Second Vermont Brigade
The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter XIII.May 4, Noon.
"The A tents, and every thing that we cannot easily carry on our backs, are to be loaded on to the wagons and sent at once to Alexandria," is the first thing we heard as we came in fro the picket line. All in great haste are packing their overcoats, drawers, shirts (for hereafter each will have but two), and such as have two blankets, one of these, into boxes, to be carried to the rear. "This looks a little as though we were stripping for a fight," said a soldier, as he came into my tent, and found me in doubt whether to send one, or both, or neither of my blankets. "Should rather have none than carry two these how days," he continued, "and we shall be off before night." Those unable to march and fight are carried to some general hospital.
Early the heavy baggage is sent back. Our regiment still retains the A tents; the others have the shelter tents. We have heard some firing most of the day; are still under marching orders. As the P.M. comes in with papers, the soldiers fairly run to get them. One will read aloud in the open air, whilst fifteen or twenty are listening. In them are such headings as this: "Glorious News! Glorious news! Hooker is driving the enemy at all points!"
Last night is rained, and is now much cooler. "Hooker has gained a great victory;" "thousands of prisoners are arriving at Washington;" "we shall be on the Rappahannock soon." These rumors are flying through camp. Still under marching orders; and still expecting, and ready and willing, each hour to go the next. The next two days are quite cold, dark and stormy.
All are delighted to see the sun again, as they have parted with so much of their clothing. The most are convinced that the army of the Potomac has retreated to the north side of the river. Many are the opinions expressed as to how much injury each has received; some inclining one way, and some the other. About this time, Capt. Munson, of our regiment, is promoted Lieutenant Colonel, in place of A. C. Brown, resigned; and Capt. Boynton promoted Major, in place of L. D. Clark, resigned.
Pleasant days, and all quiet till this morning. At nine o'clock the orderly, who was carrying dispatches and the mail to headquarters, came galloping his horse into camp. "The 'rebs' have got the teams," he quickly cries; and "the 'rebs' have got the teams'" quickly flies to every tent. There is a space of some two miles that is unfordable, between the two regiments, during the high waters of spring; and supposed to be so now, and hence not picketed. Here a little band of eight rebel cavalry cross, each armed with two pistols, and lie in ambush in thick trees, near where our teams almost daily go to the station,-out three miles from camp. As the three teams-twelve mules and four horses, -and with the drivers happened to be two sergeants, all unarmed-were just emerging from the dark forest, the enemy pounced upon them, cocking their pistols, and ejaculating: "Halt! Halt! There, you d-d Yankees." Resistance is sure death, producing no good; for the rebels would have got the horses, which they were after. Soon all are mounted and steering for the rive. Meanwhile we have heard of the affair, and start, now on quick, now double quick time, one company directly for the ford, and three others, down the road, and then on the tracks of the flying guerrillas. But alas! We come to the stream, tired, panting like blood-hounds, a little too late, just as the pursued have crossed.
May 15, 16.
Both days companies have been scouting over the river; and the result is, we have more horses than we had before our teams were captured. Our soldiers, who had been captured on the 14th, came in. They had been paroled, when a little south of the Bull Run battle field; but not according to the cartel. The last part of May is made up of pleasant days, one like the other; but not more so than the duties of one days are like those of the other. There is more sickness than usual in the brigade. My company lost two soldiers, -Cyren Thayer and Charles Billings.
Since here, we have drawn all the soft bread that we can eat. But it is now getting so warm that it soon dries. So I each tent you see a cellar a foot and a half square, and as deep, and in it, moist bread and a canteen of cool water. Through April, cattle were driven up from Fairfax Station, from which are brought all of our rations, a distance of about eight miles, and butchered near camp, giving us what fresh beef we wanted. But during May, only a few have been slaughtered each week, owing to the hot weather. Many buy milk, and some eggs, of the citizens, and nearly all get what fresh fish they want. The most purchase them, or exchange some of their rations; but I have known of old fishermen, when on picket, sitting nearly all night on the rocks, hooking out eels and hornpouts. Since the ground has become dry, many are the amusements. After the drilling is over, towards evening, the wide, level space, in front of the camp, is crowded with soldiers. Many are playing ball. The most expert chooses up, and one is to keep tally; now they strip off coats, and sweating and eager as to the result, push on the lively game. Some are pitching quoits, all boisterous, joyous as school boys at home. It is now dark, and one street is lighted, not with golden chandeliers, but candles stuck in bayonets, and these hanging in mimic shade trees. One is playing on the fiddle, another on the banjo, for the many to "chase the glowing hour with flying feet."
On pickets. The night is really splendid. The blue bay of Occoquan, many feet below us, gives back the shining moon and stars, the air not uncomfortable hot, and just wind enough to stir the luxuriant foliage of oaks near our post. Then there is the noise of the river to the right of us, (here it empties itself into the bay,) dashing against huge rocks; of the whippoorwill, singing its own name, by turns, all night, and often imitated by the soldiers; and of yelping curs, and now and then, loud baying, barking blood-hounds, disturbed in their kennels.
May closes on Sunday. The review is just before evening, it being so hot.
There are many rumors of Lee's movements and of Mosby's raids. The latter had attacked and burned some of our cars, four miles south of Union Mills, but a few days ago, loaded with forage for the army of the Potomac. But Gen. Stahl's cavalry pursued, captured their artillery and a number of prisoners. We get daily papers from Washington, and many are the hopes and fears expressed after reading them, for Gen. Grant, in the rear of Vicksburg; and various are the opinions, now that he will get the stronghold, and now that he will finally be repulsed, as Sherman was the fall before. A soldier said to me, who carefully watches every move: "For a long while my friend was sick with the fever - and for awhile I anxiously watched over him, at one time seeming better and then worse; and when he went to the hospital, twice a day I used to call and see him, and as the disease was culminating, and I looked on his pale face and glassy, wandering eyes, I trembled and fairly held my breath, lest he should die any moment; but when I saw that he was gaining a little, my heart leaped with indescribable joy. So," said the noble soldier, "I've been watching over the brave boys in the rear of Vicksburg, and can hardly wait for my daily paper to come in. O God, give them victory."
The first days of June are hot, and camp life inactive. I have Paradise Lost with me, and have read, and re-read it. Not unpleasantly I have been passing a few day sin perusing Tom Moore's works, which a soldier had borrowed from a citizen. As I closed Lalla Rookh, I could but think that a great many in our own country very much resemble old Fadladeen, the critic. When he learns that Feramoreez is not poor minstrel, but really none other than the King of Bucharia, and the bride-groom of the beautiful queen, his sour criticisms are changed at once into wonderful praises. Just so many of the opponents of the government are made friendly to it, as the tide of war turns. Indeed, we have seen some of these half traitors almost grow pale, and mute as a dumb stone, as the great successes of Grant around the key of the Mississippi, fearing to change their tone too suddenly.
We have just heard that Capt. died on the 4th inst., at Washington. Capt. Whitney died a few days before at Alexandria. Their places are filled by the next ranking officers.
The twelfth regiment is now strung along the railroad running south, and guarding it. The boys of late have been feasting on strawberries and cherries, which they are allowed to stroll off and pick. It is Sunday, and unusually still and quiet. A little before noon an ambulance driver comes in to camp. He is from the sixth army corps. What means this? The soldiers flock around him. "Where is Lee?" "Where is Hooker?" "Has he been beaten, or out-generalled?" He tells us his story the best he knows. "Lee is off towards Warrenton,-he went around us; and Hooker is out that way, (pointing west). The sixth army corps if falling back to Alexandria." This is all; and this is enough to break the silence in the almost noiseless camp. The soldiers turn away, talking among themselves. "Another Bull Run battle, I reckon." "All right, we are good for 'em." Our regiment goes down and prepares the road a little; and soon the baggage wagons and artillery are crossing the river on pontoon bridges. The most of the soldiers turn off and cross at Wolf Run Shoals.
I happened to be one of the guard. The first that I heard this morning was from the ambulance driver that we spoke of. Some one had stolen his saddle from under his head, when asleep last night, and he awoke me to help him find it; but to no use. Early the A tens are sent to the Station, and the small ones spread over the old sites to keep the sun off. All day artillery, teams, and now and then a regiment, have been going to the rear. "The rebels," they say, "are headed for Maryland, and you'll be fighting there to defend Washington, or at Bull Run, within a week." Gen. Hooker and staff passed about three o'clock.
We move our camp about a hundred rods, thinking it to be healthier. All carry their bunks to the new place. We have seen several officers from the army of the Potomac: "The rebels are headed for Maryland, and Hooker is after them. Shall have a third Bull Run battle." "They won't make much out of this strike." So all think.
Here, squads of ten or fifteen are gathered around some old soldier telling his tales of blood, or where he thinks the enemy are; there are many sitting on the ground, talking, laughing, singing, and some are smoking.
A hundred and fifty from our regiment have been to see their sons, brothers and more distant relatives in the First Brigade, which is now encamped near the Station. Some, as soon as it was known where they were, started at midnight, and found them in a forest, asleep, and lying on the ground here and there "like sheep," as one expressed it. Brothers awoke brothers, and friends friends who left home nearly two years ago, and fought in every battle in which the army of the Potomac had been engaged; and though too dark to discern face or form, perhaps changed by toil or exposure or battle, but the voice is remembered, and they clasp each other with the affection of children.
On picket opposite the village. Quite a number have left the place, as they think rebel cavalry may dash in any hour; but we saw no signs of them. Two officers from Gen. Hooker's staff visit the line and report it "all right." I never saw the boys in better spirits. This post has been increased to twenty. There are two good story-tellers, and three or four that sing, who take turn in amusing the crowd, and no little fun and amusement is produced. During the next two days events are being shaped behind the curtain, -we spectators seeing and hearing just enough to set curiosity and anxiety chafing the pickets as they leave camp are reminded of their responsibility; that we are in the front line, guarding not only our own camps, but those of the army of the Potomac, which is mostly in the rear of us.
Sunday. We have heard firing the most of the day. Our teamsters at the Station saw the wounded brought in, and rebel prisoners going to Washington. They came from the west of us. There was a sharp cavalry fight near Snicker's Gap, leading into the Shenandoah Valley.
Camp Carusi, June 22, 1863.
My Dear Sister,-Everybody moves but us. This picket line is still kept up. The boys were going to move long before, and fight the enemy; but not a rebel has been seen yet. The oft repeated question is, "Where is Lee?" Some say he is in the Shenandoah valley; others think that he is just south of the Bull Run battle-field. Gen. Hooker's army corps are within supporting distance of each other in the vicinity of Centreville and Fairfax Court House. It is reported that a few of the enemy have reached Pennsylvania, and that Harrisburg is in danger. We do not know what to think of these things, or how this great move will finally turn out. The soldiers are in good health and spirits. None expect a large force this way; but in case of a great battle near where the armies have met twice before, this brigade will doubtless take part in the bloody drama. The excitement is just enough for some, operating like wine on them.
Your affectionate brother.
We have our usual drill in the afternoon. At the close, arms are stacked; we go to our tents and eat a few hard tacks and drink a little coffee; read our letters just from home, and the drum beats for dress parade. Regimental orders are read, and Gen. Pleasanton's report of his victory over Stuart last Sunday. Then the Colonel steps forward and informs us that he had just received orders for his regiment to be ready to march at a moment's notice, with ten days' rations. I hear the soldiers whisper, "This looks a little like fighting." None can imagine the direction of our course. Such is Tuesday evening, with many rumors about the invasion of the North. At dark, teams are started for rations and return at daybreak. The troops around the Station have the same orders as we. Lee is thought to be in Maryland and intending an attack on Washington or Baltimore. If we move, this whole line, the Station, Centreville, Fairfax Court House, and all South of Alexandria, are to be abandoned, and we go North. The following short letter will show what the soldiers thought at night:
My dear Sister:--These changing whirls have not yet caught us. Last night we received orders to be ready to march; but we have seen no sighs of it during the day, and we may-but I must change the tone of my letter at once, for an orderly has just come from headquarters to tell us that the whole brigade is to march in the morning. This monotonous drama is ended, and the next will close with the battle-field. May God shield the soldiers, and given them victory.
Your affectionate brother.