Friday, March 8, 2013

Winter Camp, 1863

     The lack of posts here at the blog is due to the relentless effort to finish the latest page of my website.  I'm proud to say that new page is up; an undertaking that took 4 months of continuous work.  There are 113 images, including 28 pictures of '13th Mass' guys on the new page.  Hopefully most readers don't have 'dial up.'   This page breaks new ground.

     It is the first 'detail' page of the website for the year 1863.   There are significantly fewer primary sources left to tell the soldiers' story in their own words. Fortunately with the help of descendants, collectors, national park archives, museums, & historical societies I've pulled together an impressive number of un-published materials to continue with descriptions of the soldiers' life in camp around Belle Plain Landing, Virginia, in the harsh winter months of January, February & March. 

     Morale was at a low ebb.    Mud swallowed up what was left of it, along with the rest of the army, during General Burnside's disastrous 'Mud March' campaign.  Desertions became frequent.   Harsh winds & snow made picket duty even more unpleasant than usual.  Still the soldiers endured, as the letters attest.

     I'm pleased to have permission from the Pearce Museum, Navarro College, Texas to post transcriptions of of two letters from their collections.  The museum relies in part on income it gets providing copies of these transcriptions to researchers. It is very generous of them to allow me to share Charles Leland's letters.  Nineteen year old Charles writes his father about morale and desertions in the Army under Burnside's leadership.  The Pearce Museum has other holdings related to the '13th Mass' including the 1863 diary of John Boudwin, Co. A, some letters of John Fox, 2nd Mass. Vols, brother of Lt. Charles B. Fox, and 11 letters of Oliver H. Walker, who transferred to the 24th Mass., from the 13th, in Dec. 1861.  Check out their site here:  Pearce Museum.

     In December I received several materials from the collections in the Massachusetts Historical Society.  Some of these are on the new page, including a few witty letters of Charles Adams, Company  A, of Dorchester, who gained fame in the post war years with a series of German-Dialect poems and verses published under the pseudonym 'Little Yawcob Strauss.'  Adam's fondness for word play shows up in letters to his various siblings. 

     In one of his letters, Charles mentions a sea-shanty song, popular in the states in the 1860's.  A little research revealed the title of the 'Bow Wow Wow' song to be "Boston Harbor."  A link to a version of the song performed on YouTube adds a musical dimension to the history of the regiment.

     The letters of Dennis G. Walker, and George Henry Hill are not to be missed, both provided by family descendants.  Those of you with problems spelling, will appreciate Walker's unique disregard to the discipline.      George Hill gets a box from home and carefully describes all its contents in a letter of acknowledgement to his favorite aunt.

     A very rare photo of Dennis G. Walker is provided by another descendant, whose ancestor kept a large scrapbook of photos of his 13th Mass comrades. A few other impossible to find images from the same source are included on the new page.

     As usual private John B. Noyes describes everything he sees around him when he returns to the camp of the 13th, in February, 1863, the first to get back after recovering from wounds at Antietam.  Noyes takes us along on picket duty during a snow storm, outlining his responsibilities and that of the squad commander.  Then he takes us on a long trek through the muddy camps of the Army of the Potomac, scattered about Belle Plain Landing and Falmouth, VA, to the Headquarters of new commander General Joe Hooker.  Noyes accepted a position as clerk at Provost Marshall General Marsena Patrick's Headquarters in March.  The position gives him a broader perspective with which to comment on the condition of the Army of the Potomac as it prepares for the coming Spring Campaigns, and he does.

     I always try to sprinkle every page with some humor if possible.  In this case two stand alone articles do the job.  "Grins," by Clarence Bell recalls incidents of camp life which caused the soldiers to smile, pay-day and mail call being the most prominent.  Regimental Historian Charles E. Davis, Jr. uses his customary satire to caricature some of the less soldierly fellows found within the ranks of the 13th Mass, in the article 'Shirks.'

     Letters and commentary by the usual gang, Austin Stearns, Sam Webster, & Warren Freeman fill out the narrative.

     Here is the link, Winter Camp.

     Enjoy the new page.