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.

August 5, 2013

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

Headquarters Third Brigade, Bealeton, Va.,

Wednesday, August 5, 1863.

Dear Sister L.:—

Your letter of Tuesday evening a week ago reached me last evening, just a week on the way. I answer to-day, for here in the army more than anywhere else it is not safe to boast of to-morrow, for we know not what a day may bring forth. We lay at Warrenton a week. At W. I said, we were three miles south of town.

Last Monday morning four hundred men left the brigade to go somewhere for “fatigue duty.” I suppose you know that “fatigue” is duty where spades (or axes) are trumps. As soon as they were gone the remainder commenced laying out the ground for a permanent camp in accordance with orders. Well, at 4 p. m. came the order “Strike tents and prepare to march immediately.” Such contradictory orders used to excite a deal of wrath among the men. but I have noticed that lately nothing is said. The men are ready at the minute and march off willingly.

We started about dark and marched about five or six miles south to near Bealeton. You may have heard of that city, situated on the Orange & Alexandria railroad, and comprising one small building (railroad station), and one water tank.

We are in almost a desert. There are some trees and a little grass and weeds, but of all the poor soils I ever saw, this strip for six or eight miles each side of the railroad beats all.

I heard General Griffin (commanding corps) say yesterday that we would stay here till September and he ordered the camps laid out accordingly. This intention is evidently to be taken without reference to rebel movements. Should they make another invasion or that sort of thing, of course it would change our program. If they keep quiet I think there is a fair prospect of our lying still through the hottest weather. In the meantime our drafted men will be coming in, our decimated regiments filled up, and by the time cooler weather comes we will be in splendid condition. I do not think we will lie six weeks of the best part of the year as we did at Antietam last fall. General Meade don’t seem to be that sort of a man. But rest now is necessary, not so much for the men as for the horses. A week’s rest will do for the men, but the horses must have time to get a little more flesh on and to regain their lost strength. Why, every day since we returned to Virginia, every day we have marched, Battery D. Fifth United States, has turned out to die from four to ten horses. Many of these will recover and make good farm horses (the farmers pick them all up) but some are so far gone that they die in the road. Everywhere we march there is a dead horse or mule on the road every bad place we come to, and often there are three or four. I tell you hot weather and heavy guns use up artillery horses. My horse stands it just first-rate. He is as fat as he ought to be to travel and always feels well. All the grain he gets is about a peck per day. I kept him on hard tack for nearly a week in Pennsylvania. Our teams were twenty-five miles off and no grain to be had.

I think the last I wrote to you I told you that I had been sick. Lest you should worry about me I will say this time that I am well, as well as ever. My bowel complaint is entirely gone and I feel like myself again. I lost considerable flesh while I was so weak, but that will soon come again. Hard tack is good to fat a man that likes it, and, without butter, I prefer it to soft bread. Soft bread and the paymaster are both reported to be on their way here.

My letters have been very scarce lately. One reason, I suppose, is that I have written very few myself. I do hope they will begin to come again now. Soldiering without letters is hard work. I don’t blame you any for not writing. I know you have little spare time, but write just as often as you can.

Go in on the fruit and save all you can. Ain’t you going to save a little to send me next winter when we get settled? I think I could dispose of a little Chatauqua County fruit with the greatest pleasure.

I am very glad to hear that you have such good health, and I think you enjoy yourself well too, if your letters are any evidence. It does me good to know that your life is happy.

Tell Mercy Clark, if you write to her, that I am as much in favor of a vigorous prosecution of the war as when I first enlisted. I have just administered a filial rebuke to my parents for asking me to get a furlough because they wanted to see me. This war must be fought out, and while I have health and strength I shall not so much as think of leaving the field till it is done. If I am sick or wounded and sent to a hospital, it will be a different thing, but I don’t want to hear any whimpering from those I left behind. The only thing that I care to come home for is to make some of those copperheads hunt their holes. General Logan’s speech at Cairo the other day just expressed my sentiments. Every copperhead, peaceman, anti-draft man, every cursed mother’s son of them that does not support the war by word and deed ought to be hung or sent to the south where they belong. There is no middle ground. Every man who is not for us is against us, and I would just as soon fight a cursed copperhead as a southern rebel. Yes, rather, for they have means of knowing the truth and most rebels have not. If a man or a boy comes into your house and talks peace, or complains about the draft, tell him he is a traitor and you won’t listen to him. Drive him out as Orpha Dart did with a broomstick. I tell you when the old soldiers get home, such cowards and sneaks, traitors and rebels in disguise, will have an account to settle. It won’t be a pleasant neighborhood for them. The scorn and disgust the revolutionary tories met won’t be a circumstance to what is waiting for them. Maybe you think I am excited. I mean what I say at all events, and I have been so provoked and disgusted that I, like every loyal soldier, am down on every opposer of the war “like a thousand of brick.” I have no patience with them at all. I know that if I was home, I should have trouble with the first man that talked a word of such stuff to me.

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