150 Years Ago – 10/24-10/26:
This will be essentially my last posting in the recent series about the “Antietam Aftermath,” and it will serve also as a hinge to all that is to follow – in terms of my writing to follow the War from the perspective of “this day 150 years ago.” I’ll again use the written record of George F. Noyes – who talks here about their camp being moved from an area likely just to the southwest of the battlefield toward Shepherdstown, to an area several miles north. But soon after, the narrative turns to speak of their exit from Sharpsburg and Maryland – finally – six weeks after the Battle of Antietam.
Writing with a listed date of October 24th: Our division was this day ordered to Bakersville, half a dozen miles up the Potomac, and after breakfast I rode thither with the general <speaking of Abner Doubleday> and our topographical lieutenant, in order to select proper locations for the different brigades. Even so small a change was pleasant; the morning ride very agreeable; wood and water were found in abundance, and long before the brigades arrived their camping-grounds were ready for them. By nightfall they were comfortable; pickets were sent out to line the banks of the river; everybody but the division staff was at home. The general, who now
had his wife with him, had taken rooms in the chief residence of Bakersville, and we had selected a pretty spot close at hand for the headquarter tents. But day glided slowly into night, and our headquarter wagons had not arrived. As it turned out, they had mistaken the road, and gone off upon a reconnaissance in another direction. The night was rainy, and it was after 8 o’clock before they came slowly rumbling along. All ready stood the division guard to unpack and pitch our tents; all ready were our servants to set up our simple housekeeping gear; our cook seized at once his mess-chest, and in half an hour I was sitting comfortably in my tent, everything in its place, hearing the rain patter down upon the roof, and indulging with a friend or two in a late dinner of coffee, bread and butter, and pickled oysters.
< For anyone reading this who was at the Antietam sesquicentennial last month, Bakersville is the location where the reenactments took place – certainly on ground where Doubleday’s men camped. >
Bakersville rejoices in one store, with a motley stock of groceries, medicines, and dry goods, consecrate to barter and country gossip, and in some half a dozen residences, so that our staff and attendants doubled its population. Our tents were perched upon an elevation overlooking the little hamlet; our division guard and orderlies encamped in a field on the opposite side of the road, while in the rear our cooks and servants reigned supreme. As the evenings were now cold, a big fire was built at nightfall in front of each tent, the tent-flaps flung back, and a portion of the heat thus penetrated within. Two of our lieutenants had confiscated somewhere a sheet-iron stove with a long piece of pipe, which, when thrust horizontally out of their tent-flaps, looked like a gun protruding from an embrasure. The general now occupied himself in thoroughly exploring the vicinity, while our topographical officer was busy in mapping it out. During our stay here I rode twice to Hagerstown, some twelve miles distant, a pretty town; and as one or two rebel raids around our quiescent army had just stirred up the apprehensions of its citizens, it was overflowing with uniforms.
Our stay here was to be very brief; the usual order to have three days’ cooked rations was issued to the men shortly after our arrival, and at length, on Sunday, October 26th, the order to march actually came. Once more we were to cross the Potomac into Virginia; probably a long and weary march was before us. The wet season was also at hand, and on this day of moving the rain came down in a deluge. But everyone was glad of the expected change. By noon the whole column was in motion; our headquarter tents were all struck save my own and the quartermaster’s, and the wagons moved off, sinking to their hubs in the mud as they rolled slowly along. … There was one good feature about this day’s march. It was not one of those doubtful days when, by picking your way, now here, now there, you can partially protect yourself, for the mud was deep and universal. There was no anxiety about it; your first plunge settled the matter, and you had wet feet and the entire freedom of the road for the rest of the day. … So very slow was the movement of the division that it was after nightfall before the rear brigade marched by, and still poured down the driving rain. Fortunately, the night’s march was not a long one; yet I felt almost a compunction of conscience as I laid down in my camp-bed and thought of the poor fellows bivouacking in the wet fields. < Note that he is saying that he and the quartermaster were not in movement on this day when everyone else was headed off toward Virginia. As can be seen in tomorrow’s post, the division would have been marching toward the southeast from the current location. So Noyes was still somewhat comfortable in his tent on this rainy day, while those marching would have had little such shelter and comfort. As we’ll see, it was cold and raining for a number of days – much unlike this season at the moment that I write of these events! … although a huge hurricane is threatening!>