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

Saturday, April 14, 2012

APRIL 14TH.—There will soon be hard fighting on the Peninsula.

Monday, 14th—We had inspection of arms this forenoon. Most of the boys in our company picked up rifles from the battlefield and got better rifles than they had. But it makes it quite difficult for the quartermaster to supply the extra ammunition required for the different kinds of rifles. The weather is quite warm.

Monday, 14, 1862. — Still raining. No further knowledge of movements. Lieutenant Reichenbach’s party that went to Columbus with prisoners, returned this evening. We hear of the taking of Huntsville, Alabama, today, the death of Beauregard, and news of the siege of Yorktown.

14th. Issued one day’s rations in the morning and again in the afternoon three days’ rations. Orders countermanded before taps in the evening.

14th.—Have just received an order from Division Commander S― , to see that every regiment in my Brigade has a wagon set aside for the exclusive use of the hospital, to take steps at once to see that all of my regiments are amply supplied with every thing necessary for the comfort of the sick and wounded, and to report the sanitary condition of my Brigade early in the morning. This indicates a forward movement, and although a change of weather, or a variety of other circumstances may alter the plans, I doubt not the present intention is to go forward during the week. I am quite recovered from my sickness, and although I sleep in the hot and in the open air, generally, I never enjoyed better health. Visited Warwick Court House to-day, and spent much of the afternoon in musing over the musty records of two hundred years ago. Jamestown must have been a small affair then, and it has wonderfully “held its own.” The date of these records runs back to within a very few years of the organization of the first government in Virginia, when the blue laws of Connecticut were recognized as patterns of wisdom, even here, and tobacco was a legal tender. Brought away a few sheets, over which I expect to while away many otherwise lonely hours. This country presents subjects of study and reflection, as well for the moral as for the physical historian. Compare its age with its progress, its appearance with that of other districts differently conditioned. The face of the country presents large tracts of low, wet land, intersected by extensive ridges of rich rolling timber—if in a proper state of cultivation, a beautiful farming country. It is surrounded on all sides by the finest navigable waters, with one of the finest climates in the world; nearer to markets, both foreign and domestic, than any country of the same extent on the continent, and though it has been settled for two hundred and fifty years, we may travel for miles through an almost unbroken forest; or, if we chance to find an opening made by the work of man, it is some insignificant field worn out by the culture of tobacco till it would produce no more; then, like an old horse, turned over to fate. This little field perhaps will have in its midst an old house, after the fashion of the peasantry of George the Second, which will exhibit to the eye the same broken panes which disfigured it a hundred years ago, and grate upon the ear the same harsh sound of rusty, broken hinges, which answered on the swinging of the door to admit the tax-gatherer of England’s king, two centuries before. Oh, Slavery! if these be thy doings, and thou art doomed now, all the sufferings of widows and orphans, all the sins of this wicked world will be atoned in thy crucifiction. Aye, this war is but one of the links in the great chain of events wrought by Providence countless centuries ago, to draw forward the car of progress to its final goal.

Another Change in the Line.

April 14. And now another change has occurred, Capt. Clark of company B has resigned. If this thing becomes chronic, I am not quite sure but I shall resign and go home, and then, perhaps, I shall be given a sutler’s or horse doctor’s commission and be sent back. Capt. Clark’s resignation promotes First Lieut. Emery to captain, Second Lieut. Draper to first lieutenant, and first Sergeant John G. McCarter to second lieutenant. This again changes the formation of the line, and company B finds itself tenth in rank. This leaves the captain’s chances for straddling a horse in the rather dim distance, but then fame, like other doubtful things, is “mighty onsartin.”

Beautiful Spring.

The vernal season is now upon us and nature is arraying herself in her most beautiful robes. The trees are in leafage, while the yards and gardens attract the eye with their almost endless variety of plants and flowers. Roses are in great variety many of them remarkable for their size and beauty, changing their hues two and three times a day. Beautiful flowering vines clamber the verandas and porticos of the houses, sending out their sweet perfume, while the air is filled with the song of birds warbling forth their happiness. This is really a charming little city, but I reckon from neglect and hard usage from the soldiers, it will soon lose its beauty. The migratory birds, such as the robin and thrush, took their leave about the middle of March. Among the birds of song that remain the mocking bird must be ranked as king. He is a noble fellow, not remarkably handsome, of a dove color, with a white spot under his wings. He is a noisy, loud-voiced fellow, an early riser, commencing his song with the first gray streaks of dawn, and he keeps up an incessant flow until about 8 o’clock, when he seeks the shade for rest and quiet. The trees are full of them, and sometimes by the noise they make one would think the trees were full of all kinds of birds. When he comes down to his fine work, one unconsciously lays aside whatever he is doing and listens with delight to his soft warble and the low trembling cadence of his sweet trills.

Camp near Yorktown, Va.,
Monday, April 14, 1862.

Dear Cousin L.:—

I scalded one of my feet yesterday and was not able to go with the company which went out this morning to work on a road. I was sitting by the fire with several others making coffee. Each of us has a small tin kettle holding three pints or so, fitted with a tight cover. We call them muckets for want of a better name. By the way, I believe almost any of us would throw away a blanket before he would his mucket, they are so indispensable. The cover of one was crowded down so tight that there was no room for the steam to escape. It swallowed the indignity with commendable patience for a time, but finally it lost all self-control and exploded, throwing hot coffee in all directions, but particularly in the direction of my left foot. It was not very badly scalded, and I hope will be well in a few days.

I believe with you that our idle days are about over, at least we have been tolerably busy since we arrived at Fortress Monroe. We landed the 24th of March. You have much better opportunities of learning what is done in the army than we, for we depend for news on the New York papers and they are two days old before we get them. All that I can write then is to tell what falls under my immediate observation.

You have undoubtedly learned that the main body of the Potomac army is in the vicinity of Yorktown; that the rebels are concentrating all the troops they can to oppose us, and that they seem determined to make a desperate stand here, to keep us back from Richmond. By the time we are ready to attack them they will probably have 100,000 men very strongly intrenched with which to meet us. We have a still larger force and are working night and day to get our guns in position and leave nothing undone that will lead to a sure and decisive victory. We have McClellan to lead us and the prestige of victory on our side, which is a great help. What the French call the Esprit de corps, is excellent. The army seems to feel that a well fought battle here will crush the rebellion and send them home all the more speedily. They hear of the victories in the west and the determination seems universal that the honor of crushing the rebellion shall not rest wholly with the army of the Mississippi. We shall go into the fight with “Remember Fort Donelson and Pittsburg” on our lips and in our hearts. The traitors have no such thoughts to inspire them with confidence. If they know any thing at all of what transpires, it will only fill them with forebodings of their own fate. They may fight, and undoubtedly will, but it will be like the desperate fighting of cornered rats. They must fight or give up everything. It will be the greatest battle ever fought in America. It will be worth a year’s soldiering to have been in it or to have fallen there under the Stars and Stripes.

It will be a year on the 26th since I enlisted. We have as yet seen but little fighting, though I think we shall see as much as any of the rest do here. Our division has been the advance so far. We frightened the rebels of Great Bethel and Union Mills, but I’m afraid Butterfield’s brigade would hardly prove strong enough to drive them out of Yorktown. We arrived here a week ago yesterday. You may wonder why we have done so little apparently in all this time. I think we have done as much as could be done under the circumstances. Last week it rained four days and nights. This materially interfered with our operations. It is twenty-four miles to Fortress Monroe, our nearest shipping station. The latter part of the road is through swamps that were almost impassable even for troops. The provisions for 150,000 men, in fact every thing had to come this way. It was found necessary to select some point nearer where provisions and artillery could be landed. Two or three wharves have been built, as near as I can learn somewhere near the mouth of the York river, and roads are being made as rapidly as possible to different parts of the camps. These forts cannot be taken with light artillery, and siege guns have to be brought and put in position. Our regiment and the Avengers have made nearly six miles of corduroy road beside doing picket duty every four days, reconnoitering, etc. I assure you the work is being pushed forward with all the speed that is possible.

It has been impossible to supply the army with full rations a considerable part of the time since we have been here, and we have had to live on short allowance. I have not heard a word of grumbling, however. Men who have marched over the road from here to Fortress Monroe know why provisions cannot be got through fast enough. Our boys didn’t come here to starve, however, because Uncle Samuel got out of hard tack. There were numbers of white rabbits in the vicinity when we arrived here. They are very large with short ears and their flesh tastes strangely like mutton. I have a faint recollection of using my bowie in the woods in preparing one for eating that took two of us to carry to camp. Large, ain’t they?

Our company spent a night last week down near the river. We went down to be ready to work on the road next day. We had no tents and it was pretty cold, so half a dozen of us started out about midnight to look round a little. We finally came out near a house and barn. I snatched a turkey off the fence and one of the others a rooster, and made back into the woods. We stopped to secure them when the others came up, saying they had found a pig, but did not dare to kill him for fear of his making a noise and waking up the wrong passenger. Bowen, who is not afraid of trifles, however, finally opened the door and went in. He knocked him, but the inconsiderate rascal squealed terribly. He seized him, however, and made off, the pig still squealing. Just as was expected, he woke up the rebels and we had just got into the woods when a ball came whistling over our heads. Nobody was hurt. I suppose the man shot at the squeal, for that was immediately stopped, and we heard no more guns. Just about daylight, before there was much stir, we came to the camp with the pig all dressed, turkey and rooster ditto. The colonel, who is always astir early, came riding down, and stopping suddenly, said, “Bowen, where did you get that pig?” Bowen, who stammers a little, was nonplussed. At last he blurted out. “Well, c-c-confound it, Colonel, I c-c-c-confiscated him.” “Haven’t you heard the orders about that?” “Well, Colonel, I haven’t had a mouthful to eat except five crackers since yesterday, and I can’t build corduroy on that.” I need not say that Bowen was forgiven, and Colonel said yesterday he wished I could get him another turkey. The pig was pretty well disposed of during the day, but how do you think we cooked our chicken? We had used up every grain of salt on the pig. Our supply is very limited and we have had to lose some meat on account of having no salt. I went down to the bay and got a mucket of sea water and we boiled a piece in that to try it. It relished so well that the chicken was boiled in sea water, and, if it was not as well cooked as some have been, I assure you there was no meat left on the bones. I hardly know what you will think of this work. You may call it stealing to go prowling round nights snatching poultry and pigs, but my conscience is seared. I don’t feel the least compunction. I am well satisfied that a man who has a farm and stock here where the rebels have had undisputed possession for months, is nothing else than a secesh, and when Uncle Sam can’t furnish food, I see nothing wrong in acquiring it of our enemies. That is the general sentiment of the soldiers, and, if you think it is wrong you need not feel any delicacy in telling me so.

I suppose L. is married, though I have not heard from home since the wedding. I am looking anxiously for a letter. Our mails were very much interrupted for a while after our coming here, but now they are pretty regular.

I don’t think you have anything to fear from the Merrimac. The Monitor is watching her as a cat does a mouse, and, if she should succeed in getting out, she would probably run up the York river to take part in the coming fight. She evidently fears the Monitor. We heard heavy firing near the fort yesterday and considerable excitement was caused in camp by the report that the Merrimac had taken the Monitor into Norfolk, but it was all a hoax. While I am writing this I hear the roar of cannon. Some of our gunboats are throwing shell from the river at the rebel batteries. Perhaps it is the commencement of the battle, and before this reaches you it may be fought and decided.

April 14th. Another fine morning. After an hour of orderly room work, I took a long walk with Doctor McKim to the beach, where we were greatly interested in the disembarkation of troops, horses and big guns. We also met several officers, from whom we got a good deal of gossip; amongst other things it is said that if McClellan had pushed forward the troops as soon as they were landed, he might easily have taken Yorktown, and saved the tedious and expensive operations of a regular siege. He is much criticised for his lack of dash and enterprise, and there are many who doubt already his ability as a general commanding.

It seems the enemy have established an irregular line extending from the York to the James river, their left resting on Yorktown, and right on Mulberry Island, in rear of the river Warwick, which takes its rise about three miles from Yorktown and flows thence into the James. This rather small stream has been made a formidable barrier by means of dams, thus raising the water and making it unfordable. Its banks are swampy woods, impassable for guns and wagons, and so constitutes a formidable defensive work. Yorktown is on high rolling ground and capable of making a good defense with the works already built. It is strongly supported as well as commanded by heavy forts at Gloucester on the opposite shore of the York river, whose guns, we are told, are powerful enough to prevent all the fleets of the United States from passing up the river. General Magruder, the rebel commander, had less than twenty thousand men when we first landed. As we had at least fifty to seventy-five thousand men the second day of our arrival, it is easy to see we could have entirely overwhelmed them if McClellan had been more enterprising.

The army is posted as follows: Heintzlemen on the right, Sumner in the center, and Keys on the left. General Fitz John Porter is director of the siege, General Barry, chief of artillery, and General Barnard, chief of engineers. Lines of investment have been laid out, and much work done. Heavy mortars, some of them throwing a shell two feet in diameter; siege Parrot guns and big howitzers are being mounted in batteries and will soon be ready to open fire. Our division, is in reserve and occupied almost exclusively in building docks and roads, but the work is very nearly finished, and then we shall take our turn in the works.

April 14th.—Our Fair is in full blast. We keep a restaurant. Our waitresses are Mary and Buck Preston, Isabella Martin, and Grace Elmore.

April 14.—This day the Potomac flotilla visited the town of Urbana, Va. A boat’s crew was sent ashore there, but when within a few yards of the beach, they were fired upon from the rifle-pits. No one was injured. The boat received several bullets in her hull. The Jacob Bell being the nearest in, immediately opened fire upon the rebels, which scattered them in every direction. After this, the flotilla proceeded on its voyage toward Fredericksburgh. Arriving opposite Lowry’s Point batteries, they commenced from the whole fleet to shell the works and fortifications, driving out the pickets who had occupied it since its evacuation.

After the shelling, the boats’ crews landed and proceeded to burn some one hundred and fifty plank and log houses, used by the rebels as quarters, which were entirely consumed. After which, the boats returned to their ships, loaded with blankets, quilts, medicines, and muskets, left by the rebels in their flight.

The fleet thence proceeded to the town of Tappahannock, about two miles above Fort Lowry, arriving off which, a blank cartridge was fired and a flag of truce hoisted, which was responded to by the people of the town, by displaying a number of white flags. The commander of the flotilla landed, where he was met at the beach by a large concourse of persons of all colors, and received with great demonstrations by the colored population.

The American flag was run up over one of the largest houses in the town, when it was hailed with enthusiastic cheering by the crews of the National gunboats. Subsequently the commander was informed that some of the people of the place had said that as soon as the National fleet left, it would be torn down. He then politely told them if it was he would give them six hours to leave the town before he burnt it

Information was given by the contrabands that four large schooners and other obstructions had been placed in the narrow channel of the river five miles below Fredericksburgh, to prevent approach to that place, where lie the steamers St Nicholas, Eureka, and Logan, the former mounted with two guns.—(Doc. 132.)

—This day, below Pollocksville, near Kingston, N. C, a skirmish took place between a detachment of the Second North-Carolina cavalry regiment and the Yankee pickets. Lieut.-Col. Robinson, who commanded, is probably a prisoner. Capt. Turner was hurt by a fall from his horse. Two privates were seriously injured, and five wounded with gun – shots. — Richmond Whig, April 17.

—The issue at Yorktown is tremendous. When the battle does come off it will be a fearful one, for the stake is enormous, being nothing less than the fate of Virginia. Having taken months to prepare, having assembled such a force as the world has not seen since Napoleon advanced into Russia, McClellan feels that to him defeat would be ruin, while confederate soldiers and leaders feel that not only their fate, but the fate of their country, is staked upon the issue, and they cannot afford to be defeated. The contest cannot long be deferred. The news of a terrible battle may startle us at any moment. We trust that our people arc prepared, not only to call upon God to defend the right, but, under God, to defend it themselves, with brave hearts, strong arms, and sufficient numbers.


Wave, Richmond! all thy banners wave,
And charge with all thy chivalry!


For not only the fate of the temporary seat of Government, but of Eastern Virginia, and even more than that, trembles in the balance. We presume that President Davis himself will be on the field, as he has intimated. He will share the fate of his soldiers in life or in death, in victory or defeat.— Wilmington Journal, April 14.

—The bombardment of Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi, was this day begun by the mortar-boats of Flag-Officer Foote.—Official Despatch.