12th Vermont Infantry
Army Life in Virginia
THE BRIGADE MOVES TO FAIRFAX COURT HOUSE
Camp Near Fairfax Court House, Va.,
December 15th, 1862.
Dear Free Press:
More moves on the big chess board of which States and counties are the squares and divisions and brigades the pieces. And as the older troops push to the front, the reserves, of which the Second Vermont brigade is a portion, move up and occupy the more advanced positions of the lines of defense around Washington, vacated by our predecessors.
General Sigel's division marched to the support of Burnside last week, and our brigade has stepped into their deserted places. Our five regiments are now in camp round Fairfax Court House and along the line to Centreville, doing picket duty on the lines near the latter place.
The orders for us to march came on Thursday evening last, while the Twelfth was out on picket. The boys were ordered in and reached camp about 10 o'clock. They came in singing "John Brown" and camp was soon humming with the bustle and stir of breaking camp. Big fires made of the no longer needed packing boxes which came from Vermont, were soon blazing in the company streets, and the work of packing knapsacks began. With most of the boys the first thought was for the creature comforts still remaining from the Thanksgiving supply, and each man proceeded to make sure of some of them, by putting himself outside of such a portion as his capacity would admit of, be the same more or less. It was midnight before the camp was still. After two hours or so of slumber we were aroused; reveille was sounded at 3; the tents were struck at 4; the line of march was formed at 5; and by 6 the brigade was on its way. The morning was a magnificent one, clear, rosy and frosty, and the step of the men was light and springy as they filed away. I was on special duty and did not accompany the column. At 4 o'clock P.M. the Twelfth halted at their present camping ground about a mile west of Fairfax Court House, having with the brigade accomplished a march of twenty miles. Though the pace was moderate and the stops frequent, it was altogether the severest march as yet made by our regiment. It is to be remembered that in such a march the weight of the packed knapsack about doubles the amount of exertion. Most soldiers would prefer a march of twice the distance in light marching order. Our boys marched well, however. But twelve of the Twelfth fell to the rear--a proportion of stragglers less, as I am told, than that of any of the other regiments. Of Company C, one man, just convalescent from a three weeks' run of fever, who should not have attempted to march at all, was taken up by one of the ambulances. Another man who had been off duty from ill health came in with the stragglers; the rest, to a man, marched into our present camp with the colors.
I returned to Camp Vermont the day after. The Third brigade of Casey's division was already installed in the winter quarters built with so much labor by the Vermont regiments. The Fourth Delaware was in the camp of the Twelfth, and a new order of things was in force. The quiet and discipline of the Vermont camps had disappeared. Muskets were popping promiscuously all around the camps; much petty thieving appeared to be on foot; and Mr. Mason, the gray headed "neutral" who owns the manor, was praying for the return of the Vermont brigade. His fences were lowering with remarkable rapidity; the roofs of some of his out-houses had quite disappeared, and Colonel Grimshaw, commanding the brigade, had his headquarters in the front parlor of his mansion. I could not give him a great deal of sympathy, for I believe him to be a rebel; but I was glad the spoliation was not the work of our Vermont boys.
I followed the regiment on Sunday, taking the military railroad train to Fairfax Station. Here, and all along the road to the dirty little village of Fairfax Court House, four miles to the north, I struck out the column of an army corps pushing on to the front. Here a drover of beef cattle; next a battery of Parrot guns; there a travel-worn regiment, marching with tired lag and frequent hunching up to their heavy knapsacks; then one resting by the wayside; then a battery of brass twenty-pounders; then another regiment and another; and long white lines of army wagons filling every vacant rod of road for miles and miles as far as the eye could reach. It was the rear of the Twelfth Army Corps, from Harper's Ferry and Frederick, en route for Dumfries to be in supporting distance of Burnside; and for over twenty hours the stream of men and material of war had flowed over the road in the same way. It is only after seeing such a movement that one begins to realize something of the size of the business which is now the occupation of the nation.
I turned from the road across the fields to a pine grove in which lay the camp of the Twelfth. The regiment was drawn up in square at the edge of the timber. As I drew near, the strains of "Shining Shore" broke the stillness, and as I joined the body, the men were standing with bared heads, as the chaplain invoked the blessing of God on our cause, on our fellow soldiers now perhaps in deadly fight,* on our own humble efforts, and on the homes we left to come to the war. It was a transition, in a step, from the strong rush of the tide of war to a quiet eddy of Christian worship, and the contrast was a striking one.
We are not at present under shelter tents, pitched promiscuously among the pine trees. The weather is mild and fine, and the ground as dry as may. We can hardly realize that it is the middle of December. How long we shall remain here, of course we do not know.
A new brigade band of seventeen pieces has been organized under the leadership of Mr. Clark of St. Johnsbury, whose concerts in Burlington you doubtless remember. The music for dress parade to-night was furnished by the band and was a decidedly attractive feature.
Our new Brigadier General, Stoughton, came and took command a week ago yesterday, and Colonel Blunt has returned to the command of the Twelfth. During his absence Lieut. Colonel Farnham had shown every quality of an efficient and courteous regimental commander.
We are waiting with intense interest for news of the results of the movements on Richmond. Providence seems to be smiling on us, in this fine weather, and we cannot doubt the triumph of our arms. If between Burnside and Banks the rebel capital cannot be taken, who shall next attempt the job?
P.S. The rain has come before our tents have, and a juicy time is in progress.
* Gen. Burnside was now in command of the Army of the Potomac, and having fought the disastrous battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, was now about to recross the Rappahannock.