Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: February 28, 1862

Charlestown, VirgiNia, February 28, 1862.

A story to tell, and no time to tell it in. That is my record. After tedious waiting in Frederick, with constant threatenings of movement, at last, in the pouring rain of Wednesday night, came the order to be at the depot in Frederick at daylight, to take the cars for Harper's Ferry. So, in the dark, damp fog of Thursday morning, the line was formed, and on we splashed and paddled to the turnpike. Just at sunrise we entered Frederick. The band played, “The girl I left behind me,” and tearful maidens looked a sad farewell. When we got to the depot, we found no cars. At twelve, M., we got off.

Only six hours' delay, caused by the crowding of troops on the road coming from Poolesville. The day broke clear and cold. Our Frederick friends saw the last of us, and we were off. At four o'clock we reached Sandy Hook, and were soon crossing the bridge to Harper's Ferry. As we entered the town the music swelled out, the men closed up, and on we went, by the Shenandoah road, to the upper part of the town. We crowded into a few buildings. An old negro woman gave the Colonel and myself shelter, and we spent the night. This old woman gave us her political sentiments briefly, thus: “De Union is broderly love. Dat's what de Union is. Dese yere secesshnists ain't got no sich principle. In de Union dey do good to one another; but dese yere secesshnists dey don't do no good to you. Dey won't help yer out when yer's in trouble. Lord bress yer! dey can't help derselves out, let alone other folks. I's for de Union and love; dat's what I's for.”

At three in the morning we were roused up by an order for the regiment to move, “soon after sunrise,” in a reconnoissance to Charlestown. In the sharp, windy morning we took up the march. At Bolivar Heights the force assembled. It consisted of four squadrons of cavalry, two sections of artillery, our regiment, and the Third Wisconsin.

Colonel Gordon, as the ranking colonel, was in command. Colonel Andrews had been detailed as Provost Marshal of Harper's Ferry. This left me in immediate command of the regiment. We moved on, over the road by which we had eight months before advanced (!) to Harper's Ferry.

When we got near Charlestown, Colonel Gordon hurried on with his cavalry, and all four squadrons whirled down the main street rattlingly. Half a dozen cavalry scampered out at the other end of the town, on the road to Winchester, and the place was in our grasp.

The artillery was posted, commanding the two roads toward Winchester, and our regiment was drawn up in support; the Third Wisconsin in rear. We had been there half an hour. The cavalry had divided itself, and gone out over the various roads. We then heard that McClellan was coming. So I drew up the regiment, and he rode the length of it with his staff. I then joined them, for a moment, to answer General Banks's inquiries, and those of General McClellan. Colonel Gordon soon came back. After a consultation, it was determined to remain in the town and hold it. Our reconnoissance changed to an advance. I put the bulk of the regiment in the courthouse,— John Brown's court-house. I was immediately appointed Acting Provost Marshal, and had my hands full all day, attending to the quartering of troops, feeding them (for we were without rations), preventing marauding, posting pickets, &c., &c. It was an awful blustering day. At evening General Hamilton came in and took command. I was in the saddle the first part of the night, on duty, but had comfortable quarters for sleeping.

At two in the morning, however, there was an alarm. I had to go and get the regiment under arms, also to organize a party for the purpose of obstructing the railway.

And now, this bright morning (March 1; I wrote only a few lines last night), we are busy with a thousand and one affairs. How soon we shall advance I do not know. We are in large force, and shall take no steps backwards.

McClellan has gone back to Washington, we hear. We know little of our future. The force at Harper's Ferry is increasing. A permanent bridge is going up.

It takes a little time to organize supplies, but, as the men are fond of singing, “we are marching on.” The regiment is in fine condition.

To-day the rest of our brigade, from which we have been detached since the reconnoissance, has marched up.

We have been mustering the regiment; and used, for that purpose, the court-room. It was an odd capsize of events that brought about the muster of a Yankee regiment in Charlestown court-house.

The newspapers, I see, are silent about our movements, or nearly so. I suppose this is under the order of the President checking the telegraph and mail. This order is a sound and healthy one.

I have had several amusing experiences in this hot secession town in my provost-marshalship. One good lady told me this morning, “Well! I hope you'll be beaten in your next battle; but you can have the rooms, and I’ll have a fire built directly, as they are rather damp for you.” I thought this charming feminine consistency.

I think we under-estimate the strength of the secession sentiment and overestimate the Union feeling. Still, I may speak from the fresh impressions of my recent experience. At any rate, there is a long battle to come after the bayonet has done its work. Troops have been coming in all day.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 199-202

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