This is Part 6 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)
Part Three (including his letter of Dec 9 1862)
Part Four (including his undated, post-Fredericksburg letter)
Part Five (including his letter of Jan 5 1863)
The winter of 1863-4 was difficult for the 14th Connecticut, and for Loren Goodrich in their Falmouth Virginia camp– and worse when they left it. The weather was cold, stormy, and rainy. Sleeping in the elements day in and day out can take quite a bit out of a body– and so it was that two brothers with Company K, Francis and Frederick Hollister of Chatham, died of exposure within half an hour of each other (Page 110) on December 23 1862 (Historical Data Systems, Inc). Regimental historian Charles Pages notes that the brothers lost their blankets in the confusion at Antietam, and “…had to sleep out of doors or crouch scantily clad all night long over a smoky camp-fire.” The brothers were buried together (Page 110).
General Ambrose Burnside, in command of the Army of the Potomac, had begun hatching another plan to save the flagging fortunes of his career following the debacle at Fredericksburg. His latest venture would be a rare winter offensive, launching a feint at Fredericksburg with a single grand division crossing the Rappahannock, while the main thrust crossed at Bank’s Ford to the northwest of town. In better weather, the plan was solid, if unimaginative. In the dead of winter– and an unseasonably mild one at that– it was risky. Nineteenth century armies in temperate terrain rarely battled or campaigned, but rather settled into cantonments and winter camps. The weather and conditions of the roads tended to preclude the easy moments of troops or supplies due to snowfall and mud. The warm weather in January of 1863 provided a great deal of the latter.
Burnside’s campaign kicked off on the 20th of January but the troubles had already started. Page notes that as early as January 19th when the 14th was being provided extra marching rations and other units were moving through camp that a heavy rain was already inundating the area. “It rained all day and all night” Page states of January 19-20. “…until the little rivulets became brooks and the brooks became rivers, and the road for miles was choked with supply wagons fast, fast in the mud. There was mud everywhere” (Page 108). The rain soaked the men through their greatcoats and to the bone, and they sunk in mud to their knees. This slowed the advance such that the rebels were able to detect the movements of the army, and line the opposite bank in defense before as much as a single pontoon bridge could be laid across– indeed, the bridges were far back in the road to the ford, mired in the interminable, implacable mud. Page notes their presence on the arrival of the 14th on the bank:
“…They were met by the rebels on the opposite side with mock politeness, who offered to assist them building the bridge and to not open fire upon them until they were fairly across, but as the artillery, pontoons, ammunition and supply trains were back stuck in the mud, they were obliged to decline the hospitable invitation, whereupon the Confederates jeered at them and erected a huge sign with the inscription ‘Burnside stuck in the mud‘ ” (Page 108).
With the army unable to cross– or even successfully gather on the bank, given the impossibility of the heavier equipment transiting the roads, and the element of surprise being long gone, the 14th Connecticut turned back around and marched back to the old Falmouth campsite, dejected. Burnside’s efforts to raise the morale of the army, and to save his career and name ended in another abject failure. By January 31, Burnside was sacked and replaced with “Fighting” Joe Hooker. Hooker’s army remained in camp for the remainder of the winter.
The food improved over the course of the next few weeks, and Page notes with some happiness that fresh meat, potatoes, beans, peas, and other vegetables began to arrive in camp for the men; along with replacement uniforms for their field-worn and battered ones. It is likely this new flow of supplies that inspired Goodrich to cite the possibility of a long-sought care package from home being deliverable to him in camp. The arrival of these boxes from home were a much-loved occurrence with the army, as the folks on the home-front were entreated to send those things that might make a life in the field more tolerable to the soldier that he would be unlikely to get from the army, or from a sutler. John Billings of the 10th Massachusetts Battery notes that “…the average soldier mailed a letter home to mother, father, wife, sister, or brother, setting forth in careful detail what he should like to have sent in a box at the earliest possible moment…” (Billings 217).
Camp Near Falmouth Virginia
Feb 11th 1863
Having a few leisure moments to spare I take my pen in hand to answer your most welcome letter which I received last night. I am well and hope this will find you the same. It has got to be rather bad weather here now it storms nearly half the time. Winter has nearly gone and I suppose that in a short time you will again be ploughing [sic] and setting out onions.
Things look now as though we was a going to stay here for some time. They are a doing better by us now than they have done before since we came out. They give us soft bread 4 days in a week potatoes and onions 2 days in a week.
The army of the Potomac has been broken up, Seigel corps and the 9th army corps have gone on an expedition. They started from Aquia creek on the 7th day of February there is a good rumors about camp where they have gone to. Some think that they are agoing to Fortress Monroe and others that they are agoing to Tennesee [sic]. The 16. 18. 11. 15. and 21st Connecticut Regiments are with the expedition.(1)
You spoke about sending that box. I should think that there might be a chance to send it now. They are granting furloughs for 10 days to some of the soldiers and all of the movements looks as though we should stay here for some time, yet and so many troops moving of [sic] I should think they might send it right along, for they will not have near as much provisions as forage to ship from Washington to Acquia creek as they have had before.
There has been a good many promotions in our regiment of late so that it leaves a small number of privates that are fit for duty. I have no more news to write. Please excuse my pen this time. I send my love to you all.
From your obedient servant
Loren H Goodrich
Please write soon.
Direct your letters the same as usual. If you have not sent that by the time that this letter reaches you direct it to Loren H Goodrich 14th Reg C. V. Co, F. French’s Division Washington D.C.
(1) The IX Corps was sent to join the Army of the James at Fortress Monroe. Franz Sigel’s XI Corps actually remained with the Army of the Potomac until September of 1863, but was reassigned from Sigel to Oliver Otis Howard on 10 January.
Billings, J. Hardtack & coffee or the unwritten story of army life. Bison Books, 1993. Print.
Goodrich, Loren H. “Letters.” Letter to Joseph Wells. 11 Feb 1863. MS. Connecticut Historical Archives, Hartford, CT.
Historical Data Systems, Inc., American Civil War Research Database. Web. 10 Oct 2013. <http://civilwardata.com>.
Page, Charles D. History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry. Meriden, CT: Horton Printing, 1906. Print.