A Hard March to Fredericksburg
October 26th - December 10th, 1862
- March to Rappahannock Station; October 26 - November 8.
- General McClellan Relieved; General Burnside Takes Command
- A NIGHT MARCH
- Camp at Rapp Station; Nov. 9 - 18.
- Hard March to Stafford Court House; Nov. 18 - 23.
- SHORT RATIONS
- Camp at Brooks Station; November 23 - Dec. 3.
- Change of Camp; Dec. 3 - 9.
General McClellan finally moved the Army of the Potomac south in pursuit of General Lee's Army on October 26th, after weeks of prodding by an impatient President Lincoln. The fast approaching mid-term elections were another worry for Lincoln, as they would be viewed in the political light as a referendum on the President's new emancipation policy. As the army marched south the weather turned gloomy.
The Democrats did well in the mid-term elections of 1862. They opposed emancipation, and made headway attacking the administration's civil rights violations. "The Union as it was, the Constitution as it is," was their political slogan. Democrat votes gained for the party :
“the governorship of New York, the governorship and a majority of the legislature in New Jersey, and a legislative majority in Illinois and Indiana, and a net increase of thirty-four congressmen.”
“Republicans retained control of seventeen of the nineteen free-state governorships and sixteen of the legislatures. They elected several congressmen in Missouri for the first time, made a net gain of five seats in the Senate and retained a twenty-five vote majority in the House after experiencing the smallest net loss of congressional seats in an off-year election in twenty years.”
The administration was dejected by the results, but did not waiver in policy. Lincoln considered the poor Republican showing as public disapproval with progress in the war effort, and knew success on the battlefield would alleviate much of that feeling. After a year and a half of war, and increasingly bloody battles, the Union effort was no closer to victory.
General McClellan was a favorite of the Democrats. McClellan's views were directly opposed to President Lincoln, who wanted the Army of Potomac to aggressively pursue and destroy Lee's weakened army after the battle of Antietam. General McClellan favored a conservative war effort; one in which the South would eventually rejoin the Union unchanged, and he opposed the President's emancipation policy.
Lincoln kept McClellan in command until after the crucial elections. McClellan started south October 26th, but when the slow moving General let a wing of the Confederate army block his path to Richmond Lincoln finally sacked him. McClellan was replaced by reluctant leader, General Ambrose Burnside.
Burnside quickly marched his army to the Rappahannock River intending to cross at Fredericksburg before General Lee's scattered forces could consolidate and arrange a proper defence. Burnside's troops arrived on time but the pontoons his army needed to cross the river did not arrive for several days. General Lee used this time to gather his army at Fredericksburg and fortify their position.
This proved again, the lesson, never give Generals Lee and Jackson extra time to manouevre.
The winter campaigning was very hard on the soldiers.
The "13th Mass."
McClellan’s popularity with the men of the '13th Mass.' is mixed according to regimental historian Charles Davis. The letter of Charles B. Fox hints at dissatisfaction in the rank and file with the President's Emancipation Policy, or is it just grumbling in general due to the miserable conditions of this winter campaign?
Chaplain Noah Gaylord, who was away, supposedly stumping against 'Vallindingham' of Ohio, (a prominent opponent of the president) returned to the regiment November 6th. He raised $1,000 dollars worth of goods while back in Massachusetts, which arrived in camp a month later. Gaylord was present to preach a funeral sermon on December 7th for private George R. Healy of Company C. Healey's death is recorded by Sam Webster, December 5th. No other information is given.
The '13th Mass' narrative on this page, is taken up by Sergeant John S. Fay, Company F, Sergeant Austin C. Stearns, Company K, Seventeen year old Drummer, Samuel Derrick Webster, along with regimental historian Charles E. Davis, jr. Clarence H. Bell, Company D, provides two humorous articles, and letters from Lieutenant Charles B. Fox, Company I, and private Warren Freeman, Company A, complete this portion of the history that Sgt. Stearns titled “A Hard March South.”
Picture credits: All images are from the Library of Congress digital images collection with the following exceptions:"Map No. 8" by Sgt. William Coombs & Charles E. Davis, Jr. from the regimental history, "Three Years in the Army," Boston, Estes & Lauriat, 1894; "Across Country in a Thunderstorm, by Edwing Forbes is from "Fifty Years After, An Artists Memoirs of the Civil War," 1890; The Potomac River Crossing at Berlin, Md. from "Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War," Dover, 1959; Charles Reed's sketches of "The Turkey He Didn't Get" & "Beating It" & "Drum," are from Hard Tack & Coffee, by John Davis Billings, 1888 ; Governor John A. Andrew from "The Life of John A. Andrew" by Henry Greenleaf Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, 1904; both titles accessed via Google Books. "Soup" by Austin Stearns, from "Three Years in Company K" Faileigh Dickenson Press, 1976; "Brer Rabbit" by A.B. Frost, from US Post Office; Colonel Charles Wheelock, Army Heritage Education Center, Digital Image database, Mass. MOLLUS Collection; "Christmas Boxes in Camp, 186"1 & "Fredericksburg, VA" from Sonofthesouth.net; Ammunition Package from "Echoes of Glory" book series, Time-Life; ALL IMAGES have been edited in photoshop.
The following excerpts describe the march south, from the memoirs of Sergeant Austin Stearns, "Three Years With Company K, Fairleigh Dickenson Press, 1976; the unpublished memoirs of Sergeant John S. Fay, Company F;. and the regimental history, "Three Years in the Army," 1894, by Charles E. Davis, Jr. Charles H. Bingham provides two humorous reminiscences. Letters of Lieutenant Charles B. Fox, Company I, and private Warren Freeman, Company A, round things out. All source materials used with permission.
Sergeant Austin Stearns, Company K:
We had hardly passed the borders of our camp when darkness set in and, with the roads filled with men and teams, our progress was necessarily slow. It was terriable marching, the mud was deep, and cobble stones were plenty, adding to a pitch dark night. Henry Vining, hitting his foot against a stone, fell full length into the mud, and on regaining his feet again with the assistance of others, he called out to his brother in a most pitiful tone “Albion, I’m all mud” ; this served for a by-word during our entire time of service whenever we saw anyone laboring under circumstances that was not at all favorable for them. Vining, however, was hurt quite a good deal and fell out, was picked up and carried to a hospital where he stayed several months. We toiled up the side of Elk Ridge through the dark and rain and down the other side, continually stopping and then starting till we had perhaps a mile beyond and four or five from our old camp, when the order was given to halt and make ourselves comfortable. We quickly had rousing fires and, sitting and standing around, we tried to dry ourselves, and smoking, passed the few remaining hours away. The morning was ushered in with a clear sky and a cold wind from the northwest that whistled around and blew the smoke in all directions.
Late in the afternoon we crossed the valley and the South Mountain Ridge at Cramptons Gap, and descended to the east side where we bivouacked for the night, resuming the march the next day for Berlin, where the army was crossing the river on a Pontoon Bridge into Virginia.
Sergeant John S. Fay, Company F:
[October] 28th Marched to Berlin a small town on the Potomac east from Harper’s Ferry. We remained here until the 30th when we cross the Potomac on a Pontoon bridge and marched to Lovettsville Va and encamped.
We now began to think that we was to have another campaign before we went into witner quarters, which we did not like much, we did not se the use of keeping the army in camp for six weeks of the most pleasant weather in the year for moving an army, and now in the beginning of winter we was starting on another campaign.
At this time there began to be some dissatisfaction express among the rank and file with Gen McClellan, most of the officers of course were strong McClellan men for it was through him that many of them obtained and held their places but there was much distrust among the men.
From the Regimental History, Charles E. Davis, Jr.:
Saturday, Nov. 1.
Started at 9 A.M. and marched seven miles to Purcellville. We liked these short marches, particularly as the weather was pleasant and the temperature low.
A little after midnight three of the boys, regardless of the eighth commandment, started out on a foraging expedition, having previously made arrangements with the picket-guard to let them through the line. Stumbling across fields, floundering through ditches, scrambling over stone walls, they finally reached a farm-house. All was quiet. The occupants, preoccupied in dreamy slumber, little suspected that beneath their windows a gang of Yankee soldiers were inspecting their premises for rebel chickens. As it was very dark, each of the out-buildings was examined before the right one was found. Having selected what could be easily carried, they prepared to return, when a loud screech from a half-choked hen broke the stillness of the midnight air, rousing the people in the house from pleasant dreams to an agonizing reality that the hens they had nursed from tender chickenhood to old age were being conveyed to that pot from whose bourne no hen returns. A voice from one of the windows was heard in unmistakable accents of alarm, calling upon them to stop. Any other time but this the boys would have been glad to do so ; but when duty calls, they must obey. They succeeded in reaching camp without their absence being discovered. In the morning one of the party, having some duty to perform, intrusted his plunder to a comrade whose knowledge of the art of cooking was superior to his own, and in whose fidelity he placed great confidence, to be cooked for dinner. Returning an hour or two later he found himself the victim of misplaced confidence, as the cook had devoured all but the legs. Having been remonstrated with for this exhibition of selfish eagerness, the cook replied, “Those who dine with me must be on time.”
Sergeant Austin Stearns:
As a soldier is always hungry in an active campaign, so we as the weather grew colder had ravnous appetites, eating readily all the rations supplied by the government and still desireing more.
Forageing was resorted to. To a considerable extent Turkeys, Geese, Chickens were taken whenever found; corn-cakes, bread, ham, and smoked sides with butter, apple butter, and in fact everything that was eatable was procured, sometimes by paying cash and at other times by promises to pay when change could not be made.
I remember of waiting two or three hours for my turn to get a corn-cake baked, and then after I received it could not make change. I took the cake and gave my promise to pay the next time I came around, but thus far have not been around since. I had a five dollar Greenback which they were afraid to take at that time. In after years we had no trouble on that score.
We marched on into Virginia, Lee keeping well in our front and ony retreating when we pressed him hard; skirmishing was frequently. We moved with McClellan rapidity, slow but a little every day; at the rate we moved, the youngest amongst us would be grey before we could reach Richmond, providing there was no battles or other serous obsticals to block the way. When we were well down into Va. the President, heartly tired and sick of the sluggish movements of McClellan, relieved him of his command and appointed Burnside in his place. Though relieved of the immediate presence of McClellan, still it was a long time before his influence ceased to be felt, and then not before other officers had shared his fate.
Charles Barnard Fox to Rev. Thomas Bayley Fox, letterbook, 7 November 1862, Fox Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society; used with permission.
Warrenton Va Nov. 7 1862
You see we are gradually regaining the ground lost by Pope. This time I hope to retain it. We arrived here this noon, having marched twenty six miles since yesterday morning in weather cold enough for a New England November, and this morning through a snow storm, of three hours duration. The snow fell about half an inch deep, but by to-night, if the sun comes out, it will have disappeared leaving little or no trace. Most of our movements now are in three columns, Artillery in the road and infantry in the fields on either side. This is to facilitate the quick passage of troops. Another thing has favored us since we crossed the river, our baggage train has not failed to come up every night. Whatever may be said of Little Mac as a fighter, he knows how to move an Army.
In Camp Near Warrenton, Va., November 8, 1862
Dear Father, - Well, here we are for the fifth time back near our old camp ground on the Rappahannock station road. We left Sharpsburg on the afternoon of October 26th, in a rain storm, and marched about seven miles, crossing the mountain, and halting about midnight. I sat by the fire the remainder of the night as it was too wet and cold to sleep. We reached Berlin on the 28th, and crossed the river on the afternoon of the 30th ; we followed along the south side of the Blue Ridge across the country until we brought up here ; the distance is about twenty-five miles. It snowed part of the time, and the nights are very cold ; our shelter tents are poor protection from the weather, and when off duty it is necessary to keep very near the fire to prevent freezing. We expect to move from this place in a day or two.
Sergeant John S. Fay:
On the afternoon of the 7th [November] it had been snowing since ten o’clock that morning and when we halted the snow was about four inches deep on the ground. We pitched our camp in the snow, and remained there until dark on the night of the 8th, when our brigade was ordered to Rappahannock Station thirteen miles distant. Arrived there about three o’clock on the morning of the 9th. It was snowing nearly all night and made it very hard marching for us. Rappahannock Station is the place where we had a three days skirmish with the Rebels in August when Gen Pope was retreating from Ceader Mountain to Centerville. When we left the place at that time we burnt the Railroad Bridge, but the rebels had built another one, and a brigade of our cavalry under Gen Bayard had surprised them and Succeeded in capturing the bridge, and we was ordered down to help him guard it. (Pictured is General Pleasanton's cavalry at Waterloo, near Warrenton, Nov. 6th. It looks like the work of Arthur Lumley).
We remained here ten days, one half of the time we was on guard at the bridge and on the bank of the river above and below it. The rebels was guarding the south side of the river, which in many places is not more than one hundred yards wide, we could converse with ease and they seemed inclined to be social and was anxous to exchange papers with us when they had any papers that they wished to exchange, they would start towards the bridge swinging one [in] the air, which was a signal that they wished to exchange. If we wished to exchange we would answer them by a like signal and meet them half way, on these occasions we would have many pleasant chats with them.
One day a man came down to exchange papers that had met us before, but there was nothing about him to indicate that he was an officer. He had learned that we was a Massachusettts regiment and he wished to know what part of the state we was from, when we told him that we was from the eastern part he was anxous to see some of our officers. We sent for Lieut Bush who was in command of the guard that day. He at once recognised him as an old acquaintance that he had formly known in Boston. Lieut Bush sent for Col. Leonard and some[?] Regimental officers, several of them recognized him at once. He was a native of North Carolina and a graduate of Harvard College and had lived in Massachusetts about five years, and at that time was Colonel of a North Carolina Cavalry regiment.
I have forgotten his name. His objet in visiting us was to inquire after old acquaintances.
After talking with our officers very pleasantly for two hours or more, they separated he going back to his regiment and our officers return to theirs, perhaps the next time they met, it would be in a deadly conflict on a battlefield.
While we was at Rappahannock Station, Gen. McClellan was relieved from command of the Army and Gen. Burnside was ordered to take command of the army-of-the-Potomac.
Tired of General McClellan's sluggishness, on November 5th, President Lincoln directed General-in-Chief Henry Halleck to relieve General McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac. Ninth Corps Commander, Major-General Ambrose E. Burnside was to replace him. Brigadier General Catharinus P. Buckingham, an old West-Point officer, was selected to deliver the orders.* He was to approach Burnside first, to make sure he accepted the new command..
Buckingham arrived at Burnside's headquarters toward evening November 7th. Burnside at first declined the offer but was told Major-General Joseph Hooker would be placed in command of the army in his stead. This prompted Burnside to accept. That night in a snow storm the two Generals rode over to General McClellan's headquarters.
They arrived at 11:30 P.M. McClellan read the orders then calmly remarked, "Well, Burnside, I turn the command over to you." General Burnside arranged a final review of the army on November 10th, when General McClellan bid the Army of the Potomac farewell.
*This story from the book Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg! by George C. Rable, 2002, University of North Carolina Press.
Pictured is "General McClellan accompanied by General Burside takeing leave of the Army of the Potomac" sketched ( I think) by artist Arthur Lumley, November 10th 1862.
From The Army Of The Potomac.; Gen.McClellan to Leave for the North To-Day. Farewell to the Officers at Headquarters. A visit to the Several Army Corps with Gen. Burnside. General Burnside's Address on Assuming Command. Gen. Hooker Assigned to the Command of Porter's Corps. Gen. Porter Ordered to Washington for Trial. Gen. Burnside's Address. Gen. Hooker Assigned To A Command.
Army Of The
Gen. McClellan was to have left yesterday for the North, but the transferring of a command like this could not be accomplished in a day, and he was, therefore, compelled to remain.
At 9 o'clock last evening, all the officers belonging to headquarters assembled at the General's tent to bid him farewell. The only toast given was by Gen. McClellan:
The Army of the Potomac.
Gen. McClellan and staff, accompanied by Gen. Burnside, to-day, bid farewell to his army, visiting in succession the several army corps. As the General rode through the ranks, the torn and shattered banners of the veteran regiments were dipped to greet him, while the thousands of soldiers gave vent in continuous rounds of cheers and applause to their feelings.
The General and staff will leave by special train, to-morrow, for the North.
The following order was issued by Gen. Burnside on taking command of the army:
"In accordance with General Orders No. 182, issued by the President of the United States, I hereby assume command of the Army of the Potomac. Patriotism, and the exercise of my every energy in the direction of this army, aided by the full and hearty cooperation of its officers and men, will, I hope, under the blessing of God, insure its success.
Having been a sharer of the privations and a witness of the bravery of the old Army of the Potomac in the Maryland campaign, and fully identified with them in their feeling of respect and esteem for Gen. McClellan, entertained through a long and most friendly association with him, I feel that it is not as a stranger I assume command.
To the Ninth Army Corps, so long and intimately associated with me, I need say nothing. Our histories are identical.
With diffidence for myself, but with a proud confidence in the unswerving loyalty and determination of the gallant army now entrusted to my care, I accept its control with the steadfast assurance that the just cause must prevail,
Hooker will leave here for the Army of the
The following is from "Three Years in the Army" by Charles E. Davis, jr.
Tuesday, Nov. 11.
The order removing General McClellan was officially announced to-day, but it made no ripple in our affairs, as to shed tears, though it is possible that "thousands," as he says, may have found it necessary to relieve their overcharged feelings by flushing out the sluiceways of their optics.
A good many people have been puzzled to account for McClellan’s popularity with the army. It is just as difficult to understand why sheep follow sheep to destruction, or ducks are decoyed on to a pond by a wooden likeness of themselves. – lack of reasoning power. Astute politicians know how easy it is by the use of a little method to excite in the public mind an admiration for any individual they may seek to elevate. The history of every country is full of such examples.
It was a shrewd remark that an old German writer once made when he said that if he could be allowed to write the songs of the people, he cared not who made the laws. Any one who has observed the effect of music on the average mind must have noticed how easily enthusiasm is awakened by its influence. For months we had been singing the chorus –
“For McClellan’s our leader, he is gallant and strong,
For God and our country we are marching along,”
Until our imaginations took such flight that we thought him the greatest of all generals and the only man who could lead us to victory. The music of this song was easily caught by the ear, and timed very well with our marching. Day after day it would be sung with a fervor that reminded one of the religious enthusiasm of Cromwell’s heroes, who sandwiched their fighting with songs of praise to God. Under this influence and the panegyrics showered upon him by friendly newspapers it is not to be wondered at that the army greeted him with loud demonstrations of enthusiasm. Round the camp-fires at night the greatest admiration would be expressed in his behalf, though frequently an enthusiast would be interrupted by the “why” and the “wherefore” of some unimpressionable fellow-solder who chaffed the rest of us for losing our heads. These arguments were sometimes pretty warm, and it would often happen at such times that the old refrain,
“For McClellan’s our leader, he is gallant and strong,”
would be started ; against which it was impossible for reason to make any headway. There was one custom of McClellan’s, however, that did more in the Thirteenth to turn the current of our enthusiasm than all the arguments that were offered in camp or on the march. Instead of taking position at the head of his army when it moved in the morning, as was ordinarily the custom with other generals, he waited until it was all in line on the road, and then would ride along, preceded by an officer (presumably one of his staff) shouting, “McClellan’s coming boys ! McClellan’s coming ! three cheers for McClellan !” whereupon we would join in the continuous chorus of applause that greeted him as he passed to the head of the column. This was all very well for once or twice, or even more ; but when it was found to be a regular thing, it was too much like clap-trap and humbug to suit our fancy. Our enlistment in the army was attended by the sacrifice of almost everything but our independence of thought, and to this we still clung with a good deal of tenacity. We felt that our enthusiasm, like the hand of Douglas, was still our own. This method of manufacturing enthusiasm was pretty thoroughly discussed among ourselves, and was often a subject of conversations with the men of other regiments, until we were pretty generally of the opinion that the enthusiasm for McClellan was more for what he was expected to do than for anything he had done.
by Clarence H.
Boston, September, 1884
Sam Webster, Company D, wrote in his journal, "Saturday, Nov. 8 - Moved to the relief of the cavalry brigade at Rappahannock Station, starting about 5 p.m. and getting to woods near station (after going about 4 miles on wrong road) at one o'clock a.m."
Clarence Bell, also of company D, describes what a night march was like. The following is an excerpt from the article, “When You Were Mad” published in "The Bivouac, an Independent Military Magazine."
Probably no part of your army experience was more prolific of grumbling, growling and irritation generally than a night-march ; and if that march lasted till daylight, it left you in a state of demoniacal fury that is hardly describable. You were ready to quarrel with your best friend – the chances were that you had already done so – and were completely loaded with expletives to fire yourself off again. You never started off on a night-march with songs and hurrahs. If any one had offered you a dollar apiece for all the grins that you could find in the regiment, the purchaser’s finances would have remained undepleted. It was like taking physic, you had to do it – there was no choice in the matter – so you reclined on your knapsack before the bonfires made of the debris of the abandoned camp, and practiced drawing down the corners of your mouth until you looked as if you were the progeny of the mother of vinegar. After you had lain around long enough to fall asleep, you would be awakened by a kick in the ribs, or a thump from a musket-stock, and ordered to fall in, as the brigade was moving. So you took your place in the line, and marched off with the rest, the very picture of unhappiness.
No conversation enlivened the movement ; every one tramped along, moody, sullen, sour ; nothing to be heard but the rattling of canteens and dippers, or the rumbling of the artillery wheels. Of course, it was muddy, and you “swashed” along, splashing the mire over the comrade in front of you, increasing in vindictiveness as you felt the spatters from the man in the rear, striking on your back, higher and higher, till your hair and neck were of the earth earthy. To be sure, you remonstrated with him, but the only answer you got was: “How can I help it?” As you were not able to suggest a remedy, the conversation fell through, and was not renewed until the man in front turned around and interrogated you with : “Can’t you quit flinging your mud all over my back?” Now if you had not been mad before, the insinuation that you were the proprietor of that mud would have done the business for you. That was downright meanness ; that was rubbing it in. Perhaps he thought that you were churning it up on purpose to paint his back with ; at any rate you did not waste any argument on him, but gave him what you had already taken from your follower : “How in thunder can I help it?” Pretty soon you heard another outbreak on the same subject, a few files in advance, until the unanswerable question had been propounded along to the musicians in front, where it stopped. They were spattered, but could not spatter.
Just as you were getting resigned to your misery, and had flattered yourself that there were only one year seven months and nineteen days more of this – just as you were picturing to yourself that last day of servitude, and were arranging the programme for the “high old time” you were going to have when you got your grip on your discharge papers – just then that old blunderhead behind you stumbled over his feet, and brought his musket down kerwhack on your head. Oh, what a blow was that ; what a cyclone of suffering broke loose at that time ! All the constellations came out at once. You would not have tossed up a cent whether for life or death. You got somebody to take your gun, while you clapped both hands to your head, holding it together to save the pieces, while you wandered on blind, dazed and aching. When you had found your tongue, - the probabilities were that you had bitten through it – how you did give it to the stupid cause of your tribulations. “Our army in Flanders swore terribly.” The Army of the Potomac had precedent for its profanity – on certain occasions it seemed to be the only balm for wounded spirits – so you talked at your comrade in your cuss-tomary manner, and “dressed” him down in the intervals of your groans. And he – he took it all like the blockhead that he was, - and when you had ceased, all he had to say was : “How can I help it?” When you found him incapable of any other reply than this, you left him alone in his stupidity, took your musket again, and gloomily stalked on, nursing your wounds and your wrath in ill-natured silence. You vowed that if you ever went to war again, you were going as a sutler, or guerrilla, you didn’t care a picayune which.
By-and-by you trod on a loose stone, twisted your ankle, sprawled against the man in front, and whacked him over the head with your gun. Boiling with rage, he turned about and greeted you with the most sulphuric of epithets, while he rubbed his bumps and shook his fist under your nose. You had always considered him to be a decent sort of a fellow up to that point, but for any one that would get mad over such a little accident as that you could never have any other feeling than contempt. When he had got all done with his harangue you fired off that stereotyped phrase, “How can I help it?” at him, and relapsed into the silence of your own thoughts, wearily plodding along. But when you found that the line of march was leaving the road; when you felt the sod beneath your feet; when you saw the fires starting up all about you; when you heard the command to “Halt!” when you stacked arms and shook out your blanket preparatory to wrapping yourself up in it, you realized that life had one pleasure in store for you; it was sleep, welcome sleep.
Austin Stearns, Sam Webster, and Charles Davis, describe the same night march to Rapp Station, and the early morning wake up call to rush to the railroad bridge.
Sergeant Austin Stearns:Burnside divided the army into three grand divisions commanded respectively by Hooker, Sumner, and Franklin, and we continued on our way. The weather at times was extremely cold, and snow began to fall. I remember of one day when near Warrenton, after marching in a hard storm, of scrapeing the snow away and lying down on the frozen ground for a nights rest.
Fredericksburg was the objective point, and towards it the army was draging its slow lengths along. Taylors brigade was sent down to Rapppahannock Station, and after losing our way and running on the enemies pickets, we fell back and took a new start, arriving there in the small hours of the morning, the snow falling thickly and very cold. Not knowing how long we were to stay, and being very tired, we rolled ourselves in our blankets and tried to sleep.
The first thing I knew was the officers calling us to fall in and all was astir and bustle around [and] the long roll was being beaten. Jumping up, I tried to get my traps together, but was ordered to leave all and fall in; the brigade was then in motion, or that portion that was awake. I started with the rest and, going about a mile, we came to that same ridge that we had occupied last August under Pope. Over the river near the first of those little hills were the tents of I should think a regiment of rebels; they had fled at our approach, leaving tents and rations behind. We halted on the ridge while some of the boys crossed and spoiled the camp. A quantity of fresh beef was amongst the spoils, which was served out to us. Jim Slatery and myself put our meat together and finding an old mess kettle and digging some parsnips we made a soup, thicking it with pounded hardbread, and filled ourselves full again.
Many is the times I have looked back to that bleak hill side, with the cold north winds blowing, to that pot of soup sitting between us, and with what relish we ate, or drinked it down, and with what satisfaction we felt when the thing was accomplished and we were full.SamWebster, Drummer, Company D:
Sunday, November 9th
In a snow storm. Lyford behind. Turned in at big oak, and let it snow. At 5 o'clock regiment was turned out and went to the river to picquet. When I got ready I followed. The cavarly had sneakedup at night on the rebels, gobbled up their picquet, and put two shells through their tents before they knew it. Ten or a dozen tents stand at the opposite end of the bridge - are of all kinds. Quite a raise in the shape of flour and bacon they afford. During the day Lyford and Buckman come in with some mutton and some honey. The latter was part of the spoils of some of the 16th [Maine] who, in their turn were despoiled by the superior skill of the vets.
From the Regimental History:
Snowed hard to-day. At 6 A.M. we were ordered to "fall in," whereupon we stood in line, sleepy, tired, and disgusted, in readiness to support the cavarly which made a dash across the Rappahannock River. At 8 A.M. we marched to the river to cover a bridge and ford, after which we were sent out on picket duty for twenty-four hours, Company K being left to guard the ford. As the river at this point was only twenty feet wide, conversation by the enemy was plainly heard during the night.
Our brigade was temporarily detached from the corps (First), which was encamped near Warrenton. This was the same spot where we camped on our retreat from Culpeper.
[NOTE: The Railroad Bridge across the Rappahannock, pictured, August 1862, was constantly being burnt and rebuilt. Taylor's Brigade burned it November 18th before marching on to Stafford Court House. It was rebuilt, and later burned again in October, 1863.]
Monday, November 10th
Regiment relieved by the 16th Maine. They fired on the picquets; and the rebs pitched a shell into them. Spaulding, Rollins, Wise and Hastings, get back from hospital.
Tuesday, November 11th
Gen. McClellan's farewell adress read.
On November 15th, General Taylor's Brigade was re-organized. Charles Davis writes:
Saturday, Nov. 15.
The Twelfth Massachusetts was transferred to the second (Tower’s) brigade, but continued in the same division with us. A division, at this time, contained a less number of men than did a brigade, three months back. We were glad the change didn’t mean a separation.
There were added to our brigade the Sixteenth Maine,* the Eighty-eighth Pennsylvania, and the Ninety-seventh New York regiments.
About this change, Sam Webster writes:
The 12th Mass. is taken from ours and put into the 2nd Brigade; and 16th Maine put into the 2nd. In their stead we get the 97th N.Y. and 88th Penna. The latter will do well enough, but the 97th is very dirty. Brigade stands now 9th and 97th N.Y., 11th and 88th Penna and 13th Mass. [His field diary states, "Change for the worse."]
*Regarding the 16th Maine, both Davis and Webster are wrong. The 16th was put into the First Brigade, which was Duryee's Brigade at Antietam. The 13th Mass were the 3rd Brigade commanded by Richard Coulter of the 11th PA. Brig-Gen. Nelson Taylor pictured above.
The regiments that joined the '13th Mass' in the 3rd Brigade already had a fairly close association with them. The 88th PA fought in Tower's Brigade on Chinn Ridge at 2nd Bull Run. Tower's 2nd Brigade advanced into the battlefield just ahead of the 13th Mass in Style's Brigade. Lt.-Col. Joseph A. McLean who led the 88th into battle that day was killed in the engagement. Major George Gile took command. The Major led the 88th in the Battle at Antietam, and was severely wounded. Colonel George P. McLean, (returned from sick leave) was once again in command of the regiment when it joined Taylor's Brigade. The 88th was organized near Philadelphia at the start of the war, originally called "The Cameron Light Guards," in honor of Secretary of war Simon Cameron.
The 97th New York also served in the same Division [Rickett's] with the '13th Mass' at the battles of 2nd Bull Run, and Antietam. Abram Duryee commanded the 1st Brigade. At Antietam, they were the first Federal troops to charge through the Miller Cornfield the morning of Sept. 17th. They fought alone about 1/2 before Hartsuff's Brigade [13th Mass] arrived in support. Major Charles Northrup commanded the regiment in that engagement. In November, 1862, Colonel Charles Wheelock commanded the regiment. Wheelock [pictured, right] was the original commander of the unit, and contibuted from his own funds to organize it. It was organized in Herkimer & Oneida Counties, New York.
The 16th Maine replaced the 97th NY in the First Brigade, and the '12th Mass' replaced the 88th NY in the 2nd Brigade.
Brigadier-General Nelson Taylor's 3rd Brigade, [formerly Hartsuff's] now included the 13th Mass., 83rd NY (9th NY Militia), the 97th NY, 11th Pennsylvania, and 88th Pennsylvania.
Near Rappahannock Station, Va., November 17.
We left Warrenton on the afternoon of November 8th, and , after marching about fifteen miles, came to a halt here at about one o’clock in the night. It snowed part of the time while we were on the march. Our brigade is here on picket duty. I was on picket the other morning at the ford just above the bridge ; the rebel cavalry pickets were in plain sight, about 400 yards off, and I could plainly see their sabers ; they all had on overcoats. In the night their pickets and ours are within five rods of each other, - a very convenient distance for conversation, but they seem disposed to keep a quiet tongue. We expect to be on the march toward Fredericksburg as soon as Pleasanton’s cavalry come to relieve us ; they will be along in a day or two.
From the Regimental History:
Charles Davis describes the same encounter, (but somewhat differently) with the Southern Cavalryman, Harvard Graduate, that John S. Fay told earlier on this page.
Tuesday, Nov. 18.
Last night [Nov. 17] while the regiment was on picket, a seedy-looking specimen of the “Southern chivalry” approached the bridge, waving a handkerchief to attract attention. On receiving a promise from the guard that he would not be held as a prisoner he came into our lines. He introduced himself as a first sergeant in the Third North Carolina cavalry, stating that he was a native of New Hampshire, had lived in Lowell, and was a graduate of Harvard College, also, that he had many relatives in the North, though his immediate family resided in Raleigh, N.C., where he was pressed into service. Having learned that he believed in the good old doctrine of “Down with rum,” he was given two drinks of whiskey and a cup of coffee, all of which he put down as became a man whose principles were of the steadfast brand. Having carried on a pleasant conversation with him for some time, he was given a quantity of coffee and allowed to return and serve out his term of impressment, whatever that might be, as he showed no inclination to change masters. He said his name was “Tuck,” and that he had studied law with Colonel Marston, of the Second New Hampshire regiment. When the war broke out he was publishing a newspaper in North Carolina, and was allowed the choice of going to jail or enlisting in the rebel service, and he chose the latter. Whether his statements were true or not, he appeared to be a well-informed and intelligent man.
We had now been at Rappahannock Station since the 10th. About 5 o’clock in the afternoon, [Nov. 18th] having packed our trunks and valises, strapped our umbrellas and canes, - those who had them, - shouldered our tents and our guns, we marched seven miles over a very muddy road that the pitchy darkness of the night failed to improve, and then camped in a briar patch, like “Brer Rabbit.”
Sergeant John S. Fay writes:
Soon after this, we was ordered to destroy the bridge and be ready to march. We started down the river, after dark on the night of the 18th, and arrived at Stafford-Court-House, which is twenty seven miles from Rappahannock Station, on the 20th. We remained here three days during which time there was a cold northeast storm raging.
Sam Webster writes:
Tuesday, November 18th
Bridge burnt this afternoon, and march via Bealton, taking the Hartwood Church Road, a bad and muddy one. Camp during hard rain.
Charles Davis described the mud: The amount of muscular energy required to lift your feet with ten pounds or more of mud clinging to each foot, can hardly be appreciated except by persons who have a knowledge of the "sacred soil" of Virginian.
Austin Stearns writes of this march, the following:
I remember what a disagreeable march this was. How it did rain, soaking up the earth and making mud, Virginia mud, plenty. How we struggled along through it. How at the close of day, after we reached our place of bivouac, I with others had to go on picket. While toiling along through the mud and rain, we boys had succeeded in lighting our pipes and were thus trying to get solace through the fumes of tobacco smoke.
Col. Batchelder, seeing us enjoying ourselves and having a like desire, rode up and said “Sergeant, give us a light.”
Matches were very scarce with us, few had any and those few held them as choice as gold. When we were going to light our pipes we would cry out “Who wants a light" and a dozen or more would crowd eagerly around with bits of wood or a piece of paper to get fire. Others would come to them and beg a light and so it would go on till many were accommodated.Officers as well as the privates were as short, and I think at times more so, and many were the favors they had to ask.
Private Sam Webster:
Thursday, November 20th
Started early in the rain. Passed Hartwood, keeping toward Stafford Court House. Jolliest kind of a rain all day. Camp in an old field surrounded by woods. Made bed of pine boughs.
Had got comfortably turned in last night, wet clothes taken off had gotten cold, when I was turned out for duty at Brigade Headquarters. Took Ike's drum.* Floundered around for what seemed half a mile, through mud and mule trains and finally got to Taylor's. Was allowed to sleep in Capt. Post's tent; that is if I could; but as it was cold, and I was wet and without blankets, slept little. Busted head out of Ike's drum, trying to dry it at the fire, and sounded no reveille this morning - and precious few calls later. Relieved at 5 p.m. today. Hope I may not be called to duty there again. Rain all day.
Saturday, November 22nd
Regiment go out on picquet a mile or two; and camp in a good place.
Sunday, November 23rd,
Returned to camp. Moved toward Acquia Crek. Took the wrong road, and got within three miles of Falmouth. Turned back and marched to Brooks Station. Got tents pitched by dark.
* Ike is Sam's younger brother
Isaac, also a drummer in the regiment.
CLARENCE H. BELL.
Boston, June, 1883.
Austin Stearns describes the camp at Brooks Station, near Acquia Creek, as "amongst the most disagreeable of all my army life. ...supply trains were constantly passing the station. All kinds of tricks and devices were resorted to to procure something to eat."
The following article is from "The Bivouac.-An Independent Military Magazine."
About the last of November, 1862, the Army of the Potomac made a forced march from Warrenton to the neighborhood of Acquia Creek, where the forces were concentrated for the attack on the Heights of Fredericksburg. This movement necessitated the abandonment of the base of supplies, by way of the Orange & Alexandria railroad, from Washington, and the opening of a new one by way of-the Potomac, to Acquia Creek. Whether the movements of the troops were too rapid, or the operations of the-commissary department too slow, is uncertain, but for a week or ten days there was a surprising shortness of the food supply. "Hard-tack," that reviled, though necessary staff of life to the bronzed campaigners, became the much-sought-for object of our desires. At the daily distribution jealous eyes watched those having the matter in charge, and carefully counted noses, lest an allowance should be laid aside for an imaginary comrade, and surreptitiously divided at a later period among a few favored ones. The smallest fragments were carefully gathered up and anything edible garnered to gratify the cravings of hunger. He was a benefactor indeed, who in loaning a frying-pan to a less favored friend, allowed a modicum of grease, however scorched and blackened, to remain upon its grimy surface. A proper description of the situation would be, that the stout laid down to rest with their appetites but half satisfied, while the slim congratulated themselves on their smaller capacities.
As the famine progressed, all sorts of means were taken to eke out the scanty food supply. The restrictions of the camp were but lightly enforced, and the country for miles around was foraged with but indifferent success. Our company, D, Thirteenth Mass., became possessed of about two bushels of corn, and as no means existed for reducing this to meal, it was decided to serve it out in the shape of "Hulled" Corn.
Now the enlistment rolls of the company, though showing a great variety of avocations, betrayed no one that could be properly classed as a "huller." Tradition, however, said that the corn should be boiled with lye. The many rumors, canards, "they says," etc., of the camp had made us very familiar with a certain form of "lie," but the genuine article necessary to the proper production of "hulled corn" was not to be had. However, we did the best we could under the circumstances, and the numerous camp-fires were visited, the mess-kettles being supplied with a conglomeration of wood ashes, cinders, charcoal, and fragments of Virginia red mud in a baked condition. They were then filled with water and corn, set upon the fire to boil, while volunteer cooks stirred the "broth" and replenished the fuel. The ultimate product was not a success as far as the "hulling" was concerned, for the Southern corn was as obstinate as the Confederacy, and persistently resisted all of our efforts at disintegration. Patience giving way to the solicitations of appetite, the spoils were divided, and in conjunction with the small ration of hard bread, we were enabled to retire to rest with full stomachs for once. To be sure, our hulled corn was not a very delectable compound, but as the tramp said about the tripe, "It was filling." The most fastidious rejected the skins and cinders; the sand they could not, and at that time we needed the "grit" for the approaching conflict at Fredericksburg.
The week of famine seemed to be a month in passing, and the lines of individual property were for the moment completely obliterated. Anything eatable became the fair prey of its discoverer, and the unfortunate loser took another notch in his belt, or kept his eyes open to transfer his misfortune to some one else by appropriating the food of the careless. Haversacks that were formerly hung in Acadian simplicity on the outside of the tents were now carefully worn during the day, and slept on for a pillow at night. Even then, the hand of the midnight marauder was busy with explorations, and oftentimes successfully penetrated the most skillfully devised hiding-places. The fortunate possessor of a breakfast was only sure of it if he slept with it carefully stowed away in his stomach.
In the meantime, herculean efforts were being made by the authorities to increase the food supply, and as the railroad was in good condition, the few open cars constituting the rolling stock were kept running night and day carrying supplies to the depot at Falmouth. To us, along the line of the road, the great loads of boxes of bread were a constant tantalization, and a few of the boldest conceived a plan for adding to their own meagre store. Large hooks were made from telegraph wire, and securely fastened to long poles. The plotters hid themselves in the bushes on the margin of a deep cut through which ran the railroad, and when the trains passed would rush out and pull off a few boxes from the last car. This manoeuvre worked well for a few times, but the commissary was equal to the emergency. The number of guards on the cars was doubled, and the fact becoming well known that they were shooting ball cartridges, "hooking" ceased to be a virtue, and was relegated to the catalogue of vices.
At this time, two members of Company D were tenting together, whom we will designate as W-- and B--. W-- was a stout, hearty, daring fellow, whose appetite called for the full allowance and something more, while B --, though of slighter build, managed to make away with all the rations that fell to his lot. The latter, at this period, suffered slightly from the pangs of want, but W--, from his larger capacity and restless nature, yearned with a mighty yearning for a good square meal. He was at his wits' end to satisfy the craving of his appetite, and his scent for edibles became as keen as that of a hound;
One afternoon he assumed an unusually joyous air, and at the conclusion of the battalion drill, slapped his comrade on the shoulder, imparting the pleasing information -
" B--, my old boy! Don't say a word, and we'll have a whole box of hard-tack to-night."
Of course, in a land destitute of both milk and honey, with even the milkweed shrivelled up and gone to seed, "whole boxes" of hard-tack could not be conjured up by the mere expression of a wish, and the countenance of B-- betrayed his incredulity ; but W-- banished it by a confident wave of his hand, saying:
"Never you mind - if I don't bring in a box to-night, you can call me a liar."
This last expression, while permis-sive, was not likely to be availed of, for, while "liars" were plenty enough, especially regarding the future opera- tions of the army, the particular title had not been adopted into ordinary conversation.
After dark, W-- disappeared, while his comrade remained in the tent writing a letter by the light of a candle; the promise of plenty probably lending a halo of satisfaction, for the time being, so that he forgot to write of the privations of a soldier's life and indited only pleasant words. About midnight, the sharp crack of a rifle rang out in the stillness; a few shouts, a hum of voices, and then all was quiet again. Shortly after, W--- dashed into the tent, knocked over the candle, and rolled himself up in his blankets, while in a most dismal voice he wailed :
"B--, I haven't got it."
In a few moments, finding that there was no pursuit, the baffled "hard-tack" hunter told the following story:
"This afternoon, when out of the camp for water, I discovered a small commissary depot on the hill beyond the railroad, in the edge of a pine woods. There were about twenty boxes of hard bread piled up outside, and other stores were under cover in the tent. I studied the nature of the ground, and the clumps of trees to the rear of the tent, maturing a plan to get one of the boxes. I thought it an easy task and felt sure of success.
After roll-call to-night, I crawled through the line of sentinels about our camp, and crossing the railroad, passed on into the woods. I crept carefully up to the neighborhood of the commissary, and found half a dozen guards sitting on boxes of hard bread about the fire, telling stories.
One of them was sitting leaning up against the pile of boxes, and I thought at first that my plan was frustrated, but as they were inclined to laugh at each other's jokes, I walked on tiptoe to the rear of the pile, and in the intervals of the laughter, drew the top box gently away from the sentry's head; then quietly slipped it off to the ground. I waited patiently for another outburst of mirth, when I shouldered the box and took a bee line for the woods. In imagination, I was already enjoying a surfeit of hard-tack, when, as luck would have it, ere I had gone a dozen paces, I tripped on the stump of a small sapling, when box and all came crashing to the ground. Abandoning my prize, I sprang to my feet and dashed into the darkness. The guards made a slight attempt at pursuit, and one of them fired at me, but the ball missed its mark. They were probably satisfied in recovering the box of bread, and did not follow up the chase. When all became still again, I emerged from my hiding-place, evaded our camp sentries, and here I am as hungry as ever."
His comrade sympathized with him in his misfortunes, and endeavored to soothe his perturbed spirits, but it was a day or more ere he recovered his usual light-heartedness. The famine, however, lasted but a day or so longer, when the means of transportation having been increased, full rations were issued, and the sutlers having opened their establishments, plenty gladdened our hearts once more. To crown all, Thanksgiving boxes arrived from Massachusetts, and while revelling in mince pies and roast chickens, gifts from generous friends at home, we forgot the days of scarcity through which we had just passed.*
*Although Bell, recalls Thanksgiving boxes arriving with mince pies and roast chickens, the reality of Thanksgiving Day, 1862, was somewhat bleaker.The sutler arrived 2 days after Thanksgiving, and the boxes from home did not arrive until December 4th.
On arriving at Brooks Station, [Nov. 23] on the Aquia & Fredericksburg Railroad, we camped on a bleak hill side but a short distance away, and the few days that we staid here are amongst the most disagreeable of all my army life.
We lay on the northern slope of a hill, in an open field, where the wind had full sweep, it being now about the first of December. All the wood for fuel had to be brought at least a half mile on our backs and was green at that, consequently our supply at times was quite limited, especially when some of the boys were never known to bring a stick and always wanted the best seat at the fire.
Sitting around the green wood fire with the wind blowing hard whirled the smoke in all directions, and made us all have very tender eyes. We were cold and very hungry, could not get enough to eat, and it was a daily study with us how to supply the cravings of the inner man. The greater portion of the army was between us and Fredericksbug, which was about twelve miles away, consequencely supply trains were constantly passing the station. All kinds of tricks and devices were resorted to to procure something to eat. As only a few of the many trains stopped, some of the boys with a forged order for a box of had bread would try to procure one, but generally unsuccessfully; another way was when, a train was passing along (as all trains went slow), to stand ready with long poles and try to push off some of the boxes. This many times was a success, till at last a guard was posted up and down the track, which stopped all raids on the trains.
This was a poor part of the country to forage in; the people as a general thing were poor, and then so many having passed on before us had taken with few exceptions all, and it required considerable tact and skill to get what remained.
On the first day of our arrival here, Jim Slatery and Mike O'Laughlin went out to a house that they saw through the woods, [and] on coming up to it, found an old woman who thought she was enough for any Yank. The old man was out attending to other parties. They asked her if she had anything to sell, [and] she answered with a look as though she wished them consigned to that place that is supposed to be uncomfortable warm, and in her oppinion soon to be the abode of unnumbered Yankees, that she had nothing for them or for herself to eat, that the Yanks had been there and stolen everything she had, and that the Yanks were the greatest theives she ever saw. They started to go away when they met a soldier who had been in the vicinity several days, and they asked him if there was anything to forage; he told them they need not go away from this place if that was what they wanted, for he had seen only a short time before, in a certain closet, half a pig, notwithstanding what the old lady had just said. Have that pig they must, after what had been said and to keep up the name. The soldier was eager to enter into any plan that would give pork for supper, so they agreed that one should go and call the old lady out and get her toward the barn, another was to steal into the house and throw the pig out of the window, whilst the third one was to then take [the] pig and run for the woods which was only a few rods distant, then all were to meet and divide. The plan worked to a charm, and I think the old lady, the next time she expressed her opinion, could justly saythat the Yanks were smart for getting pork. I had a rib for my supper.
Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew proclaimed, Thursday, November 27th Thanksgiving Day. The regiment was camped at Brooks Station. What a stark contrast this year's fare was to the feast the regiment enjoyed the previous autumn, when encamped at Williamsport. The Governor's Proclamation to the soldiers was read at Dress Parade, November 26th. His Proclamation to the citizens appeared in Massachusetts Newspapers.
Barnstable Patriot, November 25th 1862
By and with the advice and consent of the Council I do hereby appoint THURSDAY, the 27th day of November current, to be observed throughout this Commonwealth, as a day of PUBLIC THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE, -
And I do earnestly invite and request all the people of Massachusetts to set apart that day for the grateful and happy remembrance of the boundless mercies and loving kindness of Him, in whose name our fathers planted our Commonwealth, and to whose service they consecrated their lives and devoted their posterity.
“The Lord hath established his Throne in the Heavens ; and his Kingdom ruleth over all.” He is the Sovereign Commander of all the world, in whose hand is power and might, which none is able to withstand,” and to Him only belong ascriptions of Glory, who is “the only giver of Victory.” Let our hearts therefore, ascend, - higher than all the interests that entangle, all the doubts that bewilder, the passions that ensnare, and the prejudices that obscure – consenting to be led, illumined and governed by his Infinite Intelligence and Love.
In the meditations of the House of Praise, let us take comfort and be thankful for the numberless manifestations of heroic and manly virtue which amid the distractions of War, in the duties of the camp, and the perils of battle, have illustrated the character of the Sons of Massachusetts ; and for the serene and beautiful devotion with which her daughters have given the dearest offering of their hearts to the support of their Country, and for the defence of Humanity.
Let us not forget the bountiful bestowments of the year, filling the granaries of the husbandman, and rewarding the toil of the laborer, the enterprise, thrift and industry of all our people. No pestilence hath lurked in the darkness of night, nor assailed us in the light of day. Calamity hath not overwhelmed us, nor hath any enemy destroyed.
Rising to the height of our great occasion, reinforced by courage, conviction and faith, it has been the privilege of our country to perceive, in the workings of Providence, the opening ways of a Sublime Duty. And to Him who hath never deserted the faithful, unto Him “who gathereth together the outcasts of Israel, who healeth the broken in heart,” we owe a new song of Thanksgiving. “He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation.”
Putting aside all fear of man, which bringeth a snare, may this people put on the strength which is the divine promise and gift to the faithful and obedient; “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand. - Not with malice and wickedness, but with sincerity and truth, let us keep this feast; and while we “eat the fat and drink the sweet, forget not to send a portion to him for whom nothing is prepared.” Let us remember on that day the claims of all who are poor, or desolate, or oppressed, and pledge the devotion of our lives to the rescue of our country from the evils of rebellion, oppression and wrong; and may we all so order our conduct hereafter, that we may neither be ashamed to live, nor afraid to die.”
From the Regimental History:
Thursday, Nov. 27.
Thanksgiving day ! “For what?” was asked. We were reviewed by General Gibbon. [pictured Brig-Gen. John Gibbon, commander of 2nd Division, Gen. Franklin's Left Grand Division] Some of the boys were already at work making themselves comfortable by building huts.
The newspapers which we received from home were demanding that there be “no more dilly-dallying with the rebels.” The time to have published this was just after Antietam, not when the army needed snow-shoes to walk through the mud.
Private Sam Webster:
Got new drums. Governor's Proclamation about Thanksgiving read at dress parade. On guard
November 27th - Thanksgiving
Dinner: hard bread + beefsteak.
Sergeant John S. Fay:
Nov 27th was the usual thanksgiving at home, but our fare consisted of salt pork and hard tack, seasoned by listning to Gov. Andrew’s proclamation which was read to us by our Adjutant, but that did not make us relish our ration any better. It was the driest thanksgiving that I ever saw.
Charles Barnard Fox to Rev. Thomas Bayley Fox, letterbook, 27 November 1862, Fox Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society; used with permission.
Camp near Brook Station Va. Nov. 27th 1862.
All day to-day I have been engaged on Court Martial or writing up the records of the same. I make no pretensions to goodness, but have been somewhat in the habit of associating with gentlemen. When a commanding officer carries on a profane and insulting dispute, with a Staff captain (the latter, though no favorite of mine, acting the gentleman to outward appearances at least throughout); and a Lieut. Col. Calls the Major of a regiment, who has led that command, its other field officers being absent, though the severest actions experienced, “a God damned bummer,” which in camp phrase means a shirk and loafer, and both of these in the presence of enlisted men, what can be expected of those under them. Our regiment, or rather most of the officers and a large majority of the men they influence, is opposed to the Government and the war, and willing to see the war ended at any time by acknowledgement of the rebel states independence,. That is if you can believe their own words. What sympathy can one have with men who can see no difference between war for the benefit of the negro, and the exercise of the war power in freeing the slave for the benefit of the whites. Not but what in time I may be brought to consider the former justifiable for itself alone if our nation shows more symptoms of decay. Thank God, I have been thus far enabled to do my duty in our different engagements, in such a manner as to be able to hold my own in the regiment; but if I were to swerve one hair, I should fail to hold it, however others under the same circumstances, might fare. I believe the men respect me for trying to do my duty, but I doubt if I am a popular officer. All I get from HdQ’s. will be given because it is unavoidable. You can judge if my position is a pleasant one, and will not wonder that I should be willing, in an honorable manner, to change it. I do not write this complaining, and shall endeavor to do my duty here or else where to the best of my ability. If a change can be effected as I have mentioned it will be welcome. We have not moved forward yet as expected, and the rebs are getting ready to give us a warm reception.
From the Regimental History:
Saturday, Nov. 29.
The sutler arrived. This was the first time we had seen him since October. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men,” was a remark we had heard when news of his arrival was received.
Private Sam Webster:
Sunday, November 30th
Build a new house. Dig down in the middle of space we wish to cover, and throw the earth out to the lower side : leaving two raised places, one at either end for beds. Door in the side, and oven shaped hole for a fire place, with hole down from the outside for a chimney. Tent double length; have joined with Jo Kelly and Tom Prince.
Monday, December 1st,
Build a chimney - which falls over. Try another, not so heavy, and succeed better; made of sod. No stone to be had. Numbers are following our example.
From the Regimental History:
Wednesday, Dec. 3
Changed our camp half a mile in the direction of Falmouth, to an opening in a pine grove. Yesterday we came over and cleared the place of the stumps and debris. A more uninviting place than this appeared to be could hardly have been found when our eyes first saw the spot, but the whole regiment of three hundred men were set to work laying out streets, so that before we left it presented an attractive appearance, and was well sheltered from the wind.
Thursday, Dec. 4.
A large supply of clothing and shoes arrived in camp, bringing with them comfort and joy. The boys were busy building huts and making themselves as comfortable as possible, in anticipation of winter quarters.
Sergeant Austin Stearns:
About this time we were getting very short of clothing; I had not had a shirt for several weeks and was wearing only a blouse. Others were as short as I was. And how oppertune it was for the Westboro boys to receive a box from home filled with warm shirts and stockings, besides goodies, contributed by loving ones at home. How we boys that did not belong in Westboro wish[ed] we did when we heard their name called and saw them donning their warm things.
Near Brooks’s Station, Va., December 4.
Our brigade left Rappahannock Station on the afternoon of November 19th, and after marching about five miles through mud and rain, we at eleven o’clock encamped for the night. On the next day we marched about ten miles through mud two inches deep – on guard that night in a rain storm ; started next morning and marched ten miles in mud three inches deep. It rained nearly all day with great violence. After a halt of two days we came down here to draw rations; we had a march through mud about five inches deep. During our halt we were posted on a hill where the winds blew bitter cold, but we fixed our tent up in such a way that we slept warm. We were constantly drilling, leaving us hardly time to cook our food. To-day we broke camp and moved into warmer position, and the boys commenced putting up their tents with a view of remaining here for some days, but orders came to-night to be ready for a march in the morning.
I thank you for sending me a copy of Albert Blanchard’s letter. I was much interested in reading it ; he seems to have got into active service at last.
Chase, our sutler, arrived last week, he did not bring the boxes you sent me. He could not obtain a conveyance for his freight. The government are in possession of every available means for forwarding ammunition, stores, etc., for the immense army in this vicinity.
In a recent letter from home I am informed of the death of my dear cousin Sophronia. How sad and unexpected this event to me is, I cannot well make known to you. When we parted in Boston, one year since, Sophronia to return to the bosom of the family where she was all but idolized, while I bent my steps to the camp of our army on the Potomac, where I have been constantly engaged in active service in the camp, on the march, and in several hard-fought battles, my life has been preserved ; while my cousin, dwelling in peace and safety, has by insidious disease been laid low. Such are the inscrutable decrees of Providence.
But I must close. I am well, with the exception of a headache to-night. Our next move will be toward Fredericksburg, to participate in the grand battle expected to take place there in a few days.
Please give my remembrance to all who inquire after
From the Regimental History:
Boxes arrived from home. These remembrances from kind friends were shipped, by mistake, to Newburne, N.C., and from there to our present location. In consequence of this long voyage, the contents in many of the boxes were completely spoiled. After weeks of joyful anticipation you lug your box down to the hut to be opened and shared with your messmates. “Run to the sutler’s, Jim, and get a hammer !” – “Oh, take a bayonet!” – “Look out, man, you’ll spoil that bayonet !” “D—n the thing, we can get another!” were some of the remarks that were overheard. At last the cover was off and the contents exposed to view – ruined by the voyage. Think of the disappointment, and say the angels have no cause to weep. Certainly the angels at home would have wept had they known the result, after all their thoughtfulness.
On top of this disappointment came the information that we must prepare to march. As it snowed and rained yesterday, the roads were in no condition to move an army – too slippery, we thought.
About one thousand dollars’ worth of goods collected by the chaplain while in Massachusetts were distributed among us. Among the things were drawers, gloves, stockings, and handkerchiefs. Handkerchiefs ! It takes a woman to put the finishing touch to a gift. A man would never have thought of that convenience.Death of Private George R. Healy, Company C
Twenty-five year old blacksmith, Private George R. Healy of Weymouth, died December 5th. Sam Webster records in his diary that Reverend Noah Gaylord preached a funeral sermon for Healy on December 7th. Then the body was sent home. The roster lists his younger brother Warren M. Healy (about age 23) also in Company C, mustered out a few days earlier on November 22nd. I have no other information on them.
From the Regimental History:
Monday Dec. 8.
For the last three days the wind blew a gale, and was so cold that it was difficult to be comfortable, even near the fires, which were kept going in the company streets night and day, and where the smoke blew in every direction. One of the boys, who, in spite of hardships, still retained that irresistible desire for punning which occasionally haunts the human breast, remarked that he never knew before what was meant by “shiver de freeze,” and yet he lived until he was killed at Gettysburg. [Sergeant Roland B. Morris, Company C].
Marched at 8 A.M. across Potomac Creek, about three miles. As the ground was frozen hard, the travelling was good. This was so much preferable to mud, that no complaints were heard, though our “winter quarters” scheme was completely “busted.”
Wednesday, Dec. 10.
At 7 A.M. we broke camp and marched three or four miles to a point near the Fitzhugh place, not far from where we were on the 17th of May last. Sixty rounds of cartridges were given to each man for distribution among the “rebs.” It was hoped that none would be wasted.
Sergeant Austin Stearns:
While lying around the bivouac fire one night, asleep, rolled up in my blankets, a stick burned in two and fell over the end of my blanket; a hole was burned big enough to crawl through before I awoke, and the smoke of burnt woolen and rubber had well suffocated me, [and] both blankets were spoiled. William Shedd, the same night and laying but a few feet from me, had on a new pair of boots that he had but received from home, and, getting warm, stretched out his legs, ran both boots into the fire, and burned them so he could not wear them.
The 10th of December we lay on the bluffs of the river, while our batteries for miles up and down kept up a cannonade. Speculation was rife as usual with us as to what the results would be, and there was no lack of stories of the most proberable, and improberable character, and when night closed his mantle around us, we lay around our bivouac fire and slept as sound as though the morrow would not usher in a battle.
© Bradley M. Forbush, 2012
Page Updated March 25, 2012.