|PAPER No. 3 -
On the March.
It is a common mistake of those who write on subjects
familiar to themselves, to omit that particularity of description and detailed
mention which, to one not so conversant with the matters discussed, is
necessary to a clear appreciation of the meaning of the writer. This mistake
is all the more fatal when the writer lives and writes in one age and his
readers live in another.
And so a soldier, writing for the information of the
citizen, should forget his familiarity with the every-day
scenes of soldier life and strive to record even those
things which seem to him too common to mention. Who does
not know all about the marching of soldiers? Those who have never
marched with them and some who have. The varied experience of thousands
would not tell the whole story of the march. Every man must be heard
before the story is told, and even then the part of those
who fell by the way is wanting.
Orders to move! Where? when? what
eager questions of the men as they begin their preparations
to march. Generally nobody can answer, and the journey
is commenced in utter ignorance of where it is to end.
But shrewd guesses are made, and scraps of information will
be picked up on the way. The main thought must be to
"get ready to move." The orderly sergeant is shouting
"fall in," and there is no time to lose. The probability
that before you get your blanket rolled up, find your
frying pan, haversack, axe, &c., and "fall in," the
-call will be over, and some "extra duty" provided.
No wonder there is bustle in the camp. Rapid decisions
are to be made between the various conveniences which
have accumulated, for some must be left. One fellow picks up the skillet,
holds it awhile, mentally determining how much it weights, and what will
be the weight of it after carrying it five miles, and reluctantly, with
a half-ashamed, sly look, drops it and takes his place in ranks. Another
having added to his store of blankets too freely, now has
to decide which of the two or three he will leave. The
old water-bucket looks large and heavy, but one stout-hearted, strong-armed
man has taken it affectionately to his care.
This is the time to say farewell to the bread-tray, farewell
to the little piles of clean straw laid between two logs, where it was
so easy to sleep; farewell to those piles of wood, cut with so much labor;
farewell to the girls in the neighborhood; farewell to the spring, farewell
to "our tree" and "our fire," good-bye to the fellows who are not going,
and a general good-bye to the very hills and valleys.
Soldiers commonly threw away the most valuable articles
they possessed. Blankets, overcoats, shoes, bread and meat,-all gave way
to the necessities of the march; and what one man threw away would frequently
be the very article another wanted and would immediately pick up. So there
was not much lost after all.
The first hour or so of the march was generally quite
orderly-the men preserving their places in ranks and marching with a good
show of order; but soon some lively fellow whistles an air, somebody else
starts a song, the whole column breaks out with roars of laughter, "route
step" takes the place of order, and the jolly singing, laughing, talking
and joking and follows none could describe.
Now let any young officer dare to pass along who sports
a new hat, coat, saddle, or anything new, or odd, or
fine, and how nicely he is attended to.
The expressions of good-natured fun, or contempt, which
one regiment of infantry was capable of uttering in a day for the benefit
of passers by, would fill a volume. As one thing or another in the
dress of the "subject" of their remarks attracted attention, they would
shout, "Come out of that hat!!-you can't hide in thar!" "Come out of that
coat, come out-there's a man it !!" "Come out of them boots!!"
The infantry seemed to know exactly what to say to torment cavalry and
If any one on the roadside was simple enough to recognize
and address by name a man in the ranks, the whole column would kindly respond,
and add all sorts of pleasant remarks, such as, "Halloa, John, here's your
brother!" "Bill!! oh Bill!! here's your ma!" "Glad to see you!
-How's your grandma?" "Howdye do!" "Come
that 'biled shirt'!"
Troops on the march were generally so cheerful and gay
that an outsider looking on them as they marched would hardly imagine how
they suffered. In summer time, the dust, combined with the
heat, caused great suffering. The nostrils of the men, filled with dust,
became dry and feverish, and even the throat did not escape. The "grit"
was felt between the teeth, and the eyes were rendered
almost useless. There was dust in eyes, mouth, ears and hair. The shoes
were full of sand, and penetrating the clothes, and getting in at the neck,
wrists and ankles, the dust, mixed with perspiration, produced an irritant
almost as active as cantharides. The heat was at times terrific, but the
men became greatly accustomed to it, and endured it with wonderful ease.
Their heavy woollen clothes were a great annoyance. Tough linen or cotton
clothes would have been a great relief; indeed, there are many objections
to woollen clothing for soldiers even in winter. The sun produced great
changes in the appearance of the men. Their skins were tanned to a dark
brown or red, their hands black almost, and, added to this the long, uncut
beard and hair, they too burned to a strange color, made them barely recognizable
to the homefolks.
It the dust and the heat were not on hand to annoy, their
very able substitutes were. Mud, cold, rain, snow, hail
and wind took their places. Rain was the greatest discomfort
a soldier could have. It was more uncomfortable than the severest cold
with clear weather. Wet clothes, shoes and blankets; wet meat and bread;
wet feet and wet ground; wet wood to burn, or, rather, not to burn;wet
arms and ammunition; wet ground to sleep on, mud to wade
through, swollen to ford, muddy springs, and a thousand other discomforts
attended the rain. There was
no comfort on a rainy day or night except in "bed"-that
is, under your blanket and oilcloth. Cold winds, blowing the rain in the
faces of the men, increased the discomfort. Mud was often so deep as to
submerge the horses and mules, and at time it was necessary for one man
or more to extricate another from the mud holes in the road.
Marching at night, when very dark, was attended with additional
discomforts and dangers, such as falling off bridges, stumbling into ditches,
tearing the face and injuring the eyes against the bushes and projecting
limbs of trees, and getting separated from your own company and hopelessly
lost in the multitude.
Of course, a man lost had no sympathy. If
he dared to ask a question, every man in hearing would answer, each differently,
and then the whole multitude would road with laughter at the lost man,
and ask him "if his mother knew he was out?"
Very few men had comfortable or fitting shoes, and less
had socks, and, as a consequence, the suffering from bruised and inflamed
feet was terrible. It was a common practice, on long marches, for the men
to take off their shoes and carry them in their hands or swung over their
When large bodies of troops were moving on the same
road the alternate "halt" and "forward" was very harassing.
Every obstacle produced a halt and caused the men at
once to sit and lie down on the road-side where shade
or grass tempted them, and about the time they got fixed
they would hear the word "forward!" and then have to move at increased
speed to close up the gap in the column.
Sitting down for a few minutes on a long march is
pleasant, but it does not always pay. When the march
is resumed the limbs are stiff and sore, and the man rather worsted by
About noon on a hot day, some fellow with the water instinct
would determine in his own mind that a well was not far ahead, and start
off in a trot to reach it before the column. Of course another followed
and another, till a stream of men were hurrying to the well, which was
soon completely surrounded by a thirsty mob, yelling and pushing and pulling
to get to the bucket as the windlass brought it again and again to the
surface. Impatience and haste soon overturn the windlass, spatter the water
all around the well till the whole crowd is wading in mud,
and now the rope is broken and the bucket falls to the
bottom. But there is a substitute for rope and bucket.
The men hasten away and get long, slim poles, and on
them tie, by their straps, a number of canteens, which
they lower into the well and fill, and, unless, as was
frequently the case, the whole lot slipped off and fell to
the bottom, drew them to the top and distributed them
to their owners, who at once threw their heads back,
inserted the nozzles in their mouths and drank the last
drop, hastening at once to rejoin the marching column,
leaving behind them a dismantled and dry well. It was
in vain the officers tried to stop the stream making
the water, and equally vain to attempt to move the crowd
while a drop remained accessible. Many who were thoughtful carried full
canteens to comrades in the column who had not been able to get to the
well, and no one who has not had experience of it knows the thrill of gratification
and delight which those fellows knew when the cool stream gurgled from
the battered canteen down their parched throats.
In very hot weather, when the necessities of the service
allowed it, there was a halt about noon, of an hour or so, to rest the
men and give them a chance to cool off and get the sand and gravel out
of their shoes. This time was spent by some in absolute repose- but the
lively boys told many a yarn, cracked many a joke, and sung many a song
between "halt" and "column forward!" Some took the opportunity, if
water was near, to bathe their feet, hands and face, and nothing could
be more enjoyable.
The passage of a cider cart (a barrel on wheels) was a
rare and exciting occurrence. The rapidity with which
a barrel of sweet cider was consumed would astonish any one who saw it
for the first time, and generally the owner had cause to wonder at the
small return in cash. Sometimes a desperately enterprising darkey would
approach the column with a cart load of pies " so called." It would be
impossible to describe accurately the taste or appearance
of these pies. They were generally similar in appearance,
size and thickness to a pale specimen of "Old Virginia" buckwheat cakes,
and had a taste which resembled a combination of rancid lard and crab apples.
It was generally supposed that they contained dried apples, and the sellers
were careful to state that they had "sugar in 'em" and "was mighty nice."
It was rarely the case that any "trace" of sugar was found, but they filled
up a hungry man wonderfully.
Men of sense, and there were many such in the ranks, were
necessarily desirous of knowing where or how far they were to march, and
suffered greatly from and a
feeling of helpless ignorance of where they were and
whither bound-whether to battle or camp. Frequently
when anticipating the quiet and rest of an ideal camp,
they were thrown, weary and exhausted, into the face
of a waiting enemy, and at times, after anticipating
sharp fight, having formed line of battle and braced
themselves for the coming danger, suffered all the apprehension and gotten
themselves in good fighting trim, they would be marched off in the dryest
and prosist sort
of style and ordered into camp, where, in all probability,
they had to "wait for the wagon," and for the bread and meat therein, until
the proverb, "Patient waiting is no loss," lost all its force and beauty.
Occasionally, when the column extended for a mile or more,
and the road was one dense moving mass of men,
a cheer would be heard away ahead and increasing in volume
as it approached until there was one universal shout. Then some general
favorite officer would dash by, followed by his staff, and explain the
At other times, the same cheering and enthusiasm would
result from the passage down the column of some obscure and despised officer,
who knew it was all a joke, and looked mean and sheepish accordingly.
The men would generally help each other in real distress,
but their delight was to torment any one who was unfortunate in a ridiculous
way. If, for instance, a piece
of artillery was fast in the mud, the infantry and cavalry
passing around the obstruction would rack their brains for words and phrases
applicable to the situation and most calculated to worry the cannoniers
who, waist deep in the mud, are tugging at the wheels.
Brass bands, at first quite numerous and good, became
very rare and the music very poor in the latter years of
the war. It was a fine thing to see the fellows trying
keep the music going as they waded through the mud.
But poor as the music was, it helped the footsore and
weary to make another mile, and encouraged a cheer
and a brisker step from the lagging and tired column.
As the men became tired, there was less and less talking,
until the whole mass became quiet and serious. Each
man was occupied with his own thoughts. For miles nothing
could be heard but the steady tramp of the men, the rattling and juggling
of canteens and accoutrements,
and the occasional "close up, men,-close up!" of
*From: Southern Historical
Soceity Papers - Volume III, January to
June,1877- from January, 1877 Richmond, Va:. Rev J Williams
, D.D. Secretary Southern
Historical Society, Pages 13 - 18
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