Journal 1: Camp on Belle Plain, VA. 16th Regiment, N.Y.S.Volunteers.
Own dear wife: you know how certain parts of Henry Clay Trumble's letter impressed us. So this letter which you will probably find an eventful one had less. So for no outside ears or eyes you know what I mean.
Camp of the 16th Regt. N.Y.S.V.
In the woods where Belle Plain
Dec. 9th 1862
My own Dear Wify -- I am sitting in a
tent before a huge fire of logs, and the high full moon is shining directly
in front of the door and over the woods where the regiment is encamped. The
camp fires are everywhere burning in front of me among the trees and among
the cracklings of the flames of the hum of the camp. Just at this moment
away off in the distance I hear some one whistling "dixie." And near, another
one has just past the tent door whistling the same tune. A huge plain intervenes
between us and the Potomac & we are spread out in the woods just above
it with many other regiments around us. The axes are almost continually sounding
& there goes a tree just falling. And here comes a heavy army waggen
passing the tent. It seems strange to me - marvelously strange beyond description
- stern - savage - & yet fascinating in the extreme, yes, even sublime
to me. And accompanying circumstances seem to render even still more intensely
so. It is only a few hours since I returned from the funeral of one of our
poor fellows of Company H. and but a little while ago since I in the woods
with some of the men having a little prayer meeting in the dark. There is
deep religious feeling in the regiment & a most noble regiment it is.
The Hospital Steward, in whose tent I just now happen to be writing, has
already made up his bed on the floor & one of the men has turned in.
I will try if possible and give you a continuous account of my journey from
the time of leaving Washington. But first I must say my own one, that your
dear letter arrived safely today your letter of Dec 2 And oh how fully has
lived it. The Doctor dropped in Just a moment ago and I told him I was writing
to you, & he said Oh! that he had not got so far yet as having a wife.
Friday morning Dec. 5th. I started from Willard's at about 1/2 past seven in company with a youth Mr. Woods (a son of Bradford R. Woods of Albany) who was going on to a station just beyond Aquia Creek landing to meet some relative in the army. Am arrived at the foot of 6th street. It was not long to find the general Tent. Zepher glided off with us over the Potomac on the way to the month of Aquia Creek. We soon past Fort Washington & near Mt. Vernon & we went on past the many points of interest. Till at about eleven o'clock we reached Aquia Creek landing. We saw many of the old burned posts remaining from the bon fire the rebels made of the wharf. And also we saw the gun bits laying about & the dock covered with government spares & contrabands. It was not long before we were close along the wharf and stewards formed their lines to receive us about in the same way as some of their brothers had seen us off at the Washington dock. After waiting in vain to have some one take my things off I at last obtained the contrabands to pick up my saddle, box & we skedadled off for nearly a quarter of a mile to be in time to get them onto the train that was about starting. There seemed to be the wildest confusion & at last my box was safely deposited on the top of some pork barrels in an open truck, & myself mounted on top of it. There were no passenger ears just freight cars & trucks & everyone had to look out for himself. Soon we steered it off things regiment after regiment encamped along the road & in about an hour & a half reached Falmouth from which I could just see the steeples of Fredericksburg over the hill. I longed to go up to the top of the hill & look down on the city but there was no time as the train was going right back.
On account of the difficulty of finding out anything I had gone too far. The dispatcher waited for me a few minutes to get my things on again & then we return with one car as far as the bridge just south of the 15th N.Y. regiment of engineers of Potomac Creek. I hurried the box off as soon as possible & met a young officer who told me the 16th was in motion with Franklin's division & that they had passed down towards Belle plain. His Coperal sent with four men to get my box & valise on the waggen train but it was too late so I had to leave the things in charge of the officer who proved to be Capt. Ketchum, a son of Hiram Ketchum of N.Y.
Then barely started out on foot and then his first soldiering began. It was soldiers & camp & squadrons of cavalry all over & oh what desolation. The whole country cut up & such roads. I hurried on past trains & regiments & sometimes passing things where lines of men stopping on either side of the road. I asked many questions but few could tell me anything. But at last I learned definitely that the 16th were in the advance of the column & so on I went after them.
Towards the closing the day I saw a man from one of the trains coming towards me & soon said Why how you do, Mr. Hall. It proved to be Jim Ball of Schenectady in the 15th Regt. and then another came up, a young Vedder who used to live in Jerry Street, Schenectady. We walked on together & he was very interesting in conversation, telling me much.
I break off hear to say that it is 1/2 past eleven and for fear of incommoding the hospital Steward I have come into the Colonels tent where I lodge & have taken my seat at the table in the center before the camp fire place my feet resting there. The Colonel writing on the opposite side & Major Palmer reading the paper at the other corner of the fire place. The tent is shut close & all is as comfortable as possible inside. I did not come in here at first to write to night, because there were several in here with the Colonel transacting business & there was no room.
Well to return to the march & my friend Ball. We went pleasantly along together with dust passing many things of interest. Regiments of artillery, cavalry, & infantry & pontoons on wagons for making the bridge over the Rappahannock. Once we past an old Virginia house where several old ladies were seated by the fire looking out of the door. They looked quite antique. Every house along the road & throughout the county, for that matter, has a guard.
Dec. 10th 1862. - Camp 2 1/2 miles from where we were last night near the Rappahannock - own dear one. I left off writing last evening at about 1/2 past eleven for I supposed the Colonel might want to go to bed. So we turned in. The Major & I sleeping together on cedar boughs & under blankets. So warm we were just roasting. An order came a few hours before to march in the morning, with three days worth of rations & sixty rounds of cartridges which means they say that we are to cross the Rappahannock. So we slept long & soundly to be called up at anytime. But we find that at about nine no order had as yet come to move. We took breakfast & a real hearty one. I mess with the Colonel, Major & Doctors' Crandall & Murphy & it is as pleasant as can be. After breakfast I took a walk a little way up in the woods to the cabin of a poor white who they say is an old guerrilla when we are away. But just at present he is as union as possible & has some of the soldiers to mess with him & we get milk there. A savage looking old man covered with black hair & himself pretty nearly as brown as leather. On returning an officer was just riding up to the marque with the orders to move. So we downed with the tents at once & rolled up the blankets. Captain Moore has detailed for me a first rate man by the name of Winslow. So soon my splendid old black horse "Zollicoffer" was brought around by Winslow from the South of town just behind the marque & we were ready in a very little while for marching. We were obliged to leave many of our sick behind in the woods & as I rode round with the doctor. It did seem very hard that they should be left but Dr. Barne, the Brigade Surgeon, says they will be taken to the general hospital. The regiment was soon under way. The Major, Dr. Murphy, Dr. Crandall & myself bringing up the rear; we all have fine horses and my rig they say is complete. We have marched a few miles & now - The bugle has sounded a halt and the regiments are in a very pleasant woods where we will probably stay perhaps till here to night waiting orders to move. We are near the Rappahannock. The horses are already unsaddled & the axes sounding all around & many tents up. We have taken a lunch & the men are all around gathering bows in case they remain here all night. Many are gathering grain in a field a short distance off which they expect to use as beds. Col. Cake the present protem commanding the Brigade, a little while ago rode up here & new assistant for our Surgeon. Not long ago there was quite a little uproar off to the left. The men had started a rabbit & many were after it, but it escaped in the woods. The train of wagons has arrived & we are hoping for something more be sent. The tents have come but we will not put them up. I saw something in one end of a roll of my blankets & the Colonel at the other end whittling a stick he says he don't care whether he ever sees a tent again, his pipe was stopped up a moment ago & he could not make it work. He is a splendid old fellow just as grand & as clever & as funny as can be. He was the old editor of the Malone Pulastium. He has just risen & said to Dr. Crandall, Dr. can't some more of those sick men go along with us? We may just as well be mustered out if we must leave some 40 or 50 men each time. A little while ago I came across Capt. Moore (Pliny) in the woods & we had a few words & out here a little ways, I met a 96th man whose regiment is near us & he says some of their men he thinks may come over & join us in a prayer meeting to night.
Dec 12th waiting to cross the Rappahannock writing on horseback right by the side of the Major. The musketry at the upper pontoon bridge has just commenced and the heavy batteries have just boomed and oh what a scene. Over this vast plain the multitude of regiments are spread and waiting to cross artillery, cavelry & infantry everywhere. Oh how those guns sound. We are crossing under cover of a mist but the sun shining brightly all the while. Oh how beautiful it was but night beautiful no! Wartime. We came down in heavy columns from the woods to cross and several regiments were thrown across followed by the thundering wheels of the artillery regiments, but in the first regiments deploying their pickets they came suddenly upon the enemy. Live of battle - we are starting - we are waiting on the bridge - just over - Gen. Franklin just past - we are forming in line of battle & oh what a scene in this waste plain - last night as I was saying when we came down to cross. Fredericksburg in flames & wild confusion of whirling plattoons & heavy cannon. The Major & myself were separated for a time in the reverse movement when we came back & it was perfect uproar, but my splendid horse Zollicoffer. It seems as if I could put any where. He is perfectly drilled trained. Oh, if you had seen the signal fire from hill top to hill top last night. The whirling half circles of light & the return from the signal corps past over. Oh it was beyond description. Oh soon they are gathering us up at the upper bridge. Our skirmishers are out in front of us. Now we move. There, just over there, a shell has burst, a beautiful little cloud of smoke against the blue sky.
- a scene occurred very much like the other day in camp which I spoke to you of. Just as we crossed the bridge a rabbit ran out from some bushes among the regiment of lancers & musketeers started after, swords were out and whether they caught him or not I dont know, we past on; the old chaplain of the fifth Maine Regt. has just ridden up to me & handed me an unexploded shell. I have just ridden over & am standing by the side of a dead rebel, his head is all torn open. Poor man, he has paid the penalty. Now I am standing by the body of another, fuse burned up - & there is a dead horse -- Now I am by another dead body, who they say is an officer - Work will probably commence soon - There, coming down the hill, is a regiment of rebels. Col. Seaver, our Col., just past & he said to me "notes on the field ah?" - The regiment of rebels have just laid down - Shortly after the rabbit past in the first camp, we were ordered to fall in & soon marched on, after a bunch went forward to go out on picket. We marched down to White Oak Church & then to the banks of the Rappahannock. We halted some time down at White Oak Church -- The old chaplain the 5th Maine has just come up to me with the fly leaves of a Bible taken from the napsack of one of the dead rebels to the right & he has read to us 3 verses of the 26th Chap of Deut. from the blood stained leaves. A squadron of cavalry has just past & my man (Edo Winslow) has just moments ago picked up a sword bayonette. Our Colonel has just cried out "Premiers to the front." There, way off to the left go an immense body of our cavelry - There is a fellow looking through his glass, resting it on the back of a fellow soldier. The soldiers are all laying down or sitting & the skirmishers are going steadily forward cautiously. Well to return to White Oak Church. After a while I dismounted & went into a south house where the Col. was with the adjutant & some officers by an old fire place & (a comical old fashion bed with the partings curtain to the ceiling). Just to the right hand our new post as surgeon guard at the last camp & he was with me. soon we moved down to the bank of the river dropping off company after company in the moon light to go down as pickets of threes to the edge of the river as near as possible under cover with no fire except of boughs & tented at last at an old house, called the traveler's house, after which returned with the Major & he and I rode along the splendid avenue we had marched through bordered a like way with a magnificent cedar hedge, reminding me of the Avenues in the Pope's Garden. Certainly they were as high, perhaps higher. (It is now 20 minutes of 12, we cross the Rappahannock about one hour ago. I wished I had looked but I wanted to write a few words on the pontoon bridge. There go the cavelry way off in the distance deployed out in skirmishers.) Now to return to the Major last night on the river bank. We gathered corn in the fields for the horses & we laid down on some under the hedges & build a small fire. Edo my man & the Major's Pete a like armed genius, a little tramp of the regiments, was with us & Dr. Murphy hospital wagon & older men a little way or, to our wagon we tied our horses. The Major gave me a piece of pork to roast on the end of his sword which I unfortunately dropped into the ashes. Oh, he said it would make it all the better. When I was done he took it & dropped it into the dirt & had to hunt for it for some time. He made it better still. He divided it & we found it a great relish on a piece of hard tack's they call it, or hard head. then we went out & visited the pickets with Captain Moore (Pliny) & Capt. Wood, Wood telling us that if he found anything dead he would send us a piece. He afterwards with some of his men chased a heifer but could not catch it. They could not fire at the heifer as it was a picket of observation. The Major & I return & lay down spoon fashion as we have done for several nights under our blankets. I slept a little while lying on the corn husks with our feet to the fire & when morning came we visited the pickets again and as we were soon to move on, perhaps to the battle field, upon which we now are, I road up to the extreme right & arrived at A company, or company "A" & had prayers with reserve company on the road. The cannons booming most fearfully, up here where they were then laying the bridge. The Colonel & I had ridden up together (Now the skirmishers are firing briskly. Now we are not sure whether we are going to have another Antitam or whether the rebels have already, or are going to skedaddle). Well I was going to say the Major & I yesterday morning on the march went down an icy decent to water our horses in the brook. Old Zolicoffer fell down flat. I got off at once & patted him & soothed him & he rose most beautifully. (I have just sent off Frank, one of the hospital boys, to tell Edo to get me some more paper from the men, I am giving out). Well Col. Palmer and I rode up yesterday on the top of a hill & looked over towards Fredericksburg, in the direction of the roar of the guns, to see what we could see & there we had a short session of prayer together & reading of scripture on horse back - On my way back it was that I went through the companies with prayer - (The cavelry have come in & the 16th has advanced; we are now in a ravine. Oh, what an immense (plain there is above); most suspect for a battle field. They think the enemy are in the hills far beyond. The batteries have gone forward on the vast plain above when our regiment, was in position. I stood with old Zollicoffer in the center of the Reg. when the Colonel had called them to attent. & Read to the men the Rom. 8th verses (28 & 31-39) and prayed with them very shortly. The Col. is a splendid old fellow. He had the men draw up in camp (just before leaving) to have service but the order came to move so we moved & are now here. Well to return to the Major & myself on the hill yesterday. Soon the order came to call in the pickets & march on as rapidly as possible. The cannonading had ceased for a time & we began to fear that they had not put the pontoons across the river. I had just completed the last prayer meeting with the farther company on the left, when the Major rode up & asked me if I would but see if all the pickets were in & to hurry them. So, I put spurs to old Zollicoffer & rode along the pickets line about a mile or mile & a half to the end & hurried up Capt. Barney's Company & the rest were all up on the road. (Little Alex, a comical little darky contraband who has followed the regiment & gives much sport has just a moment age started a rabbit & the soldiers are after them. We can see the enemies line of battle on the hills beyond, see them with a glass). The regiments are advancing all the while. There are regiments laying under cover of the hill top Just in advance of us & the 16th are below in the same. The Major & myself are in the end here with the Dr. Murphy & Col. & there now the west line of our infantry are advancing army up to the front. Oh, what a sight, the whole line is moving. The sound of cannon several miles up on the troop line. Oh, that you could see the awfully grand sight. A rebel cannon has just discharged on the hill. Wiz, there goes the opening ball of to day. It past nearly ten or fifteen feet over head. wiz wiz. There goes another, wiz another. I thought it nearly struck right in our regiment. Wiz, wiz, here they are exploding all the while, we have gone down in the ravine. Now they are firing right over our heads. Oh, the battle (of today the 2nd day) is begun. Oh that you could hear it; the balls & shells are striking & exploding all around, solid shot & shells. The Battle of Fredericksburg (2d day) is begun. The artillery & men are all down here under the hill there is one shell burst in the air & a boy of my drill has handed me a piece of the broken plug. one fellow is wounded hurt in the arm. We can't attend to him till the troops get out of the valley. there goes old chaplain Adams. There is a hole in the ground about fifty feet off made by solid shot, was right under a house. We have all gotten off of our horses now Zollicoffer is held by Edo. There goes Gen. Talbott. It is most remarkably strange, dear Fan, but it has already become monotonous. The Sergeant of the battery just gave orders for another man for they are hurt in the hand. I am with Dr. Murphy & Purdy. Now the firing has ceased & the troops are preparing to advance & what I can see is of course compared to the whole, of a mere handful. One of our guys here just brought me an unexploded shell & there goes another one, wiz, over head. Now I must go back to yesterday, we marched up towards Fredericksburg & somewhere wheeled up in the woods (the commanding is now going on farther up the line. We don't know, but we may have a hundred thousand men here & a front of ten miles). Well we wheeled into the woods, I say yesterday, & then when they each bivouacked & had taken a lunch Pliny Moore, Dr. Wallen & the Major & myself was off to see the shelling of Fredericksburg. The Major went with us as far as he could leave the regiment & then Pliny & Wallen & myself went in opposite to the city & sited ourself between two of the batteries & they were firing on each side of us & oh wify what a sight. They ploughed right into the buildings, racking them to pieces & setting them on fire. It was fearful, but the rebels did not reply at all; we had it yesterday all our own way. One building they had a particular spite upon, because sharp shooters had troubled them from it. Well we could not stay long so we marched back through the mud to camp & reached there just as the regiment was moving. The men were falling in & soon we marched off down upon the plain to cross the river as I previously told you & there was the rest - the army of the Potomac & the flames of Fredericksburg in the distance & the signals on the hills. Soon came the order to counter march & we return to the woods (a large hawk has just flown over the same & the boys cried out there goes a spy & draw their guns on it).
Dec 13: Dear Wily, the battle has commenced this morning (3d day of fight) on the extreme left (greater before ten). Commenced suddenly with the rattle of musquetry & there soon came the cannon & now they are sounding. It is very foggy. Last night I rode at will old Zollicoffer around the forward regiments & leaped a few ditches. He leaps splendidly. On my way back, I met little Pete, the Major's boy, going out to an old barn beyond to get corn stalks for our bed. I joined him & found the soldiers coming out with beer. "Well chaplain" says Pete, you try & then I will try. So I made a rush and after nearly loosing my half succeeded in getting an armful & then Pete did & we came back flying, taking the ditches on the way. The Major & I went out to a straw heap on the plain & had the boys gather us some straw & soon we brought it back & made up our beds & laid down on the blankets & our heads in the hollows of our saddles & went to sleep as near spoon fashion as possible. But before going to bed our adjutant, a noble fellow & old soldier of the Entair (?) expedition came to me & wanted me to go out with him to the out posts so we went & saw Col. Meyer. We did not go clear to the Pickets however, as the Col. told us there was nothing to see on account of the fog. a cavelry man was killed half way between our pickets & the enemy's & they were fighting for the saddle of the horse. In the night after Dr. Murphy & I had been talking side by side on our backs looking up to the stars (the Major lying on the left of me) I heard a gun fire & perhaps the desire for the saddle may have caused a man a death. A young officer had offered $15 for the saddle. Oh, the shells are wizzing at the left, they make such shrieks through the air. It is thought we will have a greater fight here than Antetam. Here is a shell burst in the air right over here. The corps stretchers, a while ago, came winding down into our ravine so we may have wounded brought in soon. Multitudes have been killed already but not bringing in Dr. Murphy or his aids. There go the stretchers out. They carry cots with handles, a man at each end.
The 27th N.Y. right next to us has just moved off. I am sitting by a camp fire by the Col. & Major & an ade du camp of Gen. Bartlett has just ridden up & said to the Col. that in case of an accident the watch word will be "Scott" to prevent regiments firing in to one another. Col. has called up the 10 company commanders around the camp fire & told them. Cap Woods, one of them, a gallant & funny fellow who chased the heifer the other night, laughingly said as he went away "when you called I thought I would fetch a cup with me but I thought I could drink out of the bottle just as well." Gen. Brooks with some officers is on the crest of the ravine right opposite a few rods off. The army & company is divided into 3 general divisions right, left & center. Each division into two or three Brigades; each brigade into 4 or 5 regimes. Gen. Franklin commands our grand division the left wing. Smith our corps. Brooks one subdivision. Babbitte our Brigade & Col. Seaver our regiment. We have just moved up the same some distance & the roar on the left has ceased, only a gun now & then. We are the 3d regt from the extreme right of our general division. They seem to be trying to turn our left we are now supporting a battery (not yet engaged) on the hill we are the second line of infantry behind & the shots are going briskly. I have just been sweeping the hills in front with a glass & see the rebels thick all along the crest. They are perhaps a mile & a half off. Now we see a rebel signal flag, white with red center, waving. It is now thought perhaps the forces we see may be Hawkers. An officer has gone, dashed off to report it now on a redoubt on the hill. Now the cannons have commenced on the right, heavy guns. I am standing on a ridge & can see our regiments lying down under crests of hills all around. And there; back of us we see our immense line of infantry moving (with flags flying) towards the left while guns are yet firing on the right. We had three days & chow but they have given out yesterday, but joyful news. Major Palmer has just said "each company will send two men for hard head to the rear", the wagons have come. The soldiers of our regiment have given me many letters to put in after the battle & to write "all well" or if well. They are at our left & right now. The fellows in the pickets last night killed our pigs & a cow & ate them up. There is a balloon up held with four ropes. It is in the direction of Fredericksburg. Fifty thousand troops had crossed the pontoon bridges by three o'clock yesterday & it is one continuous stream all the time. We (?) hold Fredericksburg & we being the 3d regiment from the right of the left wing are near the center grand division. There now, right & extreme left are now engaged & the firing brisk with cannon & occasionally musketry. Oh! how immense this army of the Potomac is. This vast ravine is full of infantry under cover. I am now sitting on the crest looking down at our regiment. Now they have opened a battery on the hill opposite again. Wiz there goes a shell exploded in our valley. Wiz, how they come. There one goes right into the bank. There is another. Oh, that was a terrible one. The men are crawling up the hill more under cover. Now it is a roaring of the musketry off on the left that is telling. It is a unknown roar of musketry. Oh how it smokes on the left & the roar & now our battery in front is moving a little to the left. The hardest fight is on the left now. The rebel battery opposite again opens near our batteries. Behind the balloon is rising - oh Fan, if you could only see & hear it. The musketry on the left is terrible. They seem to be fighting for the railroad & to turn the right of the rebels. The Col. has just come up & sends his compliments to you and tells me to tell you that he was just standing on a hill at a little distance off & the rebel battery on the hill opened & as he moved off a shell struck just about where he had been standing and "oh! oh! busted." Oh, the cannonading is awful now to the left. The Dr., Col., Major, adjutant & myself are now standing together. Now the rebels open in front again from the fort (it seems to be) Captain Wood has just joined the party with a jar of sweet meats & says "there is no joking gentlemen, this is most excellent plum sauce. "There is no need of joking" says the Colonel, "I will try it sir as soon as I get a hard cracker." "Take your sword" says Capt. Wood. You would like him, he is a splendid fellow --
There is a beautiful cloud in the air a bomb burst over there to the left. There are two beautiful bombs in the air. A long line of our first troops is moving over the plain over to the left and the musketry seems to be creeping up the line to our center. Little Pete has just come up with a canteen of water & I have taken a drink out of my little India Rubber cup for the first time. I just remembered it was in my pocket. We generally drink right out of the flasks. I am getting out of paper. I must send Edo among the men for some more. We have heard cheers descending in different places but dont know what they indicate. Now the pickets are firing closer up the line towards us near some cannon, now they change position of our battery on the left as it now, wiz, go its balls & shells against the rebel batteries; that opens it up, further up towards us. It is now three o'clock. Now there is cheering closer up toward us - now the musketry is fierce. The chaplain (2) has just joined me & wiz went a shell right over our heads. The cannons are firing now nearly in front & three stretchers have come into the ravine - now one of our own batteries are firing at the mountains just over our heads. One cut the limbs off a tree right above us on the crest of the ravine. The enemy have all the advantage of positions. Oh, here comes our rations. The cook of our mess has sent things over to us. Oh, hear that musketry nearly in front. The first line of infantry in front have gone & our regiment is falling in & making ready to go. Now they are firing right over our heads again. Dr. Murphy's first wounded now is brought in. The infantry in front are waiting, oh how the man's arm is cut. Now our men go; there is the tattered colors of the 16th. I am standing by Captain Moore. The lines are all lying down behind the hedge. The Jerseys have taken a redoubt.