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

Post image for The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer.

The Color Guard, A Corporal’s Notes, James Kendall Hosmer.

March 21, 2013

The Color Guard, A Corporal's Notes, James Kendall Hosmer

March 21. —We staid in the swamp through Monday forenoon. At noon came the order to pack up, which was done with thanksgivings; and we waded and paddled out to the road, just as the sun appeared once more through the clouds. We marched, for the distance of about a mile, through a lane running westward; coming, at last, to an elevated field on the river-bank, at the Montecino Bayou, — a pleasant, well-drained spot, — where we camped at once to dry and rest ourselves; the stacks of guns, as usual, running in a long line, with the shelter-tents behind them; the two flags, in their glazed cases, crossed on the middle stack, indicating the centre of the line. The powerful sun soon dried our outer clothing; and, content with that, at nightfall we lay down to sleep; willing enough to postpone, until another day, the drying of shirts and drawers and the contents of our knapsacks.

We had come to a very pretty spot, and in such contrast to the camp we had just abandoned! I remember, Ruskin says, somewhere, that a picture, and, I believe, a natural landscape, has a shut-up, stifled look, unless there is water in it. I have felt that, I think; and now it seemed as if we were free again, with our fine prospect southward down the broad river. To the east of the camp was a grove of young trees, hung about with tassels of moss, and heavy cordage of strange vines; the trees just leaving forth under the influence of the Southern spring. In the edge of this grove, at the bottom of a ravine, ran a little brook. From the trees we could gather moss and leaves to make our beds more soft, and in the brook we could bathe. Moreover, a few rods southward from the camp was a broad, deep bayou, approached by green, sloping banks, where we could swim as far and deep as we chose. It was luxury itself, Tuesday morning, to strip off our mouldy garments, and, while they lay sunning on the grass, wash the stiff muscles, and blistered, parboiled feet, in the brook, dappled darkly by the shadows of the boughs and leaves.

Our respite, however, was a short one. The night we arrived at this pleasant camp, the colonel passed down through the tents to see what our condition was. He stopped at Capt. Morton’s tent, which was close by ours; and the captain brought out a bottle of currant wine, just from home, calling me up to have a sip also.

The colonel spoke very feelingly of the discomfort to which we had been exposed, and added, “At any rate, now we shall have a rest for a day or two.” Tuesday forenoon, therefore, I paddled about in the brook at my leisure, feeling sure of ample time. At noon, however, the drum sounded once more; and the order came to pack every thing again, and fall in at once. Sudden orders had come, to march. This time, we were to go out to protect a heavy train of wagons, about to proceed out along the Port-Hudson road to gather the cotton stored everywhere in the planters’ barns. Our march was along the same road we had previously traversed, and with similar incidents, though at first with less excitement; for it was no new thing now. The regiment was footsore, jaded, and suffering for the want of sleep. Both my collar-bones turned peace-democrats; and in every cell, with an ache for a tongue, protested against a further prosecution of hostilities. We toiled along, however; at every plantation, as we passed, seeing mule-teams loaded with cotton, and quantities of the snowy product tumbling from the windows and doors of sheds and barns.

We marched out seven or eight miles before we halted. As we advanced, we began to hear reports of the enemy from negroes; and at length reached a plantation from which a rebel force had just retreated. The rebels were hardly out of sight as we came up, and we followed close after them down the road. At length, within about five miles of the batteries, we came to a halt, and encamped in the edge of a grove,—for the night, as we supposed. Many of the men were much fatigued, and sadly footsore. The march had been a hard one for me; for the sun, during the afternoon, was most oppressive: but I made a cup of coffee, and cooked a dish of meat on my plate, and felt better. The men, generally, threw themselves on the ground at once, under the trees. Bivins, however, went to bathe in a brook near; and I took my seat to watch the baggage. It had just grown dark, when word was passed along the line, in a low tone, to be up and off at once.

It was hard enough; but it would have been the height of imprudence — two isolated brigades as we were — to spend the night within so short a distance of a powerful army of the enemy, perfectly aware of our being in the neighborhood. The grove, therefore, gave up its sleepers. In five minutes, the line was moving out of the shadow into the road, and, under the starlight, marching silently and rapidly back.

I like a night-march: the air is more bracing, the roads less dusty, and there is far more scope for romance. In the afternoon, I had had a severe time; but the night-march home was an easy one. I could carry easily all my own baggage, though we were in heavy order; and occasionally spell the sergeant, who almost gave out with lameness, by shouldering the big flag. There was ample room for the play of fancy. The rebel scouts, no doubt, had already crept into the camp we had just abandoned, looking at the embers where we cooked our suppers to judge how long we had been gone; while the cavalry swept forward to occupy the road as we retired. The regiment, in general, however, suffered sadly. Many marched with bare, bleeding feet, and, toward the end of the route, sank to the ground with fainting limbs, to pass the night by the roadside. We reached our camp of the morning at midnight, — the colonel straight on his horse, sitting up in the starlight, at the entrance, to direct the column; his voice, as he gave the last orders, full of sympathy with his way-worn command. We only had strength to spread our rubber-blankets, and fling ourselves upon the ground.

Next morning, the regiment were a poor, languid crowd of hobbling cripples,—putting up shelter-tents with stiffened bones, crawling around fires to cook coffee, and fry, on their tin plates, pillaged meat and potatoes. During the whole forenoon, those who gave out the night before came straggling in. This chronicler was tired and stiff; but he made out to wash his shirt and himself, — two undertakings requiring some degree of resolution. At night, however, I own, I was used up. I felt feverish, and next morning dosed strongly with quinine, which put Niagara Falls into each ear. During that day, I was on the sick-list. The next day, the regiment was ordered back to Baton Rouge. With some mortification, I left the regiment to march; and, with several scores of used-up men, made the passage down on a steamer.

I write now in the old camp, under the magnolias (which has become home to us), ragged, dirty, contented, burnt like an Indian, unkempt, unshaven, but about ready now for another start. During the week, we have marched fifty miles, heavily weighted, through mud, dust, heat, and a deluge of rain. We were on the brink of an engagement, having driven the enemy into the Port-Hudson intrenchments, — following them to within easy rifle-range of the batteries. We find it was not the intention of the general to fight a battle, unless himself attacked. We simply made a demonstration in aid of the fleet, a portion of which succeeded in passing up the river.

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