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1863 and a half men, whose powers of articulation would have
become so paralyzed at the thought as not to be able to exclaim with the rest of us, “Down with rum !” though we doubt it.
It rained hard at daylight, and so reveille was skipped. Wednesday, Every drop of rain deepened and liquefied the mud January 21. Surely such a sight was never before seen as an army
struggling to make headway in such a mess. Batteries and wagons could be moved only by doubling the number of horses, and even then it frequently happened they became fast imbedded in the mud. As they moved along in their jerky and twisting way, the axle-trees would scrape the top of the soil.
Toward noon we started again, and after six hours of dreary labor we made only four and a half miles. As we inarched along the road we saw displayed by the enemy on the opposite bank of the river placards bearing the words, “ Burnside's army stuck in the mud.” Not only that we were jeered at by the “rebs," who were highly pleased at our efforts in puddling. Add to it the mortification of finding our powder wet, one can form some idea of our hopeless condition.
At the end of our four and a half miles the order was given to halt for the night, and it came none too soon. No wonder the “Mud march ” has become one of the historical episodes of the war.
We remained quiet all day. The pitiable condition of Thursday, the army must have shown the uselessness of attempting January 22. a movement against the enemy at such a time. We re
ceived half-rations last night, and being encamped near a forest, were able to get wood for fires, and so managed to make life endurable. Fence rails had become very scarce. As the warmth of the fires stole over the boys, they began, as usual, to turn their misery into fun, though there was nothing very hilarious about it.
We got away at 8 A.M. and waded back through the Friday, mud to our camp at Fletcher's Chapel, a distance of January 23. fourteen miles. It was a hard day's work, but the boys
were encouraged by the fact that each step shortened the distance to our supplies. We soon forsook the road for the fields and woods, wading brooks and jumping ditches, glad at any progress toward the camp we left on the 20th.
We found the camp in a sorry condition, from the rain
and the disorder in which we left it. Those of us who destroyed our huts when we left this spot on the 20th felt badly enough as we gazed on the ruins.
The camp was soon restored to a moderate degree of comfort ; fires were lighted and coffee made, whereupon there ensued a lively discussion on the monumental stupidity of our recent movement. If a general officer could have been present, unseen, at a gathering of private soldiers round a camp-fire after a battle, or after a movement such as the one we have just described, he would have heard some plain, instructive talk. We were pretty unanimously of the opinion that “Old Abe" had better appoint a private soldier to run the next campaign. As our huts assumed a condition of comfort, like Jove, we smoothed our wrinkled fronts, and settled down to another period of camp life.
The following graphic account of the "Mud march " campaign is taken from Swinton's “ Campaigns of the Army of the Potomac :"
The point at which General Burnside resolved this time to essay the passage of the Rappahannock was Banks' Ford (not then fordable), about six miles above Fredericksburg. As, however, the enemy had a force in observation at all the practicable crossings of the Rappahannock, and as there was no possibility of making preparations for the passage at any one point with such secrecy that he should not become aware of it, it was resolved to make feints of crossing at several distinct points, both above and below Fredericksburg, and these mark the real intent. Accordingly, new roads were cut through the woods to afford the readier access to the fords, batteries were planted, rifle-trenches were formed, and cavalry demonstrations along the line; and these manifestations were made impartially at a variety of points.
The weather and roads had been in excellent condition since the battle, and on the 19th of January, 1863, the columns were put in motion with such secrecy as could be observed. The Grand Divisions of Franklin and Hooker ascended the river by parallel roads, and at night encamped in the woods at convenient distance from the fords.
But during the night a terrible storm came on, and then each man thought that the move was ended. It was a wild Walpurgis night, such as Goethe paints in “Faust.” Yet there was brave work done during its hours, for the guns were hauled painfully up the heights and placed in their positions, and the pontoons were drawn down nearer to the river. But it was already seen to be a hopeless task; for the clayey roads and fields, under the influence of the rain, had become 1863. bad beyond all former experience, and by daylight, when the boats
should have been on the banks ready to slide down into the water, but fifteen had been gotten up — not enough for one bridge, and five were wanted. Moreover, the night operations had not escaped the notice of the wary enemy, and by morning Lee had massed his army to meet the menaced crossing.
In this state of facts, when all the conditions on which it was expected to make a successful passage had been baulked, it would have been judicious in General Burnside to have promptly abandoned an operation that was now hopeless. But it was a characteristic of that general's mind (a characteristic that might be good or bad according to the direction it took) never to turn back when he had once put his hand to the plough; and it had already more than once been seen that the more hopeless the enterprise the greater his pertinacity. The night's rain had made deplorable havoc with the roads; but herculean efforts were made to bring pontoons enough into position to build a bridge or two, withal. Double and triple teams of horses and mules were harnessed to each boat; but it was in vain. Long stout ropes were then attached to the teams and a hundred and fifty men put to the task on each. The effort was but little more successful. Floundering through the river for a few feet, the gang of Liliputians, with their huge-ribbed Gulliver, were forced to give over, breathless. Night arrived, but the pontoons could not be got up; and the enemy's pickets, discovering what was going on, jocularly shouted out their intention to “come over to-morrow and help build the bridges.”
Morning dawned upon another day of rain and storm. The ground had gone from bad to worse, and now showed such a spectacle as might be presented by the elemental wrecks of another deluge. An indescribable chaos of pontoons, vehicles, and artillery encumbered all the roads, — supply-wagons upset by the roadside, guns stalled in the mud, ammunition-trains ruined by the way, and hundreds of horses and mules buried in the liquid mud. The army, in fact, was embargoed; it was no longer a question of how to go forward it was a question of how to get back. The three days' rations brought on the persons of the men were exhausted, and the supply-trains could not be moved up. To aid the return, all the available force was put to work to corduroy the rotten roads. Next morning the army floundered and staggered back to the old camps; and so ended a movement that will always live in the recollection of the army as the “Vud march,” and which remains a striking exemplification of the enormous difficulties incident to winter campaigning in Virginia.
In a note the statement is made that “the nature of the upper geologic deposits of this region affords unequalled elements for bad roads, for it is a soil out of which, when it rains, the bottom drops, and yet which is so tenacious that extrication from its clutch is next to impossible."
It is not an exaggeration to say, that before or after,
there was seen no such state of demoralization as possessed a large part of the Army of the Potomac at the end of this foolish undertaking. On our return march, men were seen straggling back to their camps, cursing everything and everybody. Strewed along the road lying in the mud could be seen knapsacks, guns, and equipments, thrown away by men thoroughly disheartened by fatigue and hunger; the very men who had fought uncomplainingly a few weeks before, as indeed they would do again when their confidence and spirits were restored, had become more incapacitated by the terrible condition of the roads than by a battle.
When the papers of January 20 reached us, the first item about the Army of the Potomac that caught our eyes was headed, “A DESPERATE STRUGGLE IS EVIDENTLY CLOSE AT HAND, AND STIRRING NEWS MAY BE EXPECTED SHORTLY.” The “ Mud march was finished, and we could gaze on this announcement with unruffled tempers, being in a thankful mood. Our experience suggested that this might be a witticism, for the struggle through the mud was both stirring and desperate. In the papers of the 19th the statement was made : “ ON TO RICHMOND AGAIN ! — It is now deemed certain that General Burnside is by this time across the river, and the rebels are skedaddling inland.” “ Brag” is a good dog, but “Hold Fast” is a better. Some of the boys suggested that these papers be sent to General Lee as an item of news, but when we thought of the disgraceful predicament we had been in, squirming about in the mud like so many eels, we concluded not to do so.
It was when Burnside took command of the Army of the Potomac that we first saw the “Butterfly cavalry," a regiment from New Jersey, clothed with a uniform of such gorgeousness that “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The jacket was elaborately and fantastically adorned with yellow cord, and buttons in numerous rows down the front, up the back, around the collar, and along the sleeves, so that the wearer appeared as though he had robbed a United States mint. The trousers were slashed to the knee, like those often worn by Mexicans, and were also trimmed with a profusion of cord and buttons. The hat was built like the shako, only
1863 it lacked the visor to complete the likeness, and was lib
erally decked with tassels and cord. “ Button, button ! Who has the button?” was the cry that saluted their ears when they made their appearance. As each man carried a lance with a red pennant attached, they would have made a conspicuous mark for the enemy had they been called upon to do any fighting. Bedizened as they were with metallic buttons that tinkled when they moved, these men were of no use as vedettes, where absolute stillness is often required; so some of them were assigned for duty as a body-guard to General Burnside, and the remainder as a provost-guard, to drive along the men who straggled on the march. During this “Mud march" campaign they had plenty of work to do in keeping the men together, and they attempted it so energetically and so offensively that instead of “ Butterfly cavalry” they were henceforth hailed as “Turkey-drivers," and whenever they appeared shouts of “Gobble, gobble, gobble!” would be heard from one regiment after another as they passed along. There was no end to the ridicule and sarcasm that was showered upon them by the whole army, until they changed their brilliant uniform for the more appropriate one worn by the cavalry corps. Shortly after this campaign they became part of the cavalry corps under Custer and others, and probably did good service.
General Burnside having requested to be relieved from Monday, the command of the Army of the Potomac, the following January 26. order was issued :
GENERAL ORDERS HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE POTOMAC,
CAMP NEAR FALMOUTH, VA.
Jan. 26, 1863. By direction of the President of the United States, the Commanding General this day transfers the command of this army to Maj.-Gen. Joseph Hooker,
The short time that he has directed your movements has not been fruitful of victory or any considerable advancement of our lines, but it has again demon. strated an amount of courage, patience, and endurance that under more favorable circumstances would have accomplished great results. Continue to exercise these virtues, be true in your devotion to your country and the principles you have sworn to maintain, give to the brave and skilful general who has so long been identified with your organization and who is now to command you, your full and cordial support and cooperation, and you will deserve success.
In taking an affectionate leave of the entire army, from which he separates with