July 5, 1862
Marlboro, June 28th, 1862
Ms. Editor; - Having just returned from a visit to Manassas, now the camp ground of McDowell’s division, with which the 13th Mass. Reg. is connected, it may be interesting to the friends of our two companies to know what I saw in camp and Hospital. I am satisfied from what I saw that a soldier’s life in war is no holiday life. Those who speak of a soldier’s pay as sufficient compensation for the service he renders, and the toils and privations he undergoes, had better try a three years enlistment and then wee what they think. I am more satisfied than ever before, that the additional pay given by the State to our volunteers was deserved. The only thing that I regret is that it is so little and so limited in its application. Additional pay should have been given to every Massachusetts volunteer, though I admit a distinction between those who have families and the single man would be highly proper. It is a burning shame for us who stay at home and enjoy the blessings of civilized life to grudge (?) the payment a few dollars to those unselfish and patriotic men who have thrown themselves into the gap and stand bravely between us and the destruction of everything we hold dear.
When I arrived in camp I found about fifteen thousand men encamped on the plains of Manassas. They were resting after their severe toils form long and forced marches, under heavy burdens, with short allowance, and under great exposure, being a part of the time wholly without tents, storming as it was. They were now enjoying what may be termed the bright side of a soldier’s life. It did my hear good to see the general cheerfulness that pervaded the camps, and I could but wonder how men could be so cheerful after such hardships, especially as many men were actually suffering from cramps, rheumatism and fever engendered by their late exposures, an which exposures were liable to be renewed tomorrow. It is however partially explained by a casual remark of one of our soldiers, ‘we know not what will turn up to-morrow, and we have endured so much, we care but little.’
The first twwo days I was in camp and the first night the weather was delightful, the ground was dry, and there was much comparative comfort throughout the camp. On the afternoon of the second day there were unmistakable signs of a Virginia tempest. The soldiers were called out for brigade drill, but they came back double-quick before five. They were hardly in when the tempest came in earnest. It was terrific in lightning and thunder and wind and rain. In three hours, it is speaking within bounds to say that on a level the water on the surface of the entire campground would have measured? there than an inch in depth besides what had soaked into the earth, making the entire surface a complete mush of mud. About nine o’clock, P. M. some of the officers desired me to go through the camp that I might tell when I returned to Massachusetts, what I saw on the plains of Manassas. I went through the camp of the 13th Mass. Reg. The violence of the tempest had overturned several of their tents, and all were thoroughly drenched. Their little shelter tents are scarcely better than no tents. They consist of a piece of cloth five feet square. When a man camps by himself, he sets up two stakes, five feet apart and a little over two feet in height, and then places a ridge-pole, five feet long on the top of these stakes, hangs his piece of cloth over this ridge-pole, and then pulling the corners as wide apart as he can, fastens them to the ground by pegs. Thus he makes himself a little Tom Thumb canvass house, with both gables open. Under his best estate the soldier cannot sit upright in his tend, but must crawl in on all fours, an dif he happens tot be over five feet long, either his head or his feet must be our. If he lowers the ridge of his tent he can get a little more width at the bottom, but this gives him a flatter roof, through which the rain will run as through a sieve. But it is not common for one to tent alone. These tents are made so as to button on to each other – say three agree to button on, as they term it, tow button their tents together making a length of about ten feet, the third buttons his tend on to one of the gables and thus they form the best shelter that can possibly be made with these tents. These tents are not so good for shelter or for comfort any way as ordinary dog kennels. Yet under such shelters the brave champions of liberty and right and good government are obliged to crawl. Here were men coming down with typhoid fevers, rheumatism, dysentery &c. all drenched through, and obliged to lie there, with the water overflowing the bottom of their tents, and the rain sifting through the top. God save the country that uses her brave defenders thus – for I fear men will not. Massachusetts did not furnish her men thus; this regiment has good Sibley tents that would shelter them from the storm, but these are packed away somewhere. This regiment had a train of wagons and ambulances that any regiment might be proud of – but these have all been taken from them, and there ins not one left to carry a pound of the burdens of the worn-out soldier, or bear his sick body a mile – but if a man falls by the way, four of his comrades must bear him along on a piece of canvass, or he must be left on the way.
All this is said to be done because McDowell has had a mortal fear of baggage wagons since the battle of Bull Run. When the men crept out in the morning to rekindle their camp fires and dry themselves and get their breakfasts, they were a sorry looking act. But they seemed to put the bright side out, for when I asked them if this did not give them the rheumatism, they said it did some, and that cramp terribly, but they added, after we have stirred round awhile and got warm we shall feel all right. Such treatment of men as this may be a common concomitant of war, but if it is, war ought not to be an agency necessary to civilization; but if it is a necessary agency to civilization, then certainly civilization ought to be willing to offer more than thirteen dollars a month for meant to meet the dread necessity. I slept in camp, I ate in camp, and I write what I saw. I believe, to say nothing of the suffering of the men, that by this one storm, or rather tempest, more property was lost from the want of proper shelter than would be sufficient to furnish the entire encampment with proper tents. The rations of the men were very good in camp, though on their marches they had suffered much from lack of food.
They said they had often been hungry whilst obliged to guard the probperty of persons they knew to be secessionists. The universal testimony in regard to the people saouth where they had been was that there were but few, if any real Union men there. RThey think it will take Uncle Sam a long time to coax his obstreperous children back into the old family circle. I think the sentiment is gaining ground among the masses of the soldiery that the institution which is the fundamental cause of all this trouble must be rooted out before this war can end, thought I must say there was a tenderness, even yet, in some quarters on this question that I was sorry to see. Some men see to think that they cannot save the Union and the Constitution without slavery, as though human slavery was an essential element in the government instituted by our revolutionary fathers, the apostles of liberty. Such men forget that the framers of the Constitution intentionally so worded that great instrument as that slavery might fade out in the country, and yet the Constitution remain intact. IF all our generals came up to the sentiments which the brave Gen. Rousseau of Kentucky, lately expressed at a banquet given him at Louisville, this war would soon be ended. Though a slaveholder, he seems to be a man for the times. Speaking of closing this contest, he says, ‘But the negro stands in the way, ins spite of all that can be done or said. Sanding before the eye of the secessionist, the negro hides all the blessings of our government, throwing a black shadow on the sun itself. IF it had b4een any other species of property that stood in the way, the army, provoked as it has been, would willingly have seen its quick destruction.’ ‘Slavery is not worth our government. It is not worth our liberty. It is not worth all the precious blood now poured out for freedom. It is not worth the free navigation of the Mississippi River.” Let all Union men talk in this style, and act as bravely and decidedly as Gen. Rousseau has acted, and the country is saved; the Union will stand and liberty will be preserved.
I visited most of the hospitals at Alexandria, and searched out all our Marlboro boys I could find. Our sick were all doing well. The hospitals were neat and airy, and well supplied. Yet these neat hospitals are sad sights to look upon. Each one who has a friend or relation in the army can imagine all I would say. ‘Here,’ said an attendant to me, ‘they come in, and hence they go out; and here is one just going out.’ I looked: a short breath or two, and he was gone. Yet the brave fellows lying there by thousands, weak and disabled, said with a momentary animation on their countenances, ‘if we could have pitched into those scoundrels last fall when we had our full strength, we would have whipped them though we wee raw recruits; but it is over with many of us now.’ He, in my view, who endures cheerfully and with fortitude, pains and sickness engendered by the hardships of war, is not less worthy of respect than he who meets danger courageously on the battle-field.
I wish to express through our paper, my sincere thanks to Maj. Gould, Lieuts. Palmer, Pope, and Brown, Dr. Claflin, and Wagoner J. Morse, and to all our Marlboro boys, for their kind attention to my comfort whilst I was in camp.
O. W. A.
NOTE: (O.W.A. is O. W. Albee of the town of Marlboro, (perhaps a selectmen?)).