Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We scraped away the mold...

Friday, February 26, 1864, along the Rapidan

This cold penetrates everything and everyone. Even during those days where the Sun shines, it does not warm our bones to any appreciable degree. There are fewer days of snow and more of rain of late but the difference is only barely noticeable. We were ordered to move to this area so that more firewood could be obtained. I had said that there was enough  to last all winter but now I question myself.

The only times we are warm are when the long roll is beaten and the brigade is sent off in pursuit of Yankees. It is a sight to see us all pour out of our cabins and huts in answer to the long roll. We pour out slowly, like molasses, the sergeants and corporals yelling threats at us the whole time. It takes awhile, but we form up and move out The Yankee cavalry has been quite aggressive is its patrolling. Their cavalry jumped our cavalry near Liberty Mills.We were sent after them but could not catch them.

Another time, our horsemen were attacked and driven in at Barnett's Ford. We were ordered after the Yankees, swearing certain death and destruction to those who dared to roust us from our cherished warmth. This time, some shots were fired but I do not know of any casualties. Neither myself nor any of my pards saw any of the enemy. Our march back to camp was certainly faster than our earlier march away from it.

Wilson Crenshaw received and package from home addressed only to himself three mornings ago. There were three loaves of wheat bread inside and all moldy. We scraped away the mold and happily partaked. More important than the bread was a very nice overcoat. It had pockets and a cape that went down to the elbow. The dark brown wool was not too fine a grade but Crenshaw did not care and neither did we.

Crenshaw announced that this overcoat belonged not to him but to the entire Dandy Eights mess. Whenever one of our own goes on picket duty along the Rapidan, he may wear it, surrendering it to the next member of the mess once it is his turn to pull picket duty. For his generosity with the bread and with the overcoat, perhaps more for the latter than the former, we, by voice vote, anointed Crenshaw as permanent president of our mess.

And by the by about picket duty, several of us were pulling just that a few days ago. Castles was wearing the overcoat as it was his turn. It is a pity that Crenshaw had only the one overcoat. I had wrapped myself in my excellent and now well-worn blanket and was not too bad. We were watching the Yankee pickets across the Rapidan and they were watching us. One of them waved his musket over his head and indicated that he wanted to parley. I thought that I should go and meet him.

Giving my musket to Castles, I waved back to the Yankee and pointed to a center point in the river. The water was so very cold and I still regret that I walked through the water. We met at arms length, exchanging a very few words. He was from Pennsylvania and had been an undertaker before the war. He offered some coffee for some tobacco. I do not subscribe to the habit of tobacco but I have learned that gains me an advantage to carry some with me for just such occasions. I gave him a hefty poke of the weed and he gave me a hefty poke of coffee beans and a copy of the New York Herald. We parted company quickly thereafter as neither of us could stand the cold water any longer.

Quickly, I gave the poke of coffee to Holton who proceeded to roast the beans. I was much too busy removing my brogans and socks to pay any attention to what was going on around me. If the Yankees had crossed the river at that point, I would have gladly surrendered had they allowed me to continue to warm my feet. I fear that I have caught a bad chill and will have to report myself to sick call tomorrow.

The coffee was greatly appreciated by all who imbibed. We felt warmed both inside and out. I never did get a chance to read the paper. Castles took it and read it to us. I was too busy trying to keep my feet from falling off. I was afraid that if that happened, they would be roasted and eaten. The Yankees had invaded Florida and were soundly thrashed in battle. Forrest had beaten a band of Yankee raiders in Mississippi.

Castles then read us a story so fantastic that we had him read it again. The Confederacy has some sort of ship that can travel underwater. This ship left from Fort Moultrie and has sunk a Yankee warship in Charleston harbor. I was last at Moultrie three years ago last month, when the militia was called out.
Three years. How much longer?

I Send You These Few Words

This, "ship" that took off from Fort Moultrie was the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine. The Hunley was the first submarine in history to sink a warship, in this case, the USS Housatonic. Alas for the Hunley, for reasons currently under investigation, the submersible never made it back to the dock.

The battle in Florida was the Battle of Olustee and was a substantial Southern victory. In Mississippi, Forrest beat the Federals at the Battle of Okolona. All three of these events took place 150 years ago this month. Overall, February, 1864 was not a bad month for the Confederacy. However...

Something wicked this way comes.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"We Thought We Would All be Shot".

Thursday, February 11, 1864, along the Rapidan

For awhile it was appearing that we would all freeze into statues as the stockpile of firewood was nearing empty, the entire brigade, and perhaps the entire division, has pulled up stakes and moved up the Rapidan about one-half mile. We are continuing to cut wood and it appears that we will keep warm until the spring.

No good thing is ever free from a bad thing. While there is wood in abundance in our new location, we had to give up our cabins in our old location. There were some of us that built rather flimsy structures which, with some effort, be taken down and removed upriver. The rest of us, who built sturdy cabins had to bid them farewell. Poor Duncan and Hancock. They had worked very hard to make proper shingles for our cabin. All we managed to salvage from our cabin was the sign for our mess, the Dandy Eights.

We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring for reasons other than warmth. We are, "feasting", on our usual winter rations which consist of salt pork, hardtack and some corn meal. There is little else to be had. Beef is no longer a word we use as we have forgotten its meaning. Flour is but a dream. We remember this same fare from last winter but we seem to remember that there was more of it. There are still some packages and parcels from home that arrive from time to time but the contents are never enough to decrease our hunger.

Two days ago, our mess was sitting around a fire discussing fervently one of our favorite subjects, that being rations. We talked mostly about the early days of the war when finding more substantial fare was easier. The specific subject of chicken came up and Castles became somewhat excited. He leaned close into the fire and said that he knew where there was a live chicken that wished to join our mess. He said that he had seen it near headquarters, roaming around as if it didn't have a care in the world.

At once, we voted to make ourselves a committee of the whole for purposes of helping the chicken to fulfill its destiny. Castles said that he would take only one of us with him as an entire committee would scare it away. We all volunteered but he picked Holton. They departed, in the direction of headquarters, Castles stating that they would return, feast in hand, in about an hour.

Hancock produced our cook pot, filled it with snow, and stoked the fire. We all pulled things from our haversacks to contribute to the pot. Crenshaw wondered about the pet chicken that General Lee kept. We stopped and looked at one another. All of us had the same questioning expression on our faces: was it possible? Up we flew, running after Castles and Holton. We could not run very fast due to the snow. We fell often in the snow and over each other. We thought we would all be shot.

As we started to catch up to them, they heard us and turned around. Thinking that we were going to spoil everything, they began to run away from us. Crenshaw threw a large stick at Holton, bringing him down. Crenshaw and I jumped on him and smothered him in the snow. The rest of us kept running after Castles. We were all saved from the firing squad when Castles ran out of steam. We never did determine if that chicken was the commanding general's chicken but that was all right.

Our general has returned and he appears to be all right save for a limp.We have not seen him since his wounding at Fredericksburg two years ago. With McGowan's return, General Perrin has been sent to command some other brigade. Although we are glad to have McGowan back, we will miss Perrin. He managed to get General Lee to commute the death sentences of two soldiers found guilty of desertion from this regiment. He was quite a soldier and we liked him.

I Send You These Few Lines

General Lee had a pet chicken? Yes. Her name was Nellie. Since early 1862, Nellie would attach herself to the Great Commander and as long as it was known that she belonged to him, no one dared to put her in a pot. She repayed her protector by laying eggs. Some smart hen.

General Abner Perrin, from Edgefield District, in South Carolina, was a veteran of the Mexican War. when Samuel McGowan returned from his medical absence, Perrin was given command of a brigade of Alabamians in a different division.

This winter of '63-'64 was a bad one for both sides of the Rapidan. McGowan's brigade was spread out to relieve the firewood problem, having fewer soldiers overtaxing the supply. While this worked, it thinned out a line that was already thin. The Yankees will probe Southern lines all winter long, looking for weak spots.

They just might find some.