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

Post image for War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

War Diary and Letters of Stephen Minot Weld.

March 25, 2014

War diary and letters of Stephen Minot Weld

Headquarters 56th Massachusetts Reg’t.

Camp Holmes, near Annapolis, March 25, 1864.

Dear Father, — We are now comfortably settled in tents about two miles from Annapolis, on the exact ground that the 24th Massachusetts were encamped two years ago. The ground is dry and easily drained, with water, etc., within convenient distance. The railroad runs within a fourth of a mile of our camp, making it very convenient for us to get our supplies.

We left camp, as you know, on Sunday morning, the men and officers being in the best of spirits, and with but few of the men, I am glad to say, drunk. The day before we left, over forty gallons of liquor were confiscated at General Peirce’s headquarters, being found on the persons of the soldiers’ friends, or rather enemies. We reached Groton at 3 P.M. without losing a man. At every place we stopped, the officers and guards got out, and prevented any civilians from having access to the men. In this way we managed to keep all liquor away from the soldiers. At Groton we shipped the regiment on board the Plymouth Rock and reached Jersey City by 2.30 AM., experiencing no trouble except from the boat-hands selling rum to the men. At Jersey City we had to wait until 10.30 A.M. before we could get the regiment on board the cars and started. We lost but two men here. We reached Camden at about 7 P.M. with all our men except one. At Newark a citizen was shot by one of the officers for refusing to go away from the cars, where he was selling liquor, and for throwing stones at the officer. I don’t know whether the man was mortally wounded or not. At Camden we took the ferry and crossed to Philadelphia, where we received a supper from the Union Association. I demolished a liquor shop in Philadelphia and took the proprietor prisoner. I had him hand-cuffed and taken on to Baltimore, where I had half his head and beard shaved and then turned him over to the provost marshal. At Philadelphia the colonel and quartermaster left us, and went on to Baltimore to provide transportation for the regiment, and therefore I had command. After taking our supper here, we marched to Philadelphia and Baltimore depot, where we took freight cars for Baltimore. We arrived there at 12 and found the colonel waiting for us. As a dinner was promised us here at the Union Rooms, we marched some two miles from the depot to the place, where we found that we had been taken in, for no dinner was ready, so like the king of old we marched down the hill again. We took the steamer Columbia at Baltimore about 2 P.M. and started for Annapolis, reaching there at 6.30 P.M. in a driving snow-storm. We disembarked as soon as possible, and marched to what are called the College Green Barracks, where the paroled prisoners are kept for the first day or two after their arrival. We found only four of the barracks empty, and had to pack our men in them, putting four hundred where two [hundred] are usually put. Still it was much better this way than without any shelter at all, for the night was bitter cold and the wind keen and sharp. In the morning we made arrangements with Major Chamberlain to provide our men with hot coffee and meat, until we could draw our rations. Major Chamberlain is in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry and in charge of the parole camp. He was very kind and obliging to us, for without his aid we could have done nothing for our men, and should have been obliged to have seen them suffer a great deal. As it was, they had a pretty hard time of it. This same morning, that is, Wednesday, lots of our men got into the town, and drank much bad whiskey, besides bringing a lot more into camp. About noon camp began to be a perfect pandemonium, and as the colonel was away, the major and I sallied out to restore order. We put all the noisy drunkards in the guard-house, and soon quelled the disturbance outside. In the guardhouse, however, confusion reigned supreme for a long time. We tied up any number of men, and finally succeeded in getting quiet restored. One of the worst cases in the regiment, named Casey, I had tied up by the thumbs, and gagged. He then kicked an officer there, and I said to him, “Casey, I will shoot you if you do that again.” Another officer came by and he kicked him, and I drew that pistol Uncle Oliver gave me and fired at him twice. The first shot went through his arm, in the biceps, without touching the bone. The second hit the bayonet in his mouth by which he was gagged, and dropped into his stocking. The bayonet saved his life, for the shot would have gone through his head otherwise. I meant to kill him, and was very sorry I did not succeed. The shots had a wonderful effect in quieting the men, and I had very little trouble with them after that.

Yesterday morning we started for our camp outside the city and delighted (?) the Secesh citizens by playing “John Brown” as we marched through the town. We pitched all the tents before night and had the regiment comfortably housed and fed. Considering that some regiments that arrived over a week ago only managed to do the same thing in a week, I think we have every reason to be satisfied. . . .

My address is simply, 56th Mass. Vols., Annapolis, Md. I understand that we are the commencement of the 1st Brigade, 4th Division, 9th Army Corps, and that the corps badge is to be a cross with scalloped edges. Please ask Uncle Oliver to apply for our regiment, in case he takes any, on Burnside’s expedition. . . .

While we were in the College Green Barracks, a boatload of prisoners came in from Richmond. There were 500 in the lot that I saw. 500 of the worst cases had been sent to the hospital. Of the 500 selected as being in good health, I must say that I never saw a more horrible-looking set in my life. All ragged and filthy and thin, — it made one feel sick to see them. It was a good thing for the regiment, however, and I am glad that they saw them. The arrangements for these prisoners are very good indeed. They have a large bath-house for them, where they can take either warm or cold baths. I went in and saw some of them bathing. They looked more like skeletons than human beings. The rations for a day consist of one small piece of corn-bread. I saw Adjutant Cheever of the 17th Massachusetts, who said that Linus Comins was still in Richmond. . . .

You can’t tell how glad I am to get the regiment away from Massachusetts. It is a great relief to me, I assure you.

On Thursday, March 24, we left our barracks and marched out to the old camping-ground of the 24th Massachusetts, the ground being covered with snow about six inches deep. We received our tents here, and managed to have them all pitched before night. In the evening we had the band play, and what with delight at being away from Readville and finally settled in camp, I feel ready to pardon all past and future offences of the men. The regiment was in good spirits and everything seemed lovely.

Previous post:

Next post: