LETTERS TO THE VINCENNES SUN
PROCK'S LETTER FROM CHEAT MOUNTAIN
Cheat Mountain Pass, Va., Wednesday, July 17th, 1861.
Friend Greene: For the first time in five days old Sol shines brightly down upon us. We began to give up all hope of ever seeing his face again. Here we are cooped up in a narrow gorge, three companies of the 14th Indiana, the whole of the 15th Indiana, and 3d Ohio, a battery of six pounders from Cold Water. Mich, and a company of German cavalry from Cincinnati.
The Pass is about 250 yards wide. Our encampment is situated in the midst of a strip of pasture land or meadow. A noisy mountain stream of clear, cold water sparkling in the sunlight, as it rushes over its bed, supplies us with an abundance of the purest water-the mountains on either side are full half a mile high, and covered from foot to crest with the most luxuriant growth of trees, shrubs, vines and flowers imaginable. The tall, majestic pine towering far above the more modest, but none the less beautiful hemlock and juniper, chinkapin-shrubs, huckleberry bushes, and every variety of the wild mountain laurel fill up the picture.
The nights are very cold and the dews equal to a heavy shower of rain. Speaking of rain, it falls here every day. The angels in Heaven seem to be weeping constantly over the unhappy condition of this once most peaceful and prosperous Republic.
Your readers would no doubt be gratified with a description of the battle of Rich Mountain. As our regiment took no part in it, 'tis impossible for me to afford them anything like a full account of it. 'Twas fought about 4 P.M., and from appearances, I should judge pretty hotly contested. Seven pieces of artillery, one flag, and about $60,0O0 worth of property, consisting principally of horses, mules, wagons, provisions and clothing fell into the hands of the United States forces. One 12 pounder was not discovered till the day after the fight. The gun carriage having broken, it had been rolled to the bottom of a deep ravine. Major Ringgold's name was on it, and the "Regulars" with us say 'twas one of the pieces used by the gallant Major at Palo Mto and Rosea De La Palma [Resaca de la Palma]. The small arms taken were of an inferior order. Two hundred men laid down their arms on the spot and 800 more were overtaken, cut off, and captured next day.
Owing to every regiment of volunteers being dressed differently, the Ohio boys fired a volley into the 13th Indiana regiment, which was coming down the opposite side of the hill at a charge bayonet, killing and wounding several. Most unfortunate is this variety of uniforms; 'tis hard to distinguish friend from foe at 150 yards.
As our regiment marched past the battleground next day, no unexpected sight greeted my eyes. Piles of dead men, and the ground strewn with the implements of war, pools of blood, trees stained with it and scarred with bullets.
Our troops had no artillery engaged in the fight, it being impossible to bring the guns to bear on the rebel camp, so the victory was achieved with small arms alone.
One company of the 14th is encamped at Huttonville, 3 miles below [north of] us, and the other six or 8 miles in advance, fortifying Cheat Mountain. In all probability we shall remain in this mountain gorge for a couple of weeks-perhaps longer.
About 6,O00 Union troops are encamped at Beverly, some 16 or 18 miles below [north of] us, where Major-General McClelland has his headquarters.
We fare much better now than when marching, and the boys are all getting jovial and round-faced once more.
Not a word of news from home since we left Indianapolis-nor indeed from any other place~not even a paper. Madame Rumor is the "news boy" of this camp. Of course her "extras" are not credited by your correspondent "or any other man." Health of the camp good. A few cases of "ager" brought all the way from the Wabash. The complaint is one entirely new to the people in this section.
Truly yours, PROCK.
Cheat Mountain Pass, Va., Thursday, July 26th [18?], 1861.
Friend Greene: Far to the West, behind the distant mountain, the bright and fiery orb of day has long since sank to rest; "Roll Call" sounded, "taps" beaten off, and all is quiet in camp. Watchful sentinels, fifty in number, pace their lonely "beats"-lights and fires extinguished, with the exception of the "guard fire, around which, wrapped in their blanket muskets loaded and bayonets fixed, placed handy to their grasp, repose one hundred men-two reliefs" of the "camp guard," and your correspondent, to keel) awake and while away a lonesome hour, pens this by the light of its glowing embers.
A man can indeed realize that this is a soldier's life. The long rows of white tents forming the encampment, with a chain of wagons behind them-the sight of six brass field-pieces glistening in the light of the silvery moon as she escapes for a moment behind a flying cloud-stacks of muskets, whose polished barrels flash as they reflect the guard fires' uncertain light-and above all, the solomn stillness that reigns around, where but a few short hours before all was life and excitement, proves to your humble servant that he is soldiering-"divil a less."
The sentries, as the "reliefs" go their rounds, no longer challenge in the careless, hall~play style of Camp Vigo; but their voices ring out on the night air with a "Halt! who comes there!" that, added to the ominous click of the musket locks, brings a man up "all standing" with a full consciousness of his dangerous situation and the necessity of a prompt answer-"Sergeant of the Guard." "Advance, Sergeant of the Guard, and give the counter sign." The watchful "guardian of the night" receives it with his bayonet at your breast and bids you pass on.
It required a full hour to relieve fifty sentries of the night guard, and this has to be repeated six times during the night. Away up in the mountain recesses the picquet guard in squad of half a dozen keep their "eyes skinned" the live long nigh-no "relief" for them, and a man had better take his chances in a "forlorn hope" than to pass these out-posts, as poor Rutherford found to his cost.
I understand we march Eastward in a day or two.
The military telegraph is completed from this camp from Clarksburg, 80 miles.
A scout party of the Cincinnati Cavalry Company, composed of eight men, were fired upon while watering their horses at a creek, some 18 miles East-one man killed and four wounded, one mortally. Scouting parties have since then advanced 25 miles without meeting the enemy.
Corporal Wm. Nelson, of Company E, 15th regiment, (Son of Turner Nelson, of Mt. Vernon), last Sunday hoisted his Company's colors above the top of a tall tree on a mountain near camp, and the glorious "stars and stripes" wave proudly in the breeze, visible for miles around.
Our fat and jolly Commissary, Cam. Buntin, wears an extraordinarily fine hat, and over his shoulder is hung a splendid steel-clasped haversack, both captured from the "Seseshs" at Rich Mountain.
No letters or papers to hand yet. Well, I hope to get good news from home before an ounce of lend sends me kiting over Jordon. So your news-hungry correspondent will keep his temper, bide his time and wait as patiently as "any other man" for the glad tidings from Hoosierdom.
Yours truly, PROCK.
Army of Occupation Camp, On Cheat Mountain, July 25, 1861.
[Friend Greene:] The four companies of the Fourteenth encamped in the "Pass" struck tents early this morning and marched up here to Col. Kimball's headquarters to join the balance of the regiment. The route most of the way lay through a dense forrest of pine, "tamarack" or hemlock and cedar almost impenetrable-mountain springs of cool, clear-as-crystal water gushed forth every few yards. The ascent was about one foot in ten-so says my friend Sergeant Bailey.
Our camp here is situated on the the Eastern slope of the mountain,10 amongst piles of huge rocks and innumerable logs and Stumps. The "boys" that had the honor of preceding us have thrown up a £ort of breast-work of logs and Stones on the East of the encampment, felled the trees and cleared off the underbrush in front so as to obtain a fair "sight" at the enemy, should he approach by the road on the side.
Cheat river-a noisy, bright, clear stream~runs at the mountain's base, a mile from camp. Company A of our regiment, Capt. Foote, is stationed there to guard a bridge.
The Thirteenth Indiana arrived and encamped at the "Pass" yesterday evening, all in fine health and spirits. I understand they will move up here to-morrow.
Rigby (formerly a painter in Vincennes) is a Captain in the Seventh Indiana, now at Rich Mountain Battle Ground.
Lieut. Willard, of the Evansville Company (E) Fourteenth Regiment, while on a scout with fifty men, came upon about an equal number of the "Sesesh's," and charged them, killing one or two, and capturing some halfdozen prisoners and all their camp equippage, including a large lot of maple sugar. Wish I had been along with the Lieutenant.
I have cut a lot of hemlock brush and intend to "kiver" the rocks up and recline on a somewhat softer couch than it has been my fortune to "turn in" to since my advent amongst ye crags and peaks of ye Old Dominion.
Old Post Guards all O.K.-Governor, Tom, and Sergeant Denny look as good humored as ever, and fat as "any other man" that enjoys plenty of exercise in the open air and soldier's grub every day in the week, including Sunday. Our quarters are next to the 0. P. G., and a hearty exchange of friendly greetings took place immediately upon our arrival. The boys say "Young Winter" is at the door here every morning, and overcoats and large fires are not by any means uncomfortable till Old Sol shows his familiar, and in these airy regions, most welcome countenance o'er the mountain tops.
Fancy that I failed to head or date my last letter-not to be wondered at when a man can't procure for love or money a "drap 0' the crather" to cheer him up even during a night on duty.
Nothing from home yet for "A. B.;" beats h-ll. Excuse the hard word, friend G., as even the patience of our Jobs has been exhausted, and I do not claim to be one. My address is Beverly, Va. Company "G", 14th Regiment Indiana Volunteers, care of Col. Kimball.
Army of Occupation Camp, On Cheat Mountain, August 2, 1861.
Friend Greene: On Tuesday evening at 5 o'clock, your correspondent, one of 8O men, 5 of whom were cavalry, all under command of Capt. John Coons, left camp for a scout. Descending Cheat Mountain, we crossed Cheat river, and passed the last of our outposts. An hour's walk brought the command to the summit of a mountain, four miles from and overlooking the camp. Here we commenced a descent of sixteen miles. The view to the Eastward in the direction we were marching was magnificent. Having "cut loose" from the protection of the gallant Fourteenth, we proceeded cautiously down the mountain and through the valley, altogether the most beautiful and fertile it has yet been my fortune to see in Western Virginia-meadows of luxuriant grass with herds of fat cattle, quietly grazing along the banks of a stream that runs the whole length of the valley-substantial farm houses surrounded by fine orchards, the yards filled with poultry, flocks of sheep in the pastures, on the steep mountainsides, the tinklinig of the bells being the only sound that disturbed the solomn stillness which prevailed-the farm houses are deserted-no sight or sound of human had we during the night march. Calculating the distance marched at twenty miles, and judging the enemy's picquets to be not over half a mile in advance, our Captain at 11 o'clock halted the command, threw out an advance picquet, and we slept on our arms. At 4 A.M. we were aroused by the report of fire arms, and we saw our guards running in and four horsemen galloping away towards the enemy's camp. This, of course, gave the alarm; nevertheless, quickly forming, we advanced about 21/2 miles, driving in their picquets, who fired upon us at every turn of the road, and then made tracks at "double quick." Owing to their being stationed on the mountain top on either hand, their bullets failed to reach, or whistled harmlessly over us. Having advanced some 21/2 miles inside their picquets and given the enemy a good scare, we retreated to the foot of the mountain where their first picquet guards discovered us, and being reihforced by 85 cavalry, we too threw out picquets, and prepared to partake of a most excellent dinner of veal, new potatoes and honey, at a vacant house on the bank of a small river.
Soon three of our men brought a couple of mounted "seseshs" into camp as prisoners. At the same moment a light spring wagon, drawn by two horses, driven by a "sesesh" bearing a white flag, made its appearance from towards the rebel camp; it proved to be a Lieutenant (taken prisoner at the battle of Laurel Hill, just returning from Richmond, Va., where he had been to bury a comrade killed in the battle), on his way to our headquarters to again give himself up as a prisoner of war. He reported the rebels 1,O00 strong and formed in line of battle inside of their entrenchments only three miles in advance up the mountain, and 4,000 encamped eight miles farther on.
Capt. Coons immediately sent the officer and two prisoners forward under a guard of cavalry, and having leisurely disposed of our "grub" we prepared to return, when the rebels made their appearance and commenced deploying their forces to surround us.
Three companies of infantry and one of cavalry were all that were actually seen; but in all probability their whole force was advancing on us through the thick woods on the mountain sides, spies having discovered our actual numbers. Just before the rebels made their appearance in force, our cavalry took a scout up the mountain road, met and fired upon about an equal number of the enemy's horsemen, killing one. The fire was returned by part of a company of infantry stationed in the bushes near by, but none of our cavalry were hit. Being rejoined by them, we marched for camp-our movements not in the least accellerated by the presence of the enemy, now having come out in full force and occupying the house we had a quarter of an hour before evacuated. Their cavalry flourished their sabres and shook them at us, but "nary" track did ye "sesechs" make over the river whilst we remained in sight-for we waited over an hour for 'em.
After an excessively fatiguing march of 20 miils (up hill all the way remember) we reached camp at 7 P.M., "broke ranks," "bolted" supper and "tuined in"-your correspondent, for one, about as near "played out" as he ever was in his life.
Alarm at 12 o'clock! Turned out-formed in line-a squad of our cavalry sent out as a reconnoitering party was fired upon by some of our infantry picquet-guard-one horse killed and the rider slightly wounded in the ankle. D-n the greenhorn that did it! He broke my night's rest in two.
Never saw it rain harder than it did this morning, from 1 till 8 o'clock.
I send this by one of Co. G's boys-Thos. Bradley, who is going home to-morrow, having been honorab]y discharged on account of a diseased leg. We are all sorry to part with Tom, for he has proved himself o~e of the "right stripe."
What next? Can't tell-nor can "any other man."
Army of Occupation Camp, On Cheat Mountain, August 13, 1861
Friend Greene: The long-looked-for good news from home has during the past week been pouring into camp. Every day a huge pile of letters and papers arrives from below. Verily there was great rejoicing the day the first and most anxiously-expected batch came to hand, and there has been a small 4th of July excitement every evening since. Your correspondent returns thanks for the kindness of many well remembered friends.
"Got any tobacco!" "Yes." "Give us a chaw." "Been grinding tlus two days-will divide, though." "No, thank you; never chew fine-cut."
The 14th is short of the weed, consequently miserable "perishing"-nothing tastes good to them except at meal times, when huge piles of well greased slap-jacks are stowed away somewhere and troubles are for the time forgotten.
A scouting party, 150 strong, left camp on Thursday evening last-part, composed of cavalry and infantry, were sent back on Friday after-noon with two prisoners calling themselves Mountain Rangers, a number of rifles, and driving before them 25 head of fat cattle. When 9 miles from this camp the cavalry and one infantry soldier (who, some 300 yards in advance of the rest, were urging forward the bovines) were fired upon by a party of Mountain Rangers in ambush, and the footman (William Wilkerson, a private in the Old Post Guards), and two horseman brought down-the former mortally and the latter dangerously wounded. One of the cavalry was fired upon the second time as he lay in the road, the ball piercing his arm. The ambushed party must have beaten a hasty retreat after their cowardly and assassin-like deed, for on the news reaching camp three companies of infantry and the whole cav~ry force turned out, and with our gallant Colonel and Major at their head, hastened forward to the spot, brought in the poor fellows,their arms, &c., dnd the entire lot of beef cattle proving that the cowardly murderers immediately fled.
Wilkinson was buried with the honors of war Saturday evening. I understand he is the only son of a widowed mother residing in Crawford county, Illinois. He formerly lived with William Hodgen, of Knox county.
Company "G" was ordered out on twenty-four hours picket-guard duty, four miles from camp Friday morning. Off they went, haversacks filled with crackers, one slap-jack and a cup of coffee constituting all the breakfast the boys could boast of to make a start on. About noon it began to rain (and has continued in "draps" without a moment's cessation up to the hour I am writing.) With our India-rubber blankets (so-called) wrapped around us, we kept a bright look-out, munched hard bread, and fought myriads of gnats till almost dark, when Gen. Gardner made his most welcome appearance on horseback with a fresh supply of crackers and some very fat pickled pork. Soon a fire was kindled and slices hung on ram rods were spittering in the blaze Having a touch of the ague, your correspondent was excused by the Captain and returned to camp at tattoo. The company remained out till Saturday at 8 P.M. without capturing a "sesech" or getting sight at a 'bar." The trip, however, gave them all appetites, such as only soldiers on extra duty experience.
The "great uncertainty" here is whether the Fourteenth Regiment will return to Indianapolis, be paid off and discharged by the 15th of September next, or remain in the service for three years. The question is undergoing discussion constantly all over camp, and in fact is the all-absorbing topic.
Our brave and patriotic German fellow-citizens have it seems received a back-handed blow from somewhere-a most outrageous and ungrateful act. Amongst the best soldiers in our regiment may be found the Germans, and one, the 9th Ohio, which we passed on our march here, (the finest body of men I have yet seen) was exclusively a German regiment.
Thermometer seldom above 75 degree-black-berries just beginning to ripen-green corn, tomatoes, watermelons, &c., an unknown luxury here. Fine place for an observatory, this Cheat Mountain summit.
As I write a soldier, busily, engaged in frying the everlasting slap-jack over a smoky fire, sings-
"Cannot live always,
Wish not to stay."
Chorus-"Or any other man."
Army of Occupation Camp, On Cheat Mountain, August 17, 1861.14
Friend Greene: Tuesday was the last day of our "spell" of wet weather. Snow fell, mixed with the rain, and the night following was most intensely cold, as Lieut. Denny and your correspondent can testify,being on guard together. We found it necessary to keep up a roaring fire at the guard-house. Even then the soldiers shivered and shook like aspens, as with blankets tightly wrapped, they rallied around the cheerful blaze. Old Boreas blows "great guns" at sea, so jack tars say; and once in old Kaintuck his nephew Hurrie Cane frightened me terribly; but I fancy from the nature of the country around here and the fair sweep he has at this camp, that short of Greenland's icy mountains there is no spot in North America where the old chap blows with ruder breath or cuts with keener tooth than through the tall pine forests on Cheat Mountain during the winter months. The breeze he has sent us this week beats anything the Fourteenth's boys ever experienced in August.
Corporal Wm. H. Jackson's mess have taken timely warning and built a log shanty covered with bark, stone fire-place, and bark chimney. A great many huts principally of stone and on the Esquimaux style, have been erected in the encampment within a day of two, some of them exhibiting considerable skill and ingenuity, but none surpassing in comfort or convenience the log cabin of mess No.6. There are plenty of rocks for building purposes, as one cannot see the soil till he has first turned over a stone.
The 24th Ohio U.S. regular infantry came up from the Pass yesterday, a fine looking body of men, in full rig, army style, substantially clothed and equipped. They went into camp immediately below us, their line of sentinels joining ours.
The Sutler of the 14th has brought on a supply of the necessaries of life at last, and a "Wee drop" of the ardent. I was fortunate enough to obtain a little; tastes natural-don't think that with the thermometer at freezing almost, a few "fingers" of Bourbon injure a soldier or "any other man."
A scouting party composed of 24th Ohio and the 14th's boys knocked over a couple of the Mountain Rangers yesterday, receiving the fire of their party without injury. The detail from our regiment was from company E. and under command of Lieut. Willard.
We have received letters and papers from the Old Post of the 7th of August. A coffee sack full of mail matter for our regiment came up from below yesterday. Bully ! O, Uncle Samuel! cease not the flow whilst the 14th is absent from America, exposed to the fatigues, hardships and dangers of a soldier's life.
The article in the SUN of August 3d relating to the shooting of Nicholas Geise by our Captain is another of the many false rumors. Nick is fat and hearty~worth 50 dead men; no better soldier or more willing and trustworthy man in company G.
Is the "General" going to marry soon? Heard so. Look out for the quails, old boy.
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