Excerpt from . . .
What the Private Saw
The Civil War Letters and Diaries
of Oney Foster Sweet
Mud March, January 1863
Private Oney F. Sweet, a Union cannoneer in the 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Battery F (Ricketts’ Battery), describes, in letters and diary entries in late January 1863, the notorious “Mud March” of the Union forces under the command of General Ambrose E. Burnside.
Tuesday, January 20, 1863
A cold, cloudy day. Marched at twelve o’clock. Passed White Oak Church, Falmouth. Marched 12 miles and camped in the woods. A cold, rainy night. Put up our tent. The whole army is moving. An account in the paper that Burnsides had crosst the river.
Wednesday, January 21, 1863
A cold, stormy day. Rained nearly all day. Marched at daylight. A very bad road and we got stalled several times. Camped about noon in the woods. We could not get any farther. A very rainy night. Slept very good in our little tent.
Thursday, January 22, 1863
A stormy, muddy day. Harnessed up ready for march at eight o’clock. Very bad roads and don’t think we will move today. Saw Bill McCall. He is Adjunctant of HPRVC. Received orders to on harness at one o’clock. Expect to fall back tomorrow morning.
[PRVC: Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps]
Friday, January 23, 1863
Stopped raining. Orders to get ready for move back. Started on the march at eight o’clock. A very muddy day and bad going. Reached our old camp about three o’clock. Put up our tent and got dinner. Passed through Falmouth, saw some of the 141st regiment [Pennsylvania].
The next day, January 24, 1863, he wrote home while camped at Belle Plain, Virginia:
Here we are back in our old camp. We marched from here last Tuesday expecting to cross the river and have another fight. We marched about 10 miles on Tuesday and on Wednesday we marched 5 miles and got stuck in the mud and could not go any farther. It rained Tuesday night, Wednesday and Wednesday night. It was the awfullest time you ever saw. Mud was hub deep and it was raining all the time. We had to fall back and we reached our old camp yesterday and we are now in our old quarters and I do not think Burnsides will undertake to move us again very soon. It was a great failure and a great many horses were used up, and it was the hardest times we ever saw. If I wasn’t as tough as a knot I could not have stood it, but I feel as good as new today. I was on guard last night.
I think we would have whipped the rebs this time if it had not rained.
We drew buckskin gloves last Monday and they come good to us. . . . It has cleared off pleasant today and perhaps if the mud drys up or freezes up we will move and have a fight. I wish it would for I want to fight them and either whip or get whipped and see if it won’t bring this war to a close.
One company of the Bucktails stacked their guns and swore they would not fight any more until they were paid.
I will close. Write soon. I remain your Son.
Oney F. Sweet
lst Pa Artillery Rgt. R.V.C.
Sweet’s comment “we would have whipped the rebs this time” refers to the Union army’s loss in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December. In order to salve the memory of that defeat, General Burnside attempted to cross the Rappahannock River and mount a second attack on Fredericksburg, having failed to capture the fortified city earlier. But a nor’easter blew in, bringing with it a deluge of cold rain, and turned the road into a quagmire.
A New York Times reporter wrote: “An indescribable chaos of pontoons, wagons and artillery encumbered the road down to the river. Horses and mules dropped down dead, exhausted with the effort to move their loads through the hideous medium. One hundred and fifty dead animals, many of them buried in the liquid muck, were counted in the course of a morning’s ride.”
Burnside resigned as commander of the Army of the Potomac and President Abraham Lincoln assigned the command to Major General Joseph Hooker.
“Bucktails” refers to the 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, known as the Bucktail Regiment because the soldiers adorned their hats with deer tails.
Bill McCall possibly in reference to Lt. William H. H. McCall of Company D, 5th Pennsylvania Reserves.
For more info on the Pennsylvania regiments, visit the Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps Historical Society website.
More excerpts . . .
What the Private Saw: The Civil War Letters and Diaries of Oney Foster Sweet will be released on April 9, 2015, the 150th anniversary of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the U.S. Civil War.
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