Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"I need to capture me a Yankee."

Friday, March 31, 1865, Hatcher's Run

A new spring season of active campaigning has begun. If there was any doubt, it vanished yesterday. We did not sleep well Wednesday night. None of the officers were very forth coming concerning what would be happening on Thursday but no matter. We have, in our many experiences as seasoned veterans have taught us, learned how to read the signs.

The Ordnance fellows were issuing ammunition to us. Lieutenant Williamson was making his rounds making sure that our cartridge boxes were full. We have also learned that a full complement of forty rounds might not last through a full battle. We often carry one or more packages of rounds in our pockets. I have two.

I ate no breakfast that morning. I do not know when or if any more rations would be issued by the Commissary so I ate nothing. Now that things have died down, I have eaten the last of the rations issued on Tuesday. My haversack is empty and I am hungry. So is everyone else. I need to capture me a Yankee.

At first light, the brigade formed up and crossed Hatcher's Run. After awhile, we encountered Johnson's division primed and ready for battle. Our brigade fell in on Johnson's left. Our lines paralleled the tracks of the Southside some four or so miles in our rear. The skirmishing in front of our lines was very spirited and not much different from a full battle. Some rounds made it to us but they were probably overshoots not really aimed at us.

Major General Bushrod Johnson.
As usual, it rained all day and it is still raining. The night passed with us cold and hungry.

Then came today. I did not eat but that is now normal. We were put under arms early in the rain which ceased some two hours later. Down White Oak Road we advanced. General Johnson ordered us into line of battle. In the distance, we could barely see some Yankees. On our left were some Alabamians. Then we received our orders; advance and attack the Yankee left. We were cheered at the thought that this would be an attack, not a defense.

Our brigade advanced. On our right was the 13th, our left, the 1st. Our brigade front covered only a few hundred yards. We perhaps had just about one thousand in the line. We could see every regiment in the line and all the colors. There were that few of us.

Some woods were between us and the Yankees. We lost some of our formation in clearing the woods. When we emerged from cover, we hurled ourselves at the enemy. We were supposed to drive them across Johnson's divisional front so he could take the Yankees in the flank. As it was, we had caught them in the flank ourselves. They seemed unawares that any Confederates were hard by.

We were pouring volley after volley into them and driving them ahead of us. Then they threw in support and we had some hard going. And yet, we pushed forward through their hail of lead and found ourselves overlapping their flank. Their lines collapsed under our weight. Several pockets  of Yankees formed themselves ahead of us but being unable to support each other, they all gave way.

They brought up artillery but we could see it founder in the mud once it left the road. They managed to get off some rounds to some effect. At about this time, we heard someone say, "Lee is watching us." We cheered as we looked for ourselves and found that our Lee along with General McGowan were observing the attack.

General Robert E. Lee

Brigadier General Samuel McGowan
At three of the clock, our line halted, dressed itself, and occupied some rifle pits. We had not long to wait before a counterattack was sent our way. Their attack was met by us in a most spirited manner. Though they fell by the dozens, the gaps are replaced by new dozens. Our left flank was pierced by the Yankees and our support on that side was forced to retreat.

To avoid being surrounded, it was necessary to shoot our way out of our predicament and back to the safety of some works taking our prisoners with us. I had not heard so much buzzing around my head since I felled a nest of paper wasps with a rock as a boy. There were two holes in my jacket  but no holes in me. I had my Yankee and his haversack.

White is missing.

I Send You These Few Lines

Grant is probing for weaknesses in Lee's ever-thinning defensive line. Union cavalry commander Phil Sheridan has been sent by Grant to the far west of Lee's lines to threaten and perhaps cut the Southside Railroad and Lee's supply line. When Tooms and his pards saw Pickett early in the day, they were seeing Lee's response to this new threat. Pickett and some cavalry under Fitzhugh Lee were ordered to counter Sheridan and keep the railroad open.

Major General George Pickett.

Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee.

Major General Philip Sheridan.

The Battle of White Oak Road, described but not named by Tooms, was another response by Lee to a nearer threat, one posed by the V Corps, commanded by Gouverneuor Warren which was looking for a weak spot to poke a hole into. The mixed lot of Confederate brigades from different divisions were sent to attack Warren's exposed flank. The end result was a substantial nose-bleeding for Warren but these were acceptable losses.

Major General Gouverneur K. Warren, V Corps commander.

The Union forces in the counter-attack that were immediately facing McGowan's brigade were commanded by Joshua Chamberlain, previously the regimental commander of the 20th Maine. He now commands a brigade with the 185th New York and the 198th Pennsylvania.

Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain.
Flag of the 198th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Johnson's attack incurred losses that were not acceptable and his force lost control of the road.

Johnson commanded four brigades, one each of Virginians, Alabamians, South Carolinians and North Carolinians.

John White, one of the Dandy Eights mess, has been captured. He was released from Fort Delaware in June of 1865. The Eights now number six.

With the Union seizure of the White Oaks Road, Pickett is now cut off from the rest of the army. He moves his force to a position where he believes he can best protect the railroad, a place called Five Forks.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"...severe exchange of musketry."

General Robert E. Lee
Wednesday, March 29, 1865, near Hatcher's Run.

Today began as yesterday ended, with a watchful eye on the Yankees. We occasioned some rounds back and forth but with little by a morale effect. We have spent a great deal of time and effort improving our new works and that is now all waste. We have built these works for someone else to someday inhabit them.

This afternoon, the brigade was ordered to prepare to march by ten of the clock tonight. This was no easy task. We had to cook three days rations and perform other predatory tasks while staying out of the line of fire from the nearby Yankees. It took us no time at all to cook our rations. All we have in our haversacks is one quarter pound of bacon and six or so ounces of rough corn meal. This is for three days.

Even though we knew that we would be leaving these works, we kept on improving them lest the Yankees attack us. It would not do to have them surprise us. We were told that the North Carolina brigade of General McRae would be marching with us. They are of a different division and we were at a loss to explain this but we did not pay overmuch attention.

Brigadier General William McRae. The regiments making up his brigade were the 11th, 26th, 44th, 47th and 52nd North Carolina.

Flag of the 26th North Carolina.

Flag of the 47th North Carolina.

By the time of our march, it was raining heavily. Wet, cold and miserable, we two brigades of Carolinians marched down by way of the Boydon Plank Road. As the march was rapid, we suspected that there was some sense of urgency in our movement.We had seen previously in the evening, Picket's division of Virginians and a good deal of Southern horse heading towards Hatcher's Run. We wondered out loud why we were needed if Pickett was hard by.

At that same time, we heard the loud crashing of artillery behind us in the direction of Petersburg. There was a lot of it as well as a severe exchange of musketry. As none of it was being directed at us, we were not worried for our own selves but felt pretty bad for whoever of our comrades were receiving the attentions of the Yankees.

We did observe that several couriers and staff officers riding by our line of march with deliberate intent. We saw General Heth receive and send messages via these riders but knew not the content. We were merely content to rest by the side of the road at intervals. The rain turned the roads to mud and forced us to march under great labor. We would have made better time with less fatigue had the weather been more favorable.

If there was any intent on the part of our officers that we should make it across Hatcher's Run, they were disappointed. We managed to run out of steam just before the run. The rain did not let up. We gathered large amounts of brush and set it all on fire. There was some comfort to it.

I Send You These Few Lines

Tooms and his pads don't know this but Grant has begun to follow through on a hunch of his. Lee's attack on Fort Stedman on the 24th caused Grant to speculate that Lee's lines must be weakened somewhere to allow a massing of force to attack the fort. Grant was right. Grant has ordered his men to move further and further to Lee's right to cause Lee to stretch his lines to the breaking point.

Lee has indeed thinned his lines. There are long gaps in his lines occupied by either few or none of his men. Grant just has to probe around until he finds one.

U.S. Grant at his headquarters at City Point, Virginia.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"...dam--able vile Yankee race."

Tuesday, March 28, 1865, Petersburg works.

Word has reached us, courtesy of the word of mouth telegraph, that the sounds of attack that we heard on the Saturday last, was an attack by Lee on some Yankee works to our north. Our officers will not speculate as to who emerged victorious but the expressions on their faces suggest that it was not us.

The Yankees that we saw crossing our front to the sounds of battle were reinforcements going to the threatened works. Those who attacked were trying to fix us in place so that we ourselves could not be sent to assist in the attack. We common soldiers do not know any of this from official sources; it is just our feelings. We have learned some time ago that news from official sources often cannot be trusted.

None of us could get much sleep Saturday night as we were anxious that we might be attacked again. The harassing fire leveled upon us by the  enemy kept us wary of showing our heads above our works. We were not idle, however. When we thought it safe to do so, one of us, including myself, popped up like a gopher to return the favor. There is something about being in a hard spot and yet still being able to return fire that warms a soldier's heart.

This is something that civilians do not and cannot understand.

There was not much rest on Sunday, the day normally reserved for that. We suffered no further attacks yesterday and we were disappointed. We have been improving our works since Friday and were hoping that our shovelwork would be tested by the Yankees but they did not accommodate
us. No matter, they will try us as some point.

Wade, Bruce, Thompson and Plyer are missing. Perhaps the Yankees got them.

Confederate prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, Chicago.

Confederate prisoners, Camp Elmira, New York.
Drawn by Edwin Forbes, these Confederates were taken at Woodstock, Virginia.

It was still raining on Sunday but not as hard as it has of late. We would dearly help us to retreat to the comfort of our cabin if it still existed. It will be noted sometime after this war is over that one of the great cruelties inflicted by the dam---able vile Yankee race upon us poor Southerners will be their destruction of the cabin of the Dandy Eights mess.

We who are left of the Eights performed a very dangerous act on Sunday. Hancock moved a resolution for us to consider. We regretted not having done this some time ago as it might have made a difference. There was very little discussion as it was quickly revealed that all of us were in agreement. It was passed without a dissenting vote. Taylor moved that this resolution be referred to a committee of the whole in order to be implemented. All agreed. We checked our muskets to ensure that they were loaded.

Vincent was in charge of seeing the resolution to fruition. At his signal, the seven of us Eights popped up and fired a volley then popped down. Any one of us could have been killed by some sharp Yank but we felt that our gesture was worth the risk.

Quite late on Sunday, the brigade's sharpshooter battalion was ordered to leave our lines and join with the other such battalions of the division. We thought that there would be some heavy fighting to come soon.

On Monday, it was foggy until well after sunrise. It was a bit too far away to be seen clearly by us in the trenches but what we heard was sharp. The combined sharpshooters were attacking the Yankees somewhere along the northern part of our brigade front. The rest of the day passed without incident.

Today, Tuesday, it has been very quiet in front of our lines. It is now eight of the clock at night and there have been no attacks by them or us. The weather has turned clear. We can see and hear that the Yankees are busy doing something. I wish they would come on.

I Send You These Few Lines.

The soldier's grapevine has gotten it right. What Tooms and his pads heard was the battle of Fort Stedman, discussed in the previous blog posting. After the war, they can all sit at home and read about all the charges and counter-charges concerning the battle. Their grandchildren will do the same.

The Dandy Eights mess is minus one with the desertion of Dennis Castles in February. The remaining members are Burrell Hancock, Wilson Crenshaw, Troy Crenshaw, William Terry, John White, Isaac Vincent, and this blog's diarist, David Tooms.

The four men in Tooms' Company I who are missing are George T. Wade, William B. Bruce, John B. Thompson, and Ransom Plyer. Wade was the company First Sergeant. All four have disappeared from the records. None of them show up on the Union prisoner of war rolls. None appear on the Appomattox surrender rolls. There is a strong likelihood that they have deserted. From January 10, to March 28, 1865, Lee's army lost 5,928 men through desertion. That's an average of 76 per day. This is more than were killed at Sharpsburg, Gettysburg and Fredericksburg combined .These losses cannot be sustained. Since I cannot prove that the four mentioned above have deserted, it is enough to state that they have disappeared. Readers may draw their own conclusions.

Execution of a deserter.

The action of the combined sharpshooter battalions on Monday the 27th was ordered by Lee himself. Union forces had taken McIlwaine Hill from Thomas's brigade of Georgians. attempts by the Georgians failed. The hill was a commanding position. Lee reasoned that this represented a danger to the army. The sharpshooters were ordered to move the enemy from the hill. The sharpshooters succeeded but at heavy cost.

Brigadier General Edward L. Thomas. His brigade consisted of the 14th, 35th, 45th and 49th Georgia regiments.
William Dunlop, in command of the sharpshooter battalion formed from McGowan's brigade of South Carolinians. Dunlop had been a company commander in the 12th South Carolina which is Tooms' regiment.

Be careful what you wish for, Private Tooms. You might get it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"We need more ammunition."

Sunday, March 26, 1865, in trenches.

No one slept on Friday night. The brigade was ordered to stand to in order to repel an attack on Saturday morning. Nothing happened. We waited in the darkness, cold and rain for a chance to shoot Yankees and we waited in vain. We might not have done anything but we heard plenty. All the firing came from the north of our works. We could not tell if we attacked them or they us. Whichever it was, the sounds of musketry and artillery were quite fierce. All of us who heard the sounds of death commented that it must be the Yankees attacking us somewhere.

Most of us cheered at the thought that some long-awaited combat may be coming our way. Three hours later, it was our turn. We observed the Yankees moving across our front towards the north, towards the sounds of battle we had heard earlier. And then, we ourselves were charged. They flooded from across the concealment of a ridge straight towards us. In front of us were our skirmishers. The combat rapidly became a point-blank affair. Many of our people were killed or captured. It was difficult for us not in the skirmish line to fire in support of them as we would have run the risk of shooting our own men.

More Yankees came from our left. And then our right was assaulted. Everyone had enough Yankees to go around. A good deal of our skirmish line was captured and then manned by the Yankees who started throwing lead at us. We had artillery but only two pieces which did not have much effect on so many of the enemy. A battery of guns arrived and opened up but without much more effect than the two lone guns.

Our battalion of sharpshooters were ordered forth to seize the captured skirmish line. As we cheered, the sharpshooters poured it into the Yankees in expectation of their retiring from their newly-captured works but they did not. They hunkered down but they would not be moved. There were enough of them to put up enough return fire to keep the sharpshooters at a respectable distance.

Two regiments of Thomas' brigade on our left were ordered forward. They, with the support of our guns, were able to make some headway but then more Yankees came up. This new batch were badly situated and Thomas' boys managed to shoot them in their flank. They wavered, seemingly hurt. More of the enemy came up and their numbers carried them forward against our most spirited fire.
Our ammunition was running low and we feared a general retreat.

Brigadier General E.L. Thomas, commander of a brigade of Georgians.
It took some hours for things to die down. We spent the night making new works for a skirmish line . We are dangerously close to each other. They could sweep across and bag us all in short order. We are all on a watchful vigil.

Our artillery suffered badly. One of their ammunition chests was struck by an enemy shell causing the chest to blow all to pieces. I do not think that we damaged them as much as they damaged us. Our cabin suffered a direct hit from one of their shells and everything inside was destroyed. We spent the rest of the night licking our wounds and preparing new works.

Corporal White is missing and is feared captured as is Gordon.

We have spent all day today improving our works and keeping a close eye on the Yankees. They have been taunting us by impaling loaves of bread on their bayonets and shoving them above the edge of their works. They call upon us to surrender for the bread. The Yankees can be most cruel.

Our battalion of sharpshooters has been ordered to go near a hill with all the other such battalions in the brigade. The fog is settling in. This would be a good time for either side to attack. We need more ammunition.

I Send You These Few Lines

The spring campaign season has begun and Lee started it. The big commotion that Tooms wrote of and all of his pads heard was a large assault on the Union Fort Stedman. General Lee thought that if he could bring enough power to bear on a part of the Union line, he could cause enough damage to upset Grant's plans and throw his timetable off. General Gordon, was chosen to organize and command the attack.

Major General John B. Gordon

Fort Stedman was named after the Colonel of the 11th Connecticut Infantry. He was killed at Cold Harbor in the summer of 1864.

Colonel Griffith Stedman.

The pre-dawn attack started well. A good part of the Union line, including Fort Stedman and some smaller forts. Gordon's men lacked support and could not hold what they took. Union reinforcements of the IX Corps arrived and in some very bloody fighting, took back everything they had lost.

Interior of Fort Stedman.

Interior of Fort Stedman.

Map showing action around Fort Stedman.
I must admit that I have not had much good luck at finding maps that were good enough to be included in this blog. Most maps that I have found lack the detail required to assist the reader in understanding the diary entries. This map is not bad. Tooms, the diarist for this blog, would be off the map to the lower left corner.

Corporal John G. White, of Company I, was indeed captured this day. He took the oath and was released from captivity at Fort Delaware and was released on June 22, 1865.

John Gordon, also of Company I, was captured and sent to Point Lookout, Maryland via City Point, Virginia.

Lee has taken a great gamble with the attack on Fort Stedman. Lee is a gambler and his decision is characteristic of his generalship. That it did not work has been the subject of much debate ever since. Lee's adversary, Grant, has realized that if Lee was able to muster so much strength for the attack, that Lee must have thinned his lines somewhere. Where could that be?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"Are the Yanks ready to be beaten again?"

Friday, March 24, 1865, Trenches near Boisseau House

Every so often, something happens to make us poor high privates happy. The new orders concerning picket duty have been rescinded. We now do our duty the old way which is of great benefit to us. Of course, that may change once the campaign season begins but that is to be expected. For the time being, we will enjoy what we have been given.

The Yankees cannot defeat us but the rain certainly can and has. All of our efforts to keep warm and dry have been thwarted by the rain. Only when we are in our cabins do we stand any chance to get comfortable but the chance is slim. Wood details, drill, forage details, inspections and other soldiery activities mean that we must spend a good deal of time outside where the rain may beat down on us as much as it likes. We should change the name of our mess from the, "Dandy Eights", to, "Pneumonia Acres".

Our rations seem to be improving but if this is true, it is by so little an amount, that it seems to be an abnormality. We have a bit more salt horse and a bit more corn meal but not enough to fatten on. There has been no rice or peas for some time. Our best opportunity for a substantial improvement in our rations will be to take them from the Yankees. They are much too fat, anyway.

We hear that General Hill is absent, sick and that General Heth now commands the corps. I do not know enough about him to render a proper judgement as to his ability to command an entire corps. It was, supposedly, his division that brought on the engagement at Gettysburg while looking for shoes, before our Lee was ready for a fight. I will let future scholars debate this.

Chambersburg Pike, where the first shots at Gettysburg were fired.

We have also heard that our Lee has been promoted, if it can be called a promotion, to the command of all our armies throughout the entire Confederacy. If this means that he will be leaving us for a desk in Richmond or to assume command of some other army, then the game is up. We hope it is not true as it will have a detrimental effect on us, his soldiers.

General Robert E. Lee

Captain Stover is back from some unknown absence. Lieutenant Williamson is once again our platoon commander. We did not mind him commanding the company and hope that he will someday be given the promotion he deserves.

The captain may have returned a bit too soon. We have just been told that the entire brigade is to make ready to repell a Yankee attack expected tomorrow morning at three of the clock. Has it started? Are the Yankees ready to beaten again?

I Send You These Few Lines

The change that Tooms speaks of was mentioned in the last diary posting. A regiment had to do picket duty by itself over the entire brigade front. This proved unpopular. The old way of each regiment taking care of its' own piece of the line was re-instated.

Tooms is behind on the news. General Lee was appointed general-in-chief of all Confederate armies in January. The Confederate government was hopeful that Lee could work his magic and turn every Confederate field force into another Army of Northern Virginia. Now that's wishful thinking. Lee would never leave his creation, his army, his soldiers. Wherever he goes, they will follow him and he will not leave the field.

Hills's corps consists of three divisions, one under Cadmus Wilcox, another under William Mahone and the third under Henry Heth. As Heth is senior to the other two, he was in charge of he entire corps in Hill's absence. Tooms and his 12th South Carolina is in McGowan's brigade as part of Wilcox's division.

Lieutenant General A. Powell Hill

Major General William Mahone.

Major General William Mahone
Major General Cadmus Wilcox

Brigadier General Samuel McGowan

After the war, Mahone worked as a railroad magnate. He combined several Southern lines into what would become the Norfolk and Western.

Norfolk & Western steam locomotive

The change in the matter of manning the picket lines was reported by the brigade historian.

A good deal of the blame for poor rations in the army, rightly or wrongly, has been laid at the feet of the Confederate Commissary General, Lucius Northrup. At this time in the war, Northrup has been cashiered and replaced with Isaac St John. It has been noted by some historians that St. John was a better administrator than his predecessor and that some improvements in the Commissary Department were beginning to take effect. However, like Lee's promotion, the change was far too late to have any substantial effort on the war.

Lucius Northrup.

Isaac St. John

Salt horse is just a nickname for salt pork.

If the brigade being ordered to be prepared to meet an attack is just another false alarm, then the campaign season has yet to begin. The opposing forces in their trenches will be there a little while longer.

But if it's true...

Friday, March 20, 2015

"We knew better than to volunteer."

Monday, March 20, 1864, safely back in our works.

Lieutenant Williamson had asked for four of us to volunteer for a mission but offered no details. Hancock, Terry, Vincent and myself stepped forward and offered ourselves for what we knew not. We are not fresh fish; we have been together since the beginning in the camp of instruction. We knew better than to volunteer.

It was boredom that moved us to place ourselves at risk. The boredom, the cold, the hunger and the frustration all conspired to overrule our self-preservation instincts. The entire army is fully aware, as are the Yankees, that the improving weather brings sooner the time that both sides will again awake from the winter's slumber and proceed to kill each other. They kill to enslave us and we kill to win our liberties. If we can strike them before they strike us, so much the better. And besides, Captain Kerr mentioned that Yankee haversacks were full of cheese. That was what moved us.

Captain Kerr, who now commands our regiment since there are no higher officers any more, was with the lieutenant. We knew that if the regimental commander and our lieutenant, who is also our company commander, was requesting volunteers, that we were not being asked to go on a firewood detail. Corporal Flynn volunteered to be our non-commissioned officer although none was asked for.

With the captain and the lieutenant as old Jim Adams. I say old, he was mustered in with us in Columbia in '61. He was eighteen, then but now looked quite older. He was now serving with the brigade's sharpshooter battalion. Adams was to be our escort to the battalion. On the way he told us what was to happen.

The battalion was going out on a raid that night and was short some men just as every other regiment and battalion was in the army. We four, volunteers, plus Corporal Flynn, would come along as flankers. We have had no training as raiders so we were to protect one flank of the raiding party. I suspect that a similar group would protect the other flank. The raiding party of experienced veterans would be the ones to ambush the Yankees in their rifle pits.

A Confederate sharpshooter.

The Union recruited sharpshooters as well. This recruiting poster is for the 1st United States Sharpshooters, known better  as the Berdan's, after the commander.

Sergeant Plexico, of Company A, of our regiment, said as much to us when were were brought by Adams to report to him. We waited in the picket line until it was dark. We asked what have we done but it was too late to shirk our duty now. At a silent signal, we advanced, ever so quietly. Plexico said that he would shoot the first man who made a noise. We covered the raiding party's right.

We listened to every sound, no matter how slight, listening for any evidence that the Yankees had discovered our purpose and were waiting with fixed bayonets. The darkness helped to conceal our location and purpose. As we crept further forward, we could hear the Yankees talking. Somewhere in the darkness, they were playing cards. One was complaining that his pipe would not light. On we crawled.

Plexico's raiding party stormed one of their rifle pits. We could hear muffled sounds to our left and prayed that no Yankees on our right heard anything. They did. We could not see that the slight rise that we were crawling up was the front part of another pit. One Yankee, not more that a foot from me, raised his head above the protection of the pit. We dared not have allowed him to raise the alarm. As hard as I could, I struck him with my rifle butt. He went down hard. We then had to be raiders ourselves to silence the rest of them so over the top we went.

It was over quite quickly. Two of the Yankees were dispatched with bayonets. Two, including my Yankee, were taken alive. None of us were hurt badly. Hancock suffered a bruised shoulder. Before we could be discovered, we left the pit and rejoined Sergeant Plexico's party. They had captured four of the enemy. Corporal Flynn told Plexico what had happened with us. He expressed surprise that we, in our inexperience, could successfully take prisoners without loss.

We gave them our prisoners but not before we liberated everything useful to us. They lost their overcoats, haversacks, canteens and shoes. My Yank, with a powerful headache, surrendered to me his overcoat and haversack less his letters and a photograph from home. As it was approaching daylight, we were ordered, with thanks, to return to our company. We had to be careful as we were wearing blue overcoats.

Back within our own lines, with our cards, we regained all with our stories. Everyone envied our overcoats. When I inspected the contents of my new haversack, I found four crackers, a small poke of rice and a piece of salt horse. It all went into the cook pot and we shared. There was no cheese but there was some smoking tobacco which I gave to Vincent.

To my surprise, there was a newspaper, called, "The New South", inside the haversack. This is a Yankee paper published where I live in Beaufort County. I read aloud the advertised delicacies being offered by the garrison sutlers until Vincent threw a shoe at me.

Just before Plexico sent us back here, he honored us by saying that he would like to have us return to be on the next raid. No. Not for a haversack stuffed with cheese. No.

I Send You These Few Lines

During the later course of the war, the Army of Northern Virginia ordered the creation of several battalions of sharpshooters drawn from the various brigades. Ideally, the men picked were good shots.  Sometimes, these sharpshooters would man the picket lines. When there was a need for information, or perhaps cheese, the battalion would organize raiding parties to do exactly what was described above. An actual order to gather intelligence read:

                                                                                            HEADQUARTERS THIRD CORPS
                                                                                            JANUARY 8, 1865

          It is represented that the enemy intends renewing their attack on Wilmington, and that troops           have left here to that end. Can not you ascertain whether or not any troops have left your front or any changes occurred?

                                                                                          A.P. HILL Lieutenant General

The above order came from the corps commander to Major General Wilcox, one of Hill's division commanders, who endorsed it and sent it on to Brigadier General McGowan, one of Wilcox's brigade commanders. McGowan endorsed it and sent it on to his battalion of sharpshooters commanded by Captain W.S. Dunlop.

A. Powell Hill, corps commander

Cadmus Wilcox, division commander under Hill.

Samuel McGowan, brigade commander under Wilcox.

William Dunlop, sharpshooter battalion commander under McGowan.

Robert M Plexico, had been with A Company of the 12th South Carolina before becoming a sharpshooter. James B. Adams had been in Tooms' own company I. So had Benjamin Howell, not mentioned above.

Robert M. Kerr, senior captain of the 12th, commanded the regiment. All of the majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels have long been killed, wounded, or invalided out of the war. Lieutenant Williamson commands the Lancaster Hornets since the company has no captains left.

The, "New South", newspaper was printed on Hilton Head Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina by Union interests which have occupied the area since November of 1861 following the Battle of Port Royal Sound. Blog readers of long standing may remember that Tooms and the 12th were there as part of the garrison of Fort Walker.

Port Royal was the Union naval base on Hilton Head Island.

Tooms took the haversack and newspaper from a private in the 48th New York. The 48th had been stationed in Beaufort County prior to its' transfer, with other regiments, to Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

Readers may have noticed that these diary entries are being posted more often than usual. Things are getting hot.

What neither Tooms nor any of his pards know is that that raid took place for a specific reason which may or may not be revealed to Tooms before very long.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"We shall take the greatest pleasure in killing them all."

Monday, March 18, 1864,  near Boisseau House

The roads are drying at least somewhat. The snow has entirely disappeared but the frequent rains are abating by a slight amount. We can hear more wagon and cavalry traffic these days as the roads can support more of it. Our own traffic we hear quite plainly as it is closer to our works. If we listen hard, but not too hard, we can hear the Yankee traffic as well. We know it is theirs as there is so much more of it.

Our uniforms, which looked so new just a short time ago, are encrusted with mud as our brogans. At least the weather permits the mud to dry and be removed without much effort. It is good that some of the, "new", has been worn off of us. We are veterans, not band-box soldiers.

Robertson has lost his new shirt to Vincent in a card game of chance. White lost his new socks to Vincent in the same way. Both of them should know better. They will get no sympathy from me.

Civil War lice comb.

Although the suits of clothes are new, it did not take long before all the clothes supported colonies of greybacks. We think that the uniforms were issued to us already with a regulation number of the little biters.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
While gray-backs oe'r my body creep;
If I should die before I wake,
I prey the Lord their jaws to break.

(K)nitting lice.
He is cooking not food, but his clothes to kill lice.

We shall take the greatest pleasure in killing them all.

Our rations have taken a turn for the better. We feast on tinned beef. We think that the  miracle rations must have been run through the blockade from England as the labels all state that is the place of origin. Granted, we have been issued only two tins of beef per mess for each of two days along with our usual handful of rough cornmeal but we are thankful nonetheless. We have been subsisting for so long on short rations that were we to be issued more than this minute bounty that our stomachs would rebel.

A Civil War tin can.

When the tins were first issued, Terry open them up with his bayonet. We of the Dandy Eights Mess crowded around the tins, as interested as if he were opening the treasure chest of Blackbeard. A grey-yellow substance, thick but not firm, was seen on top. This layer was scraped away off but not thrown away. Nosir. Underneath was what we could identify as the flesh of some animal not exactly thought to be beef as the color was wrong. As Terry poured out the contents into our kettle, it seemed as if the solid parts were turning into liquid upon exposure to the air. I will not attempt to describe the smell. We ate the pot clean and pronounced it first rate. We hope to be issued more.

We were hoping to be granted some leave before the campaigning started up again. There does not seem to be much chance of that. As the weather improves and the roads dry, it is more likely that the Yankees will try something. Let them. Our cartridge boxes are full.

Lieutenant Williamson has just asked for four volunteers.

I Send You These Few Lines

A grayback is a period slang term for a louse and sometimes referred to rebel soldiers. The poem was written during the war by a Private Shield of the Virginia Light Artillery. Lice were not exclusive to the rebel ranks. The Union soldiers were eaten by lice just as much.

The brigade historian, J.F.J. Caldwell, writes of the issuing of English canned beef being issued to the brigade.

The weather is getting warmer at this time, if not much dryer. The roads are drying, if slowly. The roads will be very dry in no time. Is this related to the call for volunteers?

Friday, March 13, 2015

"Rat is not so bad."

Monday, March 13, 1865, in trenches near the home of Mr. Boisseau

Just when we are at the end of our endurance, just when the cold, the starvation and the nakedness strip us all of any feelings of sustaining the cause, there happens something that lifts our spirits and will us to carry on a little longer. We are being issued new uniforms.

Exacting what has happened to cause this great fortune to fall upon us we know not and nor shall we question it. The issues will be continue for the next few days we are told until all of us look as new as fresh fish. All of first squad have new jackets, including myself. Mine has a distinct blue tinge to it but I do not care. It appears to be of English manufacture. There are shoulder straps, brass buttons and trousers to match. We are not going to know what to do without our ventilated trousers.

We were told to get rid of our old uniforms after removing anything useful. As my only shirt was not so bad, I kept it but did not tell anyone. I was issued two new ones so now I have three. There will be clean drawers for the entire company, nay, the entire regiment. Fine black slouch hats rest atop every head.All of us are sporting a new pair of brogans. They are new and will need to be broken in. I think that I may boil and eat my old ones.

Can better rations be far behind? If not, it will be all right. The weather is warming and the snow has gone but the rain never ceases. Some wild plants are beginning to come up. We do not, we can not wait for the full maturity of said plants. Once we see them, they go straight into the stew pot.

There are many rats to chose from. They are everywhere and into everything. They appeared soon after the army started building these works last summer. They are very bold. One crawled up Hunter's leg the other night as he was writing a letter home. This rat, whom we took for a Yankee rat as a good Confederate rat would never be so rude as to interject himself into this situation. This rat perched himself on Hunter's leg and stared at him. Just stared at him. While Hunter fixed its' attention on himself, Vincent beat it to death with a bayonet. Rat is not so bad. We have had several. They taste best with wild onions and salt but the latter is in short supply.

This image is from the First World War. Rats were common to all trench warfare.

Terry said in no uncertain terms that he would absolutely not eat rat. Instead, he has visited the cavalry corrals where he says that a decent meal of corn can be had with some work by taking the corn after the horses had finished with it. We did not ask any questions.

The schedule for picket duty has been changed. Instead of each regiment in the brigade providing details to man the brigade front picket line, one regiment, in rotation, goes out to man the entire line. The Twelfth has just returned from such duty. Our cabins and our works were occupied by another regiment in order to protect our part of the line in our absence. They left us without any firewood and not much of anything else. Someday, it will be their turn to pull picket duty and our turn to pillage them.

From the Library of Congress

Union pickets manning a forward position at Petersburg.

Denton is gone as is Howell, Marshall, and Nelson. We believe that some of us may get a furlough. We had better not find these four rascals in Richmond.

I Send You These Few Lines

The home of Joseph Boisseau during the war. Known currently as, "Tudor Hall." During the siege of Petersburg, this home served as the headquarters of McGowan's brigade.

The, "Ragged Rebel," is a concept that has been generally accepted as truth since the end of the War Between the States. The typical Confederate soldier, particularly  towards the end of the war , was shoeless, had multiple holes in his trousers, if he had trousers, and wore a jacket held together by its' patches. Some Johnnies did, indeed, look like this image in some places and at some times. The same holds true for his Billy Yank counterpart. In the past 25-30 years, this image has been challenged as not quite accurate.

Take, for instance, the Army of Northern Virginia during the last months of the war. Confederate Quartermaster records show that the following items were issued to Lee's army during the period July 1, 1864 through January 31, 1865:

104,199 jackets
157,727 shirts
74,851 blankets
140,570 trousers
170,139 drawers
27,011 hats and caps
167,862 pairs of shoes
146,136 pairs of socks
21,063 flannel shirts
4,861 overcoats

These figures demonstrate that during that period, each Confederate soldier was issued at least two new uniforms and two new blankets with some left over. Not everyone received new headwear or an overcoat but the basics were amply represented.

Terry may have an aversion to eating rat but seems to have no qualms about eating corn for the horses after it has been eaten by them, picking out undigested kernels.

Several times during the course of this blog, I have drawn the reader's attention to the matter of documentation, or, sometimes, the lack thereof. It has already been mentioned in prior postings that Confederate service records become almost absent during the last 5-6 months of the war. In some cases, the best documentable sources come from the Union side. Tooms has made diary entries about deserters. We know they deserted because the records of the Provost Marshall of the Union Army of the Potomac verify this.

In a previous post, under the, "Few Lines," section, I have mentioned that in combing the service records of Company I, 12th South Carolina Infantry Regiment, I have assembled a list of company members who disappear from the records and do not appear at the surrender at Appomattox. Given the wartime conditions of the period, this should not be surprising. One would expect these soldiers to appear in the Union enemy deserter records. Some, like Dennis Castles, do.

And some do not. Tooms refers in this latest diary entry to four fellow soldiers in his company. They are J.W. Denton, Thomas Howell, James Marshall and John B. Nelson. All four of them have disappeared from both Confederate and Union records. Did they desert to the enemy? There's nothing on the Union side to verify this. Did they simply pack up and head for home and not the Union lines? That's my guess but it is only a guess as I have no evidence to go on. That they disappeared is a given. The reason why is unknown. That is why they are listed as being gone and not as having deserted.

The change in picket duty comes from J.F.J. Caldwell, the brigade historian. Caldwell began writing the history at Joseph Boisseau's home during the siege.