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.