Transcribed by Shirley Pierce
(The following description of soldier life is from a letter written by Captain E. R. Brady to his mother, and published in full in the Republican of this date. Space necessitates our abridging the very interesting document. – Editor.)
"On the evening of the 17th of April we received orders to break up camp and be prepared to march at six o’clock next morning. by some strange combination of circumstances potatoes have been issued to the men on the day preceding a march in almost every instance since we crossed the Potomac, and as the “murphies” came on the morning of the 17th the boys were looking for the welcome sound of marching orders. They were not disappointed, and scarcely had they got the brush burned and the trees in our young hickory camp trimmed up to their taste when they received notice to march no one knew where. At the appointed time, all things being ready, the four regiments composing our brigade assembled on the road and took up the line of march. The morning was warm and pleasant, the sun shone out beautifully, and scarcely had the columns been put in motion than the men began to rid themselves of all unnecessary luggage. Here went an overcoat into the mud, there a blanket, another and another overcoat, and then a whole knapsack containing shirts, drawers, socks, anything that was not actually needed, or that was likely to prove an incumbrence to the soldier, was thrown away. Do not be surprised if I should say that there was at least from five to eight hundred overcoats thrown away, a loss to the soldiers of $7.20 each, but a profit to the darkies who flocked along the roads like buzzards to feed upon the waste. I was somewhat amused by a remark made by one of my men, William Osewandle, as his overcoat tumbled off his shoulders and rolled down the embankment of the railroad. Says he, 'There, I feel just like a new made Christian, my load is gone and I feel as if I could go straight up.'
"Our road was along the line of the Orange and Alexandria railroad and for the most part we marched upon the track consequently the march was most fatiguing. When we had proceeded about eight or nine miles we were marched into a large meadow, where we closed column by companies and stacked arms for dinner. In this country we travel very differently from what we formerly did at home. There we used to stop at the best hotel and wait an hour or so for dinner, but here every man is his own cook and bottle washer, carrying his three days rations in an oil cloth bag at his side, and his cooking utensils on his back, and it only requires a few fence rails and a match and the necessary preparation for a hasty plate of soup is made. I started in the morning with 83 men, and when I stacked arms for dinner I had only 56. The remainder had become exhausted and laid down along the road. Yet I had as large a company as entered the field that day. Some companies that started in the morning with from 80 to 100 men could not stack more than 15 or 20 muskets at noon. The Third regiment was completely played out, and had scarcely enough men left to make one full company. After resting about an hour we started again and tugged along some two or three miles further, when we again entered the meadow and stacked arms in columns by regiments (that is, one regiment in rear of the other, at distances according to the ground) and prepared to stay over night. Some set up their little tents, while others lay down upon the ground, wrapped up in their blankets, all ready to rest their weary limbs and prepare for a further advance. The place where we stopped was near Catlet Station, eleven miles from Manassas. We lay in this meadow ten days before the potatoes and the marching orders came again. On the second day after we arrived at Catlet my company was detailed for pickets, and in line with three other companies from other regiments, were started out about two miles in a drenching rain to watch for rebels, while the rest slept in safety. It was a hard dose for the boys, yet it was their regular turn and at the sound of the bugle they all fell into ranks without a murmur. On the way out to our station we came to quite a large run (almost as large as North Fork) which we had to cross, with no way to get over except to walk a fallen tree or wade. The company in front of us walked the log, but this was to slow for Co. K and four or five of my men plunged in and waded through. Not wishing to be outdone by my men I also stepped in and forded across. When the men saw me start the shout went up to follow the Captain, and in less time than it takes to pen these lines the whole company was safe across and formed in line on the opposite side. When we reached our station, we found an abundance of hickory wood and it was not long before we had two or three rousing fires blazing, by which we dried our clothes and spent the next twenty-four hours more comfortably than if we had remained in camp.
"The next day being Easter Sunday, the Brookville boys in the Reserve spent it in the woods of Virginia without an egg. On these occasions there are generally one-fourth of the company on duty at a time, while the others remain behind the line some distance, ready to assist if necessary, and amuse themselves in various ways. Many a good joke is told or antic caper played, while the poor fellow who is down spirited, or tires to sleep, is made the target for all to stick their wit at. It seems to me they often rack their brains for something to say or do. On this occasion a couple of them had strayed into a pine thicket, where they discovered a rebel’s nest and brought away two fine gum blankets, two good wool blankets, a knapsack, shirt, cap and leather stock. The blankets being good they were saved, while the balance of the rebel stores were stuffed with leaves and converted into a dumb sentinel. In cutting down a young hickory for firewood it was found to be hollow. Here was a chance. They must make a rebel gun. Accordingly, at it they went and in a short time they had a very good imitation twelve-pounder mounted and pointed in the direction in which it was expected the company would come to relieve us in the evening, and had the paddy stationed alongside the wooden gun to guard it. The relief came about four o’clock and we returned to camp. The three days following were very unpleasant and the rain completely drove us out of the meadow. The waters rise very rapidly here, and Capt. Porter, with Co. B, was obliged to stay out on picket from Sunday until Tuesday morning. our company was sent on picket the second time on Sunday we left Catlet, but were ordered to camp at daybreak on Monday to receive their potatoes, two to a man, and prepare to take their departure.
"The country between Manassas and Catlet station is rather rough, when contrasted with what we have passed through before and since. The few farms by the way are generally worn out and deserted, fences down, buildings old, dilapidated and deserted. The timber is small, scrubby oak and blackjack, but around Catlet station there are several beautiful farms. One man who had three hundred acres of land, with a good peach orchard, house, etc., offers to sell for $3,600 ($12 per acre.) We passed very few schoolhouses in this state, and the people are illiterate and very ignorant.”
© Alice J. Gayley, all rights reserved
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