June 12 Gettysburg Campaign: “Play Ball”

Again both Horner and Ware remain in their camps this Friday. Horner writes about a comrade who is being sent away to recruiting duty and a chaplain who left for home.

The Confederate Ware mentions a friend who was detailed as the Division pioneer, an early war term for engineer troops whose job it was to build roads, forts, bridges and general manual labor for the army. It would seem like a job that would keep the pioneers out of danger, but more than once during the war they found themselves taking casualties. Union engineers constructing the pontoon bridges over the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, December 11, 1862, took appalling casualties as they attempted to do their duty. In fact, volunteers using the pontoons as makeshift “landing craft” finally crossed and drove the Confederate infantry back from the riverbank so the engineers could complete their bridges. It was the first successful amphibious landing under fire in U.S. Army history.

As far as Ware’s friend sent to the pioneers, he would be wounded at Gettysburg, again at Chickamauga, and was furloughed home.

Even though Ware’s unit is stationary this day, an ominous portent occurs: they have three days’ rations cooked and in their haversacks, and are issued another 2 days rations. By this time in the war, soldiers knew what that meant. They were getting ready to march.

Being in camp necessarily entailed the tedium of drill, cooking, cleaning up, and keeping weapons in good order. But the men found other diversions. Obviously, many took to writing a diary, others to writing letters home. (Ware mentions numerous letters home to a coded individual—probably a lady friend—whom he corresponds with regularly.) And frequently they got together for a game of “ball.” Because of its association with Union general Abner Doubleday, baseball has been associated more closely with the Union army than the Confederate. But Ware writes about the boys playing “ball” at least three times starting on April 17, 1862. In February 1863, he mentions them playing twice. So “America’s Pastime” was apparently well-ensconced in the Southern army as well as the Northern.

One of the delights of writing this book (and others, such as Rebel Rivers, Saber and Scapegoat and Civil War Ghost Trails) is the opportunity to travel to the Civil War sites I’m researching. I’m pretty sure I found, with the help of local historians, Thomas Ware’s campsite in Culpeper. His and Horner’s march routes are, for the most part, traceable along modern highways, and in an appendix I gave directions to the reader. If you live in or are visiting the area these men traversed on their collision course to Gettysburg, I recommend that you follow their routes. Many of the landmarks they mention are still in existence in rural Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote

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