Camp Before Yorktown, April 20, 1862.
Dear Mother: — It is just six months ago to-night since we crossed over to Harrison's Island and Ball's Bluff. We are having very hard duty just now, and shall have for some time. We are camped in the same swamp, within three quarters of a mile from the enemy's works. We have to go out every third day and picket the whole brigade, close to them. Day before yesterday we were out; we go again to-morrow. We were firing all day, whenever we saw anything to shoot at. We had one of our men badly wounded in the breast. Last night we were turned out twice by a brisk volley of musketry, which seemed just on the edge of the camp. Our pickets were driven in, and the firing lasted about fifteen minutes. Some of the bullets dropped into the camp. They were driven back without our going out. We were turned out again at two, and stood in the rain and mud. This morning we expected a quiet day, although the camp was all water and mud; raining hard. About ten, sharp firing commenced, and we had to fall in, and our two brigades were marched out to the front, where the other brigade was on picket. We expected that we were in for a fight, as Sunday is the favorite day. We lay out in the woods all day in the rain, and came in to-night without doing anything; they did not see fit to attack. We keep up a continual shelling of their works. To-morrow we take our turn again. I suppose we shall be turned out once or twice to-night; that's why I am in no hurry to go to bed, as I want to wait until after the first turn-out. I hope it won't rain to-morrow while we are out. I am fortunate in being so well, many of the officers being sick with diarrhoea.
We may have a week or more of this sort of duty before the grand attack. It is very unpleasant duty. No glory in being shot by a picket behind a tree. It is regular Indian fighting. I have not been exposed much. I got a letter from you day before yesterday. I expect to hear the rattle of musketry every minute, but I am going to try and get some sleep. This is the hard part of a soldier's life; the battle would be a holiday as a relief from this. It will be pleasant to look back on this, if I ever get back, and hear the rain beat on the cupola and think of the nights I have lain out in it in the woods, listening to the pickets firing and the shells bursting, wet and dirty. When it doesn't rain it is very hot. Night before last, I lay in the woods under the sky, without anything over me except my overcoat. The great trouble here is from wood-ticks; they get on to you and bury their head in you, and you can't pull them out without pulling their heads off, which makes a bad sore. The only way is to cut them out. I have only had one fasten on me yet, although I have stopped four or five before they got hold. These trouble us a great deal more than the rebel bullets. I must stop here, as it is getting late. It is a certain thing that we shall be turned out under arms about the time I get to sleep.
Good night. Love to all.
SOURCE: Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, p. 39-40