A letter home from the Hodge March

Pards:                                

I wrote a report of the Preservation March 2000 in Loudoun Co. Virginia as a 1st person letter to thank all my terrific sponsors for their pledges to PM2K, and thought you might enjoy it.

Your servant, Mike Peterson
Columbia Rifles and Darn Proud of It 

http://www.cwreenactors.com/preservation2000/index.html


My darling:

Near Upperville, Virginia, October 30, 1862

After an eventful three days I have sufficient time and energy to again put pen to paper and assure you that I am safe in the Lord’s keeping. Indications are that the army will soon go into winter quarters, and there are rumors that our General MacClellan has been removed from command, so that should put an end to our fighting and marching for now. The boys are all grateful for the rest, though after the great battle at Sharpsburg some of us feel that an opportunity has been missed, and are sick at the thought that this war must needs be prolonged. Be that as it may. I shall leave such speculations to the newspapermen and politicians, and shall content myself to tell you of the 7th’s small part in the war of late.

On Friday afternoon myself and others of Co. B were detailed to go in and advance and make the regiment’s camp after our transport to Loudon County. Great confusion reigned at the railhead and no one knew when the rest of the 7th would arrive. After some wandering through the country we selected a pasture at the top of a low ridge, well protected by stone fences and near good water. You would marvel at the stone fences in these parts, and how there seems to be no end to them, running up and down the gentle hills of the farms; such a contrast to our country and it’s rough split-rail fences.

Our Lt. is a man named O’Beirne, and new to his job, but he was a conscientious sergeant and all were glad to see him promoted after his successor took sick. He wisely detailed men to stand watch along the path leading to the roadway, from which the rest of the regiment would be marching. I volunteered for this detail, as it seemed to me a capital opportunity for quiet reflection, and I very much enjoyed my clay pipe as I watched the setting sun turn the sky from watery gold to pale rose and saw the distant hills turn purple and faint in the gloaming. The landscape was empty of man and beast, save for small birds that rustled and flitted in the hedgerow behind me. By daylight I felt safe, but as dark fell however I thought nervously of the rebel partisans who are said to haunt the country.
Fortunately the dark forms toiling up the path by platoons and squads were no rebs but our good Indiana men. After it had grown completely dark I perceived another group approaching and called out to them in a most familiar manner, only to realize that it was Col. Krauss and his staff. Fortunate I was that they did not rebuke me for my breach of etiquette, for no doubt they wanted a fire and coffee as much as I did.

By the time I was relieved the pasture was dotted with fires and thanks to B Co’s guides the regiment was safely guided together and assembled for the night. Rations had come up as well, and I was pleased to find that the hard bread was wholesome, though much abused and crumbled by the transit, and the salt pork was tolerably fresh. I filled my haversack and could then regard the march ahead with an easier mind I fried biscuit and bacon together in my canteen half and happily consumed them, along with hot coffee laced
with sugar. The starry sky betokened a clear night, and we were too tired to erect our dog tents, the men content to draw their canvass shelter halves over top of their blankets. I slept fitfully, sheltered with my messmates by a gnarled old oak, and fell to sleep wondering if you too had watched the setting sun and had also marveled at its tranquil beauty.

Morning and reveille made us aware of a few stragglers who had come in the dark. I
awoke with little appetite, but forced myself to chew a little cold pork in between sips of coffee. The pickets came toiling up the path, the roll was called, and we hastily packed our knapsacks for the march ahead while awaiting the water detail with our canteens. Some of the company discovered a persimmon tree nearby, and there was some debate over the quality and edibility of its fruit. One man familiar with these parts counseled that its fruit was best eaten after first frost, so the strange fruits remained on the bough. When the regiment was formed, Col. Krauss told us that the 7th was ordered to drive rebel foragers out of these parts, and that we would be marching hard to catch them. The Colonel exhorted us not to straggle, for we were some distance from our the rest of the army, with little provision for safeguarding the sick or footsore from rebel partisans, and that made the boys thoughtful. We looked around for our supporting cavalry and artillery, but other than a small squadron of troopers the 7th was on its own. By the time we marched off in column of fours the sun had risen, and I sweat trickled down from my forage cap. The sky was a clear bright blue, and our spirits were high. B Co was the last in column of march, with some of our number detailed to the rearguard.

I have often mentioned my comrades in past, but allow me to offer you some brief sketches of my companions on that march Ahead was Rainey, a solid, dependable mountain of a man whose voice was scarce heard but whose strong arm was freely offered when crossing an awkward fence. To my left was Post, an honest farmer who talked lovingly of his family, and who regarded the uncleared land and rundown farms of Virginia with a critical eye. To his left was Williams, a grim and self-styled instrument of the Lord’s vengeance on the Secesh, and something of a preacher at home, though of a much harsher persuasion than we Episcopalians are used to. The fourth in my file was grizzled, soft-spoken Josey, the older of the Albert brothers. Fresh-faced Nat, Albert Junior, marched as corporal in the rearguard with men old enough to be his sire, yet respected by all. I never know which Albert is taking care of the other, but when not marching they are to be found together. Both are accomplished foragers, and would regard the bleakest desert with strong hopes of
obtaining apples, tobacco, eggs or chickens. Behind us was Weymer, a ferociously
bewhiskered man known to his comrades (or “pards”) as “Soupbone”, trading gibes with Metheny, a sharp-eyed and competent veteran. Together with Albert Senior these three spoke of a saloon they plan to open at war’s end in Chicago. I will spare you further talk of their plans for that establishment, as I blush to put the words to paper. Many were the sharp words that the dour Williams aimed at this trio in his desire to reform them, but his rebukes were all parried with mock and laughter by these three latter-day musketeers. Finally, to my right strode dapper Sgt. Irish, a trim bantam fellow looking towards his chances of promotion and advancement. How infinite the variety of my comrades, and how reflective our ranks of all human nature; “and pilgrims were they alle” as old Chaucer writes of his Canterbury travelers.

All morning we marched along well-graded roads, through farmland that had doubtless been neat and prosperous before the war. Horse barns and pastures were a common sight, though horses themselves were nowhere to be seen. Many in the ranks grumbled that the horses were hidden in the woodlots, to be brought at night by their partisan owners, though if there were men of fighting age, they were as invisible as their steeds. I saw women, children, and oldsters at the gates of their farms and houses, and while some ventured a wave, others regarded us with stony expressions. We passed through one village where a new signboard bore the name “Unison”; I heard later from one who knew these parts that it was called “Union” before the war. I saw several faces at the windows, watching our blue dusty column as it passed by. The boys talked loudly about going scouting for chickens, buttermilk, or a well-kept smokehouse, but the quick pace and the vigilance of our sergeants kept the ranks tight.

By noon the burnished blue of the sky had faded to grey and threatening drops of rain fell, but fear of rain was banished by the nearby report of a cannon. Our accompanying cavalry hastened forward to investigate, and the men stood in their ranks, eyeing the surrounding fields and woods, but no rebels appeared and no shells disturbed us. With skirmishers leading the way the column resumed at a slower pace, and rumor, both the soldier’s friend and curse, circulated that JEB Stuart’s horse artillery was in the vicinity. Since we had no cannon of our own, and few cavalry, this was unwelcome news indeed, but by midday we had experienced no further interruptions, and went into a small enclosed field where we
stacked arms beside a rustic graveyard in an oak wood, the gravestones tilted and aged, protruding above the yellow carpet of dead leaves. I drew canteen detail, and followed others across the road to a farmhouse, where a young mother kindly offered her well, with none of the malice or imprecations that we have come to expect from the ladies of the south. Her two young boys regarded us solemnly, and one volunteered to me that he had seen “brown men” come by earlier in the morning. I understood this to mean soldiers in rebel butternut, and passed the remark on to our sentries as I returned to the regiment.

For an hour men lounged in groups, some boiling water for coffee over small fires, others dozing, small parties inspecting the graveyard. I noticed that I had little appetite, but forced myself to eat half a cracker; I tried but could not eat any of my cold pork, which was now congealing most unpleasantly in my haversack. Despite Josey’s warning of “spooks in the boneyard” I scuffed through the leaves among the graves, noting many that dated from before the Revolution. Some men who had wandered to the edge of the small wood returned in haste, shouting that they had seen two rebel soldiers in the next meadow, each party just as surprised as the other before running in opposite directions. Col. Krauss responded to the news by calling us back into our ranks, and we resumed our march.

We were now on a primitive sunken road, with high banks topped by trees and
hedgerows. My comrades complained uneasily about the likely prospect of ambush in
these tight confines. No sooner were these remarks uttered than muskets were heard at the head of the column, and men wagged their heads in grim satisfaction at their gift of prophecy. It quickly appeared that rebel infantry were sniping at the lead columns, and B Company was ordered to climb up out of the road and into a nearby field to gain the regiment some fighting room. This we did with much cursing, the regimental sergeant major and adjutant helping the men through the briars with steady, encouraging tones. Johnny Reb watched our efforts with some amusement, but did not wait for us to form a line – before we could form and let off our volley he turned and trotted off into the nearby woods, leaving us to stand foolishly before climbing back down through the briars and into the wood. If truth be told, I was not sorry to see the enemy go.

Soon after this farcical business the column turned off the road and picked up a rough trail into a region of hilly wooded ground. The tramp of our boots was replaced by the shuffle of dead leaves, and the pace of the column slowed noticeably as our advance guard scanned the woods for flankers. Our caution was most prudent, for Mr. Johnny Reb had not gone far and soon our skirmishers were saluting each other with shots. Positioned as we were towards the read of the column and at the base of a large hill, our sight greatly limited by the surrounding trees, we could hear the commotion but could not tell if the
fighting was to our front or to either side. However our officers seemed to know what was in hand, and soon our rearguard was summoned forward to deploy as skirmishers, young Nate Albert grinning to us as he trotted by. In a moment it was our turn, and Lt. O’Beirne manfully led B Company as we scrambled up the hill in column of fours, our course made treacherous by the many roots and branches hidden by the autumn’s handiwork, the yellow and brown leaves being ankle thick in places. I remember a confused ten minutes of running and stumbling, and one brief volley at unseen adversaries, but the 7th pushed them hard and our southron foes quit the wood in haste.

We were lucky to suffer no losses in this business, though we had an anxious momentbefore Nate and our other comrades with the rearguard turned advance guardreappeared. The young sergeant leading this detail had acted with admirable presence of mind, and saved our friends from being cut off by a group of reb cavalry. This news of enemy cavalry was unwelcome, but the 7th gamely pushed on, trusting that we could keep JEB Stuart’s cavaliers at bay with our good Springfield muskets. After an hour we won free of the woods and were ordered to stack arms on the grounds of a well-appointed farm, while our scout was sent forward. This scout was an outlandish fellow, tall and lean, dressed in faded and dirty blue, with an untrimmed beard and a shapeless cap which would have done credit to the sans culottes who stormed the old Bastille. This fellow could lope along as tirelessly as a wolf, and seemed to know the ground like a local. He was certainly not one of the 7th., but whoever he was, we were grateful for him. The shadows lengthened as evening came on, and the air grew cooler. At length our scout returned, and the regiment was called together.

A short march took us to the edge of a large estate, and we were formed into column of companies and given the ominous command to load. Evidently Johnny Reb was holding the place and our Colonel was determined to drive them off. We started forward, B Company two companies back , and soon a hot fire could be heard. We executed a half wheel to the left, pushed through some hedges, and dashed forward with our muskets high at the right shoulder shift. We faced a line of the foe across a meadowed space of several hundred yards, with a large and handsome manor house behind the rebel line. Several gray and butternut forms lay still on the ground before us, showing the path of the rebel retreat. We delivered a smart volley and pushed forward, suddenly encountering a sunken creek bed, its bottom mostly dry. Many of our fellows jumped in to take advantage of this natural trench, myself included, and it was most agreeable to be sheltered up to breast height while shooting at foes standing upright in the open. We kept up a hot fire, several companies all mixed together in the creek bed, and caused some damage to the foe, but consternation set in when we observed that the rebs had brought up a 12 pound Napoleon cannon and were speedily getting it into firing position. Several of our boys found the prospect of rebel grapeshot most disagreeable, and I saw some cowering behind trees or beneath the creek’s bank. Lt. O’Beirne manfully set upon these cowards. I witnessed him beating several men with the flat of his sword, including my messmate Josey, but “discretion proved the better part of valor” and the Lt’s efforts were in vain.

The 7th’s Lt.-Colonel Del Bello now took things into his hands, and climbed out of thecreek bed, waving his sword and calling us forward. My spirit was willing to follow, butwith rebel lead whistling about my ears my flesh proved somewhat weak. But the boys of the 7th gave a hurrah and climbed out of the creek like good ‘uns, and strong arms helped me up out of the creek bed and into line. Fortunate we were that the rebel’s cannon misfired, and faced with our onslaught its crew hastily hitched up and galloped away, their infantry vying with them in the race to reach safety. Several of our poor boys lay on the ground, and we made the wounded as comfortable as we could, details being appointed to take them into the manor house. Suddenly weary and dazed from this sharp little business, the 7th formed one last time that day and marched to a pasture near the manor house, scattering to secure wood in the last remaining minutes of daylight. The surrounding woodlots yielded plenty of dry fuel and kindling, and soon cheerful fires sprang up across the dark meadow. My messmates were relieved that B Company had been spared any casualties, and happily recounted the events of the day to the rhythmic clink of bayonet sockets grinding coffee beans in tin cups.

I attempted to reheat some of my ration of salt pork that I had cooked the previous night, but was overcome with nausea and contented myself with a few bites of hardtack and hot sweet coffee, ejecting the semi-crushed beans from my mouth between sips. The coffee restored me to some extent, and I forced myself to put aside the fear that I was falling ill. Thus far I had no fever, and prayed that it was nothing worse than a touch of “soldier’s stomach”. The temperature dropped steadily, and I was glad that I had persevered in carrying the weight of my army greatcoat on the march. It appeared that about half of my
messmates had discarded their greatcoats, and while their shoulders no doubt hurt less than mine from the bite of knapsack straps, I could not help but feel smug as I wrapped myself in my own coat. For some time that evening we enjoyed the company of a rebel visitor, a major named Heath who come through the lines under a flag of truce. Heath was a garrulous man, one whom it was impossible to dislike. He informed us, with some pride it seemed to me, that many of the men in his regiment, the 35th North Carolina, lacked greatcoats, blankets, and even shoes, which caused some of the boys to crow that the rebellion must surely be on its last legs if its soldiers had so little. For my own part I could not help but admire our foe for persevering with the fight, and wondered how we Union men would face a cold night with bare feet and inadequate blankets. When Heath bid us farewell I am sure that there was not a man in our mess that wished him harm, and yet all knew that the next day we would fight hard should our regiments meet again. How strange is this war!

The night was loud with mirth for a while. Some of our men had arranged an impromptu minstrel entertainment on the grounds of the manor house, and had persuaded some freshly-liberated Negroes to caper and jest for them. From the whoops that we could hear in our nearby camp, we wondered if some rebel whiskey had also been emancipated, but the merriment was brief and the regiment as a whole was well-behaved. >From some of the fires around us came the sound of singing, but the long day of marching and the fight had taken its toll, and soon old Morpheus became the officer in command. Lt. O’Beirne and I had agreed to share our blankets, which we spread on a bed of dead leaves. The sum of our bodies’ warmth was better than going it alone, though neither of us slept well, and when reveille came the stars still had reign in the sky, and the rosy dawn was still far off.

It took a candle cupped by cold hands against the guttering wind for orderly sergeant Ryall to call the roll. Men folded their blankets and arranged their knapsacks, for the word had spread through the companies that a hard day’s march was ahead. I was able to drink some sugared coffee and felt better for it, but the thought of pork made me distinctly uneasy. We formed without the bugle’s martial call, for it seemed our bugler had become a casualty in the previous days’ fight. Once again we took to the road. The boys seemed pleased that we had “gotten a twist” on the foe in the fight by the manor house, and most were anxious to finish the job. Stern Isaac Williams beside me loudly held the belief that the godless rebels would soon be vanquished, and would hear no slander of his beloved “Little Mac”. Others were not so sure, and a hot debate raged as to whether our generals could be trusted to lead us to victory. There are at least some who feel that we should never have let old Bobby Lee escape from Antietam and get “back to old Virginny with his army”.

Our debate was soon interrupted as the column came to a halt beside a quaint Presbyterian church. The sun had only just cleared the horizon and it was decidedly cool to stand
around, but stand around we must while our officers studied their maps and hid their
confusion with long solemn faces. Soldiers can sense humbug better than anyone,
however, and the boys knew we were lost before the command to countermarch wasgiven. None of us knew how far we had marched since the war began, and none of usknew how far we will march before it will end, but all the boys knew how far we hadmarched that morning and keenly regretted every wasted step, grumbling in something much louder than sotto voce. As we marched on through the morning the sun rose higher in a burnished, clear blue sky, and I felt grateful for the clear dry air. Believe me, this was infinitely desirable to marching in sticky wet heat, with the dust clouds hanging thick and choking man and beast.

At midday we had a few anxious moments when our accompanying cavalry met some of the rebel cavaliers. Our troopers stood their horses at one side of a wide pasture,enclosed on all sides by stone walls. At the far side, about a mile away, a half dozen rebel horsemen held their ground, both groups annoying each other with their carbines, firing from the saddle. The 7th was called forward, and the reb horsemen hightailed it as we marched into the pasture, but we soon forgot them when, with great displeasure, we saw the wall to our left flank, about five hundred yards distant, become lined with reb infantry, their crossed banner a jaunty patch of red in the clear sunlight. We turned into line to face them, with skirmishers to our front, and my comrades cursed and complained, fearing the order that would send us forward. Truth to tell it was a bad spot, for while the enemy were in no great number, barely 30 or 40 men visible, they commanded a slight elevation, and could have done great mischief from behind their wall before we could have closed to drive them off. Fortunately for us Col. Krauss is a man who believes that there are always several ways to skin a cat. Calling us back into line and then right by column, he drove theregiment forward across the meadow, perpendicular to our foe, who suddenly foundhimself in danger of being cut off. Johnny Reb melted away from his fine wall and was soon no more to be seen.

We passed through a gate into a second, equally large pasture, and were halfway across when a new menace appeared in the form of a herd of cattle, about forty, large black beasts. The boys were all surprised to see cows, for the farms in this region had all seemed barren of man and beast. Many mouths watered at the thought of fresh beef, but appetite turned to alarm when the beeves, evidently secesh cows, formed a line and began to march at our left flank. The 7th’s city boys, myself included, were quite nervous and wondered if we should fire a shot or take some other protective action, but the best plan seemed to be to quicken the pace, and so the regiment reached the far gate in some haste and confusion, but ahead of the rebel cows. Exeunt the 7th, pursued by cattle. Perhaps we would have stayed to do some butchering, but the enemy was still in the area and caution reigned.

By 1PM the regiment enjoyed a short rest on the edge of a woods, on a ridge above a picturesque valley. Our scout had evidently been busy, and the enemy had been identified on the valley’s far side. We were called into column before the men had time to boil coffee, which caused much grumbling, and were sent forward along a footpath behind a stone wall, the valley a wide open expanse before us. Halfway down the valley’s slope were a line of tan figures, the rebel skirmish line – we had reason to believe that these were our Tarheel friends from the previous day’s fight, and we guessed that their supporting infantry were nearby. A company of the 7th were sent forward as skirmishers, and a hot little fight developed, with some fellows hit on both sides. After ten minutes Col.Krauss rode out beyond the wall and called to the 7th to “go forward and put some muscle to them”. Normally the boys prefer a thick wall between themselves and the foe, but the 7th was game for a challenge, and we scrambled over the stones and formed up, determined to give a good account of ourselves. Our movement impelled the enemy to show some strength of his own, and we saw a rebel gun emerge from the far woods, its horses and crew smartly wheeling to face us. Before we had dressed our line they had gone into battery, and a white puff sent a shell screaming over us to strike the woods behind. Some of the wags laughed at this, deriding the rebels’ aim, but some others cautioned that these were Stuart’s horse artillery, men who knew their business. Sure enough, we had not gone twenty paces before a second roundshot plowed up the pasture before us. BCompany was posted at the left of the line, and the regiment was going forward in fine style, the ranks straight and the banners snapping in the breeze. Some men were visibly “twitchy” at the prospect of a mile to cross under rebel cannon fire, but we pressed on until a third roundshot fairly struck our line exactly in the middle of the color guard. I did not see the impact, but a horrible shrieking could be heard and the national colors were briefly down before being retrieved and flourished defiantly. A few men in B Co spooked and stepped back when the shot struck, and the file closers, Sgts. Ryall and Irish, pushed hard to keep the line intact.

That was pretty much the end of our battle. Col. Krauss evidently decided not to riskfurther damage and ordered the regiment back behind the stone wall, recalling ourskirmishers. Rebel infantry were visible in some strength at the far side of the pasture,sheltered by woods, and since their gunners had the range there seemed little profit in going forward. We recovered the wounded of the color guard, one poor fellow with a horribly mangled leg, and waited for the rest of the brigade to come up. At length we were relieved, and were sent into camp for the time being. I am happy to report that my stomach and appetite recovered, and I am in fine health. The boys hope that we shall be sent into winter quarters at Upperville, which is a pleasant little town largely untouched by the war. There is rumor of some men being granted Christmas furloughs, but I think this is just idle talk - do not hope for anything until I write with more news. My love and fond thoughts to you, my darling. Convey my respects to our friends and neighbors. I yearn for your next letter. Should you send some apple butter and preserves, pray pack them well in straw. I would be most obliged for more socks and some gloves, as winter will soon be hear and the army gloves are poor scanty things. I shall pray that the Good Lord watches over us both and
brings us together soon.

Your loving husband.

 

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