STORY OF A REGIMENT
A RECORD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE
FIFTY-SEVENTH NEW YORK STATE
WAR OF THE REBELLIN
1861 - 1865.
GILBERT FREDERICK, D. D.
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH N. Y. V. I.
NOVEMBER 28, 1861. TO MARCH 2, 1862.
ON Thursday, November 28th, 1861, the Fifty-Seventh broke camp and started for Virginia. At Long Bridge they were joined by the Fourth Rhode Island, the Fifty-Second New York and the SixtySixth New York. These four regiments, forming a provisional brigade, crossed the Potomac singing ‘‘I wish I was in Dixie,”
and marched slowly westward five or six miles on the Columbia turnpike to Arlington Mills, a station on the Washington and Ohio railway. Here, near a brick yard, we bivouacked at midnight. It had . rained all day, our clothes were wet and muddy, the ground soft and uncertain, yet we had slept some when at daylight the reveille sounded. The march was now southward five or six miles to what was afterwards called Camp California. It was reported that six thousand rebels had been reconniotering the outposts of Washington and our approach warned them off.
Col. Zook, being the senior officer, commanded. this provisional brigade in its mpvement to the defences of Washington, but the orders received were without definiteness as to the roads to be taken and the promised guide with maps, directions, etc., did not put in an appearance. Enquiries were constantly made but proved of little use so the march was more like advancing in the presence of an enemy than like ordinary marching. The Colonel was guided by his judgment more than by his orders, but finally succeeded in reaching the proper destination.
On this first considerable march the soldiers greatly overloaded themselves with baggage, as raw troops always do, but before they reached Camp California this personal property had considerably diminished, and the rOad was strewn with articles for wear and comfort, such as the soldier previously thought he could not live without. Had he been asked then to reduce his effects to the dimensions they afterwords voluntarily assumed it would have seemed to him impossible, or if possible, then ruinous.
Camp California was under the shelter of Fort Worth and was two and a half miles from Alexandria. The Fifty-Seventh occupied a field lying between Fairfax turnpike, the Orange and Alexandria railroad and Cameron Run. Au entire division of troops was eventually gathered in this general locality, and designated Sumner’s division, being under the command of General Edwin V. Sumner, to whom here we had our first introduction. It was on December 1st, 1861, that Camp California began a career which was not terminated until March 10th, 1862.
When it became evident ‘that this spot was to be home forthe winter, streets were laid out in military fashion, each company being assigned to its, place. Then began the pitching of tents, the pairing of comrades, the building of bunks, putting up clothes racks, making tables, and getting to rights for general housekeeping. The cothpany cook ‘furnished coffee, bean soupy boiled pork and salt beef, and the sutler sold pies, dried fruits, and other delicacies. Some of the boys had sheet iron stoves which served for warming purposes, and having moveable ovens, these stoves gave opportunity for fancy cooking, on which some of the men prided themselves.
The routine of soldiers’ life as commenced at Camp Wilder, was continued throughout the winter with many additions of regimental and. brigade drills and picket duty. General French, “Blinkey,’’ as we used to call him, not out of disrespect, but because he always blinked his eyes in giving ‘his commands, seemed to have a passion for brigade drills and would march the boys ‘ all over creation” until they were completely exhausted and then by way of resting them, would order an extra movement or two.
Edsall’s Hill, on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, five miles from camp, was our place for outpost duty. The first duty here began December 26th, and, as usual thereafter, lasted about a week. On the second day of this first outpost duty Company C went out on a scouting expedition toward Fairfax Court House. The first point reached was Springfield station, on the railway, eight miles from Alexandria; the next was Annandale, on the
Fairfax turnpike, and then a point on the turnpike within three miles of Fairfax Court House. Here, after lunching, we came to a farm whose barns were well stocked with fowl and tempting fruit. Many spirits of good chickens entered that day into the birds’ heaven and were accompanied thither by a number of fat pigeons. These depredations were not strictly according to army orders, and were protested against by the owner of the farm, but as the officer in command did not forbid, the boys took the chickens and left the responsibility. This conduct, however, did not please all who were in the party, and when volunteers were called to go out and drive in a lot of cattle from the hills beyond, Dan.Vaughan, Mark Lee, Geo. Taylor and a dozen others protested that they “did not enlist to rob henroosts and steal cattle.” Some of the men, however, went out and brought in the cattle, and drove them all the way back to Edsall’s Hill, but the outposts there refused to let them pass through the lines. It is supposed that the cattle being thus let alone went back home carrying their tails behind them. During this same expedition, there occured a very amusing incident and one which was turned, perhaps not altogether justly, to the discredit of the officer involved. This officer, with a squad of his company was just emerging from a woods when suddenly men on horseback appeared in their front.’ The command was immediately given to “Rally in the woods,” and it was a proper precaution until it could be ascertained how many cavalrymen there were and to which army they belonged. As it turned out, however, that there were oniy three of them, and they our own Major and his attendants, the boys could hardly help looking upon the whole affair as a great joke, and you may be sure they made the most of it. For weeks thereafter, the camp rang with “Rally in, the woods,” indeed, it was months before it wholly ceased.
Standing guard at Edsall’s, Hill furnished illustrations of the vividness of the human imagination. A post on the brow of the hill looked down on the clump of trees made bare of leaves by the winter frost. The sparrows making their home in these trees are often restless at night, and gave occasion for all kinds of suppositions on the part of the sentinel. More than once the gun was cocked and the trigger about to be pulled, because of the supposed approach of the enemy. In the dead stillness of the night when one is alone on the outer line, the least noise travels far and sounds near; the very atmosphere seems to rustle the trees, and shrubs turn into armed men moving to the. attack, and the stirring leaves into advancing skirmishers creeping cautiously upon the unwary sentinel. There is no limit to the power of the imagination under conditions like these.
During the third week in January it rained, haiJ.ed or snowed every day, indeed, it sometimes succeeded in accomplishing these three performances on the same day. It was exceedingly disagreeable to be out of doors at all, but especially so, to get out to sunrise roll-call. The latter in fact was a very unpleasant task in the very best of weather and frequently only by stretch of imagination could some of the boys be called dressed when their names were read, the great-coat covering a multitude of
short comings. It would cause great merriment when it happened, as it often did, that a name would receive the response, “Here,” from a distant tent door, out of which the respondent was scarcely emerging.
The weather was so cold this winter that it was quite difficult at times to keep warm at night. Brasiers of hot coals were sometimes kept in the tent to moderate the temperature. One morning a tent of Company A was discovered unopened, and on examination its occupants were found’ to be stiff and unconscious from breathing coal gas during the night. Six persons on the same morning were found in this condition, but revived on coming into the fresh air.
The first pay received was on January 25th, and included all that was due from the date of enlistment up tp January 1st, 1862. Occasionally new recruits were received from New York, twenty at one time, were distributed among the companies. The boys often went to Alexandria on passes, some times to attend church, sometimes for recreation, sometimes to get liquor. The guard house usually contained one or more of the latter class.
The story is told of one who was an almost constant dweller there, that upon receiving a new corner he suggested that it would be a good thing to clean up the tent a little. This suggestion did not meet with the cheerful assent it deserved, but it did lead to a controversy and a fight. The constant occupant insisted that the new corner should do his part, and the latter insisted that he would not. Then began a running fire of “You will !“
and “I won’t !” “But you will !” “But I won’t !“ and the fight began. They chased each other around the tent, rolled on the floor in each others embrace and finally pulled the tent down upon their heads. When extricated from the debris and called to account, the regular inhabitant, explaining the matter, concluded with the remark that “while men in the guard house were living like pigs, there could be no discipline in the camp.” Such discourse on discipline, from such a person, and under such circumstances, was somewhat ludicrous, to say the least.
Religious services were held on Sundays and sometimes during the week. Chaplain Platt and others conducting them. A committee canvassed the regiment for subscriptions to purchase a chapel tent. The sum of $125.50 was raised, the tent bought and put up, but one sermon only was preached in it before orders came to move. After that we never saw either the tent or the Chaplain.
An encouragement to tidiness in dress, and the proper care of gun and accoutrements was offered in special camp guard service. It thus came to be a sign of honor to be placed upon certain posts in camp, and was therefore much sought after. Boxes containing clothing, eatables, etc., were constantly’ finding their way to camp from friends at home, and these greatly relieved the. monotony of the army bill of fare. The strength of the regiment on February 6th, was 712, and there were twenty-one reported sick.
The mortality in the regiment from sickness was not as great as in most of the regiments near. Mark Lee, and one or two others died of typhoid fever, but in the Sixty-Sixth New York there were fifteen deaths. Fevers were quite prevalent because the camp was low and the drainage difficult. But not all were sick who pretended to be. Human nature showed at jts worst and also at its best in the army. A private of Company D, growing weary’ of fatigue and night duty, “got religion” and was taken as a servant by the Chaplain. Here he remained until one of those unfortunate circumstances occurred when ordinary language seems inadequate to the occasion and he swore. It was no stammer, as of a new hand, but a long pent up volcano bursting with fire and flame, resistless, regardless. For so slight a backsliding he was dismissed by the Chaplain and sent to his company. He was too sick for duty, however, and in the dead of night had a fit. Dr. McKim was called out of a warm bed and through the snow to see him. Not finding anything the matter the Doctor thought he would make something, and at the same time get even with the pretender for disturbing his rest. After giving one large dose of nasty medicine he ordered his stomach rubbed vigorously, and this was done by two comrades who were in the secret — and it was well done. Sore on the outside and sick on the in, the man began to mistrust that his fraud was discovered, and when a second dose of medicine was ordered he jumped from his bed and ran out of the tent amid the uproarious laughter of the spectators. Not yet, however was the doctor through with his patient, for the very next day the poor sick man was seen walking the rogues’ beat carrying a banner on which was this legend, "I am a shirk.”
Changes had been going on among the officers of the regiment during the early part of this year. LieutenantColonel John A. Page was discharged February 1st, leaving a vacancy which was filled by Philip J. Parisen, promoted from the position of major. To the vacant majorship was promoted Captain Alfred B. Chapman, of Company A, and H. H. Mott, First Lieutenant of Company A, was advanced to its captaincy. The previ&is November, Adjutant Alex. P. Fiske had been made Captain, and had become Assistant Adjutant-General at brigade headquarters. To this vacancy Josiah M. Favill was promoted March 7th, 1862. Among the Surgeons Geo. H. Leach resigned November 1st, 1861, and Robert V. McKim was advanced to Chief Surgeon. Henry C. Dean became Assistant Surgeon, and later was transferred to the One Hundred and Fortieth New York. Other promotions were of John S. Paden, February 8th, 1862, Paul M. Pou, February 3rd, 1862, and Wm. H. French, March 4th, 1862, each to First Lieutenant; Geo. Mitchell, January 24th, 1862, and George C. Case, February 3d, 1862, each to Second Lieutenant. Stephen R. Snyder’s commission as First Lieutenant, dated March 19th, 1862.
An affair that occasioned considerable sorrow and much bitterness was the shooting of Frank Proud of Company I, by which he lost his arm. It was said to have been accidental, but by many was thought intentional. The latter explanation steadily gained credence until the one who committed the deed had to be transferred from the regiment to prevent violence. Men in their quarrels would sometimes threaten to shoot each other, but when their passions cooled they seldom thought of carrying out their threats. Sometimes men would declare their intention of shooting an officer in the next battle, but when the battle came they would have all they could do to take care of themselves. It is quite improbable that such a thing was ever accomplished in any regiment, but in the Fifty-Seventh it certainly never was.
In the following pass to Alexandria the reader can substitute his own name, and recall pleasant memories:
HEAD-QUARTERS., 3D BRIGADE,
CAMP CALIFORNIA, Feb. 4, 1862.
The guards will pass the bearer, J. T. Commoss, to and from Alexandria, on private business.
By order of
S. K. ZOOK, Colonel.
A. J. LA VALLIE, Capt. and A. D. C.
This is an exact copy of a pass preserved from the date mentioned, and now in possession of the person whose name it bears.
There was an Examining Board in the Division, of which General Howard was President, which ordered officers before it for examination. The order. seems not to have been compulsory, yet if an officer passed the examination his promotion was sure and quick. Lieut. Jones seems to have been the only officer in the Fifty-Seventh who sought this trial, and he, passing it successfully, was put on the list for promotion when an opening off ered.
Orders from the War Department, dated March 13th, 1862, classified the army of the Potomac into Corps. General Sumner was given command of the Second, and in this Corps his old troops formed the First Division which was put under command of General Israel B. Richardson. The Fifty-Seventh found itself in the Third Brigade of the First Division, still under General Wm. H. French.
The following enumeration of Regiments and Commands in the First Division of the second corps will serve to recall names once familiar, but now nearly forgotten. There were two divisions in the corps.
FIRST DIVISION—-SECOND ARMY CORPS.
Brigadier General Israel B. Richardson, Commanding.
Brigadier General Oliver O. Howard, Commanding.
Fifth New Hampshire, Colonel Edward E. Cross.
Sixty-First New York, Colonel Spencer W. Cone.
Sixty-Fourth New York, Colonel Thomas J. Parker.
Eighty-First Pennsylvania, Colonel James Miller.
Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, Commanding.
Sixty-Third New York, Colonel John Burke.
Sixty-Ninth New York, Colonel Robert Nugent.
Eighty-Eighth New York, Colonel Henry M. Baker.
Brigadier General William H. French, Commanding.
Fifty-Second New York, Colonel Paul Frank.
Fifty-Seventh New York, Colonel Samuel K. Zook.
Sixty-Sixth New York, Colonel Joseph C. Pinckney.
Sixty-Third Pennsylvania, Colonel John R. Brooke.
Captain George W. Hazzard, Commanding.,
Battery B, First New York, Captain Pettit.
Battery G, First New York, Captain Frank.
Battery A, Second Battalion, New York, Captain Hogan.
Batteries A and C, Fourth United States, Captain Hazzard.
This division, on the first day of April numbered 8,010 present for duty, and 1,039 absent. In the corps there were 21,553 officers and men.
On the ninth day of March the camps of the entire corps were all excitement as orders had come to send the sick to Alexandria, to pack knapsacks with such things as would not soon be needed, including surplus clothing, and be ready to march on the morrow. The knapsacks were to be’ left in charge of the Quartermaster and a change of clothing to be carried in the haversacks. It was a busy day. Many things were sent home and quantities of household comforts thrown away.
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