Wainwright’s Diary, January 19, 1864: Fine huts and stables for the batteries

For January 19, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright began his diary entry with more observations about the commanders in the Federal army:

We have no more news as to the corps consolidation; that is, nothing more decisive than the first report. Burnside has permission to raise his corps to 40,000 men. He is working for it in the different states himself very hard, and with good success, as I learn through the Talbots.  They are to rendezvous at Annapolis and are probably meant for some expedition south so soon as spring opens.  It is astonishing how a man who has shown himself so utterly unfit manages to continue getting independent commands.  Hancock, who is just recovering from the wound he received at Gettysburg, is also trying to raise his corps to a like number.  He has entire sway in Pennsylvania, that being his own state and he hand and glove with the Governor….

Contrary to Wainwright’s speculation, Major-General Ambrose Burnside’s Ninth Corps would operate in Virginia, as a separate formation from the Army of the Potomac.  The separation was in part to prevent Burnside, by virtue of date of rank, from returning to command the Army of the Potomac.

Personally I don’t set a lot of value to ratings from the ranks. No matter how good the captain, there is always someone in the company who thinks poorly of him.  Likewise, even the worst commander has a handful of admirers in the formation.  But give Wainwright’s opinion some weight.  He’d seen both Burnside and Winfield Scott Hancock in action, and is entitled to opinions.

Moving away from command arrangements, Wainwright provided an excellent description of his brigade’s camps.  He started with Lieutenant James Stewart’s Battery B, 4th US Artillery:

After four weeks of hard work my batteries have now about got their camps finished.  The palm lays between Stewart and Reynolds, both of whom have tried their best: they are different in every respect.  Stewart’s huts are beautiful, all the same size, and near five feet high to the eaves; they are in two rows facing inward, the first sergeant’s and office tent being at the foot of the street so that he can see the door of every tent from it; the street is about twenty-five feet wide, with a three-foot corduroy sidewalk all around it. His stable has the advantage over all the others of a broad roof; the horses face inward and the sides are closed by split logs pinned into the uprights.

As for 1st New York Light, Batteries E and L under Captain Gilbert Reynolds:

Reynold’s huts are quite uniform in size, but they are too low; the chimneys are not all on the same side, nor do they all open into the street, which he has made more than double the width necessary.  This he did so as to form his company in the street for parade.  I tell him it will greatly increase the labour of keeping his camp in order. Reynolds’ sable is something unique, being the half of a hollow square, with his carriages parked in the centre.  The ground was particularly well fitted for him to carry out this idea, which of a fine, dry sunny day will be very showy.  The inner side of the stables is open; the other is closed with split logs set upright.  Roof and floor are made in the same way, with not a nail in the whole thing.

Turning to Captain Charles Mink’s Battery H, 1st New York Light Artillery:

Mink has arranged his huts like Stewart’s, only they are altogether too low, and he finds his ground rather wet.  His stable, too, is planned the same, only instead of logging up close he has set up an eight-foo-high brush fence all around, and some five feet off, which I think is better as it will give more air while it is quite as much protection against the wind.

Lastly, the 5th Maine Battery under Captain Greenleaf Stevens, “has built very elaborate huts, quite equal to Stewart’s in one row, facing south, just under the lee of his clump of pines.”

Looking over the ground of the camp today, it is not hard to imagine the huts cannons, horses, carriages, limbers, and wagons out on the hillsides.

Winter Encampment 067

Although there are some who’s mental faculties are less capable, so they pry about in the dirt looking for the past.

Winter Encampment 089

Sad they must disrupt the ground, and attempt to cover the resultant hole, looking for affirmation of the past.  The real rich stuff, that they most often miss, is in plain view… out there in the written accounts of the men who lived that winter of 1864.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 316-7.)

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3 responses to “Wainwright’s Diary, January 19, 1864: Fine huts and stables for the batteries

  1. Fabulous post, Craig–on several different levels.

    Relic hunters shame us all by wantonly digging up battlefields in selfish pursuit of their own cravings. I can take you to several remote places where it is abundantly clear gravesides have been opened in a cynical search for buttons and buckles. I hope some day to catch one in the act of a burial disturbance so we can immediately undertake a test case as to whether it is indeed a felony in Virginia to dig up graves.

  2. The separation was in part to prevent Burnside, by virtue of date of rank, from returning to command the Army of the Potomac.

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