After an uneventful winter on the Potomac front the Confederates abruptly pulled back to the line of the Rappahannock on March 9, which completely unhinged McClellan’s strategy of landing at Urbanna to outflank them. Blackford describes the move, which makes it clear that the Confederates had much to learn about moving an army.
His company was out on picket and had to join the column after dark. His account of the march is Blackford at his descriptive best, including his sour assessment of the performance of his superior officers.
We marched 10 miles by 3 in the morning, when we halted almost broken down under our heavy loads, and without fire or supper (I had had no dinner) I laid down to sleep. We were en route again at day break Monday no time being given to cook breakfast, because they said the enemy’s cavalry was close behind, and away we went thro’ a pouring rain and deep mud to a bivouac beyond Cedar Run, where we had some fresh beef, but no bread or salt. This was a terrible day, and I saw much suffering among the men from hunger & fatigue; many would lie down by the roadside to die as they affirmed, and really they looked like it. Of course we anticipated a rest until morning, but judge of our chagrin when the long rolls beat at 11½ o’clock and by midnight the whole division was en route.
Owing to the darkness, and to our ignorance of the roads day found us not more than 3 miles from our Bivouac of the previous night. We having been all the time on our feet, stumbling over creeks & bushes. It was very cold but no fires could be made, as we were not long enough in one place to kindle them. The column was not halted until 5 o’clock in the evening, at which time the men worn out with fatigue, cold & hunger could not be urged forward any further by their officers. My men had nothing to eat from Sunday morning to Monday evening except a few morsels which some of them found at noon Monday. Tuesday evening the commissary wagons were sent for and a ration of hard crackers and salt meat was served out. I thought that I had never eaten anything so good. I can’t describe my indignation when I think of the abominable mismanagement & selfishness of our officers, who being mounted go ahead and obtain their meals regularly and never once bestow a thought upon the starving troops behind. Our commissary stores were sent 2 days march ahead, tho’ they well knew that our ration was about exhausted before we set out from camp.
Wednesday morning we marched to the Rappahannock River and Bivouacked on its southern bank until Sunday the 10th inst. The men encamped in a swampy meadow covered with large stones and it rained furiously for two days every man of us wet to the skin, and were not able to lie down or keep up our fire. About 27,000 men were encamped around us – not a tent being among them except for the field officers. Still I hardly heard a murmur in my company, tho’ many of them suffered awfully. The 1st Maryland was next to us not more than 50 yards, but most of my acquaintances & friends were absent on furlough. Of all the trials to which we are subject, being forced to be inactive during rainy weather is the greatest. I felt as it if I would have given its weight in silver for a cup of coffee, but there was not a grain in our division so I was fain to content myself with crackers & meat.
Johnston kept moving, however, continuing south.
Monday the 17th we came as far as Brandy Station, Wednesday to Culpeper C.H. – only 3 miles. Here 3 Divisions marched and occupied the whole day passing thro’ the village. Each Regt. went thro’ in two ranks, with colors flying and bands playing and consequently we were forced to Bivouac just beyond the village. Thursday we marched 13 miles to Rapidan River thro’ the most beautiful country I ever saw – dotted everywhere with handsome country houses. The scene around Rapidan Station where we halted was the most lovely that we saw. My men were perfectly charmed & many expressed their intention of coming there to live when the “wars are over.”
Friday we marched to our present Bivouac 6 miles from Orange C.H. near the Rapidan River where we now are lying – totally ignorant of what our final destination will be.
It was to be Yorktown, where McClellan was assembling a vast host for a push on Richmond.
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