March 24th. Preparations are making on every hand for the spring campaign, which threatens to be the most momentous and bloody of all the series we have yet made. Grant is in full command of all the armies in the United States and is to be with our army in person. We received an order to-day, announcing a consolidating of the corps and many changes in the commanding officers.
The army of the Potomac will hereafter consist of the Second corps, General Hancock; the Fifth corps, General S. K. Warren; the Sixth corps, General John Sedgwick and the cavalry corps, commanded by General Phil Sheridan.
The First and Third corps are disbanded, and the Ninth corps, General Burnside, is, I believe, to be part of the army of the Potomac. General Hunt commands the artillery and General George Meade remains in nominal command of the army.
Hancock is the most popular corps commanded by all odds, differing from other general officers I have served with in being always in sight during an action. He is fearless, constantly on the alert, and generally in the very thickest of the fight supervising every movement himself. He keeps his own staff and every other staff, which happens to be near him, constantly on the go and is himself frequently without a single attendant. He is magnificent in appearance, lordly, but cordial, and is remarkably generous, giving every one ample credit for what he does and can call by name almost every officer in his command. This is a very rare faculty and adds much to his popularity. When he was in command of the division, I met him, of course, every day. Now I see him only occasionally, but he always remembers me, and in his lordly fashion is as friendly as possible.
The change that came home to us most severely was the removal of our immediate commander General Caldwell, and the assignment in his place of General Frances Barlow, from the Eleventh corps. This was the most unkindest cut of all. General Caldwell is our friend, as well as commander; the soul of honor and perfection of good nature. He has been a father to us youngsters and ever ready to help in smoothing the pathway of official duty. The general’s amiability and delightful manner won all hearts, and his sudden removal from command gained him the sympathy of every man in the division. Besides possessing a genial manner, he is an excellent scholar and very capable soldier and has served from the beginning with this division, being promoted from the command of the First brigade on Hancock’s transfer to the corps command. Of course, he was greatly chagrined and left the division with much reluctance.
General French is also relieved, my original brigade commander, late in command of the Third division, and his division is broken up. There are so many changes that one scarcely recognizes the army for the same that we have grown up with. Dr. R. C. Stiles, the surgeon in chief of the division, has resigned and gone home, which is a great personal loss to me. He is a splendid fellow, accomplished, fond of all kinds of field sports and should have been in the fighting ranks instead of the medical department.
The corps now contains four divisions, commanded, respectively, by Barlow, Gibbon, Birney, and Mott; our brigades, four in number, are commanded by Miles, Thomas A. Smyth, Paul Frank, and John R. Brooke, all colonels. Brooke and Frank are original colonels, who have served from the beginning in our old brigade, without promotion or reward of any kind. Miles has come up from a captain and is an excellent soldier, but owes much of his success in attaining rank to the favor of General Caldwell, who has favored him in every possible way, giving him most of the independent small commands where there was a chance for gaining notoriety and credit. It is due to Miles to say that he always proved more than equal to the emergency. He is fine looking, courageous, a natural-born soldier and is bound to succeed.
Smyth, who commands the Second or Irish brigade, I know little of. Nearly all of these fellows are courageous, and as I have many times observed natural-born soldiers. For my own part, I would rather command a good regiment of Irishmen than any other I have ever seen. Brooke, commanding the Fourth brigade, is equaled by few officers in the army and should have been a brigadier-general long ago.
The brigades have changed so much by reason of transfer, expiration of term of service, annihilation, etc., that I shall put down the present roster for the opening of the campaign.
First division, General Francis C. Barlow commanding; First brigade, Colonel Nelson A. Miles, Sixty-first New York Volunteers, Eighty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers, One Hundred and Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers, One Hundred and Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Second brigade, Colonel Thos. A. Smyth commanding: Twenty-eighth Massachusetts Infantry (a very good regiment), Sixty-third New York Infantry, Sixty-ninth New York Infantry (original Irish brigade), Eighty-eighth New York Infantry (original Irish brigade), One Hundred and Sixteenth Pennsylvania Infantry (Irish regiment).
Third brigade, Colonel Paul Frank commanding: Thirty-ninth New York Infantry, Fifty-second New York Infantry, Fifty-seventh New York Infantry, One Hundred and Eleventh New York Infantry, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth New York Infantry, One Hundred and Twenty-sixth New York Infantry, and a battalion of the Seventh New York Infantry.
Fourth brigade, Colonel John R. Brooke commanding: Second Delaware Volunteers, Fifty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers, One Hundred and Forty-fifth Pennsylvania Volunteers, One Hundred and Forty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, Sixty-fourth New York, Sixty-sixth New York.
There is no general officer serving with any of the brigades of our division, as the above roster shows. In the Second division Generals Webb and Owens command brigades, and the Third division, Generals J. H. H. Wood and Alex Hayes. The Fourth division is like the First, wholly without any. One would have thought the government might have made promotions during the winter and started the army off on its great campaign fully officered, but it did not do so, and so most of us must continue acting in grades above our actual rank. Many that have been commissioned to higher grades cannot be mustered, on account of reduced numbers, and it really seems as if the goverment could not have made a regulation better calculated to keep regimental officers from exposing their men and doing good service. Every prominent regiment, which has done hard fighting, has effectually stopped promotion within its ranks; and there is nothing to look forward to as a military reward. Those recommendations for good conduct and gallant behavior have thus far succeeded in obtaining no advantage, which is certainly a bad state of things in a great army like this.
Amongst the new officers that have joined us this winter and have established themselves in the good opinion of the old soldiers is Colonel James A. Beaver of the One Hundred and Forty-eighth Pennsylvania, a gallant, accomplished, and most agreeable gentleman. I have met him frequently on matters appertaining to my department and greatly admire him. His regiment is full and in excellent condition. Colonel Brown, of the One Hundred and Forty-fifth Pennsylvania, is one of our especial favorites. He is large, very stout, overflowing with good nature, and very gallant and capable. He is a constant guest at headquarters and very popular, being a fine singer, and he and his dog Spot have contributed much to the amusement of the headquarters during the winter. He always gets shot in every battle, but manages to recover in time for the next.
Colonel MacDougall, of the One Hundred and Eleventh New York, is another favorite; young, fine looking, full of fight and energy, and possessed of a genial disposition; he is always a welcome guest at headquarters.
So many of our original number have fallen on the field that new men are constantly coming to the front, and it takes time to get to know them intimately. It is calculated that last year our division lost seven thousand five hundred men of all ranks, so it is easy to see how many fresh faces there must be to fill up these vacancies.