Virtual MuseumThe Carl Braun Collection
What I Saw of the
[By Henry H. Vail of N.Y.
Born Pomfret Vt.]
Privately printed for the Family
What I Saw of the
I have been asked to prepare some account of my services as a soldier in the Civil War. In doing this it seems necessary to explain why my service was so slight. When that war opened in the Spring of 1861, I was a very sick man. I have been teaching in Alburgh, Vermont, and was taken down with pneumonia. My doctor and my friends expected me to die; but my disease turned in the right direction and I began to recover. In the course of a few weeks I was able to travel to my boyhood home in Pomfret. There I began to learn of the opening scenes of the war and of the calls for troops. The First Vermont Regiment was in the service of the United States, and the Second and Third were being enlisted. At that time there were plenty of volunteers, and all soldiers enrolled were carefully examined to see that every man was sound in body and of sufficient height. I could not then enlist because I lacked a full half inch of the required height. Later in the war men of my size had no difficulty in being accepted as soldiers in Vermont.
But I had to find some way of earning a living, and I engaged to teach the public school in Marquette, Michigan, for one year. This place came to me through the aid of a graduate of Middlebury College, who was practicing law in that town. Marquette was then a frontier mining town of about one thousand inhabitants, and its business was the making of iron. Our only connection with the rest of the world in summer was by the steamers that sailed on the Great Lakes. In the winter, when the water in the canals froze, we were shut off from all other towns except that the mails were hauled for thirty miles on a traineau, a sled with very broad runners that was pulled by a large dog, while the mail carrier on snowshoes beat a path. It often took more than a day to make the journey. As we were thus shut off from all supplies, we soon found that we were short of many things and, curiously, were short of money. But we had paper, ink, and a printing press. With these the Jackson Furnace soon issued their notes, which were paid out to their workmen, and by them to the shopkeepers, and they soon became the only money that was used in town.
Of course there was a vacation of the school including Christmas and New Year, and at that time five young men planned to camp in the woods some ten miles west of Marquette, and fish for trout through the ice that covered small lakes in that region. The snow was then more than two feet deep and snowshoes were necessary for our tramp through the woods. I had never had a pair on, and I had a pack to carry that weighed about thirty pounds. A light snow fell before we reached our camping place, and I was a very tired man when we lay down to sleep with the snow falling on our faces. The next day we reached our proposed camp and we soon built a shelter with balsam boughs, open on one side where we had a big fire that was kept burning day and night so long as we stayed there. We caught enough fish to serve us as food when cooked with the pork that we brought in. The weather was very cold all the time we were out, and one night the thermometer in town marked forty degrees below zero; but by keeping up an enormous fire we were quite comfortable, although the snow on top of our camp was never melted.
This winter camp in Michigan was my first experience in the open air, where woodcraft was essential. My first drill as a soldier was also obtained at Marquette. Once a week we had papers, mostly from Detroit, that gave us news of the war, which kept us at a fever heat. The man who ran the most showy saloon in town had somewhere learned the drill. He was known as Captain Church. Some twenty men used to meet in his saloon to go through the manual of arms. I am not sure that this gathering was wholly free from patronizing the bar. At least when the drill was over for the evening, the Captain became bar-keeper with great promptness.
As soon as the ice was out of the canal at Sault Sainte Marie, the boats came up from "down below" with all manner of supplies that were lacking on the Upper Peninsula. My engagement there was finished and I went down on the first boat.
The only relative in the West known to me was a second cousin, Judge Youngs Vail Wood, who as a boy was our nearest neighbor. He had invited me to come to Dayton, Ohio, where he lived.
I went there, and as I had no employment, I began to read law in his office. There were three other men in the same office, and I, as the youngest, had the care of the office, swept and dusted the room, copied the letters and ran the errands; but I soon learned how to make out deeds and mortgages and other usual forms of contracts. But this brought me no money, so I had to resort to teaching. I obtained a position as assistant in the Fifth District School, was soon shifted to the First District, where I afterwards became Principal. That District embraced the best part of the city of Dayton, which was then a city of about 50,000 inhabitants, and through my situation in the schools I became acquainted with the best people in town.
Dayton was in a Congressional District where the two parties, Democrats and Republicans, were very nearly equal in number. Political feeling ran high and several times broke out in open riots. In these, attempts were made to burn down the city, and several lives were lost. Secret societies were formed that opposed the continuance of the war and hindered the enlistment of soldiers. The men in the country would come in town with their guns concealed under straw, and when night came they would unite and overpower the police, and take possession of the town. This became unendurable, and the young Republicans in town formed themselves into three companies of the National Guards, that were authorized by a law just passed. I joined company C of the Second Regiment. Our captain was Charles D. Herrman, a man perfectly familiar with company drill and with the duties of a soldier. Our two lieutenants were of little use; but our non-commissioned officers were excellent. Our orderly sergeant was Robert Fulton Leaman, who was afterward my partner for many years in the publishing business. Ebenezer M. Thresher was the second sergeant, I was the third, and the other sergeants and all the corporals were my friends. We were all young men. I was then twenty-two, and that was about the average age of the company. We had a second story loft for an armory and we met there one evening each week for drill. We were soon familiar with our muskets and could make the company movements with accuracy.
But in the meanwhile drafts had been made for soldiers to fill the ranks of the army in the field, and there was resistance to the draft, --the drafted men would not serve. Martial law was declared and a company of cavalry under Major Keith was sent to Dayton to preserve the peace and gather up the reluctant recruits.
About this time, in July, 1863, Gen. John Morgan crossed the Ohio River into Indiana with a body of cavalry consisting of about 3000 men. The militia of Indiana was called out, and they turned Morgan's force eastward into Ohio. On the evening of the 12th of July the Governor of Ohio called out the militia of the southern counties of that state to check the progress of the hostile force. Major Keith called upon the men of Dayton to take their muskets and go. I borrowed a gun and went to the railway station, where there were about fifty other young men armed with muskets, rifles and shotguns of every kid. In some way one of this number took command. We got on a train and were taken to Hamilton, where we arrived late in the afternoon of the 13th. There was some delay in getting our order to march; but meanwhile we hunted up the saloons and grocery stores and god some food. Soon we marched out of Hamilton toward the South. We followed the valley of the great Miami River some three miles. Meanwhile night had come. At a sharp turn in the road we halted. The main body of our little company was hidden in the bushes at our left, and a challenging party of two held the road with orders to stop every one using the road and make them give an account of themselves. I was one of these. Early in the evening I stopped several horsemen, each going toward Hamilton. Every time I halted a man I could hear the clicking of the guns in the hands of the nervous men in the bushes as they cocked their guns and got ready to fire. My only danger was from my own party.
About one o'clock in the morning of the 14th we saw a great fire south of us and we knew that General Morgan's forced had crossed he river below us between Hamilton and Cincinnati. As soon as it was fully light we marched back to Hamilton and our march was made easier because one of our number had a bugle which he played well. We were quite hungry when we reached Hamilton; but we found crackers and cheese in the shops there and then took a train to Dayton. The only badge that distinguished our company was a card on which was printer a large letter "Q." this we wore at the button-hole of our coat. We were called "Squirrel Hunters." Company Q did not come in sight of any of Morgan's men on their march; but some other squads of militia were more fortunate and we all went to the county jail to see half a dozen stragglers that had been captured. We were not enrolled as soldiers in this move, and when we reached Dayton, each went to his own home. Later the Governor of Ohio issued a message of compliments and thanks.
Some of the young men of Hamilton went out on their own hook to find Morgan; but in nearly every case Morgan found them first. The first Confederate soldier who saw one of these volunteer scouts would call upon him to halt and throw up his hands. If any weapons were found on the scout these were seized, and the fresh horse was taken and the worn out cavalry horse was turned loose for the use of any one who might take him up. The volunteer scout frequently walked back to the town in a frame of mind that was not friendly to the Confederate cause.
In the summer of 1863 all the National Guards were called out for a week's drill in camp. Several regiments were in camp with us and there was some effort at brigade drill; but it was very soon seen that our colonels and general were not well acquainted with the handling of large bodies of soldiers. We drilled hard every day, learned how to pitch our tents and how to live in the open air.
Meanwhile there were no more riots in Dayton; the drafts of soldiers were effective and the drafted men went to the front. It looked as if we had drilled in vain and as if our services would not be wanted. But without any warning Governor Brough of Ohio on May 1st, 1864, called all the regiments of the National Guards into the service of the United States. I was glad to be called out and I think the greater number of my company were pleased to have a chance to serve. A few of our company could not go because of family needs or of business ties. Every one of them hired a substitute who was approved by our Captain. These men were all old soldiers, having a year or more of experience in the service. They were all good comrades. A few of our company were found unfit for service by the surgeons, and other men enlisted in their places.
In ten days our ranks were filled and we were ready for service. The call of the Governor was for one hundred days, and we were called "Hundred Days' Men." When we came in contact with old soldiers, they called us "Hundred Years' Men." Including the officers, we numbered 85 men. Every man served his full time and was discharged with the company on August 25, 1864. We actually served 115 days. When we marched to the station in Dayton, everybody turned out to see us off. We went to Columbus in freight cars; only regimental officers went in cars having seats. On reaching Columbus, we marched some two miles out of the city to Camp Chase. This was on a large meadow, and it was enclosed by a high fence; for it was a prison for Confederates, and there were thousands of them. We were held there several days, awaiting the mustering officer of the United States, and we became very weary of our confinement. Men in the ranks never know what their next order will be, or where they will go. Some of our hot-headed men talked of making a petition that we be sent directly to the front. But in due time an officer came to muster us into the service of the United States, and at the same time our company was made a part of the 131st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This regiment was formed on May 14th, and on the same day our Colonel received his order to take the regiment to Baltimore. Several days later the privates learned where we were going, but even then we could not know whether we would be kept in Baltimore or be sent elsewhere.
Before we left Camp Chase we were ordered to take three days' rations in our haversacks, and barrels of hardtack, of pork, of coffee, and of sugar were opened for us to help ourselves. It was our first acquaintance with the army ration, and we did not know how to handle it. We felt pretty sure that we could do no cooking in the freight cars, so we took nothing but a dozen or two of the big round crackers that were always called "hardtack." By carrying, these soon crumbled into small fragments; but they were our only food for more than three days.
Before leaving Columbus we marched to the State arsenal there and gave up our good Springfield muskets and took Belgian guns instead. These were wretched pieces, fit only or show. They were often out of order and were really dangerous to the soldier who discharged one.
From the arsenal we marched to the station, and we then knew that we were going East. It was nearly dark when we broke ranks beside a train of freight cars. We scrambled in and the train started. In a few minutes we discovered that we would need more air; so with the butts of our muskets we dashed off half of the boards that covered the sides of the cars. We spread our blankets and lay down. There were so many of us that when one turned over, all must turn. We then turned over only on the order of the Captain, who happened to sleep next to me.
We were on the Baltimore and Ohio railway, and this road was then often broken by the attacks of small bodies of Confederates. Rumors of a late attack reached our Colonel and he remembered that we had not a single round of ammunition. So he obtained leave to stop at Cumberland for a supply. It was really our first stop, and we were all hungry. There was a line of soldiers drawn up on each side of the train, and we soon saw that the officers passed through without any trouble, but the common soldiers were stopped. As I was studying the situation, a private in my company, a handsome soldier, touched my arm and said, "Hold on, sergeant, I will show you how to get through." We jumped down and went up to the nearest guard and my friend entered into conversation with him, asking him what regiment he belonged to, and I remember that he was a soldier of the First Loyal Virginians. While they were talking I slipped across the guard line, and while the guard was trying to get me back, my friend stepped across the line. We then made a straight course to the village. There was a hotel; but my friend was too old a soldier to crowd in where the officers were struggling for food. It was about the usual time for supper and we turned in at a very nice looking house and went down to the basement kitchen door. There my friend rapped and a neat maid opened the door. We were as hungry as wolves, and before us was an ample supply of food. My friend was too wise to ask for food, but he played the agreeable so sweetly to the two maids that we were invited to share their supper-and it was a good one. We offered them money but they declined it. They did not refuse my friend's farewell kiss. When we returned to the train, well filled, we listened with pleasure to our officers' description of the wretched meal served them at the hotel at a high price. We knew enough to keep very still about our good luck.
On wakening the next morning, we found we were on a switch with two or three other trains of freight cars near Sharpsburg, Virginia. The bridge at Harper's Ferry had been destroyed by the Confederates, and we were ordered into camp. Soon several regiments of Ohio troops joined us, and we were organized in a temporary brigade. A line of pickets was established around the camp, and as there was so other duty to be performed, we explored the surrounding country. All that country had been at some time occupied by each army. The farm fences had utterly disappeared. Every loose bit of wood had been used by the soldiers on one side or the other to cook their rations and dry their clothing. Every green tree was gashed and scarred by bullets, and the whole place was infested with "Grey-backs," the soldier's name for body lice. Our country companies did not know how to keep themselves clean, and after this encampment they were lousy. I think our company kept themselves free from this pest. While we camped here in Virginia some of our men visited the battlefield at Antietam. This was within a half day's walk across the Potomac River.
We spent three or four days very pleasantly in the Valley of Virginia. When a temporary bridge was completed at Harper's Ferry, we were again placed on a train of cars and sent directly to Baltimore. By this time we had become used to travel on freight cars and everybody rode on the top of his car. Thus we could see all around us. We passed very slowly through Harper's Ferry and when we came in sight of the stone house in which John Brown was captured, the whole regiment sang "John Brown's Body." That was one of the popular war songs, and its singing by a thousand earnest men was thrilling.
At Baltimore our regiment was divided, going to the different forts around that city. Some companies went to Fort McHenry, one company to Fort Marshall, and three companies to Fort Federal Hill. This latter fort was our post for the summer. It was also the headquarters of the regiment. Colonel Lowe and the other regimental officers occupied a two-story wooden building just west of the parade ground. The barracks for the common soldiers lined two sides of the parade. This fort was build under the order of Gen. Benjamin Butler and its purpose was to overawe the people of that city, for most of them were Confederate in sentiment. Our cannon could reach every part of the city, and more than once the guns were loaded and the city was told that we were ready for any outbreak. We relieved a regiment of regulars who had been there for more than a year. This regiment was sent to the front and was in the battle of the Wilderness, where it lost very heavily.
Our duty at Fort Federal Hill was to guard the fort and hold hundreds of drafted men who were on their way to their regiments, and to patrol the streets of the city at night and arrest soldiers who were absent from their place of duty. For most of the time that we were in Baltimore it was my own duty to command a squad of a dozen men and with them to march through certain streets, halting all soldiers and examining their papers. These streets were lined with saloons and dance houses. As the city was under martial law I was authorized to enter any house and make arrests, sending the person arrested to the Provost Marshal. The next morning I had to appear at his office to make charge. I never knew what became of the prisoners afterward. That was none of my business. This Sergeant's guard marched from sunset until midnight, when we returned to the fort. Of course we stopped at times for a rest. I remember well a stone bridge that served well for a stop. It was a relief to get away from the riotous noise of the saloons and the dance houses. Nearly every evening we picked up drunken soldiers who had stayed in town beyond their leave. If possible we sent them back to their duty without making an arrest; but if they were offensive, they were arrested.
One night I found a cavalry lieutenant in a saloon and I demanded his pass. He was indignant that a non-commissioned officer should demand his papers; but I showed him my written authority to halt any officer, and again ordered him to show his pass or suffer arrest. He then very reluctantly brought out his paper. It was short-so short that I can remember every word of it except the name of the man. It read, "Lieutenant --- --- is hereby dismissed from the service of the United States for cowardly conduct in the face of the enemy. Gen. Philip Sheridan." I was myself ashamed for the man and said, "Why do you linger here with such a paper as that for your only protection?" The man broke down and said that he had no money to get home. I advised him to walk. I doubted whether he would be welcome in any home with that record.
I did not patrol the streets every night. Occasionally much more agreeable service fell to my lot. The Captain ordered me one night to guard the entrance of the Opera House. I was to stand at attention at the main entrance until the opera began, and then I knew that I could take some unoccupied seat. I made m uniform neat and clean, belted on my sergeant's sword and stood at the door until the overture began. I then went into the gallery, took a front seat and hear my first opera.
We often heard good music at Fort McHenry. There was a fine military band there and on certain evenings they played in a small hall. Soldiers could enter and listen if they were in full dress uniform; but it was not safe to venture in there with a fatigue uniform. One of our company was put in the guard house for appearing in Fort McHenry wearing a fatigue cap. At Fort Federal Hill we had a bugler who sounded the calls, and we marched to the time given by the drum and fife.
I was fortunate in being present when Abraham Lincoln was nominated for a second term of office. A convention of delegates was held in a theater in Baltimore in the summer of 1864. It was organized on June 7th and was called a Union National Convention. On the 8th I had no difficulty in entering the convention. It was understood that the nominations were be made on that day. While on the lower floor of the theater, I heard the resolution read by Mr. Raymond, and the nomination of Abraham Lincoln. I then went up into the gallery where I could look down on the scene. I was there when the ballot was taken. A the announcement of the result a cloud of hats came up, and the cheering was so loud and long that for some time I could not hear the music of the large brass band that I could see playing in the gallery facing the stage. When the cheers subsided a little, the audience heard the notes of the Star Spangled Banner, and another cheer burst forth. There was no enthusiasm over the nomination of Andrew Johnson as Vice President.
At this time few men volunteered for service. Men were drafted. If the drafted man could not or would not serve, he hired a substitute, who went in his place. Such men often received several hundred dollars for their services. Great numbers of these substitutes were sent to our fort on their way South. We had to see that they did not escape and go back North. Such men as did escape were called "bounty jumpers." As these substitutes usually had their bounty money in their pockets, pick-pockets and gamblers came along with them to rob them of their money. All day long and late into the night gambling went on in the barrack filled with substitutes. Most of them were stripped of their money before they reached their regiment. If these substitutes reached the front they were seldom good soldiers. They were always looking for a chance to run away and get out of danger.
While at this fort we had a regular cook who prepared the meals and served them out through a window. Each man formed I line when the bugle sounded the proper call, with his tin plate and tin quart cup ready for his portions of meat, of vegetables and of coffee. We also had big loaves of bread, and a chunk of this went with every meal. Our rations were most than we could eat and we sold some things that we did not like, and bought, in the fine markets of Baltimore, fish and fruits. Although we had sufficient food, well cooked, some of our men complained. One day there was a great deal of grumbling, when an old soldier who had served in the army of the Cumberland for a year or two, pulled out a diary which he had kept when he was besieged in Knoxville, Tenn. He stood up in the center of the barrack and read to us the account of the food which they had from day to day. Some days they had no food; in others they had a single ear of Indian corn, which they were glad to pound up and boil. His comrades listened and the grumbling ceased. We had several men who acted as substitutes with us and they were all good soldiers. They had learned to obey and had learned how to take care of themselves. Their clothing and arms were always in good order.
We had a surgeon in the regiment, and the men in the companies that came from the country gave him plenty to do. There was very little sickness in the companies that came from the city of Dayton. The city men knew how to take care of themselves better than the men from the country I kept quite well al the summer. Perhaps this was because I got a fine bath nearly every day. In the center of the parade ground a pipe one inch in diameter ran a full stream of cool water into a tank. When the patrolling squads came in at midnight, the parade ground was empty. Several of us had the habit of stripping off all our clothing and with our hands we directed the stream of water on one another, thus getting a fine shower bath. After marching on the streets for some hours, this bath was very welcome.
My regiment was not engaged in any battle. I did not hear a hostile gun. While we were in Baltimore a division of the Confederates, under Gen. Early, drove Siegel's army out of Virginia, and he retreated toward Baltimore. A battle took place on July 9th, 1864, at Monocacy, some thirty miles west of Baltimore. The Union army was driven back toward Baltimore, and for two days and nights the streets in sight of our fort were filled with army wagons and droves of cattle guarded by cavalry. Stragglers form the field of battle found their way into our fort, having the smear of gunpowder still on their faces. From one of these runaway heroes we learned that one regiment of the "Hundred Years' Men" held a place in the Union line, in the battle of Monocacy, and as they received no order to retreat, nearly the whole regiment became prisoners of war. They were in Confederate prisons long after their term of service expired. Our informer said, "The damned fools didn't know enough to run."
When General Grant learned of the retreat of General Siegel's army from the Valley of Virginia as he was pursued by General Early, he sent General Ricketts to Baltimore by water with his division of the Army of the Potomac. At sunrise on the morning of July 8th, we saw a great fleet of vessels anchored in the harbor below the fort, and we saluted it with the proper number of guns. It was a part of the Sixth Army Corps that was sent to aid Gen. Lew Wallace in checking the movement of General Early toward either Baltimore or Washington. Both cities were threatened by his movement. The troops and supplies brought up by these boats were landed and sent to Monocacy and some of them arrived in time to take part in the battle.
At this time the Confederate cavalry came very near Baltimore-indeed they reached the railroad that connects that city with Philadelphia, and burned the bridge over the Gunpowder River. This bridge was supposed to be guarded by a company of volunteers that had enlisted for thirty days from Wilmington. It came down on a train and landed at the bridge, stacked its guns and the whole number undressed and went for a swim in the river. While they were thus enjoying themselves, the Confederate cavalry suddenly appeared and took possession of their guns. Not a shot was made; but the prisoners were lined up and paroled, their muskets were destroyed, the bridge was set on fire and the cavalry retreated. The paroled men were sent to Baltimore and shut up for some days in the old slave Pen in that city. I was then ordered to take them to Wilmington and deliver them to the Provost Marshal in that city. There were about fifty of them and there were anxious to get home; but not at all desirous of being seen. Their military career was short and not brilliant. I had no difficulty in delivering them and getting a receipt.
My task was then finished and I might have gone right back; but a sergeant in another regiment went up on the train with me in charge of a soldier who had been sentenced to imprisonment for life in the Dry Tortugas, --the worst prison then used by the Government. The prisoner was a large, vigorous man and his guard was afraid that the prisoner would overpower him before they would reach Fort Delaware, where the sergeant was ordered to deliver his prisoner. He begged me to go down with him. It was a short railway ride down the left bank of the Delaware River to a ferry that ran over to the fort. The ferry boat landed at a small stone platform, where there was a guard.
My friend was admitted with his prisoner; but I have no order to show that I had any business to be there. An officer was called and I was sent under guard to the office of the commander of the fort. He asked many questions and sent for the other sergeant, who confirmed my story. The commander then ordered a soldier to give me a blanket and assign me a place to sleep, --for by this time night had come. Fort Delaware was built in the middle of the Delaware River on made land. It was made of stone and was much like Fort Sumpter. I slept in a casemate, prepared for a cannon; but the room was perfectly empty. The next morning I took my breakfast with the soldiers that guarded the fort. Around the fort was a large level field, built up upon a shallow in the river and this swarmed with thousands of Confederate prisoners. I was allowed to go among them and talk with them. Many of them had trinkets that they had made from the bones that came in their meat. These they offered for sale. I bought a bone ring as a keepsake. I left before non and went back to Baltimore.
Shortly after this my Captain gave me the choice of a trip on duty to Washington, or one to Fortress Monroe. I preferred to go to Old Point Comfort. My duty was merely to deliver some papers and bring back others. Of their contents I knew nothing; I was simply a messenger. I went down by steamer and at once finished my errand. I then wandered over the fort, which was then a very busy place. It was at the time that Grant moved his army south of the James River. From the walls of the fort I saw hundreds of vessels, filled with soldiers, cannons, horses, and all manner of warlike supplies, moving past the fort. It was a continuous procession. At that time no one at the fort knew where this army was going.
When we marched into Fort Federal Hill we found cannons on the walls. These were the old-fashioned cast iron guns with smooth bores, mounted on two wheels, and resting on a platform of wood. It was very evident that if these cannons were to be used for any purpose, some of our number would have to handle the guns. So three of us went down into the city and bought little books which gave the drill for handling artillery. We then went into one of the redoubts and studied the guns and the books until we were familiar with them. We enlisted as infantry and even our officers had no skill in artillery. It was not long before at guard mounting the call was made for men to drill the soldiers in handling the big, unwieldy guns. This was just what we three had prepared for, and we volunteered at once. The squads were called out to drill several times in the hot sun; but we three fellows never had to put our hand to a gun; --we had only to instruct others. Our commissioned officers never learned the drill. The artillery was handled only by the sergeants in our company. We never fired balls from these guns. We were called upon to fire salutes with blank cartridges several times, and on the night when the Confederate cavalry was near the city, we loaded the guns that bore on the city that if there was any outbreak, we should fire on the city. The leading citizens of Baltimore were Confederate in their sentiments; but our fort dominated the city. In the morning after this alarm the charges were withdrawn. The guns that we used there were just like the ones that have been given many villages in the North, and these have been placed on permanent supports on the village greens.
Our uniform was a long frock-coat and felt hat for full-dress and a blouse and fatigue cap for undress uniform. We had but one pair of trousers.
Our guns were loaded at the muzzle. A cartridge made of this pasteboard contained a ball and a charge of powder. On order we bit off the end of the cartridge, poured the powder in and jammed the paper in over it. The ramrod was then pulled out of its case under the barrel of the gun, and the bullet was put in and rammed down on the powder. It was not an unusual thing for an excited soldier to ram the ball down first and put the powder in above it. In such a case the gun could not be fired until this charge was withdrawn. After the powder and lead were place properly in the gun, it was still necessary to put on the nipple a percussion cap. These caps were carried in a leather box that was on the soldier's belt. To put this cap on, the gun must be half-cocked. It took nine distinct motions to load a soldier's gun. Each soldier carried a bayonet, either at the end of this gun or in a sheath that hung on his belt.
A soldier's load consisted of his blanket and rubber poncho, his knapsack containing his change of clothing and shoes, brushes, tobacco, writing materials, and spare ammunition. All this hung behind the soldier's back. Over one shoulder hung his haversack, a cotton bag for rations. On the other, hung a canteen of tin covered with cotton cloth and holding a pint of water. Somewhere on his person he must carry his quart tin cup and his tin plate. This was the outfit for a long march, when the soldiers did not return to the same quarters. When my soldiers reported for patrol duty they were in undress uniform and carried only their gun and bayonet. I carried the small straight sword of a sergeant and a small pistol, with which I had to threaten men once in a while. It served one night to bring down a wandering soldier from the roof of a two story house. I didn't need to shoot. The pistol was a good persuader. It does not take long for a city under martial law to learn the rules of the game. Obedience to any order, no matter how wrongful, becomes prompt.
It was against the rules to have disloyal music in the house. A wealthy lade in the city had a quarrel with her maid and she was discharged. She went to a sergeant whom I knew, and told him precisely where some songs were concealed. He went to the house and demanded the music. The lady declared that she had no such music. He then named each piece and told her where they were hid. She nearly fainted; but she took the sergeant into her dressing room and handed him the music. Of course he did not report his capture, as he acted without orders; but he mailed the songs to his sister in Cincinnati. That sergeant would have been severely punished if his superiors had learned of his offense.
I believe that only one man of our regiment was at any time under the fire of hostile guns. It happened that a private by the name of E. O. Vaile was sent to Harper's Ferry, and was there just at a time when the Confederates made an attack on the place. Vaile had to do some service; but he was not harmed.
I greatly enjoyed my service. I kept well during the whole time, and performed my duty every day. To me it was like a vacation. No decision on my own kept men in the rear of the line of actual conflict. The Government placed us in the forts in and around Baltimore because other troops had more drill and were more useful in the line of battle. Some regiments had to perform duty in these forts, and some General placed us there. We were very fortunate; but I have no tale of bloodshed to tell my children and grand-children.
Source: Transcript of an original pamphlet from the collection of Carl Braun, Windsor, Vt.
Return to the Braun Collection Index, or read a short biography on Henry Vail.