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

Post image for Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton.

March 9, 2014

Army letters of Oliver Willcox Norton (Eighty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers)

Jacksonville, Fla., March 9, 1864.

Dear Father:—

We are still at Jacksonville, and the whole force is hard at work nearly all the time, either on the fortifications or on picket. Last week we were moving every day. One day we would go outside the works and bivouac, and the next the pickets would fire a few guns and we would hustle inside again, to go back the next morning, and so on.

Saturday afternoon we moved into our present position and have remained here so far since.

Ever since the battle the men have slept with their shoes and equipments on, and they fall in every morning an hour before light and stand in line till sunrise. This looks to me very much like “locking the stable door,” etc.

Vague rumors reach us of all sorts of stories in the papers in regard to the battle. The Herald (of unquestionable veracity, so they say) says that the Eighth retired in confusion after Colonel Fribley fell. There may be some truth in it, but not as most persons would take it, i. e., meaning a complete rout. From all I can learn it appears that the regiment was under fire for more than two hours, though it did not seem to me so long. I never know anything of the time in a battle, though.

The veracious “Lieutenant Colonel Hall, Provost-Marshal, Department of the South,” is probably the author of this story. He was the first to inform Mrs. Fribley of the death of the colonel, and he chivalrously and consolingly added that his death was the result of his own rash exposure and that the officers of the regiment were “as badly scared as the men” and he “rallied the regiment himself.” It is all an infamous lie, and there is more than one officer in the regiment ready to tell him so at the first opportunity. He was seen riding about the field with his pistol cocked and shouting to every wounded man to halt. The man who could coolly tell a poor widow alone in this country that her husband was killed by his own fault, is a brute to say the least. Colonel Fribley exposed himself no more than was necessary. He dismounted as soon as the line was formed and was in the rear of the regiment when he was shot.

I want to see justice done the regiment, I don’t claim that they fought well, only as well as they could, and that the officers had all they could do to get them to fall back at all after the first halt. The “confusion” in which they “retired” was owing to this, that there was no line and the men would only leave the trees, behind which they were firing, on direct orders to do so. The regiment had no commander after the colonel and major fell, and every officer was doing the best he could with his squad independent of any one else.

I have been on a court-martial for the last week and probably will be for some time to come. Two cases have been finished thus far—Corporal Smith of our regiment, for mutiny in shooting his sergeant while in discharge of his duties, and another case similar. I am considered rather fortunate in being detailed, as it relieves me from other duties which are very onerous just now.

We are having beautiful weather, very much like our own July. We have not had forty-eight hours of rainy weather since we came here.

Julius Tyler writes that Dennison, Newton Bushnell and several others from Ararat are down in Tennessee in an engineer corps constructing a railroad.

News from New York and Brooklyn is all about the Sanitary Fair. Brooklyn is wild over it and the Independent is full of it.

I wish you would send me that money, $10 at a time, in letters to Hilton Head. I am getting short. Kiss ye babie for ye boy who fights ye rebels.

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