Building winter quarters

During November 1864, the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s regiment — prepared to set up winter quarters near Winchester in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

The big battles were over, but Confederate guerillas like Mosby’s raiders were still active and a portion of the Union Army needed to remain in the Valley.

Building Winter Quarters
Building winter quarters (1861-1865). In November 1864 the 6th NY Heavy Artillery, my ancestor Arthur Bull’s regiment, began building winter quarters in the Shenandoah Valley. Photo: Library of Congress

In his journal my ancestor’s fellow soldier Sgt. William Thistleton, of 6th NYHA Co. I, wrote about the building of winter quarters as well as the regiment’s military duties.

Oct. 27th drew new tents blankets and clothing which were greatly needed as the weather was growing quite cold.

Nov. 1st marched to Winchester encamped on the northeast side of the town and began to build winter quarters wood pretty scarce but plenty of Bricks some of the mens [sic] quarters are very cosy [sic] with brick floor and plank bunks and plenty of them had mahogany or maple doors plenty of unoccupied dwellings in town from which they procured boards &ec. [sic]

The duty here was very hard on both men and officers on picket every other day about the 20th drills were inaugurated about ten men in each company to drill the rest being on picket or forage duty regimental and dress parade every alternate day.

In a Nov. 20 letter to his wife from Winchester, Va., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds of 6th NYHA Co. M — who had been in the army only a couple of months — described a more leisurely experience of camp life.

Well we had beef steak with gravy boiled potatoes and bread and a plenty of it…and have been pretty busy in fixing up our quarters. We have a shanty 7 by 10 ft. made of boards and covered overhead with our tent cloths. We have [a] fire place to warm us and cook by in our tent.

Our duty is to guard the horses and mules at night and to see that they do not get loose and go away. We divide the night into three tours of three hours each and go out of our tent and around and among them every ten minutes…This is all I have to do 3 hours in twenty four with the exception of going out into the country some three miles with a team once in three or four days after a load of rails for wood.

In the same letter, Pvt. Reynolds also wrote this about the Confederate forces and the prospects of renewed fighting.

One thing is certain the rebel army cannot winter in this part of the valley. It has been stripped almost entirely of all forage and eatables.

Mosby with about 500 men hangs about and gobbles up a few of our men now and then. I don’t expect any fighting this winter. However I may be disappointed. I hope I shall be spared to return to you.

How did my ancestor Arthur Bull, of 6th NYHA Co. L, pass his time in the Valley 150 years ago? Probably in much the same manner as his fellow Union soldiers — building winter quarters, doing guard duty, drilling and parading, and foraging for food.

And all the while recuperating from earlier battles, anticipating confrontations to come and wondering whether he would survive to return to his home and family.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.


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