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Second Vermont BrigadeHistory
The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter I."From the gray sire, whose trembling handThe last day of September, 1862, the Thirteenth Vermont Regiment went into camp at Brattleboro'. The frost had come and turned the green leaves to a golden yellow, just so as to remind one that autumn was near by. The great battle of Antietam had just been fought, and high were the hopes of the people,-even that McClellan would force Lee rapidly back and capture Richmond. His army is so far North it must be annihilated, and hence the rebel capital captured.
Could hardly buckle on his brand,
To the raw boy whose shaft and bow
Were yet scarce terror to the crow,
* * * *
Each valley, each sequestered glen,
Mustered its little horde of men,
That met as torrents from the height
In Highland dales their streams unite,
Still gathering, as they pour along
A voice more loud, a tide more strong,
Till at the rendezvous they stood
By hundreds, prompt for blows and blood."
--- Walter Scott
Some in their enthusiasm fancied that we should never be ordered from the State. On the same day we received two blankets each, one made of hair, the throw around us when sleeping; the other of oil-cloth, to protect us from the storm. At six o'clock we ate. Our meal was made of wheat bread, cold beef and coffee. The first night our company had three candles, which, by cutting them into two or three pieces, lighted the barracks very well. The barracks are seventy-four by twenty-two feet, occupied by a hundred men. At half-past eight the roll is called; at nine the order is given-"No talking." This is not heeded. As soon as the officer retires, some show their skill by cackling like the rooster; others imitate feline, canine and taurine animals all at once. Bunks have been prepared to sleep on. These, made of planed boards, six and a half by four and a half feet, hold two soldiers each, and are two stories high. A little straw is brought to put in them; but it was our fortune to get none. So we made many turns during the night-first on one side, then on the other-"sweet sleep" not deigning to visit us.
The morning came foggy, drizzly. The boys spend the most of the day in making their barracks more comfortable-nailing narrow pieces of boards on the cracks. We succeeded in getting a little more straw; also a stove, just before night, by carrying it a mile on a wheel-barrow, through the mud and rain. The boys give three cheers for the stove, and the same number for those that got it. We are soon sitting around a good fire-some talking, some laughing, some smoking, others singing; all in good spirits. Our meals are made of wheat bread, cold beef, potatoes and coffee. Eight are detailed as guards, who are stationed around camp, and allow no soldier to get out unless he has a pass signed by his captain or colonel.
Rainy and foggy. No drilling through the day; but just before evening the clouds break away, and we had our first dress parade. It has been arranged that the companies may draw the raw materials and do their own cooking. Three cooks are appointed in each company, and they store away the fresh beef, bread, sugar, rice and beans in a shanty of rough boards. Four or five camp kettles have been furnished us for boiling coffee, meat, etc., and each soldier with a tin plate, cup, canteen, knife and fork. These form the soldier's culinary implements. After dark, I was attracted to the bright fires blazing by the side of each of the barracks. A ditch five or six feet long, two wide, one deep, is dug in the ground; wood thrown in; fires started, and the kettles steaming over them. The cooks are making their first attempts at cooking, who were as ignorant of the art as we of the military; neither knowing anything of either. The former, do doubt, has seen him mother boil beef and beans; we, in our childhood, had witnesses a June training.
Morning rainy. About nine o'clock the sun shines out. We drill awhile, and then draw out guns-the Springfield rifles, and gun equipments. In the afternoon, battalion drill. As fate would have it, my company, owing to some tardiness in the morning, is sent to clear the old camp ground of the Tenth and Eleventh Regiments. A meaner task was never imposed on Hercules. Filth! Filth! Rubbish of every description, and a mimic forest of pine to remove. Now you see a half dozen soldiers around one tree, lifting this way, that way-but it clings with great tenacity to the sandy earth. "By ----, I didn't enlist to clear land for Uncle Sam," says one; they give it up; chop it down-drag it off; now the same number filling a sink-sweet work, I tell you; one is leveling the land with the spade; four or five are carrying off old boards; away on the plain the regiment is drilling for the first time with their bright rifles. In this way we toiled - some sweating, swearing, fuming, none in the best of humor - till near dark, when we returned; ate a meal of beans in the open air, and then turned into the barracks for the night - thinking that the sons of Mars had been insulted, to be set at such work. The next day was beautiful as the former ones had been stormy; and lovely as an autumn day can be. Company and battalion drill, dress parade, sweeping the barracks and the grounds about them with brush brooms made of pine, filled the slow passing hours.
First Sabbath in camp. But how unlike a New England Sabbath! No church bell do we hear; but "sonorous metal blowing martial sounds;" no neatly dressed people, winding their way to the chapel; but yonder weary sentinels, with the night's dew still glittering like pearls on the bright bayonets, are pacing to and fro: "Halt, halt," one cries; a soldier approaches, shows his pass, and out he goes. Here the cooks are cutting off beef, or dealing out beans to the boys as they come along by twos, and coffee, never colored by milk; anon the drum beats, and the sergeants start off with their men for guard-mounting. By ten o'clock comes "Sunday morning" inspection, hated by all the boys. This one throws down his pen; that one, his daily, or a testament that a pious sister gave him ere he started from home; a third has been dozing in his bunk; a fourth takes a long, hesitating suck as his fragrant pipe and carefully places it in one of his many pockets; but all hurriedly throw on their equipments, and with guns form the line, to be looked over by officers, for the most part, as ignorant as themselves on the etiquette of Mars. Straightway come religious services. All must attend.
The regiment forms a square; and to the soldiers, in various positions, standing, sitting, lying down, the chaplain expiates on the temptations of those that go to the war. Now come a few hours rest, and then evening, the shadows lengthening eastward. On the thinly grassed plain in front of the barracks are many soldiers, strolling arm in arm. See them, different in mind as in form or feature. One, sad, shows me a letter, scarcely dry from the tears of his wife at home; another, a fiery nature, tells over the Kansas forays; the Nebraska iniquity; the wrongs inflicted on Northern men; the firing on Fort Sumpter; the great uprising in the North. "The Federal government is saved. Slavery is destroyed. McClellan will had annihilated Lee's army before we reach the field. The war will have been closed ere the sun shall make another circuit," he says. A few hours more, a third comes along, and laughing, "Haven an apple, Sergeant," and tells how he ran the guard, and "hooked the old man's fruit down by the river." Still a fourth, a sly one, has overheard the countersign, and so he gets out; but at nine the countersign is changed to catch the rogues; and, "poor Jim, you are shut out, and the heavy dew on your coat and cap, the next morning, tells that you were poorly housed late night;" and away on the right (of the regiment) is a prayer meeting. Thus the day and evening went. The next was a busy, noisy day. Fifty men are detailed to work on the barracks, for a new regiment that came in after dark, amid cheers and martial music. There's the usual drilling fore and afternoon; and wheat bread, cold beef and coffee - with now and then a change to rice or beans; and occasionally an old farmer makes us a visit with his milk cart, who always goes back with empty cans. Cadets - no doubt adepts - drilled the officers, and they, in turn, the next hour, disposed of their newly gained knowledge to the privates. The next two days are similar as to weather; or what we did, or ate; save on the first day we escorted one regiment out - and on the second, one into camp. The sun rises bright on the frostbitten forests, and the fields white with dewdrops. Butera Aurora scatters her pearls, the drums have broken the silence, and the sergeants are shouting to the top of their voices "Fall in! fall in, company." There is a stirring among the boys. The roll over; rub their sleepy eyes; start up; put on their coats and boots - those that do not sleep with them on; stumble out of the barracks into line, and answer to their names. The day has commenced. The drum beats for sweeping the ground and barracks; for breakfast; for the sergeant to take the sick to the surgeon; for guard-mounting; for company drill; for dinner; for battalion drill; for dress parade, the evening meal, the roll-call at night; and tattoo, at half past eight, blows out the lights. The boys, rolled in their blankets, are lying in their straw bunks, and the day is ended. In the afternoon of the next day, we are inspected by the governor and adjutant general, with knapsacks, haversacks and all on, for the first time. Around we go, each carrying from thirty to fifty pounds - swaying this way and that way, especially as we wheel. One jogs his neighbor, and he his, the momentum increasing as the jogging passes along, till the left of the companies is quite broken. The knapsack don't hang quite easy. It is the first time. Now you see one of the weaker ones - his head half down to his knees - raising it higher on his shoulders; half are getting them in new positions. An old soldier that moves with such steadiness, though he has been through the same process, would smile and mutter "You'll lighten those knapsacks before you march far." But is it strange? The farmer is made lame the first day he mows. Can the scholar or merchant use the sickle or swing the scythe? Are they poor soldiers? I saw them mine months later moving steadier on Cemetery Hill amid a storm black with bursting shells to a place abandoned by an old regiment; I saw them a few hours later, when our thinned and shattered ranks were giving way, charge down the plain a hundred rods in front, and capture eight cannon from the foe; I saw them on the third of July, long ere the sun had risen, roused from sleeping on their guns, by hostile cannon, in the front line of battle, till nine o'clock at night, withstanding the furious onslaughts of the enemy, till they were rolled in frightful heaps, and not a man breathed in their front, that dared to flaunt a rebel flag in their faces, and now he, who looks upon the tattered banner they bore on that victorious day, may read "Gettysburg" inscribed for their signal bravery.
"Never was horde of tyrants met
With bloodier welcome - never yet
To patriot vengeance hath the sword
More terrible libations poured."
On the 10th we were mustered into the U.S. service, and save a few pugnacious sons of Erin, who are easily "persuaded" when they find themselves surrounded by a dozen huge, armed men from another company, all take the oath of allegiance cheerfully and enthusiastically.
The next morning, dark and cloudy. There is tumult all over camp. Soldiers are hurrying to and fro with more than common anxiety in their faces. Squads are here and there talking. You go into the barracks; the knapsacks are all packed; the haversacks filled with two days' rations - wheat bread and boiled beef. Citizens, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, who have come a long way, are there too. They have sober faces. They speak with trembling lips. They shed tears. They shake hands, and say "God be with you!" We are off to the South.