October 17th 1863
My dear Mother,
The mail arrived a few days ago and I received nine letters. Three from Father dated September 13th, 21st, and 28th, three from you dated 16th, 21st, and 28th, one from Jerome and one from Josie. You probably have received my letter of the 12th. I hope you do all my letters but as you give no dates I cannot tell. I can relate my travels no better than giving you a little more of my diary.
October 1st came in with a heavy rain. We had a long evening and nothing to do but sit in our tent and reflect on times past. I do not like such evenings to come often for I am subject to the blues.
October 2nd. Brigade drill in afternoon.
October 3rd. Orders came last night for the First Brigade, First division, 9th Corps to take five days rations and be ready to march in light marching order at eight o’clock in the morning. Took cars on E. T. & Va. Railroad at at ten o’clock the train started. Reached Morristown at half past two and there saw hundreds of refugees from Tennessee and North Carolina who had come to join the Union army. Reached Rogerville Junction or Bull’s Gap Station and saw more refugees. All these have enlisted in our army and are going to Knoxville to receive clothing, arms, equipments, &c. They are anxious to get a shot at the rebels who have driven them about ever since the war began.
Just before we unloaded, bang went a gun about a quarter mile off our right. This report was followed by another and in a minute it was bang, pop, fizzz (skirmisher’s fashion). Nearly everyone expected a fight had begin and that we were just in time for it. At the time, I was looking in a pocket glass and noticed the color leave my cheek almost instantly. What strange feelings and thoughts a body has—thoughts that ‘ere another hour you may be a bleeding corpse upon a bloody field, subject to the tramp of many soldiers. Perhaps a limb shot away, perhaps a wounded prisoner, perhaps one of a victorious army. Thoughts like these will pass through your brain almost instantly while at the same time you are stirring to nerve yourself for the conflict. Yet as the noise of musketry increased, I felt easier and could have gone into a fight cooly—at least so I think. In examining the countenances of my companions, I noticed these facts. That it is not always the coward that turns pale at the prospect of a fight for the men who were the coolest at Jackson were among the first to lose color and there was many a blanched cheek as ever before an action. The men who are the noisiest about fighting when miles away from a fight are the first to lose their self-control and become nervous when near one.
But we were soon informed that the firing was not skirmishing but recruits discharging their pieces at random. People may talk about soldiers getting used to fighting but I don’t see it. Our ride was one of 55 miles.
[October] 4th, started at ten o’clock and marched through “Bull’s Gap.” Encamped on a hill after a march of five miles. The boys are having rabbits of which there are hundreds. Camp is known as “Rabbit Hill.” It was so cold last night that it was almost impossible to sleep. We are now within a few miles of a large force of rebels who are laying in line of battle. The 8th Tennessee Infantry are encamped here. They were forming at Camp Dick at the time we were there.
October 5th. A very cold night and it was almost impossible to sleep. A regiment of infantry and a body of mounted men are now passing our camp. Should not be surprised if a fight commenced soon. There is a report that the 6th Army Corps under Hooker are on their way here and are already through Cumberland Gap. About 11 o’clock the 36th [Mass.] were ordered to pack up and were soon on the march. However, we only moved about a mile to the right of the brigade and stacked arms on the top of a hill in the woods. We are to support a section of artillery which has just taken position to defend a bridge on the railroad over “Lick Creek” from an attack by guerrillas who may be lurking around. I am one of the “Alarm Guard” that has been sent into the woods to watch for any advance of the enemy, check it if possible, and give the alarm. At first I did not relish my job for we stand a chance to be shot at by some rebel behind a tree, but I now feel satisfied that if I keep a good lookout, I can play at the same game. So I sit down on a stump with my rifle in my lap, smoke my pipe, and “hang out my eye.”
[October] 6th. Many things that seem quite laughable to the soldier in broad daylight are quite the reverse in the night. My “tricks at guard” were from 7 to 9 P. M. and 1 to 3 A. M. As I took my post at 1 o’clock, I felt very cold and added fuel to the fire that was nearly extinguished, and very soon had quite a bright blaze. Presently I heard something stepping along through the brush as I thought very carefully. I could see nothing but still could hear that careful tread of something which seemed to be taking a circuitous course around my fire and at no great distance. About that time, I thought that if it was a bushwhacker, he could easily pick me off for I was by the fire and could easily be seen. So I dodged behind a tree and began to take “observations” and make “calculations.” Then all was still for a few moments. I had nearly convinced myself that it was nothing more than leaves falling from the trees that I heard when again began the stepping, this time nearer than before, and knowing that it was my business to find out what it was, I jumped from my hiding place and made tracks for the noise. The “something” wheeled and retreated a little and then stopped and as I came up to it, I found my annoyer was nothing more than a nice, plump, white-faced heifer. I took a long breath and went back to my post.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” Last night a ration of fresh beef was dealt out but as it was so late when I got my allowance, I concluded to wait until morning before cooking it. Morning came and as i had no gridiron or frying pan in which to cook my meat, I was at first at a loss as to what to do. I soon found a rail with a hole bored through it and resting each end on a block, scratched a lot of coals from my fire. Then hanging my meat on one end of a stick, I stuck the other end into the hole in the rail, thus letting my meat hang in the heat of he coals, and shall soon have a good breakfast of tough roast beef. We were relieved at noon and returned to camp. Commenced to sprinkle about dark.
[October] 7th. Commenced raining soon after sunrise and rained all day. Finished my hard tack and sugar at supper and would have been out before this had I not bought bread. Most of the boys are entirely out.
[October] 8th. Awoke hungry but had nothing to eat save a few hands full of crumbs and a cup of coffee. The country for miles around is foraged so that nothing can be found. We have been living on half rations for the last two months and they are now trying to keep us on nothing. By the time we can do that well, we shall do as the Irishman’s horse—i. e., die. If there is anything that will make a man tired of the army, it is starvation. The government should look after these quartermasters and commissaries who cheat both the government and the soldier.
About noon a pound of flour was dealt out to each man. I made some dough without soda or lard and baked it in the ashes. There was just enough of it for one meal.
[October] 9th.Last night was the coldest we have yet had. At 10 o’clock rations for the day were dealt out. They consisted of two and a half hard tacks and one teaspoonful of salt which is the first we have had for a long time. I was sent on picket about noon and was stationed in “Lick Creek.”
[October] 10th. At the early hour of two, drums and bugles could be heard sounding the “reveille.” At five the pickets were called in and the regiment ordered to march at seven. Two days rations were dealt out. We started at eight and are now resting. We are preceded by a division of cavalry and mounted infantry and are on the way to “Blue Springs.” An engagement will probably take place near that place but we have a large force ad feel confident of success. Gen. Burnside, Wilcox, Potter, Ferrero, and Shackelford are reported to be here. Gen. Burnside and staff passed us and was loudly cheered.
Noon, we are now resting in a cornfield half a mile from Blue Springs. Skirmishing has commenced between our mounted infantry and the rebels. Occasionally we hear a large gun. The heavy guns we hear are our own.
Three o’clock. We have advanced about a mile and a half and the 2nd Pennsylvania Mounted Infantry are skirmishing. Our Brigade has not yet been engaged.
Our brigade relieved the 2nd Tennesese and Forty-fifth Pennsylvania we nt out as skirmishers. The rest of the brigade followed close behind and skirmishing commenced in earnest. Gen. Burnside said he had “got his fighting men at work now” (meaning the 9th Corps). The rebels thought they had got somebody to deal with that understood the business and began to fall back. We chased them and soon came to a deep hollow and it is thought that the rebs were in the trees. A cry was raised, “You’re firing into your own men.” We couldn’t see it and fixing bayonets, made a charge through the woods, yelling and cheering as the gray backs retreated before us.
Col. Morrison, a Scotchman—our Briagier, cried out in broad accents, “God damn but if they want bushwhacking, I’ll gie it to ’em now.” Then turning to one of his aides, he said, “But do you mind the devils, chase ’em, give ’em ‘ell boys.” We drove them upwards of half a mile in that one charge and then discovered that they had flanked us on the right and were giving us a crossfire. We right faced and filed right, then fronted and wheeled to the left, thus driving them back. Then with a yell, for we were full of excitement, made another charge, driving them as far as at first. Again they cross-fired and again they were checked. We had then got through the thick woods and before us was an open piece of ground—a hill. General Ferrero, who was right behind us, sung out, “That’s it my boys. Now you are doing the thing. You have done more in half an hour than four thousand troops have been trying to do all day. Now I want to gain that hill and its all you need to do.”
No sooner said then down went the fence and we began to march steadily up. The bullets flew thick and fast. The rebs gave a faint cheer which was answered by us with a yell and a charge. We gained the crest of the hill and there not a hundred rods off were their batteries and line of battle. Their batteries had a most excellent range and were only waiting for us to show ourselves. The moment we did so, they opened on us and we all dropped flat. They fired so close that it seemed as if it would take you off the ground. Shells, solid shot, and even chains came over and amongst us. I hugged the ground pretty close and was not very apt to look up often. At length the skirmishers had orders to fall back on us. They did so and then all fell back over the brow of the hill. It was then dark or we would have shown the lads what we were made of.
At that time, Col. Goodell, Lieuts. Robinson and Holmes and a number of others were wounded. Lt. Robinson was struck on the right side of his head by a round bullet. Capt. Bailey ordered me to take him from the field. This I did, carrying with me all my load. It was a long way through the woods and rather dark. At one time a shell burst directly over us and a fragment blew down and struck in front and not six inches from us. Had we been but one step in advance, one or both of us would have been wounded or killed.
When we reached the corral of ambulances, I obtained an ambulance for him and then rode to the hospital. He was desirous of my staying with him a little longer. The surgeon administered chloroform and took from his head a piece of skull which they called the inner tablet. I was then ordered to assist in taking care of the wounded during the night. It was the hardest night I ever passed and I am not able to describe the scenes in a field hospital. The whole distance travelled on this day was between 9 and 10 miles.
Sunday, October 11th. At eight o’clock we commenced loading the wounded on the cars. About noon we started and reached Knoxville at dark after a ride of sixty-three miles. They were carried to the “Deaf & Dumb Asylum,” now (Dr. McClellan) Attendants were plenty so I lay down ad took the first sleep I had had for sixty hours.
[October] 12th. I did not awake until too late to take the cars for the Springs which went out at nine. After talking with the wounded for awhile, I went to the old camp and saw the boys we left sick there. Took my knapsack and its contents and went back to the hospital. Sent short letter to Lancaster.
13th. Took train at 9 a. m. and intended to ride as far as the cars could carry me for I expected the troops would be far beyond where I left them. Reached a place between Blue Springs and Greenville and saw troops encamped. Ride of 68 miles. I got off and joined my company. They told me that during the early part of Saturday night, they entrenched themselves and could hear the rebs chopping and digging, and that they saw bright fires. However, when morning came, they had skedaddled. Our boys started in pursuit. They marched down their wagon treains, mules, artillery, and men, mules, and clothing were scattered in every direction showing what a terror was amongst them. In the afternoon they passed they place where Col. Foster had undertook to intercept them and the dead and wounded rebs were thick as “hasty pudding.”
The regiment marched through Greenville and Raytown making in all twenty miles. The next day they stayed in camp. Today they marched back to this place, 17 miles.
14th. Part of the brigade took the cars to Knoxville but the 36th [Mass.] had to march to Bull’s Gap 14 miles. Then they took cars and rode to Knoxville 35 miles where we arrived safe and sound on the morning of the 15th. I must close now for the mail is going out. I will write again soon. — Charley