Wainwright’s Diary, February 26, 1864: Returning to camp

After over twenty days away from his Culpeper headquarters, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright prepared to return on this day (February 26) 150 years ago:

February 26, Friday. I shall leave for camp tomorrow, though my time is not quite up yet; but I begin to feel anxious to get back and look after the condition of my command, as well as to attend to the assignment of the recruits in my regiment, as they ought to be arriving by this time….

These recruits pushed Wainwright’s New York batteries to their authorized levels prior to the spring campaigns.

Wainwright’s activities during latter part of his leave included social calls.  But it seems nearly every day some time was devoted to his primary concern – recruiting.  Though his efforts were doing well, he reported the heavy artillery regiments were attracting a disproportionate number, “as by going into these regiments the men expect to avoid all marches and battles.” Wainwright continued, as he had in earlier entries, to provide many observations about the system, for all its benefits and ills:

[Albany] is all alive with recruiting.  The agents have booths in the park, and office everywhere the greater part of them must be the biggest sort of rascals.  Not content with the fee they are entitled to, they try to cheat the recruit out of a large part of his bounty, and often succeed in pocketing from a half to three-quarters of it.  The provost-marshals are but little better as a general thing, conniving at if not taking part in the racality.  My little friend Theodore Bronson has shown a real devotion to his country in taking the place of provost-marshal, and attending closely to his duties. He can do quite as much good in this way as by going into the field, and I think he deserves infinitely more credit.  General [William] Hayes told me Theodore was the only honest man he had in that position.  I have spent a part of several mornings in his office, seeing how the thing was managed, but he does comparatively little business; eight or ten men a day, for the brokers hate him, as he will not allow any but first-class men to pass and insists upon explaining to each recruit just how much bounty he is entitled to and paying it into the recruit’s own hand.  He has also caused the arrest of two or three of the most notorious rascals among the brokers.

Stepping back from the recruiting stories, Wainwright turned back to news from the Army of the Potomac:

From the army they write me that everything is quiet and going on smoothly.  The very day I left they were stirred up by orders to move the next morning.  It only amounted to turning them out of their huts for a few days, and making a demonstration to keep Lee quiet while Butler captured Richmond.  Butler’s expedition marched up to Bottom’s Bridge and back without firing a shot. Their army lost about 250 men in occupying Lee; “taking off his intentions,” as my Scotch herdsman used to say.  “Why don’t the Army of the Potomac do something?”

The action mentioned was of course Morton’s Ford.  Wainwright didn’t have to be in Virginia to understand what a fine mess it had been.

Wainwright’s diary entry continues with a discussion of a Sanitary Commission fair.


But this being “To the Sound of the Guns,” not “Warm Stories from the YMCA.” we only need recall the Colonel’s impression of the effort:

I cannot fully sympathize with all this enthusiasm for the commission, nor do I believe that they can use properly so large an amount.  But the moral effect of such liberality is excellent, not only by opening the hearts of the donors, but as exhibiting to the world at large that the people at home are heart and soul with the army (provided you will let them shew it in their own way).

Within days of closing that entry, Wainwright was back in Culpeper, with the Army of the Potomac, where preparations were well under way to “do something.”

(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 320-21.)