Edson Emery, 13 March 1862

Flint Hill, Virginia ¹
March 13, 1862

Dear Mother,

We are here yet. Today Gen. McClellan reviewed us & tonight we got orders to start for Alexandria & then down the river—probably down to Occoquan Creek. We start tomorrow morning. Centerville & Manassas is blown up. It is rather exciting times. We shall go back to Vienna & take the cars for Alexandria.

Philo is well & the boys generally. McClellan looks as smiling as ever—not so fleshy. I was marching in the rear rank as we passed in review & I fell over a stump heels over head. I told the boys I was bound to salute him. The old general laughed some.

It looks like rain tonight. Our orders came sudden. Now write often. Direct as before. Tell mother not to worry about us. We will write often. Yours in haste. Love to all.

— Edson Emery

¹ “Smith’s division, including the Vermont Brigade, was encamped at Flint Hill, a few miles north of Fairfax Court House, when orders came to march at six on Saturday morning, March 15.  As the soldiers set out and approached Fairfax, the skies opened.  Just like the Pennsylvania Reserves, the troops in Smith’s command were forced to contend with torrential downpours and muddy ground.  The division advanced slowly along the Little River Turnpike towards Alexandria.  Some of the men began to fall out, and officers tried to help weaker soldiers carry their knapsacks or rifles.  All the regiments of the Vermont Brigade, with the exception of the 2nd Vermont, had never experienced such a difficult march.  (in Zeller 58.)  

After about twenty arduous miles, the division finally reached the outskirts of Alexandria and set up camp in a pine woods.  As Corporal Dan Mason of the 6th Vermont recalled in a letter to his fiancee:

I was wet through long before we halted. About the time we stopped it rained harder than ever. My boots were full of water & I felt cold & chilly. Others were in as bad or even worse condition than I was.  Some were inclined to curl up by a tree. They did not seem to care whether they lived or died. (Ltr., Mason to Fiancee, Mar. 31, 1862) (minor corrections made to punctuation/capitalization)

The soldiers lit fires to stay warm and attempted to sleep.  The next morning, steam was literally rising from their saturated bodies.  The men soon learned the disappointing news that their transports were not yet ready.  The movement to the Peninsula would have to wait.  The Vermont Brigade marched about four miles to Cloud’s Mill (current-day West End area of Alexandria).  There the soldiers established what they nicknamed “Camp Hard Crackers.” 

On March 23, the 13,000 men of Smith’s division marched to the Alexandria waterfront with great fanfare and boarded transports to take them down the Potomac to the Chesapeake and Ft. Monroe.”  [See “All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac”]

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