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Centennial Times - February 28 1862 - Adventures in Williamsport & Hancock

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February 28 1862

Soldier tells adventures in Williamsport and Hancock

Dr. Charles M. Clark, Thirty Ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, is writing of the regiment’s experiences in Williamsport and Hancock. He is taking notes for a regimental history.

Here are some of the incidents he remembers:

The regimental hospital was established in the town (of Williamsport), having appropriated a large brick structure, formerly a hotel, for the purpose. It was capable of containing about one hundred patients, and was soon repletely full by reason of an epidemic of measles which broke out about this time among the men of the command, aside from other and frequently recurring diseases incident to camp life. The medical officers of the regiment treated some three hundred cases of measles in this hospital without the loss of a single life...

The medical officers remained in town (Williamsport) for the reason that the hospital was located there but each morning either the surgeon or the assistant rode out to camp at seven o’clock a.m. to hold “sick call”. There seemed to be an organized fellowship among members of the several companies to give the “doctor” a warm reception at each visit, and no sooner did we reach the outline of camp than a perfect howl was sent up in which could be distinguished expressions such as, “There comes old Salts! Castor O-i-l-!! Quinine!!!” etc., etc., and which was echoed and re-echoed from one end of the camp to the other, making a most unpleasant strain upon the sensitive tympanums of the doctors.

The medical officers, however, had the opportunity for revenge among the large number that always presented for excuse from duty, mainly malingerers, by attending the administration.

The practice of catharticism among the men was rendered almost absolute by reason of the continual gourmandizing of indigestible rubbish from the sutlers, and it was a matter of surprise that no more sickness was engendered from the inordinate stuffing that was continually practiced, but perhaps the epson salts so lavishly dispensed was the antidote, and, be it known, a six months’ supply was consumed in the short space of six weeks.

Williamsport was full of refugees that had been forced to leave their homes on account of their loyal sentiments. It was also full of spies, who, under the most strict surveillance, managed to communicate with the enemy on the opposite shore. There were rebels in the town, too, but they were securely lodged in the guard' house.

(In January, the 39th Illinois went to fight Stonewall Jackson’s men at Bath, or Berkeley Springs. They were around Hancock when Jackson bombarded it. )

General Lander received Colonel Ashby in a room in which was the telegraph office, and thinking that Ashby might understand telegraphy, moved to another room where he read the communication from General Jackson. In this message Jackson demanded the surrender of the of the Union forces, saying he had fifteen thousand men and it was his intention to cross the river, and that if he was opposed that he should bombard the town. It also stated that two hours’ time would be given non-combatants to leave the place at the termination of which he would open fire. General Lander read it carefully through and his reply was at once emphatic, forcible and characteristic.

Turning to Ashby he said: “Colonel Ashby, give my compliments to General Jackson and tell to him bombard and be d—d If he opens his batteries on this town he will injure more of his friends than he will of the enemy, for this is a d—d secesh place anyhow.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Mann, thinking the interview terminated, commenced to replace the bandage over Ashby's eyes prior to leading him forth, when General Lander, having reflected somewhat on his answer, said: “Hold on! Take a seat, Colonel Ashby. General Jackson has addressed me in a polite and soldierly manner and it demands a like reply. I take back all I have said and will write what I have to communicate.”

This was done, and as Lander placed the missive in his hand, he said: “General Jackson and yourself, Colonel Ashby, are gentlemen and brave men, without a question, but you have smarted out in a God d~d bad cause!”

We remained at Hancock until the evening of January 11, 1862, when orders were received to march to Cumberland, Md.

Every few miles a halt was ordered for rest, but many of the men, instead of resting, took advantage of the occasion to forage for something to eat and opportunities were not wanting as the country was well settled by thrifty farmers whose larders must have suffered severely, judging from the amount of provender of all varieties and descriptions that found its way back and was distributed along the line.

(From Cumberland, the Regiment was shipped by boxcar first to New Creek, Va., and then to Patterson’s Creek, Va., where it now is.)

While stopping at Patterson's Creek, Va., in February, 1862, the weather was something horrible, raining daily, and the mud was ankle deep. There were many on the sick list, due to the inclement weather. One evening a heavy detail of men was called for to go out on a reconnaissance, as it was rumored that a portion of General Jackson’s army was approaching. After the detail had been made, they were ordered by the Colonel, at the suggestion of Surgeon S.C. Blake, to be brought into line at the commissary’s head quarters and be given a ration of quinine and whiskey as a prophylactic and to tone the men up for their work in such nasty weather.

They were accordingly brought forward into line before a barrel one-third full of commissary whisky, into which had been dumped an ounce of quinine, and Hospital Steward DeNormandie, provided with a gill cup, proceeded to deal out the ration. The majority of the men considered it a treat; so much so, in fact, that they took advantage of the occasion, not knowing when it would be repeated, to make it a good and satisfactory one, and many of them, eluding the vigilance of the steward, would, after getting their ration, slip around and fall into line for another one, and thus got more than they could comfortably carry, it would have been all right if the detail had started out, but before all was in readiness an order came countermanding the movement, and the men were dismissed and sent to their quarters.

A half hour had perhaps expired when the Sutler Brown made his appearance at headquarters demanding in a very excited manner to see the Colonel. On the appearance of that officer his pentup wrath found expression in some very forcible and emphatic language.

“Those d—d soldiers of yours have broken into my quarters and stolen all the cordials, bitters and everything else they could lay they could lay their hands on, and the whole shanty is a wreck, Sir - -they are all drunk as lords on the quinine and whisky that those d-d surgeons dealt put to them awhile ago; and by G-, Sir, I’m ruined!”

He spluttered around at a great rate, demanding payment, and punishment of the whole lot. He was quieted down, however, with the assurance that the matter should be looked into, and the officer of the guard was sent for and instructed to go and repair damages and arrest the riotous proceedings as well as the offenders. This was the last of the quinine and whisky ration during that Campaign.


Page #:



Used with permission of the Herald-Mail


Collection Location:
Hagerstown, Maryland

Original Size:
59 x 33 cms

Washington County (Md.), history; Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862; Sharpsburg, Battle of, Md., 1862; Centennial celebrations, etc:

Washington County (Md.), 1860-1862

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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