150 YEARS AGO, October 26th fell on a Sunday. Lt. Samuel Fiske reported that the regiment was in camp, that their midday meal had just been finished, and that he and some of his friends were about engage in a Sabbath afternoon Bible study, when orders were received for Company I to pack up and be ready to march within fifteen minutes for special duty across the Potomac on Maryland Heights.
As we have seen in previous posts, there was not much to pack. There may have been a Sibley tent or two and a few of the men had half shelter tents, and some of the more fortunate ones had a blanket or an overcoat, but most struggled to survive without the basic necessities the army had taken from the men of the Fourteenth when they first set foot on enemy soil.
Every avenue was tried to get these vital possessions back. Letters were sent. Private citizens with influence in Washington were appealed to. Repeated requests were sent to the high command of the army, asking that one of the officers of the Fourteenth be allowed to travel the sixty miles to Washington, recover their things, and return them to the regiment. Every request was denied and the men continued to suffer and die, “a brief funeral service, a rough coffin, a shallow grave, and a wooden headboard,” their only reward for duty done. (Fiske) And during these last few days of October, Sgt. Hirst wrote to his wife of the death of two more friends from Rockville.
As you might imagine the men were eager to leave Bolivar Heights and get on with the war. Cold rain drenched the sixty men of Company I as they marched down the steep road into Harper”s Ferry that Sunday afternoon. They stood wet and shivering awaiting orders and were finally told to take shelter in the town’s most famous building—the red brick engine house that three years earlier had been occupied by John Brown and his band of abolitionists.
Soon a fire was blazing inside and the men of Company I, at least, were warm and dry that night. For the other nine companies, their wasting time at Bolivar would continue for a few more days, and then they too would be on the march.