On the last day of January 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright mentioned several subjects in his diary. He first turned to recruitment and reenlistment matters:
January 31, Sunday. The convalescent camp at Alexandria has been broken up, and the ground and buildings taken for a camp of distribution. My first installment of recruits is there now …. New York, I hear, is alive with returning regiments, and squads of recruits marching off. I hope to be there this day week. My return of re-enlisted men shows 117; it is about done in my command.
Historian Allan Nevins dropped a note from this passage related to the recruiting efforts. Reenlistments within the Army of the Potomac reached over 16,000 that winter. That’s over one-eighth of the army which could have just went home for good, with no shame at all. But they signed the papers and remained. Well took a furlough and remained. Nevins’ other observation here was to the positive effect on recruitment while these men were on the home front, making appearances.
One veteran who did not remain with the army was Wainwright’s surgeon, Dr. Mosser, who’d left in December. “He was only a contract surgeon, and has gone home to Pennsylvania on invitation of his old master, who offers him a partnership with half the profits.” Wainwright noted the young doctor should bring home “three or four thousand a year.” Not to mention, a lot safer than practicing his trade with the army.
Closing his entry, the bachelor colonel touched upon social events… that he was excluded from:
I am really without anything to enter today; have not been so hard pushed for material since last winter. The officers of the Third Corps gave a grand ball last week; an immense room was put up; supper brought down from Washington, and so on. It is said to have been a great success. I did not receive an invitation so was not there. There are lots of women in the army now.
The ball even made Harper’s Weekly, in the February 20 edition. Thanks to Son of the South, that resource is readily available on the web. The accompanying article described the ball in detail, noting the dancing-hall was “made up of tents, and decorated with flags and evergreens.”
The article went on to say, “While the fortunate soldiers who have partners are at supper with their ladies, those not so successful are engaged in what is called the ‘gander’ dance, which our artist has faithfully represented on the same page” to the lower right. The article concluded:
This ball was quite a success, a score of generals attended; and it was altogether an event to break up the monotony of every-day dreariness in camp. It was the first opportunity that gave the ladies staying with their husbands in camp a chance to come together.
While in some measure a welcome “domestication” of the camp, the presence of so many women in camp interfered with some military actions. The same issue of Harper’s Weekly discussed the actions at Morton’s Ford on February 6-7, reporting, “When the order came for this advance, Friday night, nearly a thousand ladies, wives of the officers and men, were in camp.”
Keep in mind, there was no family support plan in the Army of the Potomac as we know them today.
(Source: 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 317-8; Harper’s Weekly, Volume VIII, No. 373, accessed from Son of the South website.)