Cambridge Chronicle - December 14, 1861 - SharpShooters

 

HeadQuarters 22d Reg't Mass. Vols.
Camp Holmes,
December 3, 1861


Mr. Editor: — Nothing new since my last. Winter appears to be settling down upon us in earnest, and we feel the weight of his icy hand bearing more and more heavily as the sun recedes on his southern course. The cold is particularly uncomfortable at night, as in this climate the dark hours are at all seasons the coldest of the twenty four, and, unfortunately for us, we are but illy fitted out with blankets to protect us from this weather — those we now have, being those rejected by Colonel Wilson, but which we were finally compelled to bring for want of anything better — blankets being at that time a scarce article. We were promised others more comfortable, but as yet the promise is all we have received, and if it suffices to keep the boys warm, I suppose it will answer every purpose. For myself I will say that with a few more such promises I shall freeze to death. However, I don't complain. My blankets are as good as any in the regiment.

The funeral of young Brown, of Co. B, took place on Sunday last, and the occasion was a very solemn one. His grave was dug on the hill-side just beyond our lines. His remains were followed to the grave by the entire regiment and all the oflicers, field, staff, and company, led by our Band, playing Handel's majestic Dead March in Saul.

The services at the grave were by our Chaplain, Rev. Mr. Cromack, whose impressive manner on the occasion will not soon be forgotten by those present. Our quartette sung that beautiful little song of Turner, on the death of Noyes, "Under the lilac he sleepeth" — substituting "cedar"for "lilac" —his grave being immediately under a tree of that description, a copy of the song having fortunately been sent to Lieut. Richardson. The usual "last look" taken and the parting volley fired, the procession returned to camp, and so ended our first funeral.

There are several cases of fever in the hospital, but, on the whole, the regiment are in as good health as could be expected.
Quite a large number of troops of all kinds were last night sent forward, as we suppose, in the direction of Fairfax, nearly all the rest of our brigade being among the fortunate. — Why we are selected to remain behind, is, to us, among the unsolved questions of the times, but it is none the less unpalatable because not understood. We are in hopes that we shall be sent for, however, as our Colonel went this morning, with our Brig. Gen. Martindale, and everything seems to betoken that at last there is about to commence the long-looked-for "beginning of the end."

Large squadrons of cavalry have been filing through our camp during the morning, and bodies of troops bave been passing along the Falls Church road in the same direction as that taken by those last night. This may all amount to the same as our other alarms. — We think not, however. Two or three days will tell, and the daily papers will keep you posted, of course.

J. C. Wellington, Esq., of your city, has arrived in our camp, and I will cut this short in order that I may see him.

Yours, F. N. S.

Mr. Editor:—Perhaps the following journal, — tailing forty- eight hours experience in picket-duty, by one of our Cambridge boys — a member of Capt. L. E. Wentworth's company of sharp- shooters — may be interesting to your readers.

Old Virginia,
Nov. 28,1861.


We were roused early, in order to have our blanket, packed, and start at half-past seven. — After eating breakfast, which consisted of bread and coffee, we fell in and started for the camp of the New York Twenty-Fifth, where we were to form in line. We were then joined by several detachments from other regiments, snd were inspected by the officers of the guard, and passed in review the officer of the day. We now file off on our march in the following order: detachment from the Eighteenth Massachusetts, the Maine Second, the Twenty-Second Massachnsetts, our company of seventy-five men, and a detachment from the New York Twenty-Fifth. We moved on through the camps of various regiments, over the hills towards the northwest, and through the worst roads I ever saw — mud up to our knees — red mud, and just like clay — put jour foot down and there it sticks. This is the "sacred soil."

Reached our post at last, very tired for our march. Our post is on the Leesburg turnpike, two miles northwest of Falls Church, and the farthest out of all. We quartered at a house on a hill, owned by a union man from York State. Our boys quartered in the barn; the Maine boys are below us on the pike, an an old log house; they have made a cheerful fire and are cooking food for themselves. The rest with the Twenty-Second are on a cross road nearer camp, and all have quarters around houses, which is very handy for us. The weather is mild and comfortable to-day — prospect of a good time on the posts.

A company of cavalry has arrived and are going out scouting towards Vienna. A prisoner has been brought in by our men — a seedy individual dressed in rags; he wears a military cap turned wrong side out; his hair wants combing very much; he is carried before the Major, who questions him. There! they have let the prisoner go; that's the way they do — take them, show them everything, and let them go. The rebels are not so kind to us.

Spent most of the forenoon reading papers received from home; papers come handy out here in the wilderness, affording amusement for our leisure hours and making them less irksome. We are thankful, very thankful for them, I can tell you. We had several alarms. "Secesh," it was feared, was coming down upon us, and we have turned out with our guns three times. I looked in sharp as any of tbe boys, but "secesh" was not to be seen.

Dinner-time — and I will eat my first meal on picket. What will you have? Boiled salt meat, hard and soft bread? How do you like that bill of fare? Though plain, it went good, because I was hungry. For dessert I had a small piece of Bologna sausage and an onion which I had bought for that purpose.

Evening — and I am tired, so I'll turn in. Some of the hoys are sleeping on the hay, and some on the barn floor where there is plenty of straw. I am on the floor, and take it altogether it is better quarters than I have had since I left home. I was called at two in the morning to go on my first guard, which happened to be the first post, near the house, at the gate leading from the road. Stayed on two hours watching for "Secesh" until I was tired, but "Secesh" probably knew I was there and was afraid to show himself.

Turned in at four, but not before I had kicked the mice out of my bunk so as to make room to lie down. The phrase "cold as a barn" will not apply to picketing in Old Virgina; we are as happy as clams when we can get a barn or even a pig pen to sleep in, but both are scarce articles in this region. Our quarters are good enough in spite of the "Secesh" mice, who, taking us for intruders, try with all their might to drive us away, and even try to get in our haversacks to steal our rations. I do not know whether any of them were killed in the frequent skirmishes that took place.

Was awakened in the morning by hearing my name called. "A letter for you." Hand it here. "No, not till you get up." No, I won't get up for any letter; it's just as good to read two hours from now. "Well, you can't have it unless you get up." I turned over and went to sleep.

Nov. 29th. Another company of cavalry hss arrived to go scouting. One of the neighbors has come with his wagon laden with cabbages, turnips, milk, pies, cake, &c., to sell to the boys, who went in hugely on the pies. I obtained some turnips by a alight-of-hand performance, and bought a pie; so I ate a hearty dinner. Some of the boys dined with the lady of the house, paying twenty five cents each for their meal, which they said was worth the charge. The old lady has as much as she can do, making pies, biscuit, and other nice things for the men.

The cavalry have returned and brought with them one of their members whom they found in a house. He was in a skirmish that took place a few days since, when twenty three of their numbers were missing. The man was hurt in the head, and he reports that the woods are full of rebels.

After supper, which consisted of bread and meat, as usual, I was placed on the first relief. On the posts from six to eight. There are ten posts, and two wen at each. The north wind is blowing, and it is raining hard. 'Twill be a tough night. I fix a seat against the post, cover my gun, and wait. It is growing colder and my fingers and toes are benumbed. I feel the need of gloves and some of those nice socks. I guess I will hop up and run around to get my feet warm. It is very dark, and "Secesh" can't see me! Here comes the relief, and I will turn in till twelve. But there is no sleep for me, the boys keep stepping over me with their muddy feet as they come into the barn; we are not allowed a light and they cannot see me.

Twelve o'clock, and no sleep yet. Must go on gaurd again. Oh, 'aint it cold! and it is raining like fun. What a contrast from yesterday — as mild in an April day. I have to keep running up and down to keep from freezing. I lean against the post and begin to nod — hark! I hear some horsemen ; perhaps the rebels are coming down upon me. I go into the middle of the road; it is as black as ink, and I can't see a thing. They are upon me at full gallop. I challenge them. Halt! who comes there? "Officer of the day; advance Sergeant, and give the countersign." One approaches me, "where are you? it is so dark I can't see you; come a little nearer." he leans over and in a low voice says "Hatteras," which is the countersign. — They dismount and go into the house. I get settled down again, and presently I hear another horseman coming; he is challenged, and proves to be a servant of Surgeon of the Maine regiment. He brings the news that there has been a skirmish at Fairfax, and that his regiment is to march there tonight.

On duty again, from six until eight. Still cold, but has stopped raining. Some of the relief got lost in the woods, in the dark ; they could not find their posts, and had to keep hallooing from one to the other, so as to go aright. It is a wonder they did not get shot.

Nov. 30th. Ate my last meal, which consisted of bread and meat, and a dipper of tea. — Then our neighbor came with pies and other tempting things, bought a pie and put my hand into the turnips again. Take it altogether it makes quite a breakfast.

Here comes our relief, which consists of a detachment of the Fourth Michigan. We pack up our traps, and put them in our wagon, which has come for that purpose; and it will relieve us greatly, for it will be hard enough work getting along through the deep mud with our beds upon our backs.

Thus ends my first forty-eight hours picket duty. I am to go through the same every week. Perhaps it will give you a little idea what our life is.

W. H. H. M.