Saturday 8 p.m.
My dear Mother
I wrote a short letter last night. We had just recd orders for a Review today by Gen. Grant. But it has rained violently all day + there has been no Review. I am glad of it for now the mud will prevent it for several days after it clears off + we shall be in better condition.
Today I have only been out over to the Camp of the 61st where I dined with a party of the officers + Col. Miles. It was very pleasant to see them again + talk over old times. There are quite a number of the old officers remaining in the Regt, but very few of the old men. Now + then I see one + always shake him by the hand for I have a real affection for the old fellows. I am going to get Braman at these Hd Qrs to take care of public horses. I think Candler was right in what he said of this Div. It has a spirit + tone to it + a pride in its past successes which will always make it fight well. It is rather loose in some matters of discipline but it is improving every day + everyone is taking hold with the best spirit. It has misfortune of having a very large number of new men but I hope the old ones will teach them how to fight + become good soldiers. The 61st is almost entirely a new Regt. It has now some 250 men present for duty + some two hundred recruits are yet to come.
Len has not been heard of + I am somewhat fearful of the effects of this storm.
I am very well satisfied with what has been accomplished since I came here. I think I have been successful in making a good impression. I have not lost my temper or spoken or acted hastily to anyone + though I am thought strict I think I am well liked.
Thanks for the brush + the recipe. I have just got some codine + will apply it. One of the four men sentenced to be shot on the 15th has been pardoned by the Prest. I daresay the others will be before the time comes though I think it is a mistaken humanity to do so. 3 or 4 men per diem desert from the Division.
I have been busy all day as usual. I think it strange you have not recd my letters as I have written every day, with perhaps two exceptions, to some of you.
Give my best love to Mrs. Howe. I have not heard a word from anyone in Boston though some of them proposed to write
With best love to all
Your affectionate son
General Francis C. Barlow to his mother, April 9, 1864.
Source: Barlow, Francis C. Fear Was Not In Him: The Civil War Letters of Major General Francis C. Barlow. (published 2006; Fordham University Press.) pages 175-176.
Spring 1864 - Getting Ready
Barlow commanded a division of the II Corps, Union Army of the Potomac by the spring of 1864. Starting the war by enlisting as a private and working his way up through the ranks by his own merit and connections, he would end the war as a major general, survive two serious wounds and several sickness, and transfer commands several times.
This letter gives a glimpse into the happenings at division level as the Army of the Potomac prepared for war. General Grant spent time reviewing the troops – or did on fine weather days. Officers like Barlow wanted to show off their commands at their best and also spent time enforcing discipline and drill to prepare their men for the coming campaign.
If an officer could not keep order in camp and the parade field, his leadership in battle and on the march would be questionable. Barlow himself was a disciplinarian, enforcing a high standard and having little patience for those who broke the rule.
Recruits and Deserters
Barlow specifically mentions visiting the 61st New York, which had been the first regiment he commanded in 1862. He noted the change of men.
As the war dragged on, battle and disease took its toll on regiments. The 61st New York had seen heavy fighting in 1862 and 1863 which greatly reduced its ranks. Depleted regiments had several options: recruit from home, fight on as a smaller unit, combine with another small unit, or disband when enlistment periods ended.
Desertion was a constant problem for Civil War armies on both sides. Much to strict Barlow’s dismay, President Lincoln frequently pardoned the offenders. To Barlow and other officers who saw situations with no variables, clear cut right and wrong, this did nothing except undermine their discipline. However, others – like Lincoln – realized that citizen soldiers sometimes needed a little mercy and were inclined to reduce sentences or issue pardons. In the spring, the new campaigns loomed, and though it may have been wrong, its understandable why some soldiers tried to bolt or sneak out before the killing began again.
Whether written by a private or a general, the often repeated plea was “why don’t you write?” Barlow points out how many times he writes and wonders why he didn’t receive more letters. The mail service may have been partly to blame, though the Union generally offered good delivery.