Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 19, 1863: 31st NJ Regt. & "The Mud March"

In January 1863, the 31st New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment was finally taken off detached duty as road and fort builders. The Regiment was placed in the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.  On January 19, the 31st NJ, commanded by Colonel Alexander Berthoud, of Washington, was ordered to participate in its first combat campaign as part of General Gabriel R. Paul's 3rd Brigade.

The three-day campaign was soon nicknamed "The Mud March" by the soldiers.  Colonel Berthoud was an attorney and politician who had very little taste for military activities, such as drilling and preparing for field duty, so his men were unprepared for the campaign.

William H. H. Warman, of Oxford Township [now White Township], enlisted in Company I [The Belvidere Company] in September 1862 at 22 years of age.  Warman reported on the campaign for The Belvidere Intelligencer.  Warman reported, "The recent march began on the 19th instant, Tuesday a.m.  We packed up and by 12 p.m. were ready and on the way, as we presumed to battle with the rebel foes of our country, on the other side of the Rappahannock.  The roads were good, but the sky o'er spread with portentous looking clouds.  We went on till night, and rain set in; halting about 9 p.m. on a pine and cedar woods near Falmouth, and just beyond the US Military R.R. running from Aquia Creek Landing to Falmouth.  Tents were hurriedly pitched amid the storm, woods set ablaze with innumerable campfires, clothing somewhat dried, a cold supper of 'hardess' [hardtack] and boiled fresh beef eaten, then retirement found in the low, cheerless damp tents.  By midnight, all was quiet, but stillness seemed like death's seed time.  Notwithstanding the dampness all around, we rose in rain feeling much refreshed by 'Nature's calm restorer.'
"Wednesday, 8 a.m., the long roll was beaten, and the startling orders came again. 'Up boys, strike tents, we are off.'  Soon all was bustle; tents struck, wrung out, rolled up, tied to the knapsack (wet too), haversack containing the remainder of three days rations, canteen filled with dirty water - all wet, thrown around the neck; tent, blanket, and knapsack heavy with moisture strapped to the back, we fell in line and marched off through mud of the consistency of putty, and ankle deep.  Northwestward towards the 'rebs,' but ere  night approached we 'filed left,' entered a thick, undisturbed forest of pines, and pitched tents on the ground saturated with water.  Night shut around us again, with dire threatenings of a severe rain, and it came; every few rods a bright flame went up and laid against the black sky. The small branches of the pine, with a rubber blanket overspread, was sufficiently abundant for a bed.  The scene was brilliant, but oh the background how dark! Shiverings, coughs, and whistlings meant to be joyous, and long drawn sighs, which followed close upon a joke or laugh, yet with all but few complaints were heard.  The brave fellows crept into their blankets to sleep, and by ten, all again was quiet, but the war reaper seemed to be sharpening his sickle.
"Thursday dawned with lowering clouds again, shutting out the sun's genial rays as if to prolong the dreary night.  Owing to the rain and the impassable condition of the roads for teams and provisions, &c., we were permitted to remain in the woods all Thursday.  This fact being learned by the reb's pickets across the river, privileged them to conspicuously post up the following eyre taunting sentence, 'Burnside Stuck In The Mud.'
"Friday, at the early reveille, up we got, not though with elastic spring of young life, but the labored movements of age - muscles sore, joints stiff, and a momentary feeling, 'this is tough,' but soon the soldier spirit was awakened, and to work we went again, stirring up the fires, untying our tin cups, making coffee with water from our canteens, filled the night before, getting our 'hard tack' and salt pork, breakfast standing, in haste as the Lord's Passover was eaten (would that were a like commemorative of deliverance, but the time is not yet); we folded up our tents like Arabs, and silently stole away.  Not, though, towards the enemy, but back to our old encampment.  No music, and upon the earth the tread, tread, tread of many thousand feet was heard, for the whole grand army was agitated, and the major part of it on the march..."
George W. S. Norton, of Belvidere, enlisted in Company I in September 1862 at 25 years of age.  Norton had a similar description of "The Mud March" when he wrote to F. P. Sellers at The Belvidere Intelligencer. Norton added to Warman's report, "The mud had gotten so deep that further progress was put to a stop, for at every turn, a wagon or caisson was seen sticking fast, and horses and mules up to their bellies in the mud.  In every gully, batteries, caissons, supply wagons, ambulances, &c. were up to their axles in the mud.  In one place, as I passed, I noticed 24 horses being hooked to a small piece of artillery, and then it could not be moved."

On January 21, General Joseph Hooker replaced General Abrose Burnside as the commander of the Army of the Potomac.
Copyright 1997-2013: Jay C. Richards

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