June of 1862 was quiet time for the boys from Will County. Some got furloughs home, while others spent the quiet time writing letters home. In a letter dated June 3, 1862 printed in the Wilmington Independent, an anonymous writer gives us a view of camp life for the 39th in Virginia.
We think that the writer was Ed Conley, a member of the band and stretcher bearer. After the war, Conley would go on to purchase the Independent, changing the name to the Wilmington People’s Advocate.
In camp, near Luray, Page Co., Va.
Here we are again, after a long march of 360 miles, in the same place which we left three weeks ago, trying to clean out the Shenandoah Valley once more. Such are the uncertain fortunes of war. These marches and counter marches, advances and retreats, and complicated movement, reminds me of two persons playing chess. One moves boldly up in front, then, for fear of being checkmated by the maneuvers of his opponent, he moves back in another direction. Then he moves carefully around to the side, and throws out baits to draw his opponent into a trap Such has been the movements of our Generals, dodging around through the mountains, is playing the rough game of war with the rebel Gen Jackson.”
“We left Fredericksburg Sunday morning, the 25th, ult., and reached Front Royal by forced marches on Friday the 30th. We came around by the way of Manassas Junction, which made the distance much more than it would have been to have come the same way we went.”
“Most of our marches were over 20 miles a day. Some of them were night marches, through rain and mud, and over the roughest kind of roads. Our wagons were often behind, so that we had to do without blankets and rations. Our rations have been very scanty for the last 3 weeks, hardly anything save hard crackers, sometimes not enough of those; a little sugar and coffee, and now and then a ration of beef. Such has been our rough fare on our long weary marches. So you see that we are having our share of the hardships of the soldier’s life.”
At the end of the month, another letter was printed from the same person. This time it told a story of the horrible things neighbors did to neighbors during that time.
“When we arrived at Luray, the bodies of two men who had been murdered by the rebels were found concealed in the woods, near that place. One of them was Mr. John F. Haynes, a prominent and respectable citizen of Page County.”
“The day after our division left Luray, on the way to Fredericksburg, 16 of the Louisiana Tigers come to Haynes’ house and asked permission to stay all night. He told them he would keep as many as his house would accommodate. After searching his house, part of them left and part remained. They questioned him with regard to his politics. He confessed that he was a Union man.”
“They left in the morning, but returned in the evening accompanied by a neighbor. He was taken prisoner to Luray, where he remained some eight or ten days. At night two men come to the jailor and demanded the key, saying that they had orders from Col. Ashby to remove two prisoners, Haynes and Belor. The key was brought, and the prisoners taken a mile and a half from town, and there murdered. We were informed that at a meeting of the citizens of Luray it was resolved to have the above named prisoners killed. Such outrages as these which are constantly occurring shows the fiendish hatred which the secessionists bear towards all who entertained Union sentiments.”
Our correspondent then goes on to give his opinion of those who enlisted, but when things got tough resigned their commissions. We read,
“In my last communication I forgot to speak about the change in the company. Officers of our regiment which took place during our long march from Luray to Fredericksburg, and back again. Four captains, among the number Captain Hooker of Company E, and four lieutenants, resigned, and their places were filed by the promotion of lieutenants and sergeant. Eight company officers out of twenty-seven resigned almost at once.”
“They held their places and drew their pay till they began to feel some of the hardships which the private always has to undergo, and then, when the prospect was that they would be greatly needed and there appeared to be hard and dangerous service just ahead, they took advantage of their privilege and bade us farewell.”
“I do not speak thus to give the impression that we have sustained any very great loss by their resignation; for I believe that the regiment is as well off as it was before, and that it would be improved if some others would follow their example, I am much of the same opinion which I heard, not long since, expressed by an intelligent and observing civilian. He said that he had heard it remarked, and he believed it true from his own observation, that as a general thing the worst men in the army held the offices; that the most of them had entered the army merely for the office, while many of the privates had been governed by better motives; that very often it was the case that better men, more capable men, marched in the ranks than those who wore the shoulder straps.”
“I do not wish to have it thought that I am trying to injure any individual, or seeking to lower the consideration of shoulder straps in general, but I believe there is much truth in the above remarks. There are some honorable and noble exceptions, but in regard to very many of them these statements are but too true.”
“Since writing the above orders have come for us to march to Alexander; and then Ho! For Richmond!”