Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Victory will be ours."

Saturday, New Year's Eve, 1864, trenches.

This year, which has all but exhausted itself, is ending well for our cause. The papers are filled with good news. Hood has fought a great battle south of Nashville. The Yankees are retreating north towards that great Southern city which has so long been occupied by the Yankees. Hood has captured much in the way of stores to sustain his army during their march to new victories New recruits to the banner have replaced his losses in battle. The army is reported to be in high spirits. Nashville will be ours by New Year's.

Price is about to take back all of Arkansas and Missouri. It is reported that enough recruits have joined his mounted corps in the Trans-Mississippi so that it numbers 33,000 and is now the largest in the entire Confederacy. Five new brigades have been raised.

The news is tempered by the report that Forrest, that very gallant master of the horse, is dead. Sherman, who had disappeared after his capture of Atlanta, has made his presence known by taking Savannah. He has made the city a Christmas present to his master, Lincoln.

Our own predicament, in these trenches, does not look so good by comparison but we are not downhearted. These trenches,which offer a good deal of protection from Yankee lead, fix us in place. If they cannot get in, can we get out? It has been awhile since Grant has tried to take our works by storm. He has tried, more than once, to extend his lines far to our right to get beyond the reaches of our works and destroy the railroad that is supposed to feed us. We have to continue to extend our own thin lines to counter his moves. Our lines are about as thin as we are.

One of our own papers reprinted a story from one of the Northern papers that many of us find bothersome. The Yankees claim that our attempts to raise and arm the slaves will be doomed to failure. We soldiers were unaware that Richmond was entertaining or could even think of entertaining such a fantastic proposal. It is probably just more of their lies designed to cause our morale to waver.

Many of us see ourselves as carrying on the fight of our ancestors. This is our second American Revolution. We were reminded of this upon reading that there are still four pensioners from the Revolution still on the rolls.

The papers report of a ball to be held in Richmond.  Professor Rosenberger's band Couples will be admitted upon the presentation of $10 tickets. Single ladies will be admitted at no charge. I asked my fellow Eights if any of them would be in attendance. Hancock said he had a prior engagement. Terry said he had nothing to wear. Castles said he did not want to give any of the ladies his cold. Taylor and the Crenshaws concurred with Castles. Taylor said he was a bad dancer while White said that he did not want to embarrass the other gentlemen attendees and take all their ladies away with his dancing abilities. I did not want to be the only one from the Eights to go so I bowed out.

There is a call for support from the citizens of Richmond to provide a grand dinner to we of Lee's army. Upon hearing of this, Hancock stated that sound a noble idea should consist of fifty pounds of bacon, one half-dozen apple pies, ten pounds of potatoes, and three gallons of good whiskey. Terry observed that this was not much for the entire army. Hancock replied that he was not talking about the entire army, just his share. Castles wondered aloud why there was so little whiskey. We have not lost our sense of humored and we have not lost this war. Victory will be ours.

I Send You These Few Lines

There were so many living at the time, especially in the South, who thought that the war was close to end with a decisive victory for the Union. The papers say otherwise. These stories will boost Confederate morale at a time when it was flagging.

All the newspaper stories mentioned in this diary entry come from the Richmond Daily Dispatch from December 22 through December 30, 1864.

The last veteran of the Revolution survived the Civil War and passed away afterwards.

This sort of banter around the campfire about the Richmond ball is typical of the type of humor amongst veterans.

Friday, December 26, 2014

"...Grand High Noble Master Possum of the Mess."

Monday, December 26, 1864, Trenches

I would have liked to have made this entry yesterday, Christmas Day, but it was much too cold to write anything, even a signature on a furlough. It is slightly warmer today. The best thing about yesterday is that no one was shooting at each other. There has been a truce of sorts, strictly unofficial. Each side has independently gotten it into our respective heads that we will not kill each other. That is to say, yesterday. Today, we have heard a little exchange of musketry and some small amount of artillery but nothing in our immediate front. For this temporary respite in killing, we are grateful.

Castles is both a gentleman and a scoundrel. For some time, I had been loudly lamenting that my diary entries would have to cease as I was running out of ink. Yesterday morning, after breakfast, Castles presented me with a bottle, half-full of writing ink. On our march earlier this month to try and catch the Yankees who committed depredations against the railroad, he had picked up an abandoned Yankee knapsack in which was the bottle. Castles has let me fulminate about my lack of ink all this time, just waiting until yesterday to make a present of it to me.

Captain Stover authorized a whiskey ration to all in the company and God bless the man. As I do not imbibe, I gave my small share to Castles but God bless the Captain all the same. Hancock, Vincent and Terry, during one of the wood details, cut and brought to our cabin some pine boughs so as to make it look somewhat festive. Crenshaw made a rather artistic cross for the cabin from twigs and bark. We would put a candle near it but we have none to spare.

Some of us in the Dandy Eights mess exchanged small trifles as gifts. At least these things would be considered trifles at home. Here in the trenches, they have the status of luxuries. Terry received Hancock's old socks. He will undo them and use the threads to repair his own socks.Vincent and Terry each gave the other a half of a hard cracker and had a good laugh at it. I gave everyone a blank page from my diary so they could write a letter home.

Vincent said that he had nothing at hand but said that after this war was over, we could go to his home in Lancaster County and feast on as much bacon, apple pie, molasses and whiskey as we could hold. At once, we all gave him the rebel yell and elected Vincent Chairman of the mess. It dawned upon us at that point that we had never had a chairman before this. We anointed him with the title of Grand High Noble Master Possum of the Mess.

Truce or no truce, unofficial or otherwise, someone had to pull picket duty last night and it was most of the company. Once the Sun was down and the stars were out, someone started playing a fiddle. I do not know from which side the playing started but it was not long before he had come company. We could make out some more fiddles, some guitars and at least one banjo. Terry tried to join in with his jaws harp but no one could hear him beyond the confines of our hole.

Those who could sing and those who could not added to the melodious din. There was Jingle Bells, complete with someone hammering on a cowbell. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Deck the Halls, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and We Three Kings were sung with as much volume as the cold would allow. O Come All Ye Faithful and Silent Night sounded so  sorrowful compared to the other songs. The last that was played was Home, Sweet Home. No one sang or could sing after that.

I Send You These Few Lines

The brigade historian, Caldwell, mentioned that there was a small whiskey ration issued to the brigade this winter.

All the songs mentioned were correct for the period.

This is the fourth Christmas of the war. It was never supposed to have lasted to even the first one. Will there be a fifth? It is too soon to tell but let us hope not.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"We never fired a shot."

Saturday, December 17, 1864, back in the trenches.

It is cold. It is the sort of cold that freezes one's marrow in the bones. It has rained so much that we expect at any moment that our officers will direct us to find two of every living thing. Our daily pint of corn meal does not carry us through a day. And to add to our many woes, the worst one is that we did not find the Yankees.

They moved too fast and we moved to slow. The had time enough to destroy several miles of track and make their way back to their own works. We understand that some of our cavalry reached the readers and exchanged some fire. I suppose that our cavalry was supposed to hold the Yankees in place long enough for we poor infantry to come up and punish them. The Yankees managed to break away from the cavalry and escape fast enough to avoid their punishment.

On Sunday, the march was resumed at dawn. We followed the Yankees, anxious to get ahold of them. We had not gone but a few miles before we stopped. We needed the rest badly but did not want to lose the Yankees. After some time, we turned around and retraced our steps towards Petersburg. We were too late. The Yankees had outmarched us to the point of our not being able to catch them. We never fired a shot.

We could have caught them had we been able to move faster but our bellies would not allow our feet to do so. Too many of us dropped out of the line of march due to exhaustion and that due to lack of food. Had we been able to catch them, we would have been hard-pressed to whip them.

We went back through Jarrett's Station and slept on the cold ground at the Nottoway River. On Monday, we camped just shy of Dinwiddie Court House. It was all familiar. On Tuesday, we were back in our works. I do not know what happened after we entered our works as I fell asleep and I will wager that I was not alone. I do not remember eating anything or even having anything to eat.

We did not end this empty-handed. We did manage to capture some numbers of stragglers. They are now on their way to a prisoner-of-war camp. I noticed that some were bare-footed and that probably not from wearing out their brogans while destroying the railroad. For some reason, we came across a number of blankets abandoned by the Yankees. Some of us, myself not among them, are sleeping warner of late.

In other times, when we took the field from the Yankees, we could count upon a bounty of abandoned property, haversacks with cheese and sardines, knapsacks withdrawers and socks, muskets and cartridge boxes enough to re-equip an army, Lee's army. This time, there were only some blankets and tents. This time they retreated, it was orderly and not in a panic. They are getting better at the art of war.

I Send You These Few Lines

Grant's raiders were Warren's corps, reinforced. They did tear up some sixteen miles of track in the usual way. First, the rails were taken up. The ties were removed, piled up and set on fire with the rails on top. As the rails heated, they became soft and were wrapped around trees. In the west, these were called, "Sherman's Neckties."

While the Weldon Railroad was disrupted, it was not destroyed. Confederate supply trains transferred their cargos to wagons at one end of the break. The wagons would bypass the break and reload waiting trains on the other side. The flow of supplies to Lee's army was slowed but not stopped. The damage dome was eventually repaired.

Rails damaged as described above could be repaired. It would be very slow and labor-intensive, beating the rails back into usable condition but it could be done. To destroy the rails beyond their being reused, there was a device that would allow the rails to be not just bent but twisted. A twisted rail was beyond the ability of Southern industry to be made good again.

The Union raiders did outmarch Hill's infantry. The cold affected both sides but the lack of food hurt only the Confederates. The abandoned blankets and tents comes from Theodore Garrish of the 189th New York, "Falling in, our few remaining blankets and tents proved to be so frozen, wet and heavy, the men were generally compelled to abandon them."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

" ...sharpen our bayonets."

Saturday, December 10, 1864, near Jarrett's Station

We were thinking and some hoping that, thanks to Mother Nature, all the campaigning was concluded for this year. The Yankees, not being content to sit in their works near the fires, have come out to have another try at us. This is all to the good as we have the opportunity to whip them one more time before Christmas.

On Thursday last, the eighth, we were told to cook three days rations. That always means that a March and battle will be hard by. The Ordnance folks came around to top off our cartridge boxes. Our officers told us to clean our muskets and sharpen our bayonets. It was after dark when we formed up and left our works. Leaving at this time is quite unusual. Some of speculated as we marched that there was a sense or urgency in our leaving before getting a good night's sleep.

Our rations have been so short for some time that ten days rations would have fit so very nicely in our haversacks. We are quite willing to whip the Yankees if only to feast upon their haversacks. We will take their blankets and overcoats from them as well. There are orders that we should not wear Yankee clothing but we would rather be warm and will take the risk of being shot by mistake.

That night, we camped some few miles south of Dinwiddie Court House, having come down the Boydton Plank Road. Our supper consisted of a little corn meal, less than a pint to each of us. We had to mention snow to mix the meal into dough which were then cooked into small cakes. The fare was meager but the fire warmed us nicely.

We did not get a great deal of sleep. We were awake before dawn. Breakfast consisted of whatever we did not eat for supper and that was not very much. We need to make our scant victuals last for some days and dare not eat so such at each meal. Even so, some of us, like Cauthen and Langley, have already eaten everything. They joined the company not that long ago and have not yet learned the ways of the seasoned veteran.

The weather, already cold, turned colder, so cold that the ground froze. Before dark, it began to sleet upon us. We hoped that it was sleeting on the Yankees as well. Building a fire after we went into camp was nearly impossible. All of us slept on frozen ground. All during the night, stragglers, some barefoot, who fell out of the line of march rejoined the regiment. I ate nothing.

Today, the tenth, we were on the road at first light. It was slow going for awhile until the marching could warm us up. At ten of the clock, we reached Jarrett's Station, on the Weldon Railroad. We thought that Grant was going for our railroad again. We could hear firing in the distance, but never could get close enough to join the fight.

The rain is heavy. There are no fires tonight. Tomorrow we hope to make it hot for the Yankees.

I Send You These Few Lines

Louis M. Cauthen and James B. Langley are fairly new to the Lancaster Hornets. Cauthen enlisted in October and Langley in September.

Grant is on the March again. He is making another try to cut the railroad bringing supplies to Lee. Grant is moving a large force to the far right of the Confederate lines to tear up enough track to starve Lee's troops, as if they were not starving already. Lee has sent Hill's entire corps from the protection of their works to meet and defeat Grant's new offensive.

Lee does have something to worry about. A third of his army has left the line. Should Grant become aware that that part of the line is now unprotected, he has enough troops to get between Lee and Hill, cut them off from mutual support and sack everyone up.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"The Yankees are up to mischief".

Monday, December 5, 1864, in works near Boisseau House

This is a dark and evil war. Our company was requisitioning some items that we needed very badly. Corporal Flynn volunteered Duncan, Holton and myself to assist Captain Stover and Lieutenant Williamson in fulfilling the request. We were to follow them to the brigade quartermaster and bring back the needed items.  Holton asked the Lieutenant to see the papers we were to submit to the quartermaster. Holton read to us the list of treasures.

There were seven pairs of trousers, twenty-one flannel shirts, twenty-three cotton shirts, six jackets, twenty pairs of shoes, seven pairs of socks, twelve blankets, twenty-three pairs of drawers, thirty-one pairs of socks, an ax and a tent fly. We could have been knocked over with a feather. We were certain that with so much to be issued to the company, each of us would surely receive something. All three of us wanted new shoes, drawers, socks and blankets. Holton wanted all dozen blankets.Duncan and myself each wanted a flannel shirt to keep us harm while on picket duty. Honton said he did not need one as the dozen blankets would do him just fine. I wished for a new set of drawers and jacket. All of us wanted new haversacks but there were none on the list.

The quartermaster, when presented with the list, shook his head and said that his cupboard was nearly bare. Our officers pleaded with him, citing the suffering of their troops. The quartermaster replied that all the troops were suffering and hat one could not get water from a rock.We walked away with only the ax and the tent fly. The ax was given to the second platoon as they had broken theirs while chopping firewood. We were crestfallen. We walked with bowed heads all the way back to camp.

When we arrived, we were greeted by many others in the company who knew that were on an errand of great reward. They started cheering us once they spotted us. Some wag called out that Duncan, Holton and myself were the Three Wise Men bearing gifts. The cheering stopped once we got close enough for them to see that were were returning with nothing. There was no cheer among the boys for the rest of the night. We will just have to get along with what little we have for some time longer.

The Yankees are up to something. For the past few days, it has been our turn to pull picket duty in front of our works. There are supposed to be three of us in each rifle pit. Two may sleep upon their arms as one keeps watch. Our purpose is to give warning if the Yankees advance upon us.

Duncan, Castles and myself were sharing a rifle pit but we took little sleep. There was too much noise to get any sleep. We heard horses and quite a number of them, more than we had heard the last time we were on the picket line. There were too many horses for just routine patrolling. We heard the creak of many wooden wheels. Some would be supply wagons and some would be artillery. During the day, we could see additional columns of smoke from additional fires. At night, we could see and count additional glows from fire pits. We asked the boys in the pits on our left and right if they were hearing what we were hearing. They all confirmed what we thought. The Yankees are up to mischief.

I Send You These Few Lines

I'm experimenting with a new layout for this blog. If I'm lucky, I won't hit a wrong button and wipe out everything.

The requisition mentioned above is a compilation of two requisitions, each bearing a date of November 30. One was filed by Lieutenant Williamson and the other by the company commander, Captain Stover. The items listed here are the actual items originally listed and the ax and tent fly were the only things issued.

The sounds being heard in the rifle pits were not being imagined. Even though it is late in the year, the Yankees are preparing yet another attack.