Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight

Author: Wilder Dwight  | Date: 1868

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The Rough Side of Campaigning (1862)

BY MAJOR WILDER DWIGHT

CAMP NEAR EDINBURG, April 9, 1862.

SCENE, camp, snowing and raining, and blowing angrily; Time, Tuesday morning. The Major Second Massachusetts Regiment enters his tent, shaking the dripping oil-skin cap and India-rubber clothing. He discovers John, his John, surnamed Strong i’ the arm, or Armstrong, digging a hole within the damp tent to receive some coals from the hickory fire that is trying to blaze without. John (loquitur). Sogering is queer business, sir. M. Yes, John. J. But it’s hard, too, sir, on them that follers it. M. Yes, John. J. It’s asy for them as sits to home, sir, by the fire, and talks about sogers and victories, very fine and asy like. It’s little they know of the raal work, sir. M. Yes, John. J. ’T would n’t be quite the same, sir, if they was out here theirselves trying to warm theirselves at a hole in the ground, sir. M. No, John. Then the coals are brought on, and a feeble comfort is attained. The woods are heavy without with snow and ice. In the afternoon I visit the pickets, and spend a chilly and wearisome day. This morning is again like yesterday. ——, who has shown himself a trump in our recent exigencies, but who has certain eccentricities of manner and speech, came to breakfast this morning, rubbing his hands and saying, "You would n’t hardly know that this was the South if you did n’t keep looking on the map, would you? hey? What say?"

Since I wrote the above I have spent two hours in the hail-storm visiting pickets. This, then, is an invasion of the South, query? . . .

BIVOUAC NEAR NEW MARKET, VIRGINIA,

Raining from the East. Easter Sunday, April 20, 1862. . . .

After a short halt at Mount Jackson, which is a town, and filled with evidences of Rebel occupation, such as large hospitals, one of them unfinished, we were ordered to march round to "turn the enemy’s left."

Our path was a rough one, through a river, over rocks, and through deep mud, on, on, on. We heard occasional cannonading over toward the centre, where Shields’s force remained drawn up in line of battle, to await our tedious circuit. The day was long and hot; the artillery labored over the almost impassable road. I went on in advance, with some pioneers to aid a little by removing obstacles. As we passed through the little village of Forrestville, a party of young girls sang Dixie to us. . . . On we go. We have got round the enemy’s position. It is dark; too late to ford the North Fork of the Shenandoah to rejoin the rest of the army, who have now entered New Market, which Ashby even has left. Tired and foot-sore, we lay down to sleep in the woods. Marching for eighteen hours, and such marching! the bivouac, in the warm, pleasant night is a luxury. The next morning we start again, and ford the Shenandoah, and get on to the turnpike at New Market which we had left at Mount Jackson. The Shenandoah is swift, and up to one’s middle. Fording is an exciting, amusing, long task. It is finished at last, and the brigade, led by our regiment, moves through the town of New Market to the saucy strains of Yankee Doodle. We move two miles beyond the town, and bivouac on a hillside. Our tents and baggage are all sixteen miles back, at Edinburg.

It is late Friday evening before we get bivouacked. Many of the men are barefoot and without rations. Saturday morning it begins early to rain, and ever since we have been dripping under this easterly storm. . . .

Aha! the clouds begin to break. I wish you a pleasant Easter Sunday. One thing at least we may hope for, that before another Easter day we may be at home again; for this Rebellion will die rapidly when we hit its vitals. They have not been hit yet, however.

I wish you could look at our regiment under rude shelters of rails and straw, and dripping in this cold storm. Our shoes and clothing came up yesterday, and this morning we are giving them out. So we are not wholly helpless yet. . . .

CAMP NEAR HARRISONBURG, April 26, 1862, Saturday.

Rain! rain! rain! March! march! march! What a life! We marched fifteen miles yesterday, in mud and rain, to this point, and got into camp at night in reasonable comfort, but almost without rations, and now we are busy with the miserable interrogatory of what to eat?

Such is our experience. Colonel Andrews is again on detached duty, and, for the past few days, I have been in command. It is impossible to exaggerate the difficulty of taking care of a regiment when the whole Quartermaster and Commissary Departments of the army corps are in such hopeless confusion and debility.

No other army corps has the obstacles to contend against of this kind that we have. At Yorktown they have the sea, and the Western rivers bear supplies as well as gunboats. Here our wagons cannot bring supplies enough to last until they return from a second trip. We shall be driven to forage from the country; and I do not see any system adopted wise enough and prompt enough for that effort. But there is no use in croaking; we shall get out of the woods somehow, I suppose.

Among other short supplies, we are wholly without newspapers since a week ago. What is the news? I hope McClellan is silencing his opponents by silencing the enemy’s batteries. That’s his best answer.

[Mrs. E. A. W. Dwight], (Boston 1868), 230–241 passim.

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Chicago: Wilder Dwight, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, ed. Mrs. E. A. W. Dwight in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed May 23, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VLY3XASIZSGCP5R.

MLA: Dwight, Wilder. Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, edited by Mrs. E. A. W. Dwight, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 23 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VLY3XASIZSGCP5R.

Harvard: Dwight, W, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, ed. . cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=VLY3XASIZSGCP5R.