Wainwright’s Diary, April 10, 1864: “the rain fell much in the way it did in old Noah’s time”

For April 10, 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, now commanding the artillery of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac, started his diary entry off with his preferred introduction to the day – a discussion of the weather:

April 10, Sunday.  The equinox which did not come when the sun crossed the line, or something quite worthy of it, has been upon us for two days. All day yesterday the rain fell much in the way it did in old Noah’s time, and had it continued as long as it did with him, we should have all had to take refuge on top of Poney Mountain.  This morning opened clear and bright, but the rain began again at three in the afternoon and promises to keep it up all night. Mountain Run is a river,and the rivulet which rises close by me here, a broiling stream; while every low spot has become a lake.  We have news of the railroad bridge at Cedar Run being carried away; and others have probably shared the same fate.  There was no mail in this afternoon and may not be for several days to come.

Transitioning from the weather, Wainwright speculated on the inevitable start of the campaign season, then allowed that to wander into a discussion of his sutler.

This rain insures our remaining at peace for at least one week more, even if present orders did not point to tomorrow week as the earliest period Grant can have in view for a start. All sutlers and citizens are ordered to quit the army by Saturday next; this is usually the first premonitory symptom, just as the clearing out of all the sick who are unable to march is the last one before actual orders. I have had a great deal of comfort in my sutler this winter: not a complaint has reached me, either of him from the men, or of any of the men from him. At General [Marsena] Patrick’s headquarters they speak of him as really an honest and trusty man, most rare qualities in a sutler. He has kept us well supplied with poultry and mutton through the winter; occasionally with game and fish, several times of late bringing us shad….

New orders brought news of more changes in the army, most of which concerned the western theater.

A War Department order assigns General Phil Sheridan to the command of the Cavalry Corps with this army; he has previously been at the West, in command of infantry.  I know nothing more of him, but a change I think was needed; neither [Alfred] Pleasonton or [George] Stoneman proved themselves equal to the position. The same order unites the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps in one, to be called the Twentieth, under General [Joseph] Hooker.  I wonder how old “Joe” will like the come-down; they have dropped him very gradually, one step at a time, till he is now somewhere near his proper level.  [Oliver O.] Howard is to have the Sixth Corps, another new consolidation; [Henry] Slocum whatever Sherman chooses to give him.

To be precise, Howard received command of the Fourth Corps, not the Sixth.

Wainwright returned to matters in his corps:

General [Gouverneur] Warren interprets “extreme cases” in the question of leaves very strictly: “the dangerous illness or death of any relative will not hereafter be so considered.” He thinks that if soldiers can die without their wives coming to them, the rule should work the other way also. The Ambulance Corps has this winter been regulated by act of Congress; the system adopted is pretty much that which we have had in this army for a year past … My trimonthly yesterday shewed an aggregate of 1,785 officers and men, including four temporarily attached batteries…

As for Wainwright’s suggestions about the volunteer artillery organization:

I have a letter from Major Hall about the new organization of the volunteer artillery proposed in my letter to Senator Morgan, copies of which and General Hunt’s I sent him; he had shown it to Vice-President Hamlin, who had entered strongly into the subject and had promised to see Senator Wilson on the subject.  Hall intended also to send copies to the Maine Senators, and is not only working in the matter, but is quite sanguine of success. He tells me that he has twenty-one batteries now under him with over 3,000 men….

Wainwright mentioned more news from New York and the Sanitary Fair:

We are almost as much interested in the Sanitary Fair down here as they are in New York. The papers are almost spelled; I cannot say that I read the full account, but enough to give me some idea of it. I should judge that it never was equaled in its kind. The jam seems to be something fearful even now that they have put the price of admission up to a dollar. Tallmadge sends me a little paper published for it, called the “Spirit of the Fair,” but it is rather a series of short literary articles than any account of their doings. The subscriptions for the army sword is the most exciting part of it for the army; the contest lies entirely between Grant and McClellan….

The Spirit of the Fair, United States Sanitary Commission, 1864

But his thoughts returned to the front lines and preparations:

 As yet we get no intimations as to when or which way we start, but things do not look as if it would be any earlier than in previous years. The taking up of two hundred locomotives by government looks like a great sudden concentration of troops on some distant point; a tremendous re-enforcement of this army from the West or vice versa. For myself, I want until the end of next week before I shall be quite ready. This leaving everything until the last moment is detestable. There is no reason whatever why all the changes made in the last three weeks should not have been carried out three months ago, when things would have got into working order; officers would have known their commands and their commands them.

In my experience it should be “wait, then hurry up” and not the other way around.  I think Wainwright would agree, at least in regard to the preparations before the 1864 campaign season.

But the fair!

The fair in New York grows as a wonder every day; the crowd is so great that it is only by the hardest pushing one can get about. The sword votes are recorded daily in the papers like election returns; so many hundred for Grant, so many for McClellan – outside of these there is now no real competition. Each vote represents a dollar; some people put down a hundred at once for their favourite general… A book of autographs presented by Mrs. McClellan brought $500….

Grant eventually won the contest, ending on April 23.  The sword is currently part of the Smithsonian’s collection, but not on display.  Nudge, nudge…. perhaps it SHOULD be on a special exhibit display this season….

(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, page 340-2.)


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