Bygones of Monroe:
Letter From The Seventh Regiment, Camp Benton, October 17, 1861
Editor Commercial:—I have delayed the fulfillment of my promise to write you for publication, partly because I desired to familiarize myself with camp life before I shall assume to speak of it, and partly because I find it more difficult to write amid the excitement about me here than in the quiet of my own home. My manner of living here is certainly very different from my former course of life. It seemed, of course, strange to me at first, and though the strangeness of it has worn off, yet I cannot but feel that man was not made to spend his days in a tent away from the refining influences of the family circle and the endearing associations of home. There is no home feeling here—there can be none. We pitch our tents, lie down in our beds of straw on the damp ground, eat our handy fare, go through our daily round of duties, but al the while feel that we are only sojourners who have no interest in the soil. No interest in the people around us, no tie to bind us here a single hour. To associate only with men, seeing no women and children about, is indeed new and strange.
And yet there is not a little in our position here which is both comfortable and agreeable. We have an abundance of good, substantial food—more indeed than we need, and what is of at least equal in importance, we have an appetite which craves the food—it really tastes good. Some of your readers might not perhaps relish it; quite likely they would prefer the table spread for them in their own quiet, neat and cheerful house, but even they in a little while would learn, were they here, to welcome the hours for meals, and sit down with us to eat as though they loved what was before them. And as to the sleeping arrangements in camp it is true they are not quite as comfortable and as clearly, as we have been accustomed to, still we do sleep warm and soundly on our beds of straw made on the ground. Sometimes indeed it is rather disagreeable to wake up in the night and find the water pouring into your tents, or trickling down upon your beds, or to find the cold, damp air blowing in over you (for the night air here is exceedingly chilly and damp, and the heavy dews and mists seem to soak through even the best protected tents and the thickest clothing one may have) yet, it may be questioned, whether those who have warm rooms and luxurious beds sleep any more soundly, or wake up in the morning more refreshed by the night slumbers than is the case with us. The sickness is the Regiment is owing to imprudencies in eating and drinking and to careless exposures, rather than to an insufficiency of food or an inadequate supply of blankets. Our Quartermaster gives diligent heed to wants of the men in these requests, and sees that they have what they need.
Camp Benton is very pleasantly situated on high ground about a mile from the Potomac and two miles from Poolsville. “Camp Monroe” in “Camp Benton,” for so the 7th Regiment all their present quarters, lies nearest the river, the land sloping gently to the east and furnishing a spacious parade ground. A belt of woods lines the camp on the west; on the south and south-east a pleasant grove meets the eye; on the edge of this grove 80 rods or so to the east the 19th Massachusetts Regiment is encamped, while back of them on the summit of the hill is a company of sharp shooters; north east, something over 100 rods you may see the 20th Regiment from the Old Bay State; directly north about half a mile is the encampment of the First Minnesota Regiment—the Regiment which behaved so bravely and which was so severely cut up at the battle of Bull Run. Near them is the New York Second, the Tammany Regiment and Col. Van Allen’s Regiment of Cavalry; and a little further to the north Col. Baker’s California Brigade. Poolsville two miles to the north east of us, Gen. Stone’s Headquarters may be found, with several Regiments of Infantry and Cavalry, encamped near him, while a few miles further on are the Headquarters of Gen. Bank’s Division. Some 10 or 12 miles directly north of us, Lugan Loop Mountain, the highest point of land in Maryland, lifts its head high above the surrounding hills. On the summit of this mountain is the great Signal Station for the army of the Potomac, from which by means of flags in the day time and lights at night intelligence of the movements of the enemy across the river is rapidly communicated to other signal stations and to the commanding General himself. These signals are often seen by us in the night time.
All the statements which you have seen as to the immense force under Gen. McClellan are unquestionably true. The army of the Potomac is ode of the largest armies ever gathered together under the leadership of one man; and what is equally important is the fact that this army seems to have great and increasing confidence in the military skill and ability of its commanding officer. The country is alive with camps. Maryland is one great camping ground, and the same may be said of that part of Virginia on which McClellan has established himself, never to retrace his steps until this most unjustifiable and accursed rebellion has been completely overcome and the rebels mad to bite the dust.
Gen. Lander has been detached from this Brigade to take charge of the construction of that portion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, which the rebels in their madness and folly destroyed. Col. Grosvenor being the ranking Colonel, is now the commanding officer of this Brigade.
Last week, in company with Adjutant Landon, I visited the Fourth Regiment of Michigan. After riding several miles farther than was necessary over “the sacred soil of Virginia we at last found them” on Miner’s Hill, on which they had that very day encamped. A very kind reception awaited us, particularly from Capt. Oliver and Company A. A good supper of beefsteak and potatoes, and coffee without milk, and sweet bread was eagerly devoured, and after supper we sat around the campfire until a late hour enjoying the soldier’s conversation—their stories and jokes—then we laid down to sleep in the Captain’s tent. The Adjutant and Captain laid themselves down on the floor, the former having his saddle for a pillow and the latter his carpet bag, and the undersigned stretching himself on the little couch about equal in hardness to those of his companions. We slept until the dawn of day, regardless of the storm which drenched the camp during the night. Monroe may well be proud of Company A. and this company may consider itself fortunate in having with it an officer, so competent, so careful of, and so popular with his men as Capt. Oliver. The visit was every way so agreeable to us, that we have promised ourselves the pleasure of repeating it some future day if possible.
One of the most delightful of landscapes meets the eye on a hill, about a half mile west of us, overlooking the Potomac, which winds its way among the hills before you, and Leesburg, lying back from the river two or three miles. In the distance, some twenty miles away is Bull Run—a spot which will forever be memorable in American history. There is only one fortification to be seen across the Potomac at this point, and is near Leesburg, but everything indicates that if the rebels once had a strong force there they have withdrawn it. The fortification can be shelled by our guns on this side; but whether we shall move over to take passion of Leesburg, or when we shall do, so one of us knows. It amuses us to read, as we sometimes do in the papers, of heavy cannonading heard near Edward’s and Conrad’s Ferries—both in our vicinity—of Gen. Stone’s preparing to march across the Potomac &c. We remain quietly here, unconscious of any such movements. Though we are surrounded by secessionists—our very camp being on the ground where a rebel company of cavalry was not long since encamped, and near the house of the Captain of this company who owns this farm where our Brigade now is—yet we neither disturb, nor heed them, nor fear to leave them behind, when the order shall come to march into the Old Dominion.
Yours truly, A.K. Strong
(Monroe Commercial, October 31, 1861, Page 1, Column 6,7)