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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 11:00

I'm swapping around the Tuesday and Wednesday blogs this week due to the disruptions of vacation travel. In March 1864, Abiel is spending much of his time escorting troops and prisoners from place to place. Arrangements for his promotion continue as well as plans to rejoin his original regiment. (As we will see next month, those plans fell through for reasons beyond his control.) And in this midst of all this, there is time to enjoy and comment on some more theatrical performances in Washington. Abiel's army career won't be all plays and fine dining by any means, but it's an interesting window on the contradictions. One of the more intriguing escort excursions is noted on the 15th, involving a prisoner whose behavior Abiel is so confident of that he not only removes the man's leg-irons, but allows him a "visit to his cousin," which appears to be a euphemism for a visit to a house of ill repute.

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Diary: March 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23

Letter: March 23, 1864 - Theatrical reviews, dealing with a drunken soldier

Diary: March 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31

March 1st

Day cold, snowed.

March 2nd

Day clear & warm, snow nearly all gone. Very mudy. Answered Uncle John's letter tonight.

March 4th

Day clear & warm. There is 12 men in camp to go to North Carolina or Virginia as soon as there is enough to make a good squad. I shall be sent with them to Fortress Monroe.

March 5th

Day clear & warm. Dr Hunt wrote to George O. Jones Esq of Albany, New York for me, recommending a promotion to Lieutenant or Captain. He wrote a splendid letter. I took a copy to retain, so if it should come to nothing, I can retain it for a reccommendation of another kind.

Sunday March 6th 1864

Day cold & cloudy. Dr Hunt left for Columbus, Ohio last evening. He is a very fine officer and I hated to see him go. Looks like snowing to night.

Tuesday 8th

Rained nearly all day.

I wrote a letter to Miss A. M. Porter. Colonel started last night for home on leave.

Wednesday 9th

Clear and warm.

This evening a note came up from Major Woods, saying that a boat would leave the Coal Wharf at 7 A.M. tomorrow and would take any men we had for Fort Monroe. Captain Crawford was in town and I could not find Major Johnson, Invalid Corps who is commanding during the Colonel's absence. So I ordered the men to be got ready with four days rations and to be reported at the office at 5 A.M. [on] the 10th. There is 65 duty men and 25 deserters. I then went over to the Captain's quarters and wrote on Major Woods' note what I had done, and that if he wanted to see me about getting them off in the morning to send his orderly to wake me up when he returned, which he will about midnight.

Thursday March 10th

Commenced to rain about 9 A.M. and has continued to do so all day. Henry Kulp came into the barrack this morning about 2 A.M. Said the Captain was back and wanted to see me. I went over and he made out an order for me to take charge of them [i.e., the men to be sent] to Fortress Monroe and then return. I came over to the office, built a fire, washed, and when I got warm made a copy of the order for the clerk to copy in the book. I opened the "Special Order Book" so as to put [the] order where it would have to be copied and what should I see but an order by Major Johnson for Lieutenant Burrill to do the same thing, viz take charge of the men. Oh how glad I felt! I did not want to go. It appears after I got through looking for the Major he came into the office and made arrangements to send the Lieutenant. When I came back to the office, he was gone, so I did not see him at all. General U.S. Grant has been appointed Lieutenant General and is now at Washington. We heard a great deal of firing arround & sent to Department Head Quarters to see what it was about. It was to celebrate the passage of the Emancipation Act by the Virginia legislature.

March 11th 1864

Rained nearly all day. I received a letter from Samuel [i.e., Abiel's father]. He is well but his wife is very sick. He says he will buy a yoke of cattle this spring and go to work on his farm. He wants to get money enough to buy a plough. Warns me against lending money to John. Says he is a snake in the grass.

March 12th

Day clear and warm. I expect the Colonel back tomorrow. Had the office all scrubed out. It looks as neat as can be. Nothing of importance occured.

March 13th Sunday

Clear and warm A.M. Showery P.M.

I went out to Munson's Hill, Bailey's Crossroad & Ball's Farm of which we used to read so much in the papers when the Army of the Potomac was laying here. From Munson's Hill--which is nearly ten miles from the capitol but still it can be plainly seen (so can about a half of the city and the country for miles arround)--the view is beautiful. In future years a monument will probably be erected on this hill and our children will visit it and, while gazing on the surrounding landscape, remember how their fathers collected on these hills to protect Liberty and sweep slavery from the country. [This may refer to when Union troops were routed at Ball's Bluff 1861.] On our return, we passed Clouds Mills, quite a romantic spot in a deep glen surrounded by woods and rocks. I had no idea there was so romantic a spot any where near here. Had a regular system of April showers this afternoon. Since dark, it has grown quite cold. Wind N.W.

March 14th

Day clear and cool. I have my orders made out to take charge of a prisoner and conduct him to Ft Monroe then return.

March 15th

Day clear and cold. I received my man and started for Washington with ironed. [sic - "with leg irons?"] I got my transportation and when I went to the depot to procure a ticket found that it only called for one man. I had to go way back and go through the whole business again. I saw Orville Clark at the office. On our return, my prisoner wanted to stop and see his cousin at North 28 Street. [Note: "see his cousin" appears to be a euphemism for "visit a whorehouse."] It is a very clean neat place and the girls belonging to it look finely. He kissed them all around and seemed very sorry to part with them, which I have no doubt he was. Some of then commenced to pull me arround a little--set on my lap etc. I just quietly resisted them and as soon as my man was through his adieus, started. At Baltimore, found I was too late for the Old Point boat [and] would have to wait until tomorrow at 5 P.M. So went to Gilmours, got our supper, then went to Holliday Street Theatre. Saw Mrs D. P. Bowers play “Leah the forsaken" or "The Jewish maiden" played splendidly. Miss Lucille Western is playing the same thing at Front Street, so giving the public a chance to judge which is the best. I then came here (Fountain Hotel), took a room and shall stay all night.

[Note: It isn't clear what Abiel is doing with his prisoner during all this, although "our supper" suggests they were together at that point. Did the prisoner accompany him to the theater and in "walking through the town" the next day? He notes later that he didn't require the man to wear leg irons after leaving Washington, so there was some level of trust.]

March 16th

Day clear and cold. Froze last night. Got up this morning about 8, had breakfast at Gilmours, and spent the rest of the day in walking through the town. At the appointed hour, took the Adelade for the Forts, towards which we are now steering as fast as possible.

March 17th

Clear & cold. Got to Old Point at 7 A.M. Took my prisoner up and turned him over to the Provost Marshall. Made him put the irons on before I took him in the office. I did not require him to wear them after leaving Washington; he was such a good fellow. Went to a saloon to get my breakfast, saw a tipsy citizen who refused to let me pay for it but did it himself. Want[ed] me to drink with him, but I would not, but gave him my hand. Bored myself to death waiting for the boat to return to Baltimore, which it did at 5 P.M. Got aboard and am now seated in her saloon feeling very comfortable, which is more than many of the rest of the passengers can say, for the bay is very rough and they have some accounts with Neptune to settle.

March 18th At Camp

Not so cold as yesterday. Clear. Got to Baltimore at 6 A.M. Went to the [Soldier's] Rest [and] got breakfast. Visited the Quarter Master to get transportation to Washington. Started on the 8.40 train. When I arrived there, went to see if the camp had been paid. Found it had not. Walked out. Boys glad to see me back. Captain Crawford home on leave. A billiard table up in camp. Had a game this noon and this evening. Played again. Feel very tired. Found a letter from John. People all well. Also one from my sister. All sick but her. She does not want me to go back to the regiment.

March 20th

Cold. The above notice (newspaper clipping) came out in the papers today. Corporal Fraynor and three others were captured by guerillas, taken into the woods, and two guards placed over them. The boys watched their chance and sprung on their guards. Took their arms from them and shot them and also wounded a Lieutenant and brought him in with two other prisoners. This was certainly brave, for men without arms and outnumbered to kill two of their guards, capture two and a Lieutenant. This took place last Monday. The next day after, the Sergeant and myself were out on Munson's Hill. We came back through a thick wood and very gloomy kind of place. I had no idea guerillas were laying arround loose so near to us or I should not have felt so comfortable. It was so cold I did not go walking to day.

Monday 21th

Cold. Received a letter from Miss Porter. She writes very pleasantly.

March 22th Parole Camp

Day very cold. I got orders to take charge of 11 men and bring them to this place. It commenced snowing at sundown and is now the worst night of the season. One of the men was so drunk when I got here he could not stir. I took him by the collar and draged him through the aisle and threw him off into a snowbank, just as they were starting. I turned my men over to the Officer of the day and got a receipt for them. The officer then took me down to the sutlers and we had an oyster supper and then went up to his quarters. We have had two or three games of seven up and a smoke. He has just showed me where to go to bed. He has gone out to see the lights are all out.

Wednesday 23rd

Day cold A.M. Warm P.M. The officer of the guard woke me up, according to promise, in time to take the 6.30 A.M. train. Still snowing and blowing and very cold. A Negro regiment was camped near Parole Camp and, cold as it was last night, they only had sheter tents without stoves or fire. [Note: not sure if "sheter" should be "shelter" or "sheeter"?] I bet there was more than one frozen limb this morning. I came on the Washington. Washed myself and took breakfast at the "Rest," then walked out to camp. The Colonel told me that Colonel North, the New York state agent, was over here and wanted to see me. He says he will give me a letter to him tomorrow and let me go over to town. Wrote to my sister tonight.


Head Quarters Rendezvous of Distribution Va

March 23" 1864

Dear Susan

When I headed this letter, I expected to send it to father but have changed my mind and also the destination of this letter. I received yours of the 12th inst[ant] just as I was starting for Fort Monroe with some men. Just as I received one last summer from you when I was starting on the same trip.

I had a very strong notion of going to the regiment when I started, but Colonel McKelvy did not want me to go yet, so I came back. I went and returned by the way of Baltimore. While there, went to the Holiday Street theatre to see Mrs D.P. Bowers play "The Jewish maiden" or "Leah the forsaken." She is a splendid actress and acquitted herself admirably. Still I like Miss Lucille Western much better in that play, for her voice is so much more pleasant. Mrs. Bowers has been on the stage so long that her voice is rather too harsh. Sounds almost like that of a man. Both of these ladies are playing in Baltimore now, Miss W. at Front Street and Mrs B. at Holiday. They are both playing the same piece ("Leah the forsaken") and are to play it every night for a week so as to give the Theatre-going public a chance to judge which of them is the best, by going to see first one then the other. I have seen Miss Western in "East Lyme" and one or two other pieces. [Note: This is a transcription error for "East Lynne".] I believe her the best actress in America. Edwin Forrest, the great tragedian, has an engagement at one of Washington theatres for six weeks for which he is to receive ($9000.00) nine thousand dollars. I must see him once or perhaps more than once while he is here. I can get a pass and the countersign whenever I want to stay all night.

I came from Annapolis today. I was down there yesterday with some papers and men. I did not get there until dark. Oh! how bitter cold it was. We have had some very cold weather this winter but I have not felt so chilled since I have been in the service. The wind was blowing from the north and it was snowing very fast. One of my men got some whiskey on the cars and was so drunk he would not obey my orders. while I was taking [talking?] to him, the cars started from the station where my men were getting off. I caught the bell rope and gave it a pull for them to stop, which they did. The conducter came running to the rear to see what was the matter, saying he would give five dollars to know who pulled the rope. One of the men told him it was me. He started for me, but my men closed up behind me and he backed out. I took the fellow who was drunk by the shoulders, gently laid him on his back in the aisle. Then took him by the collar and drew him from one end of the car to the other and threw him off into a snow bank. Then jumped off myself and let the cars go on. The fellow began to think I was not a person to be fooled with a great deal, so he allowed himself to be led up to Parole Camp, which was only a few rods from where we left the cars. When we got there, I ordered him to be put in the Guard House.

I turned the rest of the men over to the proper officer, and the accepted the invitation of the Officer of the day to go down with him and some officers of the 94th New York Volunteers to an oyster supper. We had a good time. Then I went with the Officer of the day to his quarters and slept with him. I wanted to come away on the first train in the morning, so the Officer of the Guard who has to set up all night said he would wake me in time to take it. I was afraid he would forget it, but he did not. When I got up, I found the snow six inches deep on the level and the wind still blowing great guns. Some of the guard were almost frozen. I got to camp about 10 a.m. Since noon it has been very warm. The snow finds the sun rather too much for it, so it is turning into water as fast as possible.

I had not heard the news which your letter brought me, but was expecting to. You need not fear about losing your first place in my affections by the recent addition to our circle of relations, but of this matter the least said the better. Whose name did you send for the little stranger?

Father must live on his land, or have some of his family on it, or his claim to the ownership is forfeited. He could live on it and work some other land on shares if he so pleased, but I cant see what object he would have in that, unless it was that he, by this means, gets a team and tools furnished to work it with. These, you know, would cost him deal of money, which he probably has not got to spare this season.

Tell Janey that Oscar says he does not feel his loss very much, but he thinks McClara will not say the same. I am sorry you are all so unfortunate about colds when I am so lucky. I dont know why it is, but I have not had but one cold this winter and that did not last long. Usualy I have one all winter. It must come hard on mother she is so old and feeble. I hope she is better now.

My kind regards to all. Your loving brother,


(written along edge of first page)

Dear sister, I have just read my letter over and find that in my desire to get a good deal on one sheet I have made it sound cold, which I do not like. It needs warmth, so I will put it in. I love you all a big heap: mother, Josey, Janey all, and you. Maybe - I will have a good kiss all arround when I get home - even to the little lap dog. Yours ever,


(written along edge of last page)

Have you got so you can read my running hand yet? Please tell me in your next if you know how old mother was when she died.

Yours, B.


Thursday 24th

Day clear and cold. I went over to see Colonel North today. He took my name, company, regiment, and place of residence. He is somewhat acquainted at Andover with the Bundeys, and Crusen spoke to me very kindly and said he would tend to my case. Frank Basset I rather think is trying to get a commish, for the colonel spoke to me of him. The 39th Veteran Volunteers of Illinois came to our camp today and are going to camp near us.

Friday 25th

Rained all day. The 25th Ohio Veteran Volunteers came today and have temporary quarters with us. Several regiments are to be sent here shortly.

Sat 26th

Cold and rainy. The 24th Massachussetts Veteran Volunteers came in and were quartered in the barracks temporarily.

Sun 27th

Day warm and clear. I took an idea into my head that I could sketch of the forts and hills beyond the camp. I never had tried such a thing before, but I took my book pencil and piece of paper and went up near for Barnard. And looking off across the plain to the hills beyond, took the picture. Sergeant says, "bully for the first time."

[There is a reproduction of the drawing. I don't have an electronic file at the moment and need to go back to the paper copy and see how good an image I can pull.]

Monday 28th

Warm and clear, consequently pleasant. I wrote to father. The Divisions are now at work making out new rolls, for the old ones are wrong and we cannot get our pay on them. We have to make a lot of rolls for every regiment mustered. It will take about seven hundred. There is only three hundred men mustered for pay, but in that some 200 regiments are represented, and for each regiment we have to make triplicate rolls.

Tuesday 29th

Cloudy A.M. Rained P.M. I am at work recording the receipts of Parole Prisoners that were here last summer. I find in comparing the book kept at the Receiving Office with the books of the Camp that a good many men were received that are not accounted for by the latter. I am now trying to get some account of them. It is raining tonight. Wind east.

Wednesdav 30th

Rained and snowed all day. The latter melted as fast as it fell. The Pay Rolls of the 2nd Division are done. Over three hundred and sixty separate rolls. It was a big job. I received a letter from O.L. Barney today. He will attend college next winter again. Say[s] Joseph Potter is dangerously sick. It makes me feel very anxious, so I have written to my sister to inform me of his present health at once. I also have a letter from Barton, the prisoner I took to Fort Monroe a short time ago. He says he is all right with the regiment. I hope he is, for he appeared to be a bully fellow. I have been very busy all day. The Colonel reposes a great deal of confidence in me, and so I find plenty to do.

March 31st

Rainly all day. Colonel went over to Washington and when he came back this evening he was prety tight. He knows enough not to transact any business while in that state. He came in the office and signed one paper, but when he went out he told me not to send it out. But as it was important that it should be tended to tonight, I did send it.

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