What Made a Veteran?

The men were becoming veteran soldiers rapidly, and began to understand their work; they were no longer found burdening themselves with useless articles; they ceased to brood over the possible or probable results of the war, its length and its hardships; they had acquired the habit of implicit obedience to superior officers; they had learned how to make a pound of meat and bread go a long way by eating at stated times; they had become adepts in the art of foraging and they knew how to practice self-denial as a virtue when it had become in fact a necessity; they had learned too a hundred little ways of adding to their comfort; for instance, taking off their shoes on a level stretch of sandy road, of bathing their feet in every running brook, of carrying leaves in their hats as protection against the sun, or lying stretched out at full length at every halt instead of sitting down; indeed, the devices to make the best of each opportunity filled every spare crack and crevice of the soldier's brain, and were too numerous to record. They were little things, it is true, but in the aggregate they amounted to much and were such as marked the difference in a personal combat between the strong unskilled man and the trained athlete.

When a soldier had learned how to take care of himself in this manner he rarely broke down, never grumbled, never straggled unless he had a positive cause, and with enough to eat was bound to answer to his name at the evening tattoo.

In this march the Sibley tents - those abominations, those breeders of disease - were forever discarded, and the troops either bivouacked in the woods or strung themselves out along the road, anywhere in fact where there was a rail fence and water. Many of us carried a little thin cotton tent, sufficient to shelter four men from rain, miniature affairs about the size of a sheet, that only weighed about two pounds, and buttoning together answered every purpose. This was a Yankee invention, our Government not issuing them, but nearly every soldier had one, confiscated from our obliging friends across the way, upon whose patent we infringed without the slightest compunction.

The above section is a good mention of shelter tents.

For over a week the column tramped steadily along, passing Kelly's Ford, where the old familiar scream of the Yankee shells greeted our ears. It was only a retiring battery, which limbered up before any reply could be dispatched. A whole day's rest was vouchsafed us at Stevensburg, which place in commerce and population consisted of only one house. On the twenty-third the division halted at Brandy Station, and marched to the edge of Rappahannock run, across which could be seen the long line of Yankee infantry marching off, while their artillery crowned the hills ready to pour a rain of iron upon any who should attempt to advance.

In the evening, as the brigade was resting on the ground, there came one of those sudden violent thunder-storms so common during a hot mid-summer term. The sky grew dark, the air became heavy, the wind died away and then the tornado burst in all its fury.

The men were strongly averse to getting their clothes wet, and wishing at the same time to take a shower-bath fresh from the sky itself, they disrobed speedily. Placing their clothes under oilcloths, they sat or danced around with as much glee as if the storm had been gotten up for their benefit, and much in the same way that Adam must have done. It was rather an amusing spectacle, and if our well-dressed enemy had burst among us with a sudden flank attack, they would probably have run in very amazement, thinking a world of bedlamites had broken loose, or that the storm had rained down beings from another world who were performing weird and mystic rites. The clouds emptied themselves at the right time, for it had been weeks since the men had bathed, and this great shower-bath of Nature's was therefore as kindly in its offices as it was refreshing.

After the rain had washed men and earth, had bathed the trees and grass until they glistened, had started a hundred rivulets flowing on a long journey ocean-ward, had laid and exorcised for a time the demon Dust, had revived and furbished up all Nature, the clouds rolled back, the sun came out and dried the bodies of our dripping warriors, and that night the division bivouacked at Waterloo.

Article supplied by

Peter Hasselby, 19th Indiana

This article is from the time of the Second Battle of Manassas and the writer had just been returned to the ranks after being exchanged - he'd been captured at "Fraziers Farm" (as he calls it) during the Seven Days Battles and had been imprisoned at Fort Warren I Boston harbour.

The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, October 2000