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

Post image for Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict.

Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict.

January 10, 2013

Army life in Virginia by George Grenville Benedict, 12th Regiment Vermont Volunteers.

The New Year And The Emancipation Proclamation.

Camp Near Fairfax C. H., Va., January 10, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

I must alter the 62 I have written by force of a twelve month’s habit, to 63—which reminds me that the old year has been made into the new since I wrote you last. The old year has taken with him three months of our term of service. We cannot hope that the coming months will deal with us as gently as have the past. Rough as portions of our army life have been, we have thus far seen but little of the roughest part of war. But it must come, though its approach is so gradual that we hardly perceive it. From the security of our camp of instruction on Capitol Hill we passed to the more arduous duties of work on intrenchments and picket service, at Camp Vermont. We exchanged that for our present more exposed position, where picket duty means watch for rebel cavalry, and where some of us have met and drawn trigger on the enemy. In time, no doubt, will come the still harder experience of protracted marches, of the shock of battle, of wounds and capture and death for some of us. More than this, the war as a whole is to be more desperate and deadly in future, because waged with a foe maddened by privations and loss of property, and especially by the President’s Proclamation of Freedom. We have already ceased to hear much talk about “playing at war.” It is owned to be work and pretty earnest work, now; and if it grows hotter as a whole, it will of course be the harder in its parts. But come what will, I for one—and I believe I am one of many thousand such—shall “endure hardness” more cheerfully, and fight, when called to, more heartily, because Freedom has been proclaimed throughout the land for whose unity and welfare we struggle, though its full accomplishment may cost years of trial and trouble.

Our present camp is on a pleasant slope, stretching out to the south-east to a broad campus on which take place the brigade drills to which General Stoughton treats the brigade almost daily. In the rear, the lines of tents extend into a fine grove of pines which kindly protect us from all winds but the east. A brook near by on our left, affords us water. A regimental order forbids the cutting of trees within 200 yards of the camp, and ensures to us the protection of our tall evergreens. The ground has been cleared and leveled, and the underbrush cut away from under the trees. On the whole, it is the pleasantest spot we have as yet occupied, and if we must spend the winter in this region, we shall be content to spend it here. The colonel and his staff have had their tents surrounded by sides of split logs with fire-places and chimneys of brick, and the men have raised their tents on stockades of logs, which detract somewhat from the appearance of the company streets, for it is impossible to give to a row of little log huts, plastered with mud, the neat appearance of a line of tents.

Our camp is graced by the presence of the accomplished wives of Colonel Blunt, Lieut. Colonel Farnham and Captain Ormsbee, who interest themselves in the hospitals and sick men, and give to us all, in a measure, the refining influence of woman’s presence, without which any collection of men becomes more or less of a bear garden.

The time of the regiment, at present, is mainly devoted to drill, with occasional episodes of picket duty; and we are on the whole making marked progress in discipline and drill. General Stoughton, in a general order issued a day or two since, declares that in these respects this brigade already compares well with the troops of other States, around us.

January 12.

My letter was interrupted by an order which sent the right wing of the Twelfth out on picket duty at Chantilly. The twenty-four hours did not pass without some incidents, which, if they were the first of their kind, might deserve mention; but having already given you some idea of picket duty here, I let them pass.

We are enjoying, this evening, a visit from our friend, and fellow-townsman to many of us, J. A. Shedd.

Yours, B.

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