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

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

November 26, 2012

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

Nov. 26. — To-day is wretched enough. All night long, whenever I woke up, it was pitter-patter on the canvas; and this morning it is a drizzle, which turns the clay outside into puttyish mud, — mud which plays Damon; my boot-soles appearing in the rôle of Pythias, — I earnestly hope, for this occasion only; for the friendship is too fervent. No fire, or prospect of any; for the load of hard wood which was pitched off in front of the tents yesterday is too wet to be kindled. We have heaped the straw up to the sides of the tent, and covered it with blankets. It makes a good seat for us; and four or five of us are writing here, our feet in the central space. The whole thing is only a little larger than an old-fashioned four-post bedstead. Our feet are dove-tailed in among one another; the boots all buff, clear above the ankles, with sloppy clay.

Our guns were issued to us the other day, beautiful pieces, of the most improved pattern, — the Springfield rifled musket of 1862. Mine is behind me now, dark black-walnut stock, well oiled, so that the beauty of the wood is brought out, hollowed at the base, and smoothly fitted with steel, to correspond exactly to the curve of the shoulder, against which I shall have to press it many and many a time. The spring of the lock, just stiff and just limber enough; the eagle and stamp of the Government pressed into the steel plate; barrel, long and glistening, — bound into its bed by gleaming rings, — long and straight, and so bright, that when I present arms, and bring it before my face, I can see nose and spectacles and the heavy beard on lip and chin, which already the camp is beginning to develop. Then the bayonet, straight and tapering, dazzling under a sun-ray, grooved delicately, — as if it were meant to illustrate problems in conic sections, — smooth to the finger as a surface of glass, and coming to a point sharp as a needle.

We have dress-parades now; and, the other afternoon, I was a spectator instead of taking part. The Fifty-second is formed four deep. I have often seen them in line at Camp Miller; but now we have our arms, and look more like soldiers. Four deep, and how long the line is! They are still as men can be at the parade rest. Now, from the right flank, come marching the drums down the line; slow time; every eye to the front; the colonel, hand upon sword-hilt, facing them all,—tall, straight, soldierly, his silver eagles on each shoulder. The drums have reached the end of the line, and turn. First a long, brisk roll, thrice repeated; then back along the line with quicker time and step, round the right flank again, past the adjutant; the thrice-repeated roll again sounding muffled, as it comes to me through the now intervening line of men, —a peculiar throb, as if it were inside of the head. It is the adjutant’s turn. He is at his place in front of the line. “First sergeants to the front and centre!” Ten soldiers, strait, sash at waist, march forward, and, one by one, report. It is Ed.’s turn now, tall, fine, bright-eyed soldier that he is. His gloved hand gives the salute; and I hear him, through the music of other regiments, “Fourth company all present or accounted for.” Buttoned up to the chin he is, in his dress-coat; his sash, with bright revolver belt, outside; his gun at his shoulder with true martial poise. “First sergeants to your posts!” It is the turn of the commissioned officers. They step out to the front, in full-dress uniform, a fine-looking row of men; then march forward, with brave, unanimous step, in a brilliant, glittering line. It is over, and visitors near step up to me to inquire about the regiment. I feel proud of the men, proud of the colonel, proud of the brilliant officers who have marched forward to salute in concert,—the white-gloved hands simultaneously at the visor. Back go the companies into the streets of the camp, under the first sergeants. I am proud to see how Ed. gets his company by the flank, and promptly manœuvres them.

We have had a flag presented to us; but it is too splendid and heavy for actual service. Our real flag, for service, is more modest, and yet handsome; of silk, floating from a staff of ash; the name of the regiment printed in gold upon one of the crimson stripes. As the wind comes off the bay to us at battalion-drill, the heavy silk brushes my cheek. We shall know each other well during these coming months. I take off my bayonet, *\and invert it, that it may not wound the flag it is to defend. So does jovial Bias Dickinson, the corporal who is my file leader, and the rest of the guard. We have also the white flag of Massachusetts, the Indian and uplifted sword upon a snowy field; plain enough, when the breeze smooths it out, for the senior captain to see from his post on the right flank, and Sergt. Jones, right general guide, whose post is still farther off. When drill is over, we must guard our charge to the colonel’s tent, roll the crimson and azure folds carefully about the staff, and put them under shelter; then our day’s work is done.

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