October 1864 is packed full a a wide variety of experiences. It begins with more "clean up" operations following the significant battles of the previous month, and with Abiel feeling a little self-satisfied to be given feedback on the high opinion the men have of him. One can't entirely fault him for that. His astounding luck in battle slips a little on the 19th and he is wounded in the hand and head--painfully, though not too dangerously. As a result, he takes something of a tour through the Union medical establishment and is given 30 days' leave while recovering. This gives him a chance to go home to visit relatives--a journey that will last well into the next month's entries.
After Abiel is wounded, the entries get very telegraphic for a while, at first one suspects due to the pain and resulting lack of sleep he complains of. I suppose it's fortunate that it was his left hand that was wounded or there might have been a gap in his "memorandums"! The entries while he's traveling are also quite brief, but filled with information on sights and entertainments and the everyday activities of visiting and socializing.
While staying at the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia, Abiel observes, "There is a car which is worked by steam used here to elevate the guests to their rooms instead of their having to walk up and down stairs. Very fine indeed."
[PUNCTUATION AND SPELLING ARE COPIED FROM THE ORIGINALS. EDITORIAL COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD TYPE.]
Day set in cold and gloomy, which makes us stick prety closely to our tents. As I having nothing much to do, concluded to write a little conversation between Orderly Wilder "I" Co and myslf. I am not sure vanity is not the motive for my writing it, but I have been trying to pursuade myself it was but that I could have some satisfaction looking at it in old age, if I should live to see dotage.
To proceed: as we were walking along, the Sergeant came up to me and commenced to speak of the sanguine nature of our fight at Winchester. He gave me to understand that I had rather astonished the men by what he was pleased to call my bravery. They had rather supposed by my smooth face and usually quiet manner that I was somewhat deficient in the aforesaid article, but that they had changed their mind.
Said he "When you started and called for volunteers to take that battery, I saw Temple (a brave old English soldier who was in the Crimea and India wars) start after you. I ran after him.
"He turned and asked me if you belonged to my company, I told Yes.
"'Why,' says he, 'Ain't he rather a desperate character? See him run at them alone! How do you feel, will you go if I will?'
"I told him I would.
"'Hurrah then,' said he, throwing up his cap. 'Here goes!'
"And we [went] after you. Several others came with us, when we pointed to you away up ahead, swinging your revolver in one hand and saber in the other. We did not go but a little way before the order came to halt, as our right had been forced back. You did not know why we stopped, but we had to. I thought you was a goner when that line fired at you and you threw yoursef behind the stump."
To say that I did not feel proud at this recital would not be the truth, but nevertheless I pretended not to--said all the modest things I could think of, and told him what I really thought: that if any other officer had thought of it before me, they would have done the same thing. Indeed, Lieutenant Cox spoke of it first, but shortly after and before he could get men to go with him (which he tried to do), he was knocked down by a blow in the head from a piece of shell from the guns in which he was interesting himself.
The day has continued cold and gloomy. I wrote to Captain Crawford, as he made me promise to do so when I left camp. The news is tonight that a large train is on the way up here bringing four or five days mail, our rations, and the Paymasters.
Last nights rumor was correct. Just after I went to bed, the officers' call was sounded. I got up and went to Head Quarters. Captain Robertson gave us our Pay Rolls for July and August and said the men must sign them at once, for we should be paid this morning. So I got the men up, had the Rolls signed etc.
General Wright sent around word last night that a Union woman who lived near Mt. Crawford had been deprived of all her property by this Division. Said woman had come into our lines and was going North. He desired the officers of this Division to make her up a purse so that she would not be without the means of living. So we got together at our respective Regimental Head Quarters and, after considerable fun, made up a purse for her.
Colonel Henry 10th Vermont Volunteers came back last night also. He said that when the news of our victories reached the North, the people were wild with excitement. Every little town must do its firing of guns etc. Gold came down to $1.60 and sugar took a tumble of 11 cents per pound. So much joy in the Army of the Potomac as there was when the news reached them of our victory at Winchester! Cheer after cheer rent the air, and when the guns were shotted and old Petersburg received their contents, such a shout went up as must have made the Rebel Hearts tremble. Bully for our side. Our men are having a little private good feeling of their own on the pay question.
Rained all day. Considerable drunkeness especially in "I" Company. Sergeant Wilder, who now commands them, had considerable more than he could do to keep them quiet. Ginally he got mad and went to harsh means. The men came to Head Quarters (I was there) with complaints. Captain Robertson tried to settle it. Finally he turned to me and said, "Will you take command of Company "I" again? You are the only one who appears to be able to do anything with them. They were as good a company as any in the regiment while you had them. They were the black sheep always before you came, and have been ever since you left." I told him I would take them again.
Left home three years [ago] today.
This morning Captain Robertson came to me and said, "Let me introduce you to your company." And turning to Sergeant Wilder, "Get Company I into line." When they were formed, he and I walked down before them and the Captain told them he was going to return me to them, and that I should have permanent command of the company. After a few more words he turned and left.
As soon as he turned, one of the men stepped out and proposes, "Three cheers for Lieutenant LaForge!" And three hearty cheers they gave.
Oh! how proud I felt to think I was so much liked by the fine fellows. I took off my hat and thanked them, then they crowded arround to shake hands, and there was a pretty noisy time for a while. The other men of the regiment come running to know what the news was. They were surprised at so much noise about so small a thing.
I soon after went up to Head Quarters. "There was considerable enthusiasm," says the Adjutant with a quiet good-natured smile.
I have been at work pretty hard on my ordnance reports today. Our Cavalry are burning the mills and barns all around. "I" Company is all quiet.
Passed the day in camp at work on Ordnance papers. Pretty heavy cannonading in the direction of Mt. Crawford. Our cavalry seem to be engaged. Rains every few hours, but is pretty warm.
This morning the for-several-days-expected order to break camp to fall back was given. [Note: The phrase "to break camp" is duplicated in the text, which I assume is a transcription error.] We moved out about sunrise, marching very rapidly all day, not stopping for dinner. We passed through Clear Spring and New Market and camped at dark on the hills a mile West of Mt. Jackson. We (i.e., Cox and myself) breakfasted on chicken at 4 O.C. this morning. All I ate after that until this evening at 7 O.C. was three apples. It was very warm marching today. I don't remember when I have heard the men complain so much as they have at the hard marching today. Although I am pretty lame from fatigue of marching, still I feel pretty good. It was almost an impossibility for a large army like ours to be supplied at so great a distance from its base by wagon transportation. We have been on short rations ever since we have been up here. Our cavalry are burning all the hay and grain in the Valley as we retreat toward Strausburg.
LETTER (written on diary page) Head Quarters "F" Company 106th New York Volunteers
Harrisonburg Virginia Oct 2nd 1864
My ever dear Sister,
I have just discovered that you have, in several of your past letters, asked me questions which I have not answered, either on account of not having your letter to read over when answering it, or--like the last letter--I did not have time to write. We now only have a few minutes notice before the mail goes out, not long enough to write a letter. If it was not for my memorandum, you would find my letters rather meagre, I am afraid. But to proceed, I will answer all I can think of.
Every time an officer is promoted, he has to swear in for three years. Say, for instance, I come out as 1st Lieutenant, if my time is half up and I am promoted to Captain or any other rank above Lieutenant, I have to swear in for three years more from the time I am promoted, the same when a soldier like myself was, is promoted. I am in for three years from June 9th 1864. If they do not muster me out with the Regiment, which is customary. If they do, my time will be out the 27th of next August.
Now, about bounty. Officers get no bounty from the government. They should be credited to whatever county they belong to and get the local bounty. Did Allegany County pay any? [Note: I presume this is a re-enlistment bounty?]
Did you expect I would be an officer or not? I was rather surprised when I got your first letter after you knew of my promotion. You did not seem at all overwhelmed by the news, never even congratulating me at all, but took it entirely as a matter of course which you had been expecting all along. How was it? I never wrote to you of my expectations, hoping to take you by surprise. Myself turned out to be the surprised party. You must explain it.
Front Royal, October 11th
I finish my letter today and send in it for you one hundred dollars. Please keep it for me. I shall send more soon.
Give my love to Mother, Janey, and the boys, not forgetting young Potter. He must be a fine boy, as he is named after me, and if I get back safe we will have a fine time sure. He will be big enough to learn his ABCs by that time.
Your ever loving Brother,
A. T. LaForge.
Lieutenant Commanding "I" Co. 106th New York Volunteers [Note: When Abiel began this letter on the 2nd, he was still in command of F Company, but when he concludes it on the 11th, he has been returned to command of I Company.]
Friday, October 7th 1864
Started about sunrise on the retreat down the Valley. Had to wait a long time for our turn to cross the bridge at Mt. Jackson over the [missing word?] We then continued our way by easy stages stopping an hour for dinner. We reached Woodstock at sundown and, while the [missing word?] camped on the East side of the town, the 106th stayed on the West on outpost duty. We were told to make ourselves comfortable for the night. So Cox and I went to a creek a few rods off and took a wash. When we came back, we found the Regiment gone. Soon found they had gone out on picket. We followed and found them. Our boys got us a supper of fried chicken, to which we did full justice, then laid down to sleep. Every indication of a hard, cold snap, a little shower of cold rain now and then. Just three years ago today I was sworn into the U.S. Service.
The orders was passed down the line to be ready to move at 5 1/2 O.C. A.M. Our servants went to getting us breakfast at once, but before we had half eaten we had to start. The Brigade was waiting for us in town. Part of the regiment came in one way and part the other, so that half of us could get rations, of which we were entirely out. We all got about 1/2 day's rations. It was very cold when we started and has continued so all day. Occasionally some rain mixed with a little snow fell. Our route was down the pike towards Strausburg. We passed over the old battlefield and took a cool look at the Rebel Works and position on the memoriable 22nd September, and our wonder at being able to drive them from here was increased. If they had not been demoralized by being beaten a few days before, we could not have got them out. Moved down Fishers Hill and camped on the banks of [missing word?] near Strausburg. Camped for the night.
Laid in camp all day, weather very cold. Just at dark we heard the regiments cheering on the right. Soon an order came down from Brigade Head Quarters that General Torbit (our Cavalry Commander) had captured eight guns from the Rebels near Woodstock, also seven wagons. The Rebel Infantry were at New Market, following us very slowly and cautiously. Afraid to get too near. We have had to keep as near the fire as possible, for the weather is decidedly winterish.
Broke camp at sunrise and started on the march at 8 A.M. Only our (6) corps moved. We passed through Strausburg, crossed Cedar Creek, marched through Middletown, then turned to the right for Front Royal. Camped a little North of the town for the night. I was provost marshal for the brigade today. My duty was to stop all stragglers from the Brigade and send them to their respective regiments. Last night ice was frozen about 1/4 of an inch thick. Yesterday received letters from Uncle John, Annie Porter, Mrs. Captain Chamberlain, Sergeant Beaugureau, and Sergeant Hungerford. The last is my 1st Sergeant [who] was captured at Monocacy and recently paroled.
Slept illy [i.e., "ill-ly", badly] last night. Had the rheumatism. How the "old folks at home" would laugh to hear me complain of that disease. Day pleasant, but cold. Commissary came up and we drew rations. General Sheridan, who was over here yesterday with us, has gone back to Strausburg. What this movement means, none can tell, but the Commanding General. Lots of conjectures are made, of course, but I like none.
Still pretty cold. I wish I had my overcoat. It is at Winchester with the rest of the officers' baggage. Captain Parker's servant returned to the Regiment. He says that the Captain would have lived, but the doctor thought the piece of shell with which he was wounded did not stay in his side. In this he was mistaken, for when the Medical Director of the hospital came arround, he found it among his vitals, also a button from his coat. The piece of shell weighed seven ounces. Captain died the next morning after it was taken out. [This is the Captain Parker who was hit by "friendly fire" during the previous month's battles.]
I forgot to mention that yesterday some of our boys were out foraging and were attacked by a band of guerrillias. One of our boys was taken, one wounded and got away. The rest managed to get away by taking to the bush.
Thursday October 13th
Ordered to be ready to move at 6 O.C. A.M. to move down the Valley to Ashbys Gap, cross the mountain, and proceed to Alexandria. All supposed to embark for Petersburg. We started and, by a hard march, reached Milford by 1 P.M. Stopped for dinner, then started for the Ford of the Shenandoah. Just as the head of the column was entering the river, an officer with an escort rode up to General Wright and delivered an order of some kind. The General at once ordered a halt, then countermarch, and the head of the column came back. How the men cheered when they saw it! They do not like the idea of going South again, for Petersburg has no charms for us after winning such glory in the Valley.
There are all kinds of reports about the reason of our turning back. Some say, that somebody told them, that they heard an officer say, that he heard another officer tell General Wright that Petersburg was taken with 90 guns and 20,000 prisoners. That Petersburg is taken, many believe, but I dont. My private belief is that Longstreet, who now commands the Rebels in the Valley, has learned of our leaving here and made an attack on the 19th and 8th Corps in hopes of whipping them before we could march back to their assistence.
We have heard some reports up toward Strausburg which I take to be cannon, which strengthens my belief. We stopped near Milford, 2 miles from the river, for the night. Had a mail from the north: a letter from sister for me. Family generally well. Very cold.
Last night had orders to be ready to move at 6 A.M. but at 3 A.M. an order came to march at once. It was cold enough I was glad that I got my overcoat last night. Bright moonlight until 1/2 an hour before daylight. We rested that half hour. We stopped for breakfast at 9 A.M. near Newtown. We had made a pretty hard march. After breakfast, we moved on up to Middletown found that the Rebs had attacked our troops and drove them from Fishers Hill to Cedar Creek, 3 miles this side of Strausburg. We formed line of battle and camped for the night about a mile west of Middletown. The Rebs are at their old fortifications on the Hill.
Cavalry went out to Strausburg and stayed all day, the Rebs firing at them some. The enemy are cutting the trees down on one side of Round Knob to build a fort, or make a more extended prospect. Through the opening they have made, they can command a view of their left flank, where our forces surprised them before. The 8th and 19th corps made no resistance yesterday, but fell back, trying by a show of timidity to draw the enemy into an attack. The Rebs were too wary however.
Laid in camp all day. No movement going on that we are aware of. One of the Brigade aides told me that the force in our front consisted of 20,000 men commanded by General Longstreet, and that he (Longstreet) was expecting 13,000 more. If he gets them, his force will be larger than ours. 60 recruits came to the regiment tonight. They were mostly put into Companies "C" and "D". They fill these companies up to the 82 which is required before a 2nd Lieutenant can be mustered. Some of the men disliked to go into those Companies when they enlisted for others, and said so. But they will be made to, I am afraid, but it is a shame if they are.
One of my Sergeants named Campbell, a smart active fellow, is drilling the recruits and laying down military to them. I was detailed for picket at 3 P.M. Took charge of two Lieutenants and one hundred men from this regiment. After a good deal of unnecessary marchin, we got on the line at sundown. The orders are not to have any fires after dark. It will be cold work.
Deuced cold last night. I was half froze once and made some fire, which did not go out in spite of orders. Four or five shots were fired on our right, otherwise all was quiet. This morning, the officer sent me word to send two guards to a couple of houses across Cedar Creek, on the East bank of which our line runs, if I could find a good crossing for the men. I went down to the creek and found no good place to cross, so did not send the men. While I was eating breakfast, one of the men on the line came and said a couple of ladies wanted to come through. I found them a couple of pretty southron girls. They wanted to get the guards. It was their houses whch were to be guarded, as some of our pickets were trying to take their cows and goods. They told me they could show the men where to cross safely. I had no desire to resist the appeal of two such pretty faces, so sent the guard. The girls gave a very pressing invitation to "come over" and I said perhaps I would. About noon they sent for me again, but as the bearer of the message said he saw a good dinner ready, I would not go, for it looked too much like "cozening" for my dinner. [Note: If I'm interpreting this exchange correctly, it sounds like Abiel is concerned that people would think the dinner was a bribe or payoff for having provided the guards.]
I was speaking with Lieutenant Birge about my coming to the Regiment last June. Said he, "You disappointed us all. When I first saw you, I said to the men 'There is another sell on the 106th.' There is none would call you a 'sell' now though. I tell you frankly, without any desire to flatter, there is not an officer better liked by the officers and men of the Regiment than yourself. We are all well pleased with you." [Note: I'm not certain what the meaning of "sell" is precisely here. The overall impression is negative, of course.]
We were expecting to remain on duty three days, but were releived just at sundown and came into camp.
Another eventful day, another great battle to be added to the already large list.
Just at daylight, firing commenced on the picket line on the right. This was only a feint. It worked rapidly down to our left, where the attack was really intended. I rose up when I first heard it. But as there was no commotion on our part of the line, concluded to sleep again. But the firing soon became so fierce that I concluded to get up and issue some clothing, which I had on hand and did not issue last night, as it was after dark when I got in.
[Random linguistic observation: Several times in this entry and (looking ahead) others, Abiel uses "concluded" to mean "decided. This isn't a usage I recall seeing earlier in his writings, though I haven't made a thorough search. It makes me wonder if it's a usage he's only just picked up from someone else's speech.]
All this time the battle was raging hot and heavy on the left, where the 8th and 19th corps were camped. I went to my tent to get some breakfast (wheat cakes, ham and eggs, and other good things) but had got so excited by the firing that I could not eat. Our forces on the left now began to run, and the 6th corps was thrown into their place. The Rebs were flushed with success, and our men rather demoralized by the others runing through their ranks, so when they charged our line it partly gave way. Our batteries had their horses all shot and the guns were abandoned. This would not do.
The men were rallied and charged, driving the Rebs. We took our guns back, drawing them off by hand. I ran to where two horses were standing, hitched to a limber and gun, took them by their bridles, and led them to the rear of our lines, then went back and helped draw one that had but one horse.
General Wright rode down to the lines and in front of us when the line first broke. He was rather excited. "Halt you d___d cowards!" said he. "Is there a man who is afraid to die for his country?"
The line was stopped. I went with some men in front of the line and brought back a wounded man. Just turned and went back to the line, which was laying down, when a bullet struck my left knuckle and smashed it. I was raising it up to take a look at it when another struck me above the right eye and, glancing, knocked my hat off. The blood ran profusely from both places. I turned, picked up my hat, and put it on. And, as it was evident they meant me, concluded to put for the rear. I bound my handkerchief arround my head and left the field. The Rebs by this time were checked After going two miles, I ran across our Doctor, had my head dressed, found Captain Wilbur of our Regiment wounded in the side. After his wound was dressed, we started for Newtown together. My hand pained me badly, but the Doctor had many much worse wounds to tend, to so I did not ask him to dress it.
When we got to Newtown we found the town full of Stragglers from the 8th and 19th corps. These General Sheridan had ordered to be sent to the front, as soon as he heard of it. General Sheridan was not up when the fight began. He had been to Washington and was on the way up from Harpers ferry when he heard the firing. He put spurs to his horse and got up to the field, just as our forces had checked them after they had been driven to this side of Middletown. When he rode up to the lines, Oh! how the boys cheered him! "Never mind, men," said he. "We will pay them for this before night yet." And so he did, for he charged at 4 P.M., driving the Rebs before him at a run across Cedar Creek through Strausburg, and I understand beyond Fishers Hill.
We found their ambulance corps full of wounded parked near Strausburg. We captured this, also their wagon train and all of the artillery they captured from us this morning, togather with all the artillery (except a fiew pieces) they had with them. Bully for our side! They did not make much by the surprise they gave us this morning. Our troops camped on the same ground they occupied this A.M. Our wounded are being brought down here, I can't yet tell to what number.
Stayed last night with Lieutenant Chilton at a Mr. McLeod's. My hand pained, so I could not sleep much. Had breakfast with them, then came down to the town again. Captain Briggs, who commanded the Regiment for a week back, was wounded in the foot. Four of my men were wounded that I can hear from. Our wounded have mostly been brought down here. I have been to all the hospitals and such a sight I never saw or want to see again. This is the first time I ever saw a hospital after a fight, as I was always at the front until this time. A surgeon must get stern-hearted to attend to their duties with sang froid as they do. I understand that we are to be sent to Winchester in the morning.
Slept with the rest of our officers in town last night. Not much sleep, however. Ambulances came, into which we were placed about 10 A.M. Did not get to Winchester till dark. Only the worst cases were left; the rest went on to Martinsburg. I took tea at Mr. Jackson's. Saw Lieutenant Buckman. He is doing well. Quarter Master wanted me to stay with him, but I concluded to go on. Rained considerable during the night. Very cold. Tried to sleep, but could not as I was sure to hurt my head or hand every time. Road very rough. The 9th New York H[orse?] Art[illary?] passed us. They were guarding a detachment of 2200 Rebels to Martinsburg.
Got to Martinsburg at daylight. Us officers stopped at a hotel. Got dinner, after which an ambulance came and took us to the cars and we started for Sandy Hook. Got there just at dark and were taken up to a hospital for officers on the hill. Tremenduous cold wind blowing. Had some ham and eggs and warm bread and coffee for supper. Felt very comfortable as there was a good warm stove in the tent.
Stayed here all day. Applications for leaves of absence sent in. Captain Briggs came in. He had laid in the cars all night; he said it was ducedly cold. The wind continued to blow pretty cold.
Capt Briggs and I got an ambulance and went to Harpers Ferry. Stayed part of the day, then came back just in time to get our leaves, which were for 30 days. We got on the cars and came down to Baltimore. Put up at the Fountain House and went to the Front Street Theater to see Mr and Mrs Barney Williams play the Magic Circle. [The Wikipedia entry for Barney and Maria Williams lists a play "The Fairy Circle" during the appropriate time-frame. It's possible the two are the same.] When it was out, the two Captains went to another place where I did not accompany them but returned to my Hotel. [Note: Based on several previous comments, I will speculate that "another place where I did not accompany them" may have been a house of prostitution.]
Bought a new Rig today. [Possibly he's referring to new clothing? I can find a few references from the right era to support this.] Then we took the cars and came on to Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Put up at the Continental and went to the New Chestnut St. Theater. and saw The Lady of Lyons played. Then returned to the hotel. There is a car which is worked by steam used here to elevate the guests to their rooms instead of their having to walk up and down stairs. Very fine indeed. [Note: This article on the Continental Hotel (built 1860) notes that it was one of the earliest (American?) hotels to have an elevator, so Abiel's amazement is understandable!]
Came on to New York where we stopped for an hour or two. Went to Barnums, at which place I had a Port monie [sic] placed in my pocket. we then came on the Hudson River Rail Road up to Fishkill Landing, where I left my two friends as I stoped to visit my uncle's people. I went over to New Burgh and stopped for the night at the United States Hotel. Not so fine as the Continental. [Note: I haven't been able to determine what the reference to "Port monie" means. I could find 19th century references to "port money" meaning something like "docking fee for a ship" but that wouldn't make sense in this context.] [Note: I need to come back and add genealogy notes for who "my uncle's people" refers to here.]
Crossed the River and went up to see Uncle Fuller. People all well and very much pleased to see me. I can't imagine what makes all the women appear so lovely to me. I guess it must be because I have seen so few of them lately. A cold storm came up this afternoon.
Stayed all day with Uncle [Fuller]. Was expecting to go back, but he would not hear of it. They all wish my sister was here, so as to visit together. Uncle and Aunt think the world of sister Susan.
Saturday 29th October
This A.M. went down to Mateawan to cousin Cal's. Visited the felt shops then, after dinner, came down to New Burgh and took the cars for Salisbury Mills, arriving there about dark. Walked down to Bethlehem and was kindley received by Mr and Mrs. Howser, where I stopped for the night.
Mrs. Howser did not want me to see Mr. Clemence's people until they came to meeting, so as to take them by surprise, and I did take them by surprise. Uncle Tomy did not know me at first, but was greatly delighted when I made myself known, and John and his wife Mary received me like a brother. Mary insisted on my treating her as an old acquaintance. Took dinner and stopped all night with John. Made a call on Samuel Clemence.
Went down to Cornwall and Canterbury with John. At the latter place, I called upon Mrs. Townsend, mother of our Colonel Charles Townsend, who was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor. I called by the request of the officers of the 106th to express the deep regard we feel for her son. The lady received me kindly and my call gave her much satisfaction, although upon a painful subject. She extended me a cordial invitation to stop part of my Leave with them. When she found I could not, she desired me to extend to the officers of the 106th the same invitation. I was expecting to go on my journey tonight but John desired me to go with him and join the Union League, which I did, and now belong to Orange League No 5 of New York. I was requested to speak, but being unprepared, declined. On our return at past midnight we found Mary waiting tea. [Note: The "Union League" was an association of social/political clubs formed to promote the Union and Lincoln's policies. Membership was by invitation and at a later date they seem to have evolved into something more like exclusive country clubs.]