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

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Camp, near Point Pleasant, Mo., April 4, 1862.

I received your last letter within three days after it was mailed, and praised Uncle Sam duly therefor. Our regiment has had a run of bad luck since we’ve been here. Two men killed on the plank road, two wounded at same place, two killed by falling trees in a storm of night of April 1st, and a dozen wounded, and yesterday one drowned while watering his horse in the swamp, and our horses dying off very fast of horse cholera. The latter is a serious thing in a regiment were the men own the horses themselves. For they (or nearly all of them) cannot buy others. Most of them are still owing for the horses they have. The positions of troops and state of the war generally remains the same here as it has been ever since we took Madrid. Main body of our forces at that place. Five regiments here under Plummer and five seven miles further down the river with Palmer. That is as far down as we can go on this side for the swamps. Between here and Madrid we have batteries every three miles and the Rebels have rather more on the opposite side. Both are right on their respective banks and have their flags fluttering their mutual hatred in each others faces. We can see them very plainly without the aid of a glass. The Rebel gunboats lie just below our lower battery and ’tis rumored to-night that several new ones have arrived from Memphis or New Orleans.

This fuss about “Island 10” I think is all humbug. Don’t believe they have attacked it yet. It don’t sound like Foote’s fighting. Look on the map and see what a nice pen there is between the rivers Tennessee and Mississippi. Don’t it look that if Grant and company can whip them out at Corinth, that we’ll have all the forces at Memphis and intermediate points to “Island 10” in a bag that they’ll have trouble in getting through? If they run it will be into Arkansas, and they can take nothing with them but what their backs will stand under. Seems to me that the plans of the campaign are grand from the glimpses we can get of them and have been planned by at least a Napoleon. Certain it is we are checkmating them at every point that’s visible. I firmly believe the summer will see the war ended. But it will also see a host of us upended if we have to fight over such ground as this. It is unpleasantly warm already in the sun. It’s 10 p.m. now and plenty warm in my shirt sleeves, with a high wind blowing, too. We had an awful storm here to commence April with. We are camped just in the wood’s edge and the wind struck us after crossing a wide open field and knocked trees down all through our camp; killed First Lieutenant Moore, one private, seriously wounded Captain Webster and a dozen men. During the storm I though of our fleet at “Island 10” and it made me almost sick. Don’t see how they escaped being blown high and dry out of water.

London, April 4, 1862

The late military successes have given us a season of repose. People are changing their notions of the power of the country to meet such a trial, which is attended with quite favorable consequences to us in our position. Our diplomacy is almost in a state of profound calm. Even the favorite idea of a division into two states is less put forward than it was. Yet the interest with which the struggle is witnessed grows deeper and deeper. The battle between the Merrimack and our vessels has been the main talk of the town ever since the news came, in Parliament, in the clubs, in the city, among the military and naval people. The impression is that it dates the commencement of a new era in warfare, and that Great Britain must consent to begin over again. I think the effect is to diminish the confidence in the result of hostilities with us. In December we were told that we should be swept from the ocean in a moment, and all our ports would be taken. They do not talk so now. So far as this may have an effect to secure peace on both sides it is good. . . .

We are much encouraged now by the series of successes gained, and far more by the marked indications of exhaustion and discouragement in the south. They must be suffering in every way. Never did people pay such a penalty for their madness. And the worst is yet to come. For emancipation is on its way with slow but certain pace. Well for them if it do not take them unaware.

April 3 and 4 — On picket. Colonel Ashby rides along his picket line every day. I heard him say today that when the Yankee pickets fire at him, which they sometimes do, he stops and sits on his horse right still, without dodging or moving in the least, and he advised his picket to do likewise. He said that he has observed that if at long range he holds still without evincing any sign of fear or danger by moving or dodging, a sharpshooter or picket will hardly ever fire more than once at him from the same position, as his bold and unconcerned demeanor convinces the Yank at once that the object of his fire is beyond the range and reach of his rifle.

Friday April 4th 1862

A delightful day. Quite still times here now since the soldiers left, but there are still soldiers in every direction, but the great Mass have left. 130,000 have gone down to Fortress Monroe. A large army is out in Virginia and a number of Regts are in the Forts over the River. I think there is but one full Regt now quartered in the City, the 91st Pa on Franklin Square. Julia and the boys attended the Festival this evening. The Lion of the evening was Lieut Morris of the “Cumberland.” Julia had a long chat with him. The little boys were interested and shook hands with him and came home quite elated. I was at the “National” with S D Moody most of the evening. No particular news.


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.

APRIL 4TH.—The enemy are shelling our camp at Yorktown. I can hear the reports of the guns, of a damp evening. We are sending back defiance with our guns.

The President has not taken any notice of my communication. Mr. Benjamin is too powerful to be affected by such proofs of such small matters.

Friday, 4th—It rained and hailed this afternoon, and by night it got very warm. We were ordered under arms at 6 p. m., and we formed a hollow square on the parade ground. We remained in line until 10 o’clock, when we were ordered back to our tents. It was reported out in front that the rebels were advancing in force from Corinth, but at 10 o’clock the word came that they had bivouacked for the night.

4th. Moved camp again. Nothing of importance occurred. Many rumors afloat. Scouting parties still being sent out.

4th.—Moved at 6 A. M.—After a march of twelve miles in direction of Yorktown, (at about 3 P. M.) came upon the enemy’s entrenchments at Young’s Mills. They fired a few shots, wounding one man of 5th Vermont in the shoulder. They then retired, giving us possession. Their barracks here were built of logs with good fire places and chimneys, and were very comfortable—far superior to any which our troops had had during the winter. We encamped for the night in sight of the deserted fortifications.

Camp Hayes, Raleigh, Virginia, April 4, 1862. Friday. — Very warm, windy. Mud drying up rapidly. Dr. Webb has returned. Dr. Hayes was at the bottom of the affair. Colonel Scammon telegraphed that Dr. Webb couldn’t be spared and ordered him to return here. I suspect that Dr. Hayes made such representations to Colonel Scammon as induced him to report Dr. Webb for examination. On reflection Colonel Scammon no doubt felt that he had yielded too much and will now, I presume, put a stop to further proceedings.

About 4 or 5 P. M. yesterday I received an order requiring Lieutenant Stevens and a corporal and six men to arrest General Beckley and take him to Wheeling. The arrest was made. General Beckley’s wife and family felt badly enough. The general said he recognized the propriety of it and did not complain.

A thunder-storm last night. Will it clear off or give us “falling weather”? The natives with their queer garments and queerer speech and looks continue to come in.

Georgeanna and Eliza had “enlisted for the war,” which they did not understand to mean staying comfortably housed in Washington, while the army marched to danger and death. So when the orders came for the advance of the Army of the Potomac, they definitely determined to go too, in some way or other, and not to allow themselves to be kept back even by dear Joe Howland’s concern for their comfort and safety, feeling sure of his consent when the right moment came. Georgeanna writes to him:

Will you, dear Joe, seriously think about our going when and where you go. . . . The distress of having you away and in the greatest danger—hours and hours, probably days—beyond our reach, would be infinitely harder to stand than any amount of cold, hunger, or annoyance, and the knowledge that Eliza was in such a state of mind would make you quite as unhappy as the thought that she might be hungry and cold. . . . We want to be within one hour’s ride, at most, of the battlefield, and to be there ready for the battle if it must come. When it is all over what possible use would there be in our coming on? There will always be some roof of a barn at any rate that would give us shelter enough, and where we could stay if there was fighting. It was bad enough to go through Bull Run here in Washington. Nothing can be more miserable than a second such experience. . . . You only laugh when I talk to you, so I am obliged to write.

Eliza to Joe Howland.

. . . I feel it to be my right and privilege to follow you, not only for my own satisfaction in being near you, but because we know we can be of great use among the troops in case of sickness and danger. We can follow you in the carriage, keeping within reach of you in case of need, and with George and Moritz we can be sufficiently protected anywhere in the rear of our army. I trust to you, dear, to do all you can to forward our plan, and I am sure you will not leave us in doubt and indecision longer than you can help. . . .

The impression seems to be that a great battle will take place in the neighborhood of Yorktown very soon. In view of this, think of the criminal neglect of the medical department in not having any hospital arrangements made there or at Fortress Monroe which begin to be sufficient! One of the doctors of the Sanitary Commission writes that on his arrival there he found already 500 sick men without beds to lie on. The Commission have fitted up one large hospital on their own account, and have sent for supplies to be forwarded immediately, and we have this morning set a large amount of sewing going—bedticks, etc., to be forwarded to Old Point as soon as possible. There are so many sick and so few to take care of them that Dr. Robert Ware of the Sanitary Commission has had to undress and wash the men himself. And this is before a battle.