L i f e   S t o r i e s   o f   C i v i l   W a r   H e r o e s

March 15, 1863
Just outside of Tennessee

Dear D,

Saturday it started to rain and we were put on the cars and moved south. I considered myself lucky to have a seat inside, but my good fortune came to an end when I found I was seated next to the window, or rather the square hole where the window used to be. The uncovered opening provided a perfect portal for the hail that started hurling down and pelting into the rail car. The force of the wind combined with the velocity of the train sent the hail bouncing off of me with a force sufficient to sting me through my clothing. This was my first sign that it was not going to be a pleasant journey.

When we arrived at the station the weather settled into an annoying pattern as we waited on the platform. A patch of blue drifting over our heads would momentarily encourage us, when a dark shadow filled with rain would follow it and drown out our hopes for a dry spell. The town was nothing to speak of, and we were soon marched through its wet, dreary streets to our encampment located a few miles beyond. I found the rest of my company wet, soggy and grumbling, camped along the road. I use the word "road" only as a term of reference, because in fact, it was a gray, syrupy river of mud. The particular value of that mud must be in its virtues as a building material. I say this because as we marched through it we found that it was wondrously adept at clinging tenaciously to the bottoms of our boots. Each successive step added another sticky, inseparable layer, until we felt like a troop of giants as we strode about in an elevated fashion on the miniature mountains of mud that were caked onto our soles. Once these foundations of mud attached to us had reached their maximum height, they began to expand out to the sides to complete their intricate structures. These oval-shaped plates of mud extended one or two inches in all directions beyond the edges of our boots, making us look like we were wearing snowshoes. As we sat and stood in our little damp camp, we watched wagon after wagon pass by on the road. It was fascinating to see the sticky liquid road rush along in a wave in front of the wagon's wheels. Just like a breaker you might see in Galveston Bay, they gracefully arched, curled and crested in front of the rushing wagons, and then collapsed into the deep rut left behind. In short order, the heavy wagons had softened and deepened the mud on the road to the extent that it became impassable. Our entertainment then began in earnest as they began to sink and wallow in the quagmire. Such colorful language regaled our ears from the drivers! Their deafening entreaties filled and roared through the air in loud contrast to the silence of the unmindful mud as it silently and efficiently continued about its business of trapping and engulfing its prey. The fervent nature and intense heat of the driver's swearing alone should have been sufficient to dry the mud, but it was all to no avail.

We built a fire, paying little heed to the rain that fell upon our wood trying to deny us our quest for coffee. I believe any soldier worth a whit can start a fire under the worst conditions if a pot of coffee is truly desired. We soon had a small blaze burning high enough to hang the pot. I was elected to find fresh water, and after a short walk, helped myself from the well in a nearby farmer's yard. With hot coffee inside of us our spirits lifted, and soon the sun came out for good and began drying the road as quickly as the rain had liquefied it.

Late in the afternoon we were put into line and marched a short distance where some yankees were probing our works. We met them twice and easily repulsed them both times, our numbers being superior to theirs. The only casualty of these fights was my lip that was cut and bled freely during the action. Captain Dawes was concerned, but I refused to leave the field and returned to our camp with the rest of the company in the evening, looking frightful, but none the worse for the wear.

Earlier in the day I had managed to "procure" some choice cuts of beef from the quartermaster and combined them with potatoes, carrots, onions and peas to mix up a superb stew for my mess. It smelled and tasted perfectly grand and stuck to our ribs as surely and stoutly as the mud had stuck to our boots. Our pot was so plentiful that I shared with two wet and tired yankees we had taken prisoner. That night, Corporal Morris produced some liquor and we proceeded to fill our stomachs with it and fill the night with song, serenading the night away in high spirits. Only the Lieutenant and the Captain had tents, so the rest of us retired to our damp blankets on the wet ground around midnight. I felt quite comfortable under my two blankets at first, but as the night went on, it became colder. In the morning I found my blankets covered with a lacy layer of white frost, and each Ranger's hat looked like it had been dusted with sugar. Corporal Morris again proved his resourcefulness by producing some white flour suitable for frying flapjacks. He gleefully set to work over a blazing fire and dripped his batter onto a black piece of iron plate that served as a griddle. He jauntily flipped these creations about and flung them on our tin plates. In more flush times I would have cringed at the sight of the wet batter squirting out of the cakes as I cut into them, but the outside "skins" were brown and flavorful enough to make me overlook this undercooked detail, and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast.

Once more we were put on the line and this time forced to lay down as the yankees had brought up some field guns. After some effort we were able to drive them back, and one of their pieces was captured. Again we were marched off the line and back into camp. Pvt. Jones flew into a perfect fit upon returning, thinking he had lost a precious pistol he had brought from home at the war's start. In spite of his usual quietness, he spent a good deal of time describing his lost article, its "tiger grain grips" and other endearing features. He paced about in an agitated manner and checked his kit numerous times. He retraced his steps about camp and questioned everyone he met to no avail. He then went to the Major's tent to report his loss. The Major remarked that someone said they had found an unusual pistol, but the Major could not recall who had made the report, or where they were camped. Jones returned in a complete rage. He called the Major a "d---d fool," an idiot, and a complete dictionary of other unmentionable names. He stomped out of camp to again search for his pistol. At this point Capt. Dawes took notice of a pistol that had been lying on a table outside of his tent for hours, in plain view of everyone. He held it up and asked to whom it belonged. I immediately noticed the unusual grips and replied that I would not be surprised to learn it belonged to Pvt. Jones. The searcher was sought out, and he identified the item from long distance as the Captain held it up. He returned to camp looking a little sheepish, but greatly relieved. The rest of the men had a great laugh and proceeded to make many rude remarks regarding Jones's poor powers of observation.

Corp. Morris, Private Watcher and myself have been ordered to leave camp this afternoon, so I will close now. It is not my intent to bore you with the mundane details of my soldiering life, but there are few notable events of significance of which I can write, so I must relieve my own boredom by passing this minutiae along to you in this letter. Forgive me for my indulgence. I trust and pray you and your family is well. Write me often if you can. I miss you all.

Yours truly,

Dutch Hoffmann


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