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"We do not war on women and children." It was not, of course, entirely true when Abiel wrote and underscored that line on September 12, 1864. If it had been true, then the Southern woman he wrote about would not have been so pitifully grateful that the soldiers invading her home allowed her to buy supplies from them so that her children wouldn't starve.

December is filled with bitter weather, made all the sharper by the constant troop movements that undermine all efforts to settle themselves in more comfortably. There's an eternal optimism (or perhaps just dogged persistence) in how the soldiers begin throwing up semi-permanent structures at each stop only to be ordered to abandon them before they can be enjoyed.

Abiel begins the month still on leave (due to his battle injury). After working his way through several major cities and then to his childhood home in the area around Newburgh NY (on the Hudson River), he begins November by heading out to the western part of the state to visit his beloved sister Susan and all the extended Potter inlaws and their neighbors in the area around Andover, Alfred Center, and Wellsville.

October 1864 is packed full a a wide variety of experiences. It begins with more "clean up" operations following the significant battles of the previous month, and with Abiel feeling a little self-satisfied to be given feedback on the high opinion the men have of him. One can't entirely fault him for that. His astounding luck in battle slips a little on the 19th and he is wounded in the hand and head--painfully, though not too dangerously. As a result, he takes something of a tour through the Union medical establishment and is given 30 days' leave while recovering.

"The glittering hosts bestrew the Plain." This week's entries continue in the aftermath of the major battle recorded in last week's session. There is a deadly episode of friendly fire, details of the taking of prisoners, and a certain enjoyment of something better than army rations. But mostly there's constant movement, though without the same uncertainty as before. The Union forces are feeling confident and victorious at the moment. At a meeting with a former acquaintance, Abiel notes, "Strange things happen in war--strange enough for the most fastidious novelist.

I am regularly stunned by the beauty of the observations Abiel has the time and presence of mind to make. This one has to be one of my favorites:

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.

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.


The time finally comes! Abiel gets his commission and is returned to active service, with a rather sentimental send-off by his comrades at Camp Distribution. No more trips into Washington for plays and fine dining. The military run-around should be familiar to anyone who has dealt with that bureaucracy. Abiel can't be officially be discharged from his old regiment and get his back pay and whatnot settled because that regiment isn't available to deal with the paperwork, being in Andersonville Prison.

May 1864 seems to be a bit of a lull in the action for Abiel. There's no particular movement toward getting him into a new regiment, though much of his activities involve helping assemble companies to more to the front. I've added a couple of cross-references to Wikipedia on battles and persons, but I haven't had the time to do a really systematic annotation of his references to the war. Abiel hears of significant battles and troop movements almost as they happen, but it's still "news" and not "life" at this point.

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