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Date Posted: 20:59:10 11/30/06 Thu
Author: Rick
Subject: Re: Campaigning in Louisiana
In reply to: Fred Baker 's message, "Campaigning in Louisiana" on 11:34:48 11/30/06 Thu

>This same material will be added to the main event
>page soon as I feel that it should almost be "required
>reading" for folks anticipating the event.
>I want to thank Geoff Lehmann for recommending this
>work as well as for providing me with a copy of the
>chapter, from which I have taken a number of excerpts.
> It is taken from the chapter entitled “Forced
>Marches” from Captain William DeForest’s fine
>narrative. DeForest, a line officer in Company D,
>12th Connecticut Infantry, penned these memories from
>his time in Louisiana during the spring and summer of
>1863. Though a year before the Red River Campaign was
>fought, DeForest’s observations are universal in
>nature and give great insight into the suffering of
>the men.
>This, as well as accounts such as "A Pot of Hominy"
>(also posted on this board, courtesy of Terre Lawson
>and Vicki Betts), provide as good or better background
>material as any regimental history can. Knowing what
>campaigning was like offers far more insight than a
>bland list of points of engagements, etc, at least in
>my opinion.
>A Volunteer’s Adventures:
>A Union Captain’s Record of the Civil War
>By John William DeForest
>“Oh, the horrors of marching on blistered feet! It is
>an incessant bastinado applied by one’s own self, from
>morning to night. I do not mean a single blister, as
>big as a pea, but a series of blisters, each as large
>as a dollar, or, to judge by one’s sensations, as
>large as a cartwheel. I have had them one under the
>other, on the heel, behind the heel, on the ball of
>the foot, on every toe, a network, a labyrinth, an
>archipelago of agony. Heat, hunger, thirst, and
>fatigue are nothing compared with this torment. When
>you stand, you seem to be on red-hot iron plates; when
>you walk, you make grimaces at every step. In the
>morning the whole regiment starts limping, and by noon
>the best soldiers become nearly mutinous with
>suffering. They snarl and swear at each other; they
>curse the general for ordering such marching; they
>curse the enemy for running away instead of fighting;
>they fling themselves down in the dust, refusing to
>move a step further. Fevered with fatigue and pain,
>they are actually not themselves. Meantime, the
>company officers, as sore-footed as anyone, must run
>about from straggler to straggler, coaxing, arguing,
>ordering, and perhaps, using the flat of the sabre.
>Instead of marching in front of my company, I followed
>immediately in the rear, so that I could see and at
>once pounce upon everyone who fell out…”
>“When we bivouacked at night came the severest trial.
>Our regiment was on the left of the brigade, and as we
>always slept in line of battle, this threw us a half
>mile from the bayou, along which we marched, and which
>was our only source of water. It was necessary to
>order a squad of the blistered and bloody-footed men
>to bring water for the company’s coffee. The first
>sergeant takes out his books and reads off the fatigue
>detail: ‘Corporal Smith, Privates Brown, Jones,
>Robinson, and Brown second, fall in with canteens to
>get water.’
>Now ensues a piteous groaning, pleading, and showing
>of bloody heels or blistered soles, on the part of the
>most fagged or least manly of the victims of rotation
>in labor. The first sergeant feels that he has no
>discretion in the matter, and he knows, moreover, that
>the other men are fully as incapable of marching as
>these. He stands firm on his detail, and the
>opposition grumblingly yields. Slowly and sadly
>Messrs. Brown, Jones, Robinson, and Brown second take
>up the canteens of the company, each backing six or
>eight, and limp away to the river, returning, an hour
>later, wet, muddy, dragged out, and savage.
>Somewhat similar scenes happened on the march. Aides
>passed down the length of the trailing column with the
>order, ‘Water half a mile in front; details will be
>sent forward with canteens.’ Under these
>circumstances, roguish soldiers would sometimes use
>the chance to forage, falling in an hour later with a
>load of chickens as well as of fluid.
>Having tried various alleviations for the hardships of
>marching, without much benefit, I conclude that man
>was not made to foot it at the rate of thirty miles a
>day. Soaping the inside of the stockings does some
>good, by diminishing the friction and, as a
>consequence, the blistering. It is also advisable to
>wash the feet before starting, always providing you
>have sufficient time and water. Beware of washing
>them at night; it cracks the heated skin and increases
>the misery. Beware, too, of trying to march on the
>strength of whiskey; you go better for a few minutes,
>and then you are worse off than ever. Opium is far
>superior as a temporary tonic, if I may judge by a
>single day’s experience. I started out sick, took
>four grains of opium, marched better and better every
>hour, and at the end of twenty-two miles came in as
>fresh as a lark. [Note- we are working on an opium
>issuance at Banks’ Grand Retreat. There’s a few forms
>to be filled out but that shouldn’t cause us too much
>It must be understood by the non-military reader that
>company officers of infantry are not permitted to
>mount horses, whether by borrowing or stealing, but
>must foot it alongside of their men, for the double
>purpose of keeping them in good order and of settle
>them an example of hardihood. On this march, General
>Banks impounded, at a certain point on the road, more
>than a dozen infantry officers who were found astride
>of animals, causing each to rejoin his command as it
>passed, placing some under arrest, and summarily
>dismissing one from the service. They looked
>exceedingly crestfallen as they stood there, cooped up
>in a barnyard under charge of the provost guard. The
>passing soldiers grinned at them, hooted a little, and
>marched on, much cheered by the spectacle.
>If it had not been for the counter irritant of
>blistered feet, we should have heard a mutinous deal
>of grumbling on account of thirst. A man strapped up
>as a soldier is, and weighted with forty rounds of
>ammunition, knapsack, three days’ rations, canteen
>containing three pints, and rifle, perspires
>profusely. I have seen the sweat standing on the
>woolly fibres of their flannel sacks like dew. To
>supply this waste of moisture they pour down the warm
>water of their canteens, and are soon begging for
>leave to fall out of the ranks in search of incredibly
>situated springs and rivulets. It will not do to
>accede to the request, for if one man goes, all have a
>right to go, and, moreover, the absence would probably
>terminate in a course of foraging or pillaging.
>Mindful of his duty and the orders of his superiors,
>the captain grimly responds, ‘Keep your place, sir,’
>and trudges sufferingly on, cursing inwardly the heat,
>the dust, the pace and, perhaps, the orders. He knows
>that if his fellows are caught a miles to the rear
>wringing the necks of chickens, he may be sent after
>them; and, in view of his blisters and the fifteen
>miles already marched and the indefinite miles yet to
>go, he has no fancy for such an expedition…”
>“In describing the miseries of marching, I must not
>forget the dust. The movement of so many thousands of
>feet throws up such dense and prodigious clouds that
>one who has not witnessed the phenomenon will find it
>difficult to imagine in all its vastness and nuisance.
> The officers dodge from side to side of the road to
>escape the pulverous suffocation; and the men, bound
>to their fours, choke desperately along in the midst
>of it. The faces become grimed out of all human
>semblance; the eyelashes are loaded, the hair
>discolored, and the uniform turns to the color of the
>earth. It frequently happens that you cannot see the
>length of your regiment, and it has occurred to me
>that I have been unable to see the length of my own
>company of perhaps twenty files. Of course, this
>annoyance varies greatly in magnitude, according to
>the nature of the earth.
>Rain is good or bad, according to circumstances. In
>hot weather it cools the skin, invigorates the
>muscles, and is a positive comfort, except in so far
>as it spoils the footing. On the second day of this
>advance we had a pelting shower, which soaked
>everybody, including General Banks- which last
>circumstance was a source of unmixed satisfaction to
>the soldiers. Enlisted men like to see officers bear
>their share of the troubles of war; and, moreover, our
>fellows held the general responsible for the tearing
>speed at which we were going. But rain, although
>pleasant to the skin in warm weather, will reach the
>earth and make puddles; and to infantry in march a
>puddle in the road is a greater nuisance than people
>in carriages would imagine. No man, however wet he
>may be, wants to step into it; he crowds his next
>comrade, and so gets into a growling bout; or he hangs
>back, and so checks the succeeding files. A large
>puddle always produces a tailing-off of the regiment,
>which must be made up presently by double-quicking,
>much to the fatigue and wrath of the rearmost. Oh,
>miserable left of the column! how many times a day it
>has to run in order to catch up with the right! and
>how heartily it hates the right in consequence! Put a
>regiment or a brigade ‘left in front,’ and see how it
>will go. The men who usually march in the rear are
>now in the lead, and they are sure to give the fellows
>at the other end of the line a race. This opening out
>of the column of march is a constant evil, and one
>which officers soon learn to struggle against with
>incessant watchfulness. I believe that I used to
>shout, ‘Close up, men,’ at least a hundred times a
>day, in every conceivable tone of authority,
>impatience, and entreaty.
>But are there no comforts, no pleasures, in forced
>marching? Just one: stopping it. Yes, compared with
>the incessant anguish of going, there was a keen
>luxury in the act of throwing one’s self at full
>length and remaining motionless. It was a beast’s
>heaven; but it was better than a beast’s hell-
>insupportable fatigue and pain. The march done, the
>fevered feet bare to the evening breeze, the aching
>limbs outstretched, the head laid on the blanket roll
>which had been such a burden through the day, the pipe
>in mouth, nature revived a little and found the life
>retained some sweetness. Delicious dreams, too-
>dreams, wonderfully distinct and consecutive- made
>slumber a conscious pleasure. All night I was at home
>surrounded by loving faces. No visions of war or
>troubles; no calling up of the sufferings of the day,
>nor anticipation of those on the morrow; nothing but
>home, peace, and friends. I do not know why this
>should be, but I have always found it so when quite
>worn out with fatigue, and I have heard others say
>that it was their experience.
>I have already said that we were en bivouac. Shelter
>tents were as yet unknown in the Department of the
>Gulf, and our own wall tents, as well as every other
>article of not absolutely essential baggage, had been
>left at Brashear City. For cover, our servants made
>hasty wigwams or lean-tos of rails, over which we
>threw our rubber blankets to keep out of the ‘heft’ of
>the showers. If it rained we sat up with our
>overcoats over our heads, or perhaps slept through it
>without minding. Not until August, more than three
>months later, did we again enjoy the shelter of a
>tent; and during that time we had only two brief
>opportunities for providing ourselves with board
>shanties. Meantime, we became as dirty and ragged as
>beggars, and eventually as lousy...”
>“On the arrival of the regiment it had been placed on
>picket, two miles north of the town; and when, next
>day, an order came to relieve it, men and officers
>begged to be allowed to remain undisturbed. Watching
>and the chance of fighting were trifles compared with
>even two miles of marching on those unhealed blisters.
> The petition was granted at the Twelfth continued its
>picket duty, looking contentedly out over the great
>bare plain which led northward. No one would have
>wondered at our choice who had seen the plight in
>which the regiment reached this blessed bivouac.
>Seventy-five men and officers dragged along with the
>colors, while four hundred others lay gasping by the
>roadside for miles rearward, fagged nigh unto death
>with speed and the scorching rays of the Louisiana
>sun. In the whole history of the Twelfth, before and
>after, there never was such another falling out- not
>even when it was following Early up the Shenandoah,
>under cavalry Sheridan. The truth is that Banks was
>the most merciless marcher of men that I ever knew…”
>“Longer and more rapid forced marches than this of
>ours have been made, but I am glad that I was not
>called upon to assist at the performance. We should
>not have suffered so much as we did, had it not been
>for the heat, which not only wore our our muscular
>forces, but greatly increased the blistering of our
>Perhaps it is worth while to mention that, after two
>or three days of repose, we were excessively proud of
>our thirty-four miles in a day, and were ready to
>march with any brigade in the army for a wager.”

That was a very good read. I hope that folks will look at the info that I posted on the AC. It might not prevent blisters, but it will help reduce their severity.

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