Monday, May 28, 2012

Blog in Real Time - Summer of 1862

     I hope you had a memorable Memorial Day.
     I'm bringing back the blog in real time series, as it was very popular and very useful.  Hopefully I will be able to keep up and make it at least until the end of John Pope's Virginia Campaign.

     The summer campaign of 1862 was very arduous for the 13th Mass regt.  Even though the unit was in the field more than a year before they participated in their first major battle, they did a lot of hard service prior to that.  I wanted to begin this new series in early May, but did not have the time to organize it, - so will put up five "retro" posts to catch up.

    The introductions and background information to these 5 posts are brief.  The soldiers letters will stand on their own.  More detailed information can be found at my website.

     In March the regiment advanced from the site of their long winter camp at Williamsport, Maryland, into  Virginia.  In mid-march they were at Winchester.  General John Abercrombie took command of their brigade and marched it to near Warrenton Junction, Virginia.  Abercrombie camped the regiment in a bad swampy area which the men dubbed 'Camp Misery' and 'Camp Starvation.'  For a month the men lingered in camp, many getting sick with fever and filling up the hospital.  In early May, a new brigade commander was appointed;  General George Lucas Hartsuff.   Hartsuff inspected the camp and immediately moved it to higher ground near Catlett's Station.  On May 19th the brigade hooked up with General McDowell's Division of the army. McDowell advanced his command to Falmouth where it was intended he would eventually advance and hook up with General McClellan's army near Richmond.

I'll begin with a letter of private John B. Noyes, Company B, May 10, 1862

Catlett’s Station, near Warrenton Junction Va
            Camp Staunton, May 10, 1862
Dear George
Your letter of the 18th ult. arrived safely on the 27th.  Since that time I have received a letter from father of the 25th ult., from Martha of the 28th ult. (rec’g May 1st) and from father again of the 4th inst. received yesterday.  The mail is now received somewhat regularly.  Journals of late as the 5th inst. have come to hand.  I sent a letter to Martha on the 4th inst.  Since that time the tedious monotony of camp life has been somewhat enlivened.  There is plenty to occupy the time now, both in drilling and reading.
On the 5th inst. the 12th & 16th Indiana Regiments broke camp and proceeded by rail to Alexandria.  They are to be paid off and discharged at Washington.  So there is no more talk here about our going home with these regiments.  I may not have informed you that our old Gen’l. Abercrombie, a Col. of the U.S. Army a man who looked on soldiers as pack horses, though he did not take so much care of their comfort, fortunately left us a week ago or so, to the delight of everybody.  Brig. Gen’l. Hartsuff succeeded him, who is also a regular army officer.  The first thing the General did was to inspect the camping grounds of the various regiments.  “The Brigade Surgeon calls the ground good enough for the men,” he remarked “I only asked him because I thought his opinion ought to be better than my own. I cannot agree with him.”  The day that witnessed the departure of the Indiana regiment found us also newly encamped on the brow of a very extensive hill in a 140 acre lot. The position is the finest you could conceive of.  The tent grounds are level, the parade grounds very extensive.  The whole lot is well grassed over, and nicely mowed by the sheep that formerly pastured on it. The owner of the lot who has 1100 acres is a sheep raiser, and he’s rich.  His land cost $45.00 an acre.  To the East & West side of the camp woods extend from which wood can easily be drawn for camp uses.  A run, used only for drinking water, and for cooking purposes bounds the camp on the west, and a smaller run for washing purposes on the east.  Beyond the runs are woods.  It is but a mile or so to our old camping grounds.  Yet what a change.  There constant dampness, miserable tent grounds, stump be-spangled streets, furrough cartwheeled, clay-y cramped parade grounds.  The different regiments widely separated.  Actually the soil we laid on was but rotten vegetable matter. The point of a bayonet set in the ground for half an hour was so stained that nothing but Emery paper could scour off the stain.  The very trees of the forest were prematurely old, rotten at the core or at the top from excess of moisture.  Such a camp Mr. Stimpson visited, arriving on a rainy night.  Could he have seen this camp with its spacious company streets, fifty feet wide, adorned with cedar trees, a la Darnestown, our camp in line with the 9th N.Y. & 12th Mass., in the same field, though far from each other, the 1st Me. and Rhode Island Cavalry to the right, and the Penns. Battery of Mathews & N.Y. battery of Thompson to the left of the line, he would have left Warrenton Junction with a better impression of Volunteer life.  I have spoken of the character and extent of our camping ground.  So high is it that at almost all times the wind is stirring, so that outside of the hot tent, in the middle of the day you may be cool under a canopy made of blankets stretched across poles which we use for clothes lines. So high is it that you can see for miles around, above the woods across the country.  To the west extend the Rattle Snake Mountains, some twenty miles away, and beyond them, only visible when the air is clear, the Blue Ridge distant about 40 or 50 miles.
Such a camp did Gen’l. Hartsuff select for us going back but about a mile.  But his care for us did not stop here. Daily he is around on duty.  The cook houses he has placed under his rule.  “Are you the cook” he said to one of the Company Cooks.  “Yes”  “Can you keep a neat cook house?”  “I think I can.” “If you do not, you must give way for one who will.”  The hospital & bakery also receive his visits.  At the latter place he broke bread & tasted it.  This A.m. he was at the guard house at reveille, 5 A.m. to see how guard duty was performed. The guard was turned out to salute him, at least a portion of them.   “That is as it should be” he said.   At the last camp I visited the guard did not” turn out though begged to do so by the Serg’t. & Lieut.  He referred to the N.Y. 9th.  Indeed the Gen’l. has simplified guard duty much. “How many posts have you” he enquired of the Lieut. of the Guard on the first day we came here.  “Seventeen.”  “That is too many, take off five, this camp ground is not intended to keep the men within the lines, but to keep interlopers out; let the men go where they please, the grand guard will keep them in.”  For the 10 months we have been out at the seat of war, and for two months the camp guard has been mainly posted for the purpose of preventing the exit of the men.  You could’nt get out of camp to see a friend in a regiment encamped in the next field, without a pass, and very likely but three or four passes could be given a day to the whole company.  Now I can go a dozen times a day to any of the regiments in the brigade.  Passes may be regarded as relics of the past. Yet regimental guard duty is very strictly performed.  The General passed a sentinel on his post.  He faced inwards towards the camp.  “Very well done” says the General “you had the idea, but the next time face out.”  In fact there is nothing too small for the general to notice. He has established a system of company, regimental and brigade fatigue duty which will ensure a well conducted camp; and it is very necessary that the camp should be clean and sweet now that the heat of summer is upon us.  Mother says in her last of May 4th, that May is a come but not a blossom.  Cherry blossoms and peach have been out here since the middle of last month, perhaps earlier even.  The lilac is also in full bloom, and many a boquet of violets and daisies I might call only the fair one want step forth to receive them.  I heard there was a brook near by in which trout were to be found. A Serg’t. of the N.Y. 9th has plenty of hooks, and I believe I shall turn angler and try my luck on the finny tribe.  I intended to give you a short account of a day’s life in camp but space fails me.  I also wanted to have a little military talk which I shall have to make very brief.  Father hopes that Banks may not be cut off & that McDowell may accomplish something.  It is very hard indeed to divine Banks’ object unless it is merely to take care of Jackson, or the great work as it would seem of seizing the Virginia Central RR and the South Side and Tenn. R.R. over which a large portion of the rebel supplies must be transported.  Staunton is an important station on the former RR. From which place he might proceed to Lexington where seven roads meet, and thence to Bufford’s Gap, near the latter RR, or as is more likely to be the case he might go to Scott’s Ferry and seize the canal which leads to Richmond.  In any event it does not appear likely that Banks will be in the great battle unless the rebels make a long and determined stand at Richmond. He is too far away from the scene of operations. I omitted to say that Banks might take the road from Staunton to Gordonsville, by way of Charlottesville but which of the various roads toward Richmond he takes will probably be determined by the facility with which provisions can be transported, and the position of Jackson. McDowell certainly ought to be at Richmond as soon as McClellan.  The chances would seem to be that he is there first.  But may it not be that Joe Johnston will leave Richmond to its fate between three fires, McDowell, Franklin, & McClellan, cross the James River and make a stand at Petersburgh, or fly God knows where, whether to Tennessee or North Carolina where in the end the rebels must submit.  It should seem that Franklin ought to be at Richmond before Johnston, as it is not far from West Point to the latter place. I hope that Johnston will make a stand at Richmond, but fear he will got to Petersburgh which will be the continuing or the initiation of a policy which will prolong the war for months.  But if Joe does flee South let him beware of Burnside.
                        With love to all I am Yours Truly
                                                John B. Noyes.

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