Aunt Katy's Civil War Tale
January of 1863 saw no let up in activity for the cavalry. They continued harrassing and being harrassed by the Rebels. They had other troubles too, the age old ones of food and shelter. The roads were so bad, what with mud and stalled army supply trains, that the troops had to ride to the wagons for hay for their horses. Every day men went foraging for feed. Once they brought in unthreashed wheat and another time they captured a wagon load of grain belonging to the 4th Virginia Confederate Cavalry.
The men were always glad to have good feed for their horses. Cavalrymen appreciate good mounts and love their horses so it hurt them to see the patient creatures standing night after night in the open, exposed to rain, sleet, and snow, sinking nearly to their knees in cold mud, as hungry and tired as their masters were. Many animals died from starvation and over-work.
Despite hardships and privations the men found time to send Valentines purchased from the ever-present suttlers wagon stores. The cards cost from three to ten cents each and were manufactured by the American Valentine Company of New York City. This company sent "Soldier Valentine Packets", "Army Valentine Packets", "Torch of Love Packets", and "New Military Comic Valentines" to the suttlers as well as providing the stores at home with cards to be sent to the soldiers.
Ma had kept a card Pa sent her entitled "Love Protects". The picture shows a tent formed of the Stars and Stripes, open to reveal a Union officer surrounded by military equipment, pensively penning a letter. A vision of his beloved is etched in the background and printed below on a lacy scroll are these words:
"Strong is the warrior's arm
That strikes for fortune and fame.
Thrice armed his stalwart arm
Who fights in thy dear name."
Febuary 15th, Pa wrote from Acqulia church:
"The church is about three miles from Stafford Court House on the road to Dumfries. It is said to be the oldest church in Virginia. It was built in 1751, destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1757, so you see it was quite an old building at the time of the Revolutionary War. It is built of brick and is very plainly finished both outside and in. It is built in the form of a cross with an aisle running through the center each way. The Pulpit is in one of the angles and is very high with several seats beneath it, one higher than the other, which I suppose were occupied by some officers of the church according to their respecive rank. The walls are badly defaced by the soldiers, as everyone seems to think it necessary to write his name wherever there is a good place for it. The floor, which is stone, has also been torn up in several places and even those which mark the resting place of the dead are not left undisturbed.
"It is a sad sight to see the desolation which marks the track of the Union Army. Nothng escapes when the men are allowed to roam around unchecked. The finest houses are soon reduced to a pile of ruins and as for fences, they disappear as if by magic as soon as a lot of soldiers camp near them."
Pa, Uncle Bert, and Uncle Lonzo were fortunate to be among the men who received 10 day leaves on March 15, 1863. They wasted no time warning the folks at home and so walked in unannounced causing great excitement as can be imagined. Aunt Min moved in with Bea at the Inn but the young people spent several evenings together so Bea and Lonzo got to know each other.
How good it must have been to sleep warm in a bed, eat hot food, wash all over in hot water, and hear the voices of your own women chattering over the preparation of another delicious meal. There were friends to see, a church supper quickly gotten up in their honor where Ma, Aunt Min, Aunt Mary, and Bea sang. And all too few quiet moments alone together to be treasured later. But it was long enough for Uncle Lonzo to fall in love with Bea and long enough to ease the lonely ache in both Ma's and Pa's hearts just a little.
Shortly after they got back to camp three hundred new horses were provided. Pa was assigned a big bay hunter, a full 17 hands high with powerful shoulders and eyes full of intelligence. Pa called him Major and was so fond of him Ma said she felt quite jealous.
The weather continued miserable and early in April Pa wrote:
"We've had strong winds blowing all day and night and it snowed most all night. Our tents blew about some and we expected any minute to be covered with wet canvas but we managed to keep them braced up. Our blankets got some wet so our beds weren't too cozy, not that we spent much time in them.
"But I pity most the poor horses tied to the picket line, heads down and bracing their backs against the storm. Major and the others stood in inches of snow and mud all night but like good soldiers, managed to do justice to their rations of oats this morning. We all wished we could give the horses a good hot mash and Lonzo, Bert and I tried to warm their water over our fire some.
"No one wanted to go on duty this morning and Bert had to sound the call twice before the men came out to relieve the guard. It quit snowing about noon and the sun has come out so we are all getting thawed out as best we can."
Pa didn't finish his letter that day but came back to it two days later with great news.
"Well, Lou, I saw Mr Lincoln yesterday. There was a grand review of over ten thousand cavalry and four flying artillery batteries and General Hooker and President Lincoln were both there along with three hundred or so other officers and men from the government. Mrs Lincoln was there too in a fancy carriage with four horses to it. Some other ladies were a horse back but I guess that aint her style.
"Mr Lincoln sure presents a picture on horse back. He had on his long black frock coat and high silk hat and no straps to his trousers so the legs wouldn't stay down. As he rode past us we could see how kind his face is and how sad his eyes and you forget how funny and awkward he looks on horse back. Not that he isn't a good rider, its just that there is so much of him he don't seem to all fit on.
"First General Stoneman led the President at a gallop along the lines to the receiving stand, with the troops yelling "Hurrah for Abe" and "Go it, Abe, we're with you", and then the companies marched past in columns. The whole thing took two hours and was a real grand affair. It was hard for the men to go back to corduroying roads after that. The roads are so cut up by the army wagon trains that it has to be done."
And that was the first time Pa saw President Lincoln.