Category Archives: The Lighter Side

Trial By Wood

PLEASE NOTE: Because of the Christmas and New Year holidays, my next post is scheduled for Friday, January 9, 2015. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.

As you warm yourself at your fireside during this yuletide season, consider the following quest for firewood as related by Sgt. B. E. Stannard (14th CT, Co. G) in History of the Fourteenth Regt., Connecticut Vol. Infantry by Charles D. Page:

At Fort Morton, on the line before Petersburg, in the winter of 1864-5, wood became a scarce article, and it was no small part of our work to find a supply and get it into the camp. Every tree for miles around had been cut, even to the roots. There was also a class of men who were very shy about exerting themselves to do such work as required them to cut and carry wood into camp and cut it again ready for use. As the men were usually in ‘a mess’ of from four to six that tented together (when we had tents) it was the custom for each to do his part toward keeping up the supplies of wood and water. A certain mess consisted of four, and among them was a man of the class noted for lack of energy such as required him to gather wood. This man we will call George.

The fort was located on the line where the sharpshooters had a good range and were not slow to fire at anything that offered a target. A tree stood in front of the fort on the slope and in full range of the sharpshooters and exposed to the extent that no one had ventured to go out and cut it. One day wood was especially scarce and George was invited to contribute a little of his energy toward increasing the supply. As usual he had some very important excuse and could not assist in the undertaking. The patience of the other three became exhausted and he was given to understand that he should do his share in replenishing the supply, and do it at once, or take the consequences.

He said he didn’t know where to get any. The tree standing in front of the fort was pointed out to him and he was told to go out and cut it. He demurred, saying he did not believe any of the crowd would dare to go out there and cut it. One of the boys took this for a challenge and said, ‘I’ll go out and cut half way into the tree if you’ll expose your carcass to cut the other half.’

Well, George could do nothing but accept, so an axe was found and the challenger started over the fort and made quick time to the tree. He didn’t stop to make many observations, not much, Johnny Reb would find him quick enough. He put in his best strokes and soon had his half of the tree cut, meanwhile the sharpshooters had got the range and were prepared to give George a warm reception. George was gritty enough to fell the tree and ran for the fort. The tree was left until dark and then cut up and taken to the ‘gophers,’ as our bomb proofs were called. George was not called on for wood again for some time.

Fabulous Photos For Your Fourth

The Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry wasn’t engaged in anything noteworthy during early July, 1864, so on this 151st anniversary of the capitulation of Vicksburg, I thought I would share a few photos I took when I visited that historic city during May of this year.

Old Courthouse Museum - VicksburgThe Old Courthouse Museum is a treasure trove of antebellum and Civil War antiquities. I spent hours searching the archives of the McCardle Library gleaning interesting tidbits for a future novel.

There are many residences and other buildings in Vicksburg that were built before the war. Some of the historic homes are now inns and open for tours. I stayed at the Duff Green mansion which was used as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during the siege.

Following are several photos of the siege lines in the National Military Park.

 

Battery De Golyer (Union)

Battery De Golyer (Union)

3rd Louisiana Redan

3rd Louisiana Redan (Confederate)

African American Soldiers Monument

African American Soldiers Monument

South Fort Battery (Confederate)

South Fort Battery (Confederate)

Site of surrender meeting between Grant and Pemberton

Site of surrender meeting between Grant and Pemberton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The USS Cairo Museum is located within the Military Park. Having read about its sinking and the discovery and raising of the hulk beforehand, I knew approximately what to expect, but I was still amazed. This is a must-see if you ever visit Vicksburg.

USS Cairo Museum - Beautiful restoration work

USS Cairo's gunports

The gunner's view

This last photo is a of a portion of a large mural in the Old Courthouse Museum. It depicts Admiral David D. Porter’s gunboats and transports passing the river batteries at Vicksburg April 16, 1863. The fireworks were particularly impressive that night.

Gunboats Running the Batteries

 

Blessings and Blarneyings

There seemed to be no shortage of whiskey in the Army of the Potomac, particularly among high-ranking officers, an indulgence the men of the Fourteenth would soon pay for in blood. But that’s next week. For now here’s an amusing story taken verbatim from Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

One day here at Stony Mountain General (Thomas) Smyth and his staff rode by the camp to the top of the hill. Old Pierce Barron, who was standing with a group of the men of the regiment, saluted and called out with all the true enthusiasm of a true son of Erin, “God bless ye’s, General Smyth.”

Smyth, who had Irish blood in his veins, and who felt in the humor to notice the old man, stopped and spoke to him. “What’s your name, my man?”

“Barron, sir, Pierce Barron, sir.”

“Barron—Barron, that’s a good name,” said the General. “Seems to me you look dry, Barron.”

“Ah, General, dear, I’m that dry I could hardly spake the truth,” said Barron.

And it is vouched for by the men of the Fourteenth that the General’s canteen furnished old Pierce with a drink that day. Another time as Smyth was riding by the camp, however, old Pierce was seen trotting along by his side, showering blessings and blarneyings on him, but the General took no notice of him, and the old fellow soon dropped away to one side, his mouth watering for the whiskey he did not get.

Note: Little is known about Pierce Barron. He was probably a draftee rather than a paid substitute. He was mustered into the regiment on July 25, 1863, and the use of “old” in the narrative implies that he was probably in his 40s, but may have appeared older.

Armed Neutrality?

This term was used by Capt. Samuel Fiske to describe the situation the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry found itself in 150 years ago this week. From their already advanced position on Stony Mountain, the brigade (2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, 2nd Corps) picketed regularly along the Rapidan River in close proximity to the enemy. The rest of their division and corps were encamped miles to the rear near Culpeper, so it’s easy to understand how these men could feel cut off from the rest of the army.

Add to this situation Maj. Gen. William French, who was then in command of the Third Corps, and whose reputation as a capable officer was in a nosedive. Maj. Gen. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, ordered French to: 1) move his corps to the read of Stony Mountain, 2) to deploy his picket lines so they didn’t overlap the lines of the troops to their front (the brigade that included the men of the Fourteenth), and 3) to strengthen the security of his picket line.

Gen. French marched the Third Corps to its new position. Then he positioned his picket line directly behind Stony Mountain, across the only access to that rather remote position, and then he cranked up security so tight, that no one could pass through his picket line, unless specifically permitted to do so by himself or Gen. Meade. Communications between the Second Brigade were cut off completely from the rest of the division. Supply wagons were stopped and turned back as was a doctor going to the front to attend the sick.

But it seemed that even Gen. Meade’s signature had no pull with Gen. French. The wife of the chaplain of the 108th New York had just arrived by train at Brandy Station to visit her husband. Knowing of the difficulties of passing French’s pickets, the chaplain had obtained a pass signed by Gen. Meade himself. But when the happy couple arrived at French’s picket line, with less than a mile left to the chaplain’s cabin, they too were refused passage, and were forced to endure a long, muddy ride back to the town.

For Gen. French, justice would be both swift and severe. The army would soon be reorganized in preparation for the spring campaign, and he would be left without a command. And by early May French would be out of the army entirely.

Lady and the Camp

In my post dated Dec. 28, 2012 (A Christmas Gift for Sgt. Hirst) I related how Sgt. Hirst’s wife, Sarah, surprised him by appearing at the door of his hut on Christmas Eve. It was also remarkable because it was rare that an enlisted man’s wife would even be allowed such a visit. Conversely, officers’ wives were frequently permitted to visit their husbands, so the visit of Captain Fiske’s wife, Elizabeth, as mentioned in last week’s post was not unique at all. What made her visit special to the regiment was the way in which she was received.

Many of the officers’ wives would visit Stony Mountain during this winter encampment, but Elizabeth Fiske was the first to arrive. In History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, Charles Page wrote: “She (Mrs. Fiske) was heartily welcomed and was the object of much attention. The band serenaded her with some of its sweetest music and Lieutenant-Colonel Moore tendered her a dinner at which the regimental officers were present. The menu was most elaborate, consisting of soup, roast beef, turkey, chicken, plum pudding, four kinds of pie, nuts, apples, cider and champagne, and two loaves of cake handsomely frosted, which the sutler brought from Washington as a present to the popular Lieutenant-Colonel. The band also added its finest strains to further complete the occasion.”

As this was the only recorded instance of such a welcome dinner, it makes one wonder how the wives of the other officers were received.

Happiness: A Good Chimney

Capt. Samuel Fiske (14th Conn. Vol. Inf., Co. F), under the pen name Dunn Browne, wrote to his faithful readers of the Springfield, Mass. Republican newspaper about the necessity for having a properly constructed chimney, having done it several times during the last several weeks.

“All my odd-numbered chimneys have drawn finely, while the even-numbered ones have smoked, though constructed with equal skill—my personal beauty renders it specially necessary to take pains with a chimney at whose fireside I am to sit—laid up with the same kinds of sod s and stones and plastered with mud of the same consistency. Virginia is the most consistently muddy state that I know; always mud enough in your front dooryard to plaster up your chimney, and of the stickiest kind. Won’t you come and sit with me some of these long winter evenings, dear Republican, and perhaps your different style of beauty might counteract mine and my chimney become perfect?”

The above was written while Fiske sat in hut number four, before the regiment moved to Stony Mountain on Dec. 27, 1863. After the move and setting up camp in cold, driving rain, he wrote, “The storm continued for three days, and was succeeded by the snappingest cold weather. For me personally, you know, the change was all right; for my present chimney draws like a blister, and never smokes any more than my mother.”

My present house has a real door, with hinges and screws and latch and bolt; an actual shovel and tongs standing by the fireplace; chairs, tale mirror, etc., yes, positively a carpet on the floor. But, beyond all the rest of the furniture, my chief ornamentation and pride, which makes me the envy of all the regiment and brigade is—a wife and baby.”

Yes, Fiske was somehow able to manage living in a small house, rather than a log hut, and he also arranged to have Elizabeth and their sixteen-month-old son visit for more than two months. His joy and not a little irony flowed into his writing: “We are housekeeping on our front picket line. I have a home, like a bird’s nest on the breech of a cannon. War! I don’t know anything about it. I am at perfect peace.”

Moo-ving Target

Regular readers of this blog know that I am not one to ignore any amusing anecdote when it relates to the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. One such incident occurred on September 24, 1863. The dreadful execution of two deserters had occurred just six days before. The faulty ammunition had been replaced, and no doubt every soldier wished to test his allotment at the first opportunity.

The opportunity presented itself in the form of a bull that wandered into a cornfield between the two armies that lay warily watching each other along the line of the Rapidan River. The bull appeared in front of the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut. Captain Walter Lucas of Company D had recovered from his wounding at Gettysburg and was ready for action. He detailed a squad of men to kill the bull for food. It should have been a simple matter, an easy dispatch of a single large animal, but apparently a lone bovine is harder to bring down than a host of Rebels.

You can well imagine the hoots and hollers as first one, then another, of the new recruits of the Fourteenth stepped forward to test his marksmanship, or lack thereof, as it so proved. Every shot missed its target and soon some of the veterans likely stepped forward to show the “fresh fish” how it was done. Still the bull was not hit and went on about his gleaning of the corn.

It was a normal thing for occasional shots to be traded by opposing pickets, so sporadic gunfire was mostly ignored by the armies. However, as shot after shot missed the bull, frustration at missing out of a feast of “beef-on-the-hoof” mounted, and the rate of fire increased across the line of the Fourteenth. Officers rode hither and thither sounding the alarm. The First Brigade of the Third Division took up their weapons and formed in line of battle, convinced that their Second Brigade  comrades were locked in pitched battle with attacking Confederates.

Eventually, the storm of lead killed the animal. It’s carcass was brought within the lines and butchered. The enlisted men of the Fourteenth, however, likely dined only on leftovers, because much of the meat was given to the officers whose quiet day had been so rudely interrupted.

Thus ended what the men came to call the “Third Battle of Bull Run.” Perhaps they should have called up the artillery.