Friday, April 15, 2011

Week 7 - June 3rd - June 9th 1861 - Encampment at Roaches Mills Virginia

Now advanced into Virginia, it was still a fairly uneventful week for the 1st Connecticut volunteers despite a few alarms and the capturing of a prisoner. Conditions at camp appear to be fairly bad. Captain Wolcott Marsh complained to his wife that the food was not decent for a hog to eat and that he would not reenlist under the current Colonel [Burnham] (Mercer and Mercer, 2006). Private William Cooley noted that he had a bed tick but no straw to put in it.

In a letter to his wife Pvt. Horace Purdy wrote that if he didn't by something extra to eat everyday he would not get along and described the fare as "pork and soup one day, and soup and pork the next". Furthermore, on June 8th Purdy reiterates the opinions of Cooley and Marsh: "I am not rugged enough to stand the exposures incident to camp life especially when we are under a Colonel like ours who seems to have but little regard for his men whether they have straw to sleep upon or bread to eat. Since we have been here we have had but little straw (and some have had none at all) to sleep upon. And nothing but hard sea biscuit to eat for bread. Yesterday the old Col. (now Brig. General) came to our camp and when he found out our condition he gave the Col. a severe talking to after this manner. What do you mean? Do you want to kill all my men? What are those two waggons [sic] doing yonder? Send them to the city and get some soft bread for the men. You have been drunk nearly ever since you have been here. If you do not do better you shall forfeit your papers. The General [Tyler] also set to work to have straw brought to the camp and before night three large loads of straw were hauled on the ground and the men scrambled as if for their lives to fill their beds fearing that it would be gone before they could accomplish it".

On the 9th he wrote: "Our bread was hard sea biscuit. It is about equal to pine chips and for me about as nourishing. The coffee was also miserable as usual." So obviously not everything in camp life was improved after the chewing out of the Colonel by the General.

Another common occurrence from this point on are rumors of further advance, especially on Fairfax Court House, the closest point defended by the Confederates. With the close proximity of the two opposing forces, the animosity begins to build as can be seen in letters home.  On June 4th Purdy wrote: "As near as I can find out I think that we shall start soon for Fairfax where there has been some disturbance with the secessionists. If we go we may have a little brush with the fellows if they do not run as they have done heretofore. I think though that the latter will be the case for we shall not go but with a lean force if we go but with numbers sufficient to make our way through them. The secessionists are full as bad as reports make them out to be. The old fellow who was taken prisoner told the people here at the last election that any person who voted the union ticket he would have them hung the next day. Night before last a party of them went to a Union mans place and took 2 of his horses and drove them away. One of our pickets fired upon one last night but did not hit him. I believe I would shoot one as quick as I would a dog that had stolen my dinner if I should find one and knew him to be such and he should run instead of giving himself up as a prisoner". 

From the journal of Private Horace Purdy

Tuesday, June 4th 1861

An attack expected last night. An extra number of pickets were sent out. 30 more rounds of cartridges were given to each man making in all 40 rounds. We slept on our arms but there was no attack. I took a bath this morning before breakfast. Bought some strawberries for my supper. A brother [Pvt. Adna B. Dean] of Chas. Dean’s, a member of Capt. [John C.] Comstock’s Co. [Company A], came to my tent to see me, Chas. having sent his respects to me through him by letter.

Wednesday, June 5th 1861

More rain. Nothing of importance today.

Thursday, June 6th 1861

I was detailed for guard this morning. Cloudy misty and some rain. It rained very hard during guard mounting. I felt well when I went on duty, but very soon my head began to ache intensely. Was nearly down sick all day but did my duty nevertheless. My post has been at the guard tent over the prisoners, several fellows who have been sent there for punishment.

Friday, June 7th 1861

Had a diarrhea, headache and a lame back this morning and being very tired I took my bed as soon as I came off guard which was about 9 o’clock. I was so sick that I could eat no dinner or supper. Recd a paper from the [Danbury] Times Editor (Osborne) with extracts from my letters in it.

Saturday, June 8th 1861

On the sick list today. I spent the day on my bed, walking around the camp, reading, writing &c., Commenced a letter to Gussie.

Sunday, June 9th 1861

I feel well today. An inspection of arms, equipments, &c., at 9 o’clock. I got a pass for Geo. Allen [Corporal George B. Allen] and myself and we went to a house near the old mill which we use for a hospital to see [Pvt. H. Wellington] Gibbs – [Pvt. William J.] Murphy – Blissard [sic - actually Blizard according to records, this would be Pvt. William H. Blizard who was discharged the following day] and others who are sick [all from Infantry Company E]. We also took a walk and found some strawberries. As we have no chaplain for the Regt. we have had no services today.

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