I was planning to skip the diaries this week because of life disruptions from heading to the medieval congress at Kalamazoo, but I have some unexpected down time in Detroit and decent wi-fi, so...
At some point in the past, someone asked about references to knitting in this diaries. At the time, I tried scanning through some of the descriptions of "care packages" and didn't find any. But in Abiel's first letter to Susan this month, he thanks her and Janey for knitting socks to send him. So there's that. "Every time I wear them I shall think of my sweet sisters, whose busy hands furnished me all this comfort."
It's strange to read these entries with the hindsight of knowing that we're within weeks of Lee's surrender.
Head Quarters "I" Company 106th New York Volunteers Anglo-French Hotel
Before Petersburg Virginia March 1st 1865
My dear Susan,
Yours of the 22nd ult[imate] was duly received and I assure you relieved my mind of considerable anxiety. I had not received a letter from you in so long a time that I began to fear you or some of the family were sick. This little missive, however, eases me of the load of trouble, and I breathe more at my ease. I beg that you will not wait for letters from me, because they may be delayed by the mail. Be assured I send them regularly, and that you will in all probability get them sometime. I am afraid if I were to wait until you answered my letters before I wrote you each time, our correspondence would not be very extensive.
I am extremely obliged to Janey and yourself for knitting those socks. I received one pair of them today. they are splendid socks and do honor to the dear manufacturers. Every time I wear them I shall think of my sweet sisters, whose busy hands furnished me all this comfort. Thank you both.
I feel very grateful for your kind congratulations to me upon my promotion, but think if hard fighting could earn it, why then it is justly mine. I have not got as high as I expect to in this war, and trust I shall not disgrace my rank. I am still Judge Advocate and should have had a permanent position on the Division (General Seymour's) Staff as such, but that the General already has a full Staff. I like the General very much and think from his actions and what I hear that the feeling is mutual. [Note: Based on context, I think this may be General Truman Seymour.]
I am most happy to inform you that your kind thoughts that I was again on my way home a wounded hero were entirely unfounded. It is all very pleasant this visiting home to show honorable scars, but I assure you that those same scars are, at first, deucedly inconvenient, so please excuse me.
In reading your letter I began to fear that the boy was not coming in for a share of the contents, but the last part of the letter accounts for his silence by stating that he is asleep and consequently in blissful ignorance that a letter is being written to his unworthy uncle.
We are having no fighting to do at present. Such, however, is not the case with Sherman. I am almost afraid that he will not go much farther without encountering a formidable foe, and defeat (if he should be defeated) would be annihilation for him, as he is so far from the seacoast. However Sherman has a good head for military strategy, and I trust will meet with his usual success. I often hear the men say that Tecumseh will be joining our left some of these fine mornings.
Deserters continue to come in to our lines in large numbers. They are very doleful in their accounts of "Rebel feelins".
I must close. Give my sincere thanks to Janey for her kind wishes for my welfare. Also, remember me kindly to Perry's people, Mother, Joseph, Martha & the boy, Billings, and the neighbors, especially uncle Stephen's people.
And believe me ever,
Your loving brother
[written along the edges of pages] The most reasonable explanation of the Aurora Borealis I have heard, is that the beautiful phenomenon is produced by the reflection of the prismatic rays of the sun by the vast fields of ice which surrounds the pole. [Note: a completely inaccurate, but imaginatively plausible explanation!]
Your address is correct. I have not heard from father since the letter you sent me. I am afraid he is worse. I have never received an answer from my questions to the fortune teller. I heard the letter was lost.
DIARY [resuming after the missing pages, see discussion last month]
Friday [March] 17th
St. Patrick's day. Very pleasant. A grand show in the shape of horse racing. I went up to court and then adjourned and went over to the races. There was a platform erected, on which the generals and ladies took their stand. There was eight or ten of each present. Everybody seemed in the best of spirits, and nothing could make them mad. Several hurdle and flat races took place, and finally a sack race. The riders in the hurdle races were thrown plentifully. One of them, a Colonel, was thrown over the head of his horse and then the horse fell his whole weight upon him. The colonel was taken off the field in an ambulance. When we were coming home, of course we had to run horses some. The one Lieutenant Hepburn was riding ran away and threw him, hurting him pretty badly. The horse put one of his eyes out when his head struck the ground. Aside from these little accidents, the day passed off very pleasantly.
Extremely pleasant. This is such beautiful weather that I should think our army would be constrained to move. We could move more comfortably now than in mid-summer. Nights are pretty cold, to be sure, but fires could be made easily. I commenced the trial of Surgeon Freeman and have done with the prosecution today. It is very disagreeable for me to prosecute an officer of my own regiment in this manner. Still, my oath binds me to do my duty. I learn that the Colonel of the 7th New York Volunteers, who was thrown from his horse during the race yesterday, is getting over his injury. Wrote to Annie of S this evening.
I still have to chronicle the continuation of pleasant weather. The Surgeon yesterday told me that he had almost gotten the idea that I was a special counsel for the prosecution. I wonder if every person who comes before a court for the first time thinks so, I guess. I wrote to sister this evening, I hardly know how to praise the boy enough to suit her, so I just am about to commence running him down.
Another pleasant day, so warm that it makes one perspire by just riding. Finished the trial of Surgeon Freeman--all but his final defense, which is his own statement. The officers of the 14th New Jersey gave an entertainment in the Brigade courtroom this evening. Had a very fine time dancing and singing. Our band officiated. It is the only string band in the brigade, so has plenty of demands. As soon as the officers began to get tight, I left, as I cannot enjoy that any. I danced a waltz and shotishe and talked the rest of the time. There was much enjoyment until the whiskey began to operate. Spring is now pretty well advanced, and the army is ready to move at the first advantage the Rebels give us to do so.
Quite pleasant until night, when it commenced raining. Finished the Doctor's trial today. If I had possessed any malice against him, I could have managed things so that he would have to be cohiered [Note: cashiered?] by the court. But as it is, he will be all right, as the court have acquitted him. I wrote to friend Beaugureau this evening, repaying the pretty girl he spoke of, by sending my love to her.
The wind has blown a perfect gale all day. The ground is very dry, and this wind has raised such clouds of dust that it is almost impossible to see two rods. The dust finds its way into our shanties in quantities large enough to cover everything in no time. It is difficult to breathe or hold ones eyes open. I was over to Division Head Quarters most of the P.M. Received a letter from Ex. Lieutenant Munro this evening. [Note: I'm not sure what the "ex" stands for here. Perhaps someone more conversant with army ranks will recognize it easily. ETA: or maybe this is simply "Former Lieutenant"? I need an index so I can track what's been said about Munro in the past!] Also one from 4'.4. [Note: By Abiel's cipher, this should be "M. D." but I'm not sure who it refers to.] Commenced writing to John Clemence, but did not finish. The wind has gone down.
I really believe that the wind has taken a contract to blow all of these plains into the James river at the shortest possible notice. Such a terrific gale as has been blowing since sunrise, I never saw before. I have a pretty good idea of a sand storm on the deserts now. Such clouds of sand and dust I supposed could not be raised by the wind. It kept falling on our tents, with very much the same sound as would be produced by a very fine and thick hail. Outdoors, great clouds of dust 600 or 800 feet high were driving across the heavens. Much difficulty was experienced in breathing at times. Our tents seemed insufficient to keep the sand out of our shanties. It sifted through them like snow through a thatch. Everything was covered. When I ate, I put a newspaper over my head, so as to form an additional cover for my victuals.
[Spelling note: Twice in this month's entries, I've noticed Abiel spelling "such" as "shuch". I've standardized the spellings for ease of reading. This doesn't seem to be a deliberate self-conscious "dialectal" spelling as he sometimes features (often in scare-quotes), but it may reflect a phonetic rendering of the word as he pronounces it.]
Quite cold today, not so windy. Grand havoc was made with the tents yesterday. I saw many which had got loose in some part and were blown into ribbons before they could be secured. I received a paper from Uncle John. I find that I am consulted as a lawyer might be at home. If an officer wants an application for Leave of Absence to be made out, it's now, "Captain, you know how that should be; won't you do it for me?" If one wants to resign he is directed to Captain LaForge. "Now Captain, won't you make me a good statement upon which to tender my resignation?" I have just made out one of the last for Lieutenant Collins. [Note: Yet one more example of the esteem Abiel was held in, though of a more practical form that some others. I suspect that practice he gets in law and regulations as Judge Advocate adds to people's confidence in his abilities here.]
Still cold We were ordered out in considerable haste this morning. The enemy made a sudden dash and succeeded in surprising and capturing two of our forts [on the] Appomattox. One division of our corps was ordered down there and our brigade, being a reserve, was put onto the ground they vacated to hold that from any attack, owing to the fact we were not actively engaged during the day. Our forts were retaken by our men, and many of the Rebs captured in them.
This P.M. an advance was ordered on our left. The enemy were driven back a considerable distance; nearly their entire picket line was captured. Our loss was small in killed and wounded, and none captured. Our division lost in all about 150 men. Most of these were men of the second brigade.
About five P.M., a grand charge was made by the 2nd Corps on the left of their line, which they succeeded in advancing 3/4 of a mile. During the heaviest part of the firing, the President, Generals Grant and Mead, and other General officers, also many distinguished foreigners, the Generals' wives, and the President's son, came to the fort we were garrisoning and watched the fight with their glasses for quite a long time. When they went away, the soldiers gave them a hearty cheer. [Note: This appears to be the Battle of Fort Stedman.]
Rained some just at dark cold enough to be very disagreeable we built small fires and tried to keep ourselves as comfortable as possible but it was poor comfort at best, we were relieved and came into camp at 3-1/2 O.C. after spending the worst of the night on the line. Taking the day's operations as a whole, it has been a losing game to the Johnnies. [Note: Abiel doesn't have the benefit if hindsight: that day's operations as a whole were the last meaningful action before the Confederate defenses collapsed.]
Still quite cold. I feel pretty lame and sore today. Ex Captain Briggs returned from leave of absence today. [Note: Then perhaps "ex" is simply straightforwardly "former"?] He is now Lieutenant Colonel. The Quarter Master also returned. Everything has been quiet, except now and then a shot on the picket line. Our regiment all went out on picket tonight, with the exception of detailed officers, of which myself is one. I rode over to see Colonel Smith, the President of our court. He was reported killed yesterday, but is alive and well. Major Spangler, one of the members, was wounded. I wrote to sister and John Clemence this evening. Received a letter from sister, and one from Sam Clemence this evening.
LETTER [very faint]
Head Quarters I Company 106th New York Volunteers
Anglo-French Hotel, Before Petersburg Virginia, March 26th, 1865
My dear Sister,
I received your kind letter of the 14th not about ten minutes ago and hasten to reply. You will see by my memorandum that our long continued quiet has been disturbed at last. I judge that the disturbers of our peace have regretted it that they did so, however, for their loss has been much greater than ours and [illegible] they are our enemies and [illegible] the most discontented [illegible] I ever heard of.
The mail man is coming now and I have only time to write a word or two and depend on the [illegible] I hardly expect to [illegible] th[e] boy would be useless yet. I beg of you [illegible] precious as if he was gold and more so [illegible] face looking so bright as when I come home.
Tell Joseph that I am sorry to be obliged [illegible] his invitation to the sugar lick. Give Janie, mother, Perry['s] People, and the rest my kindest regards and believe me ever your loving brother,
In haste I should judge, Capt. &c.
(added in darker ink) Ever thine, no storms which may come across our paths in after life, can sever the bonds of love which now bind our hearts. [Note: This line has the feel of a quotation, being a slightly more poetic register than Abiel's usual language. But I can't identify a likely source by googling key phrases of it.]
Lafy [Note: this appears to be a new nickname Abiel gives himself, clearly a shortening of "LaForge".]
Monday, March 27th 1865
Day quite warm. Our whole regiment came off picket this evening about 10 O.C. The men were pretty tired, cold, and sleepy. The rebs attacked the picket of the 2nd Division driving them back a considerable distance. That division advanced their line too far from the breastworks yesterday. Dr. Carpenter received his commission as Surgeon of the 43rd New York Volunteers. He says that he does not care whether he can get mustered or not.
Very pleasant. Another move is on foot. Part of the army of the James has came to this side of the river, and are moving up to the left. I understand that Sheridan is to take an expedition off to the left for some purpose. He may try to move on Weldon or strike the South Side Rail Road. I think we shall move tomorrow.
We were ordered to move at 8 this A.M. Broke camp and moved up to the ground occupied by the 2nd Corps. The expedition has started to the left. We were deployed on the breastwork until 4 P.M. and then assembled, got our supper, and were then marched out on the picket line. Our whole regiment went on. I had charge of the regiment. Deployed them on the picket line and then went up to the reserve.
On picket all day. Tained pretty hard all last night and today. There has been some very hard fighting on the left. Sheridan is evidently stirring the rebs up. Orders came that we were not to be relieved tonight, as a charge on the enemy's lines was to be made. Major Paine came out to relieve the officer of the day. A little after dark I went through the whole picket line with him, to show him where the line was. We had to wade two pretty bad swamps.
I had already been three times over the line and was very tired. I tried to get a little sleep when I got back to the reserve post, so that I should feel a little more like fighting, but before I got to sleep, two reb. Deserters were brought in. They said that they had a strong picket but the men in the breastworks were deployed three paces apart. I made up my mind that if we were not all killed by grape and cannister we could carry the works easily. After disposing of these, I again laid down, but before I got to sleep, two more deserters were brought in. They said that a brigade of rebs had just arrived at the works. This made things more doubtful. Just after these were disposed of, an order came that we should not charge the works. Half an hour after, this was countermanded: we were to charge about 2 oclock. A final order came not to charge, so we are not in a way to cover ourselves with glory after all. [Note: I'm imagining Abiel doing some Olympic-level eye-rolling as he writes this up.]
A very fair day, but rained all night and until 9 A.M. After two nights awake, I felt very tired and sleepy, but before we could get a chance to get breakfast, the brigade was ordered out again. We marched to the top of a hill so as to show ourselves to the rebs and remained there until an hour before sundown, and then came back and were assigned to the camp previously occupied by the 4th New York H.A. [Note: Not sure how to explan "H.A."] A very good camp. I only hope we may be allowed to keep it all night, so as to get our much needed rest. Heavy firing has been heard at intervals all day, three or four miles to our left.