“…a decaying country finally ruined by war.”–Adams Family Letters, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., to his father.

Potomac Bridge, near Falmouth, Va.
November 30, 1862

Here we are once more with the army, but not on the move. We passed six days in Washington and it stormed the whole time, varying from a heavy Scotch mist to a drenching rain. Our camp was deep in mud, at times a brook was running through my tent, and altogether we were most unfortunate as regarded weather. Still we succeeded in completing our equipment and I started out on our new campaign tolerably prepared to be comfortable in future. Nor did I, I am glad to say, waste my time while there, but I fed on the fat of the land, feasting daily, without regard to expense, at Buhler’s. I no longer wonder at sailors’ runs on shore. Months of abstinence and coarse fare, cooked anyhow and eaten anywhere off anything, certainly lead to an acute appreciation of the luxuries of city life. It seems to me now as if I could n’t enjoy them enough. While here I saw Aunt Mary repeatedly and she seems much the same as ever. She was very kind and hospitable. I also saw Governor Seward for an instant. He invited me to dinner and was very cordial; but he looks pale, old and careworn, and it distressed me to see him.

Here we remained till Friday evening, on which day the two Majors and myself succeeded in getting paid off, after immense exertion and many refusals, when we had our last dinner at Buhler’s and on Saturday, when we saw the sun for the first time for a week, we struck camp and moved over to Alexandria, on our way to join the brigade. We got into Alexandria by two o’clock and went into camp on a cold, windy hill-side. We were under orders to join our brigade at Manassas, but when we got to Alexandria we found Manassas in the possession of the enemy and we did not care to report to them. Accordingly we sent back for orders and passed Sunday in camp, a cold, blustering, raw November day, overcast and disagreeable. The damp and wet, combined with the high living at Washington, had started my previous health, and now I not only was n’t well, but was decidedly sick and lived on opium and brandy. In fact I am hardly well yet and my disorder followed me all through our coming march. Sunday afternoon we got our orders to press on and join the brigade at the earliest possible moment near Falmouth, so Monday morning we again struck camp and set forth for Falmouth. It was a very fine day indeed, but the weather is not what it was and the country through which we passed is sadly war-smitten. The sun was bright, but the long rains had reduced the roads almost to a mire and a sharp cold wind all day made overcoats pleasant and reminded us how near we were to winter. Our road lay along in sight of Mt. Vernon and was a picture of desolation — the inhabitants few, primitive and ignorant, houses deserted and going to ruin, fences down, plantations overgrown, and everything indicating a decaying country finally ruined by war. On our second day’s march we passed through Dumfries, once a flourishing town and port of entry, now the most God-forsaken village I ever saw. There were large houses with tumbled down stairways, public buildings completely in ruins, more than half the houses deserted and tumbling to pieces, not one in repair and even the inhabitants, as dirty, lazy and rough they stared at us with a sort of apathetic hate, seemed relapsing into barbarism. It maybe the season, or it may be the war; but for some reason this part of Virginia impresses me with a sense of hopeless decadence, a spiritless decay both of land and people, such as I never experienced before. The very dogs are curs and the women and children, with their long, blousy, uncombed hair, seem the proper inmates of the delapidated log cabins which they hold in common with the long-nosed, lank Virginia swine.

To go back to our march however. Our wagons toiled wearily along and sunset found us only sixteen miles from Alexandria, and there we camped. During the latter part of the day I was all alone riding to and fro between the baggage train and the column. I felt by no means well and cross with opium. It was a cold, clear, November evening, with a cold, red, western sky and, chilled through, with a prospect of only a supperless bivouac, a stronger home feeling came over me than I have often felt before, and I did sadly dwell in my imagination on the intense comfort there is in a thoroughly warm, well-lighted room and well-spread table after a long cold ride. However I got into camp before it was dark and here things were not so bad. The wind was all down, the fires were blazing and we had the elements of comfort. The soup Lou sent me supplied me with a hot supper — in fact I don’t know what I should have done if it had not been for that, through this dreary march; and after that I spread my blankets on a bed of fir-branches close to the fire and slept as serenely as man could desire to sleep.

The next morning the weather changed and it gradually grew warmer and more cloudy all day. Our road lay through Dumfries and became worse and worse as we pushed along, until after making only eight miles, we despaired of our train getting along and turned into an orchard in front of a deserted plantation house and there camped. Our wagons in fact did get stuck and passed the night two miles back on the road, while we built our fires and made haste to stretch our blankets against the rain. It rained hard all night, but we had firewood and straw in plenty, and again I slept as well as I wish to. Next day the wagons did not get up until noon and it was two o’clock before we started. Then we pushed forward until nearly dark. An hour before sunset we came up with the flank of the army resting on Acquia Creek. We floundered along through the deep red-mud roads till nearly dark and then, having made some five miles, turned into a beautiful camping ground, where we once more bivouacked. One thing surprises me very much and that is the very slight hardship and exposure of the bivouac. Except in rains tents are wholly unnecessary — articles of luxury. Here, the night before Thanksgiving and cold at that, I slept as soundly and warmly before our fire as I could have done in bed at home. The reason is plain. In a tent one, more or less, tries to undress; in the bivouac one rolls himself, boots, overcoat and all, with the cape thrown over his head, in his blankets with his feet to the fire, which keeps them warm and dry, and then the rest will not trouble him. A tent is usually equally cold and also very damp.

The next day was Thanksgiving Day — 27th November. It was a fine clear day, with a sharp chill in the little wind which was stirring. I left the column and rode forward to General Hooker’s Head Quarters through the worst roads I ever saw, in which our empty wagons could hardly make two miles an hour. I saw General Hooker and learnt the situation of our brigade, and here too we came up with our other battalion. We passed them however and came over here to our present camp, where we have pitched our tents and made ourselves as comfortable as we can while we await the course of events.

As to the future, you can judge better than I. I have no idea that a winter campaign is possible in Virginia. The mud is measured already by feet, and the rains have hardly begun. The country is thoroughly exhausted and while horses can scarcely get along alone, they can hardly succeed in drawing the immense supply and ammunition trains necessary for so large an army, to say nothing of the artillery which will be stuck fast. The country may demand activity on our part, but mud is more obdurate than popular opinion, and active operations here I cannot but consider as closed for the season. As to the army, I see little of my part of it but my own regiment. I think myself it is tired of motion and wants to go to sleep until the spring. The autumn is depressing and winter hardships are severe enough in the most comfortable of camps. Winter campaigns may be possible in Europe, a thickly peopled country of fine roads, but in this region of mud, desolation and immense distances, it is another matter.


Adams Family Civil War letters; US Minister to the UK and his sons.
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