bivouac Near New Market, Virginia,
Raining from the East. Easter Sunday, April 20, 1862.
Looking back, it seems an age since we dwelt peacefully in the wooded camp near Edinburg. It was Wednesday night that our marching orders came. On Thursday morning at a quarter before two we had reveillé, and marched before light, under a pale moon, toward Mount Jackson.
Shields's division had gone on in advance. The day was a glowing one, and the valley spread itself out before us like a garden in its fresh green.
After a short halt at Mount Jackson, which is a town, and filled with evidences of Rebel occupation, such as large hospitals, one of them unfinished, we were ordered to march round to “turn the enemy's left.”
Our path was a rough one, through a river, over rocks, and through deep mud, on, on, on. We heard occasional cannonading over toward the centre, where Shields's force remained drawn up in line of battle, to await our tedious circuit. The day was long and hot; the artillery labored over the almost impassable road. I went on in advance, with some pioneers to aid a little by removing obstacles. As we passed through the little village of Forrestville, a party of young girls sang Dixie to us. I bought a loaf of bread there of a woman, and paid her five cents in silver. “It’s too much,” said she. “No,” said I. “It’s more money than I've seen for a year,” said she. On we go. We have got round the enemy's position. It is dark; too late to ford the North Fork of the Shenandoah to rejoin the rest of the army, who have now entered New Market, which Ashby even has left. Tired and foot-sore, we lay down to sleep in the woods. Marching for eighteen hours, and such marching! the bivouac, in the warm, pleasant night is a luxury. The next morning we start again, and ford the Shenandoah, and get on to the turnpike at New Market which we had left at Mount Jackson. The Shenandoah is swift, and up to one's middle. Fording is an exciting, amusing, long task. It is finished at last, and the brigade, led by our regiment, moves through the town of New Market to the saucy strains of Yankee Doodle. We move two miles beyond the town, and bivouac on a hillside. Our tents and baggage are all sixteen miles back, at Edinburg.
It is late Friday evening before we get bivouacked. Many of the men are barefoot and without rations. Saturday morning it begins early to rain, and ever since we have been dripping under this easterly storm. Luckily, Mrs. Williamson, whose husband is with the “other army,” and who has a fine farm and a roomy, old-fashioned, ante-Revolution-built house, surrounded by generous barns and outbuildings, swarming with negroes of every shade and size, — luckily, Mrs. Williamson and her six little boys and her aged uncle need our protection; and, in return, she gives us a shelter for our meals, and so alleviates the adversity which had reduced our commissariat to starvation. Mr. Williamson is a major in the Rebel army. His wife is true to him and to Virginia. The eldest boy, of fifteen years, is a stubborn little traitor. Mrs. Williamson invited us all to tea on the first night of our arrival. She spread a most bounteous meal for us, but hardly sweetened it by the bitterness with which she snarled at our invasion. The general statement that these people are traitors, and deserve all the horrors of civil war, is easy; but the individual case, as it comes up under your eye, showing the helpless family in their dismay at our approach, can hardly fail to excite sympathy. When we came into New Market on Friday, we met General Banks in high spirits. He complimented our march, and said the Secretary of War had telegraphed thanks to us, &c., &c., that when our movement was perceived, the rear of Jackson's force fled hastily, &c. My own opinion is, and was from the beginning, that the movement was all nonsense, and pretty expensive silliness for us.
Jackson was ready to run, and began to do so as soon as we began to move. But perhaps we hastened him a little. Here we are, eighty miles from our supplies, all our wagons on the road, our tents and baggage behind, our rations precarious, and following a mirage into the desert. Well, the Secretary of War is much obliged to us “for the brilliant and successful operations of this day.” So we ought to be happy, and to conclude that glory looks very different to those who see it close to. Our news now is, that Jackson is hurrying to Richmond as fast as possible. We are probably Pattersonized, as General Shields calls it, and shall be too late for any decisive part in what is now expected as the great battle of Yorktown. Still I do not regard it as impossible that the wheel may so turn as to give us a little conspicuousness in the next movements. It is our misfortune not to be in a condition of outfit, transportation, and supply to enable us to do much. We are working, too, on a frightfully long line of operations. Still hope.
Aha! the clouds begin to break. I wish you a pleasant Easter Sunday. One thing at least we may hope for, that before another Easter day we may be at home again; for this Rebellion will die rapidly when we hit its vitals. They have not been hit yet, however.
I wish you could look at our regiment under rude shelters of rails and straw, and dripping in this cold storm. Our shoes and clothing came up yesterday, and this morning we are giving them out. So we are not wholly helpless yet.
The first night that we bivouacked here a charge was made on our New York battery. A desperate cow swept in upon it, and actually knocked down and trampled on two men before it could be shot. It was a gallant charge! You need have no anxiety about us. We are safe enough. Our future is uncertain, and we are wet.
SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 234-7