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LaForge Civil War Diaries and Correspondence: April 1864 (Diary entries and Letters)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 07:00

The diary entries for April 1864 are full of weather and some of the harder parts of army life. Mixed in with escorting troops and prisoners, delayed pay packets, and games of billiards, there's an account of the predatory results of mixing hardened deserters with convalescents on a transport ship and trying to sort out the aftermath when they arrive. And there's an account of an execution interrupted with what must have been a rather cruel pause in the proceedings. And in the middle of this, just as Abiel is making plans to end his convalescent duties and rejoin his original regiment (the New York 85th Volunteers), word comes that they've been captured by Confederate troops. (They were sent to the infamous Andersonville prison.) So, as Abiel says, the plan to rejoin them is out unless he goes to Richmond to do so. (Another example of his dry humor.)

Just as a reminder, the introductory material for this project and the original transcripts are available at my site. This includes the couple of years before the material I'm posting currently.

April 1864


Diary: April 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Letter: April 16, 1864 - In-camp activities, dealing with deserters, delayed pay

Diary: April 17, 18, 19, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27

Letter: April 27, 1864 - His original regiment is captured and taken to Andersonville, 9th Army Corps moves to Washington

Diary: April 29

Friday April 1st 1864

A.M. Cloudy. P.M. rained. We sent a large squad of men to Camp Chase today. I wrote a letter to Barton tonight. I have got the diarrhea again.

Saturday 2nd

A cold sleet has fallen all day. Very muddy and disagreeable. An order came tonight of 7 companies of the Invalid Corps now on duty here. It will take nearly all the detail men in camp. Four have to go out of this office.

Sunday 3rd

Cloudy but not rainy, quite pleasant walking. Sergeant and me enjoyed ourselves very much this p.m. Took a walk up by Fort Richardson and came back by the way of Fort Barnard. [It] looks like rain tonight. I wrote to Uncle John in answer to his letter [of] the 11th ult[imate]. I got a letter from Mrs Nelson Crandall and one from Mr Sherman Crandall. Mrs Crandall says she has assumed the place of a mother and craves a blessing on me as on an absent son. Sherman says they are making maple sugar at a fine rate up there. A thousand pounds already made.

[Note: Abiel's own mother died at some point before he was 7 years old and he doesn't seem to have had an affectionate relationship with his father's second wife. When his jounals and letters make reference to "Mother" he is referring to his sister Susan's mother in law. 2nd Note: The Potter family (the Susan married into) continued in the maple syrup/sugar business well into my generation and my mother often brought back jugs of their syrup after visiting with them.]

Monday 4th

Rained again. I think it only held up yesterday because it was sabbath. The seven companies of the Veteran Reserve Corps came over today to take the place of those sent away this morning.

Tuesday 5th

Rained all day. The boys say when the tide is up the water sweeps clear across the Long Bridge. We have had so much rain lately that the river is at an unprecedented height. I think it will clear up tomorrow. The wind is getting in the North.

Wednesday 6th

Warm and pleasant. Mud rapidly drying up. Captain Crawford got back from his leave of absence just at dark.

Thursday 7th

Clear and warm. Roads almost dry. I received a very amusing letter from Miss Anne Porter. Had a good laugh over it.

Friday, April 8th

Clear & warm. Looks like another storm tonight. I am reading McClellan's report. I do think that no General ever had so fine an oppertunity to accomplish great deeds as he did with his splendid army and its equipments. I believe that he did not try to accomplish all he could. As soon as he was relieved from the position of General in Chief, he seemed to lose his energy.

Saturday 9th

Rained all day. I took two men over to the city in an ambulance, one of them in irons. He has been court martialed and sentenced to ten months hard labor with a ball & chain & to forfeit to the government $10 per month. The other was to go to Depot Camp Meridian Hill. An order has been in force for several days to take up all ambulances found in town that did not have a pass from the Medical Director showing that they were used for medical purposes. I was expecting to be taken up by the patrol all the time, but as luck would have it was not. I ordered the driver to come back by the way of the Aquaduct Bridge. Roads in that direction are in a very bad condition. One days rain spoils them entirely.

[Note: Abiel has mentioned elsewhere that he's in the habit of commandeering ambulances for ordinary transport purposes when possible, so this seems to have been a regular problem for the army.]

Sunday 10th

A.M. cloudy, but not rainy. Cleared up at M. & thls P.M. very pleasant.

No rest for the wicked. I have been at work since 7 a.m. at the commissary papers for March. They should have been sent up to be examined before this, but Captain Hoyt has a new man at the work and they have been longer than common in making them out, and now there is a good many mistakes to be corrected. They should be ready to go in tomorrow and I have worked till this time 9 O.C. P.M. to get them ready. My sister has not answered my letter asking if Joseph [note: their father] was any better yet. I am afraid he is very bad and she does not like to let me know it. I had much rather she would, for certainty is better than this suspense. I have been adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, reducing, comparing, and balancing so much to day that I will not write to Uncle John tonight as I expected to.

Monday 11th

Cloudy, no rain. It is now 11 o.c. & 40 minutes. I have just finished a letter to Mrs Crandall and one to Sherman also. I got up this morning at half past three, so in the last 24 hours I haye been at work 20. The Potomac is so high that the Long Bridge is impassable. This bridge is usually 8 feet above the water, but now the water is three or four feet above it. The [plain] is overflowed for 3/4 of a mile on this side which makes the river two miles wide now. Fear is entertained that the bridge will be swept away. Ten of our barracks are now used by order of General Casey for stationing regiments in, when they arrive here, until they can get their quarters up.

Tuesday 12th

Warm & pleasant. I wrote to Mrs Crandall & Mr Sherman Crandall last night. Went up to the room and played billiards tonight. I feel much better now, for today I received a letter from my sister saying that Joseph was a little better, although still very sick. Poor sister! I hope she will not get sick herself by over-doing herself. She always is so kind to a sick person and pretends never to feel fatigue in tending them. I really believe she is the best and most kind-hearted woman [that] ever lived. Such a good nurse, never getting tired or angry with [the] foibles of a sick person. Always ready and willing. She wins the love of all she nurses, and that is not a few, for she is called on more times than a few by all in their neighborhood. God bless her.

Wednesday 13th

Clear & warm. About 300 deserters came in today from Governors Island, New York. They were a hard set. A gang of about 60 of them was banded together on the boat and they robbed and treated the others just as they pleased. They were all down in the ‘tween decks: Convalescents, Stragglers, & Deserters. This gang would divide into squads of four or five. A squad would go up to a man that they thought had any money and tell him to “shell out.” No matter whether he obeyed and gave them his pocket book or not, they would lay him down, take off his boots and clothes, and search them all to see if there was any money hid about him. If they felt a place in the lining of any part of the clothes that was a little thicker than the rest they would cut it open. If the clothes were good and they wanted any of them, they kept them. They broke into the cabin and like to killed the Lieutenant commanding the Guard of the boat. They stabbed a Sergeant, but he had a steel lined vest on and it saved his life. They played the devil generally.

The whole thing was reported to Colonel McKelvy, and as soon as the men had been put in the Deserters Division where we keep a double guard, he had them drawn up in line & searched. They dared make no resistance for they would have been shot like dogs as they are. Over a thousand dollars was taken from them, beside watches & jewelry to a considerable amount. This money is to be payed over to the Convalescents & others who can prove the amount stolen from them. This is not the first but still the most wholsale robbery of the kind that has occurred on the boats coming from New York city.

Thursday 14th April

Warm & clear. Last night our detectives sought some smugglers crossing whiskey from Washington to this side of the river. One man, a horse and buggy, and two kegs of whiskey were captured. The boat and men which brought it across the river escaped. Mr man is now in our guardhouse and our detectives have gone down tonight to see if they will not attempt to land some more.

I have written to Miss A.S. Porter tonight. Edmunds & myself played billiards aganst Sergt Beaugureau (our crack player) today and beat him 35 points. Peach, pear, and cherry trees in bloom.

Friday 15th

Day cloudy. Will rain tomorrow.

Nothing of importance occurred. All quiet along the line.


Headquarters Rendezvous Distribution, April 16th 1864

Dear Sister,

Yours of the 7th inst[ant] was duly received. You can imagine what a relief it was to me, for I thought all the time that Joseph must be very sick and you did not like to write and inform me of his true state. I am sure I was much more uneasy than if you had written at once. Poor Josey! I hope when you receive this he will be enough better to at least sit up. You say [he] is so [blank] and quiet all the time that you are afraid he is not much better. I bet if I was there and sick, and you should tell me I would get well as soon as I got cross, that I would not be long in making you believe I was well at any rate. Why, don't you know that you made a reflection on all men when you stated that as soon as they got well they began being unbearable? Now, of course, I cannot allow you to have such an opinion without trying in some way to enlighten you on the subject. I don't know as it will be necessary to go to that trouble though, for when I consider that you must be nearly crazy watching and working I hardly have the heart to differ with you, even if my reputation as a member of the race called man is at stake, so let it went.

It was but little after five O.C. A.M. when I got up to write this so that I could send it by today's mail. I don't wish you to think that I seldom get up so early, for I often do. Very often, in fact once nearly every month, so you must know I am a very early riser. I seldom go to bed until after ten oclock, and very frequently not till after eleven oclock at night. I sit up reading, writing, talking, or playing billiards or chess. When I learn a game, I do hate to give it up untill I get so that I can beat anybody I play with. If I was content to let a game alone, or at least only play once in a while after I have learned, it would be much better for me. Cards, I never play. Do not think I have played with them but once since New Year's Eve. With them I have no ambition to excell.

It is raining this morning. Has been doing so for nearly two weeks until three days ago. The Potomac was never before known to be so high as it was last week. The Long Bridge, which is usualy eight feet above the water, was compleately covered. The plain three quarters of a mile on this side was covered, making the river two miles wide. Such a rise of water in a river the size of the Potomac is a very uncommon thing. We for a long time thought the bridge would be carried away, but it was not. All travel for a time between here and Washington had to be done by the way of the Aquaduct Bridge. I went over to Washington with an ambulance while the river was up and we like to have stuck fast in the mud about half a mile this side of the Aquaduct, with only myself and driver in it.

We have been having a rather busy time doing work for the Criminal Court for a few days past. A squad of two hundred deserters came on a boat from New York with some hundred and fifty other soldiers. They were all turned in together and treated alike. There was only a guard of fourteen men on the boat and they were afraid to do anything, so the deserters ran the whole thing. Dividing into gangs of five, they went through the boat and when they saw a man among the soldiers that looked as if he had any money, they quietly told him to give what he had. If he did or did not, it was all the same. They at once collared him, pulled off all his clothes, felt the pockets and linings. If they found a place where money could be concealed, they cut it open at once. When they were through searching, if they took a favor to any of his clothes, they appropriated them without saying "by your leave sir". As soon as they arrived at this camp, it was at once reported to the Colonel. He went down to see the men (convalescents). Their clothes were all cut up whereever there was a possible chance of hiding money. One man showed us where he had been stabbed for resisting them. He hapened to have on one of those steel lined vests, and it saved his life.

As soon as the deserters had been put in the barracks set aside and doubly guarded for their especial benefit, the Colonel ordered them to be searched and all money and jewelry taken from them. What a satisfaction it was for me to see them drawn up in a line, with such a guard around them that they dare not say a word, and be obliged to go through just what they had made the unarmed convalescents [go through], and all the money and other valuables found on them taken away! Their faces could grow as black as they pleased, but they could resist no more than could the men from whom they had taken the money now being taken from them. We got over a thousand dollars, besides watches, rings, chains, dirks, pistols, &c. These are to be kept in a safe and any person who can prove that they have lost such things as we took from these fellows and describe them will get them back. Also, if they can prove the amount of money they lost, they will get it back, the same with any articles of clothing in the possession of the deserters. This is not the first time we have heard complaints of this kind, but every time a boat comes from New York it is the same. But this is the first time we have made such a wholesale retribution for the sake of justice. It will teach these fellows a lesson at any rate.

We have not been paid since the payment for December 1863 and I am entirely out of money. I declare I will soon believe there is no such thing as an honest soldier, and never lend another cent of money to them. I have let them (detailed men) have a dollar or so until they are paid, and the first thing one knows they are off to their regiments. Lots of times I have been fooled, but I will be no more. Please tell Perry to send me a couple of dollars in your next [letter] and charge the same to my account. An order came the day before yesterday to send to their regiments all detailed men not belonging to the Veteran Reserve Corps (Invalid Corps). I dont know how soon the order will be carried out, so you had best write soon as possible.

I hope you are having a more pleasant day than we are. If not, it will be a very bad one for Josey. Oh how dreary a rainy day seems to a sick person! I pray that your next [letter] will bring me news of his improving rapidly. My love to mother and Janey. Also to Perry's people. Is little Charley's leg got so he does not limp yet?

With my best wishes I remain,

Your loving brother

A.T. LaForge


Sunday 17th

Rained until after sunrise, then cleared off, but was showery until two oclock. Rained all yesterday. Yesterday there came an order to send to their regiments all men not belonging to the Veterans Reserve Corps now on duty at this camp. How soon the order will be executed, I do not know. I wrote to my sister yester morn. I have been trying to get the General Orders for 1863 in the book form. As I could not do that, I am going to send the orders we have here into town to be bound by the direction of Captain Crawford.

Monday April 18th 1864

Clear & warm. I took the men, horse, and buggy captured Thursday night into Department Head Quarters today and turned them over to be disposed of there. I think it will go pretty hard with them. I went to the Sanitary room and got my dinner, then came back. I found a letter from Samuel here for me. He sends for money. I have answered stating that I have no money at my disposal now, as we cannot get our pay on the present pay rolls, and can not get paid here again anyway, as we are all ordered to our regiments by General Angur, who is going to have all duty done at this camp by the Veterans Reserve Corps.

Tuesday 19th

Clear but pretty cold. I went up and played with Edmunds one game of billiards aganst a couple of other fellows. We lost, and then played off, he discounting me. I lost again.

Thursday 21st

Clear & warm. Received a letter Samuel dated the 7th. By some means it was delayed, so that his of the 13th passed it. I have been hard at work all day. Tonight a letter was brought from Colonel North to Colonel McKelvy to say that a letter from the brother of Governor Seymoure made it necessary for him to see the Coonel in regard to my promotion. He desires to see the Colonel about the matter.

April 23rd 1864

Day clear & warm. I went to Washington to take 15 men to Depot Camp, and two men to Department Head Quarters who had been Court Martialed and sentenced to two years on the Dry Tortugas. I returned by the way of Georgetown. I received a letter from Sherman Crandall yesterday. All well. He says he hopes I will get home in time to go to school with him to Alfred Centre this coming winter.

Sunday 24th

Clear & warm. Received a letter from sister and one from Janey. Joseph is getting better and they soon hope to see him around again. How good this news makes me feel! Colonel North was over to see Colonel McKelvy this morning to see if I would rather have a commission in my own regiment or some other. I told him I should prefer some other. An immense nunmber of army wagons are parked about a mile below here, I should think five hundred at the least. I think Grant is collecting them here so that if he wins the decisive battle soon to be fought, they can immediately be loaded and started after the army on its advance towards Richmond. Or in case of a reverse, they will be at hand to supply his army with munitions or whatever is needed.

April 25th

Day very warm. Apple trees are blossoming. Lots of wild flowers in bloom. Buds have burst and the woods are green again. Currants and gooseberries are large enough to be seen distinctly. Oats are up. etc. Jackson (one of our detectives) told me if I would get a pass to go to Alexandria he would furnish the funds. So I got a pass for us and we went down. Took supper at Mr Simpsons, a gentleman who brings milk out to camp. After that we went to a house in town. Stayed about five minutes. I was much disgusted with the proceedings. Jack got thirty dolars from one of the girls. [From the context, I'm guessing that this was a whorehouse they were visiting. Abiel regularly makes comments indicating a fastidiousness about prostitutes. But in that case I'm curious about why Jack was getting money from one of the "girls."]

We went to the theatre. After it was out, we had a pick of steamed oysters for each of us, and then he went back to the house where we were in the evening [i.e., the whorehouse] and I started back to camp. Just after we passed the chain of sentinels, a shower came up. The moon was about an hour high and there was as fine a rainbow formed in the west as I ever saw. It was the first I ever saw formed by the moon. The 9th Army Corps was bivouacked near the road by which I returned. The boys were lying in the rain, rolled up in their blankets arround the fires. The Corps is about 20,000 strong. The countersign was "Vermont" tonight. Burnside Commands the 9th Army Corps.

Wednesday April 27th 1864

Clear and warm. Received a letter from Miss Porter. Answered one from my sister. My regiment has been captured by the rebs at Plymouth, North Carolina. so I cannot join them now, unless I go to Richmond for that purpose--which I hardly think I shall! But I wish I had been with them, where they were at Plymouth.

A squad of two hundred was got ready to go to Fortress Monroe today. A captain of the Veterans Reserve Corps has gone with them. When they got ready to start, which they did about 7 O.C., I jumped on a horse and rode down there as fast as I could, to have the boat kept for a while until the squad got there. They were expecting to start at 7 1/2 P.M. I found the boat at the Coal Wharf (Pier N° 2). I went aboard and asked the captain if he had [been] ordered to go to Old Point. He said he was expecting to go, but had no orders yet. I told him I would go down to the Quarter Master's and see about it. The Quarter Master sent a man up to give him his orders. I then went back and met the squad and showed them where to go.

I never saw such clouds of dust as was blowing. It was twilight, but a man could not be seen [at] two feet. After I got the men on board, I came back. Owing to the clouds of dust, I could not see & lost my way. The first thing I knew, I was in the plain away to the right of my road. I waited for a lull in the wind & then looked arround and saw a light about 2 miles off. I knew where I was then and came on. Got to camp about 10 O.C. P.M.


Head Quarters, Rendezvous of Distribution Virginia April 27th 1864

My Dear Sister,

Yours of the 20th has been duly received and I feel very much relieved by the good tidings it contains. Tell Joseph for me I consider myself very much his debtor for getting better just in time to send the good news to me in your letter. I was beginning to feel mighty bad, for as you did not write I began to think Josey was dangerous, and had half made up my mind to try and get a furlough. Probably I could not have got it, for there is strict orders aganst furloughing men from this command. I think I have enough influence to have got one from the Secretary of War, if it had been very necessary, for I have many powerful friends here. You must not think that I am vain in saying so, for I assure you it is all truth, and I am proud to be able to say so. For they are friends who have not given me their friendship on account of my riches. I understand Frank Basset is at home. Colonel North, our Military State Agent, procured a furlough for him. Frank looked very bad the last time I saw him. I should think he would get his discharge.

I see by the papers that the 85th is captured by the rebs. Captured while nobly defending their flag from polution, but their bravery was unavailing. Before this time they are probably incarcerated in some rebel prison. If I had joined them when I first thought of doing so, I should have shared their glory and also their imprisonment. I almost regret not being with them. Perhaps if all the men had been with them who like me are absent, their defeat might have been a victory. Still, such reflections are useless. The duty of a soldier is to perform any duty which his superiors direct him to. If I had went to the regiment, some man who was better able to stand field duty would have been put in my place perhaps. So looking at the matter in all its lights, I dont see as I am individually responsible for the capture of Plymouth and the gallant General Wessell, though I do feel as though all my family were captured with them. None but those who have experienced it can imagine the feeling of a true soldier, when absent from his regiment, [as] he reads of their being in an engagement, fighting nobly, and then after all their efforts to sustain themselves, being obliged to surrender, and be marched off to languish perhaps for months in an enemy's prison. He feels almost like considering himself the cause of their misfortune. [LaForge's regiment was taken to the infamous Andersonville prison.]

I hardly know what I am to do now. I was getting ready to join the company, but now I have no company to join, unless I go to Richmond for that purpose, which I in all probability shall not do. I shall send home a box of goods soon, so as not to be overloaded in case I do join them at their present place of abode.

Burnsides' command (9th Army Corps), which for some five weeks has been lying at Annapolis, sent there for the ostensible purpose of forming an expedition to strike some part of the Southern Coast, was last Saturday ordered to break camp and march for Washington without delay. They all got here day before yesterday, encamped and rested yesterday, and this morning started for the Army of the Potomac. Now that looks like true strategy and certainly was a most successful blind, to thus hold a splendid body of men in a situation where they could be easily subsisted and where they could embark and suddenly strike in any direction. To have every thing prepared for their embarkation, and then to--without any intimation of the plan--reinforcing the army on which the fate of the nation depends, with thirty thousand good fresh troops. As they are on the eve of a great battle [it] looks more like good generalship than anything I have seen yet. I believe if Grant (recently made general-in-chief) is allowed to have his own way, Johny Rebs will be driven from Virginia before our next celebration of the Glorious Fourth.

We are having splendid weather now: soft balmy days and nights, generaly a cool breeze blowing from the South West. Vegetation in in an advanced state. Apples, pear, peaches, and cherries are in full bloom. The woods are green and full of wild flowers. Gay plumaged birds are beginning to make their appearance, and "all nature looks gay".

I was coming out from Alexandria night before last about midnight. The moon had risen about an hour, when a little shower came up and passed away and left formed aganst the Western sky a most beautiful Rainbow. It was the first I ever saw formed by the moon and I was delighted with it. How I wish I was a painter, so that I could transfer it to canvas!

Do you know where mother was born? I do not. I will close by sending my kind regards to all, especially to Janey for her pretty little note. Your brother,

A.T. LaForge


Friday April 29th

Warm & clear. A military execution took place today down below us on the railroad. A fellow who had deserted our army and joined the rebs was shot. He was a splendid looking fellow: hair as black [as] a raven's and an undaunted front. He walked behind his coffin with his arms folded and looked around on the people as unconcerned as could be. Looked at his cofin and sat down on it when he arrived at the spot where he was to be shot, as coolly as if it was a chair. The bandage was placed over his eyes, but he was asked before this if he had any thing to say. He had not. Eight soldiers, half with loaded guns and the others with blanks, were marched up in front of him and the orders, "Ready, Aim," was given, when General Slough called out, "Hold on, Captain!" (How must the man have felt at these words! Probably thoughts of pardon came into his mind.) "March your reserves out of the way." (They were standing just behind the prisoner, and if the platoon had fired at him, some of them would have been hit.) As soon as this was accomplished the word "Fire!" was given. At the discharge, the man fell back on his coffin, shot through each side and through the neck. He had placed his hand over his heart, and the bullet that struck him in the left side went through it. The surgeon examined and pronounced him dead.

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