Thoughts on Winter Weather

by Steve Meserve on February 16, 2008 · 0 comments

Early this week, the East Coast had a bad spell of winter weather to contend with, one of the few times we have done so this winter. As I was driving home Tuesday afternoon, I didn’t realize I was one of the lucky ones. My 14-mile commute only took a little more than an hour. I heard later of people driving on the Beltway and Interstate 66 who spent as long as six hours going 20 miles. For all my muttering and complaining while dealing with the ice and a highway full of idiots, I was at least making the trip warm and dry inside my car.

When I finally got home, I could not help but think of the Civil War soldiers who did not have the advantage of an enclosed car with a heater to deal with such weather. I remembered something George Neese, a gunner in Chew’s Battery of horse artillery, said about one night in the winter of 1862, when his tent was not much shelter in a storm:

December 17—Rained all last night and today. A cold freezing wind blew from the north all night and froze the rain into a slippery sheet of ice nearly as fast as it fell. I got wet from top and bottom in bed, the torrents of rain that fell causing the water to run under me, which rendered my bed so uncomfortable and disagreeable that I had to leave it and seek the comforts of a camp-fire long before day.

We often think of the armies going into winter quarters and building cozy little shebangs to keep out the worst of the elements. The soldiers of the infantry and field artillery may have had that luxury; but the cavalry rarely did. Winter, for them, was a time of picketing and raiding, of cold nights and long hours in the saddle, no matter what the weather. Of course, soldiers of all branches of the service had to do their time on the picket lines around their camps, standing for hours at a time in cold winds, rain, snow, or whatever else Nature might have in store for them. It is little wonder hospitals were filled with the sick and dying every winter.

The next time you are sitting in your warm living room watching snow or sleet fall outside and dreading having to shovel the driveway, take a moment or two to imagine what it would be like if you had to spend the whole night outdoors in it with no more than a single blanket and a sheet of rubberized cloth to protect you against the elements.

I guess the point of this whole train of thought is to remind us all that the men and women who endured the American Civil War were more than statistics; more than grainy images on black and white photographs; and more than faceless names on thousands of tombstones. They were people who experienced cold, heat and pain the same way we do. The next time you endure bad weather or physical discomfort, spare them a thought or two; maybe try to imagine yourself in their position. It will give you a new perspective on the tragedy we call the Civil War.

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