Saturday, January 14, 2012

Atascosa County and The Civil War - Part 7

The 36th Texas’ Camp Life on the San Marcos

Joseph P. Blessington, a private in the 16th Volunteer Texas Infantry, Walker’s Division wrote a memoir of his days in service and here gives us a vivid description of camp life at his encampment in Austin County, which would have been about the same as the Pleasanton men were experiencing at the time in their camp on the San Marcos.

Military discipline soon inducted us into the mysteries of camp-life, and in time we became accustomed to its daily routine, which was by no means light. At early dawn the reveille roused us from slumber. Roll-call being over, the companies were dismissed to put their quarters in order. Breakfast at 6 o’clock, A.M. In the mean time two men from each company were detailed to serve in the main-guard, to enforce discipline and guard the camp. A police guard was also appointed, who cleaned up all dirt and filth about the tents, brought water for the company, wood for the cooks, and, in fact, kept everything in order and cleanliness during the drilling of the troops.

There was a daily drill, three times a day, at the following hours, viz.:
Company Drill, at 7 o’clock, A.M.,
Company Drill, at 2 o’clock, P.M.,
Battalion Drill, at 3½ o’clock, P.M.,
and “Dress Parade” every evening at 5 o’clock; at sundown, Company Muster, for roll-call and supper. Tattoo, at 9 P.M., when the men retired to their respective quarters; fifteen minutes later, three taps of the drum was the signal for all lights to be extinguish-ed, and the camp was in darkness and quietude. These duties were conducted with regularity and precision, and performed with a promptitude and cheerfulness surprising in men who had never know restraint, and were fresh from the business and luxuries of home. Everything necessary for the comfort and convenience of the troops was furnished, and laugh, jest, and song attested the general satisfaction and good feeling of the men.1

At the 36th Texas’ Dress Parade every evening, the flag-bearer carried a Confederate flag made for them by the ladies of Hays County.2

Blessington’s last sentence expressing the “general satisfaction” of the men in his outfit was a bit at variance with Tom Smith’s observation of his cohort: “Some of the boys are dissatisfied with the camp but the most of us like its appearance better than Camp Salado.”3 So, appearance, yes; other aspects, no. But then, griping has been the sovereign right and practice of all troops since the days of Homer.

Since we know that virtually the same military routine and discipline (as the above) was observed at Camp Clark, we can infer from this daily round how busy the junior officers and non-coms were, riding herd on the hundred-odd men under their responsibility. Get them up in the morning, make sure they are fed (three times a day), see that they attend to their horses and camp tasks, get them to their training exercises and multiple drills per day, and get them to bed at night.

Private Blessington, the infantryman, apparently decided to go have a look at how the horse soldiers in his camp managed. His view of the officers’ quarters:

Look into the cavalry officers’ tents, and you will find that they don’t fare so badly in camp. Neat beds are contrived; some are cots, others saplings or frames covered with cotton, and plenty of coverings. On one side is a table, with books and novels, a box of cigars, and, most likely, a bottle of “commissary.” These, with a looking-glass, and the officer’s equipments are complete.

This is his look at the field officers’ suite:

Four flies form a mess-tent; and as the colonel and staff are going to dine, we will just see what kind of fare they have. It consists of stewed beef, boiled ham, mashed potatoes, and a couple of chickens, which some of the Austin County housekeepers were kind enough to raise for them . . .

Blessington’s camp in Austin County, over near Houston in a more populated, settled part of Texas, surely provided the officers of Walker’s Division with a grander lifestyle than was likely to have existed in Camp Clark, roughly 120 miles to the west.

Officers and orderlies are always lounging or riding about head-quarters, which gave it a very gay and stirring appearance. At some distance from the colonel’s headquarters are the less pretentious headquarters of some of his subordinate officers, while, a little further on, are the modest tents of the rank and file, arraigned in streets.

He then gives us a look up and down the same kind of enlisted men’s “streets” that the officers Company E would have seen on their rounds.

The men around these are collected in groups, wearing their bell-spurs, while around each waist is dangling a huge knife, made by some village blacksmith, giving them the appearance of warriors, apparently ready for any emergency. Some are playing cards, pitch and toss, or a thousand other games known only in the army; others are dining, and grumbling at their rations, while dining, perhaps, on turkey. [Wild, of course.] The cooks are busy around a huge camp-kettle, placed on the fire, in which a joint of bacon and some peas are bubbling and bubbling around . . . A smaller vessel simmers near it; but, as the lid is on it, I cannot see its contents – most likely a brace of chickens under the wing of a fat turkey.

He wrote that if you asked the troopers where they got the chickens they would tell you “that their commissary furnished them,” but he knew it was more likely that they had had been appropriated from poultry yards of the farms they passed on their way.4

Next time: Colonel Woods and His Men . . .

Purgason, Howard. Calvin Turner, Texas Ranger
1. Blessington, Joseph Palmer. The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division, 21
2. Windle, Janice Woods. True Women, 264
3. Smith, Thomas. C.. Here's Yer Mule, 16-17
4. Blessington, 22-23