Wainwright’s Diary, March 20, 1864: “Nothing of note has happened”

Colonel Charles C. Wainwright’s days seemed to slow with the first day of spring 1864:

March 20, Sunday. Nothing of note has happened the last three days: on Friday there was a great stir under reports that Lee was going to take the initiative this spring, and was actually moving to attack us….

Wainwright continued with speculation about the supposed threat and source of information.

We have a signal station on Poney Mountain now, the same as last autumn, from whence they command a sight of several of the rebel stations. Our officers claim that they can read all the rebel messages, and they are regularly transmitted to General Meade. The news of Jeb Stuart having started on some expedition may have come through them. I have been intending all winter to go up onto Poney Mountain but have not yet accomplished it.

I think we’d all like to take a trip up to “Poney Mountain” and take a look.  If I may slide in a pitch, the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield are hosting a tour which includes a stop at the site of the signal station on April 11-2.

Wainwright then turned to details of the failed cavalry raid, reporting the return of those troopers:

[Brigadier-General H. Judson] Kilpatrick’s men have most of them returned to camp; they crossed the Rappahannock down near its mouth, and came through without loss.  Poor [Colonel Ulric] Dahlgren is killed. He had to let his men disperse into small bodies; nearly all of them got in safely, but he is said to have been betrayed by his negro guide, and murdered in cold blood.  All who knew him regret his loss exceedingly.

Turning from those lost, Wainwright once again brought up the topic of recruitment:

It is said that General Hancock is getting recruits rapidly in Pennsylvania, and that large numbers are arriving daily for his corps. Morgan, who is with him in Pennsylvania, writes that there is little doubt but what he will fill his corps up to 40,000. If so, it will affect the consolidation project materially; most likely cause it to be abandoned entirely…

For reference, by the end of April 1864, Second Corps numbered 35,474 present (with another 11,000 or so absent).  The consolidation plan, while still not posted when Wainwright wrote the diary entry, was due out within days.

Rumour says that a house has been taken in Culpeper for General Grant, which is very probable, as in his first order assuming command of the armies of the United States he says: “Headquarters will be in the field, and until further orders will be with the Army of the Potomac.”

Grant stayed briefly at the former home of William “Extra Billy” Smith.  The location is noted with a marker (that conspicuously does not mention Grant), but the house was torn down in the 1930s. Within a few days Grant moved to another place closer to the railroad depot.

Closing his diary entry, Wainwright turned again to recruiting:

The last call for recruits says that they are for the “Army, Navy and Marine Corps.” In regulating the quotas of districts, all men enlisted in the navy are to be allowed. At the present time, too, there are a large number of men being transferred from the army to the navy: I have lost two or three me in that way.

Much as with the “heavy” artillery, Wainwright saw this as a distraction bringing forth a misallocation of resources.

(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 333-4.)


Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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