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Second Vermont Brigade


The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter II.

Oct. 12.

If, indeed, it were necessary, to portray camp life, to describe the places through which a regiment passes, it is impossible for a soldier to do it, as night rarely puts an end to his traveling:
"War and chase,
Give little choice of resting place."
He but gets a glance of the spires and conspicuous objects in great cities, and the smaller towns fly from his memory as far his vision. He is no traveler in the popular sense of the word. He sees things as one the moon when broken clouds are flying by it - a view for a moment and it is gone. It is approaching noon. A long line of cars is lying near the depot and the engine is steaming up. Our friends have gone home in the morning. A few citizens had gathered around, and spake words of sympathy. But no, we want none; we need none; the mind is made up. "We are bound for Dixie," shout a dozen jolly fellows, as they ascend the car steps: "John Brown's knapsack is strapped upon his back," sing half the company; and the iron wheels begin to rattle, and the engine to scream. As we pass down the beautiful valley of the Connecticut river, the fishermen in their little boats take off their hats; the farmers in the fields, too, show their sweaty brows and raise their sickles; the women and children flutter their handkerchiefs from the windows and doors of the white cottages, and the boys are sure to return the compliment to smiling faces, by a wave of the hand from the car windows. The people of Northampton loaded us with the best of apples and cakes. We reach and leave New Haven, on a large steamer, a little before midnight, and at daybreak find ourselves at Jersey City. Though not half had ever been on the water before, after a little observation, sleep overcomes curiosity, nor stars, nor moon, nor splashing waves, or anything connected with the sea, nor thought of friends behind, were much to us.

Oct. 13.

The morning is cold and windy. Soup - "swill" soup, - and "slop" coffee, if furnished us in large barrels, I dare say, that never have been washed since Fort Sumpter was fired upon, at which my stomach at once revolted, and though prodigal sure, I had not been from home long enough to "feed on the husks of swine," and so had recourse to the better contents of my haversack. By half past nine the cars are bearing us towards Philadelphia, and by the middle of the afternoon the discharge of a cannon announces our approach to the latter city. The people, as is their custom to all the regiments that pass through their city, gave us a good meal of wheat bread, butter, cheese, meat and coffee, and did us all the honor and every kindness in their power; and long after, when in the field, the boys often spake of the good people of this city and Northampton. It is Sabbath, and hundreds throng the streets at our departure. Although Antietam had been fought, hardly had they recovered from the excitement caused by the invasion of Lee, and anxiously were they looking for McClellan to pounce upon him in his retreat. The next morning, a little after two, we find ourselves winding the streets of Baltimore in a furious storm of rain. Here and there a pale light glimmers through the closed shutters, and though weary and sleepy, the firing on the Massachusetts soldiers occurs to our mind, and we almost find ourselves soliloquizing, "Won't they give us a similar welcome?" Morning comes to our no little delight. Read, ham and coffee is our breakfast. Soon the dirty cars are slowly trundling on to the Capital, at which place, after many halts, we arrived the middle of the afternoon. Soldiers are strung along to guard the railroad from Baltimore to Washington. As the cars halt we look for the marble capitol; we see a long line of poor mules mounted by negroes, who are lashing them terribly, as I fancied they had been ere they were "contrabands;" we look again for the home of "Uncle Abe" - alas! That a numerous herd of swine rooting in the mud should meet our eyes. We give it up; follow the regiment to the barracks near the depot; throw off the knapsack; and, sitting on it, address a few short letters to our friends. Supper a little before dark, at the Soldier's Retreat - bread, raw ham and coffee. Before nine o'clock many a one has scribbled a line to his friends, at which time the lights are extinguished, and soon a thousand men are snoring side by side on the dirty floor. The next morning - no breakfast. A little before noon we are marched to our camp ground on East Capitol Hill; and here we remained, standing, lying on the ground, impatiently waiting, when we receive the shelter tents just before dark. These are made of cotton cloth, and five feet square. Each has one piece. Two, and sometimes four, are buttoned together; then suspended on three guns, in the centre, wit the corners fastened to the ground with picket sticks. This is the airy dormitory of four, who lie in pairs - the feet of the first at the heads of the second. Meanwhile our faithful cooks have started fires and furnished us with coffee, and the commissary with bread.

Oct. 15.

Early the white tents disappear all over camp, as the guns are needed, blankets rolled and tied to the knapsacks. Brigade review in the afternoon - four regiments. As we march, counter-march and wheel over the broad plain - new work all - strange positions all - more than one mutters "This knapsack!" "Why carry it on this review?" "What good?" But it is ended. That's the best part of it. We return, eat a meal of beans, rear our tents in parallel rows, hang the rubber up at one end of break the wind off, light the candle, stick it in the bayonet and this in the ground, and pass the time as best we can till tattoo. General Orders No. 1 is read to each of the companies, making our duties similar to those before we left the State. At eight o'clock a pray meeting.

Oct. 16.

Like the day before.

Oct. 17.

A lovely, autumn day; the air pure; the sky cloudless. In the forenoon squad and company drills; in the afternoon battalion. The A tents have been furnished us; much delighted to exchange them for the little ones. One, covering a little more than six feet square when pitched, is allowed five.

Oct. 18.

Five in one tent six feet square! We lie down on the same side, either right or left, parallel; as one turns all must. Most of the forenoon is spent in cleaning the grounds with spades, and brush brooms made of cedar. In the afternoon brigade review - six regiments and two Massachusetts batteries. Generals Banks and Casey are present. You see many whispering in an undertone. "Which is he?" "Which is Banks?" As they ride by, in front and rear, many turn their heads, squinting over the shoulder to see them. When the review is over, we march to General Casey's headquarters, on the opposite side of the city. The boys are tired, and think they have marched ten miles. We know nothing about marching in a brigade. We are now at a slow pace, now rapid, now running; here's one that's stubbed his toe and stumbled his whole length, causing laughter; there are several on the side-walk leaning against the posts; many are changing their guns from one shoulder to the other. I hear one expressing himself, with not a few gesticulations, in this wise: "I have a far less opinion of our Generals than before. Why all this? Is it for a show? Why is Lee suffered to escape uninjured? For eighteen months the war has proceeded, and how much have we gained? Richmond? No. The destruction of their armies? How long since they chased our across the Potomac? I hear it whispered that we are going into winter quarters, to freeze in the barracks about Washington. Why don't they send us to the old army, to spend our strength in conquering the rebels?" and many such. Others tell him that it is his part to obey, and not to command or criticise. But a Yankee, that has been a soldier only six weeks, has hardly lost this love for knowing the whys and wherefore.

Oct. 19.

Sabbath, warm, sunny. We are relieved from duties, so that we are reminded it is no week day. A refreshing breeze bears the mingling sounds of a dozen church bells from the city. How solemn. We forget our work, read a psalm, or some verses in the Testament, think of home and the tones of the old village church bell as they come up from the valley, to tell us of the hour of meeting.

Oct. 20.

The names of those that are to be guards are read off the night before. Last night my name was in the list. Morning came, and with it the various rounds of duties, reveille, roll-call, hanging up the things in the tents, policing the grounds, washing, breakfast, squad drill, then guard-mounting. A hundred and ten privates, six corporals, three sergeants, one lieutenant, have been detailed to guard the camp. This is their duty twenty-four hours. They are divided into three reliefs, each on two hours, off four. None but privates walk the beats, which are form four to ten rods. The corporals run at their calls. Strange did it seem at first to be awake at midnight, hearing a half dozen screaming "corporal of the guard, No. 1," or 5, as it may be. Two large tents is the guard-house. As night grows darker and colder, the dew heavier, a whole relief, thirty-three, crowd into them, some standing, some lying parallel, others horizontal on the legs of the first tier. Towards midnight faces grow sober. "This is pretty raw," says one: "little tough" another; "one must be drunk or mad," continues a third, "to enlist." But as the sun returns, with it smiling faces and good feelings. "Soldiering is not very hard after all," says the same. "Not half as hard as I thought it," &c.

Till the 25th the history of one day is of the others. Camp quiet. At five, the drummers and fifers, whilst the stars still shine, march around camp, beating their drums. Sleep is frightened from every eye; a stir, a bustle in every tent. The boys creep out with their woolen night-caps on, and attend roll-call. Then some go back, wrap themselves in the blankets, and await the coming day; others laughing, talking, smoking, sit around the cook-stand, where the cooks are preparing breakfast, somewhat to the annoyance of the latter. The boys come along in two ranks, to get their food. Various remarks. This one would like a "little more variety;" that one "wouldn't look at it at home;" this one "don't fancy mule beef;" but most think it as good as the government can furnish, and approvingly point to the increase of their weight since they left home. Lately the dust has become almost intolerable. The wind plays with it as find snow in the winter. As we go and return from the plain sometimes you cannot see the length of the company, thick clouds of dust filling the eyes, and each one looking like on that's threshing grain. - Whilst on Capitol Hill, five soldiers from each company are permitted to go to the city a day. On the 22d, after getting a pass signed by the captain, colonel and brigadier general, we started at ten to return at five P. M. for dress parade. The streets are patrolled by soldiers, but no one asked us for our pass. Two hours at the Patent Office; two hours at the Smithsonian Institute; a glance at the President's house; a stroll through the capacious Capitol. Who from reading the title of a book would essay the critique? Nor will be to describe those places. But many soldiers are in the Capitol, who move about as if they were on their own farm.

I hear arguing in this wise: "We're as much right here as any body; Abe Lincoln has no more. We are freeborn Americans, and have come here to defend our own property. It is now no use to ask 'Who caused the war?' But talk it as it is, both are to blame. The sun over the equator sends its rays not so obliquely as at the poles. This beautiful structure stands on the line between us and Dixie. Now when men come here, they should lean neither way. But, Tom, the South leaned a little the most - a little too much, and when we sought to make them go straight, the pushed us off and fired on our forts and stole our goods. There are little fishes in one of the caves of Kentucky, where the bright light of the sun never penetrates, that have no eyes, or even sockets for them. The Southern herd, and not a few in the North, are like them - born and bred in the den of slavery, they know not what liberty is, and have no love for it. And as I look on these empty seats, and think how the politicians have inflamed them against us, I grow mad, madder even than in the fight, and wish them, if nothing worse, banished from the land. One thing we'll do, Tom, if we survive these troubles and ever turn our steps homeward. Not a man shall enter these halls, that loves not his whole country, who will not strike down Caesar, or let Caesar live, whichever will save Rome; that is, who will not strike down slavery or let slavery live, whichever will save the Republic".

Oct. 25.

Saturday, warm, dry, dust flying, and making everybody uncomfortable. In the forenoon battalion drill; the afternoon is for the soldier to wash himself and clothes. Accordingly we started, not with gun or spade, but the last week's shirt, towel and soap under the am, and found a plenty of water, better than it looked, after wading out from the muddy bank of the Potomac. Two Irishmen expressed it about as it was, standing in as much mud as water: "By jabers, Jamie, this washin' I don't like." "In faith, no don't I, Pat, but the washin' is better than the varmin - and I catch two louse on me to-day."

Oct. 26.

It is the Sabbath, but no Sabbath to us. Last night one of the soldiers died, the first in our regiment. His body is sent home to his friends. Sadness came over all, longer than when deaths came more frequent. By eight o'clock it begins to rain. Soon the dry, mealy dust is laid, and the water is gathering in the lowest places. Now the boys, with havelocks and rubbers on, are creeping out of their tents, scrabbling after the spades and pickaxes, to turn the water form their little domains, on which it is beginning to encroach most ruthlessly. It pours down all day Just before night, I with another one, start after some straw to lie on, as we have nothing but a few cedar boughs to sleep on, and these are very wet. We plod on through the mud till we come to a stack of cornstalks. The owner remonstrates: "My horse has nothing else to eat." "And we've nothing else to lie on." "But do you see I've not right smart of stalks?" "Do you see how the water is running under our tents?" "I swear, I'm as loyal a man as I New England, and my horse will starve." But he finally admitted that it is a hard case, gave us what we could carry, and would take nothing for it. But woe to the poor horse if the man told the truth; for when the boys saw us returning, it was as when a bee comes back to his cell, well laden from a piece of new-found honey; in a moment it is covered with the begging tribe. We spread the dry stalks over the bottom of the tent, the rubbers over these, and at nine line down in a very comfortable condition. At one o'clock at night ,the rain has not ceased at all and a chilly wind is howling among the swinging tents-a corporal comes to me with "Holloa there, you take the place of a sick man on guard!" soon my boots, coat, rubber, havelock are on, and I start for the guard-house, where are thirty men in similar plight. A corporal posts us around camp, and for two hours we walk the beats, then we go back, throw off the out-side covering, and creep in by the side of some sleeping comrade. He next morning is cold and wet. Quite a number are sick. The cook stand is flooded, so we have no coffee By ten the clouds break, spots of blue sky appear, to the no little delight of we wet fellows. The boys flock together in squads and tell over their fate. This one "was half covered with water when he awoke;" another "would have drowned, but his head laid on his knapsack."

The Sixteenth Regiment came into camp a little before dark, hungry. We divided our bread, beef and coffee with them. They knew it was the best we had, and cheered us as loud and hearty as if we had spread the viands of kings before them.

Oct. 28.

The usual round of duties.

Oct. 29.

In the afternoon the first lieutenant of my company died of typhoid fever. We are excused from all duties through the day. Suddenly and sadly his death fails upon us. We meet and vote to pay his expenses, and send his body home embalmed; and pass resolutions expressive of our grief; and tender our sympathies to his friends. At nine o'clock at night orders came that we must have our knapsacks packed, haversacks filled with two days' rations, and be ready to start at eight in the morning Where are we going? This is the question.

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