. .The whole army here and in this vicinity broke camp at 5 a.m.
and moved by column of divisions towards Big Bethel and Howard's
Bridge. The day was fine and quite warm. Roads [were] very muddy
from last night's rain storm, [but] the green grass and trees and
bright sky gave energy to the scene. Bright uniforms, polished arms,
flags flying, and bands playing as the men marched out of their
respective camps made a fine picture while the white wagon tops
moving slowly in endless lines through the dark pines added to its
Everything [was] packed and loaded
in the wagons at these headquarters at 6:30 a.m. The headquarter
flag was struck with the tents at 7 a.m. and we began our first
march toward the enemy. The cavalry escort with general and staff
set out, . . . while the wagon guard marched along with the wagons.
Clerks, cooks and all [were] afoot but not armed. We went up road
through parts of the III Corps, all of whom were in motion. I
saw and hailed friends in [the] 40th New York beyond the triangular
graveyard. Over a vast treeless plain the army now moved as if
on parade, everything burnished up bright. Gay uniforms, bands,
and flags disappeared in long lines into the deep woods beyond
leading to Big Bethel. Two regiments of cavalry led the advance
with several batteries of horse artillery. I saw General McClellan
with his staff inspecting the troops as they marched by with cheers.
The staff officers were gorgeously dressed. . . .
The army is advancing in two columns.
General Keys commanding the IV Corps . . . forms the left and
General Heintzelman of the III Corps . . . [is] on the right.
All went forward in fine order, the wagon trains keeping on the
road with the artillery and ammunition trains, while the troops
marched in column on both sides of them and across the fields
or clearings at the route step. The bands soon ceased to play
and everyone had to settle down in a steady tramp through the
swampy grounds and muddy roads. "On to Richmond" was yelled from
one regiment to another.
The pools of water from the recent
rain storm had settled in the narrow road and overspread it on
both sides for hundreds of feet. As our officers did not want
to march their men through these, regiments were echeloned and
partly jammed together in making the necessary detours to avoid
them. There were no houses seen for some three or four miles.
Fences were all gone, here and there a deserted log house. [I
saw] no animals of any kind or inhabitants until after we had
gone several miles. A halt of ten minutes was had every half hour
so as to give a breathing spell to men and animals. I had to keep
with our headquarter wagons, so as to forward any maps which might
be called for by General Heintzelman now far ahead. . . . The
roads grew worse and worse for the center of the advancing column
as they were cut up by the hundreds of wagons and artillery ahead
of us. The mules balked and tried to lay down in the muddy road.
Teamsters lashed and swore at them until "the air was blue." Our
train came up to Little Bethel about noon time. It was little
enough as there were but three houses to be seen, with a few old
rickety slab barns surrounded with broken fences.
During the time of halting artillery
fire was heard in front. This soon ceased and all moved on. About
2:30 p.m. we came to Big Bethel. The approaches to it were marshy
and the stream had been dammed up, causing the banks to overflow.
. . . The Rebel position was strong in front, but could be flanked
easy by wading the stream, here not over four feet deep. Large
semicircular rifle trenches enfiladed the only crossing at the
bridge. Felled trees were laying in all directions. . . . Columns
of black smoke now showed themselves above the tree tops in the
advance caused by the enemy burning houses in their retreat to
Howard's Bridge and beyond. The column moved on at a quicker pace
while the artillery and wagons struggled through the sloughs of
red mud and water found everywhere.
I went through the church and barracks.
Nothing of value was left in them, [only] piles of dirty straw
and broken boxes and barrels. Heaps of dirty rags and cast off
clothing littered the barracks, and bunks were in the church made
from the pews. A sickening odor pervaded the whole place. There
were no platforms in the redoubt for guns but field artillery
had been used. Dead trees and stumps stuck up in the stream and
over most of the hillside. In one of the log houses was found
a quantity of rusty bacon, which had a vile smell. Dirty rags,
straw and old clothes were scattered everywhere.