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.

May 10, 2013

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

Stoneman Station, Va.,
Sunday, May 10, 1863.

Dear Mother:—

I wrote to E. on Monday. Perhaps I better continue my journal. We were then lying in line of battle, and soon after my letter was off, our Second brigade went out to feel of the rebels, and stirred up a muss that we expected would result in a general engagement. The firing was sharp for half an hour, our men retreating till the rebels had followed into range of the artillery, which opened on them, and they soon fell back. That was the last of the fighting. During the night the pickets had a sharp skirmish and we were called to our guns, but it soon died away and we slept again. We, I say, for I counted myself in. I do not carry a gun, and in battle as a musician I am in charge of the surgeons to carry off the wounded. This did not suit me at all. It involved the necessity of going on the field, and I am too much of a coward to walk quietly where bullets whistle and have nothing to say myself. When I can return ball for ball, cheer, and shout defiance to the enemy, my courage is as good as anybody’s, but not to walk through them with my hands full. So, on the first appearance of fight, I picked up a rifle and cartridge box and joined Company K. Our good fortune kept us out of the fight, but I felt much better with the company than anywhere else. But this is a digression. Tuesday was very quiet. In the afternoon a tremendous thunder shower burst upon us. Our trenches in an hour’s time were full of water. The rain continued all night, yes, for three days.

About 2 o’clock Wednesday morning we were ordered to pack up silently, and in a few minutes we were on the retreat. To say we were surprised would give but a feeble idea of our feelings. We felt more confident than ever that we could repulse all that could be brought against us. But for some reason, satisfactory to General Hooker no doubt, we did recross the river, and night saw us in our old camps. The Eighty-third had the post of honor, the last regiment to cross, and our brigade was the rear guard, but we were not molested. It was one of the hardest marches we ever had, and I am stiff and sore from the effects of it. Most of the way the mud was over shoe, in some places knee deep, and the rain made our loads terrible to tired shoulders, but it is all over now.

We have eight days’ rations again, and orders to be ready to move at any time.

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