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

Post image for Diary of David L. Day.

Diary of David L. Day.

December 10, 2013

David L Day–My diary of rambles with the 25th Mass

Newport News.

Dec. 10. I am now on the sacred soil of old Virginia, and my first care will be to seek an introduction to some of the F. F. Vs. What this place derived its name from, or why it was named at all, I have not been able to learn. It was simply a plantation before its occupation by Federal troops, and perhaps the name is as good as any to distinguish it by. Our camp is near the river, and only a few rods from us lie the wrecks of the frigates Cumberland and Congress, sunk by the rebel ram Merrimac. The Cumberland lies in deep water out of sight, but the deck of the Congress is seen and often visited by the boys at low water. Since the occupation of this place by Federal troops it has grown into what they call down this way a town, containing quite a collection of rough board store-houses, sutler’s shops, negro shanties and horse sheds. A boat runs from here to Fortress Monroe every day, and three times a week to Norfolk; the distance to either place is about the same, some twelve miles.

For the first time since the war began, the oyster fishing is being prosecuted, and Hampton Roads are alive with oyster schooners. The oysters have had a chance to grow, and are now abundant and of good size and flavor. Newport News was the first place in Virginia, except Washington, that was occupied by Federal troops, and it was from here that a part of old Ben’s famous Big Bethel expedition started.

During my absence, this military department has gone all wrong. Gen. Foster has been ordered to Knoxville, Tenn., and Gen. Butler has superseded him to this command. I am not pleased with the change. Gen. Foster was a splendid man and fine officer, and I would rather take my chances with a regular army officer than with an amateur. The first year of the war Gen. Butler was the busiest and most successful general we had, but since then he has kind o’ taken to niggers and trading. As a military governor he is a nonesuch, and in that role has gained a great fame, especially in all the rebellious states. He is a lawyer and a man of great executive ability, and can not only make laws but can see to it that they are observed, but as a commander of troops in the field, he is not just such a man as I should pick out. He had a review of our brigade the other day, and his style of soldiering caused considerable fun among the boys who had been used to seeing Gen. Foster. He rode on to the field with a great dash, followed by staff enough for two major-generals. He looks very awkward on a horse and wears a soft hat; when he salutes the colors he lifts his hat by the crown clear off his head instead of simply touching the rim. The boys think he is hardly up to their ideas of a general, but as they are not supposed to know anything, they will have to admit that he is a great general. He is full of orders and laws (regardless of army regulations) in the government of his department, and his recent order in relation to darkies fills two columns of newspaper print, and is all the most fastidious lovers of darkies in all New England could desire. Hunter and Fremont are the merest pigmies beside Ben in their care of darkies.

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