Life In Camp (J. C. Williams)
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Orders to go into Winter Quarters. -- The Right Wing of the Regiment on Picket. -- The Regiment to work on Forts. -- The Regiment on Picket. -- An Incident or two. -- Marching Orders. -- In Camp near Occoquan Creek, Virginia. -- In Line of Battle. -- Picket Duty
We have received orders to go into winter quarters here, for which purpose log houses are to be constructed of suitable dimensions.
The firing of cannon at the Navy Yard tells us that some new guns are being tried to-day. The right wing of our regiment went on picket yesterday. At the time of noting this the weather is very fine.
Orders issued this morning specify that each company is to have separate barracks of its own, which are to be one hundred feet in length and twenty feet in width. The men are busily engaged in constructing them. It is as warm here to-day as any time in the month of June in Vermont.
Much has been said by slave holders and pro-slavery men of the North, about the negro being stamped with the marks of physical and intellectual inferiority: but what little I have seen of them here disproves the statement. I find them possessed with intelligence far beyond my expectations.
This is a vast city of camps. As far as the eye can reach I behold the warlike scenery. The labor which is being expended in constructing barracks may not afford us much benefit, for the fortunes of war are so changeable that marching orders may be received at any time.
Nothing has transpired to disturb the monotony of our camp for the past three days. Our services are being required by the Government in the constructions of three new forts, which are being erected in sight of our camp. The left wing of this regiment has been out on picket duty. The weather is still fine, and the health of the regiment good.
The scenery from our camp ground is on the most magnificent scale. In the distance may been seen the Capitol, whose majestic and towering columns rise far above the surrounding city, and which contributes largely in making Washington attractive. It stands there in solemn grandeur, not in attestation of royalty, but as the representation of a Republic, whose career to prosperity is unprecedented, and had it not been for the accursed institution of slavery, we should now be a happy nation. This fratricidal strife is but the consummation of the policy of the oligarchy to make the nation subservient to its interests. Again may be seen the long line of forts, with which the Capitol is guarded, and over whose walls the stars and stripes are floating triumphantly to the breeze.
Our camp remains in its usual state of quietude. I cannot say we complain of a lack of work, for, to say nothing about our drilling, we have plenty of fatigue duty to perform. A part of the men are detailed to work on the forts, another part to work on the barracks in camp, and the remainder are put upon drill six hours each day. The weather is still fine and we have no reason to complain of our food.
We are now in the reserve corps for the defense of Washington, and will probably remain here through the winter. One month of our time has passed away, and we have not seen the enemy yet, but nevertheless we have not forgotten our duty as soldiers and actually engaged in war. Our drilling is very rapidly perfected, and if we have a chance to meet the foe the 14th regiment will manfully sustain the good name which Vermont troops have so nobly earned. This is a stormy day and we have received orders to go out on picket.
Our regiment returned from picket duty yesterday, after being relieved by the 15th Vermont. We did not have a very agreeable time of it, in consequence of the heavy rain which continued the whole time we were gone. The picket line is about four miles from our camp. There are cavalry pickets four miles beyond this line.
Our regiment guarded the extreme left of the line, which extends down to the river. We were exposed all the time to the drenching storm, without any shelter other than bough tents, through which the rain would pour about as badly as it did in the open field. It was not a very comfortable time for us, being exposed for three days to the rain and mud. We arrived in camp all right, however, save an accident which happened to one of Company C by a comrade in arms, whose gun was accidentally discharged, the contents entering the shoulder in front and coming out at the back.
An incident or two which happened while out, is worthy of note here. Companies B and G, and part of Company K, were ordered to the extreme left of the line, under the command of Lieut. Blakely of Company B., We had not been there a great while before the report of two guns were heard, the signal of the approach of the enemy. Lieut. Blakely ordered us to form in line immediately, and prepare to give the enemy a warm reception, in case he did indeed appear. But it proved to be some hunters who had carelessly discharged their pieces near the lines. I think Elias Baker, of company B, will make the best shot of any man in the regiment. A wild duck came flying along and alighted in the stream near by where the reserve was stationed. Two of the boys fired their pieces at it, scaring it up without hurting it. But Baker, carrying his "Manhattan" revolver from his pocket, shot the duck through the breast while at a considerable height in the air.
A member of Company H died this morning. I learn it is intended to send him home. His name is Nash.
The weather is again extremely fine. I have not received any material damage from going out on picket. The building of the barracks is progressing finely. We hear that the army of the Potomac is being reorganized under its new commander, Burnside, and we are waiting anxiously to hear of some brilliant achievement by that army. Our regiment may become involved in a fight, in connection with the present movements. The whereabouts of the rebel army is unknown to us. He may make his appearance in a quarter least expected. But I think that Washington is secure from all danger -- it is defended by a Reserve Corps of a hundred thousand true and loyal men.
Fifteen hundred men are detailed from this brigade daily, to work on the forts. Have paid a visit to Fort Lyons, which is said to be the largest in the defenses of Washington, and is garrisoned by five hundred men. This possesses the ability of keeping fifty thousand men at bay.
There are signs of a hard rain to-day. Another week more, and our barracks will be completed.
Six o'clock in the evening. We have received marching orders, and the result of our labors will be left for the benefit of others.
Eight o'clock in the evening. Orders are received to be ready to march at a moment's notice.
Ten o'clock in the evening. At nine o'clock the regiment was ordered to falling, and but a few moments elapsed before we were in line, each man in light marching order, and supplied with one Day's rations. It is very dark and rains slightly, and hope we are not to march very far to-night.
Col. Nichols, after thanking us for our promptness, ordered us forward. We halted awhile at Col. Blunt's quarters, and then forming into line with the 13th and 15th, took up our march to some place unknown to any one in the ranks.
In camp near Occoquan Creek, Va. I here give a history of our march in detail, to this place: -- After leaving Camp Vermont on the night of the 24th, we marched until four o'clock the next morning, when the column halted, and was ordered to stack arms and rest. It being very dark and muddy, our march was very slow. Fires were build to dry our clothes, and we lay down to rest, making ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would allow. When daylight came, we found we were within six miles of Fairfax Court House, and at eight o'clock we resumed our march, our place of destination still being a mystery to us. We halted again one mile the other side of the Court House, to take dinner, after which we again took up our line of march. At Fairfax Station we again halted and pitched our tents -- such as we carry when on the march. We rested well that night, being fatigued with our marching. At about ten o'clock this morning, we resumed our march, each man being again supplied with one Days' rations of hard bread. -- We marched until about noon, when the regiments separated, the 13th and 15th going off in the direction of Bull Run, and the 14th being ordered to its present camp.
The weather is very pleasant to-day, which had made our marching easier than yesterday.
False alarms are very frequent to soldiers stationed near the enemy. Last night, the first of our arrival, the 14th was formed in line of battle about midnight, firing being heard near by, which signalized the approach of the enemy. The regiment was formed in line with great alacrity. Our officers praised us highly. The firing proved not to proceed from the enemy however. We have part of a battery of artillery with us, and also a squad of cavalry, which go out scouting every day.
The 1st Massachusetts and 26th Pennsylvania are encamped near by us. We are encamped on the road over which Sickles' division passed a week ago. He had passed on to Fredericksburg. We are in sight of Bull Run field, where that ever memorable battle took place. The object for which we came here is unknown to me. November 29. Two companies, B and G, went out on picket last night, and have been relieved to-day by two other companies of this regiment. The weather is mild and comfortable.
We are put upon drill every day, so as to perfect ourselves as far as possible in the art of war. The 14th will never be found wanting.
We are expecting every day that the enemy will make a dash in this quarter, inasmuch as this is the front, but the boys of the 14th will not be found asleep.