Wilder Dwight.

Life and letters of Wilder Dwight, lieut.-col. Second Mass. inf. vols online

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There is cotton to tempt avarice, negroes to tempt philan-
thropy, Rebels to tempt patriotism, — everything to warrant
a great risk. As I read the Southern accounts, they seem
to me to indicate the presence of panic. From that, I infer
a weak and exposed condition. We shall leave them time
to recover their courage, and strengthen their defences. I
do not know what is possible to our ' Great Country,' but,
possible or impossible, I would pour an avalanche on that
shore forthwith.

" You see that reflection and conjecture are the only-
amusements of our rainy days. So I must fill my letters
with guesses and hopes. I advise you to read McClellan's


Review of the War in the Crimea. One could wish that his
pen were free to criticise his own campaign. Could he not
expose, here and there, a blunder ? Perhaps the answer is,
It is not his campaign.

" My new man arrived last night, very unexpectedly to
himself, apparently ; for he seemed to find obscurity en-
veloping his path, and to think his advance to this point a
great success.

" He brought letters which delighted me. It was mail
night, and I had no mail till John came with his budget.
Father seems to speak stoically of ' a long war.' What it
may be mismanaged into I cannot say, but, decently man-
aged, it cannot be a long war. The disasters and embar-
rassments which will follow in its train will be long enough ;
the war itself short and desperate, I hope.

" There is something ludicrous in writing so quietly on
calm, white paper, withoxit expressing at all the roaring,
whistling, wintry surroundings of my present scene. Our
yesterday's rain has cleared off cold. Real winter this
morning. Ice in the wash-basin, numbness in the fingers,
frost from the breath. I rejoice in the invigorating turn
that the weather has taken. I feel myself much better for
it, and I know it must improve the health and vigor of the
camp. But the howling blast is a stern medicine, and even
now it shakes my tent so that my pen trembles. I should
like you to have seen the picture our camp presented at
reveille this morning. I purposely went out without my
overcoat, and walked leisurely down the line, as if I were
fanned by the zephyrs of June. I wished to have' the men
observe that I recognized nothing unusual in our first taste
of winter. Still, in point of fact, it was cold. Now drill is
going on without overcoats. I told them they must double-
quick if they were cold. The only way is, to hold things
up to the sharp line under all circumstances. It will be a
little hard to keep up the illusion all winter, I fear, however.
Still, everythins: requires bracing up constantly. The virtue


of this military life is the importunate recurrence of daily
duty. Rain or shine, health or sickness, joy or grief, re-
yeilld knocks ' cequo pede ' with impartial cadence at every
tent. Its lively and awakening beat thrills a new life
through the camp, as the rising sun whitens the glowing
east. And then when tattoo at evening awakes the men to
sleep (for it is not a soothing strain), ' duty performed ' has
made them happy, or should have done so, on the authority
of the great expounder of the Constitution himself. Such
are the consolations of camp life in November. But then,
as Dr. Hedge happily observes in a discourse on ' National
Weakness,' ' the Rebel power is still unsubdued ; the har-
vest is passed, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.'
True, but we are not lost. We propose in the Massachusetts
Second to keep Thanksgiving day thankfully, if not for what
has happened, at least for what has not happened. I have
just sent out an order for the provision of Thanksgiving din-
ners for the men. And I quite expect that turkey and plum-
pudding will smoke on our mess-pans and exhale from our
ovens on Thursday next. I could be content to be at home
on that day, but, failing that, I shall enjoy an attempt to ex-
temporize and emulate a New England Thanksgiving in a
Maryland camp on the wrong bank of the Potomac. We
shall read the Thanksgiving Proclamation, and be as happy
as we may. I suppose you will have your usual celebration.
I expect to enjoy the unusual honor to come in among the
absent friends

" The pleasure of reading your last letter was somewhat
alloyed, I confess, by the pervading strain of eulogy of my
own letters. It is all nonsense. The story is a very good
one, perhaps ; the telling it is nothing ; and as for ' histori-
cal value,' you just wait. Our little events will not be a
paragraph in the record which ought to be and must be

" Father closes his last letter with the very kind wish
that he knew what to send me. I happen to be able to tell


him, — viz. a little nice English breakfast tea. A good
honest cup of black tea would delight me. If you should
find that Colonel Gordon has not gone back before this
reaches you, pray make him the bearer of a small package
of tea.

" I see by to-night's Clipper (it is Saturday evening while
I write), that a delegation from Baltimore goes to ask the
President for government patronage for the repentant city.
This fulfils a prediction I had the honor to make. I see,
also, that the landing of our force at Beaufort was a scene
of disorder and confusion. That comes of sending the
rawest troops to the hardest duty. I am puzzled to know
why this is done to such an alarming extent. But tattoo
is just beating. It is a raw and gusty night. The air
bites shrewdly. I think I will leave that puzzle unsolved,
and get within the warm folds of my constant buffalo-robe.
Good night. Grandmother will be pleased to hear, before
I go to bed, that with one of her blankets I have just made
Captain Mudge warm and comfortable in a little attack of
illness which has just overtaken him. The soft blanket
will be as good as the Doctor's medicine, — better, per-

" I have just room to bid you good morning, this Sunday
morning. I am just ready for inspection, and have no doubt
the day will work itself off quietly and pleasantly."




" Camp near Seneca, November 19, 1861.

" T) Y every rule of gratitude, after receiving father's long
1} and cheerful letter this morning, this letter should
be written to him. But, as the countryman said of his
wife, that what was her'n was his'n, and what was his'n was
his own, so I fancy I shall talk as freely to both, though I
write to only one. Did I not get a letter off on Sunday ?
I think so. That was a day of bright-blue cold. I gave up
church because I had not the heart to keep the men even
in a devout shiver for an hour. Yesterday I got a little pull
back again. I had fully made up my mind to be perfectly
well, so it shook my confidence a trifle. I had to keep busy
in order to regain it. The day looked rather gloomy. The
Adjutant was taken sick, and the Sergeant-Major. So I had
to detail raw hands. Three captains were on their backs.
The infernal malaria seemed to have wilted every one.
Drills were dull, and the hospital over busy. There was a
general cheerlessness overhanging every one.

" Just at this moment what does the perverse generalship
of our inapposite brigadier but send me an order : ' There
will be a review and inspection of this brigade in the large
field hitherto known as a division review -ground near
Darnestown.' There was hopelessness. Colonel and Lieu-
tenant-Colonel both away ; Adjutant and half the captains
off duty ; myself just between wind and water ; every one
dumpish. It never rains without pouring. The band
leader and the drum-major reported themselves sick at
parade. Whew-w-w-w-w ! I think it all had a tonic and
astringent effect on me. sympathized with me in my


efforts, to repair disasters in season for a grand review. I
told her that, tliough things did n't look very bright, yet
I had always noticed one thing, a dark morning kept grow-
ing better, and I was going to get up with , that faith. I
made my arrangements busily last evening.

" This morning was jolly cold. I was busy about all the lit-
tle formalities and precisions which belong to such occasions,
settling them with the various officers to whom the duties
belonged. The Acting Adjutant had a little delay which
bothered me, but at about ten o'clock the line was formed, —
the men all in. overcoats, — with full equipment. The morn-
ing had mellowed into Indian-summer. After all, the Massa-
chusetts Second did look finely. We marched off bi'iskly
to Darnestown, about a mile and a half. The regiment
arrived at the large field a few moments late, — the fault of
a green adjutant. No great matter, but an annoyance.
The rest of the brigade was in line, — my place was on the
right. I formed the regiment a little in rear of the line,
then rode up to General Abercrombie, who said he wished
the whole brigade line changed. This gave me a chance
to move our regiment right out in line of battle. I advanced
them, and they moved with excellent precision, keeping their
line exactly. It was a refreshing turn. The regiment sa-
luted, and then marched round in review, passing round the
whole field, and saluting the General, who was at the centre,
opposite the front of our line. The regiment marched well,
■■ — the distances all well kept, — and wheeled into line again
finely. So far, well. Then an inspection, which is a tedious
process. The General noticed, what is certainly true, that
the men looked peaked, dwindled, pined. But their sol-
dierly appearance was undeniable. As if to cap the climax
of our day's work, the General turns to me and says, ' Put
the battalion through a short drill, and then you can take
them home.' I might have mentioned that I rose this
morning pretty well except a raging headache, and, on the
whole, felt brisk. I did not much feel like shouting through


a battalion-drill, however. Still, I did it. We did it pret-
ty well, too, on the whole. Shall I tell you what we did ?
You will understand it exactly. The battalion, as formed for
inspection, was in open column of companies, right in front.
I first threw them forward into line, which went well, then
double-columned on the centre, countermarched and de-
ployed, then repeated that movement at a double-quick, then
broke the line to the left, and wheeled again to the right into
line, then broke to the right by companies, closed in mass
and formed divisions, then column forward and round by
two wheels, closed in mass to their old front, then halted
and deployed column on the first division at a double-quick,
bringing them on their original line. Then, after a rest,
broke by right of companies to the rear, and so marched
home, having weathered the day. Now, is n't that a lucid
story ? Don't yoti like it ? It 's just what I did, anyway,
and is n't a bad drill for the inexperience of a headachy
major. I got home soon after two, having had a hard day
for a regiment so much pulled down as ours. I put in sev-
eral good words for us with the Brigadier, and I am in hopes
to whiskey and quinine, or, better still, to transport our regi-
ment into its old health and vigor. But certain it is, that
hard work, exposure, and Potomac damp have wrought their
perfect work, and we ' need a change,' as the saying is.
Besides, there is this constant picket duty on the river,
watching through damp nights for enemies that have n't a
purpose of coming. It is the hardest kind of duty, and the
most useless, or rather the least obviously useful, and the
least exhilarating. I was reading, this morning, an order
from head-quarters about ' amputations.' ' Pshaw ! ' I ex-
claimed, to the edification of our surgeon. ' If they want
to be practically useful, let them pronounce about diari-hoea
and chills : there are no amputations in civil war.' With
such dismal pleasantries we relieve the depression of our
sinking spirits. But I have the pleasure to know, or to
feel sure, that we are only harvesting now the crop of an


early sowing, and that things grow better. I am Tery well
again this evening. Colonel Andrews now grows obyiously,
better. The Adjutant will go to a house to-morrow for
two or three days' rest, and I am inclined to hope that
things have just got to their worst with us.

" Perhaps I am giving you an over-dark view. Don't let
your imagination run away with it. We are only debili-
tated, that 's all. Nothing dangerous, but annoying. I am
only thankful that I am so well, and only troubled that
there is so little I can do for the regiment.

" Send us your warm clothes as fast as they are ready in
respectable quantities

" Tell father I join in his hurrahs, except that I caution
him to wait for exploit and achievement before he congratu-
lates his boys, or canonizes their mother on their account.
It is very humdrum duty they are doing now. It asks only
willingness and endeavor, — a good, earnest disposition.
If it shall turn out that they can have strength for better
things by and by, sha'n't I be glad ! To-day I am only tran-
quil and hopeful. Our Thanksgiving day will be a great
success. I fancy nearly a hundred turkeys : a great many
geese and chickens will smoke on our mess-pans ! Then
the plum-puddings ! Already the cooks are rehearsing that
delicacy in many forms, in anticipation of the grand and
decisive movement on Thursday. I think that thankfulness
of heart and generosity of good cheer will so exalt and in-
spirit the regiment that we shall know no more depression or
invalidism. At all events, the preparation has a wholesome
cheerfulness in it. General Abercrombie to-day said, ' No
winter-quarters.' This was direct from McClellan. He
also intimated that we may go South. That rumor seems to
gather and not fade, as most do. It has life in it still, and
perhaps it may bring itself to pass pretty soon.

" I am making a long story of my short experiences ; but
it is pleasant to write, and, but for a little consideration left
for you, I niight write on for an hour. As it is, I will write


an affectionate good-night, and go to bed. Before I go,

don't let me forget to admonish you to tell Mr. that

those drawers are as warm as the love of woman, and
as constant as the love of man. Tell him they are my hope
and faith in this great November tribulation. I will recol-
lect him Thanksgiving day.

" We have a bright Wednesday morning. I find a chance
to send this by Lieutenant Choate, who goes home on a
short ' sick-leave,' so I must ' close up promptly.' What a
joke the capture of Mason and Slidell is ! There is fun in
it. Whether there is, also, international law, or not, I don't
know. The luck seems really to have turned lately, and to
be going against rebels and traitors. I was very much
pleased to read Howard's letter. It looks as if he were
where he would have a good chance to make a soldier, and
to be an active one too. What an oddity this whole life
seems to me every now and then, when I think of it.
Changes and chances are very rapid. Verily, to be an
American is to be everything by turns, and nothing long.

" Speaking of ' nothing long,' what do you think of this
letter ? The camp looks white and ' frosty from my tent, as
I look out this morning. I think I will go to breakfast and
warm up a little. As to my health, it seems firm again
to-day, and I have every reason for content. Love to all at

" P. S. — I have reason to believe that the General was
quite well pleased with the review. That is a comfort,
under the circumstances."

"Camp near Seneca, November 20, 1861.

" I have just come in from a walk through the camp at
night. The cooks are busy over to-morrow's dinner. Picking
and dressing turkeys, and preparing the large, glowing ovens
for roasting. The irregularity is overlooked, in view of the
occasion. The preparations are so vast that the dinner will
be cooking nearly all night. I shall be able to give you the


statistics to-morrow. To-night I only know that it looks
as if an ai-my were to be fed with turkey, and another one
with plum-pudding. The scene is a busy and gay one. I
have also been to see my sick charges. Incongruous scenes
for such close association ! but we happen to have both pic-
tures at once in camp. Still, I think we grow better, and
have only thankfulness and hope for to-morrow."

" Thursday, half past two o'clock.

" Letter-writing after Thanksgiving dinner ! What an
absurdity ! Yet here goes. I must rise on the wings of
imagination, invoking also the exhilaration of champagne,
to give joii a glance at our day. The morning rose red
and glorious. The camp was gay, and the men all jovial
and willing. Last evening I published an order reciting
the Governor's Thanksgiving order, and General Banks's
order, and telling the Second Massachusetts that ' Thanks-
giving day would be observed and kept by the officers and
men of this regiment. There will be religious services at
ten o'clock, to be followed by the usual Thanksgiving din-
ner. It is hoped that the officers and men of the regiment
will unite in reviving all the memories and associations
which belong to the time-honored home festival of New
England, and in public thanksgiving and praise for all the
blessings which have followed them since they left the homes
which this festival recalls.'

" Such was my programme. At ten o'clock the snn was
bright, and the morning like summer. We had a service.
The reading of the Proclamation, the singing of praise by a
full, deep-toned choir, a jubilant, patriotic awakening, exhor-
tation from our chaplain, then a gay march by the band,
which followed the benediction, hastened the steps of the
companies as they returned to their quarters. I then im-
mediately got into the saddle and rode off to see the Adju-
tant and Captains Savage and Mudge, whom I sent yesterday
to the hospitable shelter of houses up at Darnestown. Found


them all well and happy, and recovering. Came back, vis-
ited the kitchens. Turkeys and plum-pudding smoked and
fragraneed from them. Tables were built by some of the
companies. A New England turkey-shooting was going on.
Companies B and C bore off the crown of victory and the
turkeys. I then went over to Colonel Andrews. Then I
came back to half an hour's business, and so to dinner. A
brisk, appetizing morning. But before I speak of our own
dinner, let me give you the statistics, the startling statistics
of our regimental dinner. Hear it : —

Turkeys. Geese. Chickens. Plum-Puddings.

9.5 lOjlbs. 76 Sjlbs. 73 95

Weight 997Jlbs. 646 lbs. 164jlbs. 1179 lbs.

" In other words, about half a ton of turkey, nearly as
much goose and chicken, and more than half a ton of plum-
pudding. There 's richness, as Mr. Squeers would say.
The statement shows at once, presumed digestion, appetite,
and courage. It is hopeful, — or will it prove the rashness
of despair ? But then our own dinner, included in this
general statement, was as follows : —

" A twenty-pound turkey, etc., and a vast plum-pudding,
and no end of apple-pies, etc. I ought to add, that many
of the companies had their nuts and raisins and apples.
What luxury! We sat down, a small party, — the Chap-
lain, the Doctor, the Chaplain of the Twelfth, and myself.
Tony, or Antonio Olivadoes, onv ambitious and clever
cook, was radiant over the fire. He had spent most of the
night in ciilinary constancy to his puddings and pies.. He
invoked attention to his turkey. ' Well now. Major, eon-
siderin' the want o' conveniences and fixins, I think it '11
taste kind o' good ' ; and so it did. I opened a bottle of
champagne, a present, and gave my toast, ' Luck and ab-
sent friends.' So we drank it, and it cheered our somewhat
narrow circle. The men are now playing ball, and it will
not be long before dress-parade and company duty will re-
place our Thanksgiving sensations. Never mind, we 've had


a good time, and a good time under a few difficulties, which,
I think, only sweetened our pleasure. Such is our Thanks-
giving chronicle. I like to sit and fancy your Jiome dinner,
and to preside, in imagination, over the boiled turkey at the
foot of the table. I hope our next Thanksgiving we may be
all together ; but if not, at least we can hope to be all as
thankful as now. Tony, the cook, just puts his head into my
tent, with conscious achievement in his eye : ' Well, Major
how you like de dinner ? I was up all night, — five min-
utes chopping wood, five minutes cooking, — I did hope it
would be nice.' I have just tickled his vanity, and he

" I think I may have a letter from you to-night, but this
goes by the mail now. God bless you all at home, and
good by."

" Head-quarters Skcond Massachusetts Regimekt,
Camp near Seneca, Nov. 23, 1861, Saturday Evening.

" Yours of the 19th is in my pocket. The evening has
passed pleasantly under its influence. The camp is fast
falling asleep.

" I last wrote you just after dinner on Thanksgiving
day. The rest of the day went glibly enough. In the
evening the men had a brisk dance to the music of the
band, and the next morning there were fewer sick men than
for two weeks before. Gladness and gayety are good medi-
cines. Friday was a very busy day with me. Among its
morning incidents was a visit to Generals Hamilton and Wil-
liams. General Williams quite won my affection by saying,
apropos of the review, ' The Massachusetts Second is the best
volunteer regiment in the service.' ' A man of sense,' was
my echo. Our two new lieutenants, Grafton and Shelton,
appeared yesterday, and were assigned to duty the next day.
They were eager for duty, and promise well. Give Charley
the stockings for his men by all means. I rejoice in his
eflFort and success. I am amused to see that the London
Times compares Ball's Bluff to Braddock's defeat. That


■was my first exclamation. A regular Braddock's defeat!
Who was the Braddock ? . . . .

" I do not expect to come home at all. While there is
anything to do here, I certainly shall not come. Indeed, I
do not think I desire it. Three years or the war, was my
enlistment ; and I am willing to stay with my regiment while
it lasts

This morning's inspection took ahout two hours. It was
a thorough one and satisfactory. We have church this
afternoon, unless it rains, as it threatens to do.

" For one, I have no sympathy with the prisoners at Port
Warren. I desire that all benevolence and sympathy may
flow to our loyal soldiers, whose hardship is quite as great.
As for Mason and Slidell, the joke is so good, so practical, so
retributive. I admire the calm irony with which Mr. Ev-
erett wishes them a short residence at Port Warren. That
is clever and bright, and politely severe

I predicted church when I was writing this morning. Lo
it is evening, and the ground white with snow ! So winter
steals upon us, and we have a snow-storra instead of divine
service. Well, camp life has its variety, and is not al-
ways same. I confess, as I look out through the flapping
door of my tent, I think it looks as little like invading the
South as any scene I ever looked on. White and heavy falls
the snow, — I hope on the unjust as well as the just, on both
sides the Potomac ! Now 's the time for mittens with no

holes in the thumbs I have quite a long letter from

. She is full of the glory and spectacle aspect of the

army and the war, her visit to Washington having taught
her all about armies. I coixld give her a few practical les-
sons that would unidealize her abruptly. Never mind, to
be illusionSe is to be happy.

" I hope, in view of the dread you express of my going
to Charleston, where they fight ' without giving quarter,'
you will be pleased at the imminent prospect there seems to
be that we shall be snowed into Maryland till spring. How-


ever, the weather is so fickle, we may have bright sunsliine

" Monday Morning.
• " Bright and cold. The snow, a thin coating, lay crisp
and cold on the ground this morning. The air glistened ;
my fingers grow numb as I write about it. Our week com-

"Camp neak Seneca, Novembef 26, 1861.
" If you are to have another letter from a major com-
manduig, I suppose it had better be written to-night. To-

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Online LibraryWilder DwightLife and letters of Wilder Dwight, lieut.-col. Second Mass. inf. vols → online text (page 12 of 27)