Journal of the Kosciusko Guards •  Company E • 12th Regiment

 Written by William S. Hemphill • Transcribed by Marjorie Priser

 Chapter 9

Washington D.C. & Home

May 4th Was a beautiful day and we had quite a number of visitors from the surrounding regiments, all anxious to see the new commander and also see the regiment, which had the reputation of being the best drilled regiment in that army. And when the parade was formed the various movements and orders were executed with the precision of veterans.

Gen. Hartsuff and several other Brigade officers and field officers from the other regiments were present from the formation to the dismissal of the parade and several times applauded when the more difficult movements were executed. Gen. Hartsuff complimented the regiment very highly and expressed his regret that he would not have the honor to lead them in the active campaign that was looked for within the next few months.

A large majority of the regiment were willing to enter the service for three years, only asking a thirty days furlough to go home and see their families and arrange their business. This would be necessary in most cases as a majority of the men when they left home had expected to be absent only three months, but the call for three months men being filled, their absence had been protracted to thirteen months, and their business interests were suffering because of it. However their offer had been rejected, as it was supposed that the war was about to close and that there were more than enough men in the field to bring it to a successful termination.

May 5th Bidding our late comrades "good bye" and "God speed" the regiment embarked on the cars for Washington, where we arrived in good time and were marched to the barracks. Having been paid off so recently most of the men had plenty of "change" and proceeded forthwith to have a high old time, in which whiskey was one of the principal ingredients. We were provided with good meals at the "Soldier's Retreat" at least such of the men as would partake of them were; many of them wanted "citizen's grub" for a change, and as there are plenty of "sharks" around, ready to show them around and relieve them of their money at the same time, they probably fared worse than those who were content with "Soldier's Grub" until they became citizens.

May 6th After dinner the regiment marched out to the Seventh Street barracks to remain until discharged. Orders were very strict against permitting the men to run "about the city" as quite a number had got drunk and quarrelsome and were giving the officers much trouble. Besides this, a number of them had been relieved of their pocketbooks and it was thought best to restrain them and others for their own good. This was rather difficult as there was no duty to perform and the men having been under strict discipline for a year, and having made a long march during which they endured many hardships and privations during the past two months, were somewhat disposed to look upon the attempt to restrain them at the present time as uncalled for if not tyrannical.

Most of them upon second thought would listen to reason and use their influence to convince the others that the orders were right, telling them it would "only be for a few days anyhow" and they might just as well "hold in for that length of time"; but there were some who would persist in "doing just as they pleased to do" and would hear to nothing until they were in the guard house or police station.

Remaining in camp unoccupied was very irksome to the men, but as the officers were all busy closing up their accounts with the government and making out the muster-out rolls, discharges, etc. it was impossible for them to devote much time to the amusement of their men. One exhibition drill during the day and dress parade in the evening were the only duties to be attended to, and as there were hundreds of spectators present on each occasion these exercises were considered more as a pleasure than as a duty.

Most of the men, or in fact, all of them, wanted to see the President before returning home, and to gratify them, as well as President Lincoln, who stated that he had heard so much concerning the drill and soldierly appearance of the 12th and 16th Indiana Regiments, that he was anxious to see them and thank them in person for their service; arrangements were made to have a review for that purpose. (It was intended to insert a full report of the proceeding together with the address of President Lincoln, in this journal, but unfortunately the minutes of the proceedings were captured by the rebels before the writer had an opportunity to transcribe them).

Suffice it to say however, that at the appointed time every man who was able to march took his place in the ranks, and leaving their camp guarded by those who were unable to march, moved down Seventh street to Pennsylvania Avenue and thence to the White House, where in presence of the President and several of his Cabinet Officers together with a large number of Senators, Congressmen, regular Army officers, and thousands of citizens they executed the various battalion and company movements closing with the manual of arms and dress parade in a manner that elicited the applause of all.

The President's address was very flattering to both officers and men. Among other things he remarked that it afforded him much pleasure to announce that a number of the distinguished gentlemen surrounding him; men who were educated at West Point, and had a national reputation as soldiers; and some of the distinguished representatives of foreign powers, who had been trained in the best military schools in Europe, had been sitting in judgement and freely criticizing every movement, and had assured him "that for efficiency of drill and soldierly bearing you are seldom equaled even by the veterans of this or other countries."

The men of the 12th could appreciate this compliment all the more because they knew it was deserved. They had taken pride in drilling from the first and had determined to be excelled by none. The system that had been introduced and strictly adhered to enabled them to measure every step and time every movement so that in marching their alignment was as near perfect as it could be, while in the manual of arms every motion throughout the regiment was made as if one mind guided and one hand executed. (The writer reenlisted and remained in the service till the war closed and has seen many of the best armies that were in the field during that time, but he can truthfully say that he never yet saw a regiment, either regular or volunteer, that could equal "the old 12th" in that respect).

The Washington Sunday Morning Chronicle of May 11, 1862 had the following notice of the two regiments:

The muster-out rolls having been completed and settlements of officers accounts all made with the Government the men were paid off and discharged on the 19th day of May 1862, precisely thirteen months from the actual date of enrollment. Owing to a lack of experience on the part of the officers, however, when they were mustered into service the enrollment was dated from their arrival in Indianapolis. Company E having arrived on the 6th of May 1861 was mustered-in as enrolled on that day. By this means the men were deprived of their pay for the time between their actual and nominal enrollment.

After the men had received their pay and discharge the company was formed for the last time and marching to a beautiful grove near the camping ground they presented to their beloved commander, Capt. Reuben Williams a beautiful sword, suitably engraved as a token of their esteem for him as a soldier, a comrade and commander. After this interesting ceremony the company was dismissed to return to their homes or wherever their inclinations prompted them.

This was a glad yet sorrowful termination of thirteen months of faithful service. Glad, because of the privilege they would have of greeting and being greeted by the dear ones at home. Sorrowful, because at the last moment almost we were called upon to bid an eternal farewell to a comrade who had gained the confidence and highest esteem of every man in the campany. Sergeant Charles M. Davis, who had taken a hard cold during the long wearying march from Winchester to Warrenton Junction, had been sent to the hospital on our arrival in Washington and breathed his last on the day and almost at the same hour that the company was discharged. He was a noble young man; always cheerful and pleasant, always kind and obliging, always ready for duty, and never indulging in any of the vices that so often entrap the soldier, but always ready to join in any innocent amusement or any effort that was calculated to benefit the men and make them better soldiers and better citizens.

He had written home from Warrenton Junction as soon as the probable date of our discharge was announced, informing his parents of the fact and requesting them to prepare a dinner for his men-mates and some of his most intimate friends, to whom he had extended a pressing invitation to "have a real jolly good time with father and mother when we get home". He received an answer assuring him of a most cordial welcome for himself and any of his comrades. And now instead of welcoming their happy, light-hearted and beloved son and the comrades he loved and who loved him, they would only have the sad privilege of receiving his inanimate clay and consigning it to its last resting place near the house he loved so well.

Instead of a house of joy and feasting, theirs was to be a house of mourning. Little wonder that amid the general satisfaction that was felt by the men at being freed from the restraints of military discipline a pall of sadness would drop over their spirits as a thought of "Charlie" and his parents would creep into their hearts in the midst of their rejoicing.

But now for home! Light, cheerful "good byes" were spoken as the men separated; some to go directly home; some to "see the sights about Washington first, and then home; and some to visit friends and relatives in the east before their return to Warsaw. The general parting words were "Good-bye! I'll see you at home in a short time". But that time never came. The separation was final in many instances. Before the last stragglers had returned to Warsaw, most of their comrades had heard their country's call for "three hundred thousand men", and had again enrolled themselves in the reorganized 12th for three years, or cast their lot with the other regiments that were so hastily organized and sent to the front.

Thus Company E was scattered to all parts of the country and had worthy representation in every military department and in nearly every corps. Many of them enriched the Southern soil with their blood having given their lives for their country; others returned covered with honor but broken down physically by fatigue, wounds and disease; while a few returned home at the close of the war, apparently in as good, if not better health than when they first enlisted.

As the years go by the number of survivors decreases rapidly and soon, all too soon, there will be none left to tell of the scenes and incidents of that eventful period when "All quiet on the Potomac" was a standing headline in nearly every northern newspaper; that period when Army officers and statesmen were suffering for their country at Washington, in grand balls and receptions, while the 12th Indiana was exposed to the storms of winter and the balls of a skulking foe for five months without relief guarding against a movement that but for their watchfulness might not have proved to be so quiet on the Potomac in the immediate vicinity of Washington.

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