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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rienzi, Friday, Sept. 5. Went out as No. 6. Was a little unwell. Infantry preparing to move. Bad news from the Potomac.

London, September 5, 1862

Your appointment reached us some time ago and I was rejoiced at it, because I think such a place as this gives more room for expansion than that of a regimental officer. I doubt whether the atmosphere of Lieutenants is healthy, or of Captains or Majors. I think you have grown rusty at Hilton Head and I want to hear more vigorous talk. As to your speculations about the end of the war and a peace, I won’t say that I would n’t consent to argue about it some day, but you know perfectly well that until we’ve driven the South into their cotton fields we have no chance even to offer those terms. Perhaps on the broad national question I look at the matter differently from you. Apart from other causes, I am here in Europe and of course am influenced by European opinion. Firmly convinced as I am that there can be no peace on our continent so long as the Southern people exist, I don’t much care whether they are destroyed by emancipation, or in other words a vigorous system of guerilla war carried on by negroes on our side, or by the slower and more doubtful measures of choaking them with their own cotton. Perhaps before long we shall have to use both weapons as vigorously as we are now using the last. But one thing is clear to my mind, which is that we must not let them as an independent state get the monopoly of cotton again, unless we want to find a powerful and bitterly hostile nation on our border, supported by all the moral and social influence of Great Britain in peace; certain in war to drag us into all the European complications; sure to be in perpetual anarchy within, but always ready to disturb anything and everything without; to compel us to support a standing army no less large than if we conquer them and hold them so, and with infinite means of wounding and scattering dissension among us. We must ruin them before we let them go or it will all have to be done over again. And we must exterminate them in the end, be it long or be it short, for it is a battle between us and slavery.

I see that your regiment is ordered to Virginia which shows a gleam of reason in the War Department. What it was ever sent to Port Royal for, the Lord he knows. At any rate, however, it has spared you some hard fighting, and with the prospect you have now before you, I think you need n’t be sorry for that. For my own part I confess that I value human life at a pretty low price, and God knows I set no higher value on my own than on others. I always was a good deal of a sceptic and speculator in theories and think precious small potatoes of man in general and myself in particular. But I confess to feeling very badly when the news comes of our disasters and losses. Poor Stephen Perkins. I have a kind of an idea that Stephen thought much as I do about life. He always seemed to me to take rather a contemptuous view of the world in general, and I rather like to imagine him, after the shock and the pain was over, congratulating himself that at last he was through with all the misères of an existence that had bored him and that offered him little that he cared for; and now he could turn his mind to the exploring of a new life, with new duties and a new career, after having done all that man can do to discharge his debt to his God and his fellow-men in the old. There are men enough in Europe who hold these ideas with more or less variation, but Stephen and perhaps Arthur Dexter are the only ones among us whom I should call bitten with them — with Stephen, his eyes excused them. With Arthur, his digestion.

Our life here is quiet but very busy. No more is heard of intervention. Six hundred thousand men have put an end to that, and the English think besides that the South need no help. Of late the troubles in Italy have drawn people’s minds away from us and as their harvest is very poor, our grain is too necessary to joke about….

September 5 — Last night at one o’clock we started for Leesburg. The road was crowded with wagons and consequently we made slow progress. We were detained three hours at Goose Creek, a small stream two miles from Leesburg, where the ford was deep and miry, and the water came near running over our guns. We arrived at Leesburg in the middle of the afternoon and fed our horses, then moved about a mile from town to a large spring, remained there till sunset, when we returned to town and camped. This evening we passed a great many infantry marching toward the Potomac. There are thousands of soldiers camped around Leesburg this evening, and all seem to be in joyous gayety, caused, I suppose, by the eager desires and bright anticipations of crossing the Potomac and entering Maryland. As I am writing I hear soldiers shouting, huzzahing all around us. Just now a brass band has struck up, which helps to swell the cheer of the merry throng.

Leesburg, the county seat of Loudoun, is situated three miles from the Potomac, in a beautiful country. From the town to the river the land is almost as level as a lake. On a little hillock south of town is a small fort, or rather earthwork, that commands all the country around town and between the town and the river. It was constructed by the militia last fall after the memorable fight at Ball’s Bluff.

September 5, Friday. We have a report this morning that the Rebels have crossed the Potomac at Edwards Ferry, but the War Department says the report wants confirmation and that we have no stragglers from there, as we should have if the rumors were true.

Wilkes claims that he ought to have the position of Acting Admiral. There is reason in his claim, though some are opposed to it. He is not in favor with his professional brethren, has given great trouble and annoyance to the Department heretofore and will be likely to give us more trouble, but I believe it best to give him under the circumstances the position with the squadron.

The question of publishing the report of General Pope was before us. Some little discussion took place. I did not consider it strictly a report, for it was not accompanied by the reports of the other officers, or any statistics of killed, wounded, losses, or captures, but a statement from an officer in command, who felt himself aggrieved and who expressed himself in a manner to give offense. Much was said, and all concurred or acquiesced in non-publication for the present, especially as there is to be an inquiry into the subject-matter reported upon.

There is a good deal of demoralization in the army; officers and soldiers are infected.

5th.—10 o’clock P. M. Have just received an order to cook three days’ rations, and be prepared to move at a moment’s notice. I do not know where we go, but presume into Maryland, to resist the advance of Lee and Jackson, who we hear are crossing at Harper’s Ferry and pushing towards Frederick, and perhaps towards Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. If they have crossed with their hundred thousand men, and we cannot now, with our large force, hem them in and capture them, we deserve to be beaten. Will General McClellan let us take them, if we can?

Friday, 5th—We are still on guard at the big cut, with cartridge boxes on and muskets by our sides. It was reported that the rebels were coming to attack us last night and there was no sleep for us. They did not come, but I hope that they will not deceive us any more.

Friday, September 5, 1862, 9 A. M. — Distant firing heard towards Leesburg and up the Potomac. A warm fine day.

P. M. Received orders to be ready to march immediately; to cook three days’ rations, etc. Understood to be to join Burnside.

October 5, 1862.

The review by Gov. Holbrook and inspection yesterday, was not as tedious as we expected. One man of our company fainted and two or three fell out before it was over; but most of the men agreed that it was on the whole an easier job than that of the day before. For one, my knapsack was sensibly less mountainous in size and weight, and my gun felt less like a six-pounder howitzer. I presume both will continue to decrease in ponderosity, as our muscles become habituated to the new pull on them.

The regiment was mustered by companies into the U. S. service, in the afternoon, by Maj. Austine, who declared, after he had administered the oath of allegiance, that he felt proud of us. One man of the Bradford company declined to take the oath, but thought better of it shortly and begged the privilege of taking it, which was granted. Another man, of the Rutland company, also declined to take the oath, and stood to his refusal. What makes his case more singular is that he served in the First regiment, throughout its term of service, and was a good soldier.

Yours, B.

Friday, 5th. Went down to the river and washed. Charlie and Delos came up with a letter from Fred Allen, good. Proposed a plan for celebrating C’s birthday. Report about camp that N. and M. were to be married. Rode to town. Went and saw some miscellaneous horses. Went to the hospital and saw Merrick and Lewis Emmons. Came back to camp in the rain. Sandy in the guardhouse for insolence. Got supper.


The interchange of letters between Miss Wormeley and G[eorgeanna] ended in an agreement that they should join hands again for hospital work at Portsmouth Grove, and as G. made bold to propose… Jane and Sarah Woolsey as co-laborers, all three of them were given the chance they coveted. Miss Wormeley’s plan for organizing will give you an idea of … [their] duties …..

Miss Wormeley to Georgeanna Woolsey

NEWPORT, Sept, 5th, ’62.

My dear Georgy: I found the new surgeon inclined to one woman for each ward (twenty-eight wards or barracks, of sixty men in each). I hunted him out of that idea however. Everything in the domestic management of the hospital being left to me, I shall gently avail myself of the courtesy. Now then for your advice. My ideas are these. Please give your decided opinion on them. To give five wards, sixty beds to each ward, to the superintendence of five friends—you, your sister, cousin, H. Whetten, and a lady here whom I esteem and consider efficient. Under these I should put one, two, or three women nurses, as occasion may require. These five ladies would be responsible for everything connected with their wards, in general.

You know what general supervision means,—cleanliness, beds, linen, due washing thereof, etc., etc., in all of which the women under you should do the actual work whilst you see that they do it. . . . I want to have the men intelligently looked after, as only a lady can. I should therefore wish that the ladies should go round with the surgeons invariably—to make short notes of each patient’s treatment, medicine, and diet. Medicines I should want her to make sure were properly and timely given. The special diet lists ordered by the surgeon I should wish to be handed in to me as soon as practicable. I shall put a special diet kitchen at each end of the Barrack St. with a female cook in each, whom I shall attend to myself. . . .

This is in general a sketch of my ideas. What do you say? Will you come? . . . I want to point out to you that no ladies have ever been allowed to come into a U. S. General Hospital in this way—much less warmly requested, and thanked, and confided in, as we are,—for of course it has nothing personal to myself in it; it is General Hammond’s first cordial reception and experiment of ladies in hospital, and is in consequence, as he told me, of the grateful sense he had of what we did at White House. . . .

Now as to our own living there. A house is building for us, to be finished by the 12th of this month. It has bedrooms for all the female nurses, a dining-room for ditto, an office for me. We shall have to carpet our own rooms, and adorn them as we see fit; the Government supplies the common necessities of a bed, etc., for the nurses in general. . . .

I should want to have you with me at the start. Can you arrange to come? . . .

Write me at once, please. What a vile place you are in; the mails take a week to go.