An icy departure

In the winter of 1863, Civil War combatants in the East — among them my ancestor Arthur Bull and his 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment — remained in winter camp and resumed battle in the spring. Not so in 1864.

Wounded at Savage Station, Va. (1862).
Wounded at Savage Station, Va. (1862). In late Dec. 1864, my ancestor’s 6th NYHA travelled  overnight to Washington, D.C., in freezing weather on open rail cars like these. Image: Library of Congress.

The Union Army was waging a siege at Petersburg, Va., that would not stop for the weather. So in late December 1864, Union troops not needed in the Shenandoah Valley, including the 6th NYHA, were transferred south. My great, great grandfather’s fellow artillerists described the icy departure.

In his journal Sgt. William Thistleton, of 6th NYHA Co. I, wrote about leaving Winchester..

Dec. 20th Received orders to pack up and be ready to move. Dec. 21st left Winchester 9 a.m. en-route for Washington. rained, hailed and snowed very bad marching. arrived at Stephenson station were packed on open air platform cars and at 1 p.m. started off. many of the men were badly frozen during the night.

On 23 Dec. 1864, after they arrived in Washington, D.C., Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds, of 6th NYHA Co. M, wrote a brief letter to his wife.

Last Wednesday we were ordered to strike tents and report at Washington. We took the cars, after marching five miles from Winchester, and arrived here yesterday morning…

The winter trip from the Valley to the capital was difficult for the Union troops, Pvt. Reynolds wrote.

One thing I can say that I never knew what it was to suffer until the last five days. It has been cold winter weather for a few days past. When we left Winchester we were put into a few platform cars and crowded so that we could hardly sit down and had to stay on them from noon until the next morning exposed to storm and cold.

Reading their accounts, I wondered about my ancestor.  Arthur told doctors years later that he became ill again around 10 Nov. 1864. Did he have to make this trip while in ill health? Were there perhaps covered cars for the infirm?

Or could my great, great, grandfather — recalling events from decades before — have been mistaken about the exact date? These questions will remain unless I find answers in further research.

However, existing evidence reveals that conditions grew worse for Arthur’s regiment after they boarded a steamer in the frigid waters near the harbor at Alexandria, Va.

More on their journey south in the next post.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

 

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