#Civil War Journal on Special #Sale

Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, the memoir of my great grandfather, is on a Kindle Countdown deal this week. March 22 and 23, the Kindle version is only .99 cents. On March 24, it goes up to $1.99 for four days, before reverting back to its original price. If you haven’t downloaded the journal yet, here’s your change to take advantage of this special offer. The book is also available in paperback for $6.93.

Here’s an excerpt from 152 years ago this week. Harmon Camburn brings the sights, sounds, and sensibilities of the regular infantry soldier to light with his riveting prose.

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page


March 21, 1862 – The bugle sounded “Strike Tents.” Taking the road up Hampton Creek a mile or so, we crossed the bridge and passed through the ruins of Hampton. This was the oldest town and had the oldest church in Virginia. The rebel cavalry general, Wade Hampton, occupied this place through the winter with the Hampton Legion. Upon the approach of the “Yankees,” he fired the town and retreated. The town was entirely destroyed, but the greatest regret felt for the loss of the old church, said to have been built by John Smith of brick brought from England.

Leaving the blackened ruins of this little hamlet behind, we soon pitched our tents near Back River about five miles form Newport News Point. In this camp, we passed the next two weeks. The rain fell almost continually and the ground became a sea of soft mud through which it was difficult to move. Troops were arriving and going into camp around us every day. The enemy was in possession of the other side of the river and picket duty came around often. A night on picket in the rain was not much relieved by a day under our pup tents. We were not yet used to accommodating ourselves to such close quarters, but it was discovered that a third half tent, turned corner-wise would button on to the others and close up the end. This and other discoveries afterward enabled us to make ourselves comparatively comfortable.

I had often noticed in Virginia a small thicket in the midst of cultivated ground. In an intermission between showers one day, I explored one of these and found it to be, as I did others after, a family burying ground. The tombstones were common sandstone and lay flat upon the ground. Rudely chiseled upon their rough surface was the name, date of birth, date of death, and sometimes a brief epitaph. The date of death on one was 1711. I saw others ranging along to 1790. It seems disgraceful that these old burial places should be neglected to grow up on tangled thickets and plowed around like any difficult obstruction.

While our regiment was on picket along the river one day, men were discovered lurking in the woods on the opposite bank. A peremptory order enforced with loaded muskets brought them over the river. There were seven of them, and they proved to be Negro slaves escaped from Yorktown. They were in a starving condition, and one of them died the same night. Twenty-four of them had escaped from Yorktown, an easy day’s march from us, four weeks before. They had concealed themselves by day in ditches and wandered by night in search of the “Yankees.” Seventeen had died by the way from hunger and exposure, and one died just after reaching the goal of their desire. They gave important information concerning the enemy’s fortifications, position, and strength. The survivors were employed as servants by our officers. This incident shows that slaves will risk their lives for freedom.


#Oyster Stew for a #Union soldier from MIchigan

Today it’s 15 degrees outside the walls of my warm home. It made think of my great grandfather and his years as a Union soldier during the Civil War. This excerpt finds his unit settling down in Newport News, Virginia, on a small chunk of land surrounded by the James River and Chesapeake Bay. The soldiers enjoyed a short respite from war as recorded by my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn. I’m amazed that this Michigan born and raised young man so readily went for oysters from the bay. This excerpt makes me yearn for oyster stew!

From Civil War Journal of a Union SoldierFinalCover (available on Kindle and in paperback)

February 15, 1863 – Early in the morning, the anchor was up, and we crossed the Roads to Newport News Point at the mouth of the James River. Here we were told we should camp for a time to recruit health, restore discipline, and improve drill. The surroundings are admirable adapted for these purposes. The point is high and sandy, widening to a level plain of considerable extent inland, and the James rolls seven miles wide on the southern side.

The 9th Corps camped upon the level plain extending along the James. The position of the 2nd Infantry was about two miles from the point, facing the river. The plain at this point is about thirty feet above the river, and although the river is seven miles wide, the air is so clear that objects can be seen very plainly on pleasant days on the opposite shore.

Two gunboats of the Monitor pattern were anchored in the river to prevent the enemy from coming down with vessels.

From our camp the spars of the sunken Cumberland could be seen where she went down, colors flying and guns booming, carrying with her dead, wounded and able bodied, the living sending up a lusty hurrah as she plunged beneath the waves, sunken by the Merrimac.

Newport News was not a village, not even a hamlet. It was a mere landing, with a dwelling or two near.

Fish and oysters are taken in abundance from the brackish water near the mouth of the James. With the advent of the camp, of course, the oyster made a regular landing and numerous board shanties sprang up where cooked oysters and fish could be had for a small sum.

As soon as our camp was located, with the drum major I visited one of these shanties, presided over by an “Old Auntie,” to get an oyster stew. Ordering a stew each, we were each soon served with a full quart of solid meats. Remarking to the “Old Auntie” that there was not much soup, she raised her hands and said, “Laud, love yer soul, honey! Oysters is what yer want – can dip up soup anywhere.”

As we had come here for general improvement, the first care was to provide quarters that would be healthy.

New A tents were issued, and these were placed on frames four feet high, two tents together while our poncho tents were used to enclose the frames below the A tents. This made a roomy tent for eight. Material for these frames was gathered from all sources. Some of us went some miles up the river and tore down a barn, formed the lumber and timber into a raft and floated it to camp. Working in rain or sunshine, we soon had the most complete quarters that we had ever had since our enlistment. The encampment was laid out into streets and parades with exact precision, and as soon as the tents were arranged, strict orders were issued and enforced regarding cleanliness and order, and for a month, this became a camp of discipline and instruction.

Each day went through the following programs: six o’clock, Reveille; six-thirty, clean streets; seven, breakfast; eight, guard mounting; eight-thirty to nine-thirty, company drill; nine-thirty to eleven, battalion drill; twelve, dinner; two to four, brigade drill; six, dress parade; eight, Tattoo, eight-thirty, Taps.

Although we had a full share of rain, a healthy location, good shelter, plenty of good rations helped out with oysters and fish, plenty of hard drill and discipline, we grew vigorous and the old 9th Corps fast gained its former soldierly appearance, and in our busy life, we soon forgot the gloomy winter camp.

This camp leaves a pleasant memory, yet there were few incidents worthy of note.

A human skull was the football of our regimental parade ground during our stay at this camp. Whence it came, no one seemed to know. Where, when, or how its owner’s life went out, no one seemed to care. Its shape would indicate that it was formerly worn by a Negro and on top the bone was more than a quarter of an inch thick. Kicked, hustled, and thrown about, it served as football, baseball, shuttlecock for the regiment and was never at rest only when the men were asleep. “To what base uses we may return, Horatio. Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole.” [From Hamlet by William Shakespeare]

#Civil War on New Years Day 1863

free-happy-new-year-2014-clipartHappy New Year 2014. As we enjoy the parties and celebrations and resolutions, I wanted to share another New Years Day. The new year is 1863 and soldiers from both sides of the Civil War enjoyed fireworks of a different nature as the fight between the north and south factions continued their pursuit of victory. President Abraham Lincoln began the new year by signing an important document known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here’s an excerpt from my great grandfather’s journal chronicling his days as a Union soldier.

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

Available in paperback and Kindle editions

From Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier

January 1, 1863

The disagreeable inclement weather of a southern winter was upon us. Wet, slushy snow was falling, making outdoor life very unpleasant. The two armies lay watching each other across the Rappahannock. Batteries of light artillery were stationed at intervals along the picket line. Captain Thompson’s battery of the regular artillery occupied a position opposite the eastern outskirt of Fredericksburgh. Thompson notified the general, commanding that he never omitted the custom of allowing his men unlimited whiskey on New Year’s Eve and requested to be withdrawn from the front for that occasion. Being denied, he asked that a strong infantry guard be posted around his camp, as none of his men would be asked to do duty on that evening.

The 2nd Infantry was detailed for this duty, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, while the men of the battery indulged in the free use of commissary whiskey. The relief on duty splashed their dreary round through the slush of snow and mud, while those off duty huddled close to a big campfire to keep warm. While we toasted one side and chilled the other, the bacchanalian revels waxed strong, and the sounds of ribald songs and boisterous mirth floated out to us on the heavy night air. On duty or off, the wet and cold prevented us from sleeping. During the night the “Grand Officer of the Day,” Colonel Fenton, tarried awhile at our campfire. He told us the officers were having a “high old time” in camp and that considerable of the “creature” was afloat. The private soldiers had nothing to celebrate the advent of the New Year with, nothing to jubilate for, and no spirit for merry making. Discontent was very general. The men were dispirited and gloomy. There was a feeling that we had endured privations and hardships, fought hard battles, and squandered the blood of our bravest to gain ground, that had been lost and yielded to the enemy, through the incapacity of generals and the jealous disagreements of politicians, both in Congress and in the field. The private soldiers felt that they were being used as tools for personal aggrandizement and were unwilling to be sacrificed for such causes.

This feeling, inactivity, and the discomforts of a winter camp began to tell on the discipline of the troops. Three weeks of inactivity dragged away. The absolutely necessary camp duties being all the men were called upon to do.

The view from our camp presented a dreary succession of camps planted in the mud. Fences and outbuildings had all been pulled down for fuel. The very few inhabitants that remained in their houses with intent to save their property were in a strait for provisions. They looked pinched with cold and hunger. Desolation and misery were theirs to the full. Respectable women became wantons from the direst necessity. Virtue was sacrificed for bread. History can never record the woes the private citizens of Virginia suffered. The “sacred soil” reaped a terrible crop from her secession seed.

[On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in territories held by Confederates and emphasized the enlistment of black soldiers in the Union Army.]

Words of a #Civil War Soldier Show Not Much Has Changed

Today’s post is inspired by my fellow blogger and author, Lori Crane, over at A Day in the Life of Patootie. She’s challenged all bloggers to participate in a month-long series of posts about our ancestors. Check out her blog – she’s loaded with anecdotes from her lineage.

In the past few weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the writings of my great grandfather. He left behind a legacy for his children chronicling his years as a Union soldier in the Civil War. He joined Michigan’s 2nd Regiment in 1861 in the early days of the war. I’m putting the journal in electronic form so others can read about his experiences as a soldier and as a prisoner of war with the Confederates in the last year of the war. As I proofread a chapter, I came across this passage that gave me pause. The passage was written in December 1862 as the soldiers prepared to make winter quarters after several Union defeats. He wrote this in the days following the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11-15,1862, where the Confederates won the battle, but nearly 18,000 men were injured or killed.

If we’re discontent with what’s happening or not happening in Washington today, imagine what it was like to be a soldier in the field having seen the death and destruction of the bloody Civil War while the folks at home sitting in front of warm fires fought over petty matters.

Excerpt from Civil War Reminiscences of Harmon Camburn:

“December 1862 – With the whole surface of the country one vast mortar bed, active operations were not thought of in the army. Yet every newspaper that reached us was full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible.

Between the clamor of northern papers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, the rank and file of the army of the Potomac was becoming discouraged and demoralized. The men were beginning to feel that they were enduring hardships and that lives were being sacrificed without adequate results, because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel, and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.”

Isn’t it time we learned?