Winter, The Toughest Season for Fighting
December 12, 1864. The long siege of Petersburg dragged on through the winter, with occasional forays by one side or the other to test the strength of their opponents’ lines and perhaps find an opening that could be exploited. But winter was the toughest time of the year for fighting, as is attested in a journal entry made on December 12 by Elisha Hunt Rhodes of the Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry:
“At 4 P.M. on the 9th we left camp, and the Corps marched in a cold storm on the Squirrel Level Road to the vicinity of Hatcher’s Run. It was so cold that riding was an impossibility, and as the snow turned to rain the men’s clothes became stiff with ice. We halted about midnight in a swamp filled with water and fallen timber. After many failures we managed to start a fire, and soon the swamp was blazing with camp fires. We had no tents, and if we had they would have been of no use for the ground was covered with snow, ice and water.”
Rhodes’ unit remained on the line until late the next afternoon, then “marched back to our camp in front of Petersburg, almost dead with cold and fatigue.” They were then called out again, spent more time in the ice and cold, and finally returned to their main camp at midnight on December 11. Said Rhodes of this experience: “Winter campaigning is cold work, but it is all for the Union, and I will not complain.”
– Submitted by Bill Halainen, Milford, PA
Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, excerpted from All For The Union: The Civil War Diary and Letters of Elisha Hunt Rhodes, Vintage Civil War Library
Pennsylvania Appalachians Fights Its Own Inner Civil War
December 13, 1864. “In the early hours of December 13, 1864, twenty-five soldiers surrounded the home of Tom Adams, the leader of an armed band in Knox, Pennsylvania. Drunk and caught by surprise, the bandits surrendered, except for Adams, who dashed upstairs and from a second-story window shot a mounted private. Tearing an opening in the wallboards of a gable, he vaulted into the garden, where he was accosted by soldiers and fatally shot. Adams’s crime? Abandoning the 149th Pennsylvania Volunteers, with which he had served six months in 1863.
“‘The ‘Bloody Knox’ incident, as it became popularly known, is a sound illustration of Pennsylvania’s Civil War-era politics, which pitted antigovernment protestors against federal marshals. ‘The U.S. government,’ explains Robert Sandow, [author of Deserter Country: Civil War Opposition in the Pennsylvania Appalachians,] ‘considered Pennsylvania to be one of the strongest parts of resistance in the entire North.’ . . .
“Composed of hard-drinking, rough-and-tumble residents, the lumber region in northern Pennsylvania was a hornets’ nest of partisan strife. It doubled as a safe haven for antiwar Democrats and truant soldiers — the nimble Adams, among them. They placed community over country, resented federal intervention, and scorned the presence of industrialists. . . . [the region] was divided by an inner civil war . . . .
“. . . ‘[W]rites Sandow, [o]pposition came not from a single class of people but from whole communities.’ To evade eligibility and enrollment, Pennsylvanians would conceal family members and neighbors, inflate and reduce their ages, threaten recruitment officers, and, occasionally, wound and murder federal marshals.
“. . . In the latter half of 1864, the federal government took a hard line against Copperheads, dispatching marshals to capture deserters. But, as they were underpaid and unaccustomed to the terrain, their raids met scant success. Within the lumbering counties, the marshals apprehended just over 150 deserters — a far cry from the thousands that were said to have run rampant. The provost-marshal of western Pennsylvania . . . became increasingly zealous, ordering arrests without evidence of desertion. . . .
“As the Civil War came to a close, the marshals left Pennsylvania. Their prisoners were required to pay fines or, more often than not, released without a conviction. But, according to Sandow, ‘the end of the war did not end the controversy over antiwar opposition.’ Pennsylvania became one of five states that disenfranchised its deserters, and allegations of Copperheadism carried into the 1880s.
“The Civil War was not merely a battle between North and South, but also, one between neighbors. ‘The reality is,’ as Sandow points out, ‘in every war America’s ever fought, opposition and dissent are common. By remembering this, we’re remembering an important aspect of our own society, our own national life.'”
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert
Excerpted from “Just Deserters,” by Corinne Zeman, in Humanities, January/February 2011.