Time dragged on at Belle Plain. Day after day, without a break, the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut, and the two other regiments in their brigade, toiled away unloading the ships that tied up every day at the landing. Even the contrabands (escaped slaves) rested on Sundays, and this irked the soldiers greatly—a real humbug. Anything the men found unpleasant was a humbug. The work was a humbug, the food was a humbug, the weather was a humbug, the conduct of the war was a humbug, and it was the fault of the officers that everything had been so thoroughly humbug’d (Sgt. Hirst”s spelling).
Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside appeared regularly at the landing. Of special concern to him was the slow arrival and transport of the many pontoon boats he needed to bridge the Rappahannock and gain access to Fredericksburg. His hot temper did little to cheer the laboring men. The boats were already late; there were not enough horses; the men didn’t move fast enough, and every day that passed allowed Lee’s forces to improve and strengthen their positions on the high ground behind the city.
About the first of December, Sgt. Hirst received a box from his wife. Among other things, it contained a pair of mittens and some cayenne pepper. Curious, I thought, that a soldier would want cayenne pepper for his rations, but then I read on. The cayenne wasn’t for seasoning his food. Hirst put some inside his mittens and reported that it kept his hands warm. Now what do you suppose would happen if he had a sudden urge to rub his tired eyes late one cold night while on picket duty? Now that would be another real humbug.