Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Agony of Marching

Captain John William De Forest could certainly turn a phrase, and he skillfully used his writing talent to document the activities of his regiment, the 12th Connecticut Infantry, in Louisiana and later in Virginia. In 1946, James H. Croushore edited De Forest’s journal and some of his postwar articles in A Volunteer’s Adventures: A Union Captain’s Record Of The Civil War. The following sample is taken from an article about the Louisiana Teche campaign that was first published in 1868:

“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.

It was curious to note how cheerful everyone became if cannon in front told of the proximity of the enemy. We were ready to fight the bloodiest of combats rather than march a mile further. We filed into line of battle delighted, and then resumed our pursuit heartsick” (pp. 92-93).

No comments:

Post a Comment