Friday, March 2, 2012

Fort Henry Encampment

To the casual observer, life in camp at Fort Henry did not appear much different from their camp near Calhoun, KY only a month prior.  Both were situated near rivers. The men slept in tents, cooked over open fires, turned the earth for sanitation and chopped wood for fuel and fortification.  (Next to his rifle, the axe was proving to be the infantryman's nearest kin.)  They also drilled like never before.  The flanking and facing maneuvers that had formerly taken a parade-like character were now performed with an air of solemn professionalism.  The images were no longer of marching to the tune of their regimental band past the gaily adorned young ladies of their hometown.  The 17th Regiment Kentucky Infantry, USA was now tempered by battle and everything about them indicated they were a hardened, professional regiment.  The sounds that rang in their ears were of heavy cannonades lasting for hours on end, the continual explosions of thousands of muskets, the whistle of grape and minie balls as they passed, and worse, the thud of their impact.  On the battlefield, the distant screams of the wounded seemed to prevail over all of these sounds, as did the last muted gasps of the men falling at your side.

These soldiers had seen the elephant and everything in their life was changed.  Those who had volunteered for a brief and glorious adventure now feared they might never return home alive, or even dead.  They had dug enough battlefield graves to understand the true meaning of sacrifice, of courage under fire and of the profuse laudations heaped upon those lucky enough to survive.  (Visit the Fort Donelson National Cemetery for a greater appreciation of the human toll.)

They were allowed some free time and engaged in the hunting of deer and small game in the surrounding woods.  Some of the men shared their few off-duty hours with the Tennessee girls and others wrote home to their families and sweethearts.  Most exciting, however was the announcement of "Mail Call!"  This was the one time when the men could forget about their present suffering and travel back home in their imaginations.  Most were proud to share their mail with friends and the sounds of orated missives could be heard throughout the camp.  There were always volunteers to read to the dozens of sick and wounded in the camp infirmary for, although the battles may end, the dying never seems to stop.  Similarly, there were always a few soldiers that found a place of solitude to wait while those who had received letters had their merriment.  These were the men who had volunteered against the wishes of family and the commandments of their fathers.  Although their hearts were filled with warm longing thoughts of home, their minds knew they would not even receive the cordial welcome so often afforded a traveling stranger should they return. Certainly, no letters were expected.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you are finding such interesting family history. Thanks. kvf