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Second Vermont Brigade


The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.
Chapter V.

Dec. 5.

At ten o'clock every thing is ready to start. Soldiers, with their guns, equipments, knapsacks, haversacks and canteens; boxes of cooking utensils, stoves, spades, pick-axes, officer's valises, waiters, horses, tents and every thing belong to a regiment of thousand men, are piled on to some flat-bottom cars. A few covered cares, with no seats, such as drovers use in New England, to take their herds to market, are hitched to the former, for the weakest ones, as the march to Bull Run has made quite a number sick. Just before leaving this rough place, which is covered with the ruins of burned cars, and where you are told that the left wing of our army rested in the first Bull Run battle, it begins to snow and rain. The cars move slowly over the military road, halting sometimes for half an hour-bearing their motley load. At four P.M., within about a mile of Alexandria, the boys are jumping off, wet to the skin, covered with snow and soot, as the wind was right to carry it back from the engine. We now start for our old camp, which we suddenly left on the night of the 25thult., and a little before dark, come in sight of the half-finished barracks. Every thing is wet, the ground is covered with moist snow-and more is coming; not an axe to chop wood for a fire; not a tent to spread, (these had been left at the depot with the expectation that they would be brought forward by government teams, but these could not be procured;) the boys hungry, and but little to eat. "What shall we do?" good naturedly enquired Uncle Walter. "No where to lie, and nothing to eat." "Good that the old women at home don't know how we are; for the knowing it should give our friends more misery than we tough fellows who face the storm." "Now here's a proverb," responds Jack, who at one time is wont to distort passages of scripture; at another he is improvising poetry; now he is a sage, uttering wise sayings, or preacher, terrible denunciations against the wicked; again he is general, in deep meditation, plotting against the enemy; all feigned, but with all, his good nature, and common sense too, make him a friend of each soldier. "Now here's a proverb that ought to make King Solomon and Ben Franklin blush; A place to lie on, a fire to warm your skins by, and enough to eat, are to be preferred to 'great riches' or a good name. And, that you need not think me less a general than a philosopher, let me plan a little for you. There's a negro's shanty yonder. Some of you lay there; and hard by is old Johnson's house and barn-some lay there-(yes, an old rebel he is too. Cuss on his head; if I was general, he shouldn't live longer than he could by hanging in a noose, higher than a pigeon could fly in nine months); yonder is a clump of pines-some lay there; and some of us will 'freeze' to our brothers in the other regiments. New let me close with this sentiment; Let not a man despair; for a brighter sun will rise to-morrow, and our tents too; and in coming years, when your hairs have grown grayer than at rat a hundred years old, you, and you unmarried youths that never more than threw kisses across the school house to some bright eyed girl, will pass your peaceful ights in telling your grand children of your wondrous deeds in Virginny." Though Jack's words caused less merriment than when the boys were in better spirits, he had named the best places for us to pass the night. But there is little time to debate what is best Each man must stir and take care of himself. Soon the whole regiment is scattered, except a few that hang around the dismal site of the old camp all night. As many as can, crowd into the negro's shanty, and his master's house and barn, and lie on the floor; the pine trees shelter a few; and quite a number are kept by the other regiments of the brigade. I, with twenty of my company go to the twelfth regiment. Col. Blunt kindly gave us two large tents, where is a stove, wood, and a fire already kindled. As we enter, the boys chilly, with chattering teeth, say, "Bully for our Lieutenant; he cares for us." The officer then takes six of those who have suffered most from the storm, and calls on Capt. Cole, his friend in college. This regiment had got their barracks finished. The Captain goes to the cook shanty, raps on the door, makes known his errand. The chief cook, a fat, middle aged man, loudly replies: "Let them in; we haven't denied a soldier to-night. Let them in; we will lie in the storm ourselves sooner than they. Come in, boys, come in," cries the cook, as though he meant they should. "We ha'n't all the accommodations, as if my wife was here; but we've a rousing fire, and you can lay on the ground." Such is the case. Logs a foot through and four feet long, with smaller wood, are burning lustily in the large fire-place-a most cheerful sight, more so on account of the cold storm without. Never was hospitality more freely given by knights or king in royal palace, or more thankfully received, than in that rough shanty in the woods of Virginia. The next morning many are fed by the other regiments. Col. Veazey gave me thirty loaves of bread. With these under my arm, I start for the camp, half a mile away, where we had left our guns and knapsacks the night before, and where all are to collect. On these the company breakfast. The storm has ceased; the snow is melting under a warm sun; but the camp ground repels one from it. It looks not unlike a field of ruins,-a stack of low chimneys here; a pile of logs there; hard tack boxes, pork barrels, bunks, some covered with straw, some with browse, some partly torn down. But by ten o'clock the tents are on the ground, and before night are all up on the old sites, cleaned as best we could. The boxes, containing our Thanksgiving supper, arrive; and, reader, I need scarce tell you that hard tack and pork does not form the supper; or, if curiosity prompts you to call into our little mansion six feet square, the roofs of which come down to the ground, you would doubtless be invited to take a seat on the wood pile. You might at first be a little surprised at the simplicity and disarrangement of our furniture; but we should make no apologies; for we are quite as well off as any of our neighbors, and that you know is enough the world over. There are our guns tied to the tent post, that they may not rust, (it is not a small job to scour them bright for inspection after being out in such a storm as we've had;) our equipments are under the bunk with knapsacks, haversacks and canteens; these cups, plates and knives, we also put in with them; but if we remain here a few days, we shall probably get a hard tack box, which will make us a find cupboard. And, too, this floor is not wholly without its virtue; for as a miller wears a white coat because it will not show the flour so quick as a black one, so our floor is good about not showing dirt, and we don't have to sweep it more than once a week or so. We six live in this tent very finely-a good one it is, never leaking unless it rains furiously; three of us old school mates; four of us republicans, one an abolitionist and one a war democrat. So we never have occasion to quarrel, only differing a little as to the slowness of swiftness of Mr. Lincoln in beating the rebels; not caring whether he does it by white men, or niggers, or by both. With few exceptions, we get enough to eat-always plenty in camp-not mince and chicken pies, of course, like that you see in the box; but wheat bread, pork, beef and beans, and rice twice or three times a week. And we have just guard and picket duty enough, with now and then an excursion, to keep up a good circulation of the blood. And now, reader, if you doubt our word, when we say that this is a most agreeable way of living, we can only advise you to try it.

Dec. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sabbath-cold, no religious services, dull. The boys stick to their tents - hardly out of them all day. The next three days we pass in completing the barracks, alternating in our opinions between going, and not going, into winter quarters here. A part build log houses and cover them with dirt-a few with oak slabs, split out with the axes; a part stockade the tents. On the 11th all that are able go on picket. The line is three miles south of the camp. It extends from a creek of the Potomac west for many a mile-our brigade keeping up the line for a few miles and then met by other soldiers. There are three reliefs; each on duty eight hours. The beats are from ten to fifteen rods apart; two soldiers are left at each, one watching at a time. They are each allowed such a fire as they choose to build night and day, as the enemy are not thought near. Our letters are brought us from camp just before dark. Of course we have no candles, so we punch the fire-brands together, pile on as dry wood as e can get, not sparing the rail fence near by. When it is well burning, we, sitting cross legged on the ground, leaning towards the fire, learn the news from home. The day is warm and so beautiful that one, little by little, almost forgets his native hills, and for the time, wishes to make the sunny land his home. But no, no,-ye native hills and rivers and lakes, we can never forget you. Thrice lovely and dear to us are ye in the distance. But even when we lived among you, so much to our taste and liking wert thou, that though we had looked upon thy varied forms from tenderest childhood, there was no satiety. Our love for thee grows stronger with the circling years, as grape-vines around the sugar-bearing maples. The next morning we are relieved so as to reach camp at eleven. On our way back we are told that Gen. Banks had taken Richmond, going up the James river with the gunboats; that several of the States had accepted the President's offer to buy the slaves. Quite a number think it probable, as the news comes from so good a source; others say that "it is too good to be believed;" but the faces of all look as men's are wont to, when they have suddenly heard good reports. All, as usual, do but little during the rest of the day, after being on picket. But all go out to dress parade. It is closed. The men are beginning to leave the ground. Just now one of Gen. Stoughton's aids rides up, and hands the colonel a letter. He reads it; then (as is his custom) begins to bite his mustache, and rub his chin with his forefinger. Immediately it is noised through camp that we are to start on a march at five o'clock the next morning, with two days' rations.

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