EVERYDAY LIFE IN CAMP
Table of Contents
As previously stated, the design of this volume is to give an account of the military achievements of the regiment and a portrayal of the soldier’s everyday life as it occurred in the camp. The sick, wounded, or dying comrades were found on the weary march or perilous picket line and in the hospital. While army life had much the pathetic, it also had its bright side. To the soldier ” fun”was as indispensable as food. Without this to brighten their otherwise cheerless lives, Army service would have been unendurable, and thousands would have died of homesickness.
Leaving descriptions of our numerous battles, campaigns, and raids to succeeding chapters, we will devote this to the more ordinary phases of army life. Some of the occurrences, camp duties, etc., herein described may seem quite commonplace to the old veterans, but keep in mind that the book will be read by those not familiar with army experiences.
A DAY IN CAMP
In the ordinary routine of camp duties, reveille was sounded at daybreak. It consisted of several quick and slow tones played alternately by the drum corps, sometimes preceded by the trumpeter. It was the signal for all the men to assemble in their company streets for roll call, and the familiar commands of the orderly sergeants were heard, “Turn out for roll call!”If some were a little slow, the impatient orderly would shout some commands not found in the book of regulations: “Lively there, you slowpokes.”• “Hurry up, old sleepy-head; get a double-quick gait on, and don’t keep us waiting all day.”Often, if a minute late, the unfortunate fellow would be marked “Absent,”and as a punishment, sent out upon picket or given some extra duty. Thus there was no yawning or second napping. The men soon learned to spring to their feet at the first toot of the bugle or tap of the drum.
An hour after reveille came “breakfast call,”consisting of but one tune, when, if company cooks were in vogue, the dulcet strains of the orderly’s voice would again be heard shouting, “Fall in for grub!”
We had company cooks who were not graduates from a cooking school during the first few months. Some were so inexperienced they could hardly boil a potato properly. Then our Uncle Sam did not supply us with choice goodies, and what he did provide, these cooks usually managed to spoil, or it was dished out only half done. As the men marched up with their tin cups and plates, it was easy to tell from their looks of disgust that they were not receiving quail on toast, porterhouse steak, or the delightful fried ham and eggs of mother’s table. Dinner and supper were similar, with nothing on the bill of fare calculated to tempt the palate of an epicure. Our usual ration was a chunk of corned beef having the smell of an old tannery, a cup of coffee the color of black-strap molasses, about as astringent and uninviting as if dipped from a tan-vat. The so-called “corned beef”was of a reddish shade, coarse and offensive, and always designated as ” salt horse.”The boys declared the rank-smelling stuff was unfit for soap grease and would make the well-fed Northern swine turn up their noses in disgust.
As an illustration of my cooking, we noticed our cook preparing some rice for dinner one day. There came before us visions of those deliciously palatable dishes prepared by mother or wife. What a delightful change of diet to have set a plate of white, savory rice before us. But alas! alas! How sadly were all our bright anticipations crushed! Instead of the white, puffy delicacy we had in mind, we only received a lot of dirty brown slush burned to bitterness. Cooked in the same old black sheet-iron kettle in which boiled the rusty salt horse, the kettle was not even washed out. As fast as the rice burned on the bottom, it was added to the rest. At first, the beans were spoiled similarly. It is, however, due to the cooks saying that most of them improved by experience and gave us as palatable fare as could be expected from the material furnished them. It is also proper to say that the quartermaster, often criticized for supplying such rations, was blameless, as he provided the best at his command.
We had hardtack and frequently soft bread in camp, the latter usually drawn loose in dirty wagons and dumped upon the ground by the indifferent teamsters. We, however, usually “skinned”our loaves, that is, cut off the outside before using.
Company cooking in time became unpopular and was dispensed with; the men preferred to form themselves into squads, or messes, of from four to six, and prepare their food.
After breakfast came the “surgeon’s,”or “sick-call,”when might be heard that familiar though not strictly regulation command, “Fall in for quinine.”Sometimes, a cadaverous procession of fifty to a hundred men would wabble up to where the surgeon and hospital steward were dealing medicine. Quinine was prescribed to such an extent that the old veterans had a doggerel song, which our boys quickly picked up and sang to the music of the bugle:-
“Come for quinine! Git yer quinine! Tumble up, you sick and lame and blind,
Git along right smart; you’ll be left behind.”
Two classes answered ”sick call”: those legitimately sick and in need of medicine; and the play offs, who resorted to trickery to shun duty, usually threw their medicine in the fire as soon as out of the doctor’s sight. It is not strange that our regiment, out of a thousand men, should have so few of these men described previously would later, through the workings of the law of the “survival of the fittest,”would mainly be weeded out before the end of our first year. Do not let this remark reflect those noble boys who were compelled to leave the service against their wish, or because of hardships, or the ravages of disease.
Some may recall a story, current in the regiment, that our surgeon had ” caught on “to the tricks of a specific duty dodger, and when, as usually he appeared with his improvised wry face, the doctor prescribed a hefty dose of castor oil and compelled him to swallow it on the spot. It is needless to say that chap soon had other business than lounging quietly in his tent.
Half an hour after the surgeon’s call, the drummer gave the warning for guard mounting, calling the guard detail to collect in their company streets. In the meantime, the Drum Corps would assemble on the parade ground and played a quickstep, to which the guards marched out and got into line. Once the lines were formed correctly, the Adjutant and Sergeant-Major went through specific prescribed drills and inspected the guards’ guns and accouterments as the band played. Next in order, the adjutant gave the commands, “Parade rest!” Troop “beat off!” when the band wheeled, and playing a slow-time tune, marched down the line in front of the guards, then countermarched to the place of starting, giving at each end of the line the “three cheers”on the fifes and drums. The Adjutant next turned and, saluting the officer of the day, reported, “Sir, the guard is formed.”When the other ceremonies were over, the new guards were marched out to relieve the old and remain on duty for twenty-four hours. Guard mounting was followed by picket mounting, the formalities being similar.
In the previous chapter, Battalion Drill usually lasted two hours, from ten to twelve o’clock. As the Chief Musician, the writer was also required to drill the band during the same hours. There were also similar drills in the afternoon.
In this connection, we will state that the boys enjoyed going outside the camp for skirmish practice as a relief from the monotony of the usual battalion drills. Particular attention was given to these drills after our first battle at Deserted Farm. A comrade, whose army lette1·s have been placed at my disposal, gives this animated description of those drills under the date of March 5, 1863: –
“We are now having beautiful weather and are drill ing every day at a lively rate in skirmish work. It is a splendid drill but very tiresome, as it is nearly all double quick. Yet we enjoy it hugely. We practice skirmishing over rough ground and through bush and woods.
Half the battalion is deployed as skirmishers, while the other half is held in reserve. The reserve troops would do the same whenever the skirmishers advanced or retreated. We sometimes would double-quick half a mile on a stretch, over ditches, rifle pits, through brush and woods. I wish you could be here to see us when we make a bayonet charge. The order is given, “Charge bayonets! Forward! Double-quick! “And away we go, yelling like savages. Imagine the racket eight hundred men can make, everyone trying to make more noise than the rest. While Lieutenant-Colonel Thorp or Major Scott are putting us through the drill, Colonel Gibbs will watch us, his old fat sides shaking with laughter until almost ready to burst. Both he and General Terry takes great pride in the One Hundred and Thirtieth New York and claims that, excepting the Thirteenth Indiana, it is the best-drilled regiment in this department, and we are bound to keep ahead.”
Few of the old charter members of the regiment have forgotten those fanciful dress parades at Suffolk; when near sunset, the entire regiment not on duty or excused must appear in line upon the parade ground, arrayed in their finest toggery of military uniform. Conducted by Colonel Gibbs, these parades were exceedingly punctilious affairs. Every man well knew his fate should he presume to appear inline deficient in any of the strict requirements in dress or equipment. If a button was missing, a shoe un-blacked or untied, the hair unkempt, the face or hands unwashed, the Colonel’s keen eye was sure to detect it and woe to the unlucky wight, especially should the offense be repeated. It was presumed that each soldier had been thoroughly drilled in executing every maneuver required before coming upon parade. The one who failed was sure to hear, “Try it again, clumsy,” and after the parade would be organized into an “awkward squad” and put through the drill until he could handle his arms properly.
It seemed a long time, and very tiresome withal, to stand at ” parade rest” for from a half-hour to an hour during the reading of orders, silent and motionless as a row of statues, with the guard-house penalty before the man who would venture even to brush a fly from his face. And those pertinacious Suffolk flies, too! Numerous as during the plagues of Egypt, they swarmed everywhere; and at this particular time, when military requirements tied our hands, took grim delight in traveling over our faces, while the big swamp mosquitoes got in their bloodthirsty work upon the back of our necks and hands.
A detailed account of all the maneuverings of the dress parade would require too much space; therefore, only the principal features will be noticed. At a given signal, the band marched out and took position on the extreme right of the parade ground while several companies formed in their company streets. As the band played, all marched out and formed in order of battle on the band’s left. The formalities were similar to guard mounting, only on a grander and more impressive scale. Standing in front of the center of the line, the Colonel, or senior officer, took command of the parade, which often consisted of from seven hundred to eight hundred or more men.
The Adjutant commanded that the companies be correctly aligned, “Troop beat off!”When the band moved out, wheeled, and playing standard time, marched down in front of the line; then about-faced, and striking up a lively quickstep, marched back to its place on the right, giving the “ruffle” or ”three cheers” on fifes and drums at each end of the line.
After various maneuverings, the Adjutant brought the ranks to open order and aligned the company officers four paces and the field officers six paces in front; when at the command, “Present-arms!”They saluted the commanding officer. In turn, the Adjutant saluted and reported, “Sir, the parade is ‘formed.”After the several commands, the Colonel in the manual of arms had been briskly executed. The first sergeants had been to the front and center to report. The Adjutant gave attention to the reading of orders. The dress parade was regarded as the great event of the day and was frequently witnessed by crowds of spectators.
Usually, during the interval from dress parade to bed time, all not on the detail were free from further duty and could devote the time to recreation, letter writing, storytelling, singing, and other indulgences, as their tastes inclined them.
”Tattoo,”usually occurring about nine o’clock in winter and later in the summer, was the signal for all soldiers to repair their quarters for the night. This consisted of several quick and slow tunes by the band, ending up with a lively double-quick. Half an hour after the tattoo, “taps”were sounded when all lights were put out, and loud talking ceased.
While this chapter is reasonably descriptive of the average day in camp, it is not to be understood that all days were alike. There were, of course, numerous interruptions (and changes of program. Various incidental requirements such as policing or cleaning up the camp, attendance at funerals, and similar duties required time and attention.
Often the camp was almost depopulated by extra-large details for picket and fatigue duty. Then there were those numerous reconnoitering expeditions, calling out the able-bodied portion of the regiment upon long marches, sometimes of several days’ duration, an account of which will be given in a subsequent chapter.
INSPECTIONS AND REVIEWS
They were also among the experiences of all soldiers. There were the usual Sunday morning company inspections, from which none were excused except those on guard or sick. At these, as on regimental inspections, the men formed in line with ranks opened while the inspecting officer carefully examined the dress and general appearance of the men, together with all the accouterments, knapsacks, etc. The inspector, attended by company officers, also reviewed the quarters of the men, the bunks, bedding, cooking arrangements, and other things pertaining to the soldier’s daily life.
We had the brigade, division, and corps reviews beyond the regimental organization. On that occasion, the troops of these respective commands, after being inspected in line, would pass in review before the general and staff. A brigade consisted of several regiments, a division of two or more brigades, and an army corps of several divisions under the command of a Major-General.
On more than one occasion, all the forces at Suffolk were reviewed by Major-General Dix, commanding the department, and were affairs of considerable magnitude and splendor of military display. All the troops – • infantry, cavalry, and artillery-were out in full force, with the wagon trains and ambulances.
The insertion of an army letter descriptive of one of the “grand reviews,” written during its occurrence, will enable the reader to witness the affair somewhat as it appeared to an observing private soldier: –
FORT Dix (two miles east of Suffolk), VA.,
10 A. M., November 12, 1862.
This letter is commenced under rather peculiar circumstances. We are today having a grand review of all the forces at Suffolk, and, as on such occasions we have intervals of rest, I shall, for the novelty of the thing, attempt a description of what occurs just as we see it here on the review ground.
Our regiment has just marched out, and is so stationed that we may not move for an hour. Could you be here at this moment, you would behold a scene surpassing anything you ever witnessed. I am now about twenty rods from Fort Dix, and as I write there are probably not less than twenty thousand soldiers in full view. The ground is as level as a prairie, and on every side we can see nothing but soldiers. Off to our left, and in front and rear are lines of Infantry nearly a mile in length; while to our right and rear the cavalry are now forming on. In front, and beyond the three lines of infantry, we can see and hear the approach of the artillery. Viewed in its entirety it is a grand and imposing scene.
All now Is commotion, regiment after regiment being on the move, with all their bands playing at once, and each a different tune. One is rattling off “Yankee Doodle,” another just behind is wrestling with “Hail Columbia,” while a mounted band are toot ing lustily at “Old John Brown, “a.II together making a ludicrous jargon of melody very amusing to hear. Now the artillery have commenced firing a salute to the general, who has appeared in the distance. Boom! goes one of the big guns in the fort, the report of which makes one’s ears ring.
But General Dix and his long retinue of staff officers are rap idly advancing. The command, “Attention !” is heard, and I must instantly cease writing.
2 P. 11. Well, we are still on the review ground, but until now have been constantly in motion, or occupied since eleven o’clock, and I will briefly relate what has occurred.
First in order came inspection, in which the general, followed by his staff, rode along the several regimental lines, critically viewing his “valiant warriors,” and incidentally giving us a good square look at the great mogul of this military department, as well as to witness a great display of “fuss and feathers” on the part of the chieftain and his gold-bedecked understrappers. An Irishman in the regiment next to us has convulsed our boys by calling out, ” Keep quiet, you fellers; there comes ‘Old shoot-’em-on-the-spot.'”As the general approached the head of each regiment, the bugler sounded “To the general,” followed by the drum corps with “three cheers,” or “ruffle,” and “Hail to the Chief.”The inspection occupied about an hour, after which came the review, the grandest of all the proceedings.
Our regiment has been the rounds, and we are now resting at our starting point. There were three lines of regiments in front of us, each nearly a mile long, and in front of all General Dix and staff took a position. The lines nearest first passed before him, until our turn came, when we too wheeled into line and passed in review, my band; playing a national air.1
Could our friends in the North witness even this display of soldiery, they would cease to wonder why it costs such vast sums to carry on the war; yet what I now see is but a drop in the ocean compared with the mighty armies in the East and West.
But another gun at the fort announces that the review is over, and I must put up my portfolio and fall in for the return m.arch to camp.
No occurrences at Suffolk will be recalled with keener sadness than those mournful and oft-repeated funeral processions to the soldiers’ cemetery, where so many of our comrades were laid away in their last earthly resting place. In charge of the music, it was the writer’s lot to participate in nearly or quite every funeral service from the One Hundred and Thirtieth New York.
(Footnote by Bowen) 1 On our return to camp, Colonel Gibbs assured me he was highly pleased with the appearance and performance of our band; he also said the One Hundred and Thirtieth: drum corps received special compliments from General Dix for its efficiency. (footnote at the bottom of the page)
In order of procession, the band played a solemn dirge in advance and, with muffled drums, or “Dead March.”Next in order were the six pall-bearers of the same rank of deceased, followed by the escort with arms reversed. For a private, the escort consisted of eight men; for a corporal, twelve; for a sergeant, fourteen; and a captain, the whole company. All desiring could join in the procession. On reaching the grave, we had no chaplain; a brief address was sometimes made by another, the escort resting on arms. The body was lowered, and three rounds were fired over the grave, after which the band struck up a lively quickstep and marched back to camp. An incident furnished by Corporal E. F. Newcomb, of Co. D., exemplifies the versatility of our men.
By request of Lieutenant James, Chief of Engineers, General Peck detailed Newcomb to construct several signal towers, the one at Suffolk rising from the roof of a large house. His plan for the tower was accepted in competition with one by a West Point graduate. When the tower was ready to raise, a detachment of forty men from Coranel Coran’s Legion was ordered to assist, but only three of the number could be persuaded to venture upon the roof. The next day a like number of negroes was sent, but when directed to climb the long ladder, the leader replied,
“Dat ‘s a right smart caper, massa,”and not one would make the ascent.
“What shall we do 1″inquired the chief engineer.
” Get a detail of men from the One Hundred and Thirtieth New York,”said Newcomb. It was done, and not a man failing, the tower was quickly erected.
The same comrade relates his experience with a squad of negroes working on a fort. He ordered them to carry some timbers to a certain place. They gazed at him in blank astonishment but made no move.
” Why don’t you fellows carry them timbers into the fort, as I tell you? “
“Don’t know what yer wants, boss,” said one of them. “Does yer done want it toted? “
The timbers were “toted” with alacrity when answered in the affirmative. Quite generally, in the South, “tote” was used for carrying.
COOKING IN THE ARMY
Many became experts in food preparation, con considering our limited materials. One way was to fry pork and then to fry the hardtack to a crisp in the grease, which, with coffee, made a palatable meal. We cut pork into small pieces, then pounded up hardtack and boiled it all together for a change. This dish was called “lobloll.”
Another way was to put the hardtack into a small, strong bag and, laying it on a stump or stone, pound to a powder with a hatchet; then make it into a batter, and bake into pancakes. This, with melted sugar, was a luxury.
There were many other methods of preparing dishes which necessity, the mother of inventions, compelled us to originate—anything for a change.