Friday, February 1, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Friday, January 31, 1862

A Day in the Life of…

Capt. Emerson Opdycke of the 41st Ohio, is one of Col. William B. Hazen’s most trusted officers. Hazen, who started out as colonel of the 41st, is now commander pro tem of the 19th Brigade in Brig. Gen. Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. The 19th Brigade includes the 41st Ohio, 46th and 47th Indiana, and the 6th Kentucky (loyalist). The brigade occupies Camp Wickliffe in west-central Kentucky’s LaRue County.

Opdycke sits down near midnight to reply to his wife’s latest letter and describe a typical day in his life in camp (which, Opdycke says, is “devoid of much incident.”)

The hard-driving Hazen is, as usual, demanding every man in the brigade train ceaselessly. Opdycke—a no-nonsense officer who emulates Hazen—is one of the colonel’s designated taskmasters. He writes Lucy:

At half past seven or eight A.M., your most obedt marches through mud half way up to his knees to the camp of the 47th Ind. about a quarter mile distant; drills the officers…for one and a half hours, then superintends those officers drilling their companies, til half past eleven A.M., then wades back to dinner; but stop, before dinner, I recite [my own lessons] to Col. Hazen, or in his absence, I hear others recite, then dinner, and at one p.m. I wade back and drill the battalion…until four P.M., return and at six P.M., recite to Col. H. till seven, when I wade again, to hear the officers of the said 47th Ind recite for two hours. In the intervals of time I get my lessons and attend to much Company business; and the balance of the day I have for letter writing and sleeping.

Opdycke then describes his bed and “I assure you after the exercises above spoken of, I sleep most soundly upon it. We spread our rubber blankets on the ground, upon them we have a little straw, over the straw that comfortable [?] you gave me, then a layer of soldiers (Self and Lieutenant Mc.) then my shawl, then Lt’s blanket then overcoats, and overall, my Louis Napoleon [a large overcoat with a cape].

“It is now just twenty minutes past twelve P.M. [he means A.M.] so with your permission I will write myself

Affectionately Yours.

AND AT CAIRO, ILLINOIS: All is hustle and bustle as Grant prepares for his attack on Fort Henry, the Confederate post guarding the Tennessee River. Yesterday morning, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, in St. Louis, telegraphed his formal approval to “take and hold” Fort Henry, reversing his opposition of only a few days earlier. Today, Grant wires Halleck, “I expect to start Sunday evening [Feb. 2], taking 15,000 men. He tells Gen. C. F. Smith to prepare a brigade from Paducah plus “all the command from Smithland, except the 52 ILL and one battalion.” Grant orders Brig. Gen. Lew Wallace to take command and hold the Union base at Smithland, Kentucky, near the confluence of the Ohio and Cumberland rivers. He arranges for ammunition, rations for horses, and transportation of soldiers by steamer.

ELSEWHERE: Putting the spurs to the immobile McClellan, President Abraham Lincoln supplements his “General War Order No. 1” with a special order to “seize and occupy” a point on the railroad near Manassas Junction. But will it make any difference to the stubborn McClellan?

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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