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

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bivouac near Woodstock, April 1, 1862.

Last Thursday I received an order from Gen. Jackson to take charge of four companies and report to Col. Ashby for duty on the advance-guard. I go down occasionally to take a view of the enemy’s pickets, but most of the time have been lying idle. The enemy are encamped around Strasburg and for some four miles this side, where they seem disposed to remain quiet for the present. The whole country here bears the appearance of a funeral, everything is so quiet. In a ride yesterday along our lines, I scarcely saw any person moving about, and all work on the farms seemed suspended; many of the houses seemed to be deserted. The soldiers alone seem to exhibit the appearance of contentment and happiness. A mode of life which once seemed so strange and unnatural habit has made familiar to us, and if peace ever comes many of them will be disqualified for a life of industry.

I have seen, in a Baltimore paper, a list of the prisoners taken from the battle at Winchester. It is very gratifying to find that some are captured whose fate was involved in doubt. Among them I am pleased to find the name of Charley Rollins, whom I saw upon the field behaving very gallantly. Send word to his mother if you have an opportunity. Capt. Morrison and Lieut. Lyle of the College Company are on the list. Two captains and one lieut. were captured from our regiment. Our loss in killed and wounded and captured, I expect, will reach 500. I do not think we had over 2500 men engaged, whilst the enemy probably had four times the number, consisting, for the most part, of troops which have been in service for the last year under Rosecrans in Western Virginia, than whom they have no better troops in the field. I never expect to see troops fight better than ours did. Our force is rapidly increasing from the militia who are coming in and will be used in filling up the volunteer companies. Many of those sick and absent on furlough are returning, and with all, I think, we will have a force sufficient to meet the enemy with success. Until our force is increased and reorganized, I think we shall continue to retreat without another battle.

April 1 — A few hours after sunrise the report reached camp that the Yanks were again on the advance. We were ordered to pack up double-quick and start our wagons up the Valley. We started down the pike with the battery, but before we got to Woodstock the Yanks had already made their appearance in sight of town. We halted on the hill at the south end of town a few minutes, then fell back to Narrow Passage, three miles south of Woodstock. When we started back a Yankee battery in position on a hill north of town fired some shell at us, but they all fell short.

One gun of Pendleton’s battery was in position at the south end of town and fired at the advancing skirmishers, but the Yanks had a four-gun battery in position on the hill north of town, which opened with all four guns on Pendleton’s piece and it retired under fire.

On the hill south of Narrow Passage we went in position and fired at the advancing enemy as it came in range. Their four-gun battery replied to our fire and we played ball with them a while with two guns to four, then fell back to a hill a little south of Edenburg. Edenburg is a little village on the north side of Stony Creek, five miles from Woodstock.

The Yanks followed our retreat and put their battery in position on the hill at the north end of Edenburg. Their position was higher and consequently commanded the one we occupied. Here we had a repetition of what we have been doing from nearly every hilltop between here and Winchester. We shelled the Yanks and the Yanks shelled us. The firing was rapid for a while, and right across the center of town. Our cavalry burned the railroad and pike bridge at Stony Creek. When that was fully accomplished we retired from our position, as the fire from four guns on a commanding elevation was getting too hottish for two on a lower and exposed altitude.

We fell back to Red Banks, eight miles from Woodstock, on the north fork of the Shenandoah, and camped.

Tuesday April 1st 1862

A fine pleasant day. Went down to the Ave in the morning, got Draft of $20, sent to Mrs Barnes Phila. Called at McClees Photograph Rooms. He told me that he had mounted 2300 pictures the day before. The call for Photographs by Army officers has been unprecedented the past six months. My wife and Julia called upon me at the office today. I went this evening with Julia down to the Church Festival, did not attend or go in tonight, intend to go tomorrow. I was in at Willards, about as many officers there as usual and the Ave is crowded afternoons. Ed Dickerson gave us a call this evening. Holly has been to the Festival, has just come home. 11 o’clock. Julia is not yet in. “Bud” has gone to bed long ago, sick. The Fair was too much for him last night.


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.

Note: Shiloh has not occurred yet, so this diary entry is dated wrong.

APRIL 1ST.—Gen. Sydney Johnston having fallen in battle, the command in the West devolved on Gen. Beauregard, whose recent defense at Island No. 10 on the Mississippi, has revived his popularity. But, I repeat, he is a doomed man.

Tuesday, 1st—Our Division, the First, was reviewed this forenoon by General Grant and Maj. Gen. J. A. McClernand. While the review was in progress three men were seen on the roofs of two small log houses at the southern end of Jones’ Field, taking notes on our maneuvers, the number of men in line, etc. They were dressed in butternut suits although, it is said, they had claimed to be Union men; yet when the review was ended no trace of them could be found.

1st. The “Long Roll” was sounded at the Ninth Wisconsin headquarters for an April Fool. Another dark rainy day. Read “Ivanhoe” and issued rations.

April 1st.—An opportunity offers to-day to send letters to the dear ones at home. This privilege is becoming less frequent, and we fear that when we move from here, it will be even more so than now. Visited Newport News to-day. This, though a sad, was a pleasant visit. There, within a stone’s throw of our Fort and guns, stood, a hundred feet above the briny water, the graceful spars of the ill-fated frigate Cumberland, sunk by the iron-clad Merrimac. It seems impossible that this monster ship, yet untried, should venture on her first voyage out, not only in presence of our armed fleet, but under the very port-holes of one of our most powerful land batteries. I listened to many interesting anecdotes of this naval fight, or rather destruction, but I cannot record them now. I could not withstand the temptation to visit what there was of the Cumberland above water. Climbed into the rigging, and discovered at the very peak of the foremast, about one square yard of the American flag, still flying. I determined, if possible, to have a piece of it, and started on the arduous task of climbing a hundred feet to get it. By the aid of ropes, and spars, and rigging, reached the top-gallant. The flag was still fifty feet above me, and there was no way of my reaching it but by climbing that slender, smooth top-mast. I looked at the coveted relic with longing eyes—thought what a treasure it would be— looked into the ocean fifty feet beneath me—looked at a rebel gunboat which was hovering near, as a shark follows and hovers around a vessel with a cadaver ready to be thrown overboard; then I looked at myself, and came to the sage conclusion that there was another relic which wife and chil-children might value even more than they would that flag, though tattered in so noble a cause, and waving still an unimpeachable witness to the bravery and patriotism of the noble crew who went down with it, still floating aloft, they never ceasing to cheer that loved emblem, till choked by the gurgling of the water in their throats, when they sank, to cheer no more forever.

About half a mile below the Cumberland, the wreck of the Congress is just visible above the water. For want of time I did not visit it.

We have no further revelations as to the programme of the war. It looks to me, however, that the plan is, to conquer the banks of the James River, making use of it as the base of our operations till we reach Richmond.

Shall we have a fight at Richmond? I very much doubt it. If we press rapidly forward, we must reach there before the enemy can concentrate any large body of troops or make any formidable defences. They will then, I think, fall back on the Cotton States, luring us on to an enemy more formidable than then- guns—rice swamps, hot weather, and yellow fever. If we delay, however, giving them time to reinforce and fortify, it may be otherwise. So much for a guess.

My Hospital Steward has been for a month under arrest, and though I have constantly applied for the appointment of one to temporarily fill his place, it has been refused me. This has caused me much extra labor. In consequence of this I have to-day disbanded my whole hospital force, sent my sick to quarters, and refused longer to perform the duties of Hospital Steward. Shall I be arrested for insubordination? We shall see.

Tuesday, April 1. — Cloudy and threatening this morning. . . . All Fools’ day. Soldiers sent companies to get pay out of time; bogus dispatches and the like.

I hear that Dr. Joe is in his trouble by consent of Scammon. Was he induced to ask for his examination? If so, how foolish! I can hardly be angry, and yet [I am] vexed outrageously. He [Scammon] has been operated on, used. Surely he wouldn’t do such a thing if he was wide-awake.

We Lose Our Major.

April 1. I learn that Major McCafferty has resigned and is going to leave us. I am sorry to learn that his ambition for fame is so soon gratified. I think a good deal of the major and shall miss him very much. He is a man of great good nature and a good deal of a humorist, and at times he makes considerable sport for the boys. The major’s resignation creates a vacancy which, according to military rules will be filled by the ranking captain which is Capt. Pickett of company A. This will change the formation of the line, bringing company B on the left, and ranking second in the line. So, step by step, we ascend the ladder of fame.

Living High.

We are now living in clover, having little else to do but to keep ourselves, clothes, arms and equipments clean and in good order. We do a little guard duty and the rest of the time is spent in reading, writing, card-playing and walking about town, seeing the fun and enjoying ourselves. Our rations are of good quality and variety. We now have our fresh beef three times a week, with all the soft bread we want. With our government rations, and what we can buy, such as oysters, fresh fish, chickens, eggs, sweet potatoes, etc., we are running at a high rate of speed. We often contrast this with our life at the inlet.

April 1, 1862.—The last ten days have brought changes in the house. Max R. left with the company to be mustered in, leaving with us his weeping Annie. Hardly were her spirits somewhat composed when her brother arrived from Natchez to take her home. This morning he, Annie, and Reeney, the black handmaiden, posted off. Out of seven of us only H., myself, and Aunt Judy are left. The absence of Reeney will not be the one least noted. She was as precious an imp as any Topsy ever was. Her tricks were endless and her innocence of them amazing. When sent out to bring in eggs she would take them from nests where hens were hatching, and embryo chickens would be served up at breakfast, while Reeney stood by grinning to see them opened; but when accused she was imperturbable. “Laws, Mis’ L., I nebber done bin nigh dem hens. Mis’ Annie, you can go count dem dere eggs.” That when counted they were found minus the number she had brought had no effect on her stolid denial. H. has plenty to do finishing the garden all by himself, but the time rather drags for me.


Note: To protect Mrs. Miller’s job as a teacher in New Orleans, the diary was published anonymously, edited by G. W. Cable, names were changed and initials were often used instead of full names — and even the initials differed from the real person’s initials.