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LaForge Civil War Diaries and Correspondence: August 1864

Wednesday, January 11, 2017 - 08:00

I am regularly stunned by the beauty of the observations Abiel has the time and presence of mind to make. This one has to be one of my favorites:

It is a beautiful night. I sit and look through the open end of my tent, on a hill half a mile off the signal Corps is busy sending and receiving mesages by aid of their rockets, roman candles, and different colored lights. They have a yellow light now, waving it to and fro. Now a Roman candle begins to burn: one yellow, two green, and two blue balls come from it. Looking to the right and left I see thousands of lights: the camp fires and candles of the 6th Corps en bivouac. What a grand spectacle it is! Looking up to the throne of him who rules the universe, we behold a magnificent heaven thickly studded with bright sparkling specks, which we are told by astronomers are inhabited like our world. Doubtless they are, but it can not be proved for we are unable (though we often desire to) to soar through intervening space and visit those celestial planets, and thus solve the mystery with which they are now surrounded.


The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

August 1864



Monday Aug 1st

We're up, breakfasted, and moved on towards Frederick at five A.M. Camped with the rest of the army in a grove a mile and one half West of the city about M. [i.e., noon] I got a pass and went into town just at dark. There did not appear to be as much excitement as I expected, for the rebs were rumored to be in Maryland in large force. Bought some necessary articles and returned to camp.

Tuesday Aug 2nd 1864

Today has been cloudy and much cooler than any previous day for two weeks. Looks some like rain.

I find it impossible to write up my memorandum every day, as most of the time we are in line as soon as light and march until after dark, only making halts for rest and meals. The way I do [it] is to set simply dates in a small book, then when I have a chance write more at length on paper and send it to my loved sister, to avoid carrying what would soon be no inconsiderable addition to my load.

We expected to march at 6 O.C. this morning but did not have orders to get in line until 9. At 10 the order to march was suspended and the boys are now cooking their dinners and gambling. The latter, some of them will do as long as they have a cent of money. I guess we shall stay here all day.

Wednesday 3rd

Moved to Monocacy Mills about five miles from yesterdays camp. Forded the river and camped with the rest of the Corps about a mile from the Mills. We expect to stay here for several days and so are going to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. The wagons came up. We got our company books and are now doing the writing, which we have to neglect on the march because we do not have the necessary books. Powell and I went and had a swim and ate a chicken pie, which we bought on the way to the river. When we returned to camp we felt much better. Had to make a report for July tonight.

Thursday 4th 1864

Have been very busy all day making Descriptive Lists for my absent boys who are wounded and in hospital. I have not yet had time to finish my Ordnance Report, which I commenced at Druid Hill Park, Baltimore. If we stay here tomorrow I will try and finish it.

It is a beautiful night. I sit and look through the open end of my tent, on a hill half a mile off the signal Corps is busy sending and receiving mesages by aid of their rockets, roman candles, and different colored lights. They have a yellow light now, waving it to and fro. Now a Roman candle begins to burn: one yellow, two green, and two blue balls come from it. Looking to the right and left I see thousands of lights: the camp fires and candles of the 6th Corps en bivouac. What a grand spectacle it is! Looking up to the throne of him who rules the universe, we behold a magnificent heaven thickly studded with bright sparkling specks, which we are told by astronomers are inhabited like our world. Doubtless they are, but it can not be proved for we are unable (though we often desire to) to soar through intervening space and visit those celestial planets, and thus solve the mystery with which they are now surrounded.

Friday 5th

Orders came at 2 A.M. to be ready to move at day light. We were up and breakfasted, and the whole Division was packed up ready to move. The 1st and 2nd Divisions have had no such orders. We waited until 8 O.C. when, finding the sun pretty hot, we put up our shelters again, although the order to march has not been suspended.

Sunday 7th

Our officers' wagons came up Friday P.M. and we made ourselves comfortable as possible. Just at dark the order again came around to get in line immediately. We again packed up and sent our extras to the wagon again. Then we laid down and went to sleep. The order to fall in did not come until near midnight. Then we marched up to the old Monocacy field and bivouacked for the night on the very spot where most of our men fell that fatal day. Our brigade was ordered to make themselves comfortable for a sleep [note: the transcription has "steep" but I think this is more likely] as transportation would not be ready for us until day light (it was then 2 A.M.). Laid down.

It rained from four to eight A.M. Saturday 6th. Most of the boys got pretty wet. We did not get on the cars to follow the rest of the army until 10 A.M. Just as the cars moved off, we saw General Grant setting in front of one of the houses. We cheered him lustily. What could have brought him up here, I dont see, unless Lee is coming North again, which at present looks possible. We rode on the cars up to a mile and 1/2  west of Harpers Ferry, then left the cars, stopping until after sunset for the officers horses to come up.

While here, I saw Major Martin. He did not have the rolls of the 106th along or he would pay me, he said. We moved 1-1/2 miles farther from the Ferry and camped with the rest of the army. We have not had any order to move yet, but may before night.

[NOTE AT BOTTOM OF DIARY PAGE--I've left this entirely "as is" for reasons that should be obvious!]


Dont think hardly of mistakes for it is seldom I have a chance to look over and correct them. if you see an I that needs dotting, dot it, if a word is left out or of, put one in &c.


Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York Volunteers

Near Harpers Ferry. Aug. 7th 1864

Dearly loved Sister and Friends,

For a wonder, I pen this letter only about a mile from where I did the last, if I remember right. I dont know but I wrote you while we were at Frederick City. If I did, we are rather more than a mile from the place of last date. I am sure however I wrote you a letter when we were at this place before, which makes it all right.

I received yours of July 30th which informs me that my box had been received and the money expressed to the gentleman. It is as much of a disappointment to me that there is no blankets in it, as it is to you, for I put two in it when I left camp. It was not nailed up and perhaps some one borrowed them and forgot to return them. Charge the $75.00 and the expressage on the box and money to me. Preserve the trinkets and papers, also the books, and do as you see best with the clothing. If there was any clothes in my trunk, I must have out grown them by this time, so you may dispose of them also, if you have any use to put them to. [Note: this is presumably the shipment of his possessions from Camp Convalescent that he didn't want to be burdened with while on active duty.]

You need not have the least alarm for my health, for I have not had a moments sickness since I have been to the front this time, with the exception of about four hours one day which I could not account for in any other way than that I was getting lazy. It was short duration, but for the first hour or two quite severe.

The physicians theory that the health depends on regularity of rest and meals, would not hold good in the army. I have no doubt, however, that by this constant exposure we are sowing the germs of disease which will make many of us old men by the time we are out of the service. However hospitals are being established for military Invalids where we can all go if necessary, which in my case I consider very doubtful. [Note: in this context, keep in mind that Abiel died at age 36 of tuberculosis, though I don't know whether that was a consequence of hardship during the army or was contracted later.]

I am sorry your crops are so poor up that way. They are excellent here in Maryland and Western Virginia. The Rebs are trying to carry them all away South, and I grieve to say they are likely to be pretty successful. I think you people will have to go to spinning your wool and making cloth for yourselves again. I wish with you and Janey that I could be up there and gather berries with you. Ours are all gone but some very late ones; apples are taking their places however, which will do very well for a change.

Tell Josey if he don't look out I shall have to come up and conscript him for his health. Don't work too hard, however. There is no use killing yourself if you have enough for your at-present-increasing family. Has the baby a name yet, if so what is it? I think I shall have to come up and investigate that show business; tell Miss Amelia so. Mother must not worry for me for God willing I shall come home and see her again. Won't it be a joyful time when the war is over and all us old soldiers come home? [Note: Abiel spells it "sogers" and I think this may be one of his deliberately self-conscious "vernacular spellings" like "posish". I agonize a little over normalizing these, but the originals are all available in the other version of this text.] There will be so many men that the girls will begin to put on airs and say No again.

My love to Janey and Martha and Perry's people. Say to Janey, although I get many interesting letters, it does not make hers any the less acceptable.

With love, Yours



Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York Volunteers

Near Strausburg Western Virginia August 14th 1864

Dear Sister and Friends,

I have just fifteen minutes before the mail goes out in which to write to you, and as it is the only chance I may have in a long time I concluded to improve it.

We are again after the Rebs, trying to chase them out of the Valley. Left camp at the Ferry, where I wrote you before on the 10th, and have been on the heels of the retreating foe ever since. Night before last we brought them to a stand here at Strausburg. I went on picket and we had a pretty warm time of it. Yesterday morning we drove them from two miles this side of the town to half a mile the other side, then we halted as we had a good place for our picket line. It was very hot and we did not fire any more than was necessary to let them know we were there. I got the men in the shade as much as possible. We were relieved at nightfall. When we saw the relief coming we concluded to wake them [i.e., the Rebs] up. So I got the men on the brow of the hill and drew the fire of the Rebs, so by the time the others came on the line we were having a sharp engagement going on. We came away laughing at the uncomfortable night we had prepared for the relief on duty. [Note: There's at least one other passage I've seen where Abiel mentions "stirring up" the enemy just before his troops are relieved, as if it were a sort of practical joke.]

The men drew three days rations and were informed that they must last four days. All our sick and wounded are to be sent to Harpers Ferry and we are to prepare for long quick marches, but I shall probably be where I can write you again at the end of the week. I have not had time this week to write up my memorandum.

The gentleman to whom Joseph sent that money has received it so that is all right.

Tell Joseph he would laugh to see the farmers plowing here. They commence in the middle of the field and plow from the centre out, instead of from the outside towards the centre. The near horse walks in the furrow, instead instead of the off one. The plough turns the furrow to the left instead of the right. All of which was new to me, as I never saw the like before. The farmers have to suffer very much. Their sheep and hogs and cows are killed to eat, and their horses are taken for Artillery wagon and riding horses. If I were them I would drive all of them to Maryland and sell them, then go North until the war is over.

I must close. Many wishes for your health and hapiness also prosperity.



Head Quarters "I" Company 106th N.Y. Volunteers 3rd Division 6th Corps

Near Strausburg Western Virginia Sunday August 14th 1864

As we are laying still for an hour or two, I concluded to improve the leisure by writing up my Mem[orandum]s, which I have not had time to do before this week.

Monday 8th

We laid in our camp near the Ferry all day, having an easy time. Captain Parker told me he was going to transfer me to Company F, as that Company had not lately had an officer who could control them, and it need straightening like Company I did when I took hold of them. I thanked him for the compliment but earnestly requested him not to do so, as I liked the company I had command of and did not like to go to another and have to leave those with whom I was satisfied and who I believed were satisfied with me. He promised to consider the matter and I went back to my quarters.

One of the Sergeants was there and I casually told him what they proposed to do with me. He went out and soon the tent was surrounded by my men all asking if it was true that I was going away. The truth was sorrowfull to them, I could see, and I dont believe my vanity had any thing to do with it, as I felt too bad myself to be vain. Some of them had tears in their eyes and there was some swearing at the way things were managed. They said they never had been united and at peace with one another and the rest of the regiment before, nor had an officer who would do anything for them. And now that every thing was going along smoothly, they thought it was too bad.

After supper Captain Parker told me that they had got together and sent the Sergeants down to him with a petition from the whole company not to transfer me to another company, and he, in consideration of their feelings and mine, had concluded not to do so. I could not help feeling proud when I had such evidence of the feeling of the company toward me, because when I took command, Captain Paine who was then commanding the Regiment told me they were the worst company in the Regiment to manage or get along with. So that matter is settled.

Tuesday 9th

We stayed in camp all day. The wagon came up and we got our books and sent off some necessary papers. I sent my Ordnance Reports. Hope they are right. They are the first I ever made out and it is possible mistakes occur in them.

Wednesday 10th

Had orders to be ready to march at four A.M. Drew some clothing in the night and issued them. Marched at five towards Charlestown. Expected to find the enemy there, but did not. It was grand, just as we came out into the plain before the town, to see the heads of three other columns appear at equal distances along and wind cautiously toward one center. Our Cavalry soon found the Rebs gone and dashed on in pursuit. We followed.

The day became intensely hot. Some men droped down and died in a short time; sunstrokes were constantly occuring. We had to rest frequently and finaly halted for the night at 2-1/2 P.M. but more loss has been sustained by the service in this one days march, than if we had been engaged in a good hard fight all day. Our loss in men would not have been near so large.

Our camp for the night was three miles from Berriesville. There was a flock of sheep on the ground when we came up. In less than 20 minutes, every one was dead and soon to make mutton for our suppers. Our boys will forage when they get in this state. We had a thunder shower, which cooled off the air and made the P.M. pleasant.

Thursday 11th

Started towards Winchester at 7 A.M. Our brigade is rearguard today and marched with the train to protect it from Moseby or the Reb Cavalry. It was very hot, but we marched slowly and did not suffer from heat so much. Stoped near Winchester for dinner. Stayed in the woods two hours, then turned to the left as the Rebs had left the town. So we turned off towards Newtown, marched five or six miles, and camped near where our cavalry came on their rear guard and engaged them in the A.M.

The clouds threatened a heavy rain, but nothing but wind was the result. (Like most threatenings.) We camped in a field of high grass. Some one got it on fire in cooking his supper. It was so dry and the wind blew so hard that at first it could not be subdued, and for a time I thought we were to be burned out, but so many got at it that it had to sucomb. Had all of us all the honey we could eat this afternoon. This is quite a honey country. Rested well, being very tired.

Friday 12th

Advanced through Newtown and Middletown. The Rebs had made a stand three miles from the latter place with their picket on the West bank of Cedar Creek. The army halted and our picket was sent out. As it was my turn, I had charge of the detail from this regiment. We crossed the creek [and] went up it to the right. The officer of the day gave me orders to deploy and occupy a hill, to see if the enemy were there. I did so, charged up the hill, established our lines etc. He gave orders to keep the men all awake, but after our hard days march that would be impossible, so I divided into fours on the line. Number 1 of each four was to watch the first, 2 the second, and so on. I took turns in keeping awake with another 1st Lieutenant who was with me but my junior. Passed the night tolerably.

[Note: I keep noticing a lot of little actions like the one about the rotating watch, where Abiel finds a middle way between strict discipline and human frailty. Also the way he "leads from the front" during combat. I have to think that these behaviors are a significant cause of the respect and popularity he has from his men.]

Saturday 13th

We were out of rations so got a breakfast of green corn roasted and green apples, then the order came to advance the lines. The left was used as the pivot, while the right of the line--two miles off--had to make a big swing to the left. We advanced in splendid style; the line was well kept. The extreme right where I was had to swing [a] full five miles. We came out on the hills above Strausburg and our line was most lovely. Our left was on the Winchester Pike and as the line swung, they kept coming out of the woods in splendid line. It was grand to look from the right, away two & 1/2 miles to the left across the hills and valleys, and see the line all advancing.

We moved up to the brow of the hills above the town and looked down upon it. The Rebs were slowly going down the other side. There was a fine little plain below us, then on the other side another rainge of hills. The Rebel line formed, supported by their whole army, which we could see was in the woods in there by the smoke. We were too far off to make firing very dangerous, but some of the crack shots on both sides putting large charges of powder in their guns, made some good shots.

As we had been living on corn and apples all day, word was sent in by the officer of the day for us to be relieved. For the deviltry of it, we thought we would ensure the wakefullness of those who came to relieve us. We determined to get up a grand fusillade when the relief deployed to take our places. It was just dusk when they came up. I deployed my line on the hill, as the rest of the officers [had] done. We drew the fire of the line upon us and returned it with great vim, so that when the relief took the line it was with the conviction that they were in a very dangerous place. They "had at them" in grand style. They returned their fire from near half a mile off, but it was now so dark that the new picket could not judge of the distance, and no doubt thought they were within a short distance of Mr. Reb.

We marched back to camp, which was now on the same side of Cedar Creek that we were. We had just arrived at camp and lain down when when the bugle sounded "fall in" and the army was moved back to the East side of Cedar Creek. We got into posish [i.e., position] and I laid down and went to sleep almost as soon as I touched the ground. It was near midnight. I had slept but three hours the night before had been on hard duty for four days, so I was pretty much used up.

Sunday 14th

Today we have drawn three days rations and orders have been issued that they must last four days. All our sick are to to be sent back to the Ferry in the wagons emptied by the issue of rations and we are looking for some unusually hard service by the tone of the orders. Our picket line fell back last night to the posish [i.e., position] they held yesterday morning. This shows we are not to fight them on the ground they held yesterday. It was very strong.

Tuesday 16th

Sunday night orders came around to be ready to move at a moments notice as the picket was to be advanced again, and if they met too strong a resistance we were to charge and make room for them. They advanced to our old line on the hills above Strausburg without much resistence, except when the move first began. We were not called out. Monday [the] 15th we policed our camp's dug sinks and made things as comfortable as possible for a short stay. In the afternoon considerable cannonading was going on up by the town. We could not distinguish whether it was our guns or those of the enemy. Just at night, orders came arround to make ready for an attack, as there was a probability of one being made on us by the foe. The night passed quietly, however. Our boys got all the honey yesterday they could eat. A gentleman a mile from here has some 40 hives of splendid honey.

Friday Aug 19th

Near Charleston Virginia. Tuesday 16th very pleasant. Our camp began to look finely, being nicely laid out. At sundown while I was eating supper, the officers call was blown and I repaired to Head Quarters. The orders were to have our men pack up and be ready to march at 8-1/2 O.C. P.M.--not to strike tents until after dark, so that the movement could not be seen by the lookouts of the enemy on top of the Shenandoah mountains.

I knew we were to retreat, for we had reliable information the Rebs had been reinforced by Longstreets Corps, which would swell their number to much larger than ours, and if we remained here we were likely to be attacked and beaten at any time. Some of our train, which had been sent to Harpers Ferry, had been taken and burned by the enemy and prisoners had been captured. So back we must go.

We started at 9 P.M. The night was very fine. Being bright moonlight, we could see to march as well as during the day. The difficulty was we would get so sleepy. I would run against a tree or man, sometimes bringing myself up with a start, and find I had been walking and sleeping at the same time. When we halted for a moment I would lay down on the ground and find myself assleep in less than 1/2 a minute. Our line of march was through MIddletown and Newtown to Winchester which place we reached and camped for breakfast at 7 O.C. A.M. on [The text is interrupted but I suspect is meant to continue straight into the heading for the next day. It looks like Abiel wrote these entries on the 19th, backtracking to the 16th.]

Wednesday 17th

After eating, we slept until 11 AM. then took up the line of march through the town and down the pike to Berreysville. We stopped half way between the two towns at 3-1/2 O.C. for dinner and did not march any farther that day. The enemy crowded us closely and we could hear the picket sharply engaged, but they did not think it prudent to be too pressing in their attentions. I went down to the creek and took a good wash. A cavalry man was down with his horse, which he left to graze while bathing. After his master was prepared for the bath, Mr. Horse took it into his head to go back to camp and started, followed by his master trying to stop him. Horse would not listen to pursuasion and he would be taken out of the fellow's pay if he lost him, so he had to follow him away up to camp clothed only in the covering nature gave him. I could not help laughing at his remark of "Aint this a d--n pleasant perdicament boys!" I thought it must be. [Note: I have left the cavalryman's charming exclamation in the original. "Perdicament" may be another of Abiel's deliberate representations of dialect.]

We slept soundly, having been two days and a night without sleep and marching 24 hours of that time. on

Thursday 18th

We were up at four, had breakfast and started at five, or six. It commenced raining at 7 A.M. Rained by times all day. The fields through which we had to march--so as to give the road to the wagons, which had to keep with us to prevent being captured--were slippery and sticky, making very hard marching. So when we reached this place (Charleston) we were very tired. We passed the place where our train was burned by the guerillas. Stopped for dinner in the same place we stayed all night on the 10th going up. Got here at 8 P.M. Had a little supper and went to bed, sleeping well.

Monday 22nd

On Friday 19th we laid in camp all day and getting our much needed rest. There was a good deal of whiskey in camp and several attempts at fighting. One of my men, who has a brother in "B" Company, got himself into a very bad scrape by going and cutting the rope with which said brother had been bound to a tree, then resisting the guard send to arrest him for the offence. I had to make out charges aganst him for Conduct prejudicial to good order and Military discipline, and also "Mutiny." He was then sent to the Provost guard to remain under arrest until tried for the offence.

Saturday 20th

No movement today. We got a large mail, which was very acceptable. Our brigade, which was camped closed in mass, has been extended so as to be in a much better position, and not so crowded. It has been comfortably cool ever since the rain of the 18th. Not much trouble sleeping. What a blessing it is that there are no mosquitos in this country to bother a fellow. Our lives would be a torment if there was.

Sunday 21st

The enemy advanced and attacked our picket line about 8 A.M. We thought it would be nothing but a skirmish at first, but the persistant way in which they pressed our lines showed a determination to develop our whole strength. We struck tents and got in line very quick.

The generals seemed to have considerable difficulty in determining where our line of battle should rest. After going through battallion drill in the woods we finally got into position, the 8th Corps joining our left and the 1st Division 6th Corps our right. Our regiment hapened--for a wonder--to be in the rear line. We were shelled for a while pretty smartly without doing much damage.

The line in our front built a line of breastworks. They cannot be built with as much ease as they could near Richmond. There a pick was necessary only once in a while. Here the ground has to be picked before it can be shoveled.

At four P.M. the 106th was sent out to support our advance of the picket line. The advance was not made until 6 P.M. then the regt was marched by the flank through a cornfield, which was in the rear of our picket line. The Rebs had full range of the field with their rifles and the bullets flew arround our heads too close to be comfortable. One passed close to my head and between two corporals of my company. One of them fell on his knees and I thought he was wounded but he was not.

We went up to the picket line. In front of them was a hill. On the top of this was a stone wall running clear across the field. Behind this lay the rebs and to drive them from it was our object. Our line was formed with orders to advance to the top of the hill and lay down and hold it a short time. This perhaps would drive them from the wall. Up we went. I saw the officers on the right wing get behind their companies, so I stepped out in front of mine. When we reached the top of the hill, the men delivered a volley, the object of which I could not see, and then laid down. [Note: One can't help seeing a sort of boastfulness when Abiel mentions things like "the otehr officers were behind their companies so I stepped out in front of mine", but given the deadly hazard of the conditions, I think a little boasting is warranted. I wonder if he will at some point give his thoughts outright on good leadership behavior.]

I have heard the bullets whistle, I thought, thick enough, but the shower that was poured on us surpassed anything I ever heard. The grass was mowed around us, and twelve men fell in two seconds. To remain in such a fire was murder. The men commenced giving. I could see the necessity of the move, but feared it would become a panic, so I sat still and told the men to do the same. Five or six did so, and fired back at the enemy in good earnest. The bullets flew still faster.

The commanding officer of the regiment reformed the line behind the brow of the hill and motioned for me to come back. Just as I started to do so, a bullet hit the side of my hat, setting it a little to one side without going through it, nothing but a glancing shot. Two inches to the right and it would not have hit me at all; two inches to the left and I should not have been writing this account. I thank God it was not the last.

We saw it would be useless to remain where we were as we could do no good, and the Rebs by a slight advance could sweep us, so we were ordered to fall back. We brought off all our men but one dead. We would have got him, but did not know he was dead until the line fell back. Two killed and 8 or 10 wounded was the casualties and this was done the first 1/4 minute on the hill.

We came in to the same place in the second line we were before, stacked arms, and laid down. My servant came up with some supper for me, but I was so tired and sleepy I could noy eat. I drank a cup of coffee and laid down again. At 11 P.M. we had orders to be ready to move at a moments notice. Did not move until 1 O.C. A.M.

Monday 22nd

We then went out on the Harpers Ferry Pike and--moving down through Charleston and Hallstown--to our position of one week ago, near the first named place on the same ground we started from to go on this raid. Up the Shenandoah Valley. The results of which have been so meagre--we lost some four hundred men on it, and captured a like number of the enemy. We destroyed part of their wagon train and they destroyed part of ours, so it is about an even thing.

The enemy followed us very closely, for we had hardly got into position when they began to engage our left. Considerable firing and canonading was going on, but it did not last long. Firing at intervals all day. This P.M. was a very heavy rain. Captain Robinson was in my tent when it commenced, and we were laughing to see the rest of the tents blow down, when all at once my tent began to show signs of weakness. We, like the rest, tried to hold it up, but it soon got the best of us and down it came. We could not put up again, so ran and got behind a tree until the worst was over. This did not take place in 1/2 an hour, so we were well soaked. Disagreeable as it was, I doubt if anything would have made more fun in camp. All was jollity and laughter.


Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York Volunteers

Near Harpers Ferry August 22nd 1864

My dear Sister,

I have been prevented from writing my usual weekly letter at the usual time by the pressing calls made upon my attention by the Rebs. Although I like you very much better than I do them, still when they claim my attention they have to be attended to before even my dear sister. By the delay they have occasioned, I have been prevented from writing to you until I find by measurement I am sitting exactly five soldier steps from where I set when I wrote you before from this place. But since then how we have traveled! Away up to Strausburg, nestled in its mountain home. How pretty it looked the morning we drove the enemy from the hills above it. I felt as if a great sin was being committed in making so pretty and quiet a place the theatre of strife, but such are the stern neccesity of war: no respect can be shown secluded cot or noisy town. Wherever the passions of men bring them togather in opposition, there must be carnage,

"E'en if in Eden."

How often I have thought of home and you. When--in some fight--a quiet homestead is used by one party or the other as a temporary fortification, to see timid women and children crouching in the cellar and looking up to us strong men for protection, who could harm them or refuse those mute appealing looks? None but brutes. I would think, "What if these bloody scenes were laid in our Northern homes? Those women were my sisters? What should I think of the man who would refuse his protection?" Oh! How glad I am that you know nothing of the horrors of war. The field of battle does not contain one half the horror--even with all its carnage. It is when the fight is over, one feels it most. The heart after the excitement seems open to the softening influence of sorrow. And then to look on the burning dwellings of the people, to see the inmates flying from them without their household goods [note: the transcript has "household gods" but I feel rather safe in emending it], to wander homeless refugees until they gain the roof of some charitable person, when but a few hours before they were enjoying all the blessings of "home sweet home." These, with other scenes I dare not describe to you, make up the worst of war. I knew nothing of war until I came out this summer, comparatively speaking. I have seen it in its worst features while on these several raids through Maryland and Virginia. [Note: Despite Abiel's occasional reference to a southern civilian as a "Sesesh", for the most part he seems to make a very strong division in his mind between civilian and military, with a great deal of sympathy for the former, but a great deal of (perhaps necessary) objectification of the latter. I do, of course, wince a little at the gender essentialism in Abiel's chivalric impulses, but come on, it's the mid 19th century.]

Poor Virginia! Nature has made thy climate, soil, and mineral wealth as if intending thee for the Eden of America, and only the black curses of slavery and war prevents thy being such.

I wish, with you, that I could be up there and and have a good talk with you all. It seems as if the pen was a very insufficient way of expressing one's thoughts. It is too slow and laborious. But if we were together, I think we could spend several hours and evenings in grand enjoyment, simply by using our first invented method of conveying ideas.

Tuesday 23rd

Dear sister,

I guess the blotting of my paper will show why it is that I have delayed finishing my letter until today. I had to put it up on account of the heavy rain yesterday. The wind blew my tent down, and the rain did the rest. I could not put it up aganst the wind, so I had to take shelter behind a tree until it was over. I got thoroughly drenched, I tell you. Then this morning we got orders to pack up, get our breakfasts, and be ready to move or fight at 4 A.M. It is now past 7 and no move or attack yet, so I concluded to write you, as perhaps I might have a chance to send it yet today. I am feeling first rate, whereas if I had been home I should have a very bad cold today, for I slept with wet clothes and feet last night without any covering, and it was pretty cold.

I am mighty well pleased to hear so good an account of the baby, especially if he is to be named after his uncle. Now if you have the slightest idea that the name does not please Joseph don't name the boy Abiel for anything. I think Oscar A. Potter looks very well, but the middle name is not a musical one. I don't blame him for not wanting to eat from a spoon, and consider it an evidence of his precocity--while yet so young--to know what is what. [Note: I'm a bit startled by the reference to feeding the baby from a spoon, given that he's only three months old!]

Give my love to Dear mother and Janey also the Potter Brothers, and families. I sent my commission home last week, did you get it? I send you some letters this time which you may [Illegible]

[Last line not copied well] love


Near Harpers Ferry August 24th 1864

Our present camp is in a very fine position on the top and side of a hill covered with beautiful oaks and chestnuts. My quarters is beneath the spreading branches of a fine old forest monarch. The trunk forms the back of my house and the branches, my shelter. I have a fine "hard tack" table and on [it] eat and use it for my desk. I am at work on the company rolls so have lots of business.

Thursday 25th

Heavy canonading today. Our Division not engaged. I received a rich letter from Mrs. S. Annie Wallace. She first wrote me to ask some question about M. Carton, she now continues it for other reasons. She is a gay correspondant, however, and I don't object, so long as she don't.

Friday 26th

The enemy made a very heavy attack just at sundown, just like they do before falling back. I wonder if that is their intention now. Lee needs them at Petersburg to dislodge the 5th Corps from the Weldon Rail Road.

Saturday 27th

All quiet along the lines today. No cannon or small arms. Had a letter from Father and one from O. L. Barney. Father is well in health and doing well in worldly matters, on account of having a wife that is a help meet, instead of a "help eat". Barney is expecting to be drafted and wants to know what the price of substitutes is down here. Also about getting a position as Assistant. Seargeant in the army. Talks some of joining my company as private. Congratulates me on my promotion to 1st Lieutenant. Appears to be glad etc.

Sunday 28th

We were ordered to be ready to move at 3 A.M. Got up, had breakfast, went to sleep again, and did not start until 9 A.M. It was a fine morning and to see the three heads of the three Divisions of our Corps cross the breastworks and wind across the open fields like three huge serpents was grand. We moved into a piece of woods about three miles from our old position and closed in mass. Stacked arms and sat down, expecting it was the 10 minutes rest which it is customary to give us after every hours march. I went to reading and we finaly got dinner, after which the Chaplain of the 87th P[ennsylvania?] V[olunteers?] concluded to improve the opportunity and preach in a sermon. A romantic one, it was, the text being where our Savior speaks of the two men, one building his house on the sand and the other on the rock. As if to add solemnity to the already impressive scene, heavy clouds began to rise over the distant Alleghenies, and the far off low muttering of thunder was heard. The fitful breeze sighed through the trees over our heads, like the whispering of discontented spirits. The men gathered around the man of God and, with uncovered heads, drank in the words of Salvation which flowed from his lips.

As if to raise an opportunity, the artillery of heaven which was still heard away in the distant bank of clouds, our artillery which was with the cavalry on the heels of the enemy, opened and it echoed from mountain to mountain like the complainings of great giants. [Note: Abiel's poetics have left me a bit confused here.] What a contrast: a few miles from us we could hear the evidence of men engaged in deadly strife thirsting for each other's blood, and by our side stands a man preaching peace and good will among mankind. How well could we carry out the doctrine of peace and love. The chaplain had not yet concluded his remarks when the bugle sounded "fall in", "forward", and he had to come to an abrupt close.

And we resumed the march to Charleston and camped on our old camp ground of last Sunday, where we fought, as soon as we stopped. And Lieutenant Cox of Company A started for the scene of our action of last sunday, where one of his men was killed, but not buried. [Note: This is perhaps the one he mentioned not being retrieved because they hadn't realized, during the retreat, that he'd been shot.] The place was 3/4 of a mile in front of our pickets line, and I must confess to feeling, somewhat disagreeably, that we should not go so far from support. But our errand was a humane one and on we went. When we came to the foot of the hill up which we charged and thought "if the Rebs are on the old line and we go up there, we are gone up" I fixed my revolver where I could use it in a second and took the lead up the hill.

How different my feelings from what they were before on the same ground! Then I felt all the nerve and excitement of battle, and now very much like some charmed person walking directly into a danger which I had every warning aganst and was not able to resist. But the Rebs were not on their old line. There was still the battered stone wall, behind which they lay so securely that day. On the spot where Colton was killed a grave had been dug, but never filled.

Where could he have been taken? We were turning away, giving up the search, when we saw another grave at the foot of an old Locust tree. Just up to the right stood a house which had been made a sieve of by the Rebels shells that day. We walked up that way. A couple of girls met us half way, coming to tell us what kind of a man was buried where we were looking. We walked with them and were met by the lady of the house and a very handsome young lady of "sweet sixteen." She informed us that her father buried all our soldiers. They were stripped by the Rebels. Five were burried in their dooryard, which had boards at their heads, not having had their clothes taken by the inhuman brutes. She also told us (with a pretty blush) that their next neighbor and his daughter had buried some of our dead which had been stripped and left by our chivalrous foe. To think of a lovely woman helping her aged father bury our naked dead. No false modesty in that lady; she will make a jewel of a wife. [Note: I find it interesting that a soldier who merely kills the enemy is to be expected, but one that strips the body after death--presumbly because they had desperate need of the clothing, because why else go to the trouble?--is an "inhuman brute".]

We returned to camp and sent out some men to put a head board over Colton's grave. He was the only dead left by us, and of course we knew the names of no others. Just at dark, had another romantic sermon: "What shall I do to be saved" Our light in this case was the lurid gleam of some of the burning Secesh [i.e., "successionist"] houses of Charleston. I thought that town--some of it--would be in danger if we ever came through it again, for they are most bitter secesh. Religion almost seemed a mockery in this case, for such contrasts are fearful.

Monday 29th

Last night we slept in camp here. Today word was sent around that we were likely to stay a day or two and to put our camp in order. We did so. Got things to looking finely by about two hours from sundown. At that time the canonading, which had been going on several miles in our front, began to grow rapidly nearer and soon was within a mile of our front. Our (Ricket's) Division was ordered out to support the cavalry. We soon reached and deployed on the ground held by them and at once took the offensive. The 2nd Brigade deployed as skirmishers and we followed to support them. Charging at a rapid rate for over three miles, the Rebs fled before us in fine style. Our loss was slight. Darkness prevented us from pursuing them farther and we were ordered to retrace our steps 1/2 the distance and establish ourselves where we could support the advanced line. Now we are going to sleep.

Tuesday 30th

Laid in camp all day without much to do. My bones begin to feel like I imagine a man following the usual "ways of life" would feel at the age of forty. This constant exposure will give us a rheumatic heritage.

Wednesday 31st

Finished my rolls and was mustered today. The commanding officer says they [are] splendidly made out. Thinks the rolls of Company "E" are a little ahead of them. I am entitled to ($310.00) three hundred & ten dollars on these rolls and have pretty near two hundred dollars coming to me besides that. I dont know when I shall get out. Hope to this fall. I am to take command of Company "F" tomorrow. I hate to, but all of the officers think it best, so there is no help for it as I see. 3/4 of the Regiment went on picket tonight.

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