Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lieutenant-Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes to Sardis Birchard, July 17, 1862

Camp Green Meadows, Mercer County, Virginia,
July 17, 1862.

Dear Uncle: — . . . I am not satisfied that so good men as two-thirds of this army should be kept idle. New troops could hold the strong defensive positions which are the keys of the Kanawha Valley, while General Cox's eight or ten good regiments could be sent where work is to be done.

Barring this idea of duty, no position could be pleasanter than the present. I have the Twenty-third Regiment, half a battery, and a company of cavalry under my command stationed on the edge of Dixie — part of us here, fourteen miles, and part at Packs Ferry, nineteen miles from Flat Top, and Colonel Scammon's and General Cox's headquarters. This is pleasant. Then, we have a lovely camp, copious cold-water springs, and the lower camp is on the banks of New River, a finer river than the Connecticut at Northampton, with plenty of canoes, flat-boats, and good fishing and swimming. The other side of the river is enemy's country. We cross foraging parties daily to their side. They do not cross to ours, but are constantly threatening it. We moved here last Sunday, the 13th. On the map you will see our positions in the northeast corner of Mercer County on New River, near the mouth of and north of Bluestone River. Our camps five miles apart — Major Comly commands at the river, I making my headquarters here on the hill. We have pickets and patrols connecting us. I took the six companies to the river, with music, etc., etc., to fish and swim Tuesday.

It is now a year since we entered Virginia. What a difference it makes! Our camp is now a pleasanter place with its bowers and contrivances for comfort than even Spiegel Grove. And it takes no ordering or scolding to get things done. A year ago if a little such work was called for, you would hear grumblers say: “I didn't come to dig and chop, I could do that at home. I came to fight,” etc., etc. Now springs are opened, bathing places built, bowers, etc., etc., got up as naturally as corn grows. No sickness either — about eight hundred and fifteen to eight hundred and twenty men — none seriously sick and only eight or ten excused from duty. All this is very jolly.

We have been lucky with our little raids in getting horses, cattle, and prisoners. Nothing important enough to blow about, although a more literary regiment would fill the newspapers out of less material. We have lost but one man killed and one taken prisoner during this month. There has been some splendid running by small parties occasionally. Nothing but the enemy's fear of being ambushed saved four of our officers last Saturday. So far as our adversaries over the river goes, they treat our men taken prisoners very well. The Forty-fifth, Twenty-second, Thirty-sixth, and Fifty-first Virginia are the enemy's regiments opposed to us. They know us and we know them perfectly well. Prisoners say their scouts hear our roll-calls and that all of them enjoy our music.

There are many discouraging things in the present aspect of affairs, and until frost in October, I expect to hear of disasters in the Southwest. It is impossible to maintain our conquests in that quarter while the low stage of water and the sickness compel us to act on the defensive, but if there is no powerful intervention by foreign powers, we shall be in a condition next December to push them to the Gulf and the Atlantic before winter closes. Any earlier termination, I do not look for.

Two years is an important part of a man's life in these fast days, but I shall be content if I am mustered out of service at the end of two years from enlistment. — Regards to all.

R. B. Hayes.

SOURCE: Charles Richard Williams, editor, Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Volume 2, p. 304-6

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