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Second Vermont Brigade

History

The Second Brigade; or Camp Life.

Chapter VIII.

Jan. 1, 1863.

It is a bright, sunny day - no clouds, no snow, or frost; the air pure and invigorating; the little birds seemed to have been thawed out, and skip about lively; the ground dry enough for good walking; in a word, everything in nature inclines one to enjoy the first day of the year. And so we do. A plenty of rations and no drilling; at our leisure we stroll and chat, and shake our sides with laughter at some good story; and Jack, Richard and Gibo, delight us with the fiddle, and now with songs of love and war; and a thousand youths in the whole brigade, with smiling faces,
"Just at the age 'twixt boy and youth,
When thought is speech, and speech is truth,"

I've heard saluting: "I wish you a happy new year;" and "I wish you a happy new year, too," as heartily as child ever did father and mother the first morning of the new-born year. O! may every day be lovely as this, boys, and no cloud come over your sun of joy.

Jan. 2.

Battalion and brigade drill. According to the regulations, every soldier, unless excused by the surgeon in the morning, (the captains can detail a few to do some little things, such as assisting the cooks, getting wood or water,) must attend the drills and parades during the day. Since here, quite a number have grown somewhat negligent. These are not out in the forenoon. The colonel says nothing; but orders the regiment out in the afternoon in time for the sergeant to call the roll before starting for the brigade drill. Those who are not present, and not excused, are put under arrest and sent to the guard-house. As soon as we return, a court-martial is instituted to try them,-no, to frighten them. The next day they go through with a form of trial. They are charged with violating the forty-fourth article of war; and to this they plead guilty. But many are the reasons for it. Some were washing, and some cutting wood to stockade their tents, ignorant of the drill, they say, until the drums beat, and then they had not time to prepare for it; others say that they were unable to go, but could not get excused, and so took it upon themselves to remain in their tents. But it is all dropped; the Colonel advising the boys not to be caught committing a similar offence again.

Jan. 3.

All expected to start the next morning, when we encamped here on the night of 12th December. But we have remained day after day, thinking each day that we should go the next, or be ordered to "fall in" any hour of the same day, or night, to march. The nights are growing colder; so two days are given us, Saturday and Monday, to put small stockades under our tents, and make them as warm as we can. We lay out not as much labor on them as if we had not made so many and sudden moves; but some of the regiments have expended not a little time of theirs. Chestnut trees are slashed down, cut off the right length and split into slabs. A kind of a box, the bigness of the tent, three or four feet high, is formed out of these, the ends fitted together, the crevices, as usual, filled with mud. The tents are place don these, and are much warmer than before.

Jan. 6.

Dull, rainy; no drilling. Hardly a soldier is seen in the camp, except the guards pacing the beats. The President's proclamation causes a little discussion. Many are glad that it is issued, thinking it wise and just; wise, that by as much as you reduce the number of slaves laboring at home, so much you reduce the number of our enemies in the field; just, that all men should be free. Some think it impolitic, howsoever just; that it will serve to distract the North; now and then, one pretends to regard it unconstitutional. The next four days are spent in drilling, and making the tents more comfortable. In each one now you see a fire-place, or little stove, and a bunk to sit on through the day, and sleep on at night. Crotched sticks are driven into the ground; poles put on them; then these are covered with browse, or straw, if one is so fortunate as to get it of some farmer near by, whom the war has not entirely ruined. Of late, "When shall we be paid off?" is a question more frequently asked than any other, as we have been mustered twice without any pay. A half dozen days have been fixed upon, by this one and that one. But these come and go, but not the paymaster. A sergeant comes into my tent. He has no sooner taken a seat on the little wood pile than two eager soldiers interrogate, "When shall we be paid off, sergeant?" "Paid off? I've been asked that question twenty times to-day; and the Lord only knows, I don't, as ever." "I'm a little blue to-day, boys, and the bump of hope was never as big in my cranium as in some others. If the government goes down, I wouldn't give 'a red' for a cart load of green-backs." "Goes down! what do you mean?" "I mean, if the South gets her independence, this flood of paper money won't be worth the rags that it's written on. The battles control gold, and it goes up and down as they turn for or against us, as a thermometer just as it is hot or cold. Like the snakes in the Eastern tale, that never showed themselves in the pure light of day but crawled forth at night from their slimy caves to hiss and bite, so a class if rising in the North, in this dark hour, to strike down our government. To tell it as it is, boys, I fear them more than the 'rebs.' But I always seize on some sunshiny day, and when I am in tip-top spirits, to write home, and so they think I'm the best feeling soldier in all Dixie. In fact, I've written them that I was going to enlist again, so pleased was I with the service, partly to see what they would say, and more that they might not think me at all discouraged."

Jan. 11.

Sabbath-rainy; nothing but inspection I the morning, and guard-mount. Every soldier expects the guard-mount each day as much as his meals. The new guards and their arms are here inspected by a lieutenant, divided into three reliefs,-(each usually on duty two hours,)-then one is sent to take the places of the old guards around camp.

Jan. 12.

Company and brigade drills; and mud in abundance.

Jan. 13.

A dry place; one free from the wind, in cold weather; and near wood and water. These at least are necessary for a good camp ground. When we first came here this location answered to these. But now the ground is soaked with water, and it does not run off freely; some are sick; and a few have died very suddenly. The surgeons pronounce the place unhealthy, and think that the camp had better be moved. So we work during the day, policing the ground to the right of us. The next morning at two o'clock we are aroused by the "long roll." All are up in a few minutes. The first man I met after I was out of my tent, began: "What in hell is to pay now? Some men are scared at their own shadows. There a'int 'a reb' within a thousand miles of here." We don't leave the company streets, and in a half hour are told that we can lie down again. A bushwhacker had fired at a cavalry patrol not far from camp.

Jan. 14.

There are doubts whether the new ground, cleared yesterday, is more healthy than that we now occupy. Some of the field officers ride around to seek a better site; we stroll at our leisure. Rumor says that we are going to be transferred from the Department at Washington, and going to North Carolina. A part would like to go; others, not; the most think it only a rumor, and not worth an observation.

Jan. 15.

As soon as breakfast is over, all the companies, led by the major, with spades and axes, start to clear another place for the camp. We have plenty of rations; it is a warm day, and most are in excellent spirits. But the boys look at each other, laughing, and say: "This is putting down rebellion in earnest." We are soon on the ground,-a dry side hill,-near a grove of Norway pines, a hundred rods to the left of the twelfth regiment. It is covered with logs, brush, and tree-tops. But the work goes bravely on. The streets re marked out for each company; and each clears its own. At noon we go back for dinner, carrying our axes and spades; for one, if he happens to be in want, does not scruple from other regiments, or any other company but his own, to steal such things, reasoning in this way: "These tools belong to Uncle Sam; I am working for the old fellow; this axe is better than mine, and I can do more work with it; so much clear gain!" This argument has morality enough in it to still the consciences of most soldiers if they have chopped long with a dull axe, and have a chance to get their hands on a sharper one; and so much logic, that no one pretends to refute it, only, if he has lost one, by improving the first opportunity that he has to steal another. In the afternoon we nearly finished policing the ground.

Jan. 16.

Raining till noon. The rest of the day we are stockading. Each squad builds its own. Two cut down the trees; two carry them on their shoulders to the spot; and the others fit them together.

Jan. 17.

A cold and windy day; but some work on the stockades; the rest remain in camp. I called into a soldier's tent; here I found four or five talking about the draft that was about to take place the August before, as it is rumored that more men are to be drafted soon. Each has a story to tell of this or that one, who is suddenly sick, or runs to Canada, when the enrolling officer comes around. This one's sight is very poor; that one, a little deaf; this one has humors through the cold weather; that one, rheumatism; the fifth one is more than forty-five; but, alas! Poor fellow, the family record in his father's old Bible says he is only forty-two. "Three groans," says the soldier, "for him, and all that utter a syllable against the government of the United States, or against the boys who march under the stripes and stars. Three groans now." Whereupon they exercise their lungs, as though they intended to be heard in the farthest north.

Jan. 18.

Last night water froze two inches in the little streams near camp. The day is quite cold; but we have inspection and divine service.

Jan. 19.

We start off and work about two hours on the new quarters, (the cold compels us to move briskly,) when orders come from some higher source, and we soon shoulder our spades, return, and exchange them for the rifles, and go to drilling. The old brick tavern in the village is used for the brigade hospital, where are brought, from the regimental hospitals, those who are the most dangerously sick. The bodies of nearly all who have died in our brigade have been embalmed and sent home, at the expense of the companies to which they belonged. In the afternoon there was a funeral. The soldier died last night at the village, and wished to be buried there, saying that his wife could not endure the sight of his dead body.

The chaplain, musicians, his company, and such as choose to from the regiment, follow him to the grave. His is placed, before leaving the hospital, in a government coffin, made of boards painted black,-with the clothes on that he wore when alive. He is now laid in the ground four feet deep; twelve of his comrades fire their farewell shots; the chaplain speaks consoling words, offers a prayer to God and pronounces a benediction; and we turn away, not as when we came, with a slow and measured tread,-the drummers beating the dead-march,-but with quicker steps, a livelier air,-Yankee Doodle.

As we reach camp it is noised about that we are going on a march to-morrow.

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