September 27, 2012

'Finally Arrived at Louisville'

Location: Louisville, KY, USA
Buell's Army Enters Louisville (HW 10/18/1862)
As the sun rose on September 26, 1862, the Lancaster County Regiment marched into the city that one year previous had welcomed the regiment to the war's western theater. Part race, part retreat, Gen. Buell's Army of the Ohio succeeded in beating the Confederate army to Louisville.  Although tired and hungry from the preceding weeks' forced marches and restricted rations, the Lancasterians felt relieved to finally be part of the main body of the Army of the Ohio, instead of detached duty like they had essentially been performing since March or April.

Hospital Steward John B. Chamberlain recounted the regiment's recent activity in a letter published in the October 1, 1862, Daily Inquirer (see full text here):
Since my last letter (link) the 79th has seen rough but active service.  Two weeks ago we received orders to move, and from that time to the present we have literally obeyed orders, and tramped over "the dark and bloody ground" after Secesh until we finally arrived at Louisville, and, as usual in our case, found that the enemy was not "thar."  When we started on the march the men were but poorly furnished with rations, the great bulk of the provisions being aboard the wagon train, and after one day's march the teams were so far in the rear that it was utterly impossible for them to catch up with the regiment, which was with the main body of the army.  The Quartermaster, however, did the best he could under existing circumstances; full rations of flour were issued to the regiment instead of crackers.  The entire ingenuity of the regiment was fully taxed to promptly improvise an article of food from flour and water; and many were the means resorted to, and odd contrivances employed, for baking.  Some wound the unleavened dough around sticks, others heated stones and some laid it upon boards--all aiming to make something eatable out of the most uneatable, unpalatable article ever compounded for human digestion.  
Daily Evening Express correspondent Elias H. Witmer positively reviewed the regiments efforts, pronouncing, "The Lancaster county female cooks are knocked in the shade...The bread which these ovens turn out is christened 'Buell's slab-jacks' and 'bullet-proof doughnuts.'" [10/1/1862]

As satisfied as the Lancasterians felt with their own culinary abilities, they felt distressed about the state of the Army of the Ohio, to which they belonged.  Witmer and Chamberlain both lamented that the regiment had not the opportunity to fight on the banks of the Potomac.  Frustration began to build with Don Carlos Buell as much ground gained over the past year had been lost.  Comparing the situation in late September 1862 to that of earlier in the year, Chamberlain wrote
How different are the prospects now, from what they then appeared to us.  Then we were on the aggressive, and in a few short months Donelson, Henry and Shiloah shed lustre on our victorious arms.  Now we are on the defensive, and accumulated ruin and disaster has continually attended our every effort, since the inauguration of the "masterly inactivity policy" by the Commander-in-Chief of this department.  
 As September drew to a close, the situation deteriorated almost comically (and definitely tragically), as various factions within the army led to confrontations.  One general murdered another.  Washington relieved Buell of command and then rescinded the order.  Tens of thousands of green troops were absorbed into the army.  Yet, somehow, on October 1, Don Carlos Buell led an army out of Louisville to take the offensive and confront the Confederate army.   

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