This letter was written by Corporal John J. Hill (1826-1905) of Co. G, 13th Vermont Infantry. Hill enlisted on 10 October 1862 and was mustered out after nine months service on 21 July 1863 at Brattleboro, Vermont.
John J. Hill was the son of Joseph and Mary Hill. He was married to Susan M. Hayden on 27 May 1849 but she died not long after John returned from the war. His second marriage (December 1864) was to Mrs. Sarah E. (Williams) Reed — a sister of Capt. Williams of Co. G, 13th Vermont. Though his health was impaired by the service, Hill resumed farming after the war until he became a chronic invalid.
In this letter, Hill describes his regiment’s movement from the time they left Camp Vermont — two miles south of Alexandria on the Mt. Vernon road — until they arrived at Union Mills where they were assigned duty guarding the railroad. On this expedition led by Col. Francis Voltaire Randall, the 13th Vermont was brigaded with the 14th and 15th Vermont Regiments. They returned to Camp Vermont in a heavy snowstorm two days after this letter was written.
December 3rd 1862
Dear Friend Hayden,
As it has been some time since I received a letter from your wife, I now take this favorable opportunity to write a few lines to let you know of my welfare. Now to begin with, I can say I am well. I never was better in my life excepting a cold. I think you will not wonder at it when I explain matters to you. Since we left Brattleborough, our position has been quite changeable and some of the time been subject to considerable exposure. Probably you know of some of our shifts so I will not speak of only our stop at Camp Vermont and our leaving there.
After we came to Camp Vermont, we stopped there some days expecting that we should move soon. Finally the order was to prepare for winter quarters [and] make us log barracks. We went to work. The timber that we chopped was mostly oak. The timber was soon chopped by Company G and drawed on the company ground. We went to work with a will. I with the Bakersfield squad began on the first barrack. We built the body and chinked it close and warm. Then on Monday of last week we commenced getting our roofing. It was made of red oak, split into slabs 4 of one log 8 feet long hewed down and fitted on two sides which made a very comfortable cover. We prepared them and fetched them in on our backs ¾ of a mile [and] finished it up on Tuesday afternoon. Then in the evening we commenced making our bunks to sleep in we worked till 8 when the order came for us to fall into line. We did so. We were there told it was probable we were to march and we should stand a chance to meet the enemy. There we received each 40 rounds of cartridges in our boxes, then went to our tents and packed our two blankets and one shelter tent, then took 3 rations in our haversacks and told to be ready to march in twenty minutes.
At the end of that time, we were on the march. It was raining quite smart. The night was dark. This was Tuesday night. One week yesterday our regiment and the 14 and 15 [Vermont Regiments] went together. We went forward. We marched until 4 o’clock on Wednesday morning. Then we halted by a piece of woods, there stacked our arms [and] were told to make ourselves comfortable as we could until morning. We built some fires in the woods and there stayed until 7 in the morning. It continued to rain through the night. It stopped in the morning. At 8 we resumed our march. We reached Fairfax Court House at eleven, passed by there, went about two miles [and] then we halted in a pine woods. There [we] built some fires for it was quite cold.
We then received some hard crackers and some raw pork of which we eat our dinners. We stuck the pork on a stick and roasted it in the fire, then eat it and hard bread together which made us a comfortable meal. We stopped till nearly two o’clock, then resumed our march to Fairfax Station. [We] passed to the left of that and marched into another pine woods and there camped for the night. We built some large camp fires, then took our hard bread and pork and some coffee that we steeped in our cups, then spread our blankets and camped for the night. We slept very well through the night. Morning again came, we then partook of our usual fare, then again resumed our march.
We went about four miles. There we halted [and] were told we were going in the wrong direction. After a few moments, we were countermarched, then crossed a field for some distance and struck another road. There the regiments separated. The 13th and 15th [Vermont Regiments] went in one direction and the 14th went in another to strike the Bull Run Creek in different places. We continued our march until noon, then we halted in an open field and there formed inline of battle and commanded to load our guns. We did so, then stacked our arms and sat down on the ground and took our dinners from our haversacks. It consisted of hard crackers and raw pork. We stopped about one hour, then shouldered our blankets and guns, then started on our march.
About four in the afternoon, we came to the place where we are called Union Mills — about three and ½ miles from Bull Run Battleground where the railroad runs through from Fairfax Station to Manassas where the train of cars was burned last summer. It is a sorry looking place. There isn’t only two houses and one barn left there. The rubbish of buildings and cars is laying strewn all around there. After we stopped, we went into some old log barracks that were built by the rebels. we stayed there until our tents came to us. The place was occupied by some Alabama regiments. There is some extensive earthworks in sight of us in most every direction but we have not met any rebels yet. There is now with us two batteries of artillery and some cavalry and one iron-clad car with one large cannon in it in front of us on the railroad. There is a number of graves around here where the rebels was buried. I don’t think we shall come in contact with the rebels at present, if ever.
We are now stationed here doing picket duty for about twelve miles frontier. The three regiments and the cavalry are scouting in front today while I am writing. I am on picket about two miles from camp in the woods with some brush around us and a fire in the middle, my leg for a table and a paper for my table spread and the ground for a chair. That is some inconvenient but it goes very well when one cannot get better. Our squad consists of Munson and Ward and Martin Dodge and George Ladd. We stay out 24 hours to time. We were out on Sunday. The weather is quite warm — like September in Vermont.
Now about the general look of things in the Sunny South. The country as a general thing bears the look of desolation. The land, as far as I have been, is mostly grownup to weeds and bushes. It is mostly laying to the common. The fences are all used up for firewood for the soldiers. There is not a dwelling hardly left standing in the country. There is few dwellings that are guarded by our forces. Some of the best houses are torn to the ground and not a board of it left. I think if the State of Virginia that we have not been into is like that we have, I think it is not worth spending much time fighting for it. I think if I was at home and knew as much about the war as I do now, it would be some time before I should enlist again for I think the matter is managed more for office than for the good of our country. And as long as it is so managed, I think the sooner it is ended one way or the other, the better it will be for the nation.
I suppose you know more about the war most than we do for we do not know much of anything that is going on — only as we have orders. I think that I enjoy life as well as can be expected being away from home. I have wanted to be at home to deal with Pratt a little while I think he has been very mean with Susan according to her writing and I think if I live to get home, he and I will have a settlement that we never had before about the matter. I wish you would take the trouble to look after. Then if if you think it necessary if Pratt is making to free use of my corn, I think it is best to have the hogs divided so to save less use for corn. Susan says he is using corn rather freely. I think there is not any need of it. If you should think it best to divide the hogs, get Mr. Chiles to do it, taking my share of them home if you want them. If Susan thinks it is best in the spring, I wish you would look to my things — the sheep in particular. When the sheep come to have lambs, the sheep will want a little [ ]. I guess that Pratt wants some looking to according to what Susan writes. If there is any chance to dispose of potatoes at a good price. I wish you would dispose of some of mine perhaps if they are keeping well. It is better to keep them till spring. I do not think of anything of any other business now.
When we left Camp Vermont, I suppose our box was in Washington but we have not got it yet. I hope it will come for Thanksgiving. I should like to step in and take a Thanksgiving supper with my family and friends at home. I shall think of you on that day about supper time but I can get along with my living here as long as I feel well and have a good appetite. That is the best blessing that one can enjoy. I think I enjoy those very well. I feel as contented as can be expected being away from home and in an enemy’s land. If I have health, that is all I ask. I must close for my paper is most full. You must write as often as you can. Write all the news. Give my love to Susan and the boys and accept the same to yourself and family.
From your friend, — John J. Hill
Excuse this poor description of things here and when I write again, I will [write] you more of the look of different places here in this sacred southern land. It is a sickening sight to look upon by a Vermonter. I would not give [my] last notion for the whole of the South. we have had three deaths in our company. The boys are very well now — those from Bakersfield.