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A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/In winter quarters

< A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry

In Winter Quarters

So far as we were concerned, the battle of Antietam ended active campaigning for the winter of 1862. During the next two months we moved about between Harpers Ferry and the mouth of Antietam Creek, doing occasional guard duty, and for the most part passing the time uneventfully. On October 1 President Lincoln visited our camp at Maryland Heights. It seemed to me that he did full justice to his reputation for homeliness. He came entirely unannounced, but we hurriedly turned out the Regiment and presented arms. For a time, on account of their greenness, the new regiments in camp furnished a source of amusement. Most of them had received large bounties on enlistment, and the old soldiers taunted them as bounty-bought; they were told that the Government could have secured mules much cheaper.

On November 13 came my commission as First Lieutenant of Company E. This did not materially change my position, for I had been in command of a company ever since the battle of Antietam. On November 17 we went into winter camp at Fairfax Station, but sometime in January removed to Stafford Court House. In the mean time McClellan had been finally removed from the command of the Army of the Potomac; and Burnside, who had followed him, had in his turn, been relieved after the battle of Fredericksburg, by General Joe Hooker.

Hooker was evidently determined to build up a thoroughly efficient army, and spent the winter in constant efforts toward improving the condition and effectiveness of his troops. Inspections became extremely rigid; they extended not only to arms and equipment, but to camp and garrison equipage, policing, and sanitation. Regiments reaching the highest standard for general efficiency and appearance were awarded leaves of absence for two officers at a time for fifteen days each, and furloughs for two men at a time, in each company, for the same period. Regiments that at first were not up to standard, were in the course of the winter given their furloughs as they attained efficiency.

Our Regiment was one of the eleven in the entire army which, when the first inspection was made, proved to be in the highest degree of efficiency. Leaves of absence and furloughs commenced at once, and before spring all who cared to go had a chance to visit their homes. The distance to Wisconsin was too great to make it profitable for me to return; so I visited a sister in New York State, taking advantage of this opportunity to see the sights of New York City and Washington.

During the winter the army was gradually strengthened by the return of convalescents. Thus our Regiment was able by spring once more to muster about 400 muskets. Many of the permanently disabled officers were transferred to the invalid corps, and those who were sick were discharged, thus giving way to more vigorous and able-bodied men. The army was now in the best condition that it had ever been in, and we all looked forward to a successful campaign.