Content Page

Journal 4: Camp Near White Oak Church, Va. 16th Regiment, N.Y.S.Volunteers.

                                                                                                              EnRoute from camp near White Oak Church
                                                                                                                                                          Jan. 20th 1863.

          Own Dear one: we are now on the march, troops all round. We are resting for a short time. We are now right by White Oak Church. Cloudy & cold. We were awaked this morning at about 8 o'clock by Brigade Adjutant Wilson putting his head into the tent & saying "Col. Seaver, Sir, move at 12 o'clock precisely with three days rations." We all roused up & Wilson says again - repeating the order in his comical way "three days rations & move at 12 precisely." Then he turned & saluted me in French & disappeared. We lay still about 20 minutes more & then Major says "Mr. Ball are you ever going to get up?" Then I believe he raised up his feet in bed & pushed up my slats & finally took up my little axe & commenced cutting one log of my five foot logged bed stead off. Where upon I put down my hand, caught him by the top locks & we had a frolic as we have most every morning. He went on the principal if that, as we were going, I did not want any more bed stead. Then he covered himself up, head & all, & Col. Seaver handed me a stake & the Major crawled up closer. Then I reached down & fished up his boots & slippers which, of course, he could not find when he rose & so the Col. gave him a cup of water to defend himself against the stick, which cup I succeeded in upsetting before he could throw it, as well as another so we compromised the matter & all prepared for breakfast. We have had real good times all the way along & we dislike much to leave our comfortable tent & fire place. Well after breakfast we made ready packing up & c. & at about half past eleven an order came from head quarters which order was to be read before the soldiers (an order from Burnside) "Soldiers we are about to meet the enemy again. Their forces are reduced. The auspicious moment has arrived & c.) A short time after, Gen. Bartlett appeared before the five regts, of the Brigade arranged it. They were upon our parade ground & read the order about five men hearing it & no body cheering it. Well, even with the rotten fools, God can give us the victory. I think some body has worked hard to Demoralize the army & McClelland seems to be made to be remembered. The NewYork Herald is about all the paper we received or others of about that temperament, but wify this is for our own ears. There are a good many right thinking ones here. I can tell you at least one story of McClelland connected with our own regiment that you would take as at least a little cause to make you think less of him than ever.
          Col. Seaver was previously Major of the Regt. & once when they were marching, the order was given that no ambulances should pass the Regt. Soon there came an ambulance & several times tried to pass. Col. Seaver at last ordered it to halt. Some one rode up & said it was Gen. McClelland's ambulance. Where upon Major Seaver then said he did not care whether it was the President's ambulance, it could not pass without an order of proper authority. Where upon an officer rode up & asked Major Seaver's name & Regt. & when it was told, he said to Major Seaver that he would consider himself under arrest. Gen. McClelland, the officer said was in the ambulance, where upon the Major told him if Gen. McClelland was in the ambulance he could pass, but Gen. McClelland's ambulance could not pass without a pass from Gen. McClelland. The Major (Seaver) was near the ambulance & heard a deep gruff voice within say something? "who is that speaking disrespectfully of the Com. Gen." (Gen. McClelland within) The Major was kept under arrest for a long time. If Napoleon had been inside, Major Seaver would have been commended & promoted for noble & strict soldierlike fulfillment of duty. But wify this is between you & I, be careful how you use things in our journal, however wify will know. I know this story is true for I had it from enough lips that could speaking advisedly. Well we soon started this morning on the march just after the reading of Burnside's address & now we have gone a number of miles, rested many times & during these intervals I have written. The pontoon train has been rattling beside for some time & is now gone on. We may cross the river tonight. Fifteen minutes ago a pontoon wagon with its rig broken drove through the regiment while marching & some of the men hit one of the horses which reared up & halted tumbling over backwards & mixed up the number general one was walking up on top of the other & they began to roar in their uncouth way (Dr. Crandall has Just stepped up on foot to my horse's side & said to me, "You must feel poetical to write up there in the wind. We are drinking brandy & water down here to keep warm, how are you atop Zollicoffer" I am on horse back writing on my roll of blankets on the pommel of my saddle; my hand is a little numb with the cold). Major Palmer is now acting as Lt. Col. & Capt. Gilmore is Major. Their commissions have not yet come but so it is to be. There is a news boy crying "N.Y. Herald"
          Nearly 6 o'clock P.M. We have been marching on over hill & dale & through old deserted camps, chimneys still standing & blackened by smoke. Our men are now resting for a few minutes, lying down. Now they rise & we are off again.
          It is now nine o'clock or there abouts. Shortly after six we filed into the woods & found for encamping & now we are under our hut. It is raining but a bright fire is burning at our feet, the Col. on the right hand side of me & the Major on the left. After halting, Edo took my horse & I got out my little hatchet & cut some sticks & the Col. & I both took a brand from a fire already kindled & I heaped dry leaves & twigs over it - dry sticks & then green sticks & boughs & it smoked & cracked & brightened up & blazed out & soon we had a fire & then I went out & cut two uprights & a cross piece & the Major cut some more sticks & a pioneer brought another (Corporal Browne, an old English Crimea soldier) & then we fashion a hut & stretched our india rubber blankets over them, my two & some canvass at the sides & put our saddles down for pillows & our ponchos over a layer of boughs & then our blankets & now the Col. is asleep at the left & the Major on the right looking at the fire thinking, perhaps yet doubtless of tomorrow & its dangers & I am writing in the middle, 10 a.m., wily. The Drs. Crandall's & Purdy's hut is right behind ours. They are singing just at this moment "Old folks at Home" All the world are sad & dreary every where I roam at darking how my heart grows weary far from the old folks at home. Now, they have ended & struck into something else. The Adjutant's hut is at the right. Pete, & The boys are piling wood on the fire & have Just cried out "Dr., your horse is lose." That breaks up the singing. Little Dr. Purdy runs & stubs his toe & falls & the boys are laughing. I said to Edo "see if it is old Zollicoffer" & Little Pete says "oh old Zollicoffer is all right." You will see my paper is spotted with rain & just now the Major raised up & said "hallow, the rain is coming in here," it leaked between the two india Rubber blankets of the roof but we have fixed it & shaken off the water from our woolen blankets. I forgot to say that after we built the fires, we sat down & opened our haversacks & took supper, ham & biscuits. The Col. has just raised up & said "Oh Chaplain you are a worker. If Mrs. Hall dont appreciate you, she is no Judge of human flesh." Now he crys out "Coots, the water is coming through here" and Coots (a regular Sam Weller) is disputing the point with him. The fire gives plenty of light for me to see to write. There was a fellow singing "we are marching along" & the criers are going all around. Our hut is somewhat this fashion with fire at feet
          Morning of the 21st: Oh, what a night last night was. I slept pretty sound but waked up several times. Suddenly, there came a cry of "To Arms, To Arms." Oh! how we jumped. I thought it was the Major I followed & oh what confusion and tramping & pulling. There was a perfect uproar when suddenly I found myself laying on my back under blankets staring at the fire at my feet. It was a dream & the water was coming down in a little stream through an opening in the two India Rubber blankets. The Major slept very little & the Col. soon woke with a groan, saying "This is the roughest night I ever knew." He waked coughing & saying & "I have been all over the world & home six months sick in my dreams." We fixed the blankets & tried it again, but soon the order came by Wilson that we must be ready to move immediately. So we prepared at once, crawled out in the rain, opened haversacks & took a bite of pork, ham & biscuits & some coffee. Dr. Crandall came near loosing Sam, his contraband. He went to sleep (& will sleep anywhere) & came near falling, head first into the camp fire, but one of the boys caught him; our boys set up all night cowering over the fire with their capes over their heads. They could not sleep. Well, soon we moved & came out of the woods (it was still raining) & wheeled into the road in the fields. A caisson of ammunition was stuck in the mud with 18 mules before it could not stir it out of the mud. Our boys, who are ever singing or making sport of some kind cried out, "why dont the army move" or we came splashing through the mud over fields & crossing roads & through woods & passing batteries of flying artillery & pontoons till here we again bivouaced. It is about 12 o'clock. It has stopped raining but cloudy & our boys, Coots & Major have come in with some corn (captured at some barn) for the horses. "Here come the smallers [?]" says some one, as they made their appearance. We have tied our horses to a tree & I took out my large knife which is a perfect treasure & cut whittling of dry cedar & took my little match box & kindled a small blaze & then the pioneers piled a chip or two & the sergeant major (James White) brought a little brand & we put on more chips & then sticks & logs & now we have a rousing fire. The Sergeant Major is on my right side sitting on the same rail I am & Dr. Purdy on the left smoking. The Col. & Dr. Crandall, just over there with their backs to the flame, & a little beyond is the Sam Weller Coots making a Colossus of Rhodes & looking over & grinning at me writing. I make it a point to keep on the right side of all the boys & whoever gets corn or oats, Zollicoffer gets some. The old fellow is eating now of some out of Sam Weller Coots' bag. My little hatchet is Just under my feet. Dr. Crandall is now at my left & has Just offered me some coffee. I forgot to say what was the finality of my dream last night, Just as the order came. You were at Dr. Beresford's, I thought to dinner, & I was debating with myself whether I could go up there without an invitation when Wilson poked his head into the hut & roused us. Oh what a hot fire is before us only to think of its coming from a few whittlings & two wax matches. Two companies of some regiments have gone down without arms towards the pontoons & I suppose they are now preparing to lay the bridge. We are perhaps 1/2 a mile from the river. The pontoons are long boats painted blue about 30 feet in length, perhaps. They carry them on long waggons with timbers for cross pieces, suppose a layer of 5 timbers making the bottom of the Waggon & iron anchors hung below to anchor the boats fast in the river, one anchor to each boat; one anchored up stream & the next anchored down stream & so on. They lay the bridge very fast under the cover of artillery & sharp shooters.
          Morning of the 22d Jan.: Yesterday, after finishing my writing I went all round our camp to see men & officers, Pliny Moore & Capt. Barney & Lieut. Wallen were found quite comfortable for the times behind a tree in the woods & it was really interesting to see the various ways the men had arranged their shelter tents to make themselves comfortable. Oh what a time it is, smoke & mud. The camp is all pudding & in the wild woods, axes going, trees crashing, fires blazing, tents put up, a little shelter tent just big enough to cover three, stretched out side by side. Then made a frame of logs inside, lengthening out the tent a little so as to keep our feet out of the rain, by india rubber blankets & ponchos to keep our feet out of the rain. Oh how it has rained. We sent Coots back to pick up a piece of some shelter tent, but he has not returned. He was gone all day yesterday afternoon & last night & it is now eleven o'clock today & he is not here. He could not very well have been taken by the enemy for there are no pickets of theirs on this side of the river. Perhaps he has been taken by the Provost Guard as a straggler, poor fellow. I hope he will soon return. Well we crawled in last night for supper, out of the rain, into the tent & had wify's dear tea. It was so good, refreshing. Wify, I would send it after you might send perhaps a pound paper. The postage would be about $1.00. We had a box of sardines that we opened & some soldier brought us some corn cakes & with pork and cheese, we had a fine supper. Then soon, we went to bed, first drying our blankets as well as we could. They steamed & steamed, but we could not get them dry. We then scattered the green boughs, which we had cut in the morning, all over between the frame of logs & put down the india rubber blankets & then the wollen over. Then I doubled up my saddle bags for a pillow. There was not room enough for the saddle & taking off my boots, put my cape over my head with hat on, crawled under the blankets on the left hand side of the rubber india, the left end of the tent, the Major this time taking the middle by my request as he had not slept any the night before. Well, we went to sleep & Edo lay across our feet & Little Pete went to sleep in the rain on a log in front of the fire. We slept as so in the middle of the night I had to get up for a minute & went out of the tent laying my boots down in the mud to step on, but I slipped off in my stocking feet & wet. Then I had Edo dry the stockings a little a crawled back again. They finally dried under the blankets, but what I wish to speak of particularly, that right in front of the tent perhaps a mile off was a huge fire in the woods a the boys said that they had heard guns. We of course could tell nothing about it, perhaps a beacon light of the enemy. (Hallo, there goes a wild turkey flying over the camp of the 18th N.Y. & set they bags in a farmers) Well, now think of last nights picture. Thinking of it together in our own little heart of hearts when God shall let us again, do you not think we will look upon it a savagely sublime scene, a perfect wilderness here. But still we have to work so hard to keep ourselves comfortable that we don't have time for much contemplation, nevertheless I do, for I think it is living a life & so I try & treasure up every thing for wily & hubby. I am now setting on a mess log with my feet on some sticks to keep them off the wet ground & have my cape thrown over my head under which I am writing. I put it so first to keep the rain drops off the paper.
          This morning we rose about 1/2 past nine & I cut little pieces of ham & toasted them on a stick & ate them, holding the main piece of ham on a hard biscuit. Then I toasted some pieces of cheese, then ate up the hard biscuits & drank some coffee &that was my breakfast. I have only a piece of boiled pork, perhaps 2 inches by 1 1/2 & 1 inch thick & also about a cubic inch of cheese left in my haversack & a box of sardines & a little mustard box filled with butter. We fear the great army of the Potomac is stuck in the mud. The Adjutant has ridden up & said "all movements suspended for today" someone said awhile ago that a regiment was detailed to take a battery back to camp and a short time ago five of our men were sent for, with five canteens a piece to come up to headquarters of Brigade for whiskey. A canteen holds 3 pts. That is 25 canteens - 75 pints - 4 galls [?] 8 half galls 600 half gals of whiskey that will go round the regiment. The 121st NY had orders to move & was packing up, but these orders are countermanded. Yesterday, about six men of Lieut. Jameson's Co., including himself, had fixed their tents like a fisherman's hut and old uncle Joe a back woodsman from Saranac woods was among them. (The bravest man they say in the regiment) a terrible fighter, and as I past, they wanted me to come in so I lay down on the boughs among them & toasted my feet by the fire & they entertained me with the accounts of their wounds. The way they get them & with stories of the old 16th which used to go last summer by the name of the [?] Straw Hat Brigade. The rebels named them that. The 16th has never been driven and did have a number of compliments from Gen. McClelland. He has been in the former Cols. tent purposely to compliment their bravery. I was amused by one story, Several Regiments on the March hesitated at plunging into a stream when the 16th came up, Gen. McAllen asked "What Regt is this" ("16th N.Y." Says he "forward 16th & don't be afraid of the water" and any the old fellows went right into the stream & over. We are nearly 3/4 of a mile from the river. Nevins the Adjutant rode down yesterday to the back & found there a battery of 12 of our guns & as Nevins & some officer who was with him made their appearance on the bank 3 rebel pickets sprung up on what looked like an abutment of an old bridge opposite & lest they should fire at them, Nevins & his comrades retired into the woods. He was telling us. He crawled into our tent last evening & I had a long talk with him about the Eastern regiments & western Indians, including the Christians & found he knew Joe Hall & Colbert College mates of mine of the lines of Alan Wright very well. They were half breeds. Oh that the army of the Potomac might ever do something. Why did we lay five weeks inactive during times when we could have moved. But still God will override villainy, I firmly believe. I yet trust we will have a country in spite of despicable southern sympathizers. But never the less we must confess this war in the wilderness is difficult work. The pontoons seem to be fast in the mud. Mule teams of horses that drew them are piled up on top of one another, dead. Sam Weller said a little while ago that a detail of 20 first [?] 6 feet high had been sent for to fish for the pontoons with bobs. You would certainly be amused my Fanny Fan, just even for a short time here (excepting the profanity) confusing of roads & tents & falling trees & crackling fires roar & oaths & laughter, complaining & joking & fighting, playing & striking & blankets drying - horses kicking & cross because they are hungry. Caps exploding & here & there a musket - whistling - men pounding their ram rods into them & then drawing them out of their guns with rags attached to clean them (Nevins the Adjutant has Just sat down on another mess log near me & am asking him what they were thinking about it over there. He said drearily "Je ne sais pas." There is a piece of pork frying back of me. Oh how it is frizzling. The Col. has just called to me from the tent "Chaplain suppose I commit burglary on your haversack." He wants some whiskey. So Edo has Just taken him my little flask. The Col. has a very bad cold, seems to be his lungs. I have a slight cold, or else it is the fearful smoke that makes my nose & eyes run, but I am doing finely, splendid appetite, can hardly get enough to eat. Keep warm & bear fatigue with any of them. The Col. said to me last evening "Why you appear to take life so easily, no matter what happens you are happy." We had a long, very pleasant talk last evening in the tent together (before Nevins came). The Col. (Lt. Col.) Palmer & I (I shall try to call Col. Palmer, Major so that you will know who I mean. "Lt. Col." sounds stiff). The Major & I had a frolic this morning again. I like him much. What I meant by saying some time ago when I had a headache, he was a fine fellow in some respects was that I thought he is not quite so thoughtful of others, when I had a headache, as he might be. He is a quiet man with most people. He seems to be as thoughtful of me as any one, perhaps more so. But you know I can not bear to see a man that way & that is what made me speak so of him before. But I then had a fearful headache & felt bad & the people & things generally looked blue & abominable. When I recovered fully & read over those few sheets then written I was amused at it & thought first I would not send them, but it is best that you should know how a fellow feels in camp amid smoke & tobacco & whiskey & profanity & every one taking care of no one. But the fact is it is as difficult here than in civilized life, for it is about as much as one can do to take care of number one, wily. I want you to take the impression about the headache sickness & the good quiet old Major Just as I have written in the pages put in since my return. The Major is a first-rate, kind friend. My boots go splendidly. They are greased & dont wet through & my poncho is such a large & fine one that it almost covers the horse beside myself, going over front & back roll of blankets & saddle bags & all I have, even candles with me in my saddle bags. Six small pieces so when the Col. spoke of candles last night I provided a piece & we took a bayonette & stuck it in the middle of the tent & used the round part according to camp custom as a candle stick. + Now, it is night again & I am writing by one of these identical pieces of candle stick with a bayonette thrust into the ground. It is a number of hours since I wrote down to the cross on the last page. Pete is arranging the blankets in the tent. We have reversed the tent & made the fire on the other side for the old fire blew right into the tent & when we had turned the tent round & built the fire on this side it smoked us just as bad as ever. The wind beat it back again, sweeping round the Dr.'s booth. So I suggested to the Major that it would be well to build a bower to head the wind off. He said he thought it would be a good idea & that if I would engineer it, he would finish the ditching of the tent, so I went & cut sticks with my little hatchet & laid down brush wood & built it up higher & higher & then mixed green boughs through it & then piled up more & I don't exaggerate when ! say it was stopping nearly all the while some six to eight inches in the mud. Soon I had Pete pile up some more & the Major came & piled some more & the bower has proved a success. The wind has kept out & we have built up the fire. The pioneers came a short while ago to give us some more wood. It is interesting to see them work. Two went to work on one tree right behind the tent, one on one side & the other on the other and in a very short time it was down, the top falling right back of the bower. They soon cut the tree up & brought the pieces over & the branches they but on the bower. Then they took another tree near by, two men going at it & down it came with a crash. Then three men mounted the trunk & each cut off a piece about six feet long, all at the same time & it was over, piled up for us very shortly after it was a standing tree. We have just put some green wood on - or at least a while ago & I said to the Col. it was a rather melancholy fire. Where upon he answered from under his blankets where he has stowed, hoarsely "Yes, Water Melancholy." I took a stick out of the fire a while ago & burnt a place in the paper on the tent sheet so wify & I will have a coal from the fire which hubby kindled in the wilderness of Virginia with two little wax matches of ours. You know, this is the same fire as before moved round from the back of the tent. The Major has made a hot whiskey punch which he has handed to me, but I have made him take it & then he made some for Edo & Pete. Oh wify, Coats has made his appearance, he went way back to the old camp & brought the news that the cooks of our Mess are all drunk, so Major sent him right back again for provisions. There is a man speaking over in the camp of the 21st. He is drunk & they have cheered him, the sound ringing through the woods & off there is a band playing. We had a fellow terribly drunk in our camp today & he came up to Dr. Crandall's booth & abused the Drs. terribly, telling them they were all drunk. His Lieut. (Lieut. Sanford) would not do anything with him. The man was going to strike him. Of course, it was very easy to have some men come & take him, but the Lieut. seemed to want to take him off quietly so I went over & told him to come with me. I wanted to call on him at his tent, so he touched his hat to me and after some talking went with me, saying "Chaplain if-er-they-er-were all-er-like-er-you we-er-would go right over the river." I tell this for wify's sake. The man was very drunk, but a little while before he made an oration among his fellows, which although in a certain sense was somewhat profane, I thought very true. "One man comes, says let me manage the Army - & then Burnside come & says no, let me manage it & then comes another & says no let me rock this cradle, but by & by comes the Lord Almighty & rocks them all." I thought, then would indeed be the time when the Army of the Potomac & all the forces of the govern't would move, winter or no winter. Now good night own one with a kiss from own Frank. No, I must write a little more. The woods back of our old fire have already all fallen & on both sides of the valley is encamped regiment after regiment & their camp fires are now burning far & near & the men of different regiments are calling to one another across the ravine, making the wood ring. "Who wants a N.Y. Jacket to go home in May?" "Who wants to trade their leggins for Jackets?" Then the answer "95th" Then "Who was at West Point," (field of battle on the peninsula). Then the answer sent ringing back. "95th, old leather legs" They wear leggins and so they all are bandying one another, flinging back questions & answers & making the woods resound with noise & laughter. Now some one says "Go to bed, boys. Go to bed." & so I believe I will, Good night, own one.