During the summer of 1897
our mother found a quid period in her busy life, to devote to a project
she had long wished to accomplish.
The oldest daughter Martha and Louise were both married. Our father had taken Katherine and Rose to Europe for the summer. Mother had made plans for Marion and Frances to have a delightful vacation at a country resort on the Mississippi River. And the two young boys of the family, Harry and Bill went off on a bicycle trip to Pontiac, Illinois to visit their big brother Fred and his wife.
Being now well guarded against all interruption in the home, a box of letters was brought out from its hidden place. The existence of these mother had closely concealed for thirty-five years.
Then she went to work in the quiet of father's library, employing a typist, and together extracted from father's love letters written through the Civil War, all expressions of endearment, leaving a complete diary of his week to week personal experiences as a soldier.
Three copies were bound and kept in the family. Mother's accomplished task was of great interest and value as history, though we regretted never having seen the original letters from which she had deleted the love. We have always been interested in the courtship of our father and mother. One story is that they met as school teachers in neighboring towns. A more romantic story that father met mother when she was giving out mail for her father, our grandfather Wightman, who was acting as Postmaster in West Bend at that time.
Mother taught school to finance her further education which she accomplished by attending Milwaukee Female Academy, Leroy University in New York, and earned her coveted sheepskin from Packer Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Father's ambition was to study Law and to earn his admission to the Bar.
When father's regiment was about to leave for active duty, the following beautifully expressed letter was received by Mr. Wightman.
Louise Winkler Hitz
Milwaukee Sept. 30, 1862
My Dear Mr. Wightman:
As circumstances deny
me the pleasure of a personal visit to West Bend I must take the pen in
brief to confer with you about a matter which deeply concerns persons near
to you. I would speak of your daughter Fannie. I love her, yes love her
with all the fervor that man's heart can love t value her above all else
on earth - and from her lips I have had the happy assurance that she loves
me. Often in times past have I hoped for the bright sunny day when with
the blessings of her parents upon her I might call her my own, and lead
her to a peaceful home which mutual love should render ever happy. But
it seems the will of Heaven to suspend anticipated joys. Duty calls me
to the service of the country and I cannot disobey the call. I did not
wish to entail upon the woman whom I loved the suspense and anxiety of
following the man to whom her fate is linked through the vicissitudes of
three years service in the field. I wish to spare Fannie this trial, and
had therefore concluded not to tell her of the deep affection which I nurtured
in my breast. But Mr. Wightman I had but met her and I knew that our mutual
attachment was too strong to remain concealed, far too strong to be repressed.
Therefore Mr. Wightman I ask and Fannie joins me in asking of you and Mrs.
Wightman your parental consent and blessing to our affection, to our Betrothal.
Her love I have and I hold it as the highest boon Heaven has bestowed upon
me. I must ask for one thing more. Let Fannie remain in the city through
this week. I know your anxiety to see her after so long an absence attended
as it was by sickness. But she can be with you next week when I must be
far away. Then leave her here where I can see her at least for a brief
hour every day during the few hours that we are permitted to remain. Our
regiment is ordered to leave on Monday next. Fannie thinks it is her duty
to go home and accordingly means to go on Thursday. Advise her that she
may stay. It would be a favor to me for which I shall ever be grateful.
Herewith I must bid you good-by. When the disturbances which now rule in the land shall have ceased, I hope to return and claim your Fannie as mine. In asking for your daughter Mr. £ Mrs. Wightman I can only make return of the promise ever to be
Your dutiful son
Fred C. Winkler
On the Way to Washington, DC.,
October 8th, 7.30 A.M., 1862.
We are in New York between Dunkirk and Elmira, "foaming on." We have passed through some really fine scenery this morning, smiling valleys-surrounded by hills higher than any I have ever seen before- crossed by shining streamlets. We started on Monday morning as proposed, left our camp at 10 A.M. attended by such a crowd as Milwaukee has seldom seen. All along the road down to the depot people crowded upon us, rushed upon us, pulling the boys out of the ranks, shaking hands and kissing them and bidding them a final farewell. The scene at the depot was one of the most affecting I have ever witnessed. A tearful crowd waved a last farewell and tearfully our soldiers answered it. The most happy and light hearted wept there, but it was only for the moment of parting, once gone all were in good spirits and a more cheerful, happy and sprightly party has never been known than the 26th Wisconsin on the way to Washington. Everything tends to make it so _ good cars, good fare, and above all the most delightful weather, a bright sun by day and fair moon by night. It looked squally and suspicious Monday morning, but the clouds all withdrew as our regiment formed into line. I had a revolver presented to me by some friends of the Milwaukee Bar just before leaving. This is a very labored letter, however uninteresting you may find it.
Baltimore, Friday, October 10th, 1862.
Imagine extensive depot grounds with ample buildings for storage, many trains of cars-some moving up and down, others standing still- every available spot between the tracks filled with stacked arms and loitering soldiers. At the end of a long row of stacks, those of "Co. B " with stuffed knapsacks; in front of them, one man in captain's uniform seated on a knapsack amid a squad of talking soldiers, not listening however to their conversation but busily engaged writing, and you have a picture of my present situation- except that I have forgotten the lowering aspect of the clouds threatening ill to our dust-covered regiment. Imagine a little further. The scene changes somewhat. It is night. The moon high in the heavens, smiling as benignly upon me here alone as it did at home last Sunday evening. The regiment is wrapped in great coats, lying on the pavement, its blankets for mattresses, between the different railroad tracks. Come to Company B. A protruding sword from beneath the great coat, and that he has no blanket under him, is all that distinguishes the writer from the rest; the Captain's blanket is in his trunk-that with the baggage-but here comes a kindhearted private, a blanket in his hand neatly folded, "Captain, let me spread this blanket under you." I appreciated the kindness, but refused the offering. Nevertheless s, as the reveille awaked m e this morning, I found myself covered by a blanket. I though as I composed myself to sleep last evening, "What if my friends at home could see met" But it was not so bad. It was very warm and pleasant, and I need not tell you how dirty. Night before last we were on the train gliding through the mountains-now dark, now bright, according as they were accessible by moonlight. I sat on the platform alone, indulging in pleasant recollections and sweeter anticipations. We came here yesterday noon, and have waited ever since for transportation. There was a New York regiment here when we came, which left last night. There is another here now, to go after us. We have to be always ready, but it may be some time before we can go. The regiment that left last night was packed into cattle cars, probably we shall go similarly.
In Camp on Arlington sleights,
October 12th, 1862.
Computation tells me that this was Sunday, that now it is Sunday evening, just one week since I left home. If it were not that we counted days, no outward sign would tell us of the holy Sabbath. All is wild and rough around us, though the capitol of our land is in sight. Late in the afternoon of the day when I wrote last, we proceeded to Washington, and after a slow and tedious railroad ride arrived there at dead of night. We were taken to some commodious barracks near the depot, called "Soldiers' Rest", where after taking some grub the regiment was quartered for the night. It was very late when we got all arranged. I, with some other officers, went to Willard's Hotel, where we got a few hours sleep and some warm breakfast in the morning. In the afternoon we made a long march through half rainy weather and muddy streets to this place, and there passed a very cool night with just such accommodations as we had carried with us. To-day our baggage trains have come up and this evening for the first time I am seated in a tent. To-morrow morning we are to leave for Fairfax C. H., where we shall join General Sigel's Corps. I have seen but little of Washington; in truth, nothing. My rest last night was none of the best, my labor to-day considerable. I have a sick man with me in my tent and you must, for these reasons, excuse me from writing much of a letter. The smoke from the camp fires, which were all around Us to-day, affects my eyes very much, otherwise I am quite well.
Direct to the regiment, Washington, D.C.,
Camp near Fairfax C. 11., October 18th, 1862.
Early this morning, at
drill, a letter from home was placed in my hands. We are getting better
accustomed to camp life day by day, and every day brings some little improvement
adding to comfort and convenience ingeniously contrived. I made me a chair
to-day, not an easy cushioned arm-chair, you may imagine, but something
to sit on; it consists of a round stick of wood branching of f in three
branches- these are the legs aboard nailed on the other side offers a seat.
Quartermaster and commissary stores are all here now, affording us quite a variety of eatables, while Paul is improving fast in the art of cooking. The weather here is perfectly delightful; the days are sunshiny and warm, the nights exceedingly cool and moist, but we are amply provided with blankets and manage to keep comfortable on our beds of hay. Our drills too are becoming very interesting; six hours a day is no task at all. While we remain thus situated and keep such weather, all will be well with the 26th. The trees here are perfectly green-not a leaf is faded; a large portion of the forests consists of evergreens promising, as one of our boys remarked, to furnish excellent Christmas trees. Sigel's Corps seems to be stationed here as a defense or cover for Washington. It would seem impossible for him alone to make any considerable advance from his place without being largely reinforced not by single regiments, but by whole divisions. This may be contraband news.
I am glad to hear that Mr. Kneeland shares the apparently universal good opinion of our regiment. We were greatly applauded and praised on the way here and since we arrived, even generals seem to be well pleased. Miss Ella Kneeland, who was so anxious for the preservation of my uniform, (you remember one rainy evening) may regret to hear how my dress coat suffered on the journey, and that a few days ago my shoulder straps, having got very black and dirty, I committed the folly to have them scoured, which of course took off all the gilt, though not all the dirt, and made them look shockingly, but they are good enough for Fairfax Court House. The Lieutenants have come in and gone to bed, and are discussing to-morrow's breakfast so vivaciously that I cannot write.
October 18th, 1862.
I have not written you
of our march to this place and reception here. We continued our march from
Arlington Heights on Tuesday morning and arrived here-a pleasant meadow
surrounded by forests, about a mile from Fairfax Court House, at 4 P.M.
We were welcomed here by General
Schurz and his
staff, who kindly enough requested us to make ourselves comfortable. This
was certainly one of the most striking and original ideas that the famous
orator ever uttered. Make ourselves comfortable If you have Webster at
hand, see what comfort means; see whether it means after a long, wearisome,
toilsome march over rough roads, up hill and down again, all worn out and
hungry, to lie down without bedding, without a blanket, upon the bare earth
and thus pass the night. If that is comfort, then indeed the General's
invitation was generous. It was a cool night, and fortunately the boys'
knapsacks, which were carried on wagons, arrived before midnight, giving
each a blanket and overcoat. One of them shared a blanket with me, which
was drenched through with dew before morning. I had been told on the way
that the team which took our company's trappings had not found room for
my trunk, and that it would have to stay behind till the team could return.
You may imagine, therefore, how agreeably I was surprised when, before
I had crept forth from under the blanket this morning, I heard our Paul
saying "Elere is Captain's trunks" My privations were over; I was to luxuriate
in abundance once more.
Our regiment is quite alone, none other within a quarter of a mile. Our tents are pitched; Captain and two Lieutenants occupy one. In Milwaukee I was owner of quite a comfortable bed. I saw it as it passed to the baggage car, gave it a searching look to see if all its component parts were there; that look has proved a parting gaze, I have not seen it since.
The inside of our tent, I have no power to describe. If you can imagine a trunk, a box, two valises, blankets, coats, towels and victuals, boots and shoes and coats and pantaloons, canteens and dishes, pots and pails, all thrown around in as wild confusion as three lazy officers unused to housekeeping, and a servant groaning with headache, can leave them-the whole covered by a tent- you have a faint resemblance of that which is our home.
We have very good water here and bread and water was our principal food yesterday. To-day we live in luxury. I brought several pounds of extra Java coffee from Milwaukee; this morning we made quite tolerable coffee and drank it with a relish without milk. For dinner, the regiment was to have fresh beef. I was on hand at the distribution and secured a fine slice for Company B. I cooked it myself. Paul cooked the potatoes. The dinner proved a success. Some pickles brought from Milwaukee served as a relish; a neighboring officer had cake for dessert. From the care displayed in describing our meals, you will infer that the chief object is to provide for breakfast, dinner and supper. It may be so. One thing is sure, if we don't provide for it, we have none, and it is rather an agreeable thing after all to have something to eat.
This morning we were reviewed by General Franz Sigel himself. It was a momentous occasion. Early at morn the regiment was at work brushing clothes, blacking shoes, burnishing plates, guns, etc., and at the appointed time we formed in line of battle, ready for review. First a Brigadier General appeared, was introduced to us officers, and then showed us several evolutions new to us. When the Major General appeared, we brought our proper salutes, went through the necessary movements, listened to a few words of welcome, warm and hearty, from him, then gave him three rousing cheers and returned to our quarters. He looks very like his pictures, is slight and unassuming in manner. His cheeks are thin and show hard toil. He is very animated in speaking. The sentiments he uttered were noble and manly; he said he was glad to see us with him and hoped that we were and always would be friends, but added that he could not promise that we should have an easy time; that he could not promise us no joys, no pleasures, nor the realization of all we had expected; that we would have to make long and toilsome marches and fight bloody battles; that we were engaged in a great work which could only be accomplished by the utmost of our exertions, and that the greatest efforts of endurance would be called for. He said he appreciated what every one of us had at stake; he knew that life was dear, dearer than aught else, and said that all that could be done must and should be done to preserve life and make it agreeable, and that strict justice should be done between officers who command and the soldiers who are bound to obedience. But, though life was dear, he should expect of us, as of every other regiment in his command, that, when brought into contact with the enemy, we should forget every consideration of personal safety and be animated with the single idea of striking the enemy; having dedicated ourselves to the service, it was no time to ninch from its dangers in the hours of battle. Enclosed with an earnest exhortation to cultivate mutual good feeling and friendship.
We are well situated here now that we have our baggage. How long we will stay is hard to tell, There are numerous tents in the neighborhood, but we see little of them. Last night a lieutenant and myself went down to the village and had a full view of all the encampments about here-each tent lighted up-the whole presented a fine appearance.
In regard to the close of the war, it is a subject on which it is hard to speculate, difficult to form an opinion; and as we have no opportunity here for the observation of public sentiment or anything else from which to judge, it is more difficult here than it was at home. When you come here and meet the scattered remnants of regiments that, but a year ago, marched forth as full in numbers and as buoyant in spirit as we do now, and listen to the story of their experience, it would seem as if the angels of Heaven, moved by pity, would come down and bid us cease this bloody strife. If you can occasionally send me a Milwaukee paper, it will be very acceptable.
October 20th, 1862.
It was rumored about camp yesterday that we were to make an extensive march, by order of the Major General; early this morning, the order came that our regiment was to be in marching trim at 8 A. M. The order was strictly complied with. We moved hence about two or three miles to the review ground, there formed into close column and awaited the coming of the Major General for review. There were six other regiments of infantry and several batteries therewith us. We had to wait a long, long time; finally, General Sigel and his staff appeared and reviewed the several troops. Then we marched off to a field some three or four miles distant, where, after waiting a long time and being put into countless different places, in each of which we remained just a few minutes, we deployed in line of battle in a field covered with bushes and briars, and were put to movements such as charging bayonets through a wood at double quick in two ranks, which we had never practiced, never thought of, and were entirely unequal to; and, under the magnificent direction of an efficient Major, we were made to pour a most murderous fire into Sigel's best battery, which we were to defend, (without cartridges, of course). Our "splendid" regiment, I dare say, reaped nothing but ridicule there. It vexed me. We returned to camp about 4.30 P.M., where Paul waited on us with beefsteak, fried potatoes and boiled rice, which was duly relished. It is very cold this evening and my hands are stiff.
October 23rd, 1862.
Once more the evening
hour throws its quiet shades around me and finds this situated here pretty
much as we have been for some time past. The regular routine of drilling
gone through with day by day, the intervening hours are filled up by attendance
to a variety of more or less important duties or the study of tactics.
We all inquired with much eagerness after the mails to-day, but none came,
not a letter or a paper; I have, therefore, no letter to answer.
Our regiment has been furnished with cartridges, and every man in the ranks is now prepared with forty death bearing volleys. There has been a great deal said in camp during the last two or three days of our advancing as far as Centerville, and it was said we were to go tomorrow. To-morrow we will not go, of course, but in all probability we will early next week. We have been assigned to General Carl Schurz division, and it seems settled that this division is to relieve that of General Julius H. Stahel shortly, which is now at Centerville. I suppose that life at Centerville will be very much as it is here, except that picket duty will occupy a good share of our time and attention.
I employed a brief time of leisure yesterday in making a checkerboard, and some of the buttons I found in my needle-book have been pressed into the service as men. I also had the pleasure of discovering a set of chess-men with one of the lieutenants and have enjoyed several interesting games. Chess is about the only game that I like, and I was really glad to find a set of men and players in camp. I got hold of a New York Herald to-day, the most engrossing part of the contents of which are the terrible denunciations of the English press upon President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation.
October 31st, 1862.
We moved our camp about one and a half miles yesterday, and have taken possession of a magnificent camp ground. The officers' tents are right along the line of a thick wood, that protects the camp from the north wind. We are now half a mile west of Fairfax C.H., while before we were about one mile east. We had a grand parade this morning; two entire divisions of Sigel's Corps were out. Secretary Chase and his daughter, both on horseback, were present.
November 1st, 1862.
We have enjoyed the ease
of quiet camp life probably to the full extent that we shall during the
present season at least. We received orders at noon today to be ready with
five days' rations, ample ammunition, etc. for march at eight o'clock to-morrow
morning. The whole camp, not of our regiment only, but the entire corps
is in active preparation for what seems likely to be the campaign, for
there seems no doubt that we are taking our departure with no intention
of returning, or of making a permanent halt again. We are all to go in
the lightest trim. The men are allowed to carry nothing but a change of
underclothes, a pair of shoes and their blankets in their knapsacks. The
officers are also reduced to the minutest limits. The small valise is all
that is expected to be carried under any circumstances, and even that will
probably not keep up with the progress of the march. No mess chest, no
cooking utensils of any kind will be carried along, each officer will have
a tin cup and that will answer all our requirements.
There seems to be a general advance of the armies of Virginia contemplated. Sigel's Corps cannot, of course, remain idle when such a movement takes place. We are to march to Thoroughfare Gap, said to be some twenty-five miles from here; we may there, or from there at least very shortly, come in contact with the enemy. We will doubtless have to endure great privations on the march, not a single one of our tents is to go with us; we are to be furnished with the so-called shelter tent-a mere piece of canvas, which is stretched over a pole elevated on posts about three feet above the ground, leaving openings on two sides which must be covered by a blanket or wicket work improvised for the occasion in the best way that circumstances will allow,- but even these wretched shelters we are yet without and do not expect to have for a number of days at least. We have as yet seen little, nay nothing, of the hardships of war, but the time is coming. On the eve of events so momentous to the individual engaged in them, should not the soldier put to himself the serious question, "Are you ready?" Should he not search his heart to see whether it be firm and tremble not? Go through our army, observe the intelligence, the culture of the men who compose it, view each individual soldier, scrutinize the motive that brought him here- behold him! He has left a home where the genial sunshine of happiness has never been obscured-he has broken from endearments, to which his heart clung with a tenacity that naught else on earth can equal, to all of which he fondly hoped to return. True he knew when he entered the service that dangers, toil, hardship and privations awaited him; he had heard the stories of almost incredible suffering of those who have gone before him, yet he could not, happy man, believe that such ills were in store for him. Why, yes, he too was willing, was ready to bear his share, yet it could not be in the providence of God that his fate should be so hard. Then his apprehensions are soothed, his anxious heart is solaced. He goes forth almost joyously from his happy home, and his first experience tends to justify the hopes he had cherished. Sheltered in good tents in a pleasant place, where no enemy intrudes, with no duties more onerous than the daily drills and a little picketing, he is left in quite a comfortable situation, and as winter is not very remote he begins to think that till next spring nothing will be done. Suddenly he is awaked from these delusions by an order like that which surprised us this afternoon, plainly telling that the days of comfort are over. Well may the soldier at such a time search his heart and see whether it be firm and tremble not. You inquire how I am affected by the prospect ahead! To say that I received the news with indifference were absurd, as I can not claim to be devoid of human sensibilities, but I assure you it never for a moment made me quake or tremble. I see clearly what awaits us, and with firm step and unquailing heart I hope to do my duty, nor do I feel as if the trials I am to undergo were hard, unreasonably hard; no, I am cheerful while I am determined. I know that the cause we fight is just. This, and a firm reliance on the providence of God, lends me the strength I possess. It is getting late, I have to write amid continual interruptions; I must transfer the most necessary of my things from my trunk to a small valise. It is a trial to be cut off, to a great extent at least, from communication with home. Letters will probably be very slow and uncertain both to go and come.
Direct to Washington, In the woods near
Thoroughfare Gap, November 4th, 1862.
According to orders previously
received, our regiment was in full stir long before daylight on Sunday
morning. The kitchen fires were burning to prepare the two days' rations
that had to be carried by the men. Many wagon loads of property which we
could not take along were carried back to Fairfax C. H. at an early hour,
to be stored there; my trunk had to go. My valise being very small, I could
only just put in the most indispensable things. My books I had to leave.
We marched about twelve miles the first day, and about as far yesterday.
The face of the country is very hilly and our march was continually up
hill and down. I have not been very well since Friday, and the march fatigued
me very much. I was perfectly worn out on Sunday evening when we came to
a halt. I lay right down upon the ground for a few moments' rest, during
which a cup of tea was prepared for me which, with a cracker, somewhat
restored my vital powers. I lay down to sleep in the Colonel's tent, to
which he kindly invited me, about seven o'clock. I enjoyed a sound sleep
and when we started again next morning, I felt like a new man and deemed
myself well again, but I had not marched far before I felt that my system
was not in proper order and I could only continue the march with the greatest
exertion. I was determined, however, not to flag. The Lieutenant Colonel
had the kindness to take my blanket, which I was carrying, on one of his
horses, so I had nothing to carry but my haversack and canteen. I became
very weary during the day, and when we arrived here my last bit of strength
was gone. To-day we are happily permitted to rest.
On Sunday evening as we rested, we heard cannonading at no great distance and it was spoken of as highly probable that we would meet the enemy on Monday. Monday morning at breakfast the prospect of a battle was in everybody's mouth, the boys jokingly bidding one another farewell, etc., etc. To me, as I looked upon the array of trusty men-a company of men as true, as noble as ever enlisted in the cause of war, and every one of whom I had learned dearly to love and knew to be devoted to me, it was no subject for joking; and while I could not but smile at their witticism, I had to turn my face from them to disguise the tears that rushed to my eyes. A field officer who has been in the service quite a longtime told me recently that, when he first set out from camp to go against the enemy, when the regiment was in full array before him, he was so overcome by his feelings that he had to ride to the rear and there he wept for ten minutes, incapable of restraint. I can appreciate that man's feelings. I believe an officer only can.To him who is indifferent to the casualties of battle, what virtue is there in bravery?
November 5th, 1862.
We are lying in a forest by the roadside, about half a mile from Thoroughfare Gap. We arrived here about 4 P.M. on Monday and were ordered to sit down and rest, arms in hand. Cannonading was heard, and indeed has been almost uninterruptedly heard during the daytime at some distance, and we did not know what order the next moment might bring. I was hungry, as well as tired, and told Paul to cook some rice in my tin cup for me; while he was discharging this duty, our drums and bugles suddenly sounded the fall in; my rice was only half done; I seized the cup and a spoon and managed to devour the contents as I stood before the company giving my orders, I was not to go to battle with an empty stomach. The regiment was quickly formed and stood ready for orders to march, but instead of issuing those orders, the Colonel only commanded "Stack arms", and "Unsling knapsacks," and then added "Make yourselves comfortable for the night." We are always ready to march at an instant's notice. The country around seems to be as richly supplied with all the wealth that farmers have, as if no army had ever been here before, but the troops robbed and pillaged yards, barns and houses in a most disgraceful manner yesterday; our regiment, I am happy to say, was the most moderate of all and kept within some bounds of decency. Company B brought in nothing but a few sheep and a pig, but I heard stories of some of the New York regiments that are truly horrifying.
November 8th, 1862.
It was a terribly cold night. Talk to me of the Sunny South! The wind blew and the poor tents quaked. Well, we started about seven o'clock yesterday morning, defiled through the gap and then marched over a stony, hilly road about five miles to a collection of three houses, with barns, stables, etc., which constitutes the village of New Baltimore. We had scarcely left yesterday morning when it commenced to snow, and it continued to snow all day long. It had frozen hard, solid, during the night before; upon the whole I believe it is not one whit warmer than it is in Wisconsin at this season. We stopped at New Baltimore and are there now, about five miles from Warrenton, where we will probably go soon. Several divisions of McClellan's army are said to be there now. I wish I had all the dispatches you have had of that army this week, we could then form some kind of an idea of the movements making. Those at home generally think that those in the army have such excellent opportunities for observation a great mistake. The extent of our horizon is our brigade. I think I shall have opportunity to mail this to-day. I still suffered with a stiff neck yesterday, so that I could not move my head, but to-day I am all right. We hear considerable cannonading again this morning, but unfortunately don't know what is going on. To-morrow will be Sunday again, just one week ago we started wandering and have wandered just thirty miles. The day after we arrived at Thoroughfare Gap, we were surprised suddenly by the shrill whistle of a locomotive, which solicited a sudden spontaneous and loud hurrah from the entire camp, and it was really a pleasant sight to see the train run up.
Gainesville, Va., November 10th, 1862.
We have marched back quite
a distance and are now at Gainesville, through which we passed a week ago
to-day on our way to Thoroughfare Gap. We left New Baltimore yesterday
at 8 A.M., and arrived here after a rapid march of three hours. General
Sigel's headquarters are here. I met Captain Assmussen of his staff yesterday,
a gentleman whom I once met in St. Louis, when he was Adjutant of Colonel
Von Deutsch's regiment of cavalry. This morning our whole brigade, artillery
and all marched out in parade style and formed a brilliant line along the
road near by to receive with due honors George B. McClellan, who was advertised
to make his appearance there, but he disappointed us. After a few hours
waiting, all marched home again, without having seen anything of the little
General. Various rumors have been around camp about him during the last
few days, the most important of which is that he has been relieved of his
command and Burnside appointed to the same.
I see by a Baltimore paper that General Schurz' Division "drove the enemy through Thoroughfare Gap" at the time of our march. I was there. I saw the "drive." Oh, it was terrible! Not a gun was fired, not a foe was seen! Great Victory!
November 14th, 1862.
Yesterday, and the early portion of this forenoon, I have been engaged in the practice of my old profession. I assisted a Lieutenant of the 13th N.Y. Battery, at present serving on General Sigel's staff, in his defense before a court martial, on charges preferred against him by the Captain of the Battery for disobedience of orders and "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." All the witnesses were to be examined yesterday and towards dark the court adjourned to hear our defense at 9 o'clock this morning. The defense, therefore, had to be written in the evening. Where should we do it? A serious question. Oh, said the Judge Advocate, you can use the court room. A good idea. We were to use the court room, a small room in a house which has once doubtless been the hotel of the place, but we wanted some supper too. The lieutenant had recently been to Washington and had some good things to eat and drink with him. Where to prepare and dispose of them was another question of moment. Why, to be sure, in the court room! We accordingly provided ourselves with haversack and flask, paper and ink, and proceeded to the court room again to carry out the the programme of the evening. Of course, we expected that the room would be vacant and we would be by ourselves. You may imagine our consternation when, on arriving there, we not only found all the seven members of the court, but also divers other individuals ranging in rank from negro to major crowding the little room. We patiently waited for half an hour, in hopes that the crowd would disperse, but it only increased. To boil sausages, make punch, and prepare an address to a court martial there was manifestly impossible. To the rear in the yard was another house occupied by a negro family. We went there and entered a room of small dimensions and densely packed with blacks, both large and small. "No odder room in dis house." What was to be done? Why, there seems to be a light in that stable. It was a small log hut; on entering we found a fire place on one side with a fire slowly glowing in it. There was a box there too, which might serve for a table, also a bench and a broken chair. The tenement was being used as a guard house, but the guard had gone. We forthwith took possession, cooked our supper, and thereupon I went to work to draw an address. When it was finished I read it to my lieutenant, who was perfectly delighted and said he should sleep soundly now. This morning I read it to the court and they retired for deliberation, dispersing a short time after; from this, I am assured that the lieutenant has been honorably acquitted. The trial was quite a pleasant relief to me from the daily exercise of drill.
November 15th, 1862.
Since I wrote twenty-four
hours ago, quite a change has taken place with me. I have been restored
all at once, as it were, to the practice of the legal profession. In a
different sphere, it is true, from that in which I formerly labored, yet
it is in the profession which I have loved above all others, and in a position
too where I may be able to render the country more important service than
in the command of a company. Last night while asleep, the Adjutant suddenly
appeared at our tent and called for Captain Winkler, and, on my announcing
my presence, told me that I, with four other officers of our regiment,
had been appointed to a court martial to convene at 10 A.M. to-day. This
was of no great importance; it only made me one of seven judges to sit
during a few days. This morning I was inspecting the clothing of my company
when the Colonel's orderly requested me to come to the Colonel's tent;
when I arrived there he put a slip of paper into my hands, I opened it
deliberately; it was an order from General Sigel detailing me to his staff
as Judge Advocate of the Corps. I have mentioned my meeting Captain Assmussen
of General Sigel's staff; as soon as he recognized me the other evening
he said to me, "Winkler, I am glad you are here, we must have you for Judge
Advocate", but I thought I could not mention this until I had the appointment.
I had no idea it would come so soon. I am to enter upon the duties of the
office at once and, as a member of General Sigel's staff, shall have a
commodious tent at headquarters and a horse to ride. So far as I am myself
concerned, nothing could have been more gratifying; the duties of the office
are highly responsible and I shall endeavor faithfully and religiously
to balance the scales of justice, and above all use my best endeavors to
suppress and discourage the unworthy jealously and rancor between officers,
which are infesting our army to an alarming extent; but I am sorry to leave
the regiment-to leave my company.
My company is the best-the standard company of regiment-the material it is made of necessarily makes it such. I love those boys, and there is not one of them that is not deeply attached to me. I have governed them universally by the kindest and most lenient means and this mode of treatment has borne the most favorable fruits. No company is ever more ready at the command of its captain, and yet in none is there apparently less government. Punishment, while with others of daily occurrence, is with us hardly known. Now my 1st Lieutenant, who must succeed me in the command, is a youth without discretion or the least weight of character, in point of education inferior to one-half the men in the ranks; this circumstance greatly adds to my regret at leaveing the company; my 2nd Lieutenant, however, is a good and reliable man.
November 16th, 1862.
I had just taken leave of my company when I wrote last. They had fallen in for roll call and when the orderly had read the last name they gathered in a circle around me. I told them briefly that I had been called away, thanked them for the kindness they had always shown me, and expected them to be true to their duty in the future as they had been in the past. For a few seconds after I had finished they stood there in complete silence, not a man spoke or stirred. Then our 2nd Lieutenant called for three cheers for the Captain, that were given with a unanimity and heartiness that deeply moved me. Tears came into my eyes and I could only falter in reply, "I thank you, boys!" Then they came around me individually and you could see in their faces that they were really sorry. I was away on the court martial in the afternoon. I returned after dark and quietly walked up to the fire around which some twenty were assembled; as soon as they saw me, they exclaimed almost with one voice, "Oh, here is our Captain again!" Some of them told Lieutenant Frank during the afternoon that their regret exceeded their sorrow at leaving Milwaukee. The whole company were in mourning all the afternoon and evening, and it so affected me that I could not sleep all night. I could write more but the mail closes.
Direct, Capt. Fred C. Winkler,
Major Gen. Sigel's Staff, 11th Corps,
Army of the Potomac, Washington, D.C.
November 21st, 1862.
If my friends at home
could see how comfortably I am seated here, they would not think that I
was suffering any remarkable hardships. I have just got my new home fully
arranged. You enter my tent at the opening in front; immediately on your
right is a desk at which I am writing, opposite you in the corner on the
left is a little stove diffusing very agreeable warmth and very disagreeable
smoke; around the stove is plenty of wood. Along the back wall of the tent,
to the right of the stove, on the ground is my bed of hay, supplied with
a double blanket, a shawl and a buffalo robe. My trunk in the corner on
your left finishes the picture. What more do I want?
In the morning before I get up, my Fred comes in, builds a fire, cleans my boots, brings me fresh water to wash, etc., etc. Then I go to my breakfast, a distance of about two blocks, through mud knee deep, for it has been raining ever since last Tuesday morning. After breakfast, I return to my tent to see to official business, where I am waited upon by the Judge Advocate's clerk with the inquiry, "Any work for me, Captain?" Thus you see, I am enjoying glorious ease. My duties are not onerous. In a few days we will have a court martial in session. I rode out to Centerville to-day in spite of the rain, and only found the Chicago Tribune of the 14th. I had heard before of outrages committed in Ozaukee Co., but had no idea of their extent. I hope that every man who participated in those riotous proceedings will be ferreted out and severely punished. Let them be organized into a regiment and armed, not with guns, for they are unworthy of bearing arms, but with axes, pickaxes, spades and shovels, and sent on as a pioneer corps to work buildings and roads, etc., these sweet rainy days. Yes, let them be impressed and thus indulged in their pet notion of no draft. The utmost severity against these rioters is indispensable to the security of the government.
Sunday, 8.30 P.M., November 23rd, 1862.
It had been supposed by
members of the staff that General Sigel's birthday was to-day, but it was
discovered yesterday morning to have been on the 18th inst., so we celebrated
it yesterday afternoon. The members of the staff had resolved to present
him with a horse upon the occasion. In the presentation speech by Col.
Robinson, Provost Marshal, allusion was made to the deception the General
had been guilty of to his friends. In the course of his reply, he admitted
this to be true, that he knew he had tried to deceive his friends and that
he had done it purposely and for these reasons; in the first place, his
life had not been a life of pleasure, and the memories his birthday brought
to mind were not the most pleasing; and, secondly, he could not enjoy gayety
and festivity when he knew so many around him-that a nation was suffering
under the burden of war. This was said after the presentation of a fine
black horse in the afternoon. A splendid dinner had been prepared for the
evening and, of course, our General was there. The evening was pleasantly
spent. An excellent brass band was in attendance. The viands and wines
were enjoyed, toasts were offered and speeches made, jokes were passed,
and the General seemed to enjoy them heartily. When the company was most
gay and inclined to frivolity, our chief rose to "tell a story", as he
said. He commenced with an allusion to the Army of the Potomac, and said
there is now another army, called the Army of the Rappahannock, under a
new leader; on that army depends the fate of the republic. I have but one
wish, but one hope, that that army may be successful whether the reserve
that I command shall aid in its achievements or not. This is the sentiment
he expressed more at length than I have stated it. Afterwards he asked
permission to retire. The remarks I have given show the heart of the man,
for I have no doubt that every word he says comes from the bottom of his
heart. To-morrow the new horse is to be tried.
I have forgotten to mention that I have had a new sword presented to me. In the evening, before we left Gainesville, Lieut. Molitor, whom I defended before a court martial, brought me an excellent cavalry sabre and insisted on my taking it as a present from him. He has been honorably acquitted of the charges brought against him, and restored to his command. Being mounted, a sabre is now my proper arm.
November 30th, 1862.
I rode out to Centerville on Thursday evening and learned that Lieut. Huttman had tendered his resignation! He has the ear-ache so bad! He cannot stand it! Now Frank will be 1st Lieutenant, commanding, and our excellent orderly will be 2nd Lieutenant, and then Company B will flourish again.
December 3rd, 1862.
I am alone with that brief telegraphic dispatch before my eyes. I feel sick, sick at heart. I suggested a leave of absence at headquarters to-day, but there is no hope for me; members of the staff who have been away from their homes for ten months have difficulties in obtaining them, besides I have too much business before me. To-morrow a second court convenes for the trial of officers of high rank. I need not tell you how deeply I feel the loss of our dear friend.
Stafford's C. H., Va., December 18th, 1862.
Let me explain to you our situation. I am in my tent again; have my desk, my trunk, my stove and my cot and all that belongs to my household. We left Fairfax C.H. last Friday, most of the corps having gone the day before and ridden as far as Dumfries. We heard heavy cannonading in the direction of Fredericksburg all day long; the news we have up to this time of the Battle of Fredericksburg is very meager and unsatisfactory; the news was that we had lost heavily and that our forces had withdrawn to the north of the Rappahannock. We went down expecting to be sent across the river and to fight at once. General Sigel said to me on Sunday evening, at this place, "To-morrow, we will see the rebels". His orders then were to hasten his march, but there was no haste required. On Tuesday morning, General Sigel and a few of his staff, myself among them, rode over to General Burnside's headquarters, which we found in tents. Here we stayed with one of General B's aids, while General S. went in to see the Commander in Chief of this army, and here we learned the wholetruth. The rebels are impregnably intrenched opposite on the Rappahannock, and the mad attempt to storm their position by an infantry attack on Saturday resulted only in an unavailing slaughter of ten thousand of our men. According to all I could learn, it could have had no other result. We were repulsed then, repulsed with terrible loss, while our foe did not leave his fortifications. What now? It is hard to tell. Our corps is sent back at once to guard our right against flank movements and maintain the railroad communication with the army.
December 23rd, 1862.
It is almost Christmas. At home, it will not be remembered with the accustomed celebration, as it is the anniversary of my mother's death. I went to Falmouth day before yesterday to hold court martial, and got home again last evening. To-morrow I shall have a court convene at this place; a tent is the hall of justice, the bench is indeed a bench; cracker boxes have been impressed for additional seats. This is the poorest place we have been at yet. The road to Washington is unsafe for sutlers, so that we are entirely confined to quartermaster and commissary stores. Oh, what a luxury a piece of bread would be, but I don't care for luxuries, we have plenty of good food and I have a comfortable tent. I think a tent is quite as good as a house. A captain who has been in the army some time, went to Washington recently and, of course, stopped at an hotel, where they gave him a room and a bed. He went to bed, but said he could not stand it, he could not sleep, and so finally took a portion of the bedding and laid down on the floor before an open window.