For his diary entry of March 10, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright offer thoughts on three themes – recruits arriving in the Army of the Potomac’s camp, reenlistment of veteran troops, and the army’s reorganization (and that is “big” army, as in all the way to Washington). So lengthy is this diary entry, that I’m going to break it into two parts, for ease on the reader. Wainwright started his entry discussing the weather (as we all probably would have) and prospects for the upcoming campaign:
March 10, Thursday. Today we have a real pouring rain, such an one as we have not had before for a long while. I trust that now the time for active operations approaches we are not going to make up for the long spell of fine weather we have enjoyed by an equally long one of bad. Starting before daylight and marching halfway through the night, to say nothing of fighting, is bad enough under every advantage; but when you add cold rains and mud thereto, it becomes almost intolerable. I do not, however, expect an early opening of the campaign on our part, for so far as I can learn, we have not now over 60,000 men present in this army. A large number of re-enlisted men, including many of my own, have only just received their veteran furlough, and consequently will not be back before the middle of April…. The regiments that went home as organizations are returning; I do not hear of any of them having been able to fill up to the maximum.
Given observations about the shortages in existing regiments, Wainwright went on to ponder what strength the army actually had to employ in the spring campaign:
The newspapers say that we have from 200,000 to 250,000 more men in service now than at the same time last year. Where are they? I am sure that I cannot imagine, unless they are in the heavy artillery regiments around Washington and in the depots. Why don’t they send the men to the army? Surely there can be no good reason for keeping them more than ten days or a fortnight at the depots. If they would only remember how necessary drill is to these new men, and how much their health depends on their learning how to take care of themselves in camp, their acquiring new some knowledge of what they have to do. Squads of a hundred recruits, or so, arrive every few days for this corps; but they ought to average a thousand a week to give the regiments here their proportion of the men said to have been raised. Some of them are terribly hard-looking chaps; regular “bounty jumpers”; who never intended to come into the field. Others are of a superior class and mean to do their best.
Wainwright went on to relate an amusing example of just how raw these new men were:
I met a most amusing incident with one of these last, belonging to the Fourteenth Brooklyn, the other day, as I was walking through the streets of Culpeper. He had been placed as a sentinel there only three days after arriving, and of course without having received any instruction. I had just passed him when he called out “Halt! Halt! I say, you there, halt!” Turning around, I said to him pretty sharply: “Is that the way you speak to an officer?” His reply, “That’s just it; you be an officer, be’nt you?” shewed me at once how green the fellow was, so I quickly informed him that I was. “Well,” says he, “they told me I was to salute all officers when they went by, and I want you to show me how.” The man was so honest and simple in his desire to do what was right that i really pitied him. But as I could hardly be expected to give him his first lesson in the manual of arms then and there, I advised him to apply to the first sergeant of his company so soon as he was relieved.
He continued on to relate the recruiting efforts within his regiment (1st New York Light Artillery) were moving along.
I have Major [John] Fitzhugh’s report up to the end of February complete; by which it appears that the recruiting party had secured 274 men up to that date; 31 were reported to him as mustered between then and the 6th inst. He had been down to Elmira, but does not seem to have got any accurate information there; the men, they told him, had been forwarded to Fort Schuyler. He says he has official information of 404 men mustered into the regiment, and estimates that by the 20th of March 650 men will be enlisted for it altogether, but he fears large losses from desertion.
Wainwright went on to relate an important change in the status of soldiers with respect to upcoming elections. Readers should remember that elections in the midst of a war were not a major concern prior to 1864 (though common for us now days, unfortunately). Absentee balloting was not common, if allowed at all. The state of New York had decided to allow the soldiers to vote that year. Wainwright had misgivings about the allowance:
I am sorry the thing has been so decided, as it will open a door for political discussion and influence which may be very damaging to discipline. A soldier’s business is to obey; he forms a part of the executive, not of the legislative force of the country.
Wainwright turned next to the “most amusing stories” from veterans who got married while on reenlistment furloughs. These men arrived home with hundreds of dollars in hand, making them very eligible. “The most steady got married; the others let the women have it without marrying.”
I’ll have to take a break there. Someone will soon remind me this is women’s history month, after all. Second part due up next – USCT, US Grant, and reorganization.
(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 327-9.)