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November 15, 2011
Roads to LeesburgBy Greyhawk
Robert Augustus Moore knew where the Confederate soldiers were. But as he was one that wasn't surprising. As a private in the 17th Mississippi who'd done a lot of marching in a very few days he wondered where they'd be tomorrow.
For months he'd kept track of his travels in his diary, one page dedicated to each day. At the top he'd enter the date and his location, then fill in that day's events. If he ran out of room at the bottom he'd rotate the book and continue up the side rather than move to the next page. If he still needed more space he'd put a line or two upside down when he got back up to the top.
That didn't happen too often, though. For weeks he'd been "in camp west of Leesburg" day after day, and a single small page was sufficient for most every one of them. Camp life had become routine - even picket duty along the Potomac was mostly uneventful. So in the pages of his diary he'd note the weather, or mention letters he'd sent or received... sometimes he'd provide news he'd heard of the war as it was being fought near and far. Sometimes the news was good (he'd heard that his fellow Confederates had soundly whipped Union General Rosencrans in western Virginia - and the General himself had been wounded and taken prisoner), sometimes bad (he'd heard the Yankees had burned Falls Church), and sometimes true (but not in those examples) - and sometimes he heard sounds of distant battle with his own ears.
But mostly things were routine, though on Sunday 13 October he stood guard in town, and was able to attend church there. And once when the girls of the town came out to visit camp he observed that "Leesburg can boast of as fair daughters as any other town in the state." (A wise description that made no mention of Mississippi's belles...)
Democracy was alive and well among the soldiers far from home, too. On September 23rd they'd had a meeting "for the purpose of recommending to the voters of Marshall Co [Marshall County, Mississippi] a candidate from the army for state senator" (they picked Captain W.P. Jones of Company B, the Mississippi Rangers, for the honor) - then a committee was formed "to draft resolutions embodying an address to the voters of Marshall on the subject." Captain Jones "came forth and acknowledged the compliment," Moore wrote, "& said he would serve the soldiers as best he could if elected."
The next day Moore's company had its own election - for a new first lieutenant. Thomas Gatewood defeated his two opponents on the first ballot. On the following day elections were held for a new second lieutenant. There were seven candidates on the first ballot, and none received a majority. So they'd had another, also inconclusive. After two more rounds of voting the next day they'd narrowed the contest down to two candidates, and on the final ballot had a winner by vote of 46 - 40.
There were several such elections in those days. "I believe all our commissioned officers will leave us soon," Moore had predicted on September 20th, "some of them are giving up." But whether they were giving up on the army lifestyle or the future of the Confederacy he didn't say.
There were occasional contentious issues within the unit. (Company G of the 17th Mississippi, though when they'd formed and mustered in back in Holly Springs, Mississippi the previous April they'd called themselves the Confederate Guards, and still did.) "Capt Sears refuses to drill our company today," Moore wrote on October 3rd, "saying that he would not have anything more to do with it as they would not obey him." The problem centered on the captain's planned "new arrangement" for cooking. He wanted to "make the negroes of the co. cook for the whole co. and cook it all together." In response, "The boys say they will send their negroes home" - and the company had "held a meeting to draw up resolutions asking the cpt to let the cooking go on as before." And now Captain Sears, Moore wrote, "was pouting like an old granma."
The resolution of the problem was left unexplained - but the dull routine (and the luxury of time to prepare meals) came to an end in the middle of October, and it likely just no longer seemed important. On the 16th Moore found his friend T.A. (Thomas) Nelms had used two pages of his diary to leave him a brief note.
I'm trying to get Lt Gatewood to get the pass word from the officer of the guard and go out and git some whiskey as I think we will leave this place by 8 o'clock tomorrow AM. Fighting is going on at Fairfax Court House do not know how it may end but suppose it will be all right on our side. We can whip them all the time.
Moore had suspected something was coming. Most everyone had - at least since the first part of October when rumors to that effect had increased in frequency. Then on the 14th Moore reported the Eighth Virginia had marched out towards Harper's Ferry, adding to his entry that "some think they will have a fight up in that section." (A few days earlier the Virginians had relocated themselves from Waterford to a camp site closer to Leesburg - and Moore noted that "Gen. Evans was a little bit fretted about them leaving Waterford & coming down here without orders.")
"Cpt Sears says it is thought there will be a general engagement up and down the river tomorrow" Moore wrote on the day after the Virginians marched back out. Also that "several companies of the 18th [Mississippi Regiment] passed here early this morning going toward Harper's Ferry," too. And even more ominously, Moore's regiment "received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march on the shortest notice."
They didn't march on the sixteenth - though that day Moore wrote "there is still a good deal of excitement about leaving" - and drill was cut short when yet another hold in readiness to march order came. That was also the day he'd discovered T.A. Nelms' whiskey message in his diary.
Nelms' information - at least the part about leaving this place - was correct. On the 17th Moore began his diary entry as he had on so many days past - from "camp west of Leesburg" - but then scribbled that out and entered his new location. They had indeed marched away from Leesburg that day.
(Part two is here...)
Posted by Greyhawk / November 15, 2011 6:53 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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