Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Ham owes me a Yankee".

Tuesday, October 20, 1863, between the Hazel and Rappahannock Rivers, Virginia

General Lee, being a very good general, decided that the time was ripe to attack the Yankees again. We have learned that a good part of their army left our front to go to Tennessee. Now that their numbers were reduced, it was time to punish them again. Our own force had been reduced to to to the same place but that did not stop General Lee.

About a week ago, we were told to cook rations and that told us that there was to be some action. We had thought that operations had concluded for the year. We were looking forward to spending another winter warm and cozy in our rude cabins. At first, we thought that the Yankees were up to something and that we were to put a stop to it. Over the next few days, as we advanced and they retreated, we realized that it was ourselves who were doing the attacking. We felt very good.

The brigade crossed the Rapidan near Cave's Ford. For several days we marched further northward in the general direction of Warrenton. We desired that the Yankees would turn their backs to face us but they would not oblige us. We saw no action during these several days but did hear cannon and musket to the right of us in the distance. We cheered whoever was engaging the Yankees and loudly proclaimed that our turn would come.

Somewhere shy of Warrenton, we gorged ourselves on excellent white cabbage. Around the campfire that night, "Ham" Steele proclaimed, with great regret, that he could march no further on bare feet. There are quite a number of us sans shoes these days. Ham showed us his feet and inded, they were tore up. The cause of his depression was not his poor fet but rather that he could not keep up with us and would be unable to pot some Yankees.

From my pack, I removed the shoes that I had been keeping for when my current pair would blow out. The previous owner needed them no longer. I gave my old ones to Ham and put on the new ones. They were not fully worn in and I feared blisters but Holton gave me his spare pair of socks. I now have on both pairs and will trust that the additional padding will protect my feet. Ham expressed his gratitude by saying that the first Yankee he shoots will be for me.

On the fourteenth, we fell out from the line of march and went into line of battle. Some wounded of Heath's division passed us in the other direction. They called to us that the Yankees were hard by and that we should give them H--l. We swore that we would. I reminded Ham that he owed me a Yankee. My feet had been suffering a little but I forgot all about it now that we were about to attack.

In anticipation of our glorious charge which would rout them back to Washington, the Yankees shelled us but without much effort. When daylight faded away, which is earlier this time of year, the Yankees turned their backs to us once again and retreated towards Manassas. We were quite disappointed that they should not give us battle. As we marched the next day, we said that we would catch the Yankees at Manassas and would give them a good beating for a third time at that same place. It was at Manassas two years ago that our Jackson acquired the nickname of, "Stonewall". Our regiment was still in South Carolina at the time.

Once we reached Warrington, we halted and began the destruction of the railroad there. This may have been the Orange and Alexandria but I am not sure. The destruction of a railroad is a pleasurable affair. With whatever tools may be obtained from the nearest mechanic's shed, we pry away the spikes holding the rails to the ties. After the rails are removed, the ties are paced in a pile and set on fire. This was difficult as it was raining on and off during the day. Even so, we succeeded in heating the rails to the point where they would bend and be useless.

While we were enjoying ourselves, it was Hancock who asked if we were advancing, why were we destroying a railroad that would be in our rear as we advanved. Would we not need that line to keep us supplied as we moved towards Washington? It took a moment for this observation to sink in and when it did, there was no more joy in the burning.

That night, we marched to another point on the railroad. The rain was violent and all of us were as wet as fish in a run. We tore up another section of railroad but was not at all gleeful. Then we headed back the way we came. We could not have felt more miserable.

We crossed the Rappahannock yesterday and are now in camp. We can see the Yankee cavalry looking back at us from the other side. They cannot get at us and we cannot get at them. There will be a next time. Ham owes me a Yankee.

I Send You These Few Lines

What Tooms writes of is the Bristoe Campaign. It is little known or studied. Shiloh, Gettysburg and Nashville are better known. This campaign was an attempt by Lee to get around Meade's Army of the Potomac and threaten Washington. Lee was intending to maneuver Meade to a point where the latter would be forced to defend Washington. Lee would then tear off a piece of Meade's army and destroy it.

Meade would not co-operate. Rather than allow himself to be placed in a bad position, he retreated. There was one battle of any size, Bristoe Station. Hill attacked Hancock's II Corps but could do no significant damage. The casualties Hill suffered were severe.

In this post-Gettysburg fall of 1863, Lee's army is again suffering for want of men and supplies, including rations. Ham Steele was one of many such sufferers and winter is coming.

Tooms had previously written that as neither side was up to a new offensive, even though the weather would allow it, both sides would settle in for the rest of the year. Of course, he was greatly mistaken and surprised as was most everyone else. 

Now that this latest effort has expended itself, will the armies finally suspend their activities for the year or is there enough good weather and enough will for one more good throw?

Either way, it will be a long winter.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"We stay at six".

Tuesday, October 6, 1863, Orange Court House, Virginia.

If boredom could kill, half of us would be dead. There is so very little to do that is of any consequence. We chop great quantities of firewood for we expect a harsh winter and that is useful. Some of us sneak out of camp to hunt deer, fully aware that if they are caught, they will be charged for the cartridges they use or will face some punitive punishment. This is the time of year when the deer are active in their efforts to achieve connection and it is so hard to see them prance hither and yon and not think of a good supper.  I Company draws picket duty only every so often and with the exception of one flurry of activity, the Yankees have given us little excuse for raising a sweat. 

Towards the end of last month, on the 25th, the Yankee cavalry attempted a raid on Liberty Mills, on the Rapidan. They perhaps had heard that Longstreet's corps has left us to go out west and therefore our lines were weakened. Our division, being hard by, was ordered to take care of them. Lane's brigade of North Carolinians stayed behind at Barnett's Ford while the rest of the division went downriver, looking for Yankees. The Twelfth was separated from the brigade and went down from the Mills. We saw nothing and fired not a shot. The North Carolinians who stayed where they were saw some action but we did not.

Two days later, we returned to camp. Our only casualty was Hancock who twisted an ankle. Good soldier that he is, he did not allow himself to be separated from his pards and rode in a supply wagon with a teamster. That night, at supper around the campfire, Hancock produced a slab of bacon for all of us to partake. Hancock said that he had captured it. Our mess gave him three cheers. The commotion attracted the attention of Corporal Flynn who paid us a visit. We expected him to turn all bellicose and threaten all manner of punishments but all he said was that it smelled good in our mess. We bade him sit and share.

Longstreet and his whole corps has been sent to help Bragg out west. It seems that he cannot beat the Yankees without Lee's help and as Lee cannot leave here, he sent his trusted lieutenant, Longstreet. It is all too bad that Stonewall is no longer with us. If Old Jack were sent, he could drive the Yankees straight back to and beyond the Ohio.

There have been some changes lately. Colonel Perrin, who took over command of the brigade upon the wounding of General McGowan at our last great victory of Chancellorsville, has been promoted to brigadier general. When our division commander, Pender, was wounded at Gettysburg, it was Wilcox who took over comand. We now learn that his temporary command has been permanent now that poor Pender is dead, succumbed to his wounds.

The re-organization of our company and squad after Gettysburg seems to be working well. "Jeffie" Turner, and "Ham" Steele, Sims, Sullivan and the rest are adjusting to us and we to them. We have taken to calling Stafford Hood "General Hood" after that great Kentuckian -turned-Texican Hood and he does not mind it in the least.

We of the Dandy Eights mess have pondered what to do now that we number just six. Troy Crenshaw has been absent since being wounded at Second Manassas which was more than a year ago. Vincent went missing since Gettysburg and now it stands that we are six. We debated allowing others to join our mess to bring our numbers up to eight but we decided not to as it would be an admission that we would never see our two pards again. We shall stay at six.

I Send You These Few Lines

They may be bored but at least no one is shooting at them. The great scene of action, at this time, is in the West, with the Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg.In September of 1863, Bragg had his opposite number, William Rosecrans and his Union Army of the Cumberland penned up in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Longstreet and part of his corps, not all of it as Tooms thought, were sent to help deliver the killing blow to Rosecrans.

Washington was not to permit this to happen. Two corps of Meade's Army of the Potomac, the XI  and XII Corps were sent west to assist Rosecrans. Sending away so much of Meade's army would slow but not halt offensive operations against Lee. Tooms is unaware of this transfer of Federal troops away from Virginia. 

What constitutes west at this time needs clarification. When someone spoke of the west back then, they were not referring to Wyoming, Nevada, Utah or Arizona (none of which yet existed) but rather Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan and other states which are now called the Midwest.

Tooms and his pards will need to enjoy the respite from active campaigning while it lasts. If the lull lasts much longer, the change from good weather to bad will terminate all campaigning until the Spring. If.

By that time, Longstreet will return and Lee's army will be whole again. The same cannot be said for the two corps sent from Meade's army. Neither would return to Virginia. The XII Corps would be broken up in April of 1864 and the troops used as the nucleus of a new corps.

The other corps that never returned, the XI, has quite an interesting story. At the Battle of Chancellorsville in April of 1863, it was this corps, under then O.O. Howard that was first attacked by "Stonewall" Jackson as part of his lengthy flank march. The reader may recall from the May 7, 1863 diary entry by Tooms, two captured Union troops, Albert Drehfall and Adam Herlich that were being escorted by Tooms' regiment away from the field. Both of then were with the 54th New York, part of XI Corps.

Two of the three divisions comprising XI Corps stayed in the West. The remaining division, would be transferred to the Department of the South to take part in operations against Charleston in 1863. The headquarters of the Department of the South and the base for operations against Charleston was Hilton Head, South Carolina, about 45 minutes south of where this writer (and Tooms) lives. 

So Lee gets all his people back and Meade gets nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. He does get some guy named Grant.