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14th Vermont Infantry

Life In Camp (J. C. Williams)

Chapter I

Introduction. -- Mustered into the U.S. Service. -- Leave the State for the Seat of War. -- New York City. -- Indignant treatment. -- Philadelphia. -- Kind Treatment. -- The Regiment at Baltimore. -- Arrival at Washington. -- Camp Chase. -- Severe Storm. -- Join Casey's Division. -- A Review. -- March to Capitol Hill. -- March to Camp Seward. -- Sick Soldiers. -- An Accident. -- Poisoned Soldiers. -- Marching Orders. -- A new Camp. -- Camp Vermont. -- Severe Snow Storm. -- March to Alexandria. -- Exchange of Guns

The years 1862-3 were eventful ones. The Rebellion has assumed proportions hitherto unknown, and was threatening the overthrow of the Government. The second battle of Bull Run had aroused the loyal people of the North to action. They saw that ruin would be the inevitable consequence of inaction. They had become convinced that a formidable and determined foe were fighting us, and in order to check the ruthless hand of the destroyer from desolating our own fair homes, brave men and stout hearts must be found, who were willing to sacrifice the enjoyment of civil life, to undergo untold privations and sufferings in the tented field, and on the march, and to drive back the vile plotters of the destruction of our country to their own dens of infamy and vice.

The call for three hundred thousand nine months men, made in August, 1862, gave to Vermont, as her quota, four thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight men, and through the patriotism and loyalty of her people, this quota was soon filled. Five regiments were formed from this number, the 14th being one of them. The 14th went into camp at Brattleboro, Vt., October 4, where it remained perfecting its organization and drill until the 22d of the same month.

As the government needed our services immediately, we were at once subjected to that kind of discipline which prepared us to endure the dangers and hardships of the battle field. We were about to go forth to fight a people who were in earnest, and who had fought with so much determination that war had become a living reality.

October 21
Nothing of general interest has transpired since we have been in this camp up to this date, save the usual routine of camp life.

The 14th, together with the 15th and 16th Vermont Regiments, were reviewed. this forenoon by Col. Stoughton, commander of this post, and Gov. Holbrook. The lines were formed at nine o'clock in heavy marching order. The camp ground was early filled with spectators, eager to behold the grand parade. The Governor and Staff soon made their appearance, whereupon the review commenced, and after going through with the various evolutions required of us, we were dismissed.

The 14th was mustered into the United States service this afternoon and has received orders to leave for the seat of war to-morrow. We are now "Uncle Sam's" men, and our term of service dates from to-day.

October 22
This is a busy day for us. We are to leave for "Dixie, " and can hardly find time, amid the din and bustle of the camp, to write. We are to bid farewell for the present to our Green Mountain home, to dwell in the tented field surrounded by dangers and hardships. We are to part with friends whom we hold dear, and what a sad thought it is that many of us will never return. But the ways of Providence are mysterious, and we poor mortals cannot lift the veil which hides the future.

We left the camp at Brattleboro about two o'clock in the afternoon, taking the cars for New Haven, and was soon speeding down the Connecticut Valley, whose scenery is unsurpassed by any in America. At this place we found the splendid steamer "Continental" waiting for us. Our journey thus far had been a pleasant one, and we shall ever remember the kind people of Northampton, Williamstown, and other places, for the generous feeling and liberality manifested towards us, in furnishing us with apples, pies and cake, as we passed through.

October 23
To-day we are in New York City, having left New Haven about one o'clock, and arrived here at eight this morning. Such contemptible treatment as we received in this city -- the greatest in America -- is outrageous and shameful, and calls forth the greatest indignation of the Soldiers. The food presented to us was not fit even for a dog to eat. Great God! what a dish to set before human beings -- soup alive with maggots! No cheers were given, for our treatment did not demand them, for we had no accommodations whatever.

The regiment left the city this aforenoon at eleven o'clock, for Amboy, the right and left wings going in separate boats. The boat containing the left wing got aground in passing through the Narrows, and detained it some two hours, in consequence of which it was long after dark before it arrived.

October 24
If there is ever a want of comfort attendant upon such a journey as this, we experience it last night. It would be impossible for the Government to treat cattle and hogs any worse than it does its soldiers in transporting them to the seat of war, considering out treatment a specimen. At Amboy we took cars for Camden, where we arrived just at daylight this morning, and such a night of suffering and misery is far beyond the power of any pen to portray. Suffice it to say the night was extremely cold, and being greatly fatigues from want of rest and refreshments, and there being no fire aboard of the cars, our sufferings were almost beyond human endurance.

To-day we are in Philadelphia, and may God bless the kind people of this noble and generous city. We shall hold them in grateful remembrance for their kindness and generosity, in furnishing us with everything that heart could wish, and which had greatly revived us.

It has rightly been named the "city of brotherly love." We were greeted on every side with flags and sympathetic people, and many were the cheers given in their honor.

October 25
We left Philadelphia about eleven o'clock yesterday forenoon, and arrived in Washington about noon to-day. In Baltimore, at which city we arrived at nine o'clock last evening, we were again furnished with refreshments, and notwithstanding the large secession element in this city, we were treated better and had more sympathy manifested us than in New York. What a change has taken place in the city of Baltimore since the 6th Massachusetts received such treatment. The inhabitants have doubtless read their fate in the frowning cannon of Fort McHenry, if a repetition of such a base act shall take place.

After partaking of refreshments, we were formed in line, and marched to the depot, where we had the liberty to make ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow, until further orders, whereupon we spread our blankets down, expecting to get a little rest from "Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep, " but our expectations were not to be realized, for our quiet was soon disturbed by orders to take the cars for Washington.

And here we are at last at the Capitol, nearly worn out by fatigue, having had little or no rest since leaving Brattleboro. This is a very warm day, and while awaiting orders, three soldiers were sun struck. Fifteen regiments are arriving daily here, and the accommodations are inadequate for the treatment of so many troops. A piece of dry bread and a cup of "slop" is a bill of fare which none but the worn out and hungry soldiers can appreciate. Colonel Nichols, after reporting us to the War Department, received orders to march the regiment to Camp Chase, Arlington Heights, Va.

October 26
We reached Camp Chase about six o'clock last evening, the distance from Washington being seven miles. This is the first knapsack drill we have had, and was performed with great hardship on our part, in consequence of being so fatigued with out journey to Washington, and the day being oppressively hot.

It begins to rain to-day, and I fear we shall have a wet time of it. We here begin to see the devastating effects of war. Wherever I turn my eye I behold its ravages. I can see pleasant homes and fair fields, that have been left only to be ravaged and laid waste by the relentless hand of war.

October 27
There is evidently some blundering in the management of affairs, for our A tents have not yet arrived. The experience of the past night has taught us some valuable lessons on Camp Live. The scenes which our Camp presents this morning beggar description. Imagination can but faintly picture our condition, after being exposed to the drenching storm of rain and wind which commenced yesterday, and continued with unabated fury all night, with nothing but fly tents, which did not serve to keep off the rain with very good effect. The rain has ceased at ten o'clock to-day, and we are trying to collect some wood to build a fire to dry our blankets.

We have joined the 2d Brigade, Casey's Division, in connection with the 15th Vermont and some Maine regiments.

November 1
As a specimen of circumlocution at Washington, I will give a history of our marches and countermarches for the past three days: On Tuesday the brigade was reviewed by Casey himself, and the same day an order came for the 14th with the 15th to march back across the river to Capitol Hill near Washington, to take position with the 12th, 13th and 16th regiments already there. The review ground was some three miles from Camp Chase; and the review lasted about six hours, during which no rest was allowed us. On returning to camp, orders were issued immediately to prepare to march to Capitol Hill that day, which was accomplished with great severity. We arrived at our destination about eight o'clock in the evening, and had it not been for the kindness of the boys of the 12th and 13th, we should have had no supper that night. On Wednesday, before the order to pitch our tents was hardly completed, a new order came, rebrigading the five Vermont regiments by themselves, under Col. Blunt of the 12th, the ranking Colonel, constituting it the 3d Brigade, Casey's Division, and ordering it to march to Camp Seward, nine miles across the river into Virginia. This order was complied with on Thursday, the following day, when a new order came in the evening for the brigade to advance to Hunting Creek, about twenty miles into Virginia, and directly in the face of the enemy.

November 2
We are again on the "Sacred Soil." Three soldiers were taken severely sick yesterday, supposed to have been poisoned by pedlars who are hanging about our camp. Several have been arrested and, if found guilty of such a devilish purpose, will be shot.

This ground has not been used for a camp before, and to-day the regiment are busily engaged in clearing off the rubbish.

We hear that McClellan is preparing for a battle on the Upper Potomac, and troops are being rapidly sent forward from this department. The order to march to Hunting Creek has been so modified, as to embrace only the 12th and 13th regiments, these only having first class arms. The other regiments are waiting an exchange of guns, when they will be sent forward. A sad accident happened to a member of Company B, by the name of Edgarton, on Wednesday, while coming out of his tent with a loaded revolver, which was accidentally discharged -- the contents entering the right hand, and will probably disable him for service.

November 3
The sick soldiers are better Our guns have been inspected and condemned, and hope the Government will furnish us with better ones before sending us to the front. There is a dwarf bush called sumac, which grows abundantly around our camp, and iv very poisonous to the flesh. A number of the boys have been poisoned by it, and their flesh is badly swollen.

I have been pleased with seeing a good many new things there. There are quite a number of forts in view from our camp--whose frowning guns, peering through the embrasures, are ready to belch forth fire and death. The water is very poor in this vicinity.

November 5
All our labors at Camp Seward in policing and clearing off the rubbish has not afforded us much benefit, for we are again in a new camp. Receiving orders to march on Monday, we broke camp at two o'clock in the afternoon, and took up our line of march for this place, where we arrived about eight o'clock in the evening--the distance being ten miles.

Our march was not a very agreeable one, in consequence of the road being very dusty and the wind blew quite hard. This is an old camp ground, where regiment after regiment have been encamped, and where the Brigade of Gen. Sickles passed the previous winter. To-day we have been busily engaged in policing the ground preparatory to pitching tents. I think we have done our share of the marching, and are entitled to a little rest. We find better water in this camp. Not much sickness has prevailed as yet. The men in the 14th are all fit for duty, with the exception of some six or eight.

Desolation reigns supreme in this section. There is hardly a foot of land which had not been trampled upon by the soldiery. Dilapidated buildings and the absence of fences conduce to procure a dreariness in the scenery. This is the fourth camp we have been in.

November 6
This has been named Camp Vermont, and it is generally supposed that the five Vermont regiments now encamped here, and constituting the 3d Brigade, Casey's Division, will remain within the defenses of Washington. Our camp is situated two miles east of Alexandria, and half a mile from the Potomac. To-day our tents are all pitched, and the weather is very fine. I am becoming habituated to camp life, so that the soil of Virginia affords me as much pleasure to sleep upon a feather beds at home.

November 7
This is a very stormy day, and the snow had fallen to the depth of four inches. People at home who are enjoying the comforts of civil life, and who think that a soldier's life is an easy one, if they could but undergo the sufferings of a soldier in such a storm as this, would retract their views in regard to the enjoyment of the thing. A picket line has been established four miles from here in the direction of Mount Vernon, and the duty of picketing is performed by this brigade.

We have received orders to march to Alexandria and exchange our guns, after which we shall be sent out on picket. -- This is a very bad day to march, but the officials at Washington are not particularly desirous of regarding the comforts of the soldier, and hence such an order as this must be executed regardless of the weather.

November 8
The order to exchange our guns at Alexandria was complied with yesterday, during as severe a snow storm as I ever witnessed; and taking the state of the weather and condition of the roads into consideration -- the mud being four or five inches deep - it was the most unpleasant march we have had. We received in exchange for our old guns the Austrian musket, which will kill at both ends, and endangering alike both the persons in front and rear.

The dirty, filthy condition of the streets in Alexandria is not only discoverable in all Southern cities, but exhibits very plainly the blighting effects of Slavery. With deep regrets I passed the building where the noble and gallant Ellsworth fell. The Stars and Stripes now float unmolested over the building tower.

November 9
This is the Sabbath, and for the first time in Virginia was are permitted to attend church service, it being a very pleasant day. The church call is beaten, the regiment formed in line with guns and straps. It is then marched to the parade ground, and a hollow square is formed, with the chaplain, officers and band in the center, and after listening to a very eloquent discourse by our worthy chaplain, we are marched back to quarters. A dress parade at four o'clock in the afternoon, and our labors for another day are completed.

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