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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 06:30

When I was double-checking something against the printed version of the text, I discovered that the computer file I'm working from didn't have the diary entries for January 1864, only the two letters. So here are the diary entries. (In the published version, the letters and diary entries are interleaved by date.) A more systematic look suggests that this glitch covers the first half of 1864 (the contents of a specific journal) but not later periods (when the "memorandums" were on loose sheets, sent home included in letters). I suspect that I may have gotten a not-entirely-up-to-date version of the one file.

Turning my mother's computer files into something I could use was quite a frightening chore. She was working in some sort of non-standard word processor and it was tricky to turn the text into rtf to export. My mother was a wonderful woman but she had some odd quirks around working with computers. The files for this project include manual hyphenation. (We had, at some point, convinced her that word-wrap could be relied on and it wasn't necessary to hit "return" at the end of each line.) There was a previous project -- I forget which one -- where, after printing out her hard-copy masters to take to the print shop, she deleted the computer files because she didn't need them any more. Unfortunately it means I'll need to double check all the files against the print copy, but OCR has taken care of the bulk of the missing material I've identified so far.

One of the things I love about reading through Abiel's documents is the minute detail of everyday life, without being drowned in irreleancies. Without him ever saying so, it's clear that he's conscientious and reliable in his duties and is gradually being loaded with increasing responsibility. At this time he's well away from the fighting, but that won't last. His primay duties at "Convalescent Camp" are arranging for transport of all manner of groups of men and escorting them to their goals, as well as various clerical duties.

Abiel's not a plaster saint: he writes about drinking and smoking and gambling (though he feels guilty about the last) and about having a glimpse of women's legs when the wind blew their hoopskirts about. He's 22 years old now, 3 years into his enlistment. He writes with equal enthusiasm about training horses and crops back home, about the complex economy of micro-loans that his pay goes into, about getting a day's leave to go into Washington to see plays and concerts and listen to congressional debates, about his thoughts on reading works like Josephus's The Jewish Wars, borrowed from the library. He writes home hungry for news, to semi-flirt with a woman named Janey, and to beg for a "care package" of food luxuries like butter and honey and home-baked pies. He is clear in his own mind why his is fighting: "Traitors have attacked our free institutions...God cannot be angry with us when we fight in such a sacred cause" and specifies the cause as "Freedom versus Slavery."

So here are Abiel's observations on January 1864. As noted previously, I have done some light editing to this version for readability but the original verbatim text can be found here. I've also decided to add a couple of content warnings immediately before certain entries. Nothing really gut-punching at this point, but mild anti-Semitism and use of terms for black people that fall more in the wince-worthy range than offensive. (But I'm probably not the right person to calibrate them.) Accustomed as I am to reading historic texts, I may not always catch things to flag, but I'll try.

* * *

[Diary entries from January 1, 1864 to June 4, 1864 are contained in a leather-bound notebook entitled "Memoirs of A. T. LaForge".]


New Years day 1864

Day opened very unpropitiously, a disagreable drizzling rain setting in before sunrise promised anything but a "Happy New Year." However it turned out to be a very fine day, for it cleared up about 10 A.M. and the rest of the day was a fine sunshiney one. In the afternoon, the wind commenced blowing from the north. By sundown it was freezing very fast. I got Henry Graves examined for a furlough of twenty days. He had a letter from his wife saying she was sick with the diptheria, which has proved very fatal in Allegany Co. for several years. I took dinner at the Hospital. We had oysters stewed and raw and all felt happy enough to enjoy them. 'Pumpkin pie' for dessert went well. Everything was so quiet in camp it seemed like Sunday. The President gave a Levee to day. Colonel McKelvy and staff went over to it. I spent most of the afternoon at the medical Head Quarters playing "Seven up." I shall go to bed early, as I sat up late last night to see New Years in, and for several other reasons I feel rather sleepy.

January 2nd 1864

Day very cold, wind North. Ground frozen. Very busy making up and fileing last years papers.

Sunday January 3rd 1864

Day cold & clear. In reading over my last year's memorandum I found some one who had no business to had been doing the same. I felt very angry. Asked Sergeant Beaugureau if it was him, [and] was sorry for doing so at once for he is the "soul of honor." Sent in with the Orderly Henry Graves furlough for approved by Col McKelvy for 15 days.

January 4th 1864

Day commenced snowing about 10 O.C., has snowed ever since. About four inches deep to night, the first snow of any account this season. Sometime in November there was a slight fal--not enough to see on the ground, but enough to win me a bottle of Champagne which I had bet with a Frenchman named Adolph Otto.

Tuesday 5th

Day cold- Graves got his furlough today it was only approved in Washington for 10 days. I told him when he started that if his wife was very bad I did not think the Colonel would say anything if he stayed two or three days more than his time.

Jany 6"

Day cold. The 3 & 4" Regiments of Pennsylvania Reserves, which have been doing our guard duty for a long time, were orderded to break up camp and be ready to take the cars for Harpers Ferry at an hour's notice. They did so and have waited all day for orders to move which, as they did not come, about an hour ago Colonel McKelvy ordered them to be marched over to be put in our barracks for tonight. We have organised a convalescent guard to take their place temporarily.

Wednesday 6th

Still cold, snow not yet melted.

An order came for the "Reserves" to march about 1 1/2 A.M. I got up and took the order over to Colonel Woolworth, who stayed in his own quarters all night. They had to march to the Soldiers' Rest Washington and take the cars there. After I got them off, I went to bed again. I had an order made out this P.M. to take another squad North, but when I came to investigate the matter I found that they had been already sent.

Thursday  January 7th 1864

Day warm enough to thaw a very little. Lieutenant Stewart was relieved of the command of Camp Distribution by an order of the Secretary of War, to be court martialed for abusing a prisoner last fall when he (Lieutenant) was drunk. If the truth is proved, I think the Lieutenant will be dismissed [from] the service. Snowing a little to night.

Friday 8th

Day thawed a very little. What fun the boys have riding down hill. The uper part of the camp makes a very good place for that kind of sport. The men get barrel staves or boards, logs of wood, in fact any thing that will slip, to ride on and fine sport they have. We had sausages and toast bread as a kind of treat at ten O.C. tonight. Congress is debating wheather they will extend the time for reenlisting in the Veteran Corps. All men in the 3 year regiments who have less than one year to serve get $402 for again enlisting for three years. It is a great inducement to many and they avail themselves of it accordingly.

January 9th 1864

Day cold, snow still on the ground. I wrote a letter to William Hibbard who used to be on duty as Orderly at the office. I have been at work on the Commisary returns of the month of December / 63. I have had this to do for the last four months. After the papers are made out at the Commisary Office they are sent to this office to be approved by Colonel McKelvy, and before he will sign them he requires them to be reexamined. This I do.

Sunday 10th

Day warm enough to thaw a little. Good sleighing yet. My orders are made out to take some men to Annapolis Maryland. Sergeant Beaugureau and myself took a walk this afternoon. We had considerable fun snow-balling. It is the first sport of that kind I have indulged in in two years. Received a letter from Sally Ann Potter. All well. She is afraid little Charly will be lame all his life. I think she does, from the tone of her letter. I finished reading Gil Blas this evening. It is written by "Le Sage," author of "Le diable boiteux." The book undoubtedly contains a great deal of philosophy and wit, but one has to read much in order to get it for it is a large book, Sergt B- [presumably Beaugureau who is mentioned frequently] who has read it in French says it loses a great deal by translation, as it is full of idioms which it is impossisble to translate.

[Content warning: use of the word "darky" in the next entry.]

Washington Monday January 11th 1864

Day very cold. Do not think it thawed any. I started with fourteen paroled prisoners about 10 A.M. Marched over to Washington. Very hard walking it is, so slippery. I was delayed in getting my transportation untill 3 O.C. P.M. The last train that would connect with the cars to go to Annapolis had then left, so I have to stay here in the Soldiers' Rest with my men tonight. It is very cold. I will sleep with two of the men on the floor near the stove. Said stove is red hot and a darkey comes in every little while with a wheel barrow of coals to fill it and the other six stoves in this barrack.

Convalescent Camp Tuesday 12th

Day thawed a very little sleighing still. Got out of the city. The "Oldest inhabitant" says that such another long cold spell has not been experienced in this part of the country for many years. The Potomac is completely frozen up. The Chesapeake is frozen enough to stop navigation almost. I slept very badly last night. Was up by four this A.M. Started for A[nnapolis] at 6 1/2, got to camp Parole at 10'. My orders had been retained at Department Head Quarters and I had no orders to show why I brought the men down. I made a written statement of the facts, which was accepted. As no train came back to W[ashington] until 2 1/2 P.M. I went down to Annapolis about two miles from Camp P[arole]. A[nnapolis] is a small, very old-looking town of 5000 people. It is the capitol of Maryland, situated on an inlet of the Chesapeake. The only celebrities of the place are the U.S. Naval Academy and the State house. The latter is an old Colonial building, square and built of brick. From the center rises the tower to a height of 60 or 70 ft. This part of the structure is of wood and in such an unfinished inside, with scraps of boards thrown around among the timbers, which cross & recross each other in all shapes. I wonder it does not get on fire, for the slightest spark would set it going like a basket of kindlings. I returned to W[ashington] this P.M., getting there after dark. But I went in the Rest and got supper, after which I felt so well I concluded to walk out to camp. Just cold enough to make a brisk walk nice. So here I am at home.

Received a letter from Sherm Crandall. He is still at Alfred Center at school boards at the Hall. Old uncle Haggard is dead.

January 13th 1864

Day quite warm. Snow nearly all gone. Very muddy. General Hentzelman has been assigned to the command of the Department of the North: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and as Colonel McKelvy is one of his staff, I suppose he will have to go with the General. He has gone to town today to see about it. I wrote a letter to father and one to sister this evening. I shall slepp in Head Quarters while B. is away.

[Note: the letter posted in last week's entry comes here. There is a fair amount of duplication of content--even of entire passages--between the diary and the letters.]

January 16th 1864

Day quite warm.

Cololel McKelvy does not go out west now. The General will send for him if he wants him. Oscar Remington and me have made up our minds to send up to our friends for a box of good things. Mr Jno. B. Gough, the great temperance lecturer spoke here this afternoon at the Christian Commission Chapel. He is a splendid speaker--loves to illustrate his points by funny stories. Would change his audience from crying to laughing and from laughing to crying in a single minute. Makes them laugh much more than cry however. Colonel thought it an excellent temperance lecture; went and took a drink as soon as it was over.

[Note: The lecturer is presumably John Bartholomew Gough.]

Sunday January 17th 1864

Day warm and muddy.

Took a walk with Oscar this afternoon. Pretty muddy walking. Went down to Mrs Smiths and ate a mince pie this evening. Very bad pie. It makes me feel so bad that I shall send to my sister for a box with some better ones in it. Charles Jordon is back again.

Monday 18th

Day rained all day. Very muddy. No entry to make. Swain our principal Clerk was drunk all day. Captain Crawford relieved him tonight. He feels very bad [and] will make application to be reinstated in the morning, and I believe if he gives Captain Crawford his word of honor he will not get that way again, he will be placed in his old position.

Tuesday 19th

Day warm. A.M. Cold. Wind from the N' P.M. Was freezing at Sundown. Two large omnibus loads of ladies and five gentlemen came out from Willards this P.M. We could not get them all in Head Quarters. If they had not had hoops, we could. I was up on the hill while they were and saw the wind make some rather bold lifts of their skirts. They were all homely women and so the sight was not ravishing. [Note: in a different entry, I suggested that Abiel was using "homely" in the sense of "comfortable, home-like", but here he clearly means "plain looking".]

Wednesday January 20th 1864

Day clear and cold. Not enough to freeze until sundown. The Court Martial has been in progress for several days. I am reading the "Wars of the Jews" by "Josephus," an interesting history. Shall give my views on it when I get through.

Thursday 21st

Day clear and quite warm. There is a board here examining men for the Invalid Corps. When they are organised, they are to be put on duty as guards of this camp. They seem to work slowly, as no organising them into companies has been done yet.

Friday 22nd

Day clear and warm.

I went over to town with Sergeant Edmonds, a Mass man. [Note: I'm assuming this means Massachussetts] I only had 60 cents but he had two or three dollars, so we had a good time. We went first to see Professor Stinson of the Smithsonion Institute. Then went to a hotel opposite Willards and had dinner. Made a brief visit to the Patent office, then went up to the Capitol. Sat down in the House of Representatives a while and listened to the debates. Came back, got our supper, and Edmonds went and saw a member of congress while I went up to the Provosts and got our pass countersigned, good for all hours. For it makes no difference who a pass is given by, unless it approved by the Provost. As soon as it is dark, a man will be taken up and put in the Guard House. The patrol goes into every theater and other places of amusement and take out all men not having passes so approved. We had a game of billiards, then went to Ford's [Theater] and saw the "Ticket of Seave Man" played. [I suspect this may be a mistranscription. Wikipedia lists a play "The Ticket-of-Leave man" that debuted in 1863.] Miss C[blank space] was the principle actress and M. [blank space] the actor. Walked over to camp after the thing was played. It is now 2 O.C. A.M. of the 23rd. We have just got here and I am pretty tired, but of course must write up my "mem's" before going to bed. I liked the play pretty well for it was a good redition of character.

January 23rd Saturday.

Day clear and warm.

General Cawforth, Pennsylvania Militia, and two members of the Pennsylvania legislature were out here to day. The General was so drunk he he could hardly stand. I believe I must give a little history of Sergeant H. W. Edmonds. He is a native of Cambridge, father died while he was young, mother over-indulgent. Consequently he is rather wild. Went on a trip round the world when about 15, got married while waiting a short time in San Francisco to a Miss Warren. Led his wife to believe he was going to Sacramento when he left for China. The boat she thinks thought he [was] on for the former place was sunk, and he thinks she believes him dead. Has not heard from her since he left San [Francisco]. He is in love with a Miss [blank space]. He says she is the belle of Cambridge. He is now not quite 20. Was wounded at [blank space] and was reduced to the ranks since he was here by a regimental order. He is a good fellow for sport, naturally rather vain.

Sunday 24th

Day clear and warm.

Sergeant Beaugureau returned today. This is the twelfth day since he started. I took a walk with Oscar R-- today. Received a letter from Sml [his father Samuel LaForge] today. He is well. Was drafted, but was exempted. It cost him $30. He will try to break up ten acres in the spring.

Tuesday January 26th 1864

Got up early this morning to take a squad of men belonging the 2nd and 12th Regts N.W. Volunteers down to Alexandria to be sent to Point Lookout where those regiments are stationed. Owing to the sloth of the Chief Clerk of the 3rd Division Eastern troops, I did not get off early enough to get to the boat, which left at 9 A.M. So I took the men up to the Soldiers' Rest. This a a splendidly kept place, much better than the one in Washington or Baltimore. Here they had to stay until day after tomorrow when the boat goes down again. I returned across the hill. The wind was blowing very hard. It was very difficult to keep one's hat on, and if the Ambulance curtains had been down I believe we should have upset. I always have an ambulance when I go on such a trip as that. The driver was unacquainted with the country--the roads crossed themselves in all directions--but I told him which way to drive, for he was lost entirely. It has been a beautiful day, notwithstanding the heavy wind. The sun shone out bright and clear and warm. I thought it would be cold tonight, but it is not.

January 28th 1864 Thursday

Day clear and warm, so warm as to make one perspire while walking. I received a letter from Sister and one from Janey today. All well. They have not received my letter sending for a box yet. I say they were all well, but they were not. Mother and Joseph have bad colds. Frank Bassett is in camp. He came today. Oscar Remington brought him down to see me. He looks just as he did 3 years ago. Colonel McKelvy made me give Miss Thayer my address. She is the assistant State Agent from our State. He also said to Dr. Hunt, our Surgeon in charge, that we must make that application to get a commission for La Forge. I dont know but he is going to try to get me promoted.

Friday 29th

Day warm and clear. We have now had one week of most beautiful weather: clear and warm, dry and pleasant. I suppose it is to pay for the weeks of cold weather previous. The name of our camp is changed by a General Order from the Adjutants Generals to the Rendezvous of Destribution. Camp Distribution is to be broken up.

Saturday January 30th 1864

Warm but rainy. Camp Distribution is to be merged into this camp. No more men are to be sent to this camp but such as are fit for duty in the field. The men will be arranged in corps, instead of states, so that when a corps is called for they will all be togather. No more discharging will be done here, but at our Hospital, which is to be changed into a General Hosptal. And of course will be entirely independent of this command, so quite a change is taking place. Pay Master was not here as expected.

[Content Warning: mild anti-Semitism in the next entry]

Sunday 31st

Warm but cloudy and disagreable.

I answered father's last letter and will answer my sister's tonight and also Janey's. I played 6 games of draughts today with Sergeant Edmonds, of whom I spoke on page 12. I feel very much ashamed of it and will not do so again, for I have several times spoken to other boys about it. [Note: I am guessing that Abiel is feeling qualms about gambling. As his years in the army pass, he sheds his "vices" one by one.] I have had Frank Basset detailed as clerk at the Invalid Corps Examining Board. It is a good position. I guess he will like it. I finished Josephus and returned it to the library today. I think his style rather dry, but the antiquity of the work makes it invaluable. What I principly wondered at was how it was possible for the Jewish nation to lose so many people at that early period and yet so many remain. The 2nd Book, I believe it is, of the "Wars of the Jews", gives the numbers slain in domestic and foreign wars as over 150,000. I set down the separate items, and at the end of the book footed it up, and the amount was as I have stated. It looks like a curse of God that they were divided aganst themselves and in domestic trouble all the time. Even an invasion of their enemies could not unite them. So they would kill themselves at the same time they were being slain by others. I dont think that the Romans could have conquered them if they had been united, for they were very brave under Josephus when he was their General.

I received a letter from Samuel to day. [Note: Abiel's father] He gave me the information I asked for in my last, in regard to my ancestors. He says there is lots of game out there (Wisconsin) and good fishing also. He says he has got a cow, a hog, ten hens, and a cock to commence keeping house with in the spring.

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