Sunday, February 12, 2012

February 13, 1862 Letter: Aaron W. Smith, Co.E, 7th NJ Regiment

On February 13, 1862, Private Aaron W. Smith, of Belvidere, serving in Company E of the 7th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, wrote to John Simerson, editor/publisher of The Warren Journal, from camp on the lower Potomac River.  Smith, at 22 years of age, had enlisted in the 7th NJ with Captain Edward Campbell and other men of Belvidere in August 1861. 

Smith wrote, "Nothing of any importance has transpired for the last week, but I have not thought it worth while to write sooner, but concluded to wait for something to turn up.  An experienced correspondent might write a very interesting letter, giving the description of the country, the situation and names of the different batteries along the Potomac, &c., but for one like myself it is no easy matter.  However, I shall send you what little news I can in as few words as possible.  You are aware that we still remain in our old position opposite Cockpit Point, which place it seems the rebels intend making one of their strongest batteries.  They have erected a large flag pole and now have their flag floating defiantly in front of us.  On no occasion, since our arrival here, has this battery allowed our vessels, however small, to pass without sending a dozen or more shots after them, and singular to say, one have taken effect.  We have stood and watched them for hours, and in every instance have had the satisfaction of seeing the shell burst either in the air or too far away to do any damage.

"We have been engaged for the past two days in building a new road from our camp to Rum Point, the old being entirely impassable on account of the mud.  I understand that not only our Regiment has been engaged in the work, but that others of our Division have been or are to be. This in in contemplation of an early movement of the whole of [General Joseph]Hooker's Division.  Friends at home think the battle field is terrible, but the field of disease is more so.  They think only of bullets and bayonets dealing out death, while these comparatively bring but few to the earth.

"The daily routine of a soldier's life becomes rather irksome when there is nothing to do but eat and drill and drill and eat, with a variation now and then.  The reveille, as you are aware, beats at daybreak, when every son of Mars turns out and faces in on the color line for roll call.  You can imagine that this cold weather makes us step briskly at so early an hour of the day.  This done, we march back in two ranks to our company street, break ranks, hurry away to our tents, roll up blankets, and bind them on top of the knapsacks, double up our ticks and arrange things properly; last of all giving the greenery a thorough dusting.  Presently the breakfast call sounds, when we walk up and make a fare to the cook and kettles and are helped to the healthiest of food and as much as any common man could wish to eat.  Garret Vreeland [of Danville - now called Great Meadows] is boss of the pots, and the boys have reason to congratulate themselves that they have so good a governor in this department.  At ten o'clock is guard mounting; from ten 'til twelve is either battalion or company drill; and again from from nearly two 'til sunset. 

"Saturdays the boys convert themselves  [into] washerwomen, when there is a great wash of soap and little rubbing, as such business does not agree with their feelings and digital extremities.  You can rest assured that I do as little as possible.  The evenings are spent in as many different ways almost as there are persons.  Writing, reading, telling stories, smoking the fragrant Havana [cigars] or the weed [tobacco] raised on the 'sacred soil,' broken and pressed into the clay pipe.  Roll call at eight P.M., taps  at half past.  All lights in the tents must then be extinguished, before we spread our blankets, preparatory to taking a journey to the land of dreams.  We soldiers have the advantage of you civilians in one thing, no time is spent undressing or dressing; down we lie at night, ready to jump at any time the long roll may beat, and fall in, if necessity requires it, to march three or four miles to strengthen our pickets.  I now must close my short letter for the present.  You soon shall hear from me again, and then I can give you a true account of our doings.  A. W. Smith, 7th Reg't. N.J. Vol., Co.E"

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards   

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