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

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John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

June 23, 2013

John C. West–A Texan in Search of a Fight.

Letter No. VI.

Camp Near Millwood, Twenty Miles
West Of Harper’s Ferry,

June 23rd, 1863.

To Miss Decca Stark, Columbia, South Carolina:

Dear Decca: Yours of the 6th inst., with one from Miss Nannie Norton of the same date reached me about eight days ago, and I have not had a moment since to answer you, and even now cannot tell whether I shall be interrupted before I am half done this. I am writing on my knee, with everything packed ready to move at the sound of the bugle. I wrote you last on the 6th of June from near Culpepper Court House. On that day we took a hard march of eighteen miles through the rain, and on very muddy roads. We halted about 10 o’clock at night. I was wet and very tired.

There was an order against making tires, as we were near the enemy, being on the same ground on which Stuart fought them a few days afterwards. Of course I slept; a soldier, if he knows his own interest, will sleep whenever opportunity offers, but there were 10,000 or 12,000 men huddled on the side of the road in a promiscuous mass, just as you have seen cattle about a barn lot; no one knowing how much mud or filth he reposed in until the generous light of day revealed it. It rained a good deal during the night and kept me thoroughly soaked. The next morning we were ordered back to the camp near Culpepper, and marched over the same road by 1 o’clock and remained there until the 9th, when early in the morning about 5 o’clock we heard heavy firing of artillery. This was the opening of Stuart’s cavalry fight. We formed and marched to Lookout Mountain, about three miles from Stephenburg, and lay in line of battle upon it until the fortune of the day was decided and then returned to camp.

Colonel Frank Hampton was killed in or near Stephenburg by a pistol shot. He was in a hand to hand encounter, it is said. On the 13th we received orders to be ready to march or fight, but it turned out to be only a march of five miles, which we accomplished in an hour and reached Cedar Run, the scene of one of Stonewall Jackson’s battles last August. There were a great many unburied skeletons, presenting a very ghastly appearance. There were forty-nine skulls in one little ditch; the bodies were torn to pieces and scattered about, having been taken from their shallow graves by hogs or other animals. A hand or a foot might be seen protruding from the earth, here and there, to mark the last resting place of the patriotic victims of this horrible war.

We left this camp on the 15th and marched through Culpepper towards Winchester. This was one of the hottest days and one of the hottest marches I have yet experienced. Over 500 men fell out by the road side from fatigue and exhaustion, and several died where they fell; this was occasioned by being overheated and drinking cold water in immoderate quantities, and the enforcement of the order requiring us to wade through creeks and rivers up to our waists without the privilege of even taking off our shoes. I felt quite sick and giddy with a severe pain in my head as I was climbing the hill after wading the Rappahannock, but it passed off, and I kept with the company, though I saw two dead men during the time and several others fall.

Oh! how I would have enjoyed one of mother’s mint juleps then as we rested in “the shade of the trees.” I slept gloriously that night on a bed of clover and blue grass and thought of the little “pig that lived in clover and when he died he died all over.” On the 16th we marched twenty miles without so much suffering, though the day was very warm, and many fell by the way, and like the seed in the parable, “on stony ground,” for we were getting towards the mountains. Camped that night near Markham station in another field of clover, though not so comfortable, for I was very cold and slept little. On the 17th marched fourteen miles up hill and down dale through a beautiful, mountaineous region and camped in a splendid grove of oak and hickory about one mile from Upperville, and the neighborhood of some of the most beautiful family mansions I ever saw. All the country we have passed through is perfectly charming, and I cannot see why any Virginian ever leaves Virginia. All that I have seen so far fills my ideal of the-“promised land.” On the 18th we marched to the Shenandoah, ten miles, and waded it with positive orders not to take off any clothing. The water was deep and cold. I put my cartridge box on my head. The water came to my arm pits. We camped about a mile beyond the river. A tremendous rain drenched us before night, so we were reconciled to the wading. My blankets and everything that I had was soaked, except Mary’s daguerreotype, which Colonel B. F. Carter took charge of for me. I slept in clothes and blankets soaked wet. On the 19th we marched down the river about ten miles over a very muddy road, and crossed several little streams about knee deep, and then re-crossed the Shenandoah and marched up through Sniggers Gap to the top of the mountain, and here about dark we experienced the hardest storm of wind and rain I ever saw. It seemed to me as if the cold and rain, like the two-edged sword of holy writ, penetrated to the very joints and marrow. I laid down but did not sleep a wink until about an hour before day, and woke up cold and stiff. More than half the soldiers spent the night in a desperate effort to keep the fire burning, which was done with great difficulty.

I took off my clothes, one garment at a time, and dried them, and baked myself until I felt tolerably well; but truly a soldier knows not what a day may bring forth. Just as I was thoroughly dried, up came another cloud and soaked us again, and then came an order to fall into line “without arms.” We were then marched about half a mile from camp and ordered to build a stone fence about half a mile long. This, several thousand men accomplished in about two hours; though it worked me pretty hard to carry and roll stones weighing from 50 to 200 pounds. Alter my morning’s work I dined with Captain Bachman, who had an elegant dinner, consisting mainly of cow-pea soup. After dinner, while we were taking a sociable smoke and chat, an order came to get ready to leave immediately. I hurried to my company and we started back down the mountain, and it was only after getting into the valley, where the sun was shining, that we discovered that we had been encamped in a cloud on the mountain top, right in the heart of the rain factory, the summer resort of Æolus himself. The division again crossed the Shenandoah, but this time I mounted one of Captain Bachman’s caissons and rode over, thus escaping the chill of the waters, though the rain had wet me thoroughly before. I would like for Mrs. Bachman to paint such a scene. It was one of the most splendid for a picture I ever witnessed, 25,000 or 30,000 men, with the wagons and artillery, and horses, all crowding into the stream; a perfect living mass, with towering mountains looking down upon us, and the old stone mill reminding one of the halcyon days of peace and a hundred other incidents which I have not the ability to describe correctly; all united to form one of the most picturesque and wonderful sights my eyes ever beheld.

We camped on this side of the river two nights and one day, and on yesterday morning marched for this place, where for the first time, since the reception of your letter, I have had an opportunity to answer it, for the captain carries my paper for me, and frequently, when we stop, the wagon which carries his baggage is not near to us. I have not written to Mary for ten days, and must ask of you the favor of writing to her for me and giving her the principal items of my journey, for I shall hardly ever get an opportunity of sending a letter by hand from here, and the mails are so uncertain that there is little satisfaction in writing. I am glad she does not know of the privations I am suffering, for it would give her more pain than I have felt in enduring them. I saw Captain Bachman again yesterday. He is well and in fine spirits. I have seen James Davis and all the Camden boys and old friends, and schoolmates in McLaws division. They each hold an office of some kind. They are very lucky in having friends on good terms with the appointing power. I think I could get a place above the ranks, but I doubt my qualifications for a higher place. I can march and shoot, and I love my musket next to my wife and my country, and this constitutes my qualifications for military service. I have quite a severe cold, though I am better to-day than I was yesterday. Don’t write this to Mary. I hope we will soon get through our demonstrations and come to the fighting part of the drama.

I have not heard from home yet, though it is more than two months since I left Texas, and there are several letters in the regiment of recent date. I understand there is a large mail for our brigade at the Texas depot, in Richmond, awaiting an opportunity to be sent to us. My love to all, and tell “Theo” to study hard and get his lessons well, for an educated man can make a better soldier, a better ditcher, or well digger, and a more perfect gentleman than an uneducated one.

Your brother, truly,
John C. West.

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