The Sounds of Spring

Here in Petersburg, Virginia we are happy to finally once more see the ground after a recent and unusual spell of endless snow and ice. With a cheered spirit I took a look into the archives to search for the opinions of the soldiers in the trenches in 1865 as the weather warmed. I was impressed with the difference in perspectives from a few select soldiers on something so simple as hearing the same sound as the frogs once more beginning to croak.

Sergeant Calvin Berry of the 1st Maine Veteran Volunteers arrived back to his regiment from furlough on March 19, 1865. He found his unit stationed on Petersburg’s western front and quickly caught up on all that had transpired in his absence. That night he chronicled in his diary: “Had a grand time with the boys, it is pleasant as summer, the frogs are croaking and the grass is growing green.”

Another member of his regiment, Corporal William Holmes Morse, noted earlier in his journal: “The frogs are singing merrily this evening, and it seems quite spring-like.” Each looked forward to the resumption of hostilities and the likelihood that it would prove to be the last spring spent away from home.

On the other side of the lines Major Harry Hammond, son of famous South Carolina Planter James Henry Hammond and a staff officer for Brigadier General Samuel McGowan, loathed what the croaking sound meant. “The weather has grown quite warm and the approach of spring was very disagreeably announced to me the other morning by the croaking of some frogs in a little wet weather pond in my camp,” he wrote to his wife on March 10. “About daylight they set up the loudest and most lugubrious sound I ever heard, I did not know that even a frog could utter anything so direful & it was so loud that I startled in my sleep thinking it came from under my pillow. Such an announcement of spring is in harmony I fear with a very general feeling just now.”

As the weather continued to warm and the roads began to harden, Hammond’s concerns would be validated as his Confederacy began their final, frantic battle for existence.

7 Responses to The Sounds of Spring

  1. Enjoyed reading this post. The peepers (frogs) in Spring signal Winter is nearly over and are for most people, a welcome sound. An interesting and unexpected contrast in points of view from Union and Confederate soldiers. My great, great grandfather was on the Confederate side at Petersburg, l can only wonder what those sounds must have meant to him…

    1. One of the most surprising letters I read was from a North Carolinian in November 1864 who hoped that the weather would consistently stay terrible all winter long so that military operations could not continue! Certainly a strange, yet understandable perspective.

  2. Interesting, My 2nd Great Grandfather, Edward R Willis, detached from 82nd PA to 1st Div VI Corps headquarters caring for the Provost Marshal’s horses also wrote home on March 2, 1865: “raining today but warm the frogs ar croaking in the swamps like a night in may” (assume he meant at home in PA). He also just returned from a furlough to Media, PA
    Jay Willis

    1. Jay, that is a fascinating find! Are you in possession of your ancestor’s correspondence?

      1. Yes, four years worth. Been scanning and sending out to descendants on the 150th anniversary of authorship since 2011. Been a great experience

  3. The idea of animals announcing the beginning of spring and the campaign season would be something interesting for the new crop of Civil War environmental historians to tackle. And it demonstrates how much quieter the world was in the 1860s, even on the front lines of a war.

    1. Thanks for commenting Will, you’re absolutely correct that Civil War sites are beginning to shift some of their focus to the environmental aspects of the war. I’m happy to report, however, that while walking the trails around the Confederate earthworks here at Pamplin Park this morning the frogs in Arthur’s Swamp are again croaking loudly!

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