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Second Vermont Brigade


The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter XI.

"Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come!"

A not much greater change is observable in nature than in the soldiers. Faces are brighter; steps quicker; many, who complained two months ago, praise now, and say, "A soldier's life is not very hard, after all." Spring, with its fresh breezes, is always welcome, though one dwells in a palace; how much more so to we soldiers, that live, as it were, in the open air. It is so warm that the boys bathe themselves in the little stream near camp. Yesterday a few rebel cavalry made a dash on our picket line to the west of us. As soon as it is known, t is telegraphed to Fairfax Court House, and thence to us. But they were soon beaten off, and we were not ordered to march.

March 2.

Since we came here, there has been no drilling, on account of the snow and mud. To-day there was battalion drill. At night, after most are lain down, orders were sent through the camp for all to be ready to march. There is not much of a stir. All place their guns and equipments where they can get them quickly in the dark. Soon the soldiers are asleep, and never knew why the orders came, only that there were rumors of the enemy near us.

March 3.

Battalion drill.

March 4.

The whole day is spent in cleaning the camp. The streets are swept, brush picked and burned, sinks filled up and new ones dug, cook stands and tents examined by the surgeon, and censured or praised, according to their neatness; in short, there was a general "clean up," just as the ladies, after the winter has passed away and spring returned, have their houses scrubbed and white-washed from cellar to garret.

March 9.

Nothing has occurred till this morning to break the monotony of camp life. Frequently we have heard of the raids of guerrillas, always above or below us, but never in front, on some part of the picket line; and so frequently have we been ordered to be ready to march at a moment's notice, that most care no more for such orders than when they come for us to fall in for dress parade, which we have at half past four or five in the afternoon of each day. Indeed, last night I heard a soldier talking to some others in this way: "Dr. Kane shows us in his Polar Expedition that one's appetite changes as he goes from a warmer to a colder climate, and that he really hankers after more fat; just so now and then you see one whose thirst for rebel blood increases or decreases, as he goes North or South, near or farther from the enemy; and some of those hypocrites at home, all out of harm's way, are perfectly ravenous." "Good! For that militia bill that's just passed Congress," breaks in another. "I know some ten or fifteen miserable copperheads, and some that don't belong to the snaky tribe, who preach war up to the handle, that might as well be here as you and I. But, boys, nothing would suit me better, although I might run, than to get my eyes on to a live rebel, to see what kind of animal (accenting the last syllable)he is; but I don't believe we ever shall."

The brigade is situated as it was when we first came to this place; two regiments here, three at Fairfax Station, and the headquarters at Fairfax Court House, a little more than four miles in the rear of the nearest of our regiments, and guarded by nearly a hundred men. But there usually were a body of cavalry camped near them. This morning it was telegraphed to Col. Blunt that the rebels had made a raid on the village last night; carried off Gen. Stoughton, his aids, guard, and some fifty horses. In a moment the news runs through the regiments. Some believe it; others do not. But it is soon known to be a fact that they mad made a sudden dash and carried off the General, a few guards and a number of horses. The gang was led by Mosby, and came in to the west of our picket line. They enter the town slyly, not far from midnight, capturing the guards on their beats, one by one, not even disturbing the reserve. A few, easily overpowering the guard in front, go into the General's house and quickly rouse him from sleep, with no alternative left, but to dress, mount his horse, and ride rapidly as possible till out of the reach of pursuit. There were fifty of the rebels. All escaped with their booty, with no injury, as they got two hours the start of our cavalry. All day there is much talk about this little affair, how many prisoners, how many horses, how much property, and how much the start of us they had got. Col. Blunt assumes command of the brigade. We hear nothing more from the enemy till the 12th, when it is telegraphed that their cavalry were crossing the Rappahannock, in order that our pickets might keep a sharper look out.

March 13.

You see soldiers out as in January, gloves and overcoats on, carrying wood for fires in their tents:
"As yet the trembling years is unconfirm'd,
And winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets.
Deform the day delightless."
By the time we have cut out and burned the most of the timber on a number of acres near camp. One would hardly think that we pitched our tents in a thick forest. But such it was, on the top of a high bluff, sloping east and west, and running north and south down to the Occoquan. At night the enemy, emboldened by their first success, make another raid on Fairfax, of about the same number as before. But instead of catching a General, they lose seventeen horses and the same number of men, (such is rumor,) who are sent to Washington. The headquarters of the brigade are now at the Station.

March 15.

In the afternoon the long roll is beaten; the regiment called into line; arms are stacked, and we are told to be ready to start at a moment's notice. A few guerillas came down the other side of the river and fired at some of our cavalry; but this was all, and the last that was seen of them. The pickets were strengthened during the night. The camp guards have been allowed, through the cold weather, to go to their tents as soon as relieved; but lately one relief has been kept at the guard-house all the time, as rebel cavalry are prowling about more nights. These are not large bodies, varying from ten to two hundred. Many of them are citizens, clad in the uniform of Union soldiers, who know every hill, valley, by-path and hiding place from the Potomac to the Rappahannock. Says one, and so some think, when chagrined by some of their midnight exploits, that neither hastens the war to a close or protracts it: "I would like the conduct of the war long enough to set the torch to every house in Dixie. Ought the heads of these vile traitors to be sheltered for one night even, here almost in sight of the tomb of Washington, who spring like tigers at the throat of the freest and best nation on the face of the earth?" But another replies: "Revenge dictates in this way; but 'revenge, at first, though sweet, ere long back on itself recoils.' One of the most disgraceful acts recorded in history, is, that the king of France once burned every house in a district in Germany, and thereby sent half a million of women and children homeless and beggars into the world. Now, since this war could not be avoided, we ought to thank Heaven that so good a man as Mr. Lincoln is at the head of affairs. We call him too lenient; the rebels, too severe,-a sure sign that he is about right. When we call to get a meal of victuals at any of the citizens', they treat us well, and do not ask a high price for what they sell us. Whether the men are loyal or disloyal, or neutral, it will not do to turn the women and children houseless into the country."

March 17.

Yesterday it stormed, so we start for ht picket line this morning in four or five inches of snow; but about noon it beings to grow warmer, and before the next day the fields are bare. The river rises rapidly. Almost "palpable darkness" hugs the valley. Only two nights before, a cavalry post of five was captured three miles below us. This, and a few rumors, open the boys' ears. The sound of the rising stream, spreading over new lands, dashing against different stones and trees, changes of course every movement. As one's thoughts, when walking his beat, turn away to other scenes,-home and friends-and then return, the river is thundering in a strange jargon. Then the picket, ever present, ever watchful, stoops and strains his eyes to peer through the dark. "It may be a 'reb,'" is the first thought. One, just above me, taking deadly aim at a skulking bushwhacker, shoots his rifle at midnight; but shoots into the noisy, rushing waters. The report rolls up and down the wandering Occoquan, from post to post. The sleepy boys (not those watching now) lying around the fires on cedar or pine browse, covered, feet, head and body, with blankets, start up instantly, and in a low tone: "What's that?" "Is a gun fired?" "Hark! Hark!" says the picket on the beat: "only one yet." They, leaning on their elbows, listen awhile; and hearing no more reports of rifles, lie down again to their sleep, muttering" "some fool was frightened." As we were going back the next corning to camp the soldiers, for sport, ask Huckebone many questions about the "reb" he had killed.

On the 22d five cavalry come galloping into our camp bareheaded, and before it is fairly light. Some guerillas had attack the post just before morning, and captured a portion of it.

March 24.

Before daylight a few sick were started off for the hospitals in Washington, in the ambulances. Fifty were sent over the river, in pursuit of wagons covered with cloth, as some thought; but when they reach the spot, only white cows are to be seen. Crossing and recrossing was accomplished slowly, s they were paddled over in a newly made boat that leaded so that two men were needed to dip out the water. A few days ago ten privates and two sergeants were detailed to act as scouts. One of these, just before roll call, comes into camp, who has "got track of some rebs," he says. So in fifteen or twenty minutes, ninety men and officers-all volunteers-are starting down the river, guided by the Scout of the Occoquan, a romantic nickname that somebody had given to the tallest scout, and one whose fondness for roving was never surpassed by a wild Indian's. It is a warm night, but dark, and at times raining furiously.

March 25.

Early five companies are scouting over the country within four or five miles of camp. I, with others, go on picket. Just as we were starting, those who had gone out the night before came plodding in. I see one stick his head out at the door of his tent, smiling, as he looked at the long streaks of dirt on their healthy faces, where the rain had coursed freely down during he night, and say: "What did you get, boys?" "Git!" replies an old Irishman, half in anger, "don't ye see we git tired legs, hungry bellies and wet backs." The fourteenth regiment is now camped near us; the fifteenth and sixteenth are at Union Mills; the headquarters of the brigade are there also. We have a pleasant day on picket; a plenty to eat of soft break, fresh beef, sugar and coffee. The air is filled with the song of birds by day, and the ceaseless peeping of frogs by night. It is thought that rebel cavalry are within the lines; and hence we have orders to be very watchful, and send all to camp, who are wandering about the post, whether soldiers or citizens.

April 1.

For several days the camp has been unusually quiet; no rumors; no raids on any part of the picket line kept up by our brigade. Everybody has enjoyed to-day; warm, sunshiny; and almost all have been April-fools.
"Theirs was the glee of martial breast,
And laughter theirs at little jest."
During the afternoon it is noised about that we are going on a march in the morning. Many think that this is only a jest.

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