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.

March 21, 2013

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

On Staff Duty. [1]

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Near Wolf Run Shoals, Va.,
March 21, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

I am glad to be able to announce an improvement in the health of the Twelfth regiment since I wrote you last. The existence of some sixty cases of pneumonia and typhoid fever, of which eight proved fatal in quick succession, alarmed us all at one time. But a change has taken place for the better,—due, apparently, to the increased care and precautions taken for the health of the men, for the weather has continued as trying as heretofore. We had snow and sharp cold weather yesterday and last night, and have a drizzling rain to-day. There have been no deaths within a week past; the number on the sick-list has decreased considerably, and the new cases of fever are of a milder type. The suddenness with which death gave the final discharge, in several of the fatal cases, was startling. In one case, the man was taken sick one day, went into hospital the next, and died the next. In another, the poor fellow had just sent a message to his friends saying that he was pretty sick, but hoped he should get along with it, when he fell into a dreamy, wandering state, complained of the weight of his knapsack, and did not see how he could carry it across the river. Suddenly his breath stopped; the soldier was over the river, without his knapsack and never again to be troubled by its weight.

There is now, I believe, but one man in hospital who is considered dangerously ill; and a week of sunshine, such as we must have soon, will bring the regiment back to its usual average of health.

Colonel Blunt, as brigade commander, has been making his presence felt at Fairfax Station in the right way. The Station is a point of supply for all the troops at Centreville, Union Mills, Fairfax Court House, Fairfax Station and Wolf Run Shoals. The quantity of quartermaster and commissary stores here, is of course very large —and the position is to be held at all hazards. It is now, I am happy to say, in a very much better condition for defence than ever before. Rifle pits have been dug and breast-works by the mile , thrown up, by the men of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth regiments, along the high ground surrounding the Station on every side, from behind which they will be happy to meet any force likely to be sent against them. The picket lines have also been closely looked after; the various departments of supply for the brigade have received attention; and the brigade and regimental hospitals have had the benefit of the colonel’s occasional unannounced presence and quick eye for defects in management. One learns to value energy and attention to his business in a commanding officer, after seeing how the influence of such qualities is felt throughout down to the last private in the brigade.

How long the rebels will leave our infantry regiments unmolested, of course I cannot say; but the way in which our cavalry suffer of late, is a caution to us all. You have heard of the recent capture of Major Wells, a captain, two lieutenants and twenty men of the Vermont cavalry at Herndon Station, Va., some twenty miles north of this place. This was followed up night before last by the gobbling up of a picket reserve of the Pennsylvania cavalry, numbering some twenty men, a short distance to the right of our own picket line on the Occoquan. These surprises of the cavalry, I must say, are getting to be altogether too frequent.

I have, by the way, recently met one or two of the men who were present at the capture of our Vermont cavalry at Aldie, two or three weeks since. Captain Huntoon’s party were thrown off from their guard by a body of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania cavalry which met them on its way in from the outside, and reported no rebels anywhere in the region. The men were hemmed in by the rebels in the yard of a mill, from which they were getting grain to feed their horses. The force under Captain Mosby numbered, according to his own statement, twenty-seven men. Captain Woodward’s horse was killed instantly by a ball in the spine and fell upon Captain Woodward, pinning him to the ground. While lying thus, a rebel ruffian rode up and commenced firing at the prostrate captain, who would probably have been murdered in cold blood had he not managed to draw a small pistol from his breast pocket, with which he was lucky enough to send a ball through his assailant’s body. One man of his company defended himself for some time from two rebels who were trying to seize his horse, which he held by the halter, by striking at them with the bridle and bits. Gurtin, the Rutland boy who was so severely wounded, was seen to stop, with the balls flying around him and after two had gone through him, and deliberately load his revolver, which he had emptied, and discharge it at the rebels, after which he put spurs to his horse and made his escape. He now lies in the hospital at Fairfax Court House in a critical condition, a ball having passed through the bone of the pelvis into the groin, where it cannot be extracted.

Several of the men who were captured with General Stoughton and accompanied him to Richmond, have been paroled and have returned. They say that they were taken to Culpeper that night and the next morning, and remained there over one day, a delay which might have ensured the recapture of the prisoners, had a sufficient cavalry force followed upon their tracks. General Stoughton was well treated at Culpeper by General Fitzhugh Lee, who was a classmate of the general’s at West Point; but after his arrival in Richmond he was taken to the Libby prison, where he now lies in company with 108 officers of our army, who are all confined in one room. A lady acquaintance of the general’s in Richmond had furnished him with some blankets; but he was kept on the same scanty fare as that allowed to the other prisoners—a third of a loaf of bread and a small piece of poor meat per diem. The general and his friends are hoping for his speedy release on parole.[2]

Yours, B.

[1] Shortly before the date of this letter the writer was permanently detailed for duty as aide-de-camp on the staff of the brigade commander.

[2] General Stoughton’s appointment as brigadier general, then pending confirmation by the U. S. Senate, was withdrawn by President Lincoln. This left him without rank in the army. He was paroled, retired to private life, and did not return to the service.

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