Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Strasburg, March 13, 1862.

I doubt not you have heard of many bloody battles, actual and anticipated, about Winchester for the last few days, and, if you credited every flying rumor, have been somewhat apprehensive of my safety. You will then, I doubt not, be surprised to hear that we have had no fight; none killed except perhaps one or two of our cavalry pickets; none captured except some thirty or forty who stayed behind in Winchester, many of them, I doubt not, wishing to be taken. Twice since my last letter we have had every reason to expect an engagement. Last Friday evening the long roll, always a signal for battle, was sounded and the regiment formed under arms. We marched out and took our position and remained there for a day, but the enemy did not come up. On Tuesday evening the long roll was beaten again, and we took our position, the enemy having advanced his whole force within two or three miles of us. We remained there until dark, but were not attacked. Then we moved back five miles on the pike, and yesterday morning came to this place. Here we are, and what next? Will we continue our retreat or fight! No one knows. Jackson always shows fight, and hence we never know what he means. Don’t suffer yourself to be alarmed by any rumors which you read or hear. So soon as we have an engagement, if I get out of it, I will write to you, enclosing the letter to your father, requesting him to send it out immediately. So soon as we have an engagement, everybody will be writing letters, and, I doubt not, your father will send you immediately any reliable news that may come.

The militia, I see from the papers, are called out, and John Fitzgerald will have to go. Give him the shot-gun to take with him. I don’t know what you ought to do to supply his place. Consult with your father, and do what you think best. You can leave the place and go to town if you do not feel safe there. Your happiness, Love, I value and wish to secure above everything else.

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March 13 — Went on picket this morning two miles below Newtown. All quiet in front. Returned to camp this evening.

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Fairfax Court House, March 13, 1862.

Dear Father, — . . . The President’s Proclamation[1] is liked very much by all the officers I have seen.

I have got the box here, and daily tickle the palates of myself and brother officers with the different things you were kind enough to send me. I will see that the stockings go to the soldiers, etc.

Coming in from Hall’s Hill yesterday I was struck with the picturesque scene which I saw in the village. It was about half an hour from sundown, the air soft and balmy as could be, and resembling some of our delightful autumn or spring days. It was just the hour when the camps are busiest, and present their most lively appearance. First we came to a cavalry regiment with their horses fastened to a long rope stretched along parallel with the road, and eating their supper, neighing, biting and snapping at each other. On my right was an undulating space cleared of all trees and with some slight breastworks put up by the enemy. This large plain was covered with camps full of life and activity, soldiers marching to a review by McClellan, with bands playing and their colors flying, and a hum arising from those not yet in ranks. All this was delightful to me, but to one who is accustomed to it, it loses its beauty in a great degree. Following this road till I came to the turnpike, I turned to the right, and came on a scene which I thought must resemble some European city. Here were all these old-fashioned houses, with queer windows and porches, guards before many of the doors, and soldiers in many cases sitting in the porches talking with the women of the house. The street was full of soldiers in every imaginable attitude, and in performance of all sorts of duty. Here was the provost guard clearing the stragglers from the street, there a man with two oxen who would go in opposite directions and he in despair, for no sooner would he get them straight than some band of soldiers would on their march come across his path, to the infinite delight of the by-standers. Then again all the soldiers would be talking in groups, which seemed quite picturesque from the variety of uniforms. Sutlers’ wagons, ambulances, baggage trains and a large corral of cattle also appeared. I never was so well pleased with any such sight and would have given a great deal if I had been able to sketch it.

What I wrote you about McClellan the other day was this. A cabinet meeting was held, so I heard, and an angry discussion took place, most of them at first being in favor of turning McClellan out altogether and putting McDowell in his place (in the Army of the Potomac), but on second thoughts they determined to confine McClellan’s command to the Army of the Potomac. The President then told McClellan that he would be turned out if he did not advance, and hence this advance was made. This came from a source hostile to McClellan and I have good reason to think is exaggerated. The President I know ordered the advance, but I doubt if the whole of the story is correct. McClellan’s plan was, I think, to go to Richmond by water, a much more practicable, less expensive and quicker method of doing the business. It may be done so yet as there is no enemy to fight here, and to advance on Richmond with our large army will be an immense and tedious operation as all the bridges are destroyed and we shall have to wait for them to be rebuilt as we must depend on the railroad for all such things.

I heard a curious story from Stedman, the World correspondent, to-day. Last summer, just after Bull Run, he dined at Centreville with a Dr. Grimsley. In reply to the doctor’s question as to when he would be there again, he said in the course of a year. The doctor laughed at the idea and told him that it was nonsense, and it ended by their betting a supper on the result of the question. When Stedman entered the doctor’s house at Centreville, which he did Tuesday, he found a note addressed to him, saying that he would find a dinner ready for him and four servants to wait on him. The doctor said he had retired to the interior of the State. Sure enough, there was a dinner spread out for him, of turkey, sweet potatoes, etc., and four niggers to wait on him. They told him their master had cleared off and left directions for them to wait for Stedman and wait upon him. It ‘s strange what queer things turn up sometimes. I think we shall be here some days. . . .

 


[1] The special message urging “gradual emancipation ” of the slaves.

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Thursday March 13th

There is no particular news today in the papers. Col Dutton concluded to come down and stay with us until he gets better. Doct David came with him. He appears better tonight, but Doct D stays with him all night. It has been a little wet this evening and there seems to be more rain in prospect. McClellan is, it is said, pursuing the fleeing rebels.

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The three diary manuscript volumes, Washington during the Civil War: The Diary of Horatio Nelson Taft, 1861-1865, are available online at The Library of Congress.

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13th.—A sad day is this. The effects of General _____’s vindictive meddling with the Medical Department are beginning to manifest themselves. When he took from me my well-trained hospital attendants and my experienced druggist, on the 5th inst, there were appointed in their places, men, worthless in the ranks, and without knowledge of the important duties which they were to perform in the hospital. The druggist knew not one medicine from another, and today three men are poisoned by a mistake in dispensing medicines. One of them is already dead; the other two suffering severely, though I have hopes that they may yet be saved. Thank God, I was absent at the time, and had nothing to do with either the dispensing or administering; and yet, should I write that the vindictiveness was not yet gratified, would the world credit it? It is even so. I have addressed to the General a respectful letter, setting forth the facts, and urging the restoration of my druggist, but he refuses! Would he decimate his Brigade to gratify his vindictiveness?

Well, we have lain still nearly a year, “surrounding the rebel army,” and, yesterday, when we went to “bag’em,” they were gone! One thing is gained, however, the .Capital is no longer besieged, and the blockade of the Potomac is raised. “Great is Diana.”

I visited some Virginia ladies at their homes to-day, took tea with them, and witnessed from their house the most beautful review of about 10,000 troops, that I ever beheld. The house is a fine old Virginia mansion, overlooking a large plain, where the troops were reviewed by Gen. McClellan. We all enjoyed it greatly. But I enjoyed more the pleasure of sitting down once more to a family table, and exchanging the boisterous society of the camp, for the quiet conversation of refined and civil life. Oh how I longed for a return of that peace which would enable the North, the South, the East, and the West, to feel again the fraternal bonds, and stop the desolations of war.

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MARCH 13TH.—Nevertheless, I am (temporarily) signing my name to the passports, yet issued by the authority of the Secretary of War. They are filled up and issued by three or four of the Provost Marshal’s clerks, who are governed mainly by my directions, as neither Col. Porter nor the clerks, nor Gen. Winder himself, have the slightest idea of the geography of the country occupied by the enemy. The clerks are all Marylanders, as well as the detectives, and the latter intend to remain here to my great chagrin.

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Thursday, 13th—We stopped at Paducah, Kentucky, a short time and then early this morning came up the river to Fort Henry, arriving in the afternoon. There are about twenty transports at this place, loaded with troops. Fort Henry is a dilapidated place. The Tennessee river is very high, the water being out over the banks, and the lowlands are flooded for miles on both sides of the river.

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13th. Saw the boys jay-hawking from countryman who had apples, chickens, eggs, etc. They stole half he had. Read a chapter in Beecher’s “Letters to Young Men.”

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March 13. The morning of the 13th was dark and rainy, and we made preparations to land. It always rains where we go; first at Hatteras, then at Roanoke and now here. I think we are rightly named a water division.

We landed in a mudhole, at the mouth of Slocum’s creek. Before noon the troops were all landed, and the march commenced. The 25th taking the advance, we marched up the river bank about a mile, the gun-boats shelling the woods in advance of us. We then struck into the woods, which presented a novel appearance. There was no undergrowth, but a short grass covered the ground, while masses of long gray moss hung in festoons from the branches of the trees, giving them a weird and sombre appearance. We soon came out to a cart road, or horse path, along which we followed for about a couple of miles, when we came to a deserted cavalry camp. I reckon when they heard the sounds of revelry on the river, there was mountings in hot haste, and they sped away to some safer locality. The clouds now broke and the sun shone out hot, which, together with the mud, made the march a toilsome one. A little further on, we came to the carriage road. Here Foster’s brigade halted, to let Reno’s and Parke’s brigades move past us.

As Parke’s brigade marched past us, we saw at the right of one of the companies in the 5th Rhode Island regiment, marching by the side of the orderly, a lady, dressed in a natty suit, with high boots and jockey hat, surmounted by a big ostrich feather. She was the observed of our whole brigade, and cheer after cheer went up along the line for the pretty woman. Continuing our march a little farther we reached some extensive earthworks, which were abandoned, but for what reason we of course were ignorant. But we reasoned that if they build works like these and then make no effort to hold them, it shows they are weak and have no confidence in their ability to successfully contend against us, and Newbern will fall an easy prey. The deep mud in the road, together with the heat, began to tell on the boys, and many of them were obliged to fall out by the way. Our march began to grow slower, and when about dusk, it commenced raining again, we turned into the woods at the right of the road, where we were to bivouac for the night. Scouting parties and pickets were sent out in order to give notice if anything unusual was about to transpire during the night. Here in the soft mud of the swamp, with the rain pouring down on us, was our hotel. Mrs. Hemans, in her song of the Pilgrims, said,

‘Amidst the storm they sang.”

But there was no song in that swamp; too tired for supper the boys laid themselves down in the mud to sleep, and bitterly thought of the morrow. Stokes and I roomed together between a couple of logs. Taking our rifles and powder between us and covering ourselves closely in the blankets, we were soon fast asleep. But he kept the advantage of me all night, for he is a great fellow to pull blankets, and he came out in the morning all right and dry, while I had been catching the rain. The boys slept well, but woke up cold and wet. There was no time to make a cup of coffee, for we were close on the enemy, and the order was again to the battle. We caught a few hasty mouthfuls of cold meat and hardtack, and quietly fell into our places in line.

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Camp Hayes, Raleigh, Virginia, March 13, 1862.

Dearest : — I came up last night just as the regiment was forming for dress parade. For the first time in months we are all together; health good; ranks very full. Oh! it was a beautiful sight; we had plenty of cheering, music, and our best marching. The men were never in finer condition. You would enjoy seeing the Twenty-third now; well dressed, bravely looking, and soldier-like.

We expect to remain here until a forward movement is made — perhaps two to four weeks, possibly longer. Dr. Joe very well and in good spirits. My new Webby still does finely. It is just daylight. Captain Slocum who left us at Camp Chase, has visited us and goes home this morning. Love to all.

Most affectionately, your

R.

Mrs. Hayes.

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