Thursday, December 30, 2010

always the 'special duty'

Today at Brandy Station: December 30, 1863

Soldiers are always tasked with details. Police the grounds, picket duty, guard duty, stable duty, trash, etc... the list goes on and on. Today the 91st Pennsylvania published a list of soldiers in the regiment whom had been detailed to support the regimental leadership.

Henry Schaefer (Co. A)was detailed to Colonel Gregory to act as hostler.
John Costner (A) was cooking for his company commander, Captain Gregory.
Ed. Gamble (B) was cooking for his company commander, Lt. Kayser.
Joseph M. Johns[t]on (D) was cooking for Lt. Col Sinex.
Joesph Rementer (E) was cooking for his company commander, Captain Hall.
Henry Dunn (I) was cooking for his company commander, Lt. Donnell.

A hostler is a groom or stableman. Schaefer's mission in life was the care and feeding of Colonel Gregory's horses. It has to be assumed that the others had some skill in the preparation of meals. Gamble would be wounded at Petersburg in June 1864, the others survived the war.

These men had been detailed to these tasks within the last three months.

It should also be noted that Sergt David F. Mansfield (Co F) was detailed today to duty in the ambulance train, relieving Sargent John Hammill.

Friday, December 24, 2010

"I took care of a friend"

Today at Brandy Station: December 24, 1863

From the diary of William Owen, 86th New York Infantry:

"Dec. 24. Stayed in camp. I took care of my sick friend Asa."

There is little better that you can do on Christmas Eve.

Asa is likely Asa Croos, who was wounded at Orange Grove on November 27, 1863. Croos survived the war. Owen also survived. He was captured on May 10, 1864 along the Po River and would spend nine months in a POW camp.

William Owen's diary can be found at:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Shot to death by musketry"

Today at Brandy Station: December 18, 1863

On this day, five soldiers in the Army of the Potomac were shot for desertion.

John Tegue, 5th Vermont Infantry
George E. Blowers, 2nd Vermont Infantry
William H Devoe, 57th New York Infantry
Winslow N. Allen, 76th New York Infantry
John McMann, 11th U.S. Infantry

All are interesting and unique stories. But I will just discuss one, Winslow Allen. Maybe next year I will detail one or more of the others.

In today's terms, I would submit that Allen would be considered a winner of the infamous 'Darwin Award'. Originally in Company H of the 76th NY, he deserted in the spring of 1862 when the regiment was in Washington. On September 27, 1863, Company H of the 76th received eight new recruits and yup, Allen was one of the recruits. Yes I said he deserted from and rejoined the same company.

As the story goes..."He was possessed of a beautiful wife and one child, but, tempted by the bounty of three hundred dollars, he had sold himself as a substitute, trusting to fortune to make his escape again. As he was marched by the sergeant down the company street, though dark, his voice was recognized by his former comrades. This coming to the ears of the officers, he was arrested and placed in confinement to await his trial for desertion."

The trial and forlorn hope for appeal followed. On this fateful day:

"As they marched to the mournful measure of the death march, and neared the fatal spot where the rough coffin and gaping grave were waiting to receive their victim, he seemed suddenly struck with terror, and, seizing the Captain's [Swan] hand with a vice-like grasp, thus remained until they arrived at the coffin. Around him were formed his companions whom he had deserted. The grave which was to receive him as a loathsome criminal, was fresh beside him. It was a severe test of his physical courage. To none but the Captain was there the exhibition of the least emotion.
The condemned man was placed upon the foot of his coffin; the bandage placed over his eyes; his hands pinioned. The charges, specifications, findings and order for his execution bad been read. The Captain bent over him, and, his heart almost too full for utterance, whispered: "Winslow, I can go no further with you ; the rest of your dark journey is alone. Have you any last word for your wife and child?""No, Only tell them I love them all!" These were his last words. The Captain stepped back a few feet; the officer gave the signal to the executioners; the report as of a single gun rang out, and Winslow N. Allen fell lifeless upon his coffin. He had, on that day completed his twenty-sixth year. He died without a perceptible movement of a muscle."
The quotes are from the 'History of the 76th New York Volunteers" by A. B. Smith

A soldier in the 76th wrote to his wife that night; and after discussing the weather, the positive implications of avoiding a fight on the Rapidan [Mine Run] and the chance of furlough, he talked about the execution. The private states, "The court found him guilty of desertion, and sentenced him "to be shot to death by musketry." He was shot to day in presence of the 2d brigade."

His final line of the topic was poignant." "In looking over the mail to-night I noticed two letters for Winslow Allen, each marked "Please forward in haste." They came too late."

Friday, December 17, 2010

A gift to the Powhatan Cavalry Troop

Today at Brandy Station: December 17, 1861

The article below appeared today (1861 of course) in the Richmond Dispatch concerning a give to the Powhatan Troop, otherwise known as Company E, 4th Virginia Cavalry Regiment. Someone in the company must have made a very positive impression on Annie E. Wise of Culpeper.

A "Battle-Flag" for the Powhatan Troop.
We have been favored with the following correspondence between one of our patriotic Virginia ladies and the gallant commander of the Powhatan Troop. The letters speak for themselves, and we therefore, without further comment, give them to the reader:

Bel Bee, near Brandy Station, Culpeper, Nov. 28, 1861.Capt. Jno. F. Lay:
Dear Sir:
Be pleased to accept this "Battle-Flag" which I have taken great pleasure in making, and which I now present to your command; though it be pierced with many balls and stained with precious blood, rally around it with brave and determined hearts, protecting the interest common to us all — our beloved country. With much respect,
Annie E. Wise.

Cavalry Camp Beauregard, December 3, 1861.
My Dear Miss Annie:
This banner sent to us from your fair young hands was as opportune a gift to the "Powhatan Troop" as it was beautiful--"deep feelings, few words." Be assured your banner shall be borne proudly at the head of my command, wheresoever duty shall call, and whensoever a "battle flag" is flung to the air by the Army of the Potomac, and as we look at its brilliant folds, there shall ever be mingled kind memories of the fair donor, with a determination to be worthy of the love and devotion of the women of the South--a determination to secure to their homes immunity from the presence of the brutal invaders whose feet are now at the threshold of our beloved Virginia.
With warm regards and thanks in the name of the company, I am, my dear Miss Annie, your friend.
John F. Lay,

Capt. Commanding Powhatan Troop.

Captain Lay survived the war, being promoted to Major in March 1865. He left Company E and joined General Beauregard's staff in April, 1862.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

One Man's Opinion of the Mine Run Campaign

Today at Brandy Station: December 7, 1863

I have a few letters in my collection for Michael S. Austin, a Lieutenant in the 5th New Jersey Infantry. On this day he wrote to his father thanking him for shipping a box of goods, including butter ("Butter is good – and I am sure most officers would like to mess with me while it lasts.")

But what interested me was his commentary concerning General George Gordon Meade's decision not to continue the fight at Mine Run:

"Much censure is cast upon Gen Mead[e] for the apparent failure of the late campaign. Those who were more closely connected & interested in that affair, are satisfied that it terminated as it should have done, after they saw what they had first to overcome – considering, that there was a chance that the [?] might be repulsed – in which case a rout would, almost, have been a certain thing. Today there are 15,000 men living, & of service, if properly used. In the case contemplated, that number of men would have been lost to the enemy & country, with a great chance of defeat."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Baby it's cold outside

Today at Brandy Station: December 6, 1863 & 2010

History does repeat itself. The temperature in Brandy Station right now is 32 degrees (at 7:30pm) with a wind chill of 16. The overnight low is predicted to be 26 degrees. Wind is blowing 10-15 miles per hour with gusts to 30 or more.

in 1863...
... "Cold weather."

"The weather is cold as Greenland, it freezes water in our house half an inch."

"Today has been quite cold, sharp wind -- "

"It has been very cold for a few days and they done me a great deal of good already. We have not had any snow yet. "

"Last night was probably the coldest we have had yet this winter. It was very windy. To day is clear but cold."

"This is an awful cold Sunday, we have to lay in bed, to keep from freezing."

Our last soldier, I believe has the right idea.

Friday, December 3, 2010

...out of the wilderness

Today at Brandy Station: December 3, 1863

The Union army recrosses the Rapidan River today and returns to it's former camps in and around Brandy Station. As they finally settle in for the winter, the First Corps will camp south of the town of Culpeper; the Second Corps will camp in the vicinity of Stevensburg; the Third Corps in and around Brandy Station; The Fifth Corps along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad between Rappahannock Station and the Bull Run and the Sixth Corps along the Hazel River, centered near Farley. The Cavalry will be dispersed, with divisions at Stevensburg and Warrenton.

But the commentary from the soldiers about there return is what today's blog is about:

86th New York: Stayed in camp all day, tired & worn out & rations short. Stragglers coming in all day. Called up in the night to march, did not go.

4th Michigan: Rose early and Packed up and went to the Rappahanock River crossed at Rapp Station and our Brig went on to Bealeton Station where we Camped for the night.

2nd Rhode Island: We moved three miles to this camp. I do not understand the late movements, but I presume General Meade does, and that is sufficient for me.

20th Indiana: Got back to our old camp about daylight. ...left the rapidan about noon, marching a short distance ...stopping for the train to pass, ...we stopped in the woods and were told that we would lay there three hours. About eleven we started again. I never saw worse roads in my life...

111th New York: We have just got Orders, to pack up everything, & be ready to move at a moments notice. Now for a general Sekdaddle, to Washington. It is also reported that Joe Hooker, had Command of the Army again. If this is so, we may be kept pretty busy this winter. You may be sure we are living anything, but Comfortable...

17th Maine: ...we recrossed the Rapidan, thankful to be alive. As soon as we got over, a band near the end of the bridge piped up, “O Ain’t We Glad We’re Out of the Wilderness.” We rather thought we were, and a hearty “Amen!” rose from every throat.

Jed Hotchkiss, mapmaker for General Richard Ewell wrote to his wife today: "...Well, we got back to our old quarters again today, Mr. Meade would not stay & fight, he ran away night before last & recrossed the river, we followed as soon as we saw that he was gone, but he had too much the start & we only succeeded in catching some 300 of the stragglers & rear guard..."

And the Army of the Potomac's Winter Encampment will finally begin.