Joseph Spafford to Mary Jane Spafford
Miss M. J. Spafford
Camp Near Fairfax D. H. Va.Dec. 18th 1862Dear Sister –
I will write you to night tho’ it is only a day or two since I wrote, but I have
recd a letter from you just now & I can answer a letter much better if I do
it just after reading it. When I last wrote you we were doing picket duty near
Manassas. We went down there last saturday & came back yesterday (Wednesday)
While there half the Regt went on picket at a time, so you see we had to go on
every other day. We (the Comishioned officers) only had to go on once in 3 days,
consequently I was only on once while there. You inquire what I have to do while on picket. I will explain as well as possible. It
depends upon the nature of the ground & the nearness of the enemy how
pickets are posted. Ours have generally been two on a post & from 5 to 10
rods apart; some other Brigades meets the right & left of our line so they extend in that way sometimes for miles. Our Brigade
while at Camp Vermont had a line of 8 miles, at Bull Run a line about half as
long. If there are 300 men go out at once they will be divided in 3 releifs of
100 men each. Now a Lieut will take 50
of these men & post them on the right of the line beginning at the center, & another Lieut will post 50 men on the left & releive the men already on duty there. You see (in this case, sometimes they will take more men & sometimes less acording to the length of the line) it would take 6 Lieuts each day, 2 to each releif. After posting the men they go back to the surport or reserve (where the other 2 releifs are stationed) & stop there. The men remain 8 hours on a post then 2 Lieuts take another 100 men (the 2d releif) & releive the men that were first posted. The Lieuts are supposed to visit that part of the line where thier men are posted at least once after posting them before they are releived, so as to see that they are doing thier duty, not sleeping, &c. From what I have written you can judge as nearly as it is possible for me to make you understand what I have to do while on picket. The 12th came down to Centerville & releived our Regt yesterday, there are 3 other Regts to take thier turns before we go again. It is about 10 miles there. George is still with the 12th. I saw him a few moments, before we left Centerville. You ask me to tell all the incidents, what I see, who I see &c. while on picket. This time to satisfy your curiosity I will try & do so, tho’ you know how hard it is to make any one understand any thing by letter. Well to begin with we (the Regt) marched a mile or two beyond Centerville & encamped near a house ocupied by an old gentleman & lady & 3 daughters from 16 to 25 I should judge. from that place we sent out our pickets a mile or two further. We took one room of the house for a Regt Hos. while we stoped there. The old man & woman do not say much one way or the other but no doubt are strong secesh enough when they are not obliged to be otherwise. The girls are regular bold secesh & talk it right out. The old lady has to stop thier talking once in a while. They called us (like Mary Chamberlin) Yankees, said we could’nt take Richmond &c. so much for this family. They said a thousand other things which I dont remember or care for There is another family live down near
the picket line when I visited & took breakfast & dinner with them, had hoe cake (Johnycake) & butter rye flapjacks, potatoes & beef, very good meals, paid them 25 cts for each. They were an old lady (made me think of Mrs Putnam) her two daughters, son in law & son in laws brother. The son in law was about 25 I should think & the son in laws brother 22 or 23. The girls were very good looking & quite smart. The family live near the Bull Run battlefield & have had a good deal of running back & fourth across thier farm. They did not seem such bitter secesh as the other family but more quiet & sensible, said they hoped the war would be settled someway before long; thought it was a pretty hard thing to live there between two fires, but harder still to leave the old place (where they said they were born & brought up) to be torn to pieces as it would be if they left it. I realy liked the boys quite well they were very gentlemanly whether they are secesh or not. The boys that were on picket the day before I was, had discovered a large long box in the barn shed & reported it to the officers & insisted upon having it examined when the Col. went down there, so he went down with us the next morning, took a file of soldiers, went to the barn, & sent to the house for one of the men to come there & explain the box or open it. He took to top boards off & there was a common wooden coffin. He asked the fellow what was in it & he explained it this way, & I do not doubt but he told the truth. He said there was a metalic coffin inside the wooden one & in that was the body of an officer from the 9th La. Regt.; said he died in camp when thier Regt was encamped near there & that the Rebs were intending to have sent him to N. Orleans but they fell back from that vacinity suddenly, and had not enough transportation so put him in thier shed & asked them to keep him until they called for him, which they had not yet done. The Col. had the coffin opened & found the metalic one as the fellow said, so nailed the box up again & it is there now, I suppose, tho’ the fellow said he was going to have it buried. There are any amount of broken guns, bayonets, bullets, shell, cannon balls, dead horses &c. laying around in this vacinity. I have got some bullets, parts of
Knapsack &c. that came from the Bull Run field. I shall send some such as I can home in a paper. I have some acorns, butter balls &c which I picked up while on picket at Bull Run, shall send them if possible so you can work them into your cone work. We hear all sorts of rumors in regard to Fridricsburg. one day Burnside is all cut to pieces & retreating, the next, Seigle (spelt wrong I guess by the looks) has gone down with his forces & is 15 miles beyond the city & driving the enemy before him. There is one report that does not change (i.e.) Burnside has lost a great many men. I suppose our old Brigade is there. We could hear the canonading when we were at Bull Run.
Az has not grown poor. His health has been excelent I say
he has not grown poor, his ponch has shrunk a little, thats all. I did not visit
Mt Vernon. I do not care, I would not give shucks to visit it. I was on picket
one day within a mile or two of there. I am something of the opinion that one of
our Lieuts was when he came back from there, a little corned. Said he “I’ve been to visit the tomb of the father of my
country; thats a great place, that is; its spoken of in history; I looked at it
in front, & then got round in rear of it and looked; some folks when when
they visit that place are affected to tears; I not only shed tears but I pissed.
O, that Capt Washington was a bully man, he was.” There I have given you his
speech when he returned word for word tho’ its not very polite. I’m afraid if Geo. Clarks letter should appear in the B.F.
Times it would come out (only more so) as Ed Balches letter did. Bennet of our
Co is not at home, he is here with us to night. His brother, a Captain from the
3d is at home. I guess thats the way the story came.
Since we have got back from Bull Run, I find Ed Hammond came to this place with the rest of those who were left at Camp Vt a little sick. He was not sent to the Hos. at Alexandria as I wrote in my last letter he is about as well as ever now. My health is good & I like as well as ever. I had made up my mind that we were going to stay at Camp Vt so rather hated to leave there, but now we are out of it I am glad & would not be back if I could. I can stand the cold tip top. We have plenty of blankets so sleep warm. Geo. also stands it well, & well he might for he always has comfortable quarters, enough to eat, good place to sleep, & I should think it was less work for him than being at Windham. He feels unwell once in a while a day the same as any
one will at home. I shall not need any money sent me for the Capt. says he will let me have all I want & I may pay him when we are paid off. I think that is a good way for me to do as long as he is willing. Up to the present time I have borrowed but $20, & I think I have done well. Geo. does not like being with the 12th, dont think the Regt half as smart as the 16th. He likes this life well. We hear to day that McClellan is in command again. I for one am glad. It is getting late, the rest are all sleeping, so I will close & crawl in among them. This letter will do for you all so I will not write to you & mother both. Love to all inquiring friends. Write very often to your Brother.
P.S. I recd the red, white, & blue  in your letter to night. J.