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Chapter 6: removal to Muddy Branch.

After the return of the command to Camp Benton from Ball's Bluff, a reorganization of the regiment took place. Capt. Moses Stanwood, of Co. A., Lieutenants C. C. Sampson of Co. I. and Eugene Kelty of Company K resigned, and were discharged in October, and in November Capt. William H. Wilson and Second Lieut. William H. LeCain of Co. H., with First Lieut. S. D. Hovey of Co. G. were honorably discharged.

First Lieut. Charles M. Merritt was promoted to be Captain of Company A, and Second Lieut. Isaac H. Boyd was commissioned First Lieutenant in that Company.

In Company D, Sergeant Major Samuel Baxter was made Second Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant John P. Reynolds was made First Lieutenant and Acting Adjutant and transferred from Company D to G.

In Co. K. Second Lieut. Edward P. Bishop was promoted to First Lieutenant, and First Sergeant Lysander Hume was advanced to Second Lieutenant.

First Lieut. Henry A. Hale of Co. H. was transferred to Co. I, while bandmaster John A. Spofford, with musicians R. W. Stevens, W. C. M. Howe, E. F. Spofford and J. M. Hine resigned and were discharged. Lewis Rimback, of Boston, was appointed as the new bandmaster.

Instead of staying all winter in Camp Benton as had been expected, the regiment was ordered, on December 4, 1861, to Seneca, at a place called Muddy Branch, some miles nearer Washington, where it relieved some of the command of Gen. Banks, whose division was sent to Frederick.

Camp Benton, with its well determined lines, its spacious streets, curiously constructed ovens and underground furnaces, its nicely thatched stables and log houses, was left as a monument [44] to the versatile skill, the military genius, ingenuity and perseverence of the men of Massachusetts.

In moving to Muddy Branch, the regiment, with the exception of Company C, marched to Edward's Ferry and went down by way of the canal, leaving early in the day. The weather was very cold and the air frosty.

Company C was left to guard the camp equipage and see to loading it into the canal boats at the ferry. This being done, they began the march across country about 5 P. M. The roads being heavy (when they were fortunate enough to find any), and the fields soft from recent rains, they found it very hard work and made frequent halts. The final halt was made at Seneca Lock, the company taking possession of the lock house. Their duties here were to act as pickets, search all boats passing and examine passes. At 12 o'clock each night a patrol was sent up the river to the next post, to get the report from above and pass it down, by giving it to the sentinel in front of the house, who, in turn, gave it to the mounted patrol when he came up. Only one report was ever received. That was ‘All Right.’ In about two weeks this company was ordered to join the regiment at Camp Lander, near Muddy Branch. Their first work was the procuring of logs from the camps that had just been abandoned by Gen. Banks' Division. The men built these up for about three feet from the ground, stopping the the cracks between them with small sticks and mud. The soil contained much clay and made good mortar. On the top of the logs the tent was made fast and fire places were built in one side, with a barrel or a box for a chimney. A few, more industrious than others, built their chimneys of sticks, log house style, and plastered the inside with mud. In the same way were the houses of the poor whites and negroes provided with means to let the smoke escape, the cooking all being done by the open fire place. Ovens were built out of doors in which to bake bread, as few of the chimneys in the camp reached above the top of the tent and there was more or less trouble to make them draw. To remedy this, boards were fastened on the top and shifted with the wind.

The regiment had left Lynnfield with much less than its [45] full quota, and the enlisted men of the ten companies were now consolidated into nine, those in Company H being distributed among the others. A new company was then authorized to be raised in Essex county by Charles U. Devereux, the former First Sergeant of the Salem Zouaves and brother of Lieut. Col. Devereux.

This company arrived at Muddy Branch on December 13, 1861, bringing with it 125 men. Its complement was but 101, and all over this number were sent to the other companies as recruits. This brought the membership of the regiment up to 939 men.

In the new company were many members of the Salem Zouaves who had served through the Three Months Campaign. Beside Capt. Devereux were First Lieutenant Albert Thorndike, First Sergt. Wm. R. Driver, Sergeants Albert C. Douglas, George B. Symonds and Samuel H. Smith and Corp. A. Frank Hutchings. This company was at once mustered into service as the new Company H, and given the nickname of ‘The Lapstone Light Infantry.’ A family reunion of the Salem Zouaves naturally followed.

Tents were issued to the new company, and everybody turned their attention to making themselves comfortable. Stockades were built about the tent, with fire-places and such other conveniences as the experience of those who had been longer domiciled could suggest. The officers of the new company built a log hut of generous dimensions, with a bed built of poles covering about all the available ground space. It left only enough room to get in and out to feed the fire, which was left burning most of the time in the great fire place. In this cabin, old friends lounged on the bed, played cards, studied and discussed the Tactics and Regulations, ‘jawed’ and spat in the fire. Lieut. Col. Devereux and others of the old company were frequent visitors.

On December 20 recruits to the number of 117 arrived among them ‘Billy’ Hill, another Salem Zouave, who came out as Sergeant in Co. F. Another reunion was immediately held.

The duties of the regiment in its new camp, were of a [46] nature to preclude the possibility of drill. It had 13 miles of the Potomac, from Great Falls to Seneca Falls to picket, three defensive blockhouses to build, 48 feet each way, of the shape of a Greek cross, four feet thick, twelve feet high, with loopholes for infantry arms, roofed with logs three feet thick and covered then with three feet of earth. Two hundred and twenty five officers and men of the regiment were engaged in this work. All the logs used in the construction had to be felled and squared with common axes, hauled to the different eminences on which the buildings were to be erected, and then placed, each log being fitted and pinned with treenails. These were to protect the ford and lock at Whitehouse on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Long after the regiment left this vicinity, these blockhouses played a conspicuous part in preventing raids across the river.

As two towns, Rockville and Darnestown, required a provost guard, Company A, Capt. Merritt, was given the duty. In addition the camp and stores of the regiment demanded a quarter guard. A bakery for the regiment was erected and flour instead of stale bread, was drawn from Poolesville, Levi Woofindale, of Company G, being appointed regimental baker

The headquarters of the regiment were located in an old wooden building and here also were the quarters of the Adjutant, Quartermaster and Surgeon. Tents scattered about the building were used for the non-commissioned staff and men detailed at headquarters. The balance of the regiment were housed in tents. Guard mounting took place each morning. The band was still with the regiment, and the players had a hard time in keeping their fingers warm during inspection and review. This guard mounting, being all the military duty there was to do, was made much of. The weather was very bad and many were sick. Mud and rain, snow, fever, flux and death seemed to be everywhere in abundance. Heavy artillery and musketry fire was heard every few days at distant points and the men grew impatient to go forward.

While at Muddy Branch, the adjutants of regiments were ordered to instruct the color sergeants in the use of the flag for signalling by day and of signal cartridges by night. The signal [47] kit, as it was called, consisted of a waist belt, cartridge box for the signals, and a brass barrelled pistol with which to fire them.

The signals were cylindrical in shape, an inch or more in diameter, with a wooden projection at the bottom to fit the barrel of the pistol. The quick match protruded from the end of this wooden projection. These cartridges were covered with colored paper, indicating the color that would show when they were lighted. The pistols were fitted with a percussion lock, the signal would be inserted in the barrel as far as the wood plug, leaving the cartridge sticking up outside and the quick match extending down the inside of the barrel. A percussion cap would then be placed on the nipple, and, when snapped by pulling the trigger, the spark would ignite the quickmatch and the signal would be fired like a bengola light.

The first signal issued to the Nineteenth regiment is now in the possession of Capt. Reynolds. These signals were in vogue before the organization of the signal corps, which afterward became a separate, distinct and efficient branch of the service and has been ever since.

There was a ‘countersign’ for the quarter or regimental guard at night, a ‘parole’ for the picket guard, and signals as described for distant signalling. The countersign was a distinct matter in itself and was changed, together with the ‘challenge’ and ‘reply’ of day or night, every 24 hours. It was written on a piece of paper, which was then folded into a triangular shape, like a ‘cocked hat,’ three inches long, sealed with wax at the corners, addressed to the commander of the regiment, marked ‘O. B.,’ which meant ‘Official Business,’ and further marked ‘Confidential.’ Woe to the officer or man who, with out authority broke one of the little seals. The Regulations provided for summary punishment in such a case, but this never occurred in the Nineteenth Massachusetts. One of the countersigns which has been preserved reads, ‘Kansas,’ the parole ‘Missouri.’ The day challenge is ‘22,’ the reply ‘112,’ made by motions of the flag. The night challenge is ‘Red-White,’ the reply being ‘White.’ (1) These colors [48] designated by the outer wrapper on the signal cartridge, correspond with the instructions in the little folded ‘cocked hat.’

Nearly all of these were countersigned ‘Official, John C. Chadwick, Act. Asst. Adjt. Genl.,’ who served in this capacity at Brigade Headquarters for a long time.

1 This signal, not being used, became void, and is preserved by Captain Reynolds among his war souvenirs.

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