previous next

Chapter 3: in camp at Meridian Hill.

As soon as the camp at Meridian Hill was established Major Howe was appointed instructor of officers and men in guard duty, police, etc.; Lieut. Col. Devereux instructor of officers and men in school of the soldier, school of the company, etc.; while Colonel Hinks was instructor of the regiment in the school of the battalion and in skirmishing, and of the officers in making papers, muster-rolls and returns. The regiment was drilled by company or by battalion eight hours in each day, and an officers' school was held at headquarters three evenings each week.

Each Sunday was given over to the reading of the Articles of War to the men. It seemed to them that whatever they did, the penalty was that they be shot, ‘or such other punishment as may be inflicted by courtmartial.’

Sunday morning inspection was also established and the first one was decidedly amusing. The order was for all men to be in the line. This included everyone connected with the regiment, cooks, clerks, teamsters, detailed men, etc. The regular members of the regiment were much interested at seeing the extra men in line.

The wagoner of one of the companies had not seen his musket since he first received it at Lynnfield. He knew nothing of the manual, neither did the regimental mail carrier. As Lieut. Col. Devereux came down the line and the men threw up their guns for inspection, the first named did it in fairly good shape, having watched his comrades on the right. The officer looked at his musket and then at him.

‘What do you mean by bringing such a musket for inspection?’

‘It ought to be all right,’ said the wagoner. ‘It's brand new and I've never used it since it was given to me.’ [15]

With a reprimand the officer passed on and soon came to the mail carrier, who had not been as sharp as the wagoner and had not watched the others. As the Lieutenant Colonel stood before him, he remained quiet and modestly blushed. The Lieutenant Colonel surveyed him from head to foot.

‘Why don't you bring up your musket?’

The wagoner took it in his right hand and pushed it toward him.

‘Don't you know any better than that?’

‘No,’ exclaimed the embarrassed man, ‘I wish I hadn't come out here. I was sure I'd get into trouble if I did.’

The officer smiled and passed on, but, after that, extra duty men were excused from Sunday inspection.

As the days passed rapidly by, the men of the regiment put on more and more the look and air of soldiers; daily they drilled and worked and worked and drilled; daily they cursed more and more the grim figure at headquarters, who was the genius of all this unaccustomed toil. Of the future worth of all this drill, fatigue and labor, many had small idea and few had none whatever.

When encamped at Meridian Hill, the Seventh Michigan Regiment arrived and camped on the opposite side of the street. Close friendships immediately sprang up between the men of the Nineteenth and those of the Seventh, which lasted during the entire service of the regiments. The Michigan men were forced to do guard duty with sticks until fitted out by the general government, as they brought no muskets with them.

The Nineteenth Regiment was assigned to the brigade of Gen. Frederick W. Lander and ordered to march to Poolesville, Md., then the headquarters of that division, known as the ‘Corps of Observation,’ Gen. Charles P. Stone, commanding.

The march was from Washington through Leesboro, Rockville and Darnestown. It was the first march made by the men and to the ‘tender-feet’ a very hard one. It developed the interesting fact, however, that the boys who were fresh from school or indoor life, could endure more than the men of mature years who had at first laughed at them.

On the first night of the march the men camped by the [16] side of a stream. Supper was cooked with water taken from this stream and on the following morning a dead mule was found above the camp, it having been in the middle of the stream for at least three days.

Poolesville was reached on the following evening, and the men were greeted by the members of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment, and the various companies of that organization entertained the corresponding companies of the Nineteenth. They had been warned of their coming and had prepared supper and coffee. This thoughtfulness was greatly appreciated and formed a solid basis of good feeling between the two regiments, which lasted throughout the war.

On the following day, September 15, the regiment marched about two miles to Camp Benton, near Edward's Ferry. The camp was on a plain, with a brook running along the front and woodland to the left. Here the drill and instruction was continued from morning until night, interspersed at intervals with picket duty. In a short time such a high state of discipline was obtained that soldiers from other states would surround the guard lines at drill and watch the manoeuvres. They dubbed the regiment ‘The Nineteenth Regulars’ because of its magnificent drill. It was especially proficient in the manual of arms, using Lieut. Col. Devereux's manual, in which all took great pride. It differed from that of other regiments in many ways and was very attractive and interesting. Said an officer of the regiment (Dr. Dyer) in writing home, September 29, 1861,— ‘Through the untiring exertions of Colonel Hinks, who is emphatically a working man, the general condition of the regiment has vastly improved: cleanliness and order are strictly enforced. Under the superintendence of Lieut. Col. Devereux, the companies have acquired a proficiency in drill not surpassed by many older troops. Under charge of Major Howe, the important duties of the guard are well attended to. Other departments are in good hands, and a system of strict accountability is rigidly enforced.’

The other troops in the brigade were the Twentieth Massachusetts and the Seventh Michigan, Forty-Second New York (Tammany), Captain Saunders' Company of Sharpshooters [17] (First Company of Massachusetts Sharpshooters) and Captain Vaughn's battery of Rhode Island Artillery. Small ‘bunches’ of recruits were received from various sources while here, 43 being added from the 14th of September to the 27th. Shortly after the command was located at Camp Benton, six companies of the regiment, Companies A, B, C, D, E and F, were detailed, at various times, as pickets along the Potomac River, between Shelden's Island and Conrad's Ferry. Companies B, C, and E, were stationed below the crossing at Edward's Ferry,—D, above it, and, still further to the right, opposite Harrison's Island, were companies F. and A. On their right was the line of the Fifteenth Massachusetts. They continued on this duty until the disaster at Ball's Bluff, three weeks later. The rebel pickets were on the other side of the river, within easy hailing distance, and the music of their bands, playing ‘Dixie’ and ‘Bonnie Blue Flag,’ etc., could plainly be heard.

On October 2, a few men of the Fifteenth Massachusetts were sent over to Harrison's Island to reconnoitre. It was found to be deserted and for some days thereafter a picket post was kept on the island during the day, being withdrawn at night. Later, the post was kept there through the entire twenty-four hours. Gen. Stone, commanding the Corps of Observation, rode down every day to learn the movements of the enemy.

The station of Companies B, and C, was on a hill near the river, where they supported a section of two guns of Vaughn's Rhode Island Battery, posted there. They called the place ‘Camp Straw.’ The work was very light and much freedom was enjoyed. The men improved the opportunity to have a change of rations by buying food from the farmers. An old colored ‘mammy's’ squash and sweet potato pies were believed to be great luxuries by those who had never bought them. No one ever patronized her twice.

The men of the six companies who were on picket duty were under command of Capt. Edmund Rice and lived in cozy little shanties which were very comfortable, except in heavy storms, when they were not quite as dry as the men might have wished.

While at Camp Benton, dress coats, with brass shoulder [18] scales and leather neck stocks, were issued, and, when not in line or on guard the spare moments of the men were spent in cleaning the brasses. The government pay of ‘$13.00 per’ was hard earned. In addition to the usual camp guard, a detail from each regiment in the brigade was detailed on ‘grand guard’ duty on the outskirts, the tour of duty being 24 hours. The purpose was to keep men from going too far from camp, observe everything of a suspicious nature, and protect private property.

Here the men became inured to the army ration and there were many new dishes created to relieve the monotonous diet. ‘Lobskause’ was one of these,—a hash of hard bread and pork, boiled with water until it had acquired the consistency of chowder. This was a rare dish, however, being made only when there was a sufficiency of pork and hard bread and nothing else,—three occurrences of infrequent conjugation.

Often the long roll would beat in the middle of the night. The men would turn out, march at double-quick to Edward's Ferry and up the tow path to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, lay on their arms during the rest of the night and march back to camp in the morning. At first the men thought the rebels were crossing the river, but as no such movements were ever witnessed, it came to be believed that these pleasant excursions were part of the necessary drill, there not being enough hours of daylight to permit of the desired instructions. The enlisted men, however, were not the only ones who had to work, as the line officers were being constantly drilled also.

The regimental band of 24 pieces, under bandmaster John A. Spofford, and a squad of recruits under Lieut. Bishop, of Company K, reached Camp Benton on September 27, 1861, and then the music became a feature of regimental life.

On the 15th of October a detail of 25 men from Company I, under Sergt. Harris, were ordered to Edward's Ferry to report to the Officer of the Day at that point. Two old scows had been discovered, sunk deep in the waters of the canal. This detail from the Nineteenth Massachusetts was ordered to raise them, bail them out and caulk the seams. In the late afternoon, they were moored above the lock and the detail returned to [19] camp, little realizing that the two scows which they had raised would play such an important part in the events of the following week.

At this time the regiment still lacked 194 of its full quota, and there were 49 officers and men on the sick list.

Much of the sickness was due to the want of proper clothing and blankets. The overcoats with which the regiment was furnished were of a very light fabric, entirely insufficient for the protection of the men, especially those upon duty at night. The blankets also were very light and the men suffered much from the cold. Chills and intermittent fever were the prevailing diseases.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 29th, 1861 AD (1)
September 27th, 1861 AD (1)
October 15th (1)
October 2nd (1)
September 15th (1)
September 14th (1)
1st (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: