These months are long enough it makes sense to split up the entries a bit. Here's the second half of January. There's a lot of very prefunctory entries, especially when the meetings of the Court Martial are temporarily suspended for lack of a quorum. But we get further evidence of the progress of the war and its effects on Confederate morale. And there's some additional drama around the politics of the command structure.
Clear and quite warm again. I have had nothing to do all day. It seems funny after being so busy lately.
I came near losing all my self-possession on Brigade Dress Parade. The ground was quite muddy where my division was formed, and in standing so long in one place while the band was Beating Off, our feet got pretty well fastened. When the order came "To Open Ranks. To the rear open order, March," one of the men in the Rear Rank (whose duty it is to march backwards four paces) attempted to step to the rear but found his feet hopelessly fast in the mud. He had lost his balance when he attempted to move, and to see him sprawl himself out in the mud in such a helpless manner was more then the men could stand. I had a double duty to perform to check the laughter of the men and keep from laughing myself. Another of the men, in pulling his foot out of the mud, pulled it out of his shoe as well. That made one muddy stocking. He stooped down and put it on again, and then undertook to release the other foot. With this he succeeded the same as before, by pulling his shoe off and putting his foot in the mud. The General looked over to see what we were laughing at.
There is a list of brevets in the papers today. Captain Day and 1st Lieutenant Robinson are made brevet Majors for gallant services at Cedar Creek Oct 19th. That shows how far you may judge of merit by Brevet. Lt. Robinson was not within fifty miles of the fight on the 19th but away back to the rear at Martinsburg. And when I was coming off the field wounded, I saw Captain Day fully a mile to the rear, forming a line to stop stragglers. Well, well!
Warm & pleasant. Court met and adjourned for one week as there was not a quorum present. When a Court Martial adjourns for three days or more the members are eligible to other duty during the time, so I expect to do duty in the Regiment with the rest of the officers.
Had battalion drill this P.M. Got very tired. We must have another campaign soon or we shall all get too soft, so that we shall hardly be able to stand the hardships. Lieutenant Munro came back from New York last night. He will also be ready for duty soon, tomorrow perhaps.
Cold and Clear. Detailed as officer of the picket. When we got out on the line, the Division officer of the day gave me charge of 3/4 of a mile of the line. I had 23 posts, which made me four officers and one hundred and eighty four men.
A salute of 100 guns was fired in front of Petersburg. We were on the que vive to know what it was. [Note: the only reference I can find for "que vive" is as part of a French expression "Que vive X!" with the sense "Long live X!" which doesn't quite seem right here.] Shortly before dark, the Corps Officer of the Day came arround and gave us the good news that Fort Fisher, which Butler had failed to take, had succumbed to another expedition, which had been sent aganst it by General Grant. We were ordered to communicate this news to the enemy, so I mounted my horse and rode down in front of our line and gave them orders to attract the attention of the Rebel Pickets by giving three cheers, then tell them our good news. This they done with a will. We could see the Johnnies crowding together and apparently consulting about the news.
I expected to be fired at every moment, as I was mounted and of course was a consipcuous mark. They did not fire however, so after I had galloped the whole length of our line and communicated the news, and set them all to making a terrible din, I came back to my reserve post. We only stay out 24 hours now and are not allowed to sleep. So we kept a good fire and sat up.
A little after dark, some firing was heard, and shortly afterward two Rebels who had came into our lines were brought up to me. They belonged to the 16th North Carolina. They said they concluded it was about time to come over, so they came. They were sent to Corps Head Quarters and everything was quiet again.
Soon more firing was heard, and news came that a small squad had came into the line just to our right. Then more firing on our front and another Rebel was brought up to me. This one had been a soldier about one year but never fired a gun. He had went home and stayed in the woods for a while, was caught and brought back, and deserted again to his home and the woods, where he had stayed three months when he was caught again. He was brought back and tried, was sentenced to lose one year's pay. He said he told his Lieutenant if he must work a year without pay it would be somewhere else than in the Rebel Army. So he came over to us. He also was sent to Corps Head Quarters. No more came into our Division, but came in to the right and left of us all night.
Cloudy and cold. Was relieved at 9 A.M. Came in and, after breakfast, I went over to see Captain Daymon of the 10th Vermont. Had some milk punch and a good time generally. Got a couple of books to read and came home after promising to renew the visit. Felt pretty sleepy all day. Think I shall couchèr early this evening. It appears about thirty deserters came into our Corps front last night.
Nothing much to do today. Everything quiet. Prospects of a storm. Bob and I had considerable fun about certain things, but then we have fun every day.
Cox is detailed for picket. I thought I should not have any duty to perform, but it happens I was detailed to take a working party. Was ordered to report to an officer near Fort Keen. Went there, but could not find any such officer. I waited nearly an hour and had just started for Division Head Quarters when the other working party came up. As they had just been relieved from picket today, I thought it was too bad to make them work another night, so I just took the tools for my detail and sent the others back to camp.
We then went out to the picket line. I ordered the Videts advanced, so as to cover my working party, and then set them to work. The duty was to build an abattis btween our Videts and those of the enemy. So as to protect our picket line from those sudden little dashes which the Rebs delight in. [Note: as previously referenced see this Wikipedia entry for "abattis." I'm pretty sure I've found a reference for "videt" previously. Among my many projects, I should put together a glossary of things I've looked up!]
Some shots were fired in the dark but they went over our heads or never came near us. I told the men to take hold with a will and we should not have to work all night. My advice and the shots had the desired effect: they worked as if for their lives. It was cloudy, so a pretty dark night. I got all the work which was laid out for me done for the night. Done by ten oclock P.M. Then brought my party in [and] returned the tools to Division Head Quarters. Stopped in our Head Quarters for an hour, then came home.
A little past midnight, a tremenduous nasty sleet commenced falling and freezing as fast as it fell. When I awoke this morning, the ground was covered with ice. We supposed it would stop by M [i.e., noon]. but storms here are not governed by any regular rules, so it has continued without intermission all day. I can't remember such another storm since my naisance. [Note: Abiel seems to be tossing in some regular "Frenchisms", what with "couchèr" and "naisance". Perhaps he's amusing himself with the whole "Anglo-French Hotel" thing.] We have been pretty closely confined to our quarters all day and, of course, had to make our own fun. Cox is laying asleep on the bunk now. He was on picket last night and did not sleep any. I am going to wake him up.
Sunday January 22nd 1865
Very muddy. The heavy rains of yesterday must have done the Rebs some damage, as the freshet last week destroyed some 40 miles of the Southside Rail Road. I wrote to Annie Porter this evening.
Rainy all day. Cox was sent out to the picket line with the 14th New Jersey, as they were short of officers. I have been reading Moor's translation of Homer's Odyssey. Very interesting I find it. [Note: I don't see a Moor or Moore among the translations listed in the Wikipedia entry for the Odyssey, but the listing is noted to be incomplete.]
Gave Lieutenant Hepburn a lesson in French this evening. [Note: Ah, more evidence that Abiel has French on his mind.] There has been a good deal of paper exchanging until the middle of the afternoon when the Rebs took the notion of firing, which stoped it of course. Just at dark a very heavy fire of cannon was commenced down towards Petersburg, which still continues. The heavy concussions shakes us away here. Wrote to Beaugureau.
Clear and pretty cold. Received a letter from sister and one from father. Father has been and is still quite sick, with the liver complaint and dropsy.
Clear and cold. Night before last and yesterday and last night there was very heavy firing in the direction of Bermuda Hundred. Some say that the Rebel Gun Boats came or attempted to come down.
Clear and very cold. Went on picket at 8 A.M. Cold enough standing out of doors without anything in the shape of a house. Captain Daymond was out here building a shanty for the Division Officer of the Day. He said he expected to be on himself in a day or two, so thought it was policy to have a house to stay in. Lieutenants Snyder (who returned Monday) and Shaw were on with me.
Clear and extremely cold. We suffered a great deal last night with the cold. It froze very had and fast all the time. I dont know when we have had such a hard time as this tour has been. We were relieved at 8 A.M. and came to camp. Adjutant Robinson came back from Leave of Absence last night. He says Major McDonald will be here in a day or two. He don't think Allen will bother us any more. 1st Sergeant Chilton returned from furlough. They say the snow is four and five feet deep up North. Not a flake here.
Weather more moderate. Was detailed for fatigue, but did not have to go on, as the whole detail was not required. Captain Robertson and Lieutenant Shaw sent up their resignations but both were sent back disapproved.
The dust is being blown about by the cold wind as bad as I suppose the snow must be up North. It creeps in through the chinks of our houses and covers everything. Had a letter from Hibbard. The 85th is now at Norfolk.
Major McDonald came to the regiment after dark this evening and with him ex-captain Paine who has a Major's Commission to be mustered as such as soon as McDonald gets mustered as Lieutenant Colonel, which he will be tomorrow. As soon as we found the Major had come, we got the regiment into line with a lot of candles and pine knots, so as to form a torch light procession, and moved up to Head Quarters and gave him "three times three." [Note: I'm guessing this is a triple set of "three cheers."] He made a short reply and the regiment was dismissed. [Note: Recall that back on January 9, Abiel was concerned about McDonald getting back to the regiment in time to forestall the hated Allen being put in charge. So I'm guessing that McDonald was fairly generally preferred!]
The army around us took up our enthusiasm, thinking some great news had come, and we could hear them sending cheering to the right and left of us as far as the sound would carry and they were sending it on. After the affair was over, I returned to my quarters. Played whist until near midnight when, just as I was going to bed, the Adjutant and Quarter Master came down all out of breath and begging all sorts of pardon for not having me at Head Quarters before! They were having a gay time there and never noticed the absence of one or two. Well I went up! Found the Brigade staff all there. All our officers and all drunk or getting so. We stayed there dancing and singing &c. until three O.C. then broke up. I did not taste any liquor. They are getting so now as hardly to think of offering it. I used [to] fairly fight to keep them from making me drink. I wrote to friend Hibbard this morning. [Note: In the continuing evidence for Abiel's attitudes towards alcohol, this continues to sound like he's leaning in the teatotal direction. As there were mentions of drinking beer (and wine?) at some point, I wonder if he makes a distinction between distilled liquor and those?]
McDonald was mustered as Lieutenan Colonel and Paine as Major, so we now have two field officers. I am detailed to act as member of a board of 10 officers who are to examine candidates for those meritorious furloughs which General Grant has decided shall be given to the best soldiers of each Brigade at the rate of one for every thousand. The Board meets at 10 tomorrow.