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14th Vermont Infantry

Life In Camp (J. C. Williams)

Chapter IV

Peculiarity in Military Operations. -- Marching Orders. -- They are countermanded. -- Picket Duty at Centerville. -- A Description of Stockading. -- Rumors. -- Christmas. -- Expectations of an Attack. -- -Visit to the Chantilly, Battle Field. Operations of the Rebel Gen. Stuart. -- A Skirmish.

December 19
It is a little singular that we have remained in one camp so long, but we are not so apt to move in pleasant weather, and it is remarkably fine at present. Consequently we are well aware when marching orders are received that there will be a storm of some kind. The reason for this peculiarity in official proceedings I will leave to the wisdom of others to decide. We are at present in a very healthy location for a camp. We find good water here, which is a great blessing.

December 20
There are signs of a storm to-day, and marching orders have been received to be ready to march at a moment's warning.

Two o'clock in the afternoon. The orders to march are countermanded. We have just received full particulars of the bloody engagement at Fredericksburg by the army under Burnside. I hope it is not so bad as it is represented. Somebody is greatly responsible for the sacrifice of so many lives. I hope that the man will soon arise who is capable of leading our armies on to victory.

December 21
Reveille at six in the morning. We are comfortably situated at present, having plenty of "hard tack" and coffee. There is great rejoicing in camp at reports contradicting the one that McClellan had been appointed to the command of the army. I hope the Government has got through with appointing commanders, and sacrificing the lives of our brave men to test their ability.

December 22
It has been very rainy this week, in consequence of which it is very muddy. Our brigade is doing picket duty at Centreville, seven miles distant. Our tents are nearly all stockaded, and well prepared for winter, but we may not enjoy our comforts a great while. A description of the mode of stockading would perhaps be interesting. The logs are cut of lengths depending upon the size of the ten to be stockaded, and are built after the fashion of log houses, the interstices being filled with mud or clay, for which the soil of Virginia is well adapted. The tent is then raised above this and fastened, so that the whole makes very comfortable quarters. There are so many different ways of warming the tents by means other like this, and ravage the most beautiful country on earth.

(December 25)
This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity.

December 26
A supply of ammunition has been sent to the regiment this morning. An attack is apprehended, and the men have all been ordered into the forts.

December 27
The Corps commanded by Gen. Slocum is encamped at present at Fairfax Station, three miles from here, and forms a reserve for Burnside. Firing is heard to-day, in the direction of Union Mills, supposed to be an engagement with the enemy. There is a rumor that the rebel Gen. Stuart is in this vicinity, and intends a raid here. The weather is quite comfortable. I have paid a visit to the old Chantilly battle field, two miles from here, and in which engagement the noble Kearney and the gallant Stevens fell. In passing over the field, what horrible scenes were presented to my view; I pray to God that I may never witness the like again. Human bones lay in every direction, half covered bodies met my gaze, showing that no pains had been taken in their burial, and revealing the horrors of a battle field, stamping indelibly upon my mind impressions that time can never eradicate. Since noting this, I learn a squad of men have been detailed from the 12th, to cover up the remains of those brave men whose bones were left to bleach on the ground.

December 28
the weather is somewhat cooler to-day. The regiment has just returned from picket duty, having been gone since the 24th, and while there they expected to have an engagement with Stuart's cavalry, which was said to be in that vicinity. The enemy did not, however, make his appearance in that quarter. To day it has been discovered that the noted rebel chief Gen. Stuart is within our lines, with a large force of cavalry, intending to make a dash into this place. Our cavalry pickets, stationed at Wolf Run shoals, ten miles south from here, have been driven in to Fairfax station, and report that the enemy's cavalry have made their appearance in that quarter, and are pushing on towards this place. Accordingly preparations are being made to give them a warm reception.

December 29
I note the history of our operations of yesterday and the past night: At five o'clock in the afternoon we were ordered to be ready to march at a moment's notice, supplied with three Days' rations. About seven in the evening, we were ordered forward at double-quick. We expected to march to the Station, but went in another direction towards Alexandria, and halted about half a mile beyond the Court House. The 16th was sent to the Station.

Our force consisted of four thousand infantry, a battery of artillery, and a squad of cavalry. The battery was drawn up in line behind breastworks, supported by the 13th and part of the 12th, and the remainder of the 12th and the 14th were sent out by companies to watch the various roads, videttes being sent out ahead in every direction.

We had been in these positions but a short time, when the enemy's cavalry made their appearance, driving in the pickets, and coming unexpectedly upon two companies of the 12th, upon whom they charged. The two companies fired a volley at them, killing two horses, and capturing another horse and two prisoners. None of our boys were hurt. The squad that charged fell back to where the larger force was stations in the woods, and built fires. Gen. Stoughton sent a flag of truce there, stating the he would like an interview with Gen. Stuart, who replied that he would correspond in the morning. Gen. Stoughton, desiring an immediate interview, ordered a few shells to be thrown among the, which made them "skedaddle, " and they were not seen or heard of again during the night.

To-day we hear that the same force of cavalry is at Drainsville. Gen. Stuart was in command himself. His intention was doubtless to surprise us, but he found the Vermont boys awake. Gen. Stoughton had so disposed us that we should have cut the enemy to pieces if he had come up. Stuart has found out what we have got here, and that the Vermonters are ready for him. The boys of the 14th are all in good spirits, and ready for any emergency.

December 31
All has been quiet in camp since Stuart's contemplated raid. The force sent in pursuit of him has returned without accomplishing its object.

On the whole, I think it was an ingenious performance of Stuart. Great skill was displayed in entering our lines and passing out again, without being captured. The Generals in this department have been fairly outgeneraled. The health of the regiment is improving, and the weather fine.

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