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Friday, Aug. 1, 2014

Battlefield Dispatches No. 247: 'An unhappy and Happy New Year'

Friday, January 7, 2011

During the Civil War, as in any war, combat operations of the Blue and Gray did not stop because it was a holiday and for the most part, unless you were part of a rear echelon, far away from a combat area, holiday celebrations did not occur. However, whenever possible, the soldiers of the Blue and Gray did remember "New Years" Eve and Day with a bit of levity whenever and wherever they could. The following descriptions of New Year's Eve and Day were recorded by Lieutenant / Captain Charles W. Porter of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry in his journal that was published by the Vemon County, Missouri Historical Society and is entitled "In the Devil's Dominion."

"Wednesday, Dec. 31, 1862.

At daylight we was again on the road. We had a cold and uncomfortable night and but little sleep as we had no tents with us. Our march today was in the Boston Mountains (of northwest Arkansas) and across the same streams we met with on our march to Van Buren, Ark. We did not see the sun until 10 o'clock a. m. on account of the mountain height. These mountains are in many respects sublime in appearance. They are quite rocky, some of the rocks have a perpendicular height of 100 feet or more, while many are shelving and ragged covered with pine and cedar besides other kinds of trees. Fred A. Copeland of our company lost his horse and was obliged to appropriate a "donkey" for his use. The only way he could keep the lazy (or very smart) beast up with the company was to put an ear of corn on the end of a (sugar) "cane stalk" and hold it in front of the animal, when he would hasten to overtake it. The boys gave Fred the name of "Balam," a name he did not fancy and in order to get rid of the accursed name he disposed of the beast on arriving at camp. After a march of 30 miles today we arrived at our old campground at Rheas Mills at a little before sunset.

Thursday, Jan.1, 1863.

A new year has dawned upon us and with it the war still in progress. I set about to enjoy the day as my limited means would admit. I took a few drinks of brandy to stimulate my exertions. I procured canned peaches and oysters at the "sutlers" and soon surprised the vacancies of the inner man. (A "sutler" was a merchant who was licensed by the Army to accompany the troops with a traveling "General Store" that was normally housed in a tent or wagons.) During the day I received my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant of Co. "F", 3rd Wis. Cavalry and the consequence was I was elected to do some treating. Many of the boys in and about our Regiment partook freely of "coffin varnish" (very bad whiskey) and many rows (fights) occurred during the day. I was with my companions (fellow officers) until a late hour and a jolly carouse we had. The day was cloudy, windy and some sleet. At dark we had marching orders for the morrow.

Thursday, Dec. 31, 1863.

(In Camp at Balltown, Mo., north of Nevada near the Little Osage River).

Our guard suffered with cold last night. I commenced making up company returns (reports) today, which are of importance and I seem to be the victim on whom this work devolves. My captain being unable to write on account of his hand being very tremulous (trembling). The day has been very cold and those of our boys who are on guard complain of extreme suffering from the cold and in their great exertion, they barely keep from freezing!

Friday, Jan. 1, 1864.

I remained in camp today and was writing on my company papers. The day has been extremely cold. There was a dance some three miles from camp and some of my company attended tonight.

Saturday, Jan. 2, 1864.

This morning before day, the boys who attended the dance returned with fingers, toes and ears froze and some "profanity" and groaning was indulged in as soon as they came to the campfire. I spent the day in writing up my company papers. Capt. Vittum and Orderly Sgt. Cooper went to Fort Scott this afternoon. Quiet reigns supreme in our camp at this time. The health of the company is good. The day is very cold.

Saturday, Dec. 31, 1864.

(On temporary duty, assigned to the Quartermaster Dept. at Leavenworth City, Kansas.)

Another year of strife and bloodshed is about to close, but I hope the coming year will bring peace and we can be at our homes. Nothing important today with us. Very cold.

Sunday, Jan. 1, 1865.

I have spent the day in company with Bettie (Capt. Porter's wife) reading and writing letters. The day has been cold and unpleasant for a walk in the city. I am now anxious to be relieved from my present duty at this place as there is not enough work too keep me out of mischief. I have sent a request to Headquarters that I be relieved from duty at this place and ordered to my company (at Balltown, Mo.) where I can find enough to do.

Monday, Jan. 2, 1865.

I ventured out this morning and filled my lungs with the frosty air and then took a walk over to Chrysler's (saloon) and filled up on a decoction of "Bug-Juice" (bad whiskey) and then returned to my boarding place to complete the process by a liberal ration of hash and tough beef. I have spent the day with Bettie as I find more pleasure in Bettie's company than with my former friends of Wyandotte. Today cold."

Now then, was Captain Porter ever relieved from Quartermaster duty at Leavenworth City? Yes he was and he returned to his company at Balltown, Mo., where he found many things to do that kept him out of mischief and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches