Here’s a glimpse of life along the Rappahannock River 153 years ago today. The account comes from John Weiser of the 130th Pennsylvania Infantry, who’d stood picket duty that day along the riverbank in front of the Lacy House (Chatham), opposite the warn-torn city of Fredericksburg.
The following excerpt comes courtesy of historian Al Conner, Jr., and work he did for the forthcoming Seizing Destiny: The Army of the Potomac’s ‘Valley Forge’ and the Civil War Winter that Saved the Union (now scheduled for release, at last–details coming this week). I was fortunate to work with Al on the book, and John Weiser’s account is the kind of neat little gem that fills the book.
“Picketing close to an equally-American enemy had peculiar security and social implications,” Al says. “The common soldier’s take on picket duty was natural and predictable.” Weiser’s account is typical:
“This is pretty country to fight for nothing but hills and ravines” Weiser wrote, alluding again to the “Sacred Soil of Virginia.” Now counting his remaining service days, he related: “We have some fun on picket duty now with the Rebs as we are only about one hundred yards apart at the farthest point on the line that we picket. They are constantly yelling at our men whilst on front all the witticism they can think of. Other times they are singing ‘Yankee Doodle’ or ‘Dixie Land, I’ll take my stand’ or some other National Air. Sometimes they bring their guns to a level and take deliberate aim at one of our men. Some [of our men] are soft enough to think [the Rebs] are going to shoot and fall down on the ground or dodge behind tree or bank so the Reb cant hit him. This is fun for the Reb or Rebs as it may be. They all throw their hats in the air, roll on the ground and tell the man that dodges he is a coward, no soldier or something else whilst our men all along the line are not allowed to communicate to them at all either by talking or through signals but some hold quite a conversation with them.” Weiser, eavesdropped on a Yank-Reb conversation, judged: “It was quite interesting as they were both smart men.”