Wainwright’s Diary, March 6 , 1864: “the army has been quite gay during my absence”

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright began his diary entry for March 6, 1864 by relating news of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid:

March 6, Sunday.  Kilpatrick has reached Yorktown, but Jefferson Davis still sits enthroned in Richmond, and our prisoners still suffer on Belle Isle. The whole thing has been a failure; resulting, so far as we yet know, in nothing but the burning of one or two railroad bridges, and the pretty thorough using up of most of the 3,000 horses.  That is, if Dahlgren gets in safely; he was detached with 500 men and sent to cross the James above Richmond, but has not since been heard of.

These raids never amounted to anything on either side beyond a scare, and proving that once in within the enemy’s line a good body of cavalry can travel either country with perfect freedom for a long time. When Jeb Stuart first went around McClellan’s army at the Peninsula it was something new, and as it was not known how easily such feats could be performed, he deserved some considerable credit for it; the moral effect, too, amounted to something then.  Now it is known that any sharp fellow acquainted with the roads could make the circuit of either army with 100 men, but he would cause very little scare and do very little harm.  General Sherman has been trying a raid too out West, but on a very much larger scale; stil he does not seem to have accomplished any more than Kilpatrick. These raids make a big noise in the papers, and so glorify their commander; who is generally a man of that kind who court newspaper renown.

Considering traditional cavalry missions and roles, the Civil War experience seemed to overemphasize raiding operations.  Indeed, as Wainwright pointed out that winter, the raid almost eclipsed those responsibilities which arguably were more important, operationally that is.

Wainwright turned away from the military matters to mention the social atmosphere in camp:

I understand that the army has been quite gay during my absence. The Third Corps ball was followed by one in the Second, to which many ladies from Washington came down; [General William] Barry brought his two daughters, who stopped with Mrs. Webb.  I must go over, and call on Madame some day soon.  General [James Clay] Rice, commanding our First Division has had a bevy of girls at his headquarters, a private theater and what not.  [Dr. E. E.] Heard says he was over there once or twice, and tells a good story of his mother when giving her name to a shop girl in Baltimore being asked if she was any relation to Dr. Heard of the First Corps, who the shop girl said she knew very well, having met him during her visit to General Rice, in the army.  Imagine Mamma’s disgust, she having just social standing enough to feel such a thing….

We are existing without a cook or waiter; that is all.  Now my groom says he wants to leave. I am getting desperate, and shall turn pig, like the rest of mankind.  General [John] Newton still has his wife with him.  [James] Stewart and [Gilbert] Reynolds have brought theirs down, too; the latter is exceedingly pretty and ladylike in appearance.

Yes, the Winter Encampment was not all a martial affair.  But those military matters took precedence:

The New York Times says that General Meade has summoned to Washington to answer charges brought against him before the Committee on the Conduct of the War about Gettysburg, by Sickles and Doubleday.  A pretty team! – Rascality and Stupidity.  I wonder which hatches the most monstrous chicken.

The passage leaves little doubt as to Wainwright’s opinion on events during those three days the previous July.   But with the mention of the erroneously alleged inventor of baseball, the closing passage of the day fell right in line:

The weather continues fine; so that my batteries are having a good spell of drilling.  Reynolds’s park and stables look beautifully now that he has them all finished and his carriages painted up.  His men are great on baseball and have a lovely ground for it in front of the stables.  Here too he exercises his horses every day that he cannot have a battery drill….

Spring was due in any day.  So I imagine a good game of baseball served the men well in between drill and exercises.

(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 324-6.)

One thought on “Wainwright’s Diary, March 6 , 1864: “the army has been quite gay during my absence”

  1. As a point of interest, the Third Corps Ball was held at General French’s Headquarters at the “Miller House” situated at the southern terminus of Fleetwood Hill–a site now owned in its entirety by the Civil War Trust. General Rice’s Headquarters were located at “Redwood,” a Colonial-era home located just west of Culpeper Court House. It still stands, much modified. General Rice, by the way, had a “code name” for the many ladies who graced his headquarters: they were termed “the nuns.” A handsome fellow and terrific officer, General Rice would be mortally wounded at Spotsylvania Court House.

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