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Chapter 7: the winter at Muddy Branch.

The evenings at headquarters were often interesting. There was plenty of time to study, discuss and exemplify the tactics and regulations. Acting Adjutant Reynolds had a ‘wooden regiment,’ made and sent to him by his father, and these were frequently brought into use to demonstrate a movement in the tactics. This series of blocks is still preserved among his army collection.

Major Howe, or ‘JackHowe, as he was called, and Dr. J. Franklin Dyer, the regimental surgeon, were always good naturedly discussing the seniority of their respective positions, one being a major of the line, the other a major of the general (or medical) staff. This matter was brought up by one or the other of them nearly every evening, each making his claim and supporting it in strong but good humored argument. When sitting around the open fire and the conversation flagged, the major or the doctor would take a fresh cigar and between the whiffs, coincident to the lighting of it, would say to the other, ‘Well, Major—’ and all present would burst out laughing, hitch up a little closer and listen, for everybody knew that the old question was about to be re-opened by some new paragraph in the regulations or tactics which had been discovered since the last argument. But the question was never settled, and furnished material for an endless discussion. On one occasion, Major Howe, who had been studiously reading the tactics, was seen to suddenly put down the book, stand erect and say with much emphasis to Col. Hinks, ‘Colonel, I have read the tactics and army regulations through, and I can't find the first thing that a major is responsible for.’ Colonel Hinks looked at Major Howe for a moment, then replied, ‘Major, make a study of guard duty.’ [50]

Every member of the regiment will remember that Major Howe did so, and was an authority on quarter guard, picket and outpost duty. Nothing pleased him more than to be detailed, later on, when the regiment was engaged in more active duty, as Field Officer of the Day, in which he always excelled.

An amusing incident occurred at Whitehouse Lock, where there was a tail race. The lock itself was spanned by a narrow plank walk. Two men had been drowned by falling into the lock, and the noise of the race had prevented their cries being heard. Late one night, Capt. Weymouth of Company G, commanding the outpost, heard someone struggling in the lock and calling for help. He managed to fish out the unfortunate person, who wore a Brigadier General's uniform, and put him in front of a fire in his quarters, dressed in clothing furnished by the officer on duty. It was in December, and he was not only nearly drowned but as nearly frozen to death. The man proved to be Governor William Sprague, of Rhode Island, on his way to Poolesville to visit some batteries from his state which were stationed there. He had taken a notion to ride up the tow path of the canal in the night, from Washington, so as to reach Poolesville by daylight. As he had the countersign and parole, he could pass all the pickets. He had fastened his horse and endeavored to reach the storehouse, where he saw light and hoped to get warmth and refreshments but slipped into the lock in crossing.

During the stay of the regiment at Muddy Branch, there were numerous changes in the roster. Q. M. S. Oliver F. Briggs, of Company A. was promoted to be Second Lieutenant in that Company: Com. Sergt. Elisha A. Hinks, of Company B. was made Second Lieutenant, Vice Second Lieut. James G. Lurvey, honorably discharged. Second Lieut. Geo. M. Barry, of Company E, was honorably discharged and First Sergt. M. A McNamara was promoted to the position.

During January and February the officers were very much scattered. Col. Hinks was absent in Massachusetts, and Lieut. Col. Devereux was left in command of the district from Great Falls to Seneca. Adjt. John C. Chadwick was acting Asst. Adjt. General at the headquarters of the First Brigade, Corps [51] of Observation; Capt. C. M. Merritt, Company A. was at Rockville as Provost Marshall, with Second Lieut. W. L. Palmer, of Company I, as Deputy Marshall; Capt. J. Scott Todd, of Company C, was at Seneca in charge of building defensive blockhouses; Capt. James D. Russell, of Company D, at Muddy Branch Lock, building the defensive blockhouse between Muddy Branch and Seneca and Second Lieut. Samuel Baxter was with him. Capt. Edmund Rice, of Company F, had charge of the picket line on the Potomac River at Seneca Lock, while Second Lieut. Dudley C. Mumford was at Lock No. 31, Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Capt. Weymouth, of Company G, was at Whitehouse Lock.

A number from the regiment had been sent away on recruiting duty, including First Lieut. Moncena Dunn, of Company D, Sergt. Warner W. Tilton, of Company A, Sergt. Ephraim A. Hall, Jr., Company F, Corp. John N. Thompson, Company B; Privates Edward K. Davis, Company D; Edward Z. Braley, Company D; Michael Sullivan, Company E.

First. Lieut. George W. Bachelder, of Company C, was made the Acting Regimental Adjutant while at Muddy Branch, from January 4th, during the absence of First Lieut. John P. Reynolds, on leave.

On Feb. 21st, dress parade was had and Col. Hinks presided for the first time in four months. The regimental band played ‘Home Sweet Home’ after dismissal, and many a ‘boy’ wished he was there.

A detachment of 32 recruits was received from the depot on February 24, and they were distributed among Companies D. and F.

The regiment was busily employed until March 12, 1862, when it was ordered to join Sedgwick's Division and the balance of the Brigade, under command of Brigadier Gen. N. J. T. Dana, at Harper's Ferry, on its way to reinforce Gen. Banks and Shields in the Shenandoah Valley. The tents which had sheltered the the men since they left Massachusetts were taken down and sent to Washington with the extra personal baggage. A flotilla of canal boats was taken at Edward's [52] Ferry and on these were loaded the wagons, ammunition and supplies, and the regiment started for Harper's Ferry.

The boats were lazily drawn along by mules up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal to the Point of Rocks. This proved to be a very pleasant and agreeable journey, the weather was pleasant and the scenery beautiful. The Potomoc, with its many rapids fringed with trees and bushes, green with their new foliage, with hills and mountains making on the opposite side a background beautiful and picturesque, made a scene long to be remembered. The canal wound along the bank at the foot of the mountains, which, as they neared Harper's Ferry, rose in steep crags and precipices with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad running between.

Arriving opposite the town on the 13th of March, the men landed, crossed the pontoon bridge to Harper's Ferry and formed in the street, on which stood the ruins of a United States' Arsenal, the scene of John Brown's exploit, which at that time was filled with rebel prisoners. Then they marched back to the hill and encamped in Boliver, situated on higher ground above the village of Harper's Ferry. As the command stopped here for a day, the men had an opportunity to look around the place. The ruins of the government works, and the place of Brown's temporary confinement were viewed by all with much interest. The men were now on the sacred soil of Virginia and felt that soon they would have work to do.

On the following day the regiment marched to Charlestown, the place where Brown was tried and hung, and camped in a grove on the outskirts of the village, to await orders from the front, where Banks' troops had been engaged at Winchester. Many visited the field where Brown was hung and the village; inhabitants of which were found to be very warm and outspoken secessionists and confident of winning in the great struggle. Company A was ordered back to Harper's Ferry as a Provost Guard, while the rest of the regiment marched on.

The regiment on the right of the Third Brigade was leading the column and when they reached the village the next morning some one struck up ‘John Brown's body lies a [53] mouldering in the ground.’ The whole regiment immediately joined in the chorus. (They were all singers,—then.) But to their surprise, Col. Hinks issued orders that the singing should immediately be stopped. Soon they saw what he intended, for the band began to play the same tune, and then the men joined in again and rolled it out with vigor all the way through the town. The whole Corp took up the song and through the streets of the little town 15,000 men marched and sang the refrain. There were many in the town who looked on from behind the closed blinds, and scowled, but here and there a face could be seen beaming with satisfaction to see the Union troops marching down to victory. Many colored people were upon the streets, but no white people came out.

The teams were behind, there were no tents to shelter the men and at night they were ordered into a field covered with heavy oak timber, to do the best they could for shelter.

An order had been issued from army headquarters forbiding the taking of any property, even of old Secessionists, for the use of the army. The order included even fence rails, which must be protected and not put to use. The enemy's outposts had been driven away from behind the breastwork of rails which they had piled up for their protection. The men soon began to collect these and build fires, but the commander did not interfere, realizing that there are times when necessity overtops all rules. The men were wet through, were tired and hungry and to save the regiment from possible serious sickness, fires were indispensible.

By the next night Dana's brigade had reached Berryville, where it joined the other two brigades of the division, under command of Brig. Gen. John Sedgwick. It was not destined, however, to remain in the Shenandoah Valley with Banks for, on the the 15th of March, the Division started early on its return to Harper's Ferry and encamped on Boliver Heights, occupying the deserted houses, which made very comfortable quarters. Here the command remained until March 24. It rained steadily all the time, and the streets, cut up by the constant passage of heavy teams, were reduced to a condition rivaling those at Muddy Branch.

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