Monday, June 30, 2014

"...we crossed the Appomattox."

Thursday, June 30, 1864, north of Fort Harrison, VA

When I last made an entry, the Yankees were not bothering us as much as was Ol Sol. We long for last winter, having forgotten just how cold it was. When this winter arrives, we will long for this summer, having forgotten how hot it was. As there is so little shade here, we have resorted to building  our shebangs just as we have for the past three summers. It would be so much better for us if there was an abundance of sweet water. What little sweet water there is not going to last. A soldier's camp is a dirty place. We need to move camp closer to that millstream.

And the very next day after the last entry, we were back on the march. Mahone's division was to attack the Yankees near Richmond and our division was to be in support. It meant leaving our works and marching again through Petersburg, this time heading north. The first time we marched through Petersburg, heading south, the citizens greeted us with cheers, calling upon Lee's boys to save them from the vile Yankee hordes of scoundrels.

The best thing that happened to us on that march was that the citizens, mostly the womenfolk, presented buckets and pails of the best water we have ever had.We would have liked to have stopped and filled our canteens but there was no time to avail ourselves of this liquid bounty. The best we could do was dip our tin cups into the buckets as we passed. God bless the citizens of Petersburg.

Holton noticed something about our march and called or attention to it. We could see in some places where the line of march was very straight, the colors being carried by each regiment. We observed that the distance from one battle flag to the next was quite short. There are so few of us now that each regiment does not take up quite so much space as it used to.

There are so many missing from the ranks. Corporal McAteer, in command of second squad, is still absent in the hospital. Most of his squad is dead, wounded, or on details. The only man fit to shoulder a musket in his squad, Stafford Hood, is now with us and first squad until things get better. Our squad, with Hood, numbers but nine men. Of these nine, Will Crenshaw and Bill Terry are absent sick. This leaves seven, including Corporal Flynn. As there is no second squad in this platoon, our squad of seven represent the entire platoon, which should number some forty. I would wager that the entire company does not number two dozen nor the regiment even one hundred present and fit for duty. We will whip the Yankees anyway. We have faith in our Lee and he has faith in us.

When Mahone finally engaged the enemy, near Jerusalem Plank Road, the brigade staten somewhat in the rear, waiting to be called in to support if necessary. We were not so far in the rear that the Yankees did not find us. We exchanged some musket fire but it was not a hot fire. Short was wounded here. When this little expedition was over, we marched back to Petersburg, drinking our fill while in town.

The Yankees did not allow us to rest in our works for long. We left during Wednesday night, going through Petersburg on our way to near Richmond. As it was a night march, it was cooler but it was too late for there to be any water for us in town. When we crossed the Appomattox, there was but a little time to replenish our canteens.

The march was long and hurried. We guessed that Beast Butler had broken through our works and was about to capture Richmond. What with the lack of water had the rapid pace, straggling was very bad. We crossed the James on a pontoon bridge and were in position by today's late morning. Stragglers filtered in all the rest of the day and into the night. Our position is in the works to the north of Fort Harrison. There is a good deal of heavy artillery in the Fort.

And now we dig.

I Send You These Few Lines

The brigade (McGowan's) has been marching its feet off during June. There has been some action and some rest but the rest of the month has been spent doing what infantry is supposed to do, march.

Fort Harrison, part of the Richmond defenses, is part of the National Park service system. The fort is located south of Richmond, a bit east of the James River and west of Malvern Hill. Malvern Hill was one of the 1862 Seven Days Battles.

The conditions of the several names mentioned, McAteer, Crenshaw and Terry being absent sick, and Short being wounded, all come from the National Archives records. As mentioned in a previous entry, the records are not so detailed as to indicate which soldier is in which squad or platoon so any mention along those lines is just literary license.

It is not license, however, to state that the ranks in Lee's army are thinning. J.F.J. Caldwell wrote a history of McGowan's brigade in which he was a company commander in the First South Carolina. In this work, he states that the company he commanded at this time consisted of himself and seven men. Another company had but two.

There's something else about the documentation that has been bothering me since long before I started this blog. Much of the references that I use to support this blog come from company muster rolls held by the National Archives. The rolls were filled out six times a year, once every two months. When May of 1864 arrives, something happens. Instead of there being two rolls, one for May/June and one for July/August, there is just one. One roll for the four month period. This is common to all Confederate forces wherever stationed at the time. I have never been able to account for this.

This situation complicates things for the researcher. An incident, happening to a soldier, might be noted on the roll but with the time period covering four months, it is not possible to determine when the incident happened. For instance, James W. Porter, of Company I, the 12th South Carolina, is carried on the May/August roll as being absent, sick. Do I mention this in a May entry, June entry, July entry or August entry of this blog?

And since I'm on a roll about documentation, please let me add that it is very unfortunate that the quality and reliability of the information depends on the persons keeping the rolls. A further frustration is having to deal with the handwriting of some of the Federal transcribers who were hired in the very early days of the 20th century to transcribe information from the muster rolls to index cards. Almost all muster roll information used by modern researchers is gleaned not from examination of the original rolls but rather from these index cards. Some of these transcribers have good handwriting. As for some others, they might as well be writing in Cyrillic.

Beast Butler refers to Union Major General Benjamin Butler. He commands the Army of the James positioned to the east of and in between Richmond and Petersburg. Butler acquired the nickname, "Beast", from his activities as commander of Federally-occuppied New Orleans. The women of the Crescent City were being very disrespectful to the occupiers. Butler issued an order stating that any women who showed such disrespect to Union soldiers ..."would be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation." In other words, a soiled dove, fallen angel, trollop, strumpet, a lady of the night, etc. Chamberpots were manufactured with his likeness at the bottom.

Tooms does not know that now that the brigade is in the Richmond defenses, it falls under a military jurisdiction commanded not by Robert E. Lee but by Richard Ewell, who used to command a corps in Lee's army and now commands the Department of Richmond. Will Tooms ever see the Army of Northern Virginia again?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

"We left behind the pickles."

Tuesday, June 21, 1864, south of Petersburg

We entrench constantly these days. If we are to be in any one place for just a few hours, we entrench. If we have to march to a certain place and must rest for the night before we arrive at our destination, we entrench. Luckily for us, today we did little work entrenching and that was only because we have returned to some works we had already constructed.

The regiment is becoming quite the engineers. We do not lack for tools as even a tin plate can be used as a digging tool. Some of us have no plates but their hands work just fine. There are some proper tools, axes and shovels, in the regiment, but only a few per platoon. If there is any sort of structure nearby, be it barn or farm house, it is raided for anything useful to dig with. Boards are ripped up. Dinner plates, taken from the kitchen do not work well as they break much too easily.

Some days ago, Hancock, Castles, Holton and myself were sent to a farm house for anything that might be turned into an implement of construction. Axes, hammers, nails and shovels are especially prized. We hoped the property had no residents. We were happy to see that the previous occupants were absent. If ever people are present, we politely ask the owner to spare what he, or often she, can spare for the protection of the boys.

However, since we are but high privates of the lowest order, we look first for something to eat. More often than not, we find nothing, not even a raccoon. At this house, the fence rails went first as they make good firewood. We all slung our muskets over our shoulders and carried as much as we could back to our camp. Our eyes were peeled, looking for patrolling Yankee cavalry.

It was on our sixth or seventh trip to the house when we began to tear up the walls, ripping off the boards. Holton peeled away one board to reveal a hidden pantry. On the floor was a three gallon crock. He called us all over to him. We stared at the crock, covered with cheesecloth and a plate with a rock on top. We said nothing but each of heard the others ask the same question in our heads,"What is in there?"

Holton carefully removed the rock, plate and cloth. The first sight that greeted us was a greenish scum with a foul scent. Holton moved away the scum with the plate. Castles called out, "Pickles, those things are pickles!" All thoughts of our assignment vanished as we anticipated a feeding frolic. Holton picked up the crock and moved to place it on a table. The crock fell from his grip and it crashed onto the floor, breaking into pieces and scattering the scum and pickles all over the floor.

We were mad as hornets towards Holton. This careless act would not go unpunished. Castles beat him with his slouch as Castles kicked him. We picked him up and carried him to a nearby run. We found a small pond and threw him into it. It was then that we heard it. It was the sound of creaking wood and iron and falling water.

It took a short while to go through the undergrowth to determine the sours of the sounds. Castles saw it first. It was a mill, somewhat worse for wear. As Holton cursed our souls, the rest of us raced into the water towards the mill. Hancock fell and got just as wet as Holton. The door to the millwright's office was kicked in and we barged in, hoping that our loss of the pickles would be made up with the gain of something of equal value.

Near the hopper we found several sacks. There was plenty of "evidence" that the mice had found them before we did. After all the sacks were opened, we found that we were the proud owners of three sacks of corn meal, one of wheat flour and two sacks of corn, all with holes. Luckily for us, there were some empty sacks nearby, some marked, "H.C.". We took them and transferred the contents, including the, "evidence" into the new sacks. The mice that did not run away, we picked from the sacks and let them go. We joked that the mice were so small that they would not be worth the trouble to kill, skin and roast. I could not help but wonder if we might not someday regret having let the mice go.

We were in a very dangerous situation. We had forgot all about being soldiers. In our haste to punish Holton, we had left our rifles and ammunition at the farmhouse. Suppose a patrol of Yankee cavalry should just then come by? They would see that there were rebels hard by and would come looking for us. We could flee and be shot or stay, be captured and go to prison. No Yankees appeared. Providence was with us.

As it was getting dark, we determined that we needed to get back to camp. Should we approach our lines after dark, we might be shot for Yankees. Back at the farmhouse, we found a wheelbarrow which we took back to the mill to get the sacks of treasure. As sweet water was hard to come by in camp, we took the time to drink our fill from the millrace and fill our canteens.

We were very fearful whilst returning to our lines. The wheel of the barrow was very much worse for wear. It screamed its protest at having to do any work. Several times, the wheelbarrow collapsed, spilling our treasure to the ground. Each time we repaired it as best we could without tools or parts. Every time we stopped, it caused us to lose time. It got darker and the wheel got louder.

When the only light was coming from the stars, a shot was fired at us and then we were challenged by the pickets. Usually, the challenge comes first. We pleaded with them not to shoot, that we were fellow Confederates. There were more shots and calls of, "Liars, it's a trick". We shouted our names and said that we had corn. The shooting stopped. We were ordered to advance and be recognized and bring the corn.

We advanced and were recognized as being friendly. Lieutenant Williamson was there and demanded an accounting of our actions. We had not finished our account when he stopped us and inquired as to the contents of our sacks. Hancock opened them up and  almost started a riot. One of the pickets asked if the sacks would have to be turned over to the regimental commissary. Lieutenant Williamson said, "No. Company I found it. Company I keeps it." There was a cheer for the Lieutenant. Although it was quite late, the company ate well.

We hope to be able to return to the farmhouse. We left behind the pickles.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"...Yankee cavalry hard by."

Thursday, June 16, 1864, near Malvern Hill.

Should I march another mile, I feel as if my feet will surrender. My brogans are just misshapen pieces of leather. Rocks and small sticks easily find their way through the openings in my soles to visit my feet. I dare not complain too loudly as there are many of us, perhaps the most of us, who are in the same way.When I had the opportunity to do so some weeks ago, I should have helped my self to three or four pair of Yankee brogans.

All this started this Monday past. While the brigade was in place, being watchful behind earthworks, we were hastily ordered to fall in and march south to a then unknown destination. We all thought that Grant had again moved away from our front and was trying to flank our Lee again. We crossed the Chickahominy and the York Railroad. Someone said at one place that we were marching through Frayser's Farm. If true, we were going through one of the battlefields where two years ago, McClellan had tried to wrest Richmond from our Lee.

There seemed to be a sense or urgency in this march. The further south we went the more we felt that indeed, Grant was trying to turn our flank. This was a bad time to be marching rapidly. Many men fell out due to the heat. We trusted that they would catch up to the main column by nightfall. I had two Yankee canteens. Castles offered me forty dollars, Confederate, for one. Duncan heard this and offered sixty dollars, Confederate, of course. I gave Castles one of my canteens and did not take any of his money as it was empty.

Later that same Monday, we were ordered into line of battle. Someone called out that there was Yankee cavalry hard by. There was some skirmishing but it was not heavy. I did not fire my musket even once. After some short time, the Yankees left us to the field. I am not aware that we suffered any casualties. That night, before getting any sleep, we fortified our position. We still did not know where we were going.

On Tuesday, we marched, always to the south. In the far distance to our right, and somewhat behind us, we could see the spires of Richmond. The day was just as hot as the day before. This was not a good land to get much water. What little water we came across was poor. Our rations were scant, insufficient to keep a body from wasting away under these exertions. There was still that same urgency of movement and the same lack of an understanding of where we were going. I heard some wag joke that Grant had embarked his whole army on transports and landed then in North Carolina.
Grant is somewhere and I suspect that Lee is looking for him. When our Lee finds him, there will be fighting.

I Send You These Few Lines

I see where this site has passed the 3000 hits mark. To those of you who made this happen, I thank you.

Grant has moved. After the grisly costly defeat at Cold Harbor, Grant decided to do another flanking run around Lee's right. Lee waited for some few days, not knowing what Grant was up to. When Lee determined that Grant was moving south, he had his army leave their works and rapidly march to some place where Grant might be caught in the open and a piece of his army may be bitten off and chewed up.

The cavalry-infantry skirmish that did not amount to much was one of several small encounters that occurred at this time. Union cavalry is looking to see where Lee is and every so often, they find him.

The hard marching, short rations and bad water were all reported on by those who were there. Indeed, there are places in Virginia that are rather dry. This is one of them. I am speculating that during the winter, there is good water in abundance. This is not winter, the temperatures are torrid and only bad water is easily found.

Frayser's Farm and Malvern Hill were two battles fought in 1862 during the Seven Day's Battles, right after Lee had assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee turned on the Union Major General George McClellan and drove him away from the gates of Richmond. Two years later, Lee finds himself now keeping Grant away from the Confederate capitol.

This diary entry opened with Tooms lamenting the state of his shoes (brogans). He opened the last entry in the same manner. Keeping Confederates in proper footwear has been a problem since the beginning of the war and it's getting worse.

A last word about Grant and his strategy. Yes, Grant has embarked on a grand flanking move around Lee. The entire Army of the Potomac is on the move but it is not Richmond that Grant is after.