John Harrison Mills.

Chronicles of the Twenty-first regiment New York state volunteers: embracing ... online

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in review the home scenes in which to-day his spirit takes a part.
Loved forms and faces • hover round, dearly-remembered voices
mingle in happy greeting, and warm kisses tremble upon the lip.
They are all there, and again he listens for the joyful clamor of the
old church bells, and his heart laughs in his happy fullness. Again
with time- honored customs, the salutation of the season marks the
renewal of social- ties, the board is spread with hospitable welcome
to friend and stranger alike, and the sparkling glass pledges a
thousand times, the happiness of days to come.

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The scene changes, brighter but not more happy. Again are
gathered the young and beautiful where, like a dream of bewildering
loveliness, they combine the drifting, eddying changes of the dance.
The soul drinks the music, the feet seem winged expositors of its
meaning and move lightly to its free and joyous measure, while a
gentle pressure on the arm, a fragrant breath upon the cheek, a
glimpse into soul-deep eyes, or the thrilling touch of a fairy hand,
sends an alarm to the heart, and signal lights to the eyes, and
a sighing challenge to the lips ; and just then, like the Turk who
woke from his last bright dream to die " 'mid shout, and groan, and
sabre stroke," you hear, not the "sentry's shriek," but that of a
much suffering Sergeant,

"Fall in for roll call!"

Where are we ? — and they ! Alas ! home is hundreds of
miles away, and to us might as well be thousands, and we are in
our tent again. The morning is cold the stove won't '* draw," the
tent is full of smoke, and the " boy with the auburn hair " is on his
knees, alternately blowing the fire and rubbing his eyes, with a
muttered — blessing, perhaps, — I'm not certain, and we all hurry
on our traps and get into the street just as the Sergeant pro tern, is
forming the line. we reverse the order of things in this regiment. Last
night, as each officer laid off his shoulder-strapped coat, he knew
his successor had been elected from the ranks, and that he should,
this morning have to invest him with that badge of authority, and
himself assume the private's jacket and his place in the ranks.
This arrangement was agreed to by the officers and ordered by
Colonel Rogers ; and last evening we held an election of new line
officers, they in turn choosing their field and staff. Seymour
Colton, "D," is Colonel; Samuel McMurray, of " F," Lieut-
Colonel; John W. Comstock, of "I," Major; Willett Fargo, ot
" D," Quartermaster; John Bidwell, of " B," Adjutant; John
Metcalf, of" D," Surgeon ; and Almond Darling, of " C," Chaplain.

Guard-mounting, at nine, went off in excellent style. Captain
Tuttle, of " D," being officer of the day, and Lieut, Sheppard, ol
" C," officer of the guard. Many of the old officers were on guard,
others were chopping wood and carrying water for the cooks, with
a meek resignation to their lot. And let it be recorded that no
reprisals were attempted by those, for the time, in power. Only
one of the deposed resisted, and he was summarily arrested and
hustled off to the guard-house, as an example to all malcontents.

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The morning passed pleasantly, many novel and diverting
contrivances helping to that end. Among these were the calls.
Ladies (!) in pork barrel hoops and blankets — a la crinoline —
received calls, dispensing small talk and refreshments, and provoking
unlimited flirtations. So passed the time until the dinner hour.

Friends at home ! Think not to-day your cherished ones are
deprived of the creature comforts they crave. For your own tables,
loaded though they be with the best and richest the market affordeth,
cannot present so marked a contrast to your ordinary work-a-day
fare, as doth the serving board of our cooking quarters to its
customary garniture. For know ye that we have acquired a gem
of a sutler, and through his exertions we have forestalled even the
Washingtonians, in the poultry market, and verily oysters are not
wanting. The camp floweth also with lager beer, kegs of that
amber- hued beverage having traveled hither from the camp of the
Garibaldians, in exchange for much greenbacks. Therefore are
we jolly and drive dull care away, and forget not to drink a fathom
or more to your health and happiness. Don't imagine we are
drunken. Oh no, we are only happy, as becomes the day.

Immediately after dinner, all assembled in front of Col. Rogers'
quarters, and a fine flag staff" soon reared its towering crest of pine-
.tuft upon this highest spot ; and when our old garrison- flag had
been run " apeak," Col. Colton, who had directed the proceedings,
made a speech, ending by naming our new camp ". Niagara,"
receiving the immediate approbation of all present, expressed by
three stout cheers and a " Buffalo."

Parade, at the usual hour, was witnessed by a large gathering
from the camps around, attracted by the fame of our doings.
Everything went off" well, and no spectator could have s.urmised
that the real officers were not in command. Instead, they were in
the ranks, and did almost as well as their substitutes, allowing for
the fact that a fall in rank is worn less gracefully by most men than
a promotion. It had been proposed, as appropriate to the occasion,
to end with an address by the new Chaplain, George N. Merrill, of
" D," (vice Darling, resigned), but owing to the difficulty of forming
square upon the narrow parade ground, this was omitted.

After parade were brought forth two slab-sided, vicious-looking
pigs, furnished by the ex-officers, coated, in spite of their ear-
splitting protests, with a good layer of grease, and escorted by the
band and all the drums of the regiment to a large field near camp.
Two men from each company were allowed to compete for the prize.

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Spare-rib No. i did not see the point. He evidently was bewildered,
and didn't know what was expected of him, and his stupid career
suddenly ended in the hands of two of " B's " men, who, by right of
tenure exerted on ears, legs and tail, claimed nine points of the law,
and bore off their lien in triumph.

Not so with porker No. 2. Evidently expecting to make a
clear case, and profiting by the experience of his predecessor, he
no sooner felt himself free than he made a break in lovely style, and
then followed such a race as scrub riders might dream of. The
pursuit waxes hot. Piggy don't relish the close attention of his
friends, and, with rare decision of purpose, changes his tactics by
making a sudden and most unexpected halt; and while about a
dozen soldiers collide at a tangent, and sprawl upon the ground
with greased shins and ugly bruises, bears away in a new direction,
exulting in the success of his stratagem. More ground and lofty
tumbling follows, when another attempt is made to outflank him ;
but at last his enemies, by virtue of strength and number, win the
day, and he is borne away, still loudly arguing the injustice of the

" B " and " G " Companies will dine to-morrow on fresh pork.

At sunset bona fide authority resumed its place, and the camp
quietly assumed its usual appearance. The day had passed most
pleasantly, and if the days of the succeeding year are to follow the
pattern, if the real officers and privates maintain the same mutual
good feeling, and profit by their brief experience of each other's
trials, all will be well.

During the months of January and February it rained almost
continuously, and it was with much difficulty and suffering that our
ordinary duties of picket and regimental guard, and the necessary
work of the camp, could be performed. Our trials may be summed
up in one word, and that is, mud! Cleanliness and comfort,
synonymous terms with men whose homes are not forgotten, were
no more ; literally sunk in the floods of weakly dilute alluvium, that
everywhere clogged the feet of the army. On duty our shoes were
full of it, our garments a mass of mingled fibre and clay, our belts
and arms plashed and smeared with the *' sacred soil," and so were
bunks, seats and floors in our tents. Even our food could not
escape the universal contamination : pork, soup and beans were
more or less gritty, and our coffee thick with the clayey solution
from the spring, which never had time to settle. Guard duty was
hard, but few of the boys will remember any duty more severe than

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that of the succeeding day, when the old guard were obliged to
procure the wood and water for the cooks. The former they cut
from among the leveled trees some distance from the hill, and loaded
upon the wagons ready to drag it to camp, where it had to be cut
in proper lengths for the fires. The water was brought from the
spring below the orchard on the hill-side, up a slope of forty-five
degrees, and a distance of fifty rods to the camp, in the black,
greasy ketdes, — holding from five to ten gallons, — used to boil
pork, beef, soup, or coffee, and the least touch of which was
ineffaceable pollution to light blue, or any other trowsers. To
descend this hill was easy enough, as many knew to their cost ; for
once started, one must needs go down, whether he could keep his
feet under him or not. But to climb it, thus burdened, required
strength and patience unlimited.

Through the winter, and in fact whenever we were established
in camp, the cooking was done by men detailed for that duty, and
relieved generally about once a month. These were excused from
other duty except the usual parades and muster. One of our first
cares, in preparing for the winter, had been to build substantial log
kitchens, which are probably standing to this day. These were
roofed generally with boards, like those built for the officers, a few
with canvas, and afforded shelter for the cooks and storage for the

The severe drills which, up to the time when the weather made
them impossible, had occupied most of our time when not on picket
duty, had familiarized us with the most difficult movements in
company, battalion and brigade, so that, at this time, our officers
confined our drill mainly to skirmishing and the bayonet exercise ;
and whenever the ground froze to the necessary hardness, the whole
regiment, usually in command of Lieut-Col. Root, would go out
for a course of severe sprouts in these exercises. Target firing,
too, was practiced almost daily, and in their desire to outdo each
other, the men rapidly became good marksmen, which they were
not likely to do with the old smooth-bore pieces Our new arms
(received January 23d), of the latest Springfield pattern, rifled and
accurately sighted, were very much liked, and were really as good
a rifled arm as the service, perhaps the world, could boast.
Our usual range for practice was from one to five hundred yards,
using the regulation target. A circular from headquarters, desiring
brigade commanders to '* improve every opportunity to practice
their men as skirmishers and to have target practice, with a view to

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pick out the best, shots for sharpshooters/* and that " the names of
one hundred and fifty of the best shots in each regiment '* be given
in for that purpose, created no little excitement and emulation, all
being anxious to be detached for that desirable service. That>
however, was the only result, as the detail was never made, and
when we finally took the field, the flank companies usually acted as

On the eighth of January we received two months' pay, and,
as usual, a large portion of it was instantly sent to the mothers,
wives and little ones at home. To provide for safe and easy
transfer of such amounts as the soldiers wished to send home.
Government had appointed commissioners from each State to visit
the camps of its regiments, and superintend the making out of
allotment rolls, each man to specify the sum to be reserved from
his monthly pay, and for which he would, instead, receive a bit of
script, negotiable at any bank, which might be sent by mail without
risk, as only the person in whose favor the allotment had been made
could get it cashed. The commissioners from New York visited
our camp on the 24th of January, and explained the object and
provisions of the law to the assembled regiment ; after which the
roll of each company was called, and each man named the sum to
be reserved. The aggregate, in our regiment, amounted to about
four thousand dollars per month.

Adams' Express Co. having generously offered to carry money
packages for soldiers, free of cost, many preferred to send their
own, not feeling certain that they should always be able to spare
any given sum. The experience of succeeding months showed that
these were right, for when rations were short, we were often glad to
purchase ol the negroes along the line of march, and the
indispensable tobacco alone often made a large breach in our sinking

The citizens, especially the ladies, of Buffalo, often made us to
feel, during these winter months, that we were not forgotten. It
would be impossible to enumerate all the acts of kindness and good
will of which we were the grateful recipients. The same kind hands
that provided us with havelocks for the scorching summer, now
made us nice soft woolen socks, gloves, mittens with one finger, and
gave good bedding and other necessaries for the hospital. The
young ladies of the Central School, those charming little patriots
whose willing fingers made the flag we swear by, were especially
des<6rving of credit ; and many a soldier, during those bitter nights

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of picket duty, blessed them for armings his hands and feet against
the cold.

Many of our Buffalo friends visited our camp during the
winter, and many of the officers, secure against moving for
some time, sent for their wives. The effect of the presence .of
these ladies was not more salutary than wonderful. Every man,
from highest to lowest, seemed to put on his best behavior; the
uniforms were never so carefully brushed before, the camp was
never so neat, and everything that could by any means prove
disagreeable to our guests was strictiy tabooed. It was funny, and
yet sad, to see the wistful looks cast on the spot from which they
would witness parade, and the almost envy provoked in the hearts
of those who were not the lucky wearers of shoulder-straps, and
who were thus led to remember their own wives and sweethearts.

They finally went away, near the last of February, when we
knew we should advance soon, and the camp relaxed into semi-

The 2 2d of February was marked by an act of mercy. After
the reading of Washington's Farewell Address, at parade, an order
by our Colonel was read, pardoning all prisoners confined in the
guard-house by sentence of regimental court martial, in honor of
the day. In the evening our camp was illuminated, as were many
others in our vicinity.

On the 24th came a heavy storm of rain, and as it ceased, the
wind rose to the dignity of a full-grown hurricane. Tents collapsed,
or suddenly inflated, through some unguarded opening, sailed
triumphantly away, leaving their unlucky occupants out in the wet.
The immense barn, back of the camp, occupied by our Quarter-
master, suddenly heaved as though blown by powder, and then
majestically sank to the ground, the crash hardly heard above the
screaming of the wind. Luckily, all the teams were away with the
wagons after supplies, and the only living creature in the building
at the time was a fine horse, belonging to Lieut. -Col. Root. We
soon removed enough of the ruin to reach him, and the noble
fellow, but little injured, lay quietly on his side, with an immense
beam across his flank, just pressing enough to hold him down firmly.
He watched us appealingly, and a great sigh of relief burst from his
deep lungs as we finally lifted the last beam and helped him to his

Next day the ruins had to be cleared away, and having no lack
of help, they were before night, even to the heaviest piece, carried

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down the hill, arid a few days' woi;k made of them a gpod
substantial stable.

And now came the pleasing prospect of an advance. On the
26th day of February we were ordered to " be in readiness to march
at a moment's notice." *' Two days' rations and forty rounds of
cartridges,'* suggested something beyond picket duty, and
preparations were hastily made to strike tents and away." On the
same day the Colonel returned from a two days' visit to Philadelphia,
and the officers immediately had everything packed. The wind had
nearly dried the roads so that artillery and wagon trains could
move with us. On the 28th we went on picket for the last time on
the old line, and were relieved ori the 2d day of March, returning
to camp in more rain and fresh mud. That day James Mackay, of
** D," bade us good bye. He h^d been promoted to a Lieutenancy
in the Sixty-Second N. Y. V.

Snow and rain succeeded, and next day the roads were about
as bad as ever.

About this time we first received the small shelter tent, since
become so familiar. A piece of Irish linen, five feet square with
buttons and holes on the edges, enabling any number of pieces to
be fastened together, loops at the corners, and a small jointed stick,
three feet in length, for each man.

Twice (on the 6th and 8th) we marched some miles out the
Leesburgh turnpike, with knapsacks, ^* in heavy order " and tents
slung ; pitched the latter and crawled under them, at least once,
just to see how it seemed ; tried all the various ways of combining
them, and finally voted them a fine thing.

Sunday, the 9th, we were inspected by Col. Rogers, and
declared to be in good order generally. The rest of the day was
devoted to letter writing, although we knew that the Northern mail
had been temporarily stopped as a precautionary measure, so that
our letters might lie in Washington some time, and friends at home
grow anxious. That .night we turned in early for we knew that
orders might come at any moment. At one o'clock a sergeant
passed quietly from tent to tent, arousing us with directions to
prepare for the march. Our orders had come, and we were to
move at five. The cooks swung the kettles with our two days
rations of pork, everything was got ready for instant departure, and
then all laid down to get a little more sleep.

At four all were astir, bonfires were lighted in the streets with
the straw of our bunks and the remnant of firewood, and in their

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glare men hurried to and fro, securing the safety of whatever must
be left behind, filling haversacks and canteens, and' taking a last
look at the old camp, which had been the scene of so many long- to-
be-remembered experiences.

At five the bugle sounded, and the cry of " Fall in! " echoed
from street to street ; the men hurried into their places, the line
was formed, and just as daylight began to streak the east, we
joyously took up the march. The morning was damp, and the
hill was enveloped in an ashy canopy of smoke, through which
the smouldering fires showed dimly as we turned away, wondering
if we should ever see it again. On the march at last. On, perhaps,
to Richmond ; at least, on ; and the foe in front, and every step
bringing us nearer. All rallied with the thought, and soon rose
the quaint, peculiar marching song of the Twenty-First, wherein
those wild fellows were wont to declare to the hills and woods of
Virginia how " the fifes and drums should greet them, as they went
rolling home ; " while none spoke of the louder greeting which must
come ere then, perhaps many times, welcoming brave spirits to a
longer rest.

We passed to the left of Fort Buffalo, and by daylight had
reached the old picket line. Soon after, set in a fine drizzly rain,
which continued, with few intervals, through the day. At Anandale
we took the road toward Fairfax, our regiment leading the infantry
cqlumn ; and in the distance, far as the eye could reach followed
trains of artillery, and columns of foot and horse.

We passed through Fairfax C. H. at noon, and halted for a
short rest, and dinner, just beyond. The men were standing the
march very well, although many found they had ovef estimated
their pack-horse ability, and a few plethoric knapsacks disgorged a
portion of their contents. A hearty dinner lightened the haversacks,
too, and then we moved on. The road from Anandale to Fairfax
we had found quite easy, long, regular slopes and smooth way ;
but after leaving the latter place, it became quite hilly.

Near four o'clock, and when within about two miles ol
Centreville, we filed off into a thick pine wood and pitched our
tents. Building fires and opening our haversacks, we soon dried
our wet clothes and satisfied hunger, and then crawled under our
little tents, or gathered in knots to discusss the news brought by
returning couriers. The enemy had abandoned Manassas, and our
cavalry had advanced to the neighborhood of Winchester without
meeting any opposing force. The latter place was still occupied by

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rebel troops, supposed to be militia left to cover the retreat. The
evacuation had been sudden, although preparations had evidently
been commenced some time before. It was supposed that our
advance had not been expected so soon, for a large amount of stores,
which they had not time to destroy, fell into our hands. People
living in the vicinity stated that prior to the evacuation, there were
100,000 rebel troops at Manassas and Centreville. Everything
indicated a precipitate flight. All their log huts were standing, and
an immense number of tents, together with a few caissons, were
found, but no cannon. Two bridges, one on the Warrenton turnpike,
the other across Cub Run, had been blown up.

We abandoned all expectation of a battle on the old ground,
so fatal to us in July of the year before, on which we had hoped to
write another story in rebel blood, and the excitement of the day
was dulled by the disappointment. We still expected to move on
toward Richmond.

Next morning reveille sounded at four, and we were ordered to
pack knapsacks and strike tents, after which we made a hasty meal,
expecting to march immediately. But the morning wore on, and
no orders came, so the tents were pitched again. McClellan passed
the camp near noon, toward Centreville, and all rushed to the road
to cheer him as he passed. During the day, many of the men
straggled from the various camps, returning near night to report to
their less fortunate comrades the sights they had seen on the old
Bull Run field, and loaded with excellent tobacco and many other
trophies from the abandoned camps, among which monstrous bowie
knives, some an arm's length, and weighing five or six pounds, and
the most murderous-looking weapon we ever saw, were the most

During the following night occurred an incident illustrating
the unassuming kindness of our much loved Brigadier General.
Our Colonel being senior Colonel of the brigade. General
Wadsworth had taken up his quarters near him, inside the guard
line of our own regiment. A wagon fly, stretched across a pole on
crotches, was their tent, and in front of this, beside a huge fire
which it was part his duty to replenish, was posted the customary
sentinel. As all soldiers are aware, no sentinel is expected to salute
when on his post, between retreat and reveille. But Johnny Burke,
of "F," who had more than enough "diviltry" under his
suspiciously solemn exterior, knowing his duty as well as the best,
also knew the failings, " leaning to virtue's side," of the good

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General, and wickedly determined to practice .on them. So he
sturdily posted himself beside the fire, and whenever the latter
showed his venerable head, which was necessarily quite often, up
came John*s musket to a most undeniable " present," which the
General would acknowledge.

This happened so often that at last the General, to avoid it, would
manage to enter and leave his tent by the rear. Finally, when about
to retire, he again chanced to show himself, and in spite of the
absurdity of saluting an officer in his night wrappings, up came
John's musket again. This was too much, and he was hastily
dismissed, with directions to tell the officer of the guard that no
more men need be posted there. So Burke escaped duty for the

Online LibraryJohn Harrison MillsChronicles of the Twenty-first regiment New York state volunteers: embracing ... → online text (page 15 of 39)