"The trouble with Jeff is that he lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech."

Goodrich’s War: The March to ‘Camp Froze-to-Death’

This is Part 3 of an ongoing series built around the letters home of Loren Goodrich, Co. F 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. See also…

Part One (including his letter of Sept 5 1862)
Part Two (including his letter of Oct 2 1862)

After the titanic battle of Antietam, commanding General George McClellan began again to exhibit what Lincoln would refer to as “a case of the slows,” allowing the Army of Northern Virginia to pass unmolested back into the safe and friendly (if war-worn) fields of Virginia. Finally, on Monday September 22nd, the Army of the Potomac began a move south (having given Lee a three-day lead), and the Fourteenth Connecticut with Loren Goodrich in the ranks, joined the pursuit. According to regimental historian Charles Page, the march towards Harper’s Ferry was led by the band with music, playing favorite airs such as “Jordan is a Hard Road to Travel,” “Dixie,” “Yankee Doodle,” and “Old Virginia.” A particularly specially adored song was noted by Colonel Hitchcock of the nearby 138th Pennsylvania– “John Brown’s Body” — all the more appropriate, given their approach to the place where Brown’s penultimate act played out (Page 60-61).

Harper's Ferry as seen from Maryland Heights. Bolivar Heights stands behind the town in the rear.

Harper’s Ferry as seen from Maryland Heights. Bolivar Heights stands behind the town in the rear.

After passing through Harper’s Ferry, the Fourteenth Connecticut set up camp at Bolivar Heights, a narrow plateau at the junction between the Potomac  and Shenandoah Rivers, above the town. Despite the absurd slowness of McClellan’s chase, Page notes that the rebel camp was still only eight miles distant from here, as they were able to detect it by the light from rebel campfires reflecting off the dusky hillsides at night. In the breastworks that ringing the Heights, the men found abandoned Sibley tents which they happily used for shelter. The lack of overcoats and blankets that they’d suffered through for weeks made this a very welcome find indeed. A less welcome and more grisly discovery was a number of bodies that’d also been left in the works (61).

The time camping at Bolivar Heights was truly a miserable stretch for the Fourteenth. Despite the lucky discovery of the Sibleys, the nights remained frigid, while the regiment’s overcoats and blankets remained elsewhere. Page quotes Albert Hall of Company H remembering another consistent ill of the Bolivar camp when he writes: “…the water here was so bad and with other conditions caused a great amount of sickness and eventually a large number of deaths. Chronic diarrhea was prevalent and I soon became the  victim of typhoid fever.” The camp was boring to boot, with long stretches of sentry duty, followed by inactivity. The sole break in the monotony was playing poker– or “taking a twist at the tiger” as he termed it (62-65). It must have come as a great relief when on October 30th that the 14th Connecticut again broke camp and again marched south.

The lads of the Fourteenth passed through Louden’s Valley to Snicker’s Gap– a pass into the Shenandoah where Lee’s army was transiting. They spent a stressful night at the pass itself, while the Army of Northern Virginia was again detectable by their campfires only a few miles through the pass. The next day, they broke camp again, moving through Upperville where they marched through a hastily-abandoned Confederate cavalry camp– the campfires were still smoking on November 2 as the infantry came through. November 7 found the Nutmeggers only a scant ten miles from the old Bull Run battlefields, before they moved off again towards Warrenton. They reached the town on the 8th and remained encamped there until the 15th (68-70).  The hard-marchers arrived at Belle Plain where they remained for another week.

MudmarchBelle Plain was another horrible camp. Page notes that it rained for nearly the whole week, and due to the constant drenching, fires could not be started or maintained. As a result, men continued to drop out at sick call, and the infamous “No. 9” pill offered by Surgeon Dudley (likely a placebo, given that he gave it equally for both sprained limbs and diarrhea!) failed to cure the afflicted (71). Thankfully, by the first of December, the conditions began to clear, and while it was still cold, the men were able to gain a brief respite, before again being ordered to march off, now towards the Rappahannock on the 6th of December. The march south was again tiring and difficult, as Page quotes Dr. Levi Jewitt when he describes the trip as

“…a cold day, the mud deep and sticky and a cold rain fell nearly all day, toward night becoming mixed with snow and hail… it was pitch dark when we reached our destination and were told to go into the pine woods for the night. Heavy masses of snow were falling from the trees and there was nearly a foot of snow on the ground… It seemed as though half the boys would be dead before the morning, but they all seemed to come out bright next day and went to cleaning up the ground and making a comfortable camp” (72-73).

From this camp, Goodrich sent the following letter home to his adoptive family in Connecticut.

Camp Near Falmouth Virginia
Dec 9th 1862

Dear Friends

I now take my pen in hand to write a few words to you. I am well and hope that this will find you the same. I have not got a great deal of news to write about the war this time but will write what little I do know and hope that you will excuse me if I do not write as much about the war as you would expect from me.

Our regiment is now going into winter quarters at camp froze to death as the boys call it on account of it being a very cold place. We have to build large fires in front of our tents to keep warm. We are only about 3 miles from Fredericksburg where the rebels are strongly entrenched. They did expect about two weeks ago a big battle there but there don’t seem to be any such kind of movent [sic] now. They seem to think down here amongst the officers and soldiers that President Lincolns last message is a going to do a great towards ending this bloody war.

I wish that you could see the log shanties that we are building for our winter quarters. Your hog house would be a palace beside of them. Many a night I would have given a good deal to have had a place as good as your hog house where I could have lain down to sleep but all such luxuries are denied to us poor soldiers. They must lay down on the ground with a stone for a pillow and the clear blue sky for a covering. There is snow on the ground here and has been for 4 days it makes it very cold here now but we hope that we shall be able to get into better quarters now in a few days. I do not know of any more news at present. Please excuse my pen this time and the bad writing.

From your Friend
please write soon direct your letter the same as usual

Loren H Goodrich

Goodrich’s letter makes note of “President Lincoln’s last message.” Doubtless, this is a reference to the so-called ‘Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation’ issued on September 22nd which served as a warning to those states still in rebellion that as of 1 January 1863, the Federal government would be ordering their slaves free. While Lincoln’s move would surely have an impact on the war, and on politics north, south, and abroad, it did not have the full impact Goodrich and his comrades expected, sadly.

Goodrich also makes note of the “log shanties” that the lads from the Fourteenth were constructing at their camp near Fredericksburg. These quasi-permanent structures were built to serve as improved shelter in the winter  months to cut down on the biting winds, and to help keep the men off the frozen ground. John Billings describes them  as having log walls, a roof, a chimney and a fireplace; with sufficient room for between two to four soldiers– depending on the specific construction. He notes that they were built with bunks–

“...across the opposite end [from the door], one near the ground, the other well up towards the top of the walls… the construction of the bunks was varied in character. Some were built of boards from hardtack boxes; some of barrel-staves laid crosswise on two poles; some men improvised a spring-board of slender saplings and padded them with a cushion of hay, oak, or pine leaves; other obtained coarse grain sacks from an artillery or cavalry camp…” (Billings 74-75).

Interior of a fully-bedecked log shanty.

Interior of a fully-bedecked log shanty.

While a far cry from the comforts of home, these improved log shanties were doubtless better than sleeping on the snowy earth; and it is likely the specific additions Billings notes that were the further improvements Goodrich was looking forward to. That he notes that the are settling into their winter quarters is indicative that Goodrich expects that fighting will be ceasing for the winter, as was largely the custom during the period, as transportation was scant, and marching through snow to battle nearly impossible. None the less, Goodrich and the lads from the Fourteenth Connecticut would stay in this new camp only for a few short days before being called off yet again, to a town close by…

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Sources:

Billings, J. Hardtack & coffee or the unwritten story of army life. Bison Books, 1993. Print.

Goodrich, Loren H. “Letters.” Letter to Joseph Wells. 9 Dec. 1862. MS. Connecticut Historical Archives, Hartford, CT.

Page, Charles D. History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Meriden, CT: Horton Printing, 1906. Print.

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