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Second Vermont Brigade


The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter X.

The picket line of the twelfth and thirteenth regiments has been extended up the river about five miles. Some of the fords are two miles apart; others in sight of each other. At some of the principal ones several cavalry are also posted, to report quickly to the headquarters, in case of a sudden attack, whilst the infantry are to prevent any crossing, if possible, but if not, then to retreat towards camp, firing. A little affair occurred on the night of the seventh, that caused some laughter among the boys. A cavalry man is standing on his beat, when he imagines (so say his comrades, and that he had given false alarms before, which is really a grave offence,) that he sees a rebel. Now he fires his pistol four times, and thinks his enemy returning the shots. The horse is scared, turns, and gallops towards the reserve, throwing off the most frightened rider. Instantly the pickets are out, for they lie down with equipments on, and the guns by their sides, running for the rifle pits. As they meet him, no cap on: "What's the matter? Are your shot?" quickly asks Capt. Blake. "No, no-they've shot my horse under me. For God's sake don't let 'em across." By this time all are convinced that the coward is more alarmed than hurt; but the posts above and below have heard the reports, and pass the signal up and down the winding river, by discharging their rifles. Soon all is quiet; the soldiers in their bough-houses, save those on the beats possibly peering more sharply through the darkness.

For the next four days there is hardly a ripple in camp life, (then only small jogs). Indeed a soldier's life may be likened to a stream, to-day, calm and placid as the blue heavens; to-morrow, swollen beyond its banks, all the vale a surging sea, sweeping on with terrible fury, and after many fair and sunny days it returns to its old channel. You see a thousand faces together, none looking just alike, yet so near, it might even tax the painter's genius to point out each difference. So are many quiet days in camp, one very like the other.

Feb. 12.

A hundred men are sent across the river, with spades and picks, to demolish a rebel fort, that covers the shoals, situated on a higher point than any on this side. To-day our line has been extended farther west; and just before evening more are called for as pickets. Hurriedly they start off, but do not reach their post till it is so dark that they can hardly see any thing. For two miles they pick their way through the forests and thick underwood that stand on the rough bluffs of Bull Run.

Feb. 13.

Now every street in camp is corduroy, that is, between the rows of tents, and a long one running in front of the officer's quarters, up by the hospital, commissary's and sutler's. To the 26th, no change; nothing but picketing, dress parade, guarding, target shooting, getting rations, cooking, and the thousand and one little things for amusement. There is a little snow on the ground; but the middle of the day is warm, and frequently one-half the regiment is arrayed against the other, throwing snow balls, as they were wont in their school-boy days; and, when one side gives away, then comes the rush, the boisterous laughter, and the shout of victory, quite as loud as if it were no mimic fray. Many while away the evening hours before tattoo, writing letters, reading newspapers and chatting; some playing cards or checkers, now for fun, and now betting the apples or rasins, and when the game is over, the loser starts for the sutler, and soon returns with them; some whittling rings and pipes out of the laurel root, beautifully engraving on them the American eagle, the stripes and stars, and patriotic inscriptions like this: "Union and liberty, now and forever."

The health of the brigade is fine. We get soft bread three days out of five, and fresh beef in the same proportion; a daily mail; wood and water easily; and as the nights grow shorter and warmer, all, unless it happens to storm, had as lief go on picket as remain in camp. The 26th and 27th are warm and pleasant days, like those the last of March in New England. You meet one, and the first remark, after saluting, is, "'tis a beautiful day"; "a lovely spring-like morning;" "spring is coming," and such like expressions.

No small change is observable in the papers that came about two months ago, and those that have arrived lately. The editorials of the former were full of despondency; of the latter, hope and courage. We give a few extracts:
"As when in a great storm, the elements furiously warring, and the angry bolts seem to have wasted their strength, and roll muttering off, as if to gather new force, there is a sort of a pause, a lull, though deep, black clouds hang over head and all around, so now in our national affairs, after the three great and terrific battles. Three times we struck at the enemy,-at Fredericksburg, Murfreesboro and Vicksburg,-and twice the blows were parried, and heavier ones dealt on ourselves; and this moment the nation is staggering. Or, the least that can be said, these defeats operate on the people as it does on one, when he has taxed all his powers, mental or physical, or both, toiling, day and night, month after month, cheered on by the hope of success, and then finally fails, utterly fails."
"It is of no use to conceal the truth. The fall campaigns have been most disastrous to us. .after the battle of Antietam,-the rebels retreating, and our own recruits were pouring is no fast,-all were looking for the capture of Richmond. But for this, it is a defeat, a great slaughter, on the Rappahannock, a repulse at Vicksburg, and a drawn battle at Murfreesboro'."
"Gloom, impenetrable gloom, hangs over the land."
"This revolution seems to be an exception to most others. No man has yet risen I the field, or the councils of the nation, equal to the crisis."
But gradually the people have risen above those defeats, and the papers speak in a different tone:
"If one were to judge to-day, by the appearance of nature only, by the cold winds, by the fields again white with snow, he would think it in the middle of winter; but if he walked out yesterday morning, and saw how the tender grass was shooting up fresh and green; how the buds of the trees were beginning to swell; how the solar rays did not fall so obliquely as last December; and how the newly returned birds were making the air vocal with their song, he would have exclaimed "Summer is at hand." So might one, in times of our defeats,-if he looked only at that defeat, as many do judge in this way,-say: "The rebellion will succeed"; but when we consider how much territory, how many cities and strong holds we have captured from the enemy, there can be no doubt as to the result of this war."
"The present Congress is showing itself equal to the tasks before it; and what is better, the people give unquestionable signs that they had rather sweat blood and gold much longer than see the unity of the Republic destroyed."
"There is a fly in some parts of Africa, that is wont to sting the natives on the leg. It leaves a little egg, and from this grows a snake, dark, poisonous, some two feeling. If it is extracted, and no part of it left, to poison the system, the afflicted man recovers. Like this has slavery grown up in America. At the formation of our government it was but a little egg I the giant leg of liberty. But from it has sprung the monstrous serpent of slavery. The enemies of our country-more unwise than the simple African-oppose extraction, and go in for amputation. Now this war will produce a complete extraction; the wound will finally heal; and we shall have a strong central government, around which will revolve these many states, as the planets around the sun; and the whole continent dedicated anew to Liberty and to God."
"This is but a continuation, on this continent, of the great struggle that has been going on in Europe for ages, between slavery and liberty. Who, after such examples as the German Puritans set, in opposing the Papal despot, can think of abandoning the sacred trust committed to us?"
"Who can estimate the importance of closing a war successfully, especially, if as here, it is between two civilizations? The effects of Alexander's campaigns, which took place more than two thousand years ago, are still visible in Asia. Whichever side finally triumphs in America, it is clear, that its civilization will inevitably spread over the rest of the continent. Since this is so, if we could afford to submit to the destruction of the Federal Government; to give up the Mississippi into the hands of a foreign power; to exchange the sea coast for a zigzag boundary line; and much more; certain it is that we never can, never shall suffer a slave oligarchy to dominate over the American continent."

If there is anything more important than that American soldiers should be fed well, clothed well, and paid well, (as they are,) it is, that they should know to a certainty, as long as there is a single dollar or man that is able to bear arms, left in the North, that the war shall never be abandoned till every armed foe of the Republic is subdued. If any one wishes to make his friend uneasy in the army, he had better send him those papers which are continually finding fault with the administration, and with the conduct of the war in the field, and predicting defeat to our armies and ruin to our nation.

"They fly!" "They fly!" "Who fly?" "The French." "I die in peace," breathes the expiring Wolfe. Next to the Christian's hope, that which is most consoling to a soldier, if he must fall, is to know that his life is not to be given in vain. But I must close my writing now; for the adjutant has just hurried down the line of officers' tents; sticks his head in and says, "Be ready to march at a moment's notice; two day's rations.

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