Fort Marcy, Va., Saturday, March 26th, 1864.
I was suddenly awakened at 5 o’clock this morning by Capt. McKeel of Company A, who rushed frantically into my quarters with the intelligence that the regiment had received “marching orders,” and was immediately to join the Army of the Potomac. McKeel appeared to be in great glee; declared that he had long been “spoiling for a fight”; that now the grand object of his military existence was to be attained, and that it would never be recorded of him that he had fought three years for his country without seeing an enemy or firing a gun. Much more of a similar heroic strain was indulged in by the valiant Jim in the exuberance of his spirits which I do not recall, owing probably to the fact that I did not myself receive the news as enthusiastically as was, perhaps, becoming in an officer so far away from the front. Indeed I may frankly say that just at that moment no order could have been more unexpected or undesirable to myself, for, forgetful of the proverbial mutability of human affairs, and particularly of military affairs, I had just completed for the officers of my company a residence within the fort, where I had fondly hoped to spend the remainder of my military life in comfort and security. The house itself was a model of architectural beauty considering the purposes for which it was erected, The main building, intended for the company commander, stood facing the company quarters just across the covered way leading up from the sally-porte. On either hand, adjoining and at right angles with this, the ends extending four or five feet to the front, stood the buildings designed for the Lieutenants, while connecting these ends and spanning the front of the Captain’s quarters, was a delightful little veranda, from which the doors to the three buildings opened to the right, left and centre. Thus constructed, the cottage was painted a light drab color, with dark cornices and trimmings, while the white window frames and veranda posts and railings, and three tiny red chimneys surmounting the black, steep roofs, improved the general effect, and rendered the whole structure one of the prettiest little edifices for officers’ quarters that it has been my good fortune to see. The interior, too, was no less neat and appropriate. Each apartment, separate and distinct from the others, was divided into two rooms, the floors of which were laid with narrow matched pine highly polished, and the walls and ceilings were done in the best style of hard finish plaster. In short the officers’ quarters of Fort Marcy were universally acknowledged to be the most attractive of anything of the kind in the “Defenses of Washington.”
It will, therefore, hardly be wondered at, that the order to march was welcomed by the Commander of Company H., Fourth N. Y. Heavy Artillery, about as joyfully as a mortar shell is received in a comfortable “Gopher-hole,” and that he looked upon the movement as an arbitrary exercise of a little brief authority on the part of the Government, and an unwarranted invasion of personal and proprietary rights. Receiving the intelligence, however, with a dont-care-a-darn-itive composure, I ventured to express my doubt of the veracity of the gallant McKeel, as if the news were too good to be true, and in fact I had strong grounds for hoping that I might be the victim of an innocent joke, inasmuch as Jim, being “Officer of the Day,” and so supposed to be up and awake all night, might reasonably be suspected of being on a reconnaisance for refreshments at that early hour, particularly as he knew the fact that a dozen of the “critter” was at that moment concealed beneath my bed, intended to do duty at a “house warming” appointed for the ensuing evening, in accordance with the ancient and time honored custom in all well regulated military organizations. But, alas, the fatal order, duly recorded in the Post-Order Book, soon exploded this theory and put to flight the last remaining hope, and casting one long, lingering look upon a pillow and a pair of snowy sheets just received from home, I arose and made a hasty but melancholy toilet. McKeel in the meantime entertained me with the enchanting strains of “Who would not be a Soldier,” and other inspiring and patriotic airs, until I “spiked his piece” with one of the bottles referred to, and with which I begged him to celebrate the auspicious occasion, and placing the other eleven bottles in line upon the window sill, I made my first “charge upon the enemy” by deliberately knocking off their heads and pitching their lifeless remains over the parapet, a proceeding, by the way, which Jim characterized as “a reckless waste of the blessings of Providence.”
Summoning Sergeant Theben, I directed that the company pack up and send off all superfluous baggage and effects, and be ready to march at daylight the next morning, and having packed my own knapsack, I sauntered over to Capt. McKeel’s quarters where most of the officers of the post were already assembled. Here there seemed to be a great diversity of opinion as to the true intent and meaning of the movement, each officer having his individual theory, but all expressing a decided apprehension that it meant Infantry instead of Artillery field service. A deputation to Headquarters at Fort Ethan Allen gained but little information, except that it was rumored there that we were to report to the Chief of Artillery of The Army of the Potomac; that Col. Tidball, our Colonel, was to take command of the Artillery Brigade of the Second Corps, and that the regiment was to have a Siege Train. This, though very unsatisfactory, was at least plausible, and with hopes for the best we spent the day in writing letters, packing up, sending off the sick to Washington, issuing rations and shelter tents and generally preparing to move.