Saturday, August 15, 2015

3. I should like to go to Charleston and drive out the rebels

The winter hut of the 5th New Hampshire's lieutenant colonel, Samuel Langley, at Camp California (James Larkin photo) 
[Previous chapter]

The 5th New Hampshire Volunteers moved from Camp Casey in Maryland to Camp California near Alexandria, Va., in early December 1861. At this large encampment the New Hampshire men began to train in earnest for the long marches and great battles that lay ahead. They also camped for the first time with their comrades in the division of Brig. Gen. Edwin “Bull” Sumner.

Clouds Mill at California (James Larkin photo)
Sumner, born in 1797, was the oldest field commander in the Civil War. He had been in the regular army since 1819.

Among Sumner’s troops was the Irish Brigade, alongside whom the 5th New Hampshire would fight in many of the largest battles in the East. The brigade consisted of three New York regiments and a fourth from Massachusetts. Almost all were Irishmen. Their brigadier general, Thomas Francis Meagher, was as colorful and fiery as the 5th’s Col. Edward E. Cross. Cross considered Meagher a blustering drunkard.

Perhaps a bit too glowingly, Col. Robert Nugent of the 69th New York, Meagher’s original regiment, described Camp California in these terms: “We are located on a very fine hill, overlooking a magnificent valley, studded with white tents, and presenting a view of some ten miles in every direction. The location is exceedingly healthy, the soil is dry, firewood abundant, in fact inexhaustible, and the men getting wise by experience, have not only put up their tents scientifically, cut drains round them, but have been able to put in substantial floors, and glean as much straw in the neighboring fields as to make themselves beds.”

Arrow points to site of Camp California. Above arrow is Clouds Mill, which was photographed by the 5th's James Larkin.
As we will see, the bugler Cutler Edson and the soon-to-be sergeant Eldad Rhodes of the 5th New Hampshire were less romantic in their views of Camp California. Rhodes, who lived in Lancaster in the state's North Country, arrived there after New Year’s Day as a recruit to a regiment that had already lost many soldiers to illness.

There is a gap in Edson’s diary from late November 1861 into February 1862. The 5th fought no battles during this period. It did make festive Thanksgiving plans, which were canceled because of preparations for the regiment’s move to Virginia and the failure of turkey and other victuals to arrive on time from New Hampshire. The men made up for this with a big Christmas party, which is described here.

This third chapter of the story of the 5th New Hampshire’s early months consists of a letter home from Edson and the first word from Rhodes as he prepares shortly after the first of the new year to leave Concord for the regiment.

Among the images made by James Larkin at Camp California was this one of U.S. regular army troops in a stand of trees. 
Dec. 1, 1861: Cutler Edson letter

[To Mr. and Mrs. Horace F. Folsom. The Folsoms and Edson belonged to the same Methodist Episcopal church in Enfield, N.H. Theirs was the largest Protestant denomination of those that eventually merged into the Methodist Church in the United States. Horace Folsom was a manager in the Methodist Episcopal district of Claremont, N.H. On Aug. 12, 1862, he enlisted as a private in the 11th New Hampshire Volunteers at the age of 43. He survived the war and lived until 1878. Cutler Edson datelined the letter excerpted here ”Camp Californy, Oswegotown, Fairfax Co. Va.” The Folsoms had asked him several questions about army life in a recent letter, and he set out to answer them.]

I am one of the privileged caracters that go from Co. to Co. all over our camp. When I am not on duty which is only from 4 to 6 hours a day and then not very hard, I usually run over to see Bro Strong* 1 or 2 times a day and have a chat with him. He seems to be getting along well, gets out to social meetings when he can, learns his cookery.

I run in to our Chaplin occasionally. Like him very much, he is good in social meetings, he is a Soldier every bit of him.  It looks a little curious to me to see a minister armed with a sword by his side and a revolver fastened to his belt. But this is the way they do it out here in the rebels land.

Maj. Gen. Bull Sumner, the 5th's new division commander
I see our chief Bugler several times every day as we give our general calls. The buglers generally all assemble in one place. He is rather a wild young man but I have an idea he will get tamed down some before he gets home.

You asked how the rigeur of going south suited me – think I should like it very much, should like to go to Charleston S.C. and drive out  the rebels and stop there till next spring and then go home, but don’t know as we shal have the privilege. I think we have some thing to do here in Virginia before we go much further south, but we can’t tell what it is for us yet. Probably you get us much war news as I can tell you.

You wanted I should give you a little sketch of camp life. We have enough to eat but not always so palatable as we could desire but I don’t feal to complain but recv what I have with thankfulness. It is as good as we could expect under the circumstances. We have just as good beds as we can make out of leaves, cedar boughs, etc. Some times we get a little straw which is a great luxury but I usually sleep very well. Have not had the Rheumatism but once, then it only lasted me 2 or 3 days.

We had rather a hard time when we went to Marlboro but nothing to what others have endured. I did not faint by the way but someone did.

Our Sundays here are not much as they are at home. We have a certin round of duty to perform which takes up a good deal of our time. Our religious services don’t generly last more than 10 or 15 minutes after we are on parade. Some are off gathering wood and chopping, some fetching water, others cleaning there guns &c.

All is life and --- in camp. My charge is much easier than a privates. I have nothing to do but attend to my playing and am very well contented with the situation. I miss a writing table and chare to sit in but I do the best I can. For a seat I fold up my blankets and sit on, for a writing table I found a small piece of board that I hold in my lap. So when I make some crooked marks and some blots, think it not strange. My pen and ink are getting rather poor and I don’t know as you can read it. If you cant please carry it to my good Wife for she can read most any thing.

Our colonel told us to-day that we were very near 150,000 rebels and that we were lible to be attacked by them any day and to keep our selves in readiness for a battle. We have 4 Regts in our Brigade with a Christian man at the head, General Howard. We are now in General Sumners division, 4 Brigades in a Division. Ours occupies the right wing and our Regt the extreme right, a very honorable position.

[*Private Lewis J. Strong of the 5th’s Company C was a Canadian by birth but had enlisted from Enfield in August. He was later discharged for disability and went home.]

Eldad Rhodes’s diary

Wednesday, Jan. 1, 1862: New years morning pleasant, and a mild day ensued. I was quite unwell with a cold, am preparing to go to the war tomorrow; – Mrs Hartwell called in the evening. – also Mrs Baker. Am in hopes I may be better soon.

Thursday 2: Weather very cold and blustering. Started for Concord in the morning. Arrived without accident at about 300 P.M. found Crafts* wateing at the Depot; went down town in the Evening was not very well.

Welcome Crafts
[*The ambitious Welcome Crafts, from Milan, also in the North Country, was first lieutenant of the 5th’s Company B. He had his ups and downs as a soldier, but late in the war, as a lieutenant colonel, he became the regimental commander.]

Friday 3: Weather cold and windy. I was at my boarding place at Wheeler nearly all day. Went down town in the Evening and changed boarding places. took up quarters at the Columbian Hotel Concord NH.

Saturday, Jan. 4, 1862: Weather very cold all day. I went up to the State House in the Morning and was mustered in to the service of the U.S. and recieved my uniform with the rest of the men, had my ambrotipe taken to send home; went up to the State house in the Evening.

Sunday 5: Rather cool but pleasant – went to the lower part of the city with Bickford and Andrews* after some recruits. we went to hear a lecture in the Unitarian Church in the Eve, had a full house &c.

[Nathan Bickford, 21, and Samuel A. Andrews, 24, men of the state’s North Country, had mustered into the 5th’s Company B with Rhodes the previous day. Bickford stayed with the regiment for 13 months. Andrews was wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, and killed at Cold Harbor on June 7, 1864.]

Monday 6: Weather cloudy and some snow; –  was busy arranging for our departure for the seat of War tomorrow for the defence of our homes and Alters; and may the God of Battles prosper the right and bring a speedy peace to our dismembered Nation &c

Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1862: Started from Concord 7 1/2 OC (AM) reached Boston at 11 1/2 OC left B at 5 1/2  reached Newport at about 9 PM and then started out on to the sound, for New York. Slept until 1 OC (AM). Went on deck.

Wednesday 8: Arrived on the Wharf at NY at about 10 OC (AM). Marched to Park Barracks and were kindly recieved by the Massachusetts Boys; left NY at 6 OC (PM) for Washington; reached Philadelphia at about 11 OC (PM). All is well; still going.

Thursday 9: Weather very damp and foggy, arrived in Washington at 7 in the Morning; we marched to a campground, took breakfast, and marched around the city untill noon and then went aboard a steamer for Alexandria reached A at (8 OC) and marched to camp very tired.

Friday, Jan. 10, 1862: had a good nights rest in Camp. very muddy. did not drill on account of it; wrote a letter home &c; am in hopes the weather will brighten up soon; and make our dreary camp life more cheery.

Saturday 11: underwent an examination in the forenoon. Went out in the afternoon and procured brush for our bed. had dress parade in the Evening. was not very well to day.

Sunday 12: the Col inspected our armies to day. had divine service in the forenoon; wrote to Mrs Underwood to day; Va. is a splendid country.

Monday, Jan. 13, 1862: I was promoted to Sargeant on dress parade this evening; – Cold & clowdy

Tuesday 14: The ground was white with snow in the morning, a cold wintery day ensued – it was pay day and money was flush in camp at Evening; we were busy preparing for picket duty tomorrow; A cold, winters night ensued.

Wednesday 15: We were up by times, and off to our deauty as soon as possible. we took one days rations in our haversacks 40 rounds of cartridges & Blanket to each man, very cold & rainy; marched to Edsons hill and built our camp as best we could. Slept on our armes all night, had a hard time.

Thursday, Jan. 16, 1862: Very pleasant weather; we were busy felling trees and bringing them to camp for our fires; – this is my 21st birth day; I hope that my next birth day will find our "glorious union" restored and peace and prosperity prevailing everywhere; Crafts came to camp today.

Friday 17: we drilled in the forenoon. Crafts went out with about a dozen men on a scout, came in at dark. we heard heavy firing on the Potomac; we are to go to the front tomorrow; – all quiet.

Saturday 18: Very drizzly and cold; we started on our march at 10 OC. we got our several posts picketed by noon, – rain fell more or less all day. the night was dark and stormy  I stood my turn on guard five hours.

Next: Long marches and a trying winter   

No comments:

Post a Comment