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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016 - 07:00

May 1864 seems to be a bit of a lull in the action for Abiel. There's no particular movement toward getting him into a new regiment, though much of his activities involve helping assemble companies to more to the front. I've added a couple of cross-references to Wikipedia on battles and persons, but I haven't had the time to do a really systematic annotation of his references to the war. Abiel hears of significant battles and troop movements almost as they happen, but it's still "news" and not "life" at this point.

(It has occurred to me that I should include the full heading, including copyright information when posting these.)

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

May 1864


Diary: May 1, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22

Letter: May 22, 1864 - News of a new nephew

Diary: May 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31

Sunday "May day" 1864

Clear but a pretty good wind blowing from the north east. I went up on the hill near Fort Richardson to take a sketch. The wind blowed so I could not keep my paper in its place, so I had to give it up. 2000 cavalry went by on the Fairfax road while I was there. They had, I should judge, three days rations with them and were on their way to the front. Grant will soon be making a big move there.

Thursday May 5th

Day warm & clear. Men who came from the front today say that the regiments were ordered to strike their tents and move [the] night before last. Some at 12 0.C. midnight & some at 3 A.M. If this is true, there will soon be a big fight down there. I took a squad of 200 men--56 of them deserters--down to Alexandria to go to Fortress Monroe. Williamm W. Hibbard, the fellow who was in Head Quarters when I first came in camp and got his discharge just after moving over to this place, was in the squad of Deserters. His grandfather died and left him some money, and of course [he] had to get on a spree before he got through with it. He enlisted for the 85 again. [Note: perhaps $85 enlistment fee? Need to confirm this. I can find a reference to Congress authorizing a $100 enlistment bounty, so $85 would at least be in the right ballpark and the context strongly suggests that money is being discussed. Per a comment by Helen S, this is much more likely to mean "enlisted in the 85th regiment. She provides a link to a William W. Hibbard in the 85th Regiment New York Infantry.] He was sent to Elmira, from there went home without leave, and was arrested and sent here. An advance was made across the Rapahannoc today. The rebs made but little resistance. The whole army is reported arcross. Look out for news.

Saturday May 7th 1864

Clear & warm. A fight is going on at Chancellorsville. No particulars are known great excitement. No more men can be sent to the Army of Potomac for the present. We have received orders to organize them into provisional Brigades, arm them, have proper officers put over them, issue arms and Shelter tents, have them go into camp near us, and be at all times ready to take the field at a moments notice. They are to draw their stores from this post. I have been at the Commissary Papers today.

[Note: Despite Abiel's reference to Chancellorsville, this was not the "Battle of Chancellorsville, which occurred almost exactly a year previous. Based on the date and location, this appears to be the "Battle of the Wilderness" fought May 5-7, 1864.]

Sunday May 8th

Clear and hot. Themometer 100° in the sun. Yesterday it was 92° in the coldest room of this office. A big battle has taken place and we are reported as being successful. 7000 of our men and 3000 rebels are wounded [and] have been sent back to Alexandria. The enemy are reported in full retreat and Grant in pursuit. This has been the most busy Sunday I have seen in a long time. Over three hundred men came in, in squads of from one to one hundred. The railroad is open to Rappahannock Station Station [sic, possibly a transcription error?] but no men are sent out. 3,000,000 [three million] rations were sent out to the front today

[Note: On May 8, 1864 a son, Oscar Abiel Potter, was born to Joseph and Susan (LaForge) Potter.]

Monday May 9th

A.M. Clear & hot. P.M. cloudy & ditto. (ditto means hot). The Provisional Brigade were marched out and went into camp just below the Railroad Bridge half a mile from this place. They have shelter tents. I took another squad to Alexandria to go to Fort Monroe. A Veteran Reserve Corps officer takes charge of them but Captain Crawford thinks a squad is never properly started unless I superintend getting them off, so I took a horse and went with them to the boat. The officer walks, of course. A thunder storm is upon us, the second of the season. Wrote to O.L. Barney.

[Note: the parenthetical comment "ditto means hot" appears to have been part of the original diary and not Phyllis's editorial comment.]

Tuesday May 10th

Clear and warm. Every thing looks finely. Spring is certainly the finest season of the year. 150 officers reported here today. Orders have been issued to send all officers coming to Alexandria (for transportation to the front) up here to be assigned to the Provisional Brigade. Some did not like to come and stayed in town, but yesterday an order was issued that all officers found in Alexandria tonight should be arrested and sent here under guard. This brought them out with a vengence. Some of them have rueful faces enough while other[s], devil-may-care style, are all right.

Wednesday May 11th

Warm & cloudy A.M. Rained pretty hard P.M.

J. Campbell & W. Melvin of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps went home today. Their regiment has went home to be mustered out. Brave Sedgewick & Hays are both lying in state over in the city. Died nobly in the service of their country. Our troops are driving the rebs in all parts of Virginia. We have lost in Arkansas & North Carolina, but that is of small importance compared with the fight on Rappahannock. Before this fight is over it will be the most bloody of modern times. We have already 35,000 placed hors du combat.

[Note: Sedgewick would be Major General John Sedgewick, killed by a sniper on May 9th at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, and famous for his last words, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance." I haven't tracked down who Hays would be.]

Thursday May 12th

Rained nearly all day. Bad for the army. Received a letter from my sister. Josey is quite well again so that he can walk about some.

[Note: for estimating postal times, this letter of the 12th clearly was written before his sister had her baby on the 8th. The letter notifying Abiel of the birth is mentioned below as arriving on the 22nd--2 weeks after the birth--but of course it may not have been written and sent immediately after the event.]

Friday May 13th

Rained A.M. Cloudy P.M. No rain since M.

[Note: I don't think I've noted previously that Abiel's use of "M" here is clearly for "meridian", i.e., noon. I've let it stand whenever it appears as the meaning is fairly clear in context.]

I took 350 men to Alexandria and got them transportation on the Steamer Swan to go to Aquia creek. Glorious news from the Army of the Potomac. Campbell with his corps has captured a whole division, and also General Johnson (not Joe). He was tickled with his success that he hardly knew how to word his dispatch. Grant says, "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

Saturday May 14th

Rained a good part of the day. Good news still comes from the front. Our arms are still triumphant. All prisoners which have been taken by the rebs and paroled have been declared exchanged by Secretary Stanton, in retaliation for the same thing being done by the Rebs. The prisoners have been ordered from Camp Parole at Annapolis Maryland to this place to be armed and sent to the front. I like that. It will show them that if they disobey the Law of Nations it will not be with impunity.

[Note: A prisoner release on parole has promised not to return to military service, while one that is exchanged presumably has no such obligation. As Abiel points out, this "gentlemen's agreement" system only works if both sides keep good faith.]

Sunday May 15th

Rained more or less all day. I never saw as hard a shower as we had this afternoon. The water actualy seemed to pile itself up. Still good news from the Army. Handcock does fight splendidly. He is capturing more guns than all the rest. The rebs are reported falling back on Lynchburg instead of Richmond. If that is so, it looks like abandoning their Capitol to us. Grant's name will soon be a watchword for all deeds of bravery. "Remember Grant" is at present the cry of our brave boys.

Tuesday May 17th 1864

Rained some today and yesterday also. We have armed and equiped about a thousand men this week and sent them to General Grant. Everything is going on well at the front. No fighting just now. I believe Sigle will have fighting to do up in the Valley before long. I received a letter from John Clemence today containing ten dollars. They are all well at Bethlehem. He says Miss Martha Denniston is teaching school in the Old School House by the church.

Wednesday May 18th 1864

Fine day. Cool enough to be pleasant. No news of importance from the Army of the Potomac.

Thursday May 19th

Clear & hot A.M. Rained P.M. Sent away 900 more men today to reinforce the Army of the Potomac. I went to Washington. Bought a pair of shoes and shirt. I took in a couple of officers to the Surgeon General who were sent here to go to the front but who were not fit for duty.

Friday May 20th

Day cool. Went in bathing this P.M. We sent nearly five hundred more fully equiped men to the Army of the Potomac today. Sigle met a slight reverse in the Valley four days ago. Lost about 600 men and three peices of artillary. Army fighting again. Handcock seems to be the one called on for the most dashing fighting.

Sunday May 22nd 1864

Day hot. Rained a little P.M. Yesterday I got a letter from Janey informing me of the safe arrial of a little stranger who bears to me the relationship of nephew. I feel almost as proud as if it was mine. I have proposed the name of Joseph for him. I took four hundred men down to Alexandria to be sent to Fort Monroe. Answered Janey's letter this P.M.


Head Quarters, Rendezvous of Distribution May 22nd 1864

Dear Janey,

Your welcome letter containing the welcome news of the new relationship I bore to a small portion of the human family was received yesterday, and I should have answered it at once but I had so much to do that I was kept busy until 11 O.C. at night, and when I got through I was so tired that I sought my bed at once. I have also been very busy today getting a squad of four hundred men off to Fortress Monroe, and perhaps I might again have delayed answering yours, but I felt that the weight of the awful responsibility of giving a name to my little nephew would not let me sleep another night without being disposed of, so here goes.

After mature and profound deliberation, La Forge and me have come to the conclusion that, as the little stranger was ushered into the world in a time of great domestic commotion (civil war), therefore he should have two names. And I, A.T. LaForge, by the authority in me vested, do hereby declare that one of said (christened) names shall be Joseph. The choice of the other shall rest with whomsoever the parents shall see fit, provided the person whom they may choose shall not select for the other name neither of the following: Abiel [or] Teple. This matter disposed of, I must ask you to do me the favor to express my contratulations to Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Potter on the happy event. I assure you I could scarcely have experienced more pleasure if I had been married and been the happy father instead of brother Joseph. Still I do not envy him his happiness but wish him a long life and many returns of the blissful moment he will first be called papa by the little cherubs.

This is a new bond to their always warm love, and if it is possible to increase such affection as theirs, it will be increased by this pledge of their mutual reciprocation. You must keep me informed of the health of the mother and as soon as she is able consistently to write, have her write me a letter, if it is ever so short, so as to convince me that the whole of my place in her heart has not been usurped by the new affection of her mother love. I don't expect so much fuss about "poor me" now, but if you will love me a little more it will make up for what I loose by my nephew. My mind has been dwelling so much on this subject since I got your letter that I can hardly write about any thing else, but I must tear myself from the pleasing reflections it has given rise to and proceed to other matters.

Please say to Joseph that I could not find the kind of razor of which he spoke, but he must not buy any for I will get them and send them to him as soon as I can, if he will use his old one a little longer.

I suppose father wrote to you of the death of his baby, did he not? The last time he wrote to me he was going to move on his farm and build. [The baby may have been Roselia; records of Samuel LaForge's third marriage, to Mary Wakefield, list two daughters. One was named Roselia, and the second, Josephine, was born in 1865.]

I had to be up very early this morning to get a squad ready of four hundred men and march them down to Alexandria, [then] go to the Quartermaster and get a steamer detailed to carry them down to Fort Monroe. They are very anxious to get men there now to reinforce General Butler. I rather think he needs them, for he has fell back from Fort Darling and is intrenching on the banks of the river below.

The news from General Grant is unimportant. No decisive move has been made by either army since Friday. They have been doing such hard fighting for the last two weeks that they are both very willing to lay still and recruit for a time. It will not be for long however, as there is soon another decisive battle to be fought unless the rebels retreat.

The weather has been very uncertain for some time, either raining or dreadful hot. The themometer has been up to one hundred and four and six, several times. Flies, mosquitoes, gnats, bugs, &c. are getting too thick to be agreeable.

Every night our woods are filled with Whippoorwills. I believe I never heard one in Allegany. The climate is too cold for them. Did you ever hear one Janey? They always make me feel melancholy when I hear their mournful song.

You knew of soldiers' pay being raised to $16 sixteen dollars a month did you not? That is what we are getting now. I probably will not get any pay until July now. If I do not, I presume I shall have to send to you for some more.

Give my love to Mother and tell her not to over work herself just because she is Grandma to another boy. And don't let Susan kill the boy with petting him. Tell her I shall make a review of all her proceedings when I come home. Give the dear girl lots of love also. What does Maty say to the little fellow? My love to your own dear self. Bijou

[Note: As the baby was named "Oscar Abiel", evidently none of Abiel's opinions on naming were heeded!]


Monday May 23rd

Hazy but not rainy. Not so hot as the previous days.

A stage line has been established between here and the city, running two trips a day. The charge is 50 cents each way, which I think is very resonable. No more paying $5.00 for a hack to bring a man out. He carried thirteen passengers today, which is a good beginning.

Tuesday May 24th

Clear & hot until 4 P.M., then cloudy. Windy and rainy from 7 to 9 P.M. Received a letter from Miss A. S. Porter. A very pretty one too. I feel quite disposed to love her.

Wednesday May 25th

Clear & hot until 4 P.M. Cloudy to 7. Windy & rained till 9 P.M.

I went down with some Commissary Stores, which were sent with 235 prisoners sent from this camp, with the charge of desertion against them, to Alexandria to be put in prison to wait trial by court martial.

Thursday May 26th 1864

Rained until M. then cleared off. I took a prisoner to the Alexandria Military prison today. He was a pretty bad case. He attempted to escape from camp but in his haste stumbled over a log and broke his arm. E. L Richmond, our old Sergeant Major came back to camp today pretty badly wounded. It seems to be the fate of all who leave here and go to the front to get wounded very soon after.

Sunday May 29th

Day cool. Weather since 26th very uncertain. Rainy and sunshiny all at once.

I was out gathering strawberries today. Got all I could eat and brought a few select bunches to the Colonel. They have been ripe since the 20th, on which day I saw the first of the season. An order was issued to have all detailed men examined the 25th. I was examined accordingly and marked to be sent to the hospital. So was a great many others, but we did not go, as our object was to have all men now on duty who were fit for their regiments sent to them and keep the rest here. Last night I went up to Captain Marstons to give him some orders, and just as I came out, a man took me by the hand and said, "How do you do?" It was dark and at first I did not recognize him. But after looking a moment, saw it was Jerome Remington. He was here about a year ago. I had a good talk with him and today had him examined and sent to the Hospital.

Monday May 30th

Clear but cool. We did not send the 400 men we had ready to go to the Army of Potomac as General Briggs sent us word the Quarter Master Dept had used all the boats to send other troops. Jerome R[emington] was sent from the hospital to camp again today. I had a good talk with him this evening. A marriage ceramony took place this evening after services on the Chapel. Rather a novel sight in camp. Neither the Bride nor Groom responded so that I could [hear] or anybody else. Nor did the preacher pronounce them Man and Wife--an omission which could be used by either party at their convenience.

May 31st 1864

Day clear and warm. I took a squad of one hundred & fifty men to Alexandria to go to Fort Monroe. The steamer which had been detailed to take them was ordered on some other duty and they could not go. I found a steamship laying at Pier No. 1 [that] was going to New York. As they would go in 12 miles of Old Point and the Quarter Master concluded to send the men on her, I took the order, went up to the boat found the Captain and gave it to him. He took me into the cabin, asked me to set down, brought out some wine, [and] asked me to drink. I declined. He said he loved me better for it. I had to come back over the hill as I could not get my firey horse under the Rail Road Bridge.

[Note: I think Abiel has made references to drinking alcohol before, but if I remember correctly from a previous read of the whole set of diaries, he later is clearly abstaining. That may provide context for the comments about wine here.]

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