This is a preview to the chapter Chapter Six from the book A Beautiful Glittering Lie by J D R Hawkins.
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Most of the dwellings consisted of tents with chimneys, but Hiram and Bud, as well as a few other men, had cabins, which were made by slave labor from logs, earth, and cracker barrels. Makeshift stoves, created from bricks and fieldstone, occupied the centers. Bud and Hiram named their humble abode, “The Jameson Hotel,” after an elaborate hotel in Decatur, and hung a sign above the door with their cabin’s chosen name painted on it. Other comrades named their cabins “Home Sweet Home,” “The Madison Boarding House,” and the “Soljers Rest.”
Bud and Hiram shared their home with two others: Hugh Oakes and Hugh Douglas. Bud referred to them as the two Hughs, while Hiram took it one step further, calling them “Blue” Hugh Oakes, because of his sky-blue eyes, and “Orange” Hugh Douglas. They constantly asked him, “Hey, orange Hugh Douglas?” To which the young soldier would happily reply, “Why, yes, I am.” This sent the men flying into fits of laughter, since they were easily amused after months of confinement.
The soldiers spent their days drilling, constructing corduroy roads, and tending to what little livestock the camp contained. A few of the men acquired pets, including dogs, a goat, and a few chickens. Those who were fortunate enough to secure Confederate currency used their hard-earned cash on overpriced luxuries provided by sutlers’ row, or “robbers’ row,” as they referred to it.
Out of sheer boredom, some infantrymen played practical jokes on their comrades. One such fellow, Enoch Campbell, whom Bud and Hiram met upon their arrival into the army, was appointed barber. For his own entertainment, Enoch frequently shaved half of his patrons’ faces before walking off to leave the other half unshaven. A few of the younger, more irresponsible men planted gunpowder near their messmates’ bedrolls, finding great fun in exploding it while their friends lay sleeping, until they were severely reprimanded by their superiors. Some unruly soldiers were disciplined for their disruptive behavior by spending time in the “bullpen,” or guardhouse, and given just bread and water to sustain on. Other offenders were paraded around camp to the tunes of “Yankee Doodle” and “Rough’s March,” wearing only barrels, with signs around their necks that read “liar” and “thief.” Several were ordered to carry out extra sentry duty, or were refused their pay, although the Confederacy had yet to compensate any of its defenders.
Deserters were fitted with a ball and chain around their ankles, and a few were tied to rails which, to Hiram, resembled Christ’s crucifixion. The most degrading discipline for wrongdoing was a shaved head. Because of cold weather and the length of time it took to grow back, lack of hair was a humiliating, long-term form of punishment. A group of the rowdier soldiers played cards, gambled, or drank, but their behavior was frowned upon, although only a small number of them were whipped or branded as punishment.
The 4th Alabama’s commanding officers had either returned or resigned. Captain Tracy had been transferred and promoted in August. Major Scott, a typical old Southern gentleman, returned home to recuperate, and was replaced by Captain Bowles. Lawrence Scruggs was appointed captain of the North Alabamians.
The war started to revive. Robert E. Lee had been defeated at Cheat Mountain, but the Rebels came out victorious at Balls Bluff. Two more states joined the Confederacy—Missouri and Kentucky. By March, Johnston moved his army to the Rappahannock River. The Alabamians were anxious for a fight.
Hiram offered his writing services to his closest comrades, and he frequently transcribed dictation that amused him.
For Blue Hugh’s request, he wrote:
May those Northern fanatics who abuse their Southern neighbors,
Approach near enough to feel the point of our sabers;
May they come near enough to hear the click of a trigger,
And learn that a white man is better than a nigger.
He tried keeping a daily journal, but soon ran out of ink because the pokeberries and oak balls had all disappeared beneath the snow. It was painful as well, for each time he wrote, he thought back to young George Anderson, who had met his fate on the battlefield at Manassas. The recollection saddened him, in that the young soldier reminded him of his own son, David, not so much in appearance, but in age. He wondered about his own family’s well-being and missed them dreadfully at Christmastime. At least some of the men received packages from home to share with their comrades, with delicacies included, such as brandied cherries. All were given a special indulgence, eggnog made from the officers’ whiskey.
In early spring, some officers and reenlisted men were sent home for sixty days to secure recruits. By March, they had returned, and the regiment was once again replete of its losses. Meanwhile, some of the remaining Alabamians suffered from another epidemic, yellow jaundice, for which the common treatment was enemas.
The 4th Alabama received word that Stonewall Jackson had attacked Union forces in the Shenandoah Valley, forcing the Yankees to rush back to Washington and defend the city from a possible Confederate attack. They also learned that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men were on the move in Tennessee, and great concern arose over the possible invasion of Alabama by Union troops. A significant battle had taken place at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, with triumphant Union troops seizing control of the Missouri River. And at the mouth of the James River, the CSS Virginia, the first of its kind, called an “ironclad,” met its equal with the Union’s ironclad, the USS Monitor. Both ships fired upon each other throughout the day of March 9, but neither was victorious. The Virginia was unable to penetrate and destroy the Union blockade.
General Johnston relocated the 4th Alabama to join with the main army south of the Rappahannock and moved it in the direction of Richmond. In early March, he learned that McClellan was encroaching, so he hastily transferred his troops from Centreville, leaving behind half-cooked food and property belonging to the Confederate army. He moved his men south of the Rappahannock, but not before leaving Quaker guns behind in empty earthworks to deter his rival. The “guns” were actually logs that had been cut and painted to resemble cannon snouts.
With the advent of April, the Rebels were informed that McClellan was gathering his Union troops in preparation for a march on Richmond, and they knew it wouldn’t be long before they were called upon for defense. It was just a matter of time.
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