Walter, 'Personal recollections', part 7

Thomas F Walter, 'Personal Recollections', part 7

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[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #42 p.2 continued]

We had been resting a little more than a week when a new matter of interest was brought to our attention by the adjutant reading at dress parade the orders recently issued by the War Department in reference to re-enlistments.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #43 p.1]
The orders issued by the War Department was [sic], that all men who had served two years or longer of a three years' enlistment, who would volunteer for three years more, unless sooner discharged, could begin the new term at once, and would receive a bounty of four hundred and two dollars from the Government, together with a furlough and transportation to visit home for thirty days.

Regiments that re-enlisted, three-fourths of their men could return home in a body, taking their arms and colors, and have a chance to recruit. Commissioned officers, however, could not re-enlist. Here was a temptation, especially for us in the ranks.

Dreary winter was upon us, and a desolate country was around us, while
"In happy home we saw the light
Of household fires, gleam warm and bright."
when we thought of being in Philadelphia during and after the holidays, with plenty of money in our pockets. But we did not fail to remember Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, as well as the campaign that had just ended; and I beleive there was a good many like myself, who had concluded that money could not compensate men for enduring the terrors and risks of battle. We knew the South was yet very powerful, as well as far from being subdued, so that if we enlisted for three years more, the hardships of the past might be as almost nothing in comparison with what the future might bring us ere the war would end.

The officers immediately busied themselves to secure the enlistment of the regiment, for, by succeeding in that, they would have a chance to accompany the organization home on a veteran furlough. We were in no hurry either to accept the Government offer or to gratify the officers, with whom the men scarcely deigned to discuss the matter, though it was much canvassed among themselves.

In thinking it over, finally, I decided that it was foolishness for me to talk of quitting soldiering so long as I could do a soldier's duty, or the war lasted. I decided that it was better to see the conflict through in our good company that I knew and [p.6] got along with so well, rather than to go into another after awhile, even with higher rank, that might prove a weak or inefficient organization. So the next morning I enrolled myself, and forty-two of us, members of A Co., of the 91st Pennsylvania, re-enlisted then and there, which I am satisfied is an extraordinary record. I believe that in less than forty-eight hours afterward the re-enlistment of the regiment was assured. Several members were absent in hospital, but of all who were with the army, only three or four of those who had been soldiers long enough to accept the terms, did not go with us. These, with about an equal number of recruits who had seen less than two years of service, were transferred to another Pennsylvania regiment to serve while we were at home. A few days were then spent in making out pay-rolls.

[see lost property] As soon as our men knew that their clothing accounts were to be settled, a lively wrangle began, for which there was pretty good cause, for, when they drew knapsacks and clothing to replace what was lost through the colonel's orders at the time we left Washington, the things were charged against them, and other Government property, they had lost by no fault of theirs, had been put on the same list. The men objected to such injustice, and several finally swore that they would not re-enlist if they had to pay for these things. The captain declared that he was held responsible for the stuff, and if the men did not pay for it, he might have to do so, though he swore he should not do it. The men remained firm and had to be conciliated, so the clothing book was put into my hands with authority to make every man's account fair, according to my best judgment.

My own "dunnage" account was quite pleasant to contemplate, for it showed that Uncle Sam owed me more than thirty-eight dollars in commutation for clothing that I was entitled to but had not drawn. I had been made a present of an outfit of clothing just after leaving Libby Prison, and another lot of apparel that I got while absent, being wounded, after Gettysburg, had never been charged to me. Beside this, I had never been able to reconcile myself to Government shoes, shirts and socks, but managed to supply myself with these necessities from Philadelphia. The army fatigue cap was an abomination to me also, and when I drew a new cap I used to throw its bent peak away, and sew a straight peak to it, thus getting rid of much of its slouchy appearance.

While rolls and accounts were being fixed so that the paymaster could visit us, and while the boys were full of plans and anticipations in reference to the good times that were so near at hand, another spell of detestably cold weather came on. Many of us were in need of blankets, overcoats, or underclothes, because we had deferred asking for them until we got into winter quarters, where we could take better care of them, and now, when we were likely to go home, we did not want to be bothered with them. Our dilapidated little shelter tents were put up with little care of precaution, and being on an exposed plain where wood was scarce, we realized very forcibly the unpleasantness of the wintry visitation. One cold windy night was especially vile. The whirling, biting gale seemed to drive right through our tents, bedding and clothing, so that we could neither sleep or keep warm anywhere. It was a night of trials that almost equalled the terrors of a day of battle.

When we first put our names down, we hoped that we should get home in time to see Christmas in Philadelphia, but that festive day found us still in Virginia and our misery. The day following, however, we were mustered for the new term, and having been paid, we impatiently waited to be notified that our transportation to Washington awaited us.

January 2, 1864 [They actually left on the 4th], we piled ourselves and our goods on common platform cars, and in the midst of a whirling snow-storm began our northward journey. A couple of hours' riding brought us to Alexandria, where our stay was short, and we were soon speeding up the Potomac on a steamer for the national capital. Once in Washington we soon made our way to the Soldiers' Rest at the railroad depot, where we were served with hot coffee and then we put up for the night. Our familiar old haunts about the city had little attractiveness for us now, but each was anxious to get the latest news from Philadelphia or hear the last sensational report in reference to ourselves. A comrade came to inform me that the colonel [sc. Edgar Gregory] had just got a dispatch to let him know that city councils had resolved to present each of us with a Nankeen overcoat of the largest size, as soon as we arrived, so that we might present a more uniform appearance. Soon afterward I heard that it had been arranged that the Philadelphia policemen were to meet us at the depot, and that each of us was to be carried home on a window shutter, in order to show the city's appreciation of us and to prevent us from becoming fatigued. We certainly looked at though we needed some new "rigging," and somewhat resembled the sort of chaps that are sometimes borne upon a "shutter," but we could appreciate a joke for all that.

In the evening I was agreeably surprised by a visit from John Carroll, of the 6th New York Cavalry. He was a pleasant and plucky young man, whose acquaintance I made in the rebel guard-house at Winchester. [See Walter's description] We had got right well acquainted with each other before our Southern trip was over, and I was glad to see that he was still safe and wore the straps of a lieutenant on his shoulders. When I first met John he was the owner of a new and fine pair of gauntlet gloves, made of buckskin, and as robbing prisoners had not then become part of the general tactics of the Confederates, so those gloves were showed off whenever there was an opportunity. In our lines they were worth two dollars and a half, but a rebel officer's first offer for them was twenty dollars, which was promptly declined.

Whether it was on the 3d or 4th of January when we reached Philadelphia I cannot remember [They actually arrived on 8 January, although they had been expected to arrive earlier.], but after our arrival we made a short parade, and were dismissed in front of Independence Hall. The commissioned officers were assigned to recruiting service, and the rest of us scattered, fully bent on making ourselves as happy as possible for the next thirty days, at least.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #44 p.1]
After reaching Philadelphia I had no relatives to stop with, but found a good home with an old friend who was full of good nature. I soon had a bath and a clean uniform, as well as a few "doses" of "civilized" victuals.

Living well and having few cares, time sped rapidly along, and two-thirds of our furlough time was soon gone. Then I got a notion to desert my old comrades, provided that I could get a captaincy in another regiment, new or old. Having a strong recommendation from an influential source, I visited Harrisburg to see Governor Curtin about the matter. The governor happened to be indefinitely absent just at that time, and after waiting several days in vain for him, I gave up the attempt and came back to Philadelphia.

When our thirty days were up we reported to headquarters at Fifth and Chestnut streets, but there was no duty for us to perform, so the freedom of the city remained to us until the 16th of February. Then the regiment was ordered to Upland, which is the high ground just back of Chester. The large building now used as part of the Crozier Theological Seminary was there then, as well as several barracks that had been put up for hospital purposes. A high wooden fence enclosed all these, and this place was made the general rendezvous for re-enlisted men belonging to eastern Pennsylvania. Our colonel [sc. Edgar Gregory] commanded the post, and our adjutant [sc. Benjamin Tayman] became post-adjutant. We expected, of course, to be sent promptly to the front.

Day after day still found us there, and as there was little duty to perform, and only Government food to live on, life in the uncomfortable barracks soon became irksome. "Running the guard," to take a short trip to Chester or Philadelphia, soon became a sort of general custom. Guards were posted outside of the fence with strict orders to allow no one to pass, but this availed very little after dark. Several of the veterans would go together to a remote point along the fence and tear off a slat. If the guard opposite was a recruit, they would intimidate or cajole him into giving them a chance to slip out. If a veteran happened to be on duty there when the fence cracked, he probable marched to the farther end of his beat and gave his undivided attention to some distant object, while he remarked to himself, "It's no use to keep the boys in the [p.2] lousy pen, when they are so near home and have no duty to perform."

Our company had been more successful than any other in filling up, and of over twenty that had joined us, only three or four were objectionable on account of age or bearing. Nearly half of them were young and spry fellows, who had seen some service in other organizations, and the whole lot seemed likely to be a credit to themselves and the company under fair management. Several of the youngest were not yet eighteen years old, and drew my special interest on that account, because they so faintly realized what was before them.

Near the end of February there was [sic] so many absences that the colonel refused to grant any more passes to go out, and about this time I concluded that I would like to visit Philadelphia again. Since coming to Chester, the company had been entirely in my charge, and as it was reported that the officers of the regiment were as bad about taking "French leave" as those of the rank, I considered that I was being imposed on. So about 3 or 4 o'clock on the morning of the 5th of March, [the muster roll shows him AWOL starting 3 March, and the regiment actually left on 2 March] several of us ran the guard in the usual style, and started across the country to find a station on the West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad. A tramp of four miles or more brought us to the place we sought, and as the weather was quite cool and the building was not quite finished and was not tenanted, we forced our way in, started a fire and made ourselves happy while we waited for the first down train.

We reached the city in good time and scattered. On the morning of March 3 [sic; the muster roll shows him AWOL until 17 March], I returned to Upland, and to an unpleasant surprise. I found that the day I left the regiment had been mustered for pay, and the day following, had left for Virginia. Nearly one-third of the command was absent without leave, and our names had been sent to the Provost marshall of Philadelphia, with instructions to arrest us as deserters. [On 6 March 1864, Sinex reported that 204 enlisted men were present, 156 were absent without leave, 17 were absent sick, 1 had deserted, and 35 had been detached from the regiment. Thus, more than one-third of the enlisted men (but only 1 officer) were AWOL (letter).] The first officer I met was the adjutant [sc. Benjamin Tayman], who gave me a lively overhauling, and after blustering awhile, sent me to the colonel [sc. Edgar Gregory]. After the colonel had chinned awhile, I told him I was ready to go down and join the regiment at my own expense, if he was willing. Then his tune changed, and he told me I was to stay and take command of the absentees as they came in, and stay with them until transportation could be had to take us to the front. This did not suit me a bit, and there was quite a small fuss before I acquiesced. Two weeks afterward a large squad of us got off, and after an uneventful trip, rejoined the regiment just below Bealton Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.



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