A few weeks ago, a writer friend asked for blog prompts and, based on an intersection of mutual interests, I suggested talking about exactly what was going on in 16th century Prague under Rudolf II that made it a fascinating place to write about. (My own intersection is that Antuniet Chazillen's book of alchemical gemstone secrets was written at that place and time.) As it happened, another writer and mutual friend stepped up to address the question, and the essay went live today. Check it out!
The biggest take-away from this set of entries is how meaningless a lot of the on-the-ground action must have seemed to the average soldier. Move here, move there, engage, retreat, end up back where you started a week ago with nothing obvious to show for it except casualties. Abiel sometimes makes comments that address issues of larger strategy, so I suspect he was constantly aware of the importance of even those "meaningless" manoevers. The level of detail he sometimes records from active engagements is startling. It really gives a sense of how lucky any specific individual was to survive the entire war.
The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878
[PUNCTUATION AND SPELLING ARE COPIED FROM THE ORIGINALS. EDITORIAL COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD TYPE.]
I will commence my memorandum where it was suddenly terminated yesterday by an order from Brigade Head Quarters, again ordering me to take out and establish a picket line. Captain Parker of Company "F" was the senior officer on picket, but he kept himself in a safe place, leaving everything that required exposure to me.
Our batteries had already been engaged about half an hour with some force in our front--how large we did not know. I crossed the river with my pickets and at once found that I should have to fight for a posish [i.e., position--I just love Abiel's "posish" so much I'm going to keep leaving it in place], so I moved my men to a knoll where we slightly infiladed the reb pickets, and giving them a few shots we gained a starting point. I then deployed my men as fast as possible under fire, conducting them on the run through a corn field where our flank was constantly reciving the reb fire. I would leave a man at every two rods, who would at once commence returning the fire. We ran in a stooping posture, so as to gain all the concealment possible from the corn, which was 4-1/2 feet high.
Everything progressed favorably until about noon, when with my glass I could see a column of the enemy crossing the river 2 miles below us. This heavy force I saw would strike our line of battle on the flank and rear. Still I felt confident. Some of the men who came out in the morning with me were dead, others wounded, but we held our first position. The force which crossed the river soon came up and engaged our troops in such a manner that they came right behind my line on the left. I then bowed the left in, and finally had to recross the river to avoid capture. This was done by fording, as our troops had burned the bridge as a measure of safety. My men were careful to keep their ammunition dry.
A Reb Lieutenant Colonel captured at this time said that we had until an hour before been engaged with the Cavalry alone, but now the whole of Ewell's Army 30,000 strong had came up. Said he, "As near as I can find, you have but 6000 men," (which was the fact) "and unless you dig out of here you will rue it."
An hour after this, they charged our line and were finely repulsed, and held back for some time. Then they again charged with a double line of battle against our one, and with a line so long that it bowed arround both our flanks. Even then, our boys held them nobly for a long time. But mortal courage could not stand against such odds. They they gave way slowly at first, then rapidly, and finally ran. The retreat soon became a general rout. I rallied a few of the pickets and held our line for a few minutes, but they melted so fast that they could not be forced to remain in such a position.
I finally gave the order for the picket to fall back, and I took good care to be the last from the line. When I started, I ran as fast as possible, thus zigzaging for I found myself a mark for more of the enemy's sharp shooters than was at all comfortable. I had a brook to cross, several wounded men and dead also lay in it, their cries were piteous but no halt. I got across the railroad and here found some of our union troops, 8 or 10. I stopped to breathe and we determined to bother the Johnnies a little, and commenced firing at those who were fording the river and crossing the iron railroad bridge.
One of the men called my attention to a reb 300 yards distant who was running toward the river to cross. Bringing up his gun, he fired. The man went down. The "shot" at once commenced expressing the most extravagant joy, at the same time reloading. By this time, some of the enemy were in 30 feet of us. I had just aimed my revolver at the foremost when, looking back, I saw a lot of them in our rear. I thought my weapon might do better service fighting through them.
We all started on the retreat, going to the right of the enemy who were deploying to capture us. The bullets flew like hail stones. The boys fell all around me. I shall never forget the short, "Oh! Ah! Dear Me!" and such like exclamations which was all that gave us to understand that one of our number was wounded.
I overtook General Wallace's retreating column on the Baltimore Pike. The officers were making every effort to bring some order out of the chaos and even while rapidly retreating, the old veterans formed in column so as to resist any further demonstration the enemy could make. On through New Market we came. No halt at dark for making coffee, but those that had hard tack divided with their comrades and they ate as they walked. At 2 OC this morning, a rest of an hour was ordered, but the men were so fatigued that they could go no farther, so they were allowed to lay until daylight, when the retreat was resumed.
What misery the men have endured today: feet sore as boils, tired, hungry, but above all defeated. Still no murmering. We have finally reched Ellicotts Mills, 36 miles from the scene of action, and are now bivouacked in a beautiful wood for a rest and I think probably to stay all night.
My dear sister,
Do not think by the date of my letter that I shall send it today, for I shall not have a chance for a week perhaps. When I do, I will add more and forward it. My object in writing tonight is the romance of the fourth, and also to answer the questions propounded in your last, lest I might forget them, as I have to burn your letter as fast as received for want of transportation for them.
First I am in command of the company because the captain was captured on May 6th at the battle of the Wilderness. The 1st Lieutenant went home on a furlough last March and forgot to return. The 2nd Lieutenant was killed at the Battle of Cold Harbor June 1st, so I am not only in command but also the only officer in the company. My Company properly is "F", being however that there was already two officers present with that company, I was placed in command of co "I".
My pay is now $108--rather higher than before, you see. Out of this I must buy my provisions, clothing, and arms. One dollar a day pays for grub in the field. In camp it would be more, as we could get more to buy. So I have a little more than $2.50 per day for other purposes.
Saturday July 9th: According to promise, I finish my letter to you, but in a far different place from what I had anticipated. We are now about 4 miles from Frederick, Maryland and I am sitting on the bank of the Monocacy River. And delighted is every man in the command to be able to breathe the pure mountain air of these regions again. The Loyal Citizens of Frederick were glad to see us come marching into town. They thought that the very name of the Veterans of the Army of Potomac was sufficient to protect them. What must have been their feelings last night when, to save ourselves from capture, we had to abandon the city, which was soon occupied by the enemy. I grieve at their disappointment.
I will not finish this letter until night as we are likely to have a brush with rebs just now and I shall want you to know the result.
Monday July 11th 1864: Ellicotts Mills, 10 miles from Baltimore.
Dear friends, by the blessing of God I am spared to finish this letter. Immediately after closing this Saturday I was detailed to go on duty as officer of the picket. This was 9 A.M. The enemy attacked at that hour and from that time until nearly sundown we were engaged in in a battle as obstinately fought as any of the war. We, however, were pitted against such fearful odds that the defeat which I sorrowfully chronicle can be considered no disgrace to our brave Division. By reading my mem[orandum]'s, which I enclose, you will get a faint idea of the fearful nature of the struggle. Amid such dreadful carnage it seems almost impossible that any person could escape unharmed as I did, and for which I feel truly thankful. The fertile fields of the Monocacy must have been satiated with human gore, and her waters was discoloured with the life blood of many heroes who will know no other grave than that afforded by her cool wave, which is today gently caressing their marble brows.
Prisoners report the Rebs 30,000 which would make them over five to our one. Still we held them back for eight long hours in spite of all they could do. This I consider a tribute to the bravery of the Division, which may well make them feel proud. I cannot describe my heart-sickness when, after such a resistance, we had to give way. And the last rays of the setting sun saw our routed and retreating army flying across the Maryland Hills. I must abruptly close on account of duty. Much love to all,
DIARY Monday 18th
Halt of the 6th Army Corps in Snickers Gap Shenandoah Mountains. Of this halt I take advantage and shall write up my neglected memoranadum. Also, if I have time, write to sister. I wrote a letter to Miss Porter at Baltimore and have it in my pocket yet, not having had a chance to mail it. On Sunday 10th, our brave but defeated little army under General Wallace reached Ellicotts Mills, 10 miles west of Baltimore, were marched into a beautiful grove near the town, and camped. My servant, who had been behind and was I feared captured, came up with my provisions and blankets. The arrival of the three gave me much comfort, both mentally and physically. Remained all night, luxuriously sleeping among the thick leaves and obtaining in large doses the much needed rest, after two days of excessive fatigue.
On Monday 11th George Powell, Lieutenant of "K" and I went down to the village without our shoulder straps--we never wear them on a campaign--and had a deal of attempting to make the liquor venders believe we were officers. They were prohibited from selling to privates, and insisted on classing us among that order, probably having never seen officers just from the battlefield before. We were looking rather rough. We went into a place for a glass of ale. T'was "no go" "we were not officers, could not sell them" &c. were our only replies. While we were parleying, an officer in full uniform came in with whom I had been an picket at Monocacy. I laughingly told him my difficulty. He soon set matters right by explaining to "mine host" that it was not the style of the officers of the Army of the Potomac to put on many airs or extras, and most of them dressed the same as privates. After this, I got what I wanted. [Note: This item would seem to contradict my previous speculations on Abiel's shifting attitude toward alcohol. Interesting.]
I also got some lime water to dress my face, which had been badly burned by a fellow spattering red-hot grease upon it--accidentally of course--the day before. Three hours before sundown broke camp and started for Baltimore. The Quarter Master stores in town could not be saved. There was danger of their falling into the hands of the enemy, so they were destributed gratuitously to the men. Proceeded to Baltimore by rail. Arrived after dark and bivouacked near the upper Baltimore and Ohio railroad depot. Remained there all night and all [The transcript breaks off here with no indication of illegibility so it may be that Abiel stopped writing in the middle of a sentence.]
Tuesday 12th: Lieutenant Powell and I went into town and got some Ice cream and cake.
Wednesday 13th: Moved arround to the North side of the city and camped in a beautiful situation in Druid Hill Park, where we luckely found plenty of boards to put our selves up in good shape. Captain Robertson and I went through the park on an exploration trip, pitching into all sorts of out of the way places, discovering all that was admirable, and lamenting that war should make it necessary to desecrate such holy quiet by the clash of arms. In the afternoon the blanks came from the Ordnance Office and I at once went to work making out my ordinance report. This has to be done four times a year, when a full account has to be given of all arms and accoutrements, and Ordnance Stores that have been in our possession since last return. Every officer in the service has to make this return. This afternoon, communication between here and Washington by a body of Rebel Cavalry which has passed on towards Annapolis.
Thursday 14th: At M. [i.e., meridian = noon] took cars for Washington, as communication had been opened again and the railroad repaired. The enemy did but little damage, merely burning a few cars and cutting down some telegraph poles, tearing up a few rails etc. Arrived at Washington just before sundown, disembarked from the cars, took supper at the Soldiers Rest, camped near there.
Next morning, Thursday 15th: Breakfasted at Soldiers Rest then marched to Georgetown by way of Pennsylvania Avenue. The citizens received our scarred veterans with demonstrations of joy. I saw many of my old acquaintances in the city and had many gay salutes from all sides. The Division gave three cheers for Lincoln as we passed the White House. Bivouacked near Tennally town until 4 P.M. then marched about six miles further towards Poolsville, then stopped for the night in a field of tall timothy. What luxury to streatch out on that soft bed of grass!
Saturday 16th: Very hot. Still we made a long hard march, fording the Potomac near Edwards Ferry. The men were allowed to take off their clothes and carry them on their heads while fording. The water came up to their breasts, and was 1/4 of a mile wide. It was decidedly a strange spectacle to see 5000 men with their lower person naked and the upper clothed, marching down the sloping bank on one side and wading across in a long line four abreast, emerging on the other side, then marching in that garb 1/2 a mile and fording a branch of the river before dressing. Some young ladies came from the farmhouses around to watch the troops cross, but when they saw the primative garb which was to be worn during the operation, they concluded to retire, out of sight of us at least.
It was dark before the whole Division was across. Still the route for Leesburg, seven miles distant, was taken up. Three miles through the heat and dust we went, and at rapid marching to this, occasioned many men who were footsore and thoroughly exhausted to fall, and finally convinced the General that he would have but few men with him if he continued on, so a "Halt for the night" was commanded. I was very much fatigued. My servant was not up either with my blanket overcoat or provision, so I put my rubber arround me and threw myself on the ground already wet with dew, and was soon fast asleep. My repose was of short duration however, for I awoke with the cold and slept but little thereafter.
Sunday 17th: On towards Snickers Gap, passing through Leesburg, a pretty little city nestling cosily among the hills of London County, something like Elmira New York on a much smaller scale. Stoped near the town for dinner, then marched some three miles farther and joined the rest of the 6th corps, which had arrived on the ground by another route the day berore. The Chaplain of one of the regiments preached a sermon in the grove where the Brigade was bivouacked. It was decidedly impressive, to see the weather bronzed veterans of many a hard campaign gathered around beneath the royal old oaks listening to the words of devotion put up by the man of God. Over the whole of them the ruddy glare of the camp fires was playing, and lighting up faces which showed no less interest in the words there spoken than in the words which had called them forth to do battle for their country.
Monday 18th: The whole corps took the road for the mountains. We have many evidences of the hasty manner in which the Rebs fled along this road: wagons burned to prevent their falling into our hand were scattered all along the route, dead mules and horses--swollen by the heat and looking horrible--interrupted us every little way. The smell too was awful. Our cavalry pressed them closely yesterday. We arrived at this place (Snickers Gap) about 11 A.M. and, as I before said, I take advantage of our halt to write up my mem[orandum]s. The Rebs are on the other side of the Mountain and a Division of Hunter's 8th Corps are close upon them.
DIARY Tuesday 19th
On picket East side of the Shenandoah. Crossed the Blue Ridge yesterday afternoon. When coming down the west side of the mountain, we could see a Division of the 19th Corps forcing a crossing at Snickers Ford. They were sharply engaged. Our corps marched to a posish where we had a splendid view of the engagement, being about three hundred feet above and 1/2 mile in rear of the combatants. One Division of the 19th got across but were driven by a splendid charge of the rebs back into the river again. When the enemy made that charge, battery after battery opened upon them, some of the shells bursting right in their ranks. Still they kept on nobly, and finally drove the 19th from a good posish behind a stone wall, and across the river. Those troops do not fight like the soldiers of the Grand Army. I should like to have seen those rebs attempt to drive a Division of the Army of the Potomac from that stone wall.
The Division just at dark received orders to sleep on their arms. At the same time, a regiment of one hundred days men, was being marched through a ravine in our rear to do picket duty below us on the river, when suddenly a reb battery 1-1/2 miles off commenced throwing shells at random in our direction. Several of these, all at once fell into the 100 days men doing considerable execution, and scattering them like chaff. Fortunately the enemy were not aware of the service their battery was doing and it soon ceased firing altogather. No 100 days regiment came to time for picket duty however, so the 87 P.V. and 106th N.Y. were detailed for that duty and a disagreeable time we had getting on post: wading streams and climbing fences, forcing our way through the underbrush etc. in the dark. However we are very comfortable just now. I slept very nicely on the porch of a mountain cabin last night. Feel none the worse for it now.
I do not know when I shall have an opportunity to send this letter to you, but as one may occur when least expected, I will have it ready. The life of a soldier is "constant change." If the saying "there is no rest for the wicked" applies only to sinners, then all this Grand Army must have a large account to settle. The order to "Forward" has just been given and I can write no more now.
Bank of the Shenandoah. July 18th
I will continue my epistle, from yesterday's interruption. In pursuance of the order which caused such an abrupt pause in my letter, we marched through the Gap, from the summit of which I obtained such a lovely view, such as one is allowed only once in a lifetime, during a halt on the top of the mountain. I ran off and, clambering up a cliff, succeeded in obtaining a m ... elegant position, for from this summit of the Blue Ridge could be seen the whole of the London Valley which we had just left, and much of the world-renowned Shenandoah Valley. In looking across the first, I could trace far back toward Washington the road pursued by the army in chasing the flying Johnnies. To the south-east, the view was interrupted by the Heights of Mannassas, however that part of the country I knew tolerably well. The particular charm lay in the Valley into which we were marching. Far off across the beautifully undulating plain could be seen the dim outlines of the Alleghanies. These lay to the north-west. To the North, the vision was abruptly terminated by the frowning fortified summits of Maryland Heights. Then looking to the south, I could follow the Valley far past Winchester, until its extension in that direction seemed to be suddenly stopped by a hill which had evidently been droped in there by mistake. That hill is what was once Stonewall Jackson's stronghold and was considered the key to the upper Valley.
Inside of these boundaries, all was loveliness: cities, hamlets, and cottages nestled cosily among the green hills, waving woods and meandering streams. To use one's eyes alone, all seemed peace and quiet. But the organs of hearing told another tale, for there came rolling back on the breeze, the boom of artillery and sharp crack of rifles. Already the advance guard of the army, which was slowly winding its way down the mountain, had met a defiant foe who felt disposed to dispute its farther progress.
One more look at the beautiful and historical plain from which it is our proud purpose to drive [the] foe, and I sprang down the cliff and hastened to join my company, which had passed on quite a distance. I refer you to my memoranadum for the description of the fight and the part which we took in it.
Last evening, when we came here to do picket duty in the place of the 100 day Regiment which ran away, we accidentally ran upon a lot of bee hives which had been hidden by their owner in the woods. The said owner and ourselves entered into an arrangement whereby five of the hives of honey pass into our hands on condition that we allow no more to be taken while we are here. We had a splendid honey supper--honey and hard-tack--on the strength of this dicovery. There was enough in the five hives for both of the regiments on duty here. When some other regiment comes out to relieve us, old secesh [note: I presume this is a shortened form of "successionist", referring to the hive owner] will loose more of his honey I presume.
We are on picket on the extreme right of the army on the South bank of the river, expect to move to night. Love to all,
DIARY Tuesday, July 19th, 1864
Our regiment with the 87 P.V. [possibly "Pennsylvania Volunteers"?] were on picket duty on the mountain roads to the right of Snickers Gap. The duty is very pleasant. There is a man lives here who has some 20 hives of honey. He gave us 5 hives last night on condition that we would put a guard over them and prevent any more being taken, which we did. We had all the honey we wanted. We officers also took supper and breakfast with the man, we had hoe cake, butter, rye coffee, and ham. There has been considerable firing along the river today but from the clouds of dust rrising along the roads back I should judge the main body of the enemy were falling back. [See this link for a recipe for Civil War era "rye coffee".]
DIARY Tennally Town D.C, Saturday July 23rd 1864 [Note: I'm guessing that this was all written up on the 23rd and that the interim dates are for documentary purposes. If so, quite a memory for detail!]
Last Tuesday night we were relieved from picket and marched back to the hill where we witnessed the fight of the 19 Army Corps the night before and bivouacked for the night.
Wednesday July 20th
About M. [i.e., noon] got orders for the route, were soon packed up and started. We crossed the Shanandoah at Snickers Ford by wading it--it was about two feet deep--then started on the pike for Berryville. After going a mile, a heavy thunder storm came up which gave us a most thorough wetting. We marched a mile in the rain then turned into the woods and waited for it to stop, which it did in about an hour. We still staid however. There was a lot of hogs in the woods and the boys went to shooting them and we soon had fresh pork enough for two days.
At eight, news was received that a heavy column of the enemy were approaching Washington, that those in our front had only fell back in order to draw us farther from that city, that nearly all those who had been before us two days before had went up the valley and recrossed the Blue Ridge at Ashby's Gap and were also marching for our city and had the inside track. The danger was eminent. [Note: I'm guessing that "imminent" is intended, but either would work!]
Our orders were that we should start for Washington and march night and day till we got there. What rations we had must last us the whole distance. We started on the return at 10 P.M., recrossed the Shanandoah and up through Snicker's Gap. We marched all night--it was bright moon-light. We would go about two hours then rest half an hour. We got to the place we started from the Tuesday before about 8 A.M.
Here we halted for breakfast then started on towards Leesburg. We passed through that city and went into camp on the East side of Goose Creek four miles East of the town at 2 P.M. having marched over 30 miles since starting the night before. This--with the men with pretty heavy loads and over the rough roads of the mountain, fording the Shanandoah twice, marching at night with a wagon train five miles long by our side to bother us--was accomplishing a miricle. This forced march gave us the inside track of the rebs so that we could be more leisurely in our movements hereafter. The Corps rested here until 4 O.C. A.M.
The 3rd Division, to which the 106th belongs, was detailed to guard the wagon train this day. We started at four OC. Our Division had one hundred wagons to guard, making ten for each company. I had ten. My men put their knapsacks and haversacks on the wagons and marched pretty easy today. I left the train once to go to a house and get a drink. When I was coming back, I ran on a blackberry patch, the like of which I never saw. They were large as plums, thick as cranberries, and sweet as sugar. I could have picked a bushel in half an hour. Of course it did not take long to fill myself, which I did to repletion, then joined the train. Ever since we have been up here we have had all the berries we could eat. There is plenty of them in all directions.
My boys caught five hens to make a soup of at night. We camped this night ten miles west of Chain Bridge. The boys have got a lot of cows and horses on the march, which they bring to the city to sell. [Note: "have got" here clearly means "stole from local farmers". We're seeing a lot of details of what it must have been like to be a Southern farmer in the path of this constant back-and-forth.] Some of them make a pile that way. The boys made their chicken soup, then we went into camp getting a lot of rye straw to lay on.
During the night I had a heavy chill, after that a hot fever so that this morning when I got up I could hardly stand. I could not eat, which is a prety sure sign of sickness in me. When the regiment fell in and started for this place, I staggered with weakness. It was evident I could not march. Captain Robinson had a pass to ride in the Ambulance. He gave it to me and I got into one and rode to the Chain Bridge.
We came through one or two little burgs the names of which I did not learn. Some of the country we passed through was very fine, but I did not take much interest in it. About a mile from the Bridge we came to a regiment of Veteran Reserves on duty. How mighty nice they looked with their straps all polished up and arms so bright and such enviable quarters! I almost wished I was in their places.
After we crossed the Bridge (Chain Bridge) they started the ambulances down to Washington. I asked where we were going. They said to the hospital, so I jumped out, as I could not see going to Hospital. We came up here to camp. I joined the Corps at the bridge. Our orders are to have inspection tomorrow, to send in for all the clothing, arms, and ammunition we want and to prepare ourselves for active duty in the field. I wonder what they call the duty we have been on.
The opinion appears to be that we are to go to Petersburg next week. Our Pay Rolls were brought up and the Paymasters say if we will have the Rolls signed they will pay us tomorrow morning. The Rolls will be signed. I have learned that Sergeants Campbell and Hawley whom I thought captured are up at Frederick City. The Orderly Sergeant however is captured and one private.
DIARY Near Georgetown. Sunday July 24th
The regiment was paid off today. Major Martin this P.M. said he could not pay me owing to some informality of the rolls. He showed me what it was but I could not see why he should not pay. I made up my mind if we stay here tomorrow I will take my retained roll down to the Pay Master General and ask him why I cannot be paid.
I received a letter from my sister today. All are well. Some of the boys have got considerable whiskey down them and are having a lively time of it. George Powell and I took a walk into the edge of Georgetown one and 1/2 miles from here. Came back pretty tired. I am feeling much better than I did yesterday.
DIARY Monday July 25th
Last night a heavy wind and rain came up and blew our tent down upon us. Lieutenant Powell and I sleep together. Our servants got up and fixed them and laid down, but the tents were down nearly as quick as they and so it kept them going. We succeeded in passing a rather uncomfortable night. We got up pretty early and about 8 O.C., although still raining, went down town. The first thing was to go to a bath house and take a good cleaning, then I went to Pay Master General and told him why Major Martin had refused to pay me. He said there was no reason why I should not be paid, and endorsed to that effect on the Pay Roll which I gave him. I went to Martin's office with it but found he was out to our Division paying. I saw Sergt Beaugureau and Hauser from camp. We went to Mitchell's and had a gay dinner, then I had a game of billiards with B[eaugureau]. We parted and I went to the A[ttorney] G[eneral] office and put my paper in for a discharge from the 85th New York Volunteers. Afterwards came back to camp. Major Martin had finished paying and gone back to the city so I did not get my $80.00 dollars.
DIARY Hyattstown Md. July 27th 1864
On the night of the 25th we got marching orders again to march early. The 26th we packed up ready but did not move til noon. Marched up the Frederick Pike to a mile west of Rockville. Here we bivouacked for the night in a little wood. This morning were up and started at 4 AM. Passed through Locksburgh about 11 AM, made a short rest, and then came on to this place which is about eleven miles from Fredricksburgh, and we will stay here all night. The wheat is harvest[ed] and is in the barns, the hay cut and stacked. Green corn plenty. Blackberries still abundant. Everything bears the appearance of peace and plenty, but what means the appearances of all these camp fires: a foe to conquer and [be] driven back.
DIARY Three miles west of Harpers Ferry. July 29th 1864
Marched up from Hyattstown through Urbana and bivouacked on the old Monocacy battle field where we arrived [Note: "where we arrived" is duplicated in the transcript, which I'm assuming is a transcription error and have deleted.] about M. [i.e., noon] the 28th. We went to looking for the body of Captain Hooker. The 1st New York Cavalry had dug trenches and burned our dead promiscuously in heaps. We knew where the body was left, however, and after considerable digging found his body. The only thing by which he could be recognised was his clothes and the wound through the head. His body was to be put in a rough coffin and again interred and word sent to his friends where to find him. We had to leave two men to perform the duty, as we were ordered away before we could finish it.
The corps proceeded to Jeffersonville about eight miles from Frederick. We forded the river in the same place I had to with the picket the day of the fight and, making a circuit arround Frederick, started for the mountains, which we had to cross before getting to our destination. It was dark before we got to them and the toil of marching over the mountain roads at night was immense. More than half the men gave out and stoped by the side of the road. At length, we reached the top and the men gave a cheer, as far below them on the plain in front was seen the camp fires of the Division which had crossed before us. We knew we should stop near them, hence the joy of the boys to see their journey's end.
We got down the mount and camped about 11 P.M. very tired. This morning (29th) we marched on up by the way of Petersville, Berlin, Sandy hook and Harpers Ferry. The week has been excessively hot and caused the men much suffering. No doubt as many as ten men have fell from sun stroke each day in this Brigade.
We are now lying in line of battle and dispositions have been made as though we were to be attacked. The rebs are reported eight miles from here. Maryland Heights are near enough to us to send shells from their 100 pounders over us. I dont see how it would be possible for any force to capture that place with its present fortifications. It must be imnpregnable. Strong works on the very top of a rugged mountain with heavy ordnance, lots of water and food, and a good garrison. They could defy the rebel army. I should like to have the chance to fight behind those works. As I have a chance, I will write to my sister tonight. Although I dont know when I shall have a chance to send it.
Through constant employment I have been prevented from writing to you on the usual day and it is while again on the march looking for the enemy that I take this opportunity. You will see by my memorandum that our programme is constantly changing. We are a flying army certainly. This is the third start we have made in this direction. Twice we have fell back to the capital only to start again. I hope we shall not have to go back so fast this time.
I saw the gentleman of whom I borrowed that money while I was in Washington. He said he sent you the order I gave him on the "13". If you have not got it, please tell Joseph to express the $75.00 seventy five dollars prepaid to Sergeant A. Beaugureau. "Chief Clerk" Rendezvous of Distribution Virginia and write me as soon .........sending me the Express [reverse of letter is very faint and only a few excerpts can be read] .......... the clothes I forgot ............ your letter of the 19th while on the march. I am glad you are so much ..... with the baby for as long as you .....................
.......................... to see if there was any .............. telegraph before I come home, so you can have a lot of them made up for me. Tell Miss Martha the Rebs are not so easy killed. They die hard, and not .... to work hard to get the advantage of .......... will do it after a while. ............ to Janey and Perry and tell the ..... I'd like to capture and send a contraband up to them to help at the farm. Give my love to the children also and all our friends. I have not got a letter from father since I came to the regiment. I must scold him. Supper is ready so goodbye for the present. Bijou
Dear sis. As I have some time before the mail goes out I will write you some more. I have just got a letter from father dated June 22nd. It has been laying at Rendezvous of Distribution for some time, which caused the delay. They were all well at that time. He is very bitter against John. C.--thinks he is telling me lies about him, which is reason I don't write. I have sent a letter to him disabusing his mind of any such idea. We are taking it cool just now, resting after our fatigue. The only firing I hear is some of the boys shooting pigs. Fresh meat will not be much of a luxury to me when I get home, for we get it nearly every day here. Pies will be, however. Love to all. [Note: the reference to "pies" leads me to guess that the illegible reference in the previous letter to "have a lot of them made up for me" might be to pies as well. Just a guess, though.]
A.T. La Forge
DIARY Camp near Harper Ferry July 30th 1864
We have had no orders to march yet but probably shall move today. We have just received our mail. I got a letter from father, one from John Clemence $10.00, one from W.W. Hibbard, one from O.L. Barney, all of which are well. It was very warm this morning but a fine breeze has sprung up now and cooled the air.
DIARY Head Quarters "I" Co. 106th New York Volunteers 1st Brigade 3rd Division 6th A. Corps July 29
Marched up to this place (Harpers Ferry) from Jeffersonville today, established our camp on the left of the road, [and] had orders to make ourselves comfortable for the night. Liutenant Powell and I went to a brook to remove from our persons the evidences of our dusty march. As we were coming back to camp, we learned that the Divisions had moved to the right of the road. We found them there in position for an attack, if one was made. It was a nice place to stay all night. We stoped here until about four P.M.
DIARY July 30th
News was received that the rebs had crossed the Potomac and marched on Chambersburg. The Army was at once started back towards Frederick. Our brigade was left as rear guard to move after all the trains had recrossed the river. We moved down to Bolivar so as to be inside the defenses of Harpers Ferry. Halted and word sent arround that we should have time to make coffee and sleep a little before the whole train was by. We laid down and slept all night. We did not move untill about 10 O.C.
DIARY July 31st Sunday
The officers were just going down town and leave me in command of the regiment as orders came to move. We got in line and moved across the Potomac on the pontoons and down through Sandy Hook, Knoxville, and Berlin. I never saw the men suffer so much with the heat. We were marching in a hollow--not a breath of air was stirring and the sun boiled down on our devoted heads in an awful manner. We had not went two miles before half the men had dropped out and the brigade had to be halted to allow them to come up. It was impossible to march, so the brigade was halted in a field to remain until an hour of sundown when the air became cooler and we marched on to Jefferson, where we arrived about 10 P.M. Here we received orders to make ourselves comfortable for the night.
For those who have been waiting for it, the ebook versions of Mother of Souls are now available through non-Bella distributors, including iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and Barnes & Noble among others. (I would remind readers that Bella gets a bigger cut when ebooks are bought directly, but of course the best place to buy a book is always the one where you actually buy it. So I will never quibble as long as you buy!) This seems an opportune time to remind readers that reviews on the major reader-review sites like Amazon and Goodreads really help with visibility. There is, in theory, a "magic number" of 50 Amazon reviews that pushes one over into being part of automatic book promotions, and three years after release Daughter of Mystery is still staring longingly at that number with 47 reviews. Since the theme of today's excerpt is jealousy, I'll confess that I'm jealous of authors who don't have to beg and plead to hit that "magic number". (The fall-off in review numbers for later books makes it likely that none of the other Alpennia books will ever hit it.)
Have you ever had that experience of working intensely with someone on a creative project and then reaching the point where it's time for other people, other skills to be drawn in? It's easy for a proprietary interest in the project to become entangled with the intimacy of the partnership, especially if there's a sense that one's own contributions are being left behind. Taken for granted. Even when they aren't. Serafina has never before known anyone the way she knows Luzie. And she has no practice in disentangling those reactions.
Chapter 26 - Serafina
Serafina recognized the small creature that nestled in the pit of her stomach. It was jealousy. She’d learned to recognize it long before she’d learned to ignore it. Who was she to be jealous of anyone? Just as she had no right to give herself wholly, she had no right to expect the same in return. She’d been the first to urge Luzie to draw others into the plans for Tanfrit. But it had been theirs—just the two of them—for so long. Now here was Jeanne, visiting or summoning Luzie to discuss the business of the performance. There were the regular letters from Maistir Ovimen that left Luzie glowing with a pride that no one else could have given her. And there was Iulien Fulpi.
“I was thinking,” Luzie had said, as they rode back together from the Academy at the end of one of the music days, sharing the fiacre with Doruzi Mailfrit and another of the Poor Scholars. “I was thinking I might ask Iulien to look at the libretto.”
And when Serafina hadn’t responded immediately, Luzie continued, “I know, she’s dreadfully young. But you couldn’t tell that from her poetry. And that’s what we need: poetry. The libretto tells the story well enough, but we both know it isn’t what it might be.”
The lyrics of the two pieces Iulien played for the depictio class had seemed nothing special—perhaps she simply hadn’t an ear for Alpennian verse—but the way they wove into Luzie’s settings… There was a crispness, a definition.
Margerit had acquiesced with only a few rules. “She must be properly chaperoned. She isn’t allowed to be wandering around the city by herself.” With a wry smile, “She’s already sweet-talked me into letting her go down to Urmai by boat in the mornings so she isn’t tied to my schedule. It isn’t that I don’t consider Maisetra Valorin a proper chaperone, but…”
But trips to the Academy were a simple matter of going back and forth from the private dock at Tiporsel House. Evidently it was less thinkable to let a girl like Iuli walk alone through the Nikuleplaiz, even with a maid for company.
“I’ll ask my Aunt Pertinek if she can find time to bring her,” Margerit concluded.
And so Serafina sat on the sofa with Maisetra Pertinek, while Iulien sat beside Luzie on the fortepiano bench and eagerly followed along in the libretto as they worked, part by part, through the score.
“Are you enjoying teaching at Margerit’s school?” Maisetra Pertinek asked.
Serafina pulled her attention away from the music and its effects. It was always hard to remember that most people were blind to the visions.
“I’m not really teaching,” she said. “Just helping at this and that. I’m there as a student.” She was enough ahead of the other students in the philosophy and thaumaturgy classes to be frustrated at their progress. That would improve, Margerit promised, once enough students had learned the basics that they could hold advanced classes. But would she have that long? Every day she expected a letter that Paolo’s duties in Paris were over.
“Oh,” Maisetra Pertinek said. “I had thought from what Margerit said… Well, never mind. What do you know about this opera that Iuli will be helping with?”
What do I know? I was there when the seed was planted. I dug through Margerit’s library to find every scrap of history we might use. I’ve sat by Luzie’s side for months shaping it into being.
“It’s a historic drama. One of your Alpennian philosophers. Did Maisetra Sovitre warn you that it’s to be a surprise and we don’t want it talked about before the performance?”
Maisetra Pertinek looked affronted. “I should hope that I know how to hold my tongue when asked. Margerit can tell you that.”
Yes, that must be true. There were secrets enough at Tiporsel House to practice on.
I've written up a new set of tag descriptions. You can find the permanent page with access to the tag-links here. For reasons of internal website structure, this is going to duplicate the content of that tag essay to get it into the blog feed. (Life is complicated.) But you'll now find that permanent page in the LHMP drop-down menu.
The purpose of tags is to make information relatively easy to find. The topics covered under “people/event tags” are historical persons, authors, written works, and other specific events, organizations, or works that are the subject of the research and publications covered by the Project. This essay is intended to explain briefly how the “people/event” tags are being used.
The second purpose is to provide a tag list that the visitor can use to explore the site. The number of tags used in the project, and the organization into four different categories, doesn’t lend itself to a traditional tag-cloud. The Place and Time Period tags each have a single essay. The Event/Person and Misc. Tags will be covered in thematic groups in multiple essays due to the larger number. Due to character restrictions on the attached tags, I've had to link to separate sub-posts to include linked tag-lists. This page brings together all the names and descriptions for this entire Person/Event tag category, but you'll need to click through to explore the linked articles.
I’m planning six essays for the People/Event Tags, each covering a general category with several subcategories.
This present essay covers the third category and includes the following:
Obviously these categories are quite fuzzy at the edges, and I've classified individual people according to what seems the most noteworthy aspect of their lives. Every story is far more complex than a single classification. These are only for the purposes of exploring general themes.
Passionate Friendships (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
The concept of passionate or romantic friendship covered a wide range of expressions. Women who enjoyed these relationships might also be in a heterosexual marriage. They might never have the opportunity of having the relationship recognized or respected within their social circles. They might never be able to co-habit or even spend extended time in each other's company. And such intense friendships might not be exclusive--or necessarily reciprocated. Those couples who were able to enjoy a more marriage-like living situation have generally been placed into the "Romantic Pairs" group.
Romantic Pairs (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
This group covers a wide variety of types of relationships and the term "romantic" is really a misnomer. The unifying factor is the intersection of two lives in a particular bond based on love, desire, or sex, especially if the two lived together to some degree in a marriage-like arrangement.
Reputed Lesbians (Click here for a sub-post with linked tags)
This grouping is defined, not necessarily by specific relationships, but by either the fact or rumor that a woman had sexual relationships with other women. There may be some edge cases where one specific relationship was noted in the historic record, but in general I've placed people in this group due to the specifically sexual nature of the evidence.
[Note: I have not transcribed the poems that are quoted in the podcast. The translations I used are from: Eisenbichler, Konrad. “Laudomia Forteguerri Loves Margaret of Austria” in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (ed. By Francesca Canadé Sautman & Pamela Sheingorn), Palgrave, New York, 2001.]
In Plato’s myth of the origin of love--a myth that accounts for both opposite-sex and same-sex love--he describes how all people were originally part of a double body, split from each other and eternally seeking their other half. In his 1541 dialogue titled “On the Beauty of Women”, Italian philosopher Agnolo Firenzuola expands on this, saying: "Those who were female in both halves, or are descended from those who were, love each other’s beauty, some in purity and holiness, as the elegant Laudomia Forteguerra loves the most illustrious Margaret of Austria, some lasciviously, as in ancient times Sappho from Lesbos, and in our own times in Rome the great prostitute Cecilia Venetiana. This type of woman by nature spurns marriage and flees from intimate conversation with us men.”
Now I’m curious to know a lot more about Cecilia Venetiana, but alas this is the extent of her footprint in history. However we know a great deal about Laudomia Forteguerra and Margaret of Austria. Firenzuola was a contemporary and friend of theirs and no doubt was careful in how he described their relationship. The Seigneur de Brantôme, writing half a century later in France, and knowing only rumor and gossip, asserted that their love fell in the lascivious category. What evidence do we have to search for the truth between these two claims?
Laudomia was a member of the ruling families of the republic of Sienna in Italy. You must understand that 16th century Italy was far from a unified country. It was made up of a lot of separate states, often at war with each other. Large chunks were ruled by the Vatican, known collectively as the Papal States. Other chunks were ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, who controled lands in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Spain, and elsewhere, in addition to Italy. Other parts of Italy were independent, such as Florence under the Medicis or Mantua under the Gonzagas.
Sienna was another one of these states, ruled by a coalition of noble families and struggling to maintain their independence from the greater powers all around them. Laudomia Forteguerra, as I have said, was Siennese. She was famed for being beautiful and educated--a true Renaissance woman in every sense of the term. Scholars dedicated books to her and her own poetry was highly praised. Among those poems are five sonnets, addressed and dedicated to Margaret of Austria, expressing her devotion, admiration, and love.
I’m unable to pronounce Italian well enough to give you the original version. The translation, alas, does not rhyme and scan. But here’s the sense of one of her poems.
[Poem: Alas for my beautiful sun]
But who is Margaret of Austria? And why is Laudomia writing her poetry?
In 1521, a serving woman named Johanna Maria van der Gheynst, became the mistress of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. For those not familiar with the intricacies of the genealogies of 16th century royalty, you know how Queen Elizabeth the first of England’s older sister Mary was married to King Phillip II of Spain? Well, Charles V was Phillip’s father. It gets really complicated and I’ll try to keep the political discussion simple.
So Emperor Charles had an affair with a servant and a year later she produced a daughter, who was named Margaret and placed in the care of her aunt (Charles’s sister), also named Margaret of Austria, who was serving as governor of the Netherlands at the time. (When I first encountered this description I was, I confess, a little stunned. Wait: a woman was governor of the Netherlands? So obviously there’s a lot about Renaissance history that even I, an amateur historian, have somehow missed.)
An emperor’s children are never insignificant, even the bastards--and for the first several years of her life, Margaret is referred to in the household records simply as “the little bastard”. When Margaret was three, there were thoughts of betrothing her to a bastard of the Medici family. The Medicis were extremely important in Italy at this time, not only ruling Florence, but supplying several popes. It’s also important to know that 16th century popes were not exactly a model of propriety and virtue. You’re going to meet several bastard sons of popes in this story. But I get ahead of myself.
As I said, when Margaret was three, there was talk of betrothing her to a Medici. When she was four, she was briefly betrothed to the heir of the Duchy of Ferrara. When she was seven, it’s back to the Medicis again, but a different one. This time she was betrothed to the pope’s nephew (some said, actually his son) named Alessandro, a man ten years her senior with a terrible reputation. But this was business. Margaret the bastard would become Duchess of Florence, bringing an extensive dowry of lands and the military support of the Holy Roman Empire not only for Florence but for the Medici papacy.
The year after that, the Empire occupies Sienna and establishes a military garrison there. Remember Sienna? Where Laudomia lives? They aren’t happy about this.
When Margaret is eight, her future husband, Alessandro dei Medici travels to the Netherlands to meet her. This is also the first occasion when she meets her father the emperor face to face. The marriage is scheduled to take place four years later and preparations are made for a grand procession to convey Margaret to Italy. She settles in Naples for the interim.
And then the pope dies. He is succeeded by a member of the Farnese family who ruled in Parma. Now the Medicis aren’t looking like quite the same hot property that they were before. There is some dithering about the marriage but the Florentines apply pressure and Margaret marries Alessandro when she’s 13. Although she is installed as Duchess of Florence it’s quite likely that this is still a marriage in name only. Child marriages among medieval and Renaissance nobility often came with an understanding that the marriage wouldn’t be consummated until the bride was a reasonable age--something that isn’t always understood from the bare facts.
Whatever the nature of Margaret’s marriage, it didn’t last long. Alessandro, as I’ve said, had a terrible reputation, both personally and politically. Half a year later, he was assassinated by his own cousin to the cheers of the citizens of Florence.
Margaret doesn’t have long to enjoy her widowhood. The next year she is betrothed to Ottavio Farnese. Remember that the new pope is a Farnese? This is his grandson. Margaret is sixteen and this time she’s older than her future husband, by four years. She’s on record as despising him and trying all sorts of things to get out of the marriage. But she is taken to Rome in preparation, and as she travels to Rome, she passes through Siena and spends three weeks there.
Remember Siena? Where Laudomia lives? At this time, Laudomia is 23. She is married and has produced a son. And we know that Laudomia and Margaret meet on this occasion.
A contemporary of theirs says they also met three years earlier and describes it this way:
At their first meeting, “as soon as Laudomia saw Madama [that is, Margaret], and was seen by her, suddenly with the most ardent flames of Love each burned for the other, and the most manifest sign of this was that they went to visit each other many times.” On one of those subsequent meetings he describes, “They renewed most happily their sweet Loves. And today more than ever, with notes from one to the other they warmly maintain them.”
Alas none of this correspondence has survived, only the poems. Here’s another one of the poems that Laudomia wrote for Margaret.
[Poem: Happy plant]
Margaret continued on to Rome and set out to win the hearts of the people of Rome (who weren’t all that fond of the Farnese pope, and by association, of her future husband Ottavio). She has her own villa there in Rome, which she fills with scholars and artists. Although she tries to delay the marriage, she is tricked into receiving a ring that is then held to be a token of her acceptance. Relying on the support of the people of Rome and the political indifference of her father the emperor, she refuses to consummate the marriage.
By this time, Laudomia has finished writing her sonnets to Margaret.
Political satires at the time accused the Farneses of all sorts of sexual vices and Margaret was accused of being a lesbian in this context, an accusation that may have been mere mud-flinging or may have been based on actual knowledge. What was definitely noted was that, although Margaret did obey her father’s ultimatum and produced twin sons for her husband, she returned to living separately from him after that. And in an age of sexual scandal, her name is never associated with any male lover and at least one political commenter notes that she has no interest in men. (He intended it as a positive comment on her virtue.)
Italian politics are getting even more violent. Margaret takes up her position as Duchess in Parma and finds herself besieged by her neighbors the Gonazagas. Ironically her father the emperor supports them in this because Margaret’s husband has started playing political footsie with France. Let’s skip the details of what France is doing in all this, except to note that Siena--remember Siena?--is also calling on French support against the Holy Roman Empire and it, too, comes under siege as a result.
During the siege of Siena, Laudomia is recorded as having valiantly organized the women of the city to help strengthen the city walls. But eventually the combined forces of Florence and the Empire win out and Sienna falls.
Laudomia never appears by name in any records after that date. The only tantalizing clue we have is that 18 years later, Laudomia’s second husband makes a will that makes reference to a living wife. (It is possible, of course, that he has remarried.)
After all the political uproar settles down for a bit, Margaret and Ottavio make peace with the emperor and Margaret travels to the Netherlands with her one surviving son to place him in the guardianship of her half-brother Phillip, in whose favor Charles has just retired from the imperial throne. Margaret ends up staying in the Netherlands and even serves a couple of stints as governor there before eventually returning to Italy to spend the rest of her life.
This is all a great deal about politics with not quite so much about the love between Laudomia and Margaret. But we know a great deal more about the former than we do the latter. We do know that they met and that they loved each other, by some understanding of the word “love.” We know that contemporaries who admired them considered their love to be that of two souls finding their other half. We know that Laudomia wrote poems to Margaret that used the language and imagery of romantic love--imagery that would be considered to imply sexual desire if used from a man to a woman. And we know that Margaret was notorious for disdaining and avoiding sexual relations with her husband, even when that avoidance caused significant personal difficulties.
That seems quite enough as a basis for imagining what a love affair between two Renaissance noblewomen might look like. I have *ahem* imagined just such a thing in my short story “Where My Heart Goes” which is included in the historic romance anthology Through the Hourglass, edited by Sacchi Green and Patty G. Henderson. And I even dared to imagine how to give them a happy ending.
The December episode of the Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is available. This one explores the relationship between Renaissance poet and scholar Laudomia Forteguerri and Margaret, Duchess of Parma (among other titles), for whom Laudomia wrote a series of sonnets. I'm particularly fond of the two of them because they inspired me to write a short story exploring what their love story might have looked like: "Where My Heart Goes" in the anthology Through the Hourglass. (Alas, I do not recite any of Laudomia's poetry in Italian, but the podcast does include translations of two of the poems.)
The Lesbian Historic Motif Podcast is hosted by the magazine-format podcast The Lesbian Talk Show, which is available through Podbean, iTunes, and Stitcher. If you enjoy any of the podcasts hosted there, I strongly encourage you to subscribe through your favorite podcast service, and to rate and review the show so that others can find it more easily.
I was dithering between a fairly cursory review and an in-depth analysis, but fortunately Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com has covered almost everything I would have said in the latter. So I'll just mention a few things in addition. (Uh...go read Emily's review. Because otherwise this is going to sound really random.)
The biggest impediment to me enjoying Rogue One was that it slipped across the line from "lots of video-game style violence and visual bombardment, but there's enough character and story there that I'm willing to put up with it" to "ugh, if I'd wanted to play a shoot-em-up video game, that's what I'd have paid my money for." It isn't that I didn't like the bits of story and character it contained--I definitely did. But it slipped over the line into predominantly being a genre that I'm supremely indifferent to.
It feels much the same way as when the Marvel comic book movies eventually moved past the thrill of seeing my childhood superheroes on the big screen and into the territory of being bored by the endless pointless fight sequences and the extremely problematic gender issues. And I stopped bothering to go see them. I still have fond memories of the sheer goofball fun of the first set of Star Wars movies. And I rather hoped that--based on The Force Awakens--we were going to get to recapture that with a bit more diversity of cast.
So let's talk about diversity of cast in Rogue One. It is absolutely delightful to see all the central non-default-white characters. I mean that sincerely. And I love that the on-screen story encourages a reading that two of the guys are more than Just Good Friends. And I love that once again we have a female protagonist. These are all good things. But they should be baseline, not a special treat. (Cue Hamilton song cue: I will never be satisfied.) And the diversity is still doled out in teaspoons. Jyn is the lead, but in an ensemble buddy-flick, having the single female team member be classically beautiful, young, and white suggests that we're still dealing with the notion that she fulfills the role of The Girl, that The Girl is the extent of her function in the script, and that there is only room for one The Girl. While we're talking about gender and race in the same breath (well, ok, while I am)...
It is quite reasonable to postulate that long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away we are not dealing with the same racially-charged political dynamics as the present day. But I found it emotionally jarring to see the sole (named) black woman in the cast--Senator Pamlo--being assigned the role of arguing for appeasement and inaction against the Empire when, in our own socio-political context, black women are so often at the forefront of challenging evil empires. I can only barely imagine what it would feel like to be a black woman watching that movie and thinking, "This? This is the reflection that's being offered me? Fuck this."
I am, of course, slipping into the usual failure mode of the progressive consumer: when offered crumbs, I'm furious at not getting regular full meals, risking the possibility that The Powers That Be will decide there's no percentage in offering even a higher grade of crumbs. And we can circle back to the problem that I'm really not the target audience for a violent action movie. But there are people who are who deserve a higher grade of crumbs.
To date, in 2016 I have posted 333 separate blog entries (in the early part of the year on Live Journal, and then both on Alpennia.com and LJ). My goal was to blog every weekday, and while I missed some calendar days, I clearly over-shot that target in terms of total posts. As I've mentioned in a couple of recent round-up posts, I've been pondering exactly why I've pursued such a rigorous schedule and what I'm getting out of it.
Let me be bluntly honest: I took on such an ambitious schedule in the hopes of building a larger "presence" online. I've been trying to establish my blog (in whichever of its incarntions) as a "happening place" that provided useful information, interesting discussions, and entertaining ideas. It seemed worth a shot, given that I enjoy writing and never seem to run out of ideas. But it's still been a fairly grueling standard to maintain. And I don't think that what I was trying to achieve is actually achievable anymore in today's cyberspace. People don't go to blogs for community or interaction any more. I'll get a bunch of traffic for specific items, but it's tourist traffic.
I don't typically make serious New Year's Resolutions, but I'll make an exception. In 2017, I'm going to stop doing things just to try to impress people who don’t actually care. And one of those things is blogging five days a week.
So what do I plan to do with this blog? The projects that I'm doing for myself. Obviously I'm going to keep working on the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. Because even though other people don't care about the Project, it underpins most of my fiction. And I'm going to keep processing Abiel LaForge's diaries, because it's a family heritage thing. And I'll keep posting the occasional review, though I give myself permission not to review everything. And when I have something new and different to say about my fiction projects, I'll post about that too. But not every week.
In fact, I'm planning to set up something different for news and announcements about the fiction. I've been looking into doing an email newsletter, so if you find that interesting, keep your eyes peeled for further information.
I know this post sounds like a bit of a downer, but it's really just a reassessment. What I was doing wasn't getting the return on investment that I needed to make it worth while to continue at that pace. And that investment was taking time and energy away from things that might produce a better return. Like writing stories.
The eternal complaint of the regular correspondent whose letters are not answered is sharpened a bit in Abiel's note to his sister, "If I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week." He may intend it partly as teasing, but the casualties that get mentioned in his diary entries suggest a certain seriousness.
We are finally informed of the name of Abiel's servant--Mr. Griffis (Griffiths?)--and I'm trying to work out what further information this reference might provide. I'm hesitant here to jump to conclusions about how Abiel would or would not refer to people. I had previously guessed--based on the implication that the man wsa a civilian--that he might be black. But I don't know enough about standard social practices to know whether Abiel referring to him as "Mr." is meaningful evidence on this point.
In a "Doh!" moment, it finally hit me that the "?"s appearing in places where one might expect numbers are not an indication that my mother couldn't interpret the number, but represent the failure of fraction symbols to survive file format changes. So at some point I need to go back through all the material, searching on question marks, and cross-check against the printed version.
There defintely are more readability problems starting to occur, no doubt in part to the harsh conditions that the loose papers were carried in before being mailed (as opposed to the bound book of the previous diary entries).
I have given myself permission to break the months up into multiple entries, depending on my available time to work on the material. So this post only covers the first third of the month.
The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878
[PUNCTUATION AND SPELLING ARE COPIED FROM THE ORIGINALS. EDITORIAL COMMENTS ARE IN BOLD TYPE.]
In such fearfully hot and dry times a rain becomes an item of the utmost importance, so I will mention the fact that we had a slight shower last Sunday P.M. Several times since, we have been threatened with a repetition of the pleasant phenomenon, but each time have been disappointed.
Continued behind our works quite inactive until Wednesday 29th when we were removed by General G. A. Wright and in the P.M. received orders for the route. Three hours before sundown we moved out of the works. Our destination was Reams Station on the Weldon railroad to make a demonstration in favor of Wilsons Cavalry, which had been on a raid and was being hard pressed by the Rebs. And also we were to make a more thorough destruction of the railroad so that, with the damage which Wilson had done, the communications between Richmond and the South would be pretty well demolished.
Did not get to Reams until 11 P.M., although it was not a long march. The utmost circumspection had to be observed in making our advance, for an encounter with the enemy might be expected at any moment. As soon as we got into position at Reams, a strong picket was thrown out, the rest of the night [was spent] making coffee and sleeping on their arms. Early yesterday morning (June 30), two of our Divisions formed a line across and at right angles with the railroad and threw up strong breastworks. The remaining division fell to work tearing up [the rails and?] the railroad ties, burning the latter and heating and bending the former etc., making utter destruction as far as possible for some miles.
After dinner, my servant Mr. Griffis my servant [note: transcription repetition?] put up my tent and made me a table upon which I at once placed my Company Pay Rolls and fell to work finishing them, which I had nearly accomplished when Major Day, our Mustering officer, came arround and mustered the company for pay on the partial rolls. Every military organization has to be "Mustered for pay" on the first day of every alternate month. That is, they are formed in line and all men whose names are on the rolls have to be accounted for. That is, whether they are present or absent, if absent how, and where all who have died since last muster must be named etc. Payments are not received as soon as the mustering is over. The rolls are sent to Washington and given to the Paymaster of the respective Brigades, who are not ordered to pay the army sometimes for four months.
Directly after being mustered, orders came to "pack up" and "fall in" and the corps was marched out of the works, which had been erected, and started back towards its position of yestermorn. Start made about 5 P.M. We have only come about four miles on the back track and yet it has taken us all of five hours to march that distance. The delay was caused by the wagon train. Had one or two bad mud holes to go through, which is always a matter of no little time. Camped on the side of a bare sunny hill, made coffee, and threw ourselves on the ground. Went to sleep and did not stir until late this morning.
Today has been an extremely hot one, the bright sand on which the Brigade is camped threw the suns rays back into our ...i...ing in a dreadfully painful manner. And to add to the rest of the suffering, very little water could be obtained. I went to a well which had been dipped nearly dry, and as often as a bucketful of water could be obtained I would beg a swallow, so after a while I succeeded in obtaining enough to slake my thirst.
I could not finish my rolls in the hot sand, so I took them and climb[ed] into an old house which was occupied by a lot of broken furniture and a brood of very young chickens. They were motherless, and without a doubt it was owing to the fact that their ma was at that moment being digested [by] the strong stomach of some soldier. The extreme youth of the chickens was all that saved them from the same fate. I spread my rolls on a box and, seating myself on another, soon finished them (not the boxes, but the rolls), finding only one mistake, which was the adjutant's and not mine. That job done, I proceeded to pull off my garments and examine them for certain little animals which I found had begun to make their unwelcome appearance, and although they were very common in the army--not a man probably being without them--still I treated them. Crushed heads as fast as I found them.
This evening looks like rain again. Hope it will.
DIARY Saturday 2nd
Back in our old works of the 18th alt. again. Last night after dark, the corps was formed in line. The 3 Divs advanced [?] a mile, then stacked arms and, rolling themselves (those that had them) in their blankets, went to sleep. At 5 A.M. today, fell in line again and marched to our present position [note: I'm tempted to preserve Abiel's "posish" here, but I'm going for readability and the original is preserved in the unedited text.] where we are rigging ourselves up in good style.
I discoverd a curiosity on our return in the shape of an apple orchard in the midst of a pine forest. The apple trees looked very sickly and as if they would soon succumb to their more thrifty neighbors, which were already far over-topping them and depriving them of all "their sun". I also saw some noble oaks, the branches of a single tree covering a space of over 100 feet in diameter, If I had a home up North, how I should like to have a few of those noble trees in my lawn, under which I and my family might enjoy the beautiful sunsets.
I was down to the swamp to wash and, on the way, lost my gold pen & case. As hundreds of soldiers were continually passing over the same path, I expected I should never see it again. I took a bath after which I wet my shirt thoroughly and put it on. This I consider a grand idea [in] this hot weather, as one feels much cooler. The thermometer is 110˚ in the shade. On my way back, I found my pen where it had been stepped over by hundreds of men since I droped it. "Better be born lucky than rich." I shall have to postpone my letter to sister tonight as it is too dark to write, and candles are luxuries which we do not at present possess, and could not use them in the wind which now sucks through our tent anyway.
LETTER (very faded and difficult to decipher)
For a wonder in campaign life, I write this letter in nearly the same place I did the one a week ago to you. Not that we have not moved in the mean time, for we have, as you will see by my memorandum if you can read it. But the ....e of being at the end of the week near where you were at the beginning is accepted as a wonder by Grant's soldiers. I have not heard from you yet, and it seems so strange. You are usually prompt to answer, and yet to none of the three letters I have sent you from here have I received an answer.
..he ....th .... if I do not get an answer to this I will send another if I live to the end of the week. I hope that one of ..... [note: presumably part of the missing text is a suggestion that Susan is too busy with the new baby.] .............you so that you cannot write. If he is such a fine fellow, I should think you would want to write and tell me all about him, so that I could join my joy to yours. ......................... for a wonder I dreamed of you last night ........ I found you away from home somewhere and that I ....ly had an opportunity to speak to you. I saw the baby, but forget how he looked. You motioned for me to come and ......... where you were and appeared to have something to tell me, and for some reason I could not come. Shortly afterwards, I was sent for .................... and I woke up. A heavy cannonade was going on ................ the noise of which probably was my recall to the ...y. Did you get the letter in which I requested you to send me a bowl(?) by ...... send a light one, do it up just as you would a ....... and it will come through in ....... all right.
.................. in the paper how hot it is. But no one ....
............ the heat is 110 ................. still we are a jolly set and all are wishing for rain and making the best of life as it is. If you have any news from father, write it, for I have not heard from him since the middle of May. [several lines indecipherable] blackberries are getting ripe ......... we shall soon luxurate I suppose. I will close by sending love to all. I dare not be particular as to .......................... you will get the letter.
Your loving brother,Mrs. Joseph Potter A. T. La Forge Andover Address - 1st Lieut. "I" Co. 106th N.Y. Vols. Allegany Co. 1st Brig. 3rd Div. ?" ? C. N.Y.
You need not put the Washington on for they may stop there.
DIARY Monday 4th
This has been the most quiet and orderly national birthday I ever spent. There has been no cannonading along the lines in hearing of this place. The only difference from the ordinary routine was the playing of all the bands at sunrise. Indeed I quite lost sight of the fact that it was the Fourth until I heard someone about sundown remark "what a quiet Fourth". I at once determined on a celebreation, so took my revolver and went outside the works and fired two shots then came back feeling fully satisfied that I had did my duty.
I feel in excellent spirits, for last night I received a letter from my sister--the first in more than a "good while." Our people are in pretty good health, Joseph being better than when she last wrote me. I was amused at her question asking if my pay was any higher than when I was a private. She also wants to know how it is that I am in command of a company. Is there no Captains etc., all of which I must answer in my next. Both yesterday & today have been comfortably cool, a slight sprinkle of rain. I got my Co[mpany] Descriptive Book today and have been busy making up accounts, sending descriptive Lists to my men who are absent, sick, and wounded and, in fact, discharging the duties of which I feel so proud.
DIARY Tuesday 5th
Cool & pleasant. My occupation [the] same as yesterday. I was detailed this evening to go on duty tomorrow as officer of the pickets. At five A.M. that will be my first duty of the kind, as an officer.
DIARY Wednesday 6th
Orders sent around at four A.M. to "pack up and be ready to move at a moments notice." Our (3rd Division) part of the 6th Corps is to be sent to Western Virginia to meet the rebs who are advancing in a strong column down the Shenendoah Vally under General Enell [according to Bruce Catton's book "The Civil War" page 534 the southern general was Jubal Early], who threatens to cut off the retreat of General Hunter. The latter General was defeated in front of Lynchburgh and is now retreating down the Kanewa [Kanawha] Valley before a victorious foe.
The day has been very sultry and the march to City Point a very trying one, but the men feel so rejoiced that they are going to exchange the arid sands and pine forrests of Lower Virginia for the mountain breezes and fertile fields of the Blue Ridge & Shenendoah Valley, that the swealtering heat and suffocating dust are endured without a murmer. During our march today, at times the dust flew so thick that for 10 & 15 minutes at a time we could not see 20 feet from our selves. This, added to the heat was dreadful. However we are now on transports, steaming down the James River and feeling almost as good as though on our way home. Most of this Division for months did duty in West Virginia, and the place was found so agreeable that they are rejoiced at their return to it.
DIARY Friday 8th
Reached Baltimore at 5 P.M. yesterday. Not allowed to land, but had to wait for General Rickets, who was on a slower boat. Waited until midnight, when we were ordered ashore by General. Lew[is] Wallace who commands this Department. Cars were ready upon which we at once embarked for Frederick City Maryland, which we reached at 10 A.M. today. Leaving the cars, we marched through the town to the South Mountain (west) side. The people received us with joy, giving water and provisions freely. Bivouacked in the fields, took dinner mostly on soft bread, the first in a long time.
About 2 o'clock we learned that a column of the enemy were threatening Monocacy Bridge, an Iron structure of great value about three miles east of the town. Back through the town we went and closed in mass on a hill where we could overlook the city and plain. About 4 o'clock a cloud of dust on the side of South Mountain indicated the approach of the enemy on the Sheapardstown road. When the cloud of dust (for we could see no enemy) got within 1[?] mile of the city, the cannon on that side opened with shell, apparently with good effect for we could see them burst just over the road. We soon fell in and marched to that side of town again. Before we got there, the rebs concluded to retire up the mountain again, so we were not needed.
I therefore take advantage of our idleness to write up my memorandum. The citizens seem to vie with each other as to who shall show us the most kindness, a very strong contrast between them and the people of Eastern Virginia.
DIARY Saturday 9th
After dark last night, we again marched through the town to the East but did not stop, for a column of the enemy were already between us and the Monocacy railroad bridge. The direct march to the bridge would have been but 3 miles, but owing to the presence of the enemy we were unable to choose our road, so we had to cross the river away above here and follow down the east bank to this place. There was no road intended for wagons, so our progress [was] over the steep hills and through the woods and fields making our progress necessarily slow. In fact, the way was bad enough to be a disgrace to Allegany County. The route we came was fully eight miles and over such places. We got into posish [i.e., position] on the bank of the Monocacy at midnight.
I threw my self on the ground so completely tired out that I slept without covering through a hard rain. Woke up completely soaked. Wonder that no bad effect should come of it. I went to a brook near camp and took a good bath, the first in a long time, then had breakfast. We learn that a small party of Rebs marched into Frederick last night meeting no resistance. If I was in the habit of swearing I should call that a ____ disgrace. [Note: I don't know whether this was Abiel self-censoring in his original record or whether he blotted it out later (which happened to some much later entries). I strongly doubt the emendation was done in my mother's transcription process.]
I can hear firing in the direction of Frederick now. Probably they are engaging our outposts. An aid just rode up and ordered a picket of one hundred & fifty men from the 106th. I am to go on as officer of the picket. The order is countermanded; I am not to go.
The country through here is splended, in fact far the finest farming country I have seen since our passage through Pennsylvania on my last trip to the North. The wheat crop which has been just gathered seems to be a good one. (The firing on the Line has just ceased.) How strange it seemed yesterday to see our soldiers in Line of battle and our batteries engaged, while arround us in every direction farmers and farm maids were peacefully although rather hurriedly gathering their crops and performing other rural duties. The rain of last night was much needed.
Some refugee negros are going by, also several loyal families--many of the ladies well dressed--are seeking protection behind us, as they dare not stay in their homes so long as the Rebs have possission. [Note: unclear whether Abiel meant "position" or "possession" so I have left it.] They account for their good clothes by saying that so long as they had to leave some to fall into the hands of the enemy, they might as well be the poorest. So they carry their best on their backs and that is probably all the worldly goods that this day's work will leave them.
I posted this in LiveJournal back on April 21, 2016. Yeah, these are the thoughts I was already having 8 months ago. I think it needs reposting. Everyone has their own completely valid reaction to celebrity deaths. This is mine.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
I was five when Kennedy was shot.
My mother sent me to school saying,
"This is why the teachers may cry."
Years later she told me that I replied,
"Why is this death worse than every other death?"
Time passes; lives end.
Some in peace, some in violence,
Some in relief, some in triumph.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
When I was five, those who died
Were my parents' heroes,
My grandparents' companions.
They were old.
Old people die.
But for the lucky,
We live to see the day
When those who die are our heroes
It isn't right that they die,
Because old people die,
And we aren't old.
We can't be old.
Ask a five year old, "Who died today?"
Who died last month,
Who all the deaths were in this year of years.
A five year old will say,
"Why is this death worse than any other death?"
These aren't their heroes, their companions.
The lens moves on across the years and magnifies.
There is nothing special
About this year, these deaths.
Time passes; lives end.
Some too early; some too late.
Magnified by our attention.
We are lucky, who live to see our heroes die.