In Dreams: Romance In the Valley

9 08 2013

I’m still – STILL – reading Voices from Company D. Thankfully though, it is now January of 1865. The other night I came across an entry from Henry Beck, a company member who was on detached duty as a commissary clerk. It’s from December 7, 1864, while Early’s forces were still operating in the Shenandoah Valley. Henry’s duties required him to travel about a good bit behind the lines, and while staying with the Heller family in Harrisonburg he spent his time a-courtin’ and a-sparkin’ young Lucy Heller. Before he left town to rejoin his command, he proposed. The next day, he wrote (bold font provided by me):

After several questions on both sides, I received an answer in the affirmative. With what joy my heart received it, is beyond my power to describe. I felt that I was entering upon a new life, from which I could foresee nothing but happiness. After this interesting interview was ended, I retired, but only to wake & dream. It must have been near two o’clock before I went to sleep, only to dream again of the one whom I have learned to love so devotedly, also of the tobacco bag received in the morning.*

Priorities, Henry. FYI, by 1870 Henry and Lucy had three children and were living in Greensboro, AL.

And here’s a little something on dreams because, well, because who in their right mind can’t use a little Roy Orbison every now and again?

Hubbs, G. Ward, ed., Voices from Company D, p. 330





Returning Fire

18 07 2013

I’m still making my way through Voices from Company D: Diaries by the Greensboro Guards, Fifth Alabama Infantry Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia. I’ve written a little about it before. If you haven’t already read it, you should add this one to your list. It features multiple diaries from members of the same company (they were present at First Bull Run, however they were Company I at the time – I need to change that on the entries I transcribed.) Right now (where I am in the book, April 1863), the daily entries are comprised of entries by two diarists – typically the first tersely describes the day as having no significant occurrence, followed by about 1,000 words from the second. It’s an entry from the second diarist on April 12, 1864 that caught my eye this time. The diarist is Jaimie Pickens (JP), who was not a slave owner – though his family owned about 200, which again proves the fallacy of the “most southern soldiers didn’t own slaves” argument. It caught my eye because it reminded me of a ferryboat ride out to Ft. Sumter about 18 years ago, during which the recorded NPS narrative pointed out the positions from which Confederate batteries “returned fire.”

To-day 3 years ago (Ap’l 12th & 13th 1861) the Yankees fired on Ft. Sumter – the inauguration of the war of invasion of the South & its people.

Yikes! JP happens to have been a very well educated and eloquent young man who had attended the University of Virginia. His entries give valuable insight not only into how he viewed the war historically as it happened, but also his views on the prospects for peace and from whence it was likely to come (right now, he’s hoping for a third party to take power in the North.) I know of no other collection like this. Check it out.





“There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.”

25 06 2013

I came across a couple of passages today that got me thinking, the way things get you thinking to the point where you can’t read any further until you sort those thoughts out a bit. Do something about them. My current read is the very fine Voices from Company D, a collection of diaries by members of the Greensboro Guards, 5th Alabama Infantry, edited by G. Ward Hubbs. It really is a must read for anyone studying the war. I’ve had it for a long time and am just getting around to actually reading it, as opposed to skimming. Currently I’m in January of 1863, and this entry by John Henry Cowin (who, despite being a doctor and graduate of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College, served as a private) got me to thinking (p. 138):

January 13, Tuesday…Col. Hall ordered today a detail from the different companies to go to Camp and build him a kitchen. Capt Renfrew refused to send him any man and Capt Williams sent him word that he could not get any more men for such a purpose. There are three grown negroes there doing nothing, and wants men to build him a kitchen.

This got me thinking on two levels (at least), one being that CW armies in many ways were not armies as many of us understand them today, whether that understanding comes from service, study, or simply watching dozens of movies over the years. Many of us tend to think that orders are orders, yet we run across so many instances of orders not necessarily being orders in Civil War armies of independent-minded citizen soldiers. (By the way, Renfro – inconsistent spelling – was arrested the next day, though Williams was not.) The Colonel detailing soldiers for manual labor of a personal nature while more “appropriate” personnel for such duty was available was seen as adding insult to injury. The passage gives the lie to the first line of defense of many who try to downplay the role of slavery as a cause of the war – that only fillintheblank percent of southerners actually owned slaves. As if actual ownership of human chattel was the single criteria for interest in seeing the institution perpetuated. This plays into one of my other on-going interests regarding how slavery as a character-molding fact of life in the south affected the efficiency and capabilities of the Confederate military.

Just three days later, another Cowin entry caught my attention (p. 140):

January 16, Friday…Last night about ten o’clock it began to rain and continued until day light this morning. Six of us were under a fly. (The tent being occupied by Britton’s Servant who is very sick with Typhoid Fever.) Our blankets all got perfectly saturated with the rain, and occasionally a large drop of water would fall in my face rendering all hopes of sleep vain. I could only lay there and amuse myself dodging from the drops of rain and wishing fro day light to come…Britton’s Servant John died today about half past twelve o’clock and was buried this afternoon. No coffin could be procured and he was buried as a soldier, wrapped in his blanket.

This second passage illustrates the complexity of viewing slavery with minds formed in the latter part of the 20th Century. It’s difficult to reconcile the inhuman nature of human bondage with the image of six white men huddled under a tent fly in a rainstorm while a servant, presumably a slave, lies dying as the sole occupant of their nice, dry tent, and with the fact that they  made an effort to procure a coffin for the man before burying him “as a soldier.” What do you think?





Diary 7/22/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

21 11 2009

Arose this morning very tired and sore, scarcely able to walk at first but after breakfast felt better and walked around to see what was to be seen after yesterdays fight.  I was witness to some awful scenes.  Saw the wounded, shot in every portion of their body, head, neck,, body, arms, hands, legs & feet.  Some with their limbs taken completely off.  Some have died since being brought here, others dying.  Wherever I walked the same spectacle presented itself.  Among them all I heard not a word of complaint and scarcely a groan.  From what can be ascertained we lost in killed and wounded between fifteen hundred and two thousand.  Went around to a large pen of prisoners.  There were four or five hundred in the pen I saw, and nearly all of them the lowest class of foreigners.  This afternoon, a portion of the cavalry brought in seventy five more of the wretches.  They were all marched off to the cars and sent to Richmond.  As one squad of thirty passed our tent to the cars one fellow spoke to us, saying “Good bye boys I left home to go to Richmond and by ——- I am going.["]  We learn to day that the 4th Ala Regt was not so badly cut up as was supposed.  There have not been more than forty or fifty killed.  Col Jones was not killed, but shot through both legs.  Genl Bee died this morning.  The Cavalry captured a large amount of baggage, ammunition &c.  We got one very large gun from them which they familiarly called “Long Tom”.  We got also a very fine ambulance, in which the medical staff were conveyed about.  They had every thing complete.  I suppose it was the best equipped army that ever started on a campaign.  Old Scott is a great fellow for having everything ready before he makes a move.  The small arms captured were the finest minnie muskets, which will be of great service to the army, as we are in need of more arms.  It has rained all day without ceasing, making it very disagreeable here, especially for those who have no tents, and a great many here have none.  The tents of the 4th Ala were left at Winchester.  Capts Porter King and Balls sleep with us tonight, making ten or twelve in a tent, but we can sleep very well, as we are not very particular how we sleep.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 23-24





Diary 7/21/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

20 11 2009

Slept cold last night as I had only a single blanket whi[ch] was too small to sleep upon and cover with at the same time, besides the night was colder than usual.  Arose quite early this morning and found we had orders to prepare to take up our line of march.  We got breakfast as soon as possible, which occupied but little time as we had only to stick a little piece of meat on a stick, hold it over the fire a minute or two and breakfast was ready.  Soon after eating we began to hear the booming of cannon, apparently about two or three miles off, which still continues it now being about 12 o’clock.  There seems to be fighting at two points, on the extreme left and centre.  We soon got ready and the regiment crossed the creek.  We crossed and recrossed several times before we got upon the regular march.  We however got straight after a while and had a forced march of eleven miles to the battle field.  It was indeed a battle and a bloody one.  We passed on in sight of one place where they were fighting but did not stop, as we were going to  the assistance of the 4th Ala Regt. which we heard was being terribly cut up.  On the march we met many wounded returning from the field.  We marched on to avenge the blood of those who had fought so gallantly.  We witnessed sights we had never seen before.  The horrors of a battle field.  As we marched in sight the cowardly villains were retreating, we could see their guns glittering among the bushes as they moved off.  We heard that the 4th Ala was surrounded at one time by the overwhelming forces of the enemy, and cut up terribly.  General Bee was badly wounded.  Heard that Col Jones was killed, Lieut Col Law and Major Scott badly wounded.  Syd May was in the fight but came off unhurt.  It is said that the enemy came up with a Confederate flag, and our men thinking they were friends did not fire upon them, but as soon as they got within an hundred and fifty yards of our troops, turned loose both artillery and musketry, mowing them down like grass before a scythe.  It was the bloodiest battle ever fought on the continent.  We lost a great many in killed and wounded.  Their loss was tremendous.  The enemy were completely routed, losing fifty pieces of artillery, ten thousand stands of arms and a great many prisoners.  The Virginians did excellent fighting.  They charged their famous Shermans battery.  The Cavalry pursued the enemy under the command of President Davis in person.  The number of killed cannot yet be accurately ascertained.  Both sides lost heavily.  It is said that the enemy lost at the lowest calculation between four and five thousand in killed and wounded.  To night we have orders to march back to our bivouack.  Squire Griggs[,] Joe Grigg, and myself came to Manassas Junction to see Father, who is here with the baggage.  We found him well, but very uneasy as he was confident that we were in the fight.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 22-23





Diary 7/20/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

19 11 2009

Slept finely last night although it rained, of which however I was not aware until this morning.  Brother was on guard last night and this morning is a little unwell.  Hard at work this morning throwing up breastworks along the creek bank[.]  Expecting an attack all the while and we are preparing for it. We do not expect to leave here without a fight.  We have orders from Genl Beauregard to prevent a crossing of the enemy at all and every hazard.  He says our stand at Farrs Cross Roads was worth seventy five thousand dollars to our side, for it was a perfect ruse, the enemy thinking we had nothing to fall back upon, and was the cause of our victory.  The weather is quite warm today, but we got along very well with our work, as we are divided into platoons and work alternately, so that it is comparatively easy upon us.  We finished as we thought, about dinner time, and a good work it is, certainly bullet proof, as we have rock and railroad iron in it, we are now ready for the enemy.  After finishing work we fell afoul our fat meat and crackers and eat as none but hungry men do.  Did not enjoy my dinner as much as I wished to, for some thief stole my tin cup, after I had strapped it neatly to my canteen and thought it all safe.  I am sorry to know that there are rogues in our regiment.  After dinner the boys all stretched themselves out upon the ground for a nap, but soon we heard them calling out for the men to fall in to go to work again.  Some were already asleep and when the order came, they got lazily up rubbing their eyes and cursing the yankees and their luck.  There is no use swearing about work for we have it to do, and the sooner we do it the better for us.  We worked till night and made the works doubly as strong as they were before dinner.  Do not think the Yankees could shoot a cannon ball through them now.  The Yankees have been burying their dead all day.  Nine hundred and fifty of them are missing, and a large number wounded.  There are however so many reports in circulation, that it is hard to get the truth of any thing.  It is now reported that we will have to advance upon the enemy tomorrow.  How true it is no one knows but the officers.  I do not mean our officers, for they do not know any more than the privates, some of them not so much.  Capt Hobson is unwell today, and has been lying under the shade of a tree all day.  It is amusing to see us cooking our meals down here on the creek, we however enjoy it as well as if we were in camp. 

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, pp 21-22





Diary 7/19/1861 – Pvt. John Henry Cowin, Co. D, 5th AL

18 11 2009

Fortunately for us we had not much rain last night.  Slept very soundly, three of us under one blanket.  The trees kept off the heavy dew.  Four or five of the boys came in this morning.  They broke down on the road and were left behind.  Brother came back from the Junction, where he went yesterday of account of being sick.  He states that father is very unwell, not being able to walk at all.  He was quite uneasy yesterday as he thought we were in the fight.  The enemy sent over a flag of truce this morning asking permission to bury their dead.  They say that they lost fifteen hundred men.  The correct list is however hard to get at.  Our loss is thought to be between fifteen and thirty killed and forty or fifty wounded.  Have not heard a gun today.  The bearer of the flag of truce states that they retired to Centreville and are throwing up breastworks, thinking that we are pursuing them.  We are again placed in the bushes to prevent the enemy from crossing to our side of the creek.  We have orders to charge them should they attempt a crossing.  Col Rodes says he wants to give the Greensboro boys a chance at the enemy the first opportunity and he thinks this the best way to do it.  The glorious news of the repulse of Patterson by Johns[t]on came in this afternoon.  It is said that he has driven him beyond the Potomac, which we hope may be true.  Whether it be true or not Johns[t]on has sent Beauregard four thousand men to reinforce this line.  An attack is expected and all the sick have been removed from the Junction; Among those sent by Johns[t]on to Beauregard is Col Syd Moore’s regiment.  The Yankees have made no advance today.  Guess they do not like southern balls and bayonets.  At Winchester where the engagement took place between Johns[t]on and Patterson, Johns[t]on found he could not dislodge the enemy from their works, he gave the order to storm them.  The South Carolina boys pitched in and ran over their works in short order, completely routing them, capturing their artillery and ammunition and fifty prisoners, who arrived at the Junction yesterday.  Our provisions got pretty short today, but fortunately some were sent down to us, and we pitched in like a pack of hungry wolves.  We have nothing but hard crackers and fat meat.  Our cooking utensils consist of sticks sharpened at one end, upon which we put our meat and hold to the fire until done.  It eats firstrate too especially when a fellow is hungry.  We sleep again tonight under the trees and bushes.

Source – G. Ward Hubbs, ed. Voices from Company D, p 21








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 866 other followers