Saturday, February 2, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Saturday, Feb. 1, 1862

Ups and Downs of Camp Life

Camp life in winter quarters, soldiers soon discovered, was “devoid of much incident,” as Capt. Emerson Opdycke of the 41st Ohio wrote from Camp Wickliffe, Kentucky. But it had its moments, both high and low, which stirred the interest of the bored young men.

From Camp John McLean, near Cincinnati, Sgt. Oscar D. Ladley of the 75th Ohio recently enjoyed some hilarity at the expense of his company’s first lieutenant. The inexperienced officer took the company out for dress parade, but “forgot what command to give to keep us from running over the Quartermasters tent, and about half the company ran plum into it, some of them tried to climb over it.

“There were several officers close by and out boys commenced laughing fit to kill. The same evening when we had halted he wanted to bring us to a ‘front face.’ The order is ‘company front’! When they undoubled their files and came to a front face, the order he gave was ‘front face without doubling front.’ He was so annoyed he has not shown himself for several days.”

But in the same letter, Ladley described a less amusing incident. A sergeant in another company of his regiment, “an old man about sixty years of age [who] had served all through the Mexican War [and] was a good soldier, well liked by all his comrades,” had taken it into his head to go to a tavern in a nearby town and get a drink.

Apparently the tavern was closed and the tavern keeper, armed with a sword and a revolver, grappled at the door with the sergeant and fired his pistol at him. The sergeant “droped dead in his tracks, and was kicked out into the street,” Ladley wrote, adding, “The soldiers all went over the next night and would have hanged [the tavern keeper] and he is now in jail in Lancaster and I hope he will hang.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: There was a skirmish near Bowling Green, Kentucky, involving Company H of the 2nd Indiana Cavalry, with no casualties reported. The most activity was taking place in Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s District of Cairo, where Grant’s forces were hustling to prepare to attack on Fort Henry, the Confederate post guarding access to the Tennessee River. Nearly a dozen different orders fly off Grant’s desk, arranging transportation, supplies, and troop movements, as well as positioning of a substantial number of troops (eight regiments of infantry, six companies of cavalry, two companies of artillery, plus all the lame and sick of Grant’s command) left behind to guard Cairo and its outposts—something the ever-cautious Halleck had insisted upon. He wires Halleck that he will leave Cairo “tomorrow night” (Sunday, February 2). His force will eventually total 15,000 men.

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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