Pamunkey River

Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River in 1864

Sunday, October 6, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part VII

  The final letter to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from New Kent during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862


                                                    (Our War Correspondence.)
                                  From the Fifth Vermont Regiment.
                                                          Camp at the White House, Va.,
                                                                                                 May 17. 1862

Mr. Willard: Well I yes, well! And that ejaculation don't begin to express what I wish it to convey. About two hours ago I closed a letter for your columns, informing you that we were to march at meridian. Everything was made ready for the "fall in" command. Tents were struck, rations dealt out for sixty hours, knapsacks packed and slung, the usual amount of grumbling, questioning and swearing done and performed, baggage cut down below the army standard, mess chests thrown out, sick call made, and last, but not least, the grounds swarmed with mounted specials, all accounted for another harvest of bloody news. The day being bright and balmy the boys felt well, expecting before nightfall to reduce the distance, if not some military obstructions, between them and Richmond. But back comes the rattling, surging caissons and artillery, and the long, glistening lines of infantry "stack arms," "break ranks," and commence again another siege of resting, loafing and growling. How pic-tur-es-que! Did you ever sit down to a dainty meal, hungry and over-impatient for the eating ceremonies to begin, and just as your dish was tilled and ready tor the thirsting, longing palate, have some saucy blackguard or roguish friend tell a story that blockaded every avenue of nourishment and appetite as effectually as if a doctor bad administered some drug emetic? If you have, you can form some idea of the sensations of a soldier when orders are countermanded, after he has packed, and swore, and growled enough to scare at least a full regiment of rebels. But this is only one, and by no means the most trying perplexity of soldiers on the march. Well, we shall probably go sometime. The distance, some twenty-five miles, is nothing, but heavy bodies move slow, especially if they happen to collide with other bodies of equal gravity and momentum. But sooner or later, perhaps not as speedily as you or we may desire, this army will be in Richmond.
That Power that holds destiny in one hand, and grace, love and pit dun in the other, has he decreed it, and as well might the enemy attempt to choke the roar, or catch the rain-bowed spray of Niagara's falling waters, or one by one to pick the orbs of night from the blue behind the breaking, drifting clouds, as to stay the slow, heavy, steady tread of McClellan's squadrons and battalions. Richmond is ours, not to day, but one June day sim will ever warm the viper of treason that now so safely slumbers in its streets.
But I have written you once to-day, and as I only a few minutes ago received a letter from Montpelier with something very much like, but still it was not quire a rebuke, for "writing three letters in one day," I think I will be more prudent hereafter, and give a finale to this before it assumes the proportions of a correspondence." 
Yours, &c., See See Ess.


-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman, May 29, 1862


Next time, who was "See See Ess?"


Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part VI

Continuing a series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. In this letter our correspondent continues his adoration of "Little Mac," and denounces the "cruelty and barbarity"  . . . of those who he has traveled half the country to kill.

(Language warning)


(Our War Correspondence)
                                 From the Fifth Vermont Regiment

                                                                   Camp at White House Farm, Va,
                                                                                    May 17th, 1862.

Mr. Willard: We have been in this camp since the forenoon of the 14th inst., and troops are concentrating here all the time. Transportation has been greatly impeded by the long rain storm, making the roads almost impassable. I learned yesterday that the roads between this camp and our last one, at Cumberland, are filled with our wagons fast in the mud. But slowly thy keep coming up, and should say that now we have at least sixty thousand men at this camp- all on one level, open field, the east side being skirted by the river with its raking musts and smoking chimneys. Near the northeast comer is the White House, a very respectable, but not costly or fancy residence. Its yard and garden grounds are extensive, unique, and very pleasant, just the place to satiate the extravagant home feelings of the most princely American.
Upon these grounds Little Mac ins pitched his tents, and himself and staff are evidently quite at home in their shade and clover. Though strictly guarded, the premises are constantly surrounded by thousands of anxious soldiers,- anxious for what? Why, more to see their General than this deserted homestead of the arch traitor, for we all love him, and it is a satisfaction that no soldier can express to belong to this army, to share their trials and sufferings with one they so much honor and esteem. Yea, I have told you this before. Nothing can shake our confidence in that man, for it in absolute, like the faith of the Christian mother in her God.
But now, on we go. It is only eight o'clock, and at twelve we march again, -that is, this division, and for aught I know, others. But I think the order is for this division only, us we have all the time been pushed in advance, and shall be until somebody's appointment as a Brigadier General is confirmed; at least, that is what we all think. But no matter; if we are to fight so as to kill two birds with one stone, so much the better. Yet, it may cost us a little more blood to do this "heavy and perilous work."(1) We have a fierce, bitter and desperate foe before us, and from many specimens that I have seen of their rank and file, as also of their officers, and from the further evidence before us of their cruelty and barbarity, it is hard, very hard indeed, to persuade myself that these men were ever amenable to the influences of Christianity. God knows I pity them, and while we fight them as enemies, and day by day become more familiar with their folly, perverseness and crime, our shame for them as countrymen is augmented. But, as I have just told you, we are to proceed on, -onward to Richmond, and should it be my good fortune to live to pass this equator of Rebeldom, I expect to see enough more of treason and its blind adoration to enable me to finish this partial exordium of my hate. 
What is to be the character of our march from this point, cannot be known. Ayers' battery has just gone on gunboats. Our order is to march at noon with two days' rations, but as a remark, apt and spicy, and too good to be lost, amid not contraband, I think, I must inform you that my friend, Maj. Joyce, says "very man is to be put in a runner case and floated up the river." Not bad; we are short of transportation, and the idea, impromptu and original is not much behind Gen. Mitchells cotton bale bridge(2). By the way, this reminds me of an other good thing on a Washington County officer. and when you are short for "copy,' just ask, in a mild but not exactly leading manner, Capt. Randall about his novel mule trade, and he will sell you something rich. I once owned a mule myself, and can in a measure sympathize with the Captain when his transaction, like my own, comes to be a standing joke. Don't be afraid; the Captain is the best natured man in the world, and in self-defence(sic), will give you at least "a plain, unvarnished title." 
For a wonder, we have not seen a wood-tick since we have been in this camp. Yet it is no wonder either, for we are fully a quarter of a mile from timber. But we have the marks of our old friends still about us, in the shape of blotches and sears, and to make a clean breast of it, we are just about as well tick, flea and bug bitten, dirty, ragged and cross as we can he and still be in a condition to make a good fight. Soldiers must have something ail them besides hunger, or they would be of little account. I said hunger, for I can think of nothing else that plagues us more. Yet we have enough to eat, such as it is; at the same time we can't call it nourishment; it is simply subsistence. And just as I feel now, though I am not hungry, and do not expect to die just yet, I would freely give five dollars, if I had it, for the measure of good bread and milk that I could "mow away." That may look a little extravagant in your " price current," but the late sutler tariff has used us soldiers to such extravagance. "Uncle Ira" says, "he saw a nigger this milking milking a cow, and he had a mind to run up and knock him over and take the milk; and there are many soldiers here who would not have showed a good revolution in that way, they would have knocked him over. 
But I am writing more than I intended to, and taking time that I should be giving to preparations for the march, Richmond! Richmond, the great Babel of rebellion, is all we think about. Shall we ever get there? I hope so, and if we do, your correspondent will have something besides a dearth of news for his letters. What a field will then he open for the rivalship of scribblers. Somebody will "spill" in attempts at sensation. Artemas (3) will be there to tell his tale and open his show, exhibiting to the astonished natives "wax works" of their forefathers, and the Dixie mummies of their descendants. And can't Greeley, or some one else, be there to read Othello's tale, of "men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, the anthropophagi,"(4) and other monsters that picture best his horror and his hate? Certainly we can. Well, well see by-and-by. We may be weeks on the road, -the 2d Vermont has been a year already,- but some of us will get there, or the war will not, as predicted, he speedily closed. 

Yours, &c , See See Ess.

-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman, May 28, 1862



(1) Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel had recently used a cotton bale pontoon bridge to cross a creek in                  Tennessee.

(2) In April the "Yorktown Correspondent" of the New York Herald Tribune had written,
"When the advance is made whenever that day be -Gen. Wm. F. Smith's division will be first in all heavy and perilous work. No one in the army enjoys the confidence of Gen. McClellan and his generals more than Gen. Smith."
 (3) I assume Artemas Ward, 
"Artemus Ward was a persona dreamed up by 23-year-old New Englander and newspaperman Charles Foster Browne (née Brown—he added the e to affect an English air). Browne started out as a humble typesetter but rose to transatlantic fame thanks to this immensely popular alter ego he created to fill out the pages of the Cleveland Plain Dealer."- American University Magazine, March 2015

 (4) Othello,  (1.3, lines 141-146)


Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part V

Continuing a series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. In this letter our correspondent reads purportedly stolen mail and shows himself to be less than a fan of Honest Abe.

(Our War Correspondence.)
From the Fifth Vermont Regiment.
                                                                                            White House Va.,
                                                                                                 May 15, 1862.


Mr. Willard: -It was raining terrible hard yesterday afternoon when I finished my letter at that date, and I told you that there were no indications of its ceasing. It has rained without stint ever since, is coming down now at a good rate, and beat into us by a driving, chilling wind. But I hear no grumbling, though every body looks surly and cross. To prevent sickness from this much exposure, especially colds and ague, the medical staff have just issued to the whole Brigade rations of whisky and quinine, and I have heard of none so temperate as to refuse the dose, and not a few would be glad to have it repeated, that is, it the storm continues. I gave you yesterday a bit of history about our present camp ground, and told you, of course, all I knew, not expecting that I should ever have occasion to write again about these White House people or premises. but I saw a letter to day, that was found about here by some one in the Second Vermont, some of the contents of which are quite interesting and in some senses important.
The letter (without date) was written at Fredericksburg, Va., by Col. W. F. Lee, son of Gen. Lee, to his mother, or "ma," as he terms her, now domiciled at the White House on this place. Alter a pithy and quite sharp rebuke to his wife for neglecting to write him as often as he expected, the Colonel says, (I give you his very words,) "The many reverses we have met with have not discouraged me." He may have told the truth then, but the signs of the times indicate that most of the F.F.V.s are tired and disappointed, if they are not discouraged. "The whole people seem to be panic stricken, and vie with each other in circulating the most improbable reports." If the Northern people were "panic-stricken" and "vieing" in that way, I think that some of our Colonels would feel discouraged.
"I must say that the surrender of Nashville by the Tennesseans caps the climax, and I think that Pillow and Floyd ought to be hung for disgracefully leaving their commands." The young man is no fool, if he is a rebel. Pillow and Floyd had ought to be hung, first by Uncle Sam for stealing and treason, and then by old Jeff for cowardice and treachery. 
He then, after a few remarks about domestic affairs says, I hear it reported that "pa" is to be made Secretary of War. I should n't consent to that, us I do not wish to have him mixed up in polities, but should be glad to see him made Commander-in chief." Ain't he a brick? That '"mixed up in politics" is a splendid idea, for that is just about us bad a mix as most men ever get into. And then his desire to see him Commander-in-chief." There's pride and aspiration for you by the wholesale. I guess the young man ain't badly  discouraged alter all, for his F. F. V. blood seems to circulate freely. "Pa" Commander in chief! Ain't that sublime? "Pa" Gen. Lee, going into Little Mac's bag first and foremost, the bell weather of treason! Keep on aspiring young man, but beware the ides of June.
Before closing his lengthy and quite interesting epistle he advises his mother, as a prudent measure, to take an inventory of the White House property, cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, &c. Now, what does that mean? Putting this and that together, the "inventory" and the "not discouraged" sentiment, and we have quite a puzzle. He certainly must be a very prudent young man, or else be had got on the scent of a big mice. Well, if ever I should meet Col. Lee, I am not sure but that I should be just curious and impudent enough to ask him for an explanation of that puzzle.
Every day we see new evidences of the demoralization of the confederate army. Yesterday, not long after we left Cumberland Landing, a rebel captain, sergeant, and forty men without arms marched into camp and gave them selves up as prisoners of war. What account they gave of themselves or of their army, I have not heard, but expect to do so to-day, but such a desertion is as good an index of the condition of the army as the Barometer is of wind and rain.
You will recollect that just before we left Fairfax County, Gen. McClellan in his address to the army, told us that his movements would seem mysterious to us, and so indeed they are just at this time at any rate. What he intends to do with us now is truly mysterious none of us are able to figure it out. Were we to make a central advance, and reduce their works on the Chickahominy, why make such a halt here?
We do not understand it, but at the same time we have no misgivings about the Generalship of the army. It a flank movement is contemplated, then here is just the place to cross the Pamunkey, and make towards McDowell's column, and why not make such a move? There can certainly be nothing gained by reducing their fortifications on the Chickahominy, when this army can get in position upon their flank much nearer Richmond. With Burnside, on the South, Banks on the West, and McDowell and McClellan on the North of Richmond, there can certainly be no retreat left for them, save this Peninsula, and it is the last place that army will ever fall back upon. McDowell can not come to us or even make an advance near enough to act as a support, but we can go to him, or near enough to allow him to take his forces over the river without danger. But the speculations of a soldier amount to but little. There is a plan, and soon it will be fully carried out.
You have heard, of course, about Old Abe, and our naval forces at Fortress Monroe. What the "special" or official report is I do not know, but the camp story is a little spicy: 
In "ye olden time" Old Abe served his time upon a flat boat, "warping" and pinting"* his craft up and down the Wabash and other Western waters, marketing and peddling lumber and fruit, such as hop poles and pumpkins. In the course of time he became an adept at the business, and could "pint" a craft and cargo equal to the best of the flat boat marines. The rail business offering better inducement for his capital and labor, he soon left the muddy deep, and invested his all in the "stake and rider" business, in which the historian informs us he was very successful, and by dint of a little good management on his part, as also that of his friends, the rail business elevated him to his present exalted position, which he has thus far filled with the most consummate ability. He now visits Fortress Monroe, the great theatre of our naval operation, for the purpose of giving to his distressed country the benefit of his early and finished education upon navigation, and the ebb and flow of tides in our inland waters. Flotillas and squadrons will now be commodored by Old Abe himself, and it would I not be surprising if the first gun boat,  that takes the Stars and Stripe, to the very portals of the rebel metropolis should be "pinted" by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States. He is there, I say it in no jesting spirit, for a special and heroic purpose. Should this war close without a signal exhibition of heroism on the part of the President, there would be some thing wanting in the embellishments of history, and how could he better show his prowess as well as patriotism, than as the officer first in command of those iron clad monsters that have routed treason from its every stronghold Second, I may be foolish, whimsical and extravagant in this idea, but I certainly am candid in the statement, that neither the army or the navy will be in advance of the President when Richmond falls. History demands it to make the name and administration of Lincoln, historic. 
So we go. I commenced this story with all the jest and humor I could command, and wind it up with some of the most serious reflections, if not important considerations, connected with the final overthrow of rebellion. The President in Richmond, he will have an army for his cabinet. May we welcome him there.

               Yours, &c., See. See. Ess.

-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman, May 23, 1862


* To "warp" a flatboat is to use a rope tied to something on the riverbank to help it move up the river. To "punt" is to move a small shallow boat through the water through the use of a long pole. Our correspondent for some reason spells it pint throughout.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part IV

Continuing a series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. The Daily Green Mountain Freeman was founded in 1844 in Montpelier, Vermont, as an organ of the anti-slavery Liberty Party that contested the presidential election of that year.

The editor of the Freeman was Charles Wesley Williard, the "Mr. Williard" of the correspondence. Williard (1827-1880) served as editor of the paper from 1861 until 1873. In 1868 he was elected as a Republican to the United States Congress where he served three terms.

Charles Wesley Williard by Matthew Brady


Today our correspondent share his thoughts from White House Plantation on wood ticks, sutlers, and other parasites.



Camp on Gen. Lee's Plantation, May 14. 
Mr. Willard: Late last night I closed a letter, telling you that we expected a continuation of our long marches in the morning. The morning has come and gone, and our march has been made, about seven miles, over a road very difficult for the passage of our artillery and transportation wagons; in fact, they are not all on the ground yet. From my tent I can now see a long train of wagons, among them the balloonwagons, looking for all the world like the monkey cages of a caravan. A large number of troops are halted here, several Divisions, I should judge; none, however, that I am acquainted with, but our own and Porter’s.

We move slowly, but I expect sure, and from all that I can see and surmise I should judge that Little Mac would be ready to exhibit his anaconda and wood-tick how in Richmond on or about the 21st inst. A limited number of Congressmen and other adults are expected to be present to see the anaconda hiss, bite and squeeze. During the week he will be fed on ball cartridges and percussion shells, and, - for further particulars see small bills, or the New York Tribune, H. Greeley, editor. 
Our present encampment is historic ground. The plantation, a very large one, not less than a thousand acres, is now the property of Gen. Lee, in the rebel service. It once belonged to Major Curtis, grandchild of Mrs. Washington. We are now in full view of the old home stead (with new buildings, I presume,) where Washington passed his courtship and honeymoon. A strong guard protects the premises and the plantation. I don't recollect the historian's particulars about this era in the life of Washington, further than when betrothed he used to have considerable business in this latitude; and who would not, to win the affections of such a woman as Martha Curtis(sic)? 
I have just used in my remarks about "Mac's show," the expression, "Little Mac's wood ticks." That was truly an original idea with some one of our soldiers. You all must know what a wood tick is, though l am not sure us they are grown in Vermont; but anywhere West or South they are to the manor born. This peninsula is swarming with them, and at every camp we are sure to get our clothes full of them. 
Of all the pesky insects I have ever had to do with, these wood-ticks are the most annoying, save, perhaps, the regular line-back, kangaroo mosquito, indigenous to the swamps and prairies of the West. You can have no peace day or night, for them. They will get in your ears, in your hair, in (act everywhere about your person, in, d the they commence boring for blood upon the regular Artesian well principle and in a little while these insignificant little creatures swell up like a balloon. Go into a camp any where at anytime and you will find any number of soldiers hunting for "ticks," hence the idea so original and apropos Little Mac's wood ticks."

I have not forgotten my promise to give you in "my next" the grand sutler scene I witnessed yesterday at Cumberland landing. At a moderate estimate there was on that landing, less than a mile square, 40,000 troops, some say 60,000. Now not one of this host of soldiers unless they were smarter than the boys of Vermont Brigade, and Gen. Brooks has effectually contradicted that, had had anything to eat or drink better than a soldier's ration of hard tack, raw pork and bareback coffee for months. 
You can readily conceive what an appetite they had on when the camp news became general that there was a boat-load of sutler's stores at the landing. Chickens to a dough dish is but a poor illustration of the rush to the river's bank for victuals, something that had the smell or taste of buttery about it, cheese, ginger bread, cakes, pies, crackers, and of course tobacco, cider, and I reckon down in the bulkhead a few measures of liquefied rye and com. To their great astonishment and chagrin, the boat was anchored out in the stream some thirty yards from the shore. But there were a dozen or more skiffs about, and all of them in demand taking passengers to and from this boat-load of luxuries. Impatient for passage, many a hungry soldier would wade out in the stream up to his waist to meet the returning bout, while others, still more impatient, threw off their clothes, and plunging in, swam to yonder boat with their mouths crammed full with pocket-book, purse or change. Securing a passage for the moderate sum of twenty-five cents, your correspondent was soon one of them, a lone dollar being all his capital, with which he certainly expected to get as much as a taste of something good to eat, for his bowels yearned exceedingly. The craft was a full rigged schooner of about two hundred tons burthen. Fore and aft there was a hatchway, and down in the hold all the supplies were stored, save a few bands of apple cider on deck. As many as three men at each hatchway officiated as clerks, dealing out the goodies to the hyenas on deck. Now, I cannot believe that any pen can picture out those hatchway scenes; a brush and pencil might do it to advantage, but this little weapon, it is more powerful than the sword, becomes like Samson shorne of his strength when it essays to write out a scene like this. There was first a constant yell, "two pounds of snaps," "one pound of cheese," "three pounds of butter," "ten pounds of tobacco," and now and then you would hear some reckless, hungry, improvident chap sing out, “Here's a dollar get us that's worth of anything, whiskey, tobacco or bread." But, to my great surprise and disappointment, I soon found that a dollar was of much less account there than the same money was in California in 1849, when $12 a dozen for eggs was a moderate charge, and I began to think that by the lime I had paid another quarter for a return passage, my chances for a smell even, say nothing about a taste, would be exceedingly small. However, I saw a cider barrel going, and thinks I to myself, if a half or a quarter has got any show on this boat, that barrel must no the place. So, after pushing, and jamming, and punching, and pulling myself through the crowd, in the course of an hour and a bait I had the good luck to secure a cup full of cider, an excellent article. There was less than a pint, and us it only cost a quarter, I felt relieved after I got myself out of the channel and breathed freely again. Just then I met one of the stark naked customers, and he had a pound of cheese in his arms. What did you pay for that," I asked. "Seventy-five cents." "I'll give you a dollar and a half for it now," put in a ragged, rusty looking soldier by my side. "No you don't," said the cheese man, "I'd rather charge a rebel battery than go naked through that crowd again."

While this conversation was going on an officer came along with a bottle of brandy peaches." How much for that" someone asks. “Two and a half." "Can you get any more." "Yes, you can but I can't, unless you lend me the money." In a little while I soon observed a movement extraordinary near the bow of the schooner. Crowding along up, I soon learned what the matter was. A squad of boys, more liberal in their views of trade and traffic than the proprietor of the concern, had knocked in the head of a cider barrel and were vending the fluid without money and without price, and before the news came to the ears of the sutler, they had sold out. I then stood round the hatchway again and looked in amazement upon these customers packed around, tier above tier, buying their wares. Fully a third of them were swimmers, some Zouaves with their circus riding uniforms and thee balance a crowd of sharp witted, money spending soldiers, the whole group making a tableau such as no artist has ever painted. Tired of all tins, yet I would not have miss id it for an interest in the Tribune's gun factory, I set sail for camp, arriving just in time to settle up my cash account 75 cents for a drink of cider and write up my correspondence for the Freeman and other parties nearer home. 
Great is Diana of Ephesians, but greater still is Horace Greeley of the Tribune, and it seems a pity that he is not a God. Yesterday I made an extract from one of his editorials, wherein he "regretted" that our success at Yorktown was not more sanguinary, that is, he was sorry that your correspondent or somebody else had not mingled their blood with his carnage loving patriotism for the Union and his Brigade. Most of us soldiers are inclined to think that is somewhat cool to say the least, and if we should take time to study on it a little they might get a little wroth. 
It is rainy again, and the signs are that it will continue through the night if not longer. This not just what we could wish, but no move than we can endure. 
By the way that yarn about the Vermont troops going home soon has thickened up a little and last night it was said to be official that all the Vermont troops would soon ho discharged save those who were willing to enlist in the Regular service. You can take as much stock in this as you please and I will sell you all of mine for a small consideration; at the same time I would not be surprised if we should make an advance upon Vermont before the 4th of July. How would it suit women, children and tax-payers?

                              Yours, etc,  See  Ses  Ess.


--The Daily Green Mountain Freeman.(Montpelier, Vt.), May 22, 1862


Sunday, August 25, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part III

Continuing a series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. The Daily Green Mountain Freeman was founded in 1844 in Montpelier, Vermont, as an organ of the anti-slavery Liberty Party that contested the presidential election of that year. In April 1861, at the beginning of the fighting, Charles W. Willard became the owner/editor. He moved the party away from being strictly an anti-slavery paper to one that also followed the war closely. He is the "Mr. Willard" these missives are addressed to.



(Our War Correspondence.
From the Fifth Vermont Regiment.
                                                                   Camp at Cumberland Landing,
                                                                                              May 13, 1862.
Mr. Willard: We are making another halt, either on account of the excessive heat of the day, or for some strategic purpose, I cannot say which; for no one knows, though the questions are in a thousand mouths, what are we halting for. and what are so many troops coming to this one place for? If the thing could be done, I would like very much to have the talent to do it, nor it would be a leather in any man's cap, to write out a complete picture of an army under marching orders. I don't mean a sentimental affair that some novelist could spin out and varnish up for sale in a "yellow kiver,*" but an out and out camp, march and halt story, incident and scene after, that altogether would be a soldier's life, and us such, one of the best inside, green room histories† of the war that can possibly be written. But it is folly to load ourselves down with a bigger back load of aspirations than we can conveniently carry, and at the same time attend to our legitimate business. Now I don't wish to be severe or sarcastic, but I reckon' that truth will set harder on the stomachs of some broken-down politicians than a glass of whisky would. Sir, as we do not aspire to do that other thing, let do what we can for the readers of "our army correspondence" in a plain, off-hand manner.
Last night our brigade, this saucy Vermont brigade, lay five miles in advance of the division, on the road to Richmond, and as we want all the credit we get, I might as well add that we were all as brave as lions. We were sent for ward, I suppose, as an advance guard, that is of infantry, lint our position, after all, was not very perilous, for the enemy was miles ahead of us, as reported by cavalry scouts, their latest news being that a strong rear guard was in position on the Chickahominy.
I ought not to write any more this evening, for I am actually in too good humor to write an army letter. I have a whole book full of notes, some a week old, but I can't get at them as long as I run on in this way. I must have something new. Yesterday some cavalry of the 8th Illinois brought in one of their men wounded. They found him lying on the field where there had been a little skirmish, and a negro was over him trying to cut his throat, but he managed to keep him off with his sabre. They caught the negro and hung him.
It is late, quite, dark, and I'll not write any more to-night, but will close, engaging to give you in my next one of the most graphic sutler scenes ever witnessed. There is no army news that I know of. It seems that we are waiting for the maturing of some new plans; at all events, everything is mysteries to us. There is some talk that we shall have an engagement to-morrow, but I do nut credit it. It may seem foolish for me to say so, Out it is almost impossible for a soldier to obtain any news about our affairs, and if he writes at all he must confine himself to such items us I have just been giving. I hope to write again to-morrow, but may not do so, as we are lo march early, and how far I cannot say. There are a large number of vessels here loaded with supplies, and some with troops. By the way, on our march to-day the 4th regiment got lost. It was marching in the rear, and by some mistake got on to the wrong road, and I understand came near getting into trouble. They are in camp now and all right.
Yours, &c,  See. See Ess,

-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman.(Montpelier, Vt.), May 22, 1862


*-"yellow kiver" i.e. yellow cover, the color of the cover of cheap periodicals of the time.

†-"Green room history" i.e. a behind the scenes account.
In case you are very interested.
" . . . Green room history, etc- The lobby or reception room behind the boxes is often called the Green-room; but that is a misnomer. The Green-room, properly so called probably from its being at first covered with green, is an apartment behind the scenes, contiguous to the stage, where the performers assemble in readiness, at the call of the prompter."
-A Collection of Poems: On Various Subjects, Including The Theatre, a Didactic Essay . . . by Samuel Whyte


Monday, August 19, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part II

Continuing a series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. 
Language warning.


                                                               Camp near New Kent Court House,
                                                                                                 May 12, 1862. 
Mr. Willard: I shall be obliged to with draw my "good bye" apology with which I hastily closed my letter yesterday. It was all right enough then, but things have changed since. Coming in from picket at daybreak this morning I expected to see "the warriors rise from their lowly cots," and all accoutered for the march renew their pursuit after the Flora Temple chivalry of rebeldom. But, hour after hour passed away, and no orders came. What's in the wind, and why don't we march, were questions at large throughout the camp. No one could explain. Hearing that Norfolk was in our possession and that our gunboats were up the James River, I quickly surmised that perhaps Generalship was doing what "long and rapid marches" were originally intended to accomplish, and I soon learned, from quite a reliable source that we were not arching, because fluctuating are the plans of the enemy. Evacuating Norfolk exposes their flank before Richmond, and why should they do this if a stand is contemplated before that city? Still, we may go out to-day (it is not noon yet). I hope so, for every Vermont soldier is anxious to visit Richmond. And this reminds me of an incident worthy of record in any journal.
In making our advances from day today, it is the practice for one Division to lead the column to-day and another to morrow. The same practice extends to Brigades and Regiments the Brigade that leads the Division to day will be in the rear to-morrow.
Now, it so happens that on the day this pursuit commenced, Sunday, the 4th inst., the Vermont Brigade led the column. It was a fine day for marching, and, excited by the many novel scenes of evacuation, the boys let them selves out and did some tall marching. General Keyes and Staff were alone, usually riding at the head of the column, cavalry skirmishers only being in advance. But every now and then he would find himself somewhere behind.
From information given him by these skirmishers and his aids, he had decided on a halt at a place some three miles in the rear of where we finally halted. But the head of the column had already passed this place. So the old General, exhibiting some little restlessness and good nature at the same time, sings out to one of his mounted orderlies: "Orderly, orderly, come here. If your horse has got bottom enough to catch up with that Vermont Brigade, I want you to overtake them and order a halt, tell'em we are not going to Richmond to-day, or to h-ll either." 
So off posted the orderly with his unique order, which I understand he delivered to General Brooks, verbatim, when the old man turned half round, placed his hand upon the rump of his horse, a great habit with him, by the way, and replied, "The h-ll, we ain't." 
A day or two after this we were making an other march, some other Brigade leading. During the day Gen. Keyes had occasion to ride some distance in advance, nearly up to the line of skirmishers or scouts, where he overtook a squad of advance stragglers. It being no place for stray soldiers the General asked them what Regiment they belonged to. "---- Vermont," was the reply. "What, Brooks' Brigade?" "Yes, Sir." Then, after giving the boys a significant look, he remarked, "Well, if that devilish Brigade ain't first into Richmond, some of the men will be," and on he went, leaving the boys alone in their glory. 
It is somewhat late, but there is another incident that I insist upon relating at tins time, and in my own way, for I tell this story not so much to interest your readers, its to give myself an opportunity of hating and almost cursing our fiendish foe.
The morning after the engagement of the 5th inst., before Williamsburgh(sic), the battle ground was strewn with the dead, dying and wounded, "like leaves in Vallambresa."
The night had been very severe upon all save the dead, as the rain fell constantly and the piercing night winds chilled even those, of us who had the few comforts of a bivouac rest - blankets and browse. How acute, then, must have been the sufferings of those bleeding, exhausted and shelterless victims of their own folly At daybreak, however, we had men on the held, and all that could be done to alleviate their sufferings temporarily, until medical an d hospital comforts could be secured, was promptly and cheerfully done. In the rear of the battle ground was a large tobacco house, a building as comfortable as any shelter can be without fire. The floor of this building was covered thick with corn husks, blankets and overcoats were secured, mostly by donation from our own men, and also coffee and other stimulants given those men to warm, nourish and strengthen them, before our medical corps attended to them professionally. Ail was done for the wounded Carolinians that their nearest friends could do under the circumstances, and surely enough to waken gratitude in Sepoys, Savages or Devils. During the day nearly every wound was dressed, several amputations were made, and the beet nourishment that the hospital department hail at command was furnished.
The next day, the second after the battle, they received even additional attentions, very many being forwarded in our ambulances to the river, and sent by boats to northern hospitals. In this building alone there were one hundred and one wounded men, nine-tenths of them Carolinians. Having nothing else to do, I visited these men, conversed very freely with many of them, and not a few who were repentant, and they made to me what I presume they considered an acknowledgement that they were wrong, that they had been deceived, that our soldiers were not vandals; and one of them told me that our wounded at Manassas met a different fate. Passing along, I was soon in conversation with a young Lieutenant who had been wounded near the knee, and as he fell over upon his hands he received another wound in the thigh, the bullet passing up his back and lodging in his neck. His wounds had been well dressed, his bed furnished with matrass(sic), blankets and pillow, and clean under clothes given him by Lieut. Sawyer of the 2d Vermont. In short, he was comfortable, suffering but little from his wounds; and being very talkative, I remained in conversation with him for sometime. Not many, if any, leading questions were asked or answered, he talking mainly upon the relative manhood of the two armies, saying, of course, very much about Southern blood, how the world over it had ever been victorious. For a sick room, and more especially for a sick man, our conversation was quite spirited,- perhaps pointed would be a better word, -and though most of his remarks were pregnant with taunt, boasting and abuse, and that damnable Southern air, accent and emphasis, that alone is enough to vex and irritate the best natured man in the world, I remained perfectly cool. I knew, as Doesticks* used to characterize one of his friends, that he was a "dam phool," for no man with any talents and education could be anything else and hold a commission under Jeff Davis, finally I said something, but his quick and wicked response made me so angry that I could not remember what I did say. "Why," said he, "I hope this war will last twenty years, for the moment I recover, I will be in it. Don"t you think i am weaned or cured by any kindness. No sir, not me I audit you doubt my sincerity, give me a musket and I'll shoot a man now!" I don't wish to be egotistical, but I certainly would be much obliged to the scholar who will point out to me any remarkable difference between the scriptural portraiture of Job's patience and my own sense on that occasion. I wanted, and who would not want, to say something? But my speech was choked with malice, vengeance and disgust. Yes. I wanted to call him a low, ungrateful, nigger suckled descendant of a once proud and heroic ancestry; and why I didn't do it, or something worse, is more than I shall at this time attempt to explain. I at once left the ungrateful, fiendish wretch, but not without several heart promptings to go back and its politely as politely, hate him to death. Comments, postscripts and doxologies are most respectfully solicited to the real, candid, and not overdrawn picture of a Southern rebel, wretch and devil. That's all.
       Yours &c,     See. See. Ess.

-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman, May 21, 1862



* pseudonym of writer Mortimer Q. Thomson.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Vermonter in New Kent - 1862 - Part I


Today starts a new series on the Civil War in New Kent with reports to the The Daily Green Mountain Freeman from their correspondent in the Vermont Brigade during the Peninsula campaign of 1862. I have selected those letters, of which there were more than a couple, that were composed in New Kent.


(Our War Correspondence.)

                                                From the Fifth Regiment.
                                                                        
                                                                                 Camp on the March, May 11, 1862
Mr. Willard: I was surprised this morning on referring to the map, to find that we were already north of Richmond. New Kent Court House is in sight from our camp; and the map shows that this place is a few miles north, and about thirty five east of Richmond, on a line of railroad to the Confederate city, the metropolis of everything military, congressional or diplomatic in rebeldom. But how soon we shall be doing police duty in that municipal city, depends very much upon military necessities and contingencies, and not a little upon the remarkable skedaddling gait and bottom of the fleeing army. Very many are confident that they intend to make a hold stand within their fortifications about that city, while others contend that they are forgetting out of Virginia and the Border States as fast as possible, and that they will not halt this side of Lynchburg; and I am partially inclined to this last opinion myself. One thing is certain, and, if you please, you can dignify the move with the most polite and scientific military term in an army lexicon, evacuating. They certainly have left this peninsula as precipitately as their limited means of transportation and legs could carry them. Our army once had occasion to "evacuate" Bull run, and l assure you that our troops in that panic left no more evidences of rout and flight, than they have left between here and Yorktown, to say nothing about their repulse and loss at Williamsburg. Every road and cross-road is filled with army plunder in the shape of wagons, gun carriages, hacks, buggies, guns, ammunition, old clothes, knapsacks, and last, but not least, deserters the happiest men I have seen in many a day. They had a "French furlough,"  their fighting was over, but ours was not ;and it would have pleased you to have seen their smiles and sparkling eyes as they gave these responses to the salutations of our advancing troops. "Their fighting was done," and instead of war, death and carnage, their hearts were swelling with hope of the endearments and enchantments of home. Envy, on an occasion like that, may not have been a very patriotic emotion, but who could help it Tired, foot sore and weary, plodding on in pursuit of the most ruthless army ever under arms, to see any body going home, started a train of sensations and associations that no patriotism can smother.
But other scenes soon quieted all feelings of the kind. We began to meet swarms of negroes, and at every "halt," to hear their stories. I wish that 1 could tell you some of them, but it cannot be done in any other way short of superior conversational powers, gesture and position. One old darkey tried his best to press his opinion about the two armies, and he excited much merriment among his listeners. "De seeesh go by yesterday, and dey look mighty bad; dey was dirty, ragged and hungry, and (leaning forward and speaking in an undertone.) i tells what, mass, I expects dey were a little scared. But you, Lordy Alassy, is a powerful army, and all best looking men I ever did see, and I hopes you catch 'em. O. my God. massa,  dey is Lad meu, mighty had! Dey think nothing of shooting and stabbing wounded men. O, dey is awful bad."' And so he went on in a strain that I cannot begin to give.
We arrived at this camp yesterday afternoon, and expected to march again this morning, but it being the Sabbath, Gen. McClellan rested his army, and, by so doing, has made another link in the chain of confidence, affection and esteem which binds the leader and his followers. We shall, however, be on the move early in the morning. I was intending to write more, expecting that I should have this day to myself, but as I have just been detailed for picket duty, 1 shall be obliged to wait for another opportunity. Should your readers ever have another opportunity to read a letter from your correspondent, it will probably be dated at Richmond.
It is but a short distance there, but a very steep grade, and it is not impossible that we shall be many days on the road. I hope, however, to reach there safely, but if 1 do not do so, I take this occasion to wish you all good-bye.

                                          Yours, See. See. Ess.


-The Daily Green Mountain Freeman, May 21, 1862


The Vermont Brigade, made up of five regiments of Vermont volunteers, was the only brigade in the Union army to be named after a state. It also holds the honor, as dubious as it might seem to some, of having the highest casualty rate of any brigade in the history of the United States Army. Almost 1,200 men of the brigade died during the war.