Saturday, January 26, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Sunday, Jan. 26, 1862

“A Parsel of Turkeys”

Andrew Altman is a 20-year-old farm boy from Damascus Township in Henry County, northwest Ohio, whose world until now has been limited the farm country of northwest Ohio and whose daily life has been labor in the fields relieved by an occasional fishing or hunting trip, more for food than recreation.

Now he finds himself at sprawling Camp Chase near Columbus, ordered to guard some of the first Confederate prisoners the Union has taken in the Civil War He is fascinated by these strange creatures from far away. Penned inside a high board fence enclosing an area of about two acres, they are skinny, ragged, and angry.

In a letter written yesterday and on its way now to his father, stepmother, and three siblings, young Private Altman writes, “I have been garding [secessionists]; we have got over three hundred here…. They are drest in [civilian clothes] mostly and raged.

“I would a liked to talk to them, but they gave me orders not to…They would curs us now and then because we would not speek to them. They are as uneasy as a parsel of turkeys that has been caught in a trap.”

Altman tells his family Camp Chase houses about 3,000 Union soldiers at the moment, with another thousand said to be on the way. Of life in camp, Altman says, “I like it first rate” although, “It is mudy here, shoe top deep.”

To a boy from a small, hardscrabble Ohio farm, army life almost seems luxurious to Altman: plenty of food and clothing, and the prospect of a great adventure, expected to end soon. As the war drags on, however, he will gradually change his tune.

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant will be meeting soon with his immediate superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, in St. Louis. Grant has a plan and he is seeking Halleck’s approval. In camp at Fayetteville, western Virginia, Lt. Col. Rutherford B. Hayes is his usual buoyant self: “Feel happy today; fine weather, good health, the probable victory over Zollicoffer [battle of Logan’s Cross Roads or Mill Springs in Kentucky]; the prospect….by next Sunday of seeing ym darling Lucy and the boys.” At Camp Jefferson in Kentucky, Pvt. Liberty Warner of the 21st Ohio speaks scornfully of the natives he has seen: “sharp nosed, sandy headed, gander legged Kentuckyans whose ambition is a log house, dirty young ones, 6 to 15 in number, a whife as motly as a pot pie…..”

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