“God helped hubby greatly,” or The Culmination of Frank Hall’s Epic Letter to Fannie
As this sixth installment of Frank Hall’s account of his Civil War experiences opens, we rejoin our heroic chaplain on the evening of December 15, 1862.
In a few minutes more (perhaps 15) up rode young Bartlett, the brother and aide of General Bartlett, with the order to move. We were soon in motion, leaving a corporal and one man to search the ground, lest any man should be left sleeping. But with all the precautions, our poor mail boy we think fell into the hands of the enemy. He slept a little off from the regiment.
We marched back in perfect order, that is without any hurry, to the bridges and met the cavalry pickets going out to relieve the infantry pickets, after which they, the cavalry pickets, could come in very quickly. We all went safely across the river, encamping in the woods perhaps a mile beyond it. About half past one or two o’clock in the morning, the Major and I selected a cozy place and soon were fast asleep under the blankets, to be waked up however shortly by a shower of rain that came pelting down. We took out our ponchos and covered ourselves up and then slept soundly till morning. In getting ourselves ready, a little maggot from one of the blankets or somewhere else very impertinently made its way down my back but it soon dried up and we had a fine sleep. Seems to me I am proof against taking cold.
Next night, Tuesday, after staying there all day, we fixed a fly of a tent (which was all we had) on poles so as to have it go up from the ground at about an angle of 45 degrees…with the fire in front…and roomy enough for four or five of us. No! Come to think of it, this was about a mile from that place, after we had moved on; we had arranged in the last place a hut with blankets, but just as it was finished we moved.
Well, in the evening, we all sat down round the fire and had a very pleasant talk which led to a delightful religious conversation till quite late and then we slept soundly till morning. In the early part of that evening, however, I went out with some of the men and had a prayer meeting in the woods.
I must say here that old Chaplain Adams of the 5th Maine came very near being taken prisoner. He was behind hand rolling up his blankets and when he started, he took the wrong road, right down to the enemy’s pickets, but a corporal left behind called after him and thus put him on the right road.
Wednesday morning Major and I rode out up opposite Fredericksburg to make observations with glasses and saw the enemy moving. Heavy columns were moving down the river. The cars were waiting at an opening in the woods, the engine steaming and every evidence of a movement below. Perhaps it was a trick, but we don’t know.
That night we had our tents up and Thursday morning Doctor Murphy and I rode down to the old camp ground in the woods above Belle Plain to see the sick. We found them comfortable. Two men had died, Gale and Anders, whom I had mentioned to you before. We gathered them together round a tent where there was a sick corporal who could not leave his tent and had prayers with them, during which some one stole the Doctor’s flask out of his saddle pockets and my blanket. However, we did not care a great deal.
On returning, we had scarcely seated ourselves before a messenger came from White Oak Church saying that one of our men had had his leg broken. So we went right back on horseback. I took down ink and paper and pen with me at the Major’s suggestion to write a letter for the man if he should so desire it, which he did. He was laying on boughs in a tent and the Doctor found a pillow in which he bound his leg up and left him more comfortable. That made a 24-mile ride.
Friday, we moved up here near White Oak. But I must say that the day before, Thursday, the Doctor and I on our way down found some soldiers burying two men and as there was no chaplain we dismounted and I performed the service, took their names and the direction of one, that was all we could get. Friday we moved up here, pitched tents and I went out to try to make some seats to sit on.
Saturday, I cut down a tree and split it up to get wood to make an axe helve and finished it after a fashion, but it was not a very good one. In the latter part of the day and evening I thought of what my sermon would be on the morrow. I have hurried on here on my account for several days for I wish to get this off to you. I am seeing men, man by man, from time to time.
Sabbath morning, the regiment was all turned out and arranged on three sides of a square and I preached holding a service of 25 minutes in all: Invocation, one verse of Shining Shore, then read Luke XIII: 18-30. Then prayed, then one verse “Jesus, I my cross have taken,” then preach on Luke 13:24…then short prayer, then one verse of Rock of Ages and benediction. All very attentive and God helped hubby greatly.
Appointed a prayer meeting for five o’clock in the hospital tent, but in the afternoon was called down to a funeral of the fourth man of our boys at White Oak Church. The Major and Lieutenant Barney and about six of us all together buried him just at dusk; could scarcely see to read. Then returned and met old Chaplain Adams here who went in with me to the prayer meeting in the hospital tents.
Monday I went all through the tents of Company B and in the evening the Major and I took a ride for a mile or two and yesterday, Tuesday, I went with Doctor Pardy, as I told you, to Falmouth and saw all I mentioned.
I am now sitting on some boughs in the Colonel’s tent opposite the fireplace. The Colonel, Major and an orderly are also writing here. I rose at about quarter before 8:00, took breakfast, then wrote and at half past 9:00 went down to the hospital tents, two very large tents placed end to end and opening into one another. Then I returned and found the men yet being paid off at the adjutant’s tent. I wrote in the Doctor’s tent for some time and then came in here where I now am. We are very comfortably situated and are expecting soon to be moved somewhere near Washington for winter quarters.
The Major told me that I joined in time to have experience, that we have had about as hard a time as they have had, and as eventful as perhaps you will see by these pages, certainly 20 rich days. I have been obliged to write so irregularly that perhaps much may be indistinct, but wify can read it, I know and will be interested in every word.
I have had so much satisfaction a few days back. My man, Edo, some time ago lost his brother. He is a most excellent man, but his care and sorrow brought on the same complaint as his brother, looseness of the bowel and he had some six or eight passages daily. At last he told me he would go back with his company and by and by be down by the roadside like the rest of them. We talked together late one night over a campfire. He was utterly disheartened. I found him with his face lowered, in his lap almost, in the midst of the smoke and my heart ached for him at last, supposing that perhaps better food might help him, I made him turn his rations in to Hastings and have him take our board. Oh! You do not know how thankful the poor man is. He is already almost all right again and cheered up amazingly. Is that not something to be happy for dear wify? He had wasted away for a month back from a man of 160 pounds to about 110 pounds. Now he has color and is doing finely.
Now own dear wify you will see I have written, but have not, from the circumstances, been able to write quite a daily letter although I have tried lately to do that also. Good bye, own one, for a little while. I will write if I can daily…I have a fragment of an exploded shell from the battlefield of Fredericksburg and an old gunlock as momentos…Loves and kisses to dear mother, how welcome her letter was.
Edited very lightly by John Krueger