FIRST REGIMENT VIRGINIA INFANTRY.
To render this short history complete as possible, as well as intelligible to the general reader, if it be complimented with such, it is necessary to make a short digression to pick up and record the more important military events not heretofore mentioned that had occurred up to the time of the departure of the regiment. As the space in a work or this kind is limited, these events, being mainly of general rather than of local interest, are condensed. Operations in Missouri in June began to be of importance, and, as afterwards proved, of permanent benefit to the Union cause. A hero for the occasion had arisen in the person of General Lyon, a regular army officer, whose career was of too short duration, when the success of the Union cause is considered. On the 14th the government buildings at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, were burned, and the town, which heretofore had been in their possession, was evacuated by Jackson's forces. This was about the first appearance of this officer on the military stage that the public had knowledge of. Afterwards his name and deeds were known to all. On the 17th General Lyon defeated Governor Jackson at Booneville, Missouri. During this month President Lincoln recognized the government at Wheeling as the Virginia State government. July 5 the President issued his call for four hundred thousand men. August 10 was the battle of Wilson's Creek; General Lyon, with Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas troops, numbering about five thousand, attacked General Benjamin McCulloch, who had nearly ten thousand men under his command. The Union forces were defeated after a hard fight and compelled to retreat to Springfield, Missouri. General Lyon was killed in this engagement, and, though compelled to fall back, the forces under him were entitled to the greatest credit for their gallant conduct. Shortly afterwards Colonel Mulligan, after a desperate and heroic defence, was compelled to surrender Lexington, Missouri, to an overwhelming force of the enemy. Nothing further of importance in a military view having occurred, the narrative may be resumed. Accordingly, the 10th of November, 1861, found the First Regiment at Romney; the camp-ground selected was an open field to the northwest of the town, near the road leading to Green Spring Run. The march from New Creek Station had been unattended by any event of sufficient importance to note. Passing through a gap in the mountains sufficiently wide to accommodate a wagon road alongside the bank of a creek, the course of which was through the gap, every man almost was struck with the fine position here afforded for defence by the defile, the river in front and a hill in the direction of Romney beyond the stream, which, if held by a resolute enemy, might have caused a severe loss to the assailants. The extent of the enemy's resistance, however, when General Kelley attacked a few weeks previously, was the firing of a few rounds from their cannon, disabling a few men, when the enemy's forces started very early to retreat, - not soon enough, however, to save their wagons, which were taken. No resistance was offered at any point to the regiment's advance.
Unloading the wagons and pitching the tents, etc., was an event to the majority of the men with which they soon became familiar, and were only too glad when they had the wagons to unload and the tents to pitch. Looking back to that day, the men of the regiment now realize the importance that should be attached to a move in the first months of the war. It was much like moving the inhabitants of a small town with all their household goods. There was one wagon to each company, headquarters had two or three, the medical department had at least one, while one at least was reserved for ammunition, and the remainder were used by the quartermaster for hauling the quartermaster's and commissary stores, - the whole numbering over twenty, and even these were found insufficient to transport all that was looked upon as necessary. In an enemy's country it would have required nearly the entire regiment to guard the train. After this the number was gradually diminished until one wagon answered for the companies, one for headquarters and the surgeons together, and one for the ammunition. Finally, in 1864, one was allowed for the regiment proper and one for the ammunition. This was reaching the minimum in numbers and the maximum in discomfort and inconvenience to officers and men; but, as the latter usually carried their cooking utensils, tent, and blanket, besides gun, haversack, cartridge-box with forty rounds, etc., it made little difference to them whether two or half a dozen were allowed. Usually mules were used for the transportation, as they required less care and less forage than horses, and, when put to it, could subsist at little expense to the government, patiently making a meal of the wagon-side, a cracker-box, a pair of old shoes, or something equally savory, sometimes for two or three days getting little or nothing else. A train of wagons might often be seen with but little left of the sides, which, being made of poplar-wood, were soft, consequently much relished by the animals, the tongue, though made of hard, close-grained wood, very badly gnawed, and even the felloes and spokes of the wheels bearing the marks of mule-teeth. The mules of that train, it might be safely concluded, had been on very short rations and had seen tough times. Until the war there were comparatively few men who had ever seen a dead mule, but before its close the bones of many of these uncomplaining, faithful servants lay fertilizing the soil of Virginia. It may be of interest to some to state that the forage-ration for a horse is fourteen pounds of hay and twelve pounds of oats, corn, or barley, and for a mule fourteen pounds of hay and nine pounds of either of the several grains mentioned.
Guard duty, police, drill, picket duty, etc., now fully occupied the time of officers and men. The colonel and staff, as also the medical staff, had their quarters on the grounds, and the quartermaster and regimental commissary had quarters in a warehouse opposite the court-house in the town, the commander of the troops, General Kelley, having his headquarters near by.
There were five or six regiments, including the First, encamped in the surrounding fields; two or three of these being Ohio regiments (the Fifth, of Cincinnati, being one), one or two Indiana, and the Seventh Virginia. The men from the different States did not appear to fraternize at this time; they had not gone through the fire together, which does more to seal comradeship than anything else. Gradually the sergeants' squads began to know the difference between "hay-foot" and "straw-foot" (right and left) and the use of their guns. It was day after day, morning and afternoon, drill, drill, drill, then the company and finally the battalion drill, until, in the course of a few weeks, the regiment began to assume the appearance of a body of soldiers. Discipline was applied and the unruly spirits brought into subjection. This was a good school for the men to learn the rudiments, the officers being compelled to study their parts, as many of them found the lessons quite up to their capacity to learn and more than their ability, in some instances, to teach; some of them, it may be added, never could become proficient. This rather monotonous life was interrupted occasionally by alarms of the enemy's appearance. Two of the officers, Lieutenants Freeman and Hall, were captured in December while on picket duty. The employment of the men was afterwards varied somewhat by digging rifle-pits. What for it is hard to guess, as they would be commanded by a hill in the vicinity; it might have been to improve the appetites of the men, which was wholly superfluous. The amusing part of this was, as showing the make-up of a volunteer regiment, a tailor was put in charge of the work, and when this fact was presented to the colonel, he laughed heartily, and observed that this feature of the affair had not occurred to him. Lieutenants L. and J. will doubtless recollect this and be amused thereat, though their calling has been made rather free with. The men called the work a "fort." Soon the weather began to get colder, and, though a greater degree of cold than usually experienced in the Ohio Valley was expected, all were agreeably disappointed. The clothing furnished the men at this time was good, the shoes generally devoid of paper-filled soles, and the food wholesome and, of course, very substantial; first class indeed for the plain cooks, who manipulated the mess-pans and camp-kettles and wrestled in more ways than one with the "dissected" vegetables. The beans and the mule arrived almost simultaneously, and to boil the one and break the other was a difficult problem to solve, and a serious business for several days. These two of all the soldiers' auxiliaries probably should be classed first, and it was hard to determine which had the strongest hold on his regard, though it is probable the first named would have the call, being "something to eat." A slight digression to explain the ration, etc., for the benefit of the reader will be pardoned, as what they had to eat entered very largely into the thoughts of the men at this time.
The ration is the daily allowance of food for one man, and as established for the United States army was as follows:
Twelve ounces of pork or bacon, or one pound and four ounces of salt or fresh beef; one pound and six ounces of soft bread or flour, or one pound of hard bread, or one pound and four ounces of corn-meal; and to everyone hundred rations fifteen pounds of beans or peas and ten pounds of rice or hominy; ten pounds of green coffee, or eight pounds of roasted (or roasted and ground) coffee, or one pound and eight ounces of tea; fifteen pounds of sugar; four quarts of vinegar; one pound and four ounces of Star candles; four pounds of soap; three pounds and twelve ounces of salt; four ounces of pepper; thirty pounds of potatoes when readily obtained, and with one quart of molasses was considered an extra ration. While the ration, ordinarily, means of transportation admitting of its supply, was ample, men on the march or on the front had many of these articles erased from the list, and were generally confined to hard bread, bacon or salt beef, coffee, and sugar, varied with fresh beef and what the country afforded, - sometimes this being little indeed. In winter quarters the rations furnished were usually plenty and of good quality. At times desiccated vegetables were issued, one ounce to the ration, in lieu of beans, peas, rice, hominy, or potatoes. Generally, it is believed, no army was better, if as well rationed, as that of the United States. And the same remark may be applied to the clothing. For five years the allowance of clothing to each man was as follows: seven caps, five hats, eight coats, thirteen pairs trousers, fifteen flannel shirts, eleven pairs flannel drawers, twenty pairs shoes, twenty pairs stockings, one great-coat, two woollen blankets, and one gum blanket. Each one of these articles is charged to the enlisted man at a price covering the cost, and if at his discharge he is not charged with his allowance, the difference he receives with his pay. On the other hand, if he has overdrawn his allowance, he is charged with this overissue, and the amount is deducted from his pay. The allowance proved to be ample in ordinary service to the average careful man; in mountain or a rough, hilly country it was barely sufficient. The supply of rations devolved on the commissary department; the clothing, as well as the transportation for all, on the quartermaster's department. For a regiment the quartermaster had charge of the whole, and was the accounting officer. A general idea may be formed from this how a regiment was supplied with food and clothing. As may be supposed, no ordinary ability was equal to the supplying of such an army as was in the field in 1862, 1863, and 1864 with food and clothing, and it must be admitted by all fair-minded men that this duty was well performed by the quartermaster - and commissary-generals of the army, - they being fully equal to the occasion, proving, indeed, men of extraordinary ability.
In the early part of the war great confusion resulted from the inexperience of officers of these two departments attached to regiments, brigades, and divisions, and it was some time before business connected with them ran smoothly. At times the same weight of roasted as of green coffee, for instance, would be issued to the company commissary, while the coffee-roasters at that time had hardly acquired the art (be their disposition what it might) of making the former weigh as much as the latter, - common property now. Desiccated vegetables issued with other vegetables, while they were to be substituted for them. Again, quartermaster's stores proper were not clearly understood, and it is even probable that there were quartermasters at the end of the war who could not tell the difference in the classification between a spade and a shovel, one being an engineer's tool to be reported to that department, while the other is classed quartermaster's stores to be accounted for to that department. Many years were required to straighten out this business. And it is to be doubted if the quartermaster who filed his papers in a barrel or a sack has got them straightened out even now. The war went on all the same, however, and woe to the official who allowed the confused condition of his papers to interfere with his keeping up the supply of rations. If he did, it is probable the name of "hard-tack" will always attach to him. The First was fortunate in having an excellent man filling this position in the person of Lieutenant Singleton, who was ever alive to the welfare and comfort of the men, never allowing them to suffer if it was in his power to furnish the supplies.