June 11. —We feel perfectly at home now in these woods. We were here some days, once in a while shifting our camp to avoid the shells; then came the episode of the march to Clinton and back. I do not mean to write much about this; for the readers and the inditer of these notes have had enough of hard marching. Let these few words suffice. A body of our cavalry had been attacked, and very roughly handled, in the neighborhood of this place of Clinton; and Gen. Paine was sent out with a force to catch and chastise this body, if possible.
The force, consisting of regiments detached from this and that brigade, with some artillery and a large body of cavalry, left camp in the forest here about four o’clock one morning. How hot and dusty it grew! We began by taking the wrong road, which gave us extra distance of five or six miles; then, in the end, we went by the longest route. The first day, at noon, the heat became perfectly intolerable. Several were nearly killed by its power, and we were forced to halt until night. Thenceforth we marched for the most part at night; but the dust was deep, the nights hot, and the water often poor. At length, at dawn one morning, we halted within two or three miles of Clinton, to hear from the cavalry in advance that the foe had fled. Back we came, therefore, dragging wearily into our old camp through all the dust and heat, tired in every bone, every fibre of clothing soaked and resoaked in perspiration; having, in the course of four days, gone some fifty or sixty miles. We hope it was our last march. God send it may be so! for it is too much for men.
After our return, we gave a day or two to grateful rest. Abundant rations were drawn, among them a quantity of soft bread,—nothing but dry and rather sour flour-bread; but how we jumped at it!
We are waiting now in the woods for something else. The sound of guns is constant to us here; and, at the “front” (a short walk from us), scarcely a minute passes without a report: for there you can catch the cannonade of the fleet, and that from the other approaches of the army. In the evening, from every quarter, can be seen the dropping of shells into the rebel works, — the fuses of the bombs whirling through the air, — and the sudden lighting-up of the explosions.
A formidable battery of ship’s guns has opened, within a few days, not far from us. My first visit;-to it was in the evening. Bivins and I slung our Canteens (for we never miss an opportunity of going for water), and started down the blind, obstructed cart-track which leads out of the woods. Every few minutes came in the heavy crash of the Dahlgrens we were going to see; that and the lighter reports of guns farther off. We were soon out on the plain, where the battery is placed. To the right of it ran a hedge; behind which, screened from the rebel riflemen, lay a regiment, stationed there to protect the guns against a sudden dash of the enemy.
It is now quite dark; but, in the starlight, we can see the outlines of the sand-work, behind which the guns are ranged. The rebel intrenchments are, from quarter to half a mile away, in front of us. We can see three or four large fires burning within them. Volumes of flame and smoke roll up among the trees, and the soldiers about us think they can make out the figures of men standing by the glare. As often as once a minute, from the east, where lies a huge New-York battery; from the right, which Weitzel holds; or over on the opposite side from us, where lies the fleet in the river, — as often as once in a minute, like heat-lightning, flashes a cannon; then, in a few seconds, comes the roar; then another light within the fortress, as the shell explodes.
Now a “Dahlgren ” in our battery here is discharged. How fierce and sullen! I must have a nearer view: so I make my way in behind the earth-work itself, and stand with the sailors, who are detached from duty on ship-board to manage these great fellows. Each gun stands on a broad platform, sloping from rear to front to prevent the recoil of the piece from sending it too far back. They are part of the broadside of the “Richmond;” and have already done good service at the taking of the forts, and the running of the Port Hudson batteries in March.
“Ready there at No. 2!” says the officer in charge. The crew of “No. 2” stand back, and I brace myself for the concussion. A sailor jerks a lanyard, and it is done. It is no light field-piece, remember; but one of war’s grimmest monsters. Clash go my teeth together, my bones almost rattle; then follows the hungry, ravening shriek of the shell, which breaks forth like a horrible bird of prey to devour the whole world. It sweeps hoarsely toward the enemy’s line; then I hear it go “thud-thud!” through some obstruction. In a moment, the air beyond is lit up with its bursting; and the sound roars back to us, — to us, now enveloped in the sulphurous cloud that wraps the whole neighborhood.
The rebels now very seldom answer our artillery. Before we went to Clinton, occasionally they opened on us with shell. If we lighted fires at night, betraying our position in the woods, presently we could hear the shells come humming toward the light like great dor-bugs of a summer-night. Hum-m-m! then a burst, and a dash of heavy iron, “thump” upon the ground in the midst of the camp. Lately, however, there has been no firing, except by their riflemen.