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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

March 2016

Life in the Confederate Camp, March 1862

In A Scratch with the Rebels, a new recruit named Gus Smythe represents the Confederate experience. His father was the minister at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The well-to-do family had shipped young Gus off to college in Columbia in hopes of keeping him out of the war, but when the Confederacy initiated a draft in March 1862, Gus and most of his friends decided to enlist rather than wait.  He had first enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Alex Taylor, the father of one of his college friends, but in obedience to his parents' wishes, he immediately requested a transfer to Company A, 24th South Carolina Volunteer Regiment, Hagood's Brigade so that his older brother could keep an eye on him.
 
 By 21 March 1862, he was a soldier in fact as well as in title, and was beginning to learn what soldiering was really like. Although he was camped just a few miles from home, he suffered from homesickness. His frequent letters to his mother give us a good idea of what camp life was like for a new recruit. The following examples appear in A Scratch with the Rebels, Chapter 5:
 
"Here we are, safe and sound, tho' a little jaded by traveling & the labor of fixing up. We got all our truck down safely, & are now in a measure fixed up, tho' of course we do not feel settled. We were quite hungry aboard of the boat and had to open our haversacks. We are now on Goat's Island, but had to land on Cole's Island with our baggage, and then walk ¾ of a mile to the camp . . . there are too many sand-fleas and mosquitoes here for comfort."
 
   Despite the fact that he had his own slave, Monday, with him to do the cooking and washing up, Gus found less and less to like about soldiering. His letters to his mother tell of snakes and alligators, flies and ticks, "green, slimy water that promises malaria," and sand that was "everywhere, in eatables as well as everything else."
 
Gus also complained of the short rations provided every three days for his mess, which included his brother Adger, his Uncle Joe, and Monday: hard tack, which the men called "floating batteries," along with 1 ½ oz. sugar, 6 gills of rice, some hominy and salt, and a fair amount of tough beef. Nearly every letter he wrote was filled with requests to send him things that would make his life more comfortable: mosquito "fixin's" [presumably some sort of repellent], fishhooks, "a little bunch of orange blossoms to perfume my tent, and a bundle of candy to sweeten my temper," along with warm socks and another uniform coat.
 
His most unsoldierly request was for "a piece of homespun, or old table-cloth, or sheet, or anything in that line, that will do us for a tablecloth. The table is a little less that 2 yards long and about 3 ½ feet wide. It is very dirty however and unpleasant to eat off the boards fresh from contact with Monday's hat and our boots, etc." Apparently, no one told him to keep his feet off the table.
 
Nevertheless, even such callow recruits were a welcome solution to the short-handed army. The Confederacy was entering a new phase of the war, when the harsh realities of warfare required all citizens, from dirt farmer to aristocrat, to relinquish their idealism and fight for their own survival. Under such circumstances, even very young soldiers grew up quickly.
 

The "Camp Kettle" for January 25, 1862

"The Camp Kettle" was a four-page newspaper published with on-and-off regularity by members of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment, known as "The Roundheads" because of their Calvinist background and their alleged descent from Oliver Cromwell's own troops.
 
When they established the little paper, they had set out their purpose:
 
We have little room to spare, and none to waste in the "Camp Kettle," and shall briefly state that it is our intention to publish it as a daily, or weekly, or occasional paper, just as the exigencies of the service will permit. It is our intention to cook in it a "mess" of short paragraphs replete with useful information on a great many subjects, about which new recruits are supposed to be ignorant. We shall endeavor to make it a welcome visitor beside the campfire and in the quarters, a sort of familiar little friend that whispers kind words and friendly advice to inexperienced men concerning the new position they have assumed, and the new duties that follow. Everything relating to a soldier's duty, and camp life, from mounting guard, to cleaning a musket, will be fit ingredient for the "Kettle." Rules for preserving health and cooking rations will be in place, and all sorts of questions relating to a soldier's duty, and his wants, when respectfully asked in writing, over a responsible name, will find an answer in the next mess that is poured out of the "Kettle."
 
One hundred fifty years ago,the regiment was camped on the outskirts of Beaufort, SC, and they were finding that they had relatively little to do.  The conversation was of confrontation to come, not current skirmishes. Things were so peaceful, in fact, that family members were able to travel to Beaufort to visit their enlisted relatives. The Camp Kettle for one week in January carried this announcement:
 
Mr. James Moffat and Thos. J. McKee, of Lawrence couny, Pa., are here on a visit to their sons, who are members of company F, Capt. Cline, of the 100th (Roundhead) regiment. Our friends seem well pleased with their visit, and are out with the "boys" on picket duty. They "rough it" right well, and if an opportunity should "happen round any where loose," we don't doubt that they would "slip up" within "eye white" distance of the "secesh."
 

If you want to to learn more about the Roundheads, you might enjoy the free Kindle edition of A Scratch with the Rebels. And if you're really curious, you can get the original edition with all the pictures, maps, and footnotes, for just $5.00 plus shipping by visiting my website. That's an 80% price reduction from the publisher's rate.

A Romp through the Swamp

I'll be telling "Roundhead Stories" all this week in honor of the free days for A Scratch with the Rebels. The 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was not your typical Civil War unit.
 
In January, 1862, the Roundheads were stationed in and around Beaufort, SC, charged with guarding the perimeter of the island.  For the most part, they were bored with inactivity, but they had had one bright spot on New Year's Day, when they successfully captured the Coosaw River Ferry, which gave them access to a vital Confederate railroad line.  On the 15th, they were still re-telling that story.
 
General Isaac I. Stevens ordered Col. Leasure to take his men ten miles across the island from Beaufort to a spot where a rope ferry across the Coosaw River connected Port Royal Island to Pocotaligo, a station on the Charleston and Savannah Railroad.There they were to help storm the enemy fort on the mainland and then build a "bridge on boats" across the channel. This cover illustration is an early photograph of the Coosaw River crossing being guarded by three Roundheads.

The companies were split up. Companies E and H remained behind to protect Beaufort; B and C were sent ahead to Seabrook on the west side of the island to join the 79th New York; A, G, I, and M formed the storming party; F went ahead to relieve the 50th Pennsylvania at the crossroads; and D and K were charged with constructing the bridge. Several gunboats were on hand to fire on the batteries across from Seabrook and then transport the troops across the channel to seize the works and capture the munitions.
 
   Lieutenant William St. G. Elliott of the 79th New York commanded the troops who challenged the fort. His report indicated that he began to take his men across the marsh on flatboats at 8:00 A.M.; by 10:30 the rebels had abandoned the works. James McCaskey's company (Company C) participated in the embarkation but missed the action because Lt. Elliott determined that the Roundheads' presence was unnecessary and ordered them not to disembark. Although one Union soldier died and ten others were wounded in the first assault, the fighting was over before Company C could get off the boat 
 
The battle of Port Royal Ferry did not last long; the enemy retreated without firing a shot. The next day there was only a small exchange of gunfire. Col. Leasure was happy to report, "The Roundheads were first into the fort, and our flag first floated over the ramparts of the first stronghold on the mainland of South Carolina captured from the enemy . . . We are all safe . . . My men behaved nobly . . . When we returned to the fort to cross the Ferry, one of the marines who was standing there, remarked we were the coolest set of men he ever saw."
 
In fact, this had been only a minor skirmish, with few, if any, long-range results. The Camp Kettle dismissed it thus:
 
Some may ask why, when we had made a lodgement on the mainland we did not go on? We did not understand that any advance was intended. The enemy had become insolent and taunted us in many ways, besides erecting batteries and fortifications along the shore at various points, and it became necessary to give them a slight rebuke, and besides our fellows up here in front were "spilin' for a fite" and it was thought best to give them a "New Years frolic" and an opportunity of getting accustomed to stand fire at the same time. We had the frolic, and we stood fire, which is more than can be said by some other people we saw that day.
 
Read more about this in A Scratch with the Rebels. The e-book is available at http://www.amazon.com/Scratch-Rebels-ebook/dp/B0021AEHJ

The Pennsylvania Roundheads and Their Reputation for Godliness


I'll be telling "Roundhead Stories" all this week in honor of the free days for A Scratch with the Rebels. The 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was not your typical Civil War unit.


Here's a story that almost made it into my upcoming book about Laura Towne and the Port Royal Experiment. It illustrates an important characteristic of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, subject of  "A Scratch with the Rebels."
   Rev. Solomon Peck was the first of the missionaries to arrive in Beaufort after the Battle of Port Royal.  He set up a schoolroom in the house to which he had been assigned, and sought his first pupils among the black street urchins who seemed to be running wild in the city.
   Within days he managed to meet Colonel Daniel Leasure, commander of Pennsylvania’s Roundhead Regiment. Peck had heard of a godly regiment in the area, and he was most curious to see if the rumors were true.  He made his way down Bay Street one morning to the Leverett House, where the Roundheads had their headquarters. Colonel Leasure welcomed his arrival and invited him to preach to the regiment.
   “It’s almost Christmas, and we find ourselves without the services of a chaplain,” Leasure explained. “Our own Reverend Robert Audley Browne lies dangerously ill with the swamp fever he contracted at Hilton Head.  Our men have been used to hearing frequent sermons, and they miss him. Would you be willing to fill in?”
    “I would be delighted, Colonel. But tell me, are your Roundheads really as godly as they are reported to be?”
   “They are, indeed.  They come from sturdy Scotch-Irish and Huguenot stock,  Many of them claim direct descent from the Scotch Covenanters who once fought under Cromwell.  They have been raised in staunchly religious frontier families. They have a strong Presbyterian faith and almost all believe in the cause of the abolitionists. They believe in equality and will fight for anyone whose liberty is challenged. They have a reputation for being the best-behaved regiment in the army.  I am justifiably proud of them.”
   “Where could we hold a church service?” Peck asked.
   “Oh, the men have already taken care of that.  They cleaned up the local Presbyterian Church just down the street.  It’s not quite big enough for us all, but my soldiers do not object to a bit of crowding.  After the tight quarters on the transport ships that brought us here, they adapt easily.”
   “I look forward to meeting some of them on Sunday.”
   “You’ll meet all of them,” Colonel Leasure promised.
   True to his word, Leasure led over nine hundred men to the local Presbyterian church that morning, overflowing the sanctuary and overhanging balconies. They prayed fervently, sang enthusiastically, and drank in the new minister’s words.  At the end of the service, Leasure asked for a moment to speak to his men. 
   “I’m sure we are all grateful to have Reverend Peck among us. Should we try to hold a second service this afternoon? Let’s see the hands of everyone who would like to come back around three o’clock.” To a man, they raised their hands. 
   Peck was overwhelmed.  Surely, he thought, with this kind of fervor, the Northern mission in South Carolina could be a success.

Coming to a Kindle Near You Next Week

On a muddy South Carolina battlefield, a sergeant sat propped up against a hedge and tried to focus on the spot where he thought his leg should be. There was nothing – only the tattered remains of his trousers and a pool of blood that grew ever larger. The whistle of artillery shells had stopped, and the sudden quiet was as jarring as the previous battle noises had been. Shock had deadened the pain, so that all he felt was exhaustion as he closed his eyes. Sgt. James McCaskey had fought and lost his only battle. 

"From behind a hedge on that battlefield, a young private picked his way through the bodies, following orders to gather up the abandoned weapons and tend to the wounded. Pvt. Augustine T. Smythe was stunned by the mayhem that met his eyes, particularly the sight of a soldier who lay with his leg shot entirely away. He whispered a silent prayer, as was fitting for the son of a Presbyterian minister, that he would never again have to witness such horrors. 

"The Battle of Secessionville, fought out in the early hours of June 16, 1862, on James Island, South Carolina, brought these two young men together for a single moment. But the events of the Civil War had been drawing them together for almost a year. James and Gus were approximately the same age. Both were first-generation Americans, the sons of Scotch-Irish immigrants to the United States. Both stood firm in their Presbyterian faith, and both believed passionately in the cause of their countries. Both wanted to enlist from the day the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter; both had to spend months persuading their parents to allow them to join the army. They set out for their first battle on the same day – November 7, 1861-- and both missed the action by arriving too late. Both chafed at enforced inaction and longed to get into a real battle. Each of their Scotch-Irish mothers might have warned her son to be careful for what he wished. 

They were just two soldiers, alike in many ways but different in the one trait that mattered on that battlefield. One was North; the other, South. Sgt. James McCaskey belonged to the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, known to their comrades as “The Roundheads.” They came from the farms of western Pennsylvania, determined to defend for all men the Calvinist principles they most valued – self-reliance, industriousness, and liberty. Gus Smythe served in the Washington Light Infantry, part of the 24th South Carolina Volunteers. He was a college student from a well-to-do Charleston family and an ardent supporter of the Confederate right to secede from a political union that did not serve the needs of its people. This is the story of how they came to their opposing positions, and how the Battle of Secessionville altered not only their own lives, but the lives of all those who shared their experiences. 

Get your free digital copy of A Scratch with the Rebelshere starting Sunday, March 27th at midnight.

And order the full version of the book,  complete with endnotes, maps, and illustrations, here for only $5.00 plus shipping.