12th Vermont Infantry
Army Life in Virginia
THE ARMY HOSPITALS--A WASHINGTON DUST-STORM
Camp Casey, East Capitol Hill,
Washington, Oct. 23, 1862.
Dear Free Press:
The health of a regiment is apt to be a matter of considerable interest to its members and to their friends. The health of the Twelfth may, I suppose, be called pretty good. The longest sick list, as yet, has been thirty-two privates and six officers. Only two or three of these can be called very sick. Some are merely home-sick, while on the other hand, there are to be added, in making a complete account a number suffering from ailments not severe enough to figure in the regimental reports. The men, as a general thing, have a repugnance to going into hospital. The hospital is a large tent, kept warm by stoves, in which the sick men lie on straw, placed on the ground, as the Government does not furnish cots. It looks a little hard; but ours is a good field hospital, and the inmates are better off than many in and around this city. The sick and wounded men in the permanent hospitals in Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria, number thirty-four thousand--an army in themselves. Many of these are in tents, for want of houses, and many, I fear, from what I hear, suffer from want of suitable care. The Government is now building on the plain here, not far from our camp, some immense one-story wooden buildings, for a general hospital, which, when completed, will give the covering of a roof to thousands who now shiver in the hospital tents.
To return to our own regiment and company,--our hospital steward, Mr. Hard, is a kind, skillful and faithful man; the hospital orderly, Wm. B. Lund, of Company C, is also a trusty and excellent man; the chaplain interests himself heartily in the sick men. So far as they can secure it, all our sick will have kind and suitable care. I do not speak of the surgeons. Dr. Conn, the assistant surgeon, has been sick, himself, with a fever, ever since our arrival. He is improving. None of our Burlington boys have been seriously ill, thus far, with the exception of W. W. Walker, who has a combined attack of fever and ague and dysentery,--and but one of our company (Collamer) can be called dangerously sick. He was suffering terribly with dysentery and vomiting yesterday. To-day he has been removed by Capt. Page to a comfortable private boarding-house in the city, and one of our best men left in charge of him.
On many, probably on the majority of men, the out-door life and abundance of exercise have a very favorable effect. They eat heartily, sleep soundly, enjoy themselves pretty well, and grow fat. Most of them, however, have worn out, thus soon, the romance of soldiering, and are ready to own that the life of a private soldier is a rather rough one. There are some discomforts about tent-life on East Capitol Hill, it must be owned. What do you think of a bath of thirty-six hours' duration in Washington dirt? That is what we have been enjoying yesterday and to-day. It had been quite dusty fro a day or two and you must remember that we are on a bare surface of clay, denuded of grass and easily ground into the finest, most adhesive and most disagreeable dust in the world--the dust of Washington. It had sifted pretty thoroughly over and into every thing in our tents, when yesterday morning the wind began to blow. It commenced before light with a furious gust, which woke our thousand sleepers, and many other thousands around us, to find the dust pouring in upon us through every opening and crevice. We sprang up and with blankets and over-coats closed the openings; but the dust was still there, kept in constant motion by the slatting of our canvas walls, and the only way was to lie down again and take it as it came. What a dirty crew crawled out of the tents that morning! It was of little use to brush or wash--which latter habit, by the way, has to be indulged with moderation in our camp, for we are short of water. There is water in the Potomac, and in some wells around us, but these latter are drawn on constantly by other regiments as well as our own. The one nearest us, on which we relied almost entirely, has given out; and having to be brought a considerable distance, water is now a luxury if not a rarity, in the camp of the Twelfth. The wind kept up and the dust with it, and it is not fairly down yet. It is a peculiar life, when you must eat, breathe and drink earth, instead of food, air and water. You open your mouth, it is as if some one had put in a spoonful of pulverized clay. You put your hand to your hair, it feels like a dust brush. You touch your cheek, it is a clod. You place your finger in your ear, it is like running it into a hole in the ground. You draw from one of the dust holes in your clothes, the mud-stained rag which a few hours since was your clean handkerchief, and wipe a small pile of "sacred soil" from the corner of either eye. You look on the faces of your comrades, they are of the earth, earthy. The dust penetrates every fibre of every article of clothing; you feel dirty clear through. But it is of no use to attempt to describe it; it is unutterable--this plague of dust. It has not prevented, however, the company of battalion drills, and a brigade drill, by General Casey, of this brigade and the Eleventh Massachusetts Battery attached to it, came off to-day. It was emphatically a dusty affair.
There are frequent movements of regiments about us. More come than go. The twenty-fifth and Twenty-seventh Maine, and the Fourteenth New Hampshire, have arrived within a day or two, and are encamped close to us. The latter is under marching orders, however, and will be off to-morrow. Two or three of the neighboring regiments have fine brass bands, and so we have good music around us on some of the clear mornings. There is talk of organizing a band for the Twelfth from the musical talent in the ranks. Our drum major, Perley Downer, has been made brigade drum major of this provisional brigade. Company C, received him, after dress parade last evening when the order for his promotion was received, with presented arms and three cheers, to which Major Downer responded in a characteristic little speech.
The dust storm is over. The frost lies this morning thick and white on the ground--the first one of the season here. The sick are all doing well, except Captain Savage of Company A, who has been delirious and ran out of camp in his shirt and drawers last evening. He was found after a while in the barracks of a neighboring regiment.
We had a regular soaker to-day--hard rain all day; tents soaked through; camp ground swimming; mud from five to fifteen inches deep; nothing done but to keep the water out and eat our meals. It is raining harder than ever since dark. I have just been out and made a raise of a couple of shelter tents, which we have thrown over our tent and hope thus to keep the water from dripping on us. The ground is soaked so that the tent pins have but a slight hold and a gust of wind would bring down half the tents in the regiment.
The Fourteenth regiment was sent up to Chain Bridge night before last, which shows that the Vermont regiments are not to be brigaded together at present.
I think, from what I hear to-night, that we are likely to remain here a while longer; but all is uncertainty as to army movements.