Thursday, May 31, 2012

Blog in Real Time - May 18th 1862

     Commissary clerk, Frank Morse, of the 13th Mass. remained behind in the Shenandoah Valley when the regiment was brigaded to Gen. John Abercrombie and removed from General Nathaniel Banks' command.  Frank wrote this letter home to Westboro, Mass. on May 18th, giving his impressions of the place.  The letter was not printed in the local paper, the WESTBORO TRANSCRIPT,  until May 31.  By then, Banks' command had been run out of the Shenandoah Valley by Stonewall Jackson.  By then, the 13th Mass. were on their way back to the valley in an effort to capture Jackson's command.  Morse's next letter describing the chaos, would not appear in the local paper until June 28.  

     Its an interesting item, which is not included on my website.  Since it falls between May 18, when it was written, and May 31, when it was published, I'll fit it in here!  ...and pretty soon I'll catch up to real 'real time.'

May 31, 1862


United States Commissary Department,
Winchester, Frederick Co., Va., May 18, 1862

Friend Farwell: - Thinking that a few lines from this hotbed of secession might not prove uninteresting, I will endeavor to jot down a few incidents of my observation in the Shenandoah Valley.  Winchester, where I have for some time been stationed, is situated in the lower part of the Valley, twenty eight miles from Harper’s Ferry, at the terminus of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad.  It is, or rather was before the rebellion, a large, beautiful, flourishing city, and the county seat of Frederick County.  There is not, perhaps, another city in the Old Dominion where there is so little of the Union sentiment to be found as here.

The former residents, or the male portion, all who are able to bear arms, are in the Confederate army, and there are but few left in this valley to welcome the ‘Yankees,’ as they are termed, but women and negroes; and such a reception as we receive at their hands!  We are looked upon as vandals and invaders of their homes, and treated by the women, at least, with perfect contempt.  Mr. Seward, on his return to Washington from a visit to the battle field here, was asked his opinion of Winchester.  His reply was, ‘The men are all away, and the women are the devils.’  And he spoke but the truth.  Go where you will, penetrate as deep into the valley as you please, you will see the miserable, bitter fruits of this wicked rebellion.  Farm houses deserted, fences destroyed, and negroes wandering about in idleness, enjoying their ‘freedom,’ which is nothing to them but freedom from labor.  It would amuse the people at home if they could see the conduct of the darkies here.  Some of them will come for miles to get a glimpse of the soldiers.  There are darkies of all ages, shapes and sizes, - Ethiops, copper colored, and cream colored, and your milk-and-water negroes, that come very near being white men, - dressed in all styles, a majority of them being clad in costume a la militaire, consisting of the cast-off garments of soldiers, rebels, and Unionists.  The women portion of the slaves on Sunday are dressed in a perfectly regardless-of-expense style, yellow being the favorite color, while a plaid of all the colors of the rainbow, like Joseph’s coat of old, is regarded with envy by the less fortunate of their class.  A frock or bonnet is never thrown away, for when the lady owner of these articles becomes tired of them, or they get out of fashion, Dinah secures them for a Sunday suit, and with here extensive hoops sets to aching all the  hearts of the colored gentry by the grandeur of her toilette.  It is a mistake to suppose the slaves accept the boon of freedom with thanksgiving and praise.  When told by Northern troops that if their masters are in the rebel service they are at liberty to go where they please, those who have been ill treated will usually pack up and ‘skedadle’ to some quartermaster or commissary, where they can obtain employment and rations; but the majority prefer to remain with Missus and enjoy the listless idleness the rebellion gives to them.

The city is now under martial law, the 10th Maine Regiment, Co. George L. Beal, doing provost duty.  The sale of liquor is strictly prohibited, and no citizen or soldier allowed on the streets after ten o’clock at night without the countersign.  The hospitals are still pretty full, there being several hundreds of those wounded in the late battle here, who have not yet fully recovered.  The rebel wounded were mostly taken from the hospitals, and kindly treated by the citizens in their homes.  In conversation with a rebel soldier form one of the South Carolina regiments to-day, I asked him if he had not got enough of this war.  He answered ‘No; I was wounded pretty bad in the battle out here, but when my arm gets well shall try it again if I get the chance.’

But amid all the expressions of enmity to the law and the constitution that has met my ears for weeks past, I cannot find it in my heart to speak a harsh or unkind word to them, for the events of the last few weeks has caused a despondency of countenance, a lack-lustre expression of the eye, that speaks a tale full of mighty import.  However much  the rebels ma try to disguise it, thee is no mistake but they are disheartened and discouraged, though many still persist in declaring that they never can nor never will be subdued.

A few steps from where I am writing is the former residence of Senator Mason, the author of the Fugitive Slave bill.  His house is now occupied by Union troops, his family leaving on the approach of the Federal army.  Hs slaves, unmindful of the stringent law he framed, have taken to their heels and sought a more congenial clime.  His daughter is now a helpless lunatic, caused by the rebellion her father was so instrumental in bringing about; and he an exile in a foreign land, with nothing to recompense him but the knowledge of the fact that if he ever returns to his native land it will be to meet a traitor’s doom and fill a traitor’s grave.  Verily, he is reaping his just reward.

I can write nothing of interest in regard to the regiment to which I belong, having for a long time been detached from it.  It was reported here yesterday that it had marched from Warrenton Junction to Fredericksburg, and may be ere this reaches you, in Richmond.  Officers and soldiers in other regiments who are acquainted with it, all speak of the 13th as being one of the best drilled and best disciplined regiments in the service.  And it is my earnest hope that the day is not far distant when that, as well as other regiments can return again to the loved ones at home, stronger and better men, morally and physically, than when they left, and that they may meet with such a reception as will amply reward them for the hardships and privations they have endured in aiding to crush this unholy rebellion.

With my best wishes for your health and the success of your Journal, believe me,
Very truly yours,

F. H. Morse.
(Frank Morse)

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