For the ordinary soldiers, life in their winter camps was woefully short of adventure and glory. “Father I regret having enlisted for camp life is something that is not suited to my mind yet while I stay I shall try to do my whole duty,” wrote the 3rd Maine’s John L. Little in October 1862 while he was recuperating from illness in a Washington hospital.
There were some rude comforts. Pvt. Charles Doak of the 6th Maine wrote home to describe his holiday. “The day before Christmas we had to clean up our things then we spent the evening in merriment,” he said. “At nine oclock we went to bed and had a pleasant nap till morning then it was turn out to roll call then it was a wish you mery Christmas all over the Regt then after that came breckfast what do you suppose it was that we had well I will tell you we had baked beans and hot biscuit and coffee then we had turkey for diner it was nice baked beef and potatoes then for supper we had fried donuts and hot tea. We had the day to our selfs to go any whare we wanted to but that has pased and now comes New Years and thare is considerable excitement in getting ready to day for it.” Doak was content with his lot in this new life. “We have a plenty of cloths to ware and have a good log house to sleep in and have a fire-place in it and it looks a good deal like an old farmers house with the fire place in it to make it look comfitable and plesant.”
“I am well, but have no news of importance to write,” noted John S. French of the 5th Maine in a letter home on January 28, 1862. “[T] he weather is still morderate, and muddy, and, about all we have to do is to eat, smoke, sleep, read the papers, tell stories, sing songs, and—but I guess I shall make out that we do conciderable if I keep on, but then, it ain’t likely that we do all of these things at once oh! No of cource not.” French assured his family back in Lewiston that he was keeping clear of the usual camp vices of drinking, gambling, and stealing, and he had even been selected by his captain to serve as his company’s drill master.
George Rollins of the 3rd Maine decided to try his hand at writing for a temperance journal called the Fountain. He started with a vignette of life in winter camp, describing the variety of jury-rigged stoves the soldiers used to keep their tents warm. They were made of tin, stone, and brick, while a lucky few men managed to purchase real stoves. “Between the tents, may be seen numerous chimneys, usually of barrels and mud; but occasionally a confiscated stone pipe, puffs its satisfaction at being once more in the service of the friends of the Union,” Rollins wrote. “He who says that this randomeness of living is altogether an unpleasant one, is not of our number; for I assure you that a soldiers life is not devoid of its charms, tho’ it is not a life I would prefer.”
Adelbert Ames, the wound he had received at First Bull Run now healed, wrote home to his parents on New Year’s Eve. “With a stove in my tent and a buffalo robe as a blanket I manage to live comfortably,” he said. He remained busy keeping the affairs of his battery in order. “No one is more anxious for an advance than I, when our leaders see fit to order the movement,” Ames told his parents. “In fact I am very anxious to go into battle and whip our enemies, yet I have sufficient confidence in our commanders to wait without murmuring.”
Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg by Tom Huntington. Available from Stackpole Books on May 1, 2018. You can pre-order here.