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.

May 19, 2013

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

Spring-time In Virginia—Guarding The O. And A. Railroad.

Headquarters Second Vt. Brigade,
Union Mills, Virginia, May 19, 1863.

Dear Free Press:

Two weeks of sunshine and warm rains have brought forward the season in this region with wonderful rapidity. The fields are now green; the forest leaves have fairly jumped out of the branches that remained brown and bare till we began to doubt the existence of the slumbering life within; the patches of hard wood fleck with paler green the dark pine forests on the hill-slopes; the oak groves are delightful for shade and shelter; the white blossoms of the dogwood adorn the undergrowth; the song-birds are numerous in kind and quantity; and meadow and woodland are passing pleasant to every sense save that of taste, and that may be included if one chooses to pull up a root of sassafras, which is abundant in the woods. The charms of spring, heretofore alluded to, if I am not mistaken, by several writers both in prose and poetry, are appreciated by none more than by the soldiers. The spring-time gives carpet and canopy and hangings of green to their “truly rural” dwellings, and their life in the open air has many an agreeable feature.

The men of the Twelfth have been enjoying to the full their sojourn in the splendid region at the front, and the regiment has been greatly benefited as to health by the change. The number of new cases of sickness has been reduced to a nominal figure, and the convalescents who have returned from the hospitals in Alexandria have rapidly regained full strength.

In the Thirteenth regiment the same malarial fever which weakened the Twelfth so at the Shoals is prevailing extensively and has proved fatal in four or five cases within a day or two.

The Twelfth regiment, when first sent to the Rappahannock on the 7th inst., was encamped near the river, but was afterwards drawn back for a mile—continuing, however, its guard at the bridge and pickets on the river—to a splendid stretch of meadow land in the edge of an oak grove. No finer location could have been asked for, and the boys would have been well content to remain there though the situation was an exposed one. It was as far to the front, you see, as General Hooker’s army, and the two regiments—the Fifteenth lying about three miles this side of it,—were some twenty miles from supports. Rebel scouting parties were seen daily, and there was a line of rebel pickets on the other side of the river opposite the camp. If the enemy had made a serious attempt to repossess the Orange and Alexandria railroad by a flank movement from the mountain passes through which Jackson came down on Pope, the Twelfth and Fifteenth would have had to fight it out alone. But that danger has passed. Two or three days since, a strong force of cavalry from Stoneman’s corps came up to guard the lower end of the railroad, and yesterday the infantry regiments were withdrawn.

The Fifteenth came back to Union Mills, and resumes its old duty of picketing along the Occoquan and Bull Run. The Twelfth remains out a few miles, the right wing, which includes Company C, being stationed at Bristow’s, and the left wing, in two detachments, at Catlett’s Station and Manassas Junction.

I should like to describe more fully than I have done the region between us and the Rappahannock, its melancholy desolation, deserted mansions, farms without a laborer or sign of cultivation, and solitary chimney stacks, the only vestiges of hundreds of farm houses swept away by the scourge of war, while the few remaining inhabitants have reached a point where the owners of plantations of two or three thousand acres are glad to beg from our troops the common necessaries of life ; but I have not time to-day.

General Stannard retains his headquarters at Union Mills, and devotes himself earnestly and effectively to the care of the troops. It is no light care. The Second Vermont brigade is spread over a line of fifty miles, three of the regiments maintaining a picket line for which the entire brigade used to be hardly sufficient, and two guarding thirty miles of railroad, for the protection of which, a year ago, a force of sixteen thousand men was not considered too large, although then there was no rebel army this side of Richmond. If any one supposes that under such circumstances there is no work for the men, or labor and care for their officers, he has only to come out here to learn his mistake. But as yet we see no fighting. We heard the roar of the recent battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in which our brothers were winning good report though not victory, and wished we were by their sides. There is time yet to try our men under fire. If Hooker is further reinforced from this corps, we shall probably be sent to him; and it is not impossible that we may have all the fighting” we want right here ; but it must come within six weeks or not at all for us, in this term of service.

Yours, B.

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