musket at Hancock and another one taking aim at me. Should I switch my sights from the near Yankee and put them on the one who has put his on me? Just when I was ready to let fly and da-- the results, Crenshaw and the Yankee parted and the both of them returned to their respective shores. The other Yankees slunk away and Holton helped me up and lowered the hammer on my musket as I was too cold to do it myself.

Crenshaw said that the Yankee was from the 151st Pennsylvania in Reynold's corps. They exchanged pleasentries and photographs. Crenshaw gave him a pipe and some tobacco and in returned, received several hardtack crackers and a two-pounds of salt pork. At this point, I strongly urged that we immediately repair to our shelter and prepare this repast for ourselves. All hurriedly agreed. I could not have cared less about the food; I only wished to get warm by the fire.

It was not much for so many but no one complained. We added to this from our own stores and feasted as if we were in Delmonico's in New York. I noticed that no one was watching the picket line.