As the Army of the Potomac crept out of its defenses at Centreville following the battle of Bristoe Station, part of the army passed “not far from Mt. Vernon,” the home of George Washington. Northerners and Southerners alike laid claim to the former general and first president.
John Haley, a private in the 17th Maine—and who was just coming off an illness that had indisposed him for a few days—found himself on picket duty not far from Washington’s home on Oct. 15, 1863. The duty gave him time to contemplate the national hero, which he noted in his diary that evening:
Went on picket on a road leading to Mt. Vernon and came in at nightfall. It was my intention, when I first discovered our proximity to the resting place of George Washington’s distinguished remains, to drop a little pathetic brine over them. Being quite feeble today, though, I had to forego that pleasure. Perhaps it is just as well, as I have not the conventional amount of veneration for that cold, austere figure.
from The Rebel Yell & The Yankee Hurray: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer by Pvt. John W. Haley, 17th Maine, edited by Ruth L. Silliker (Camden, ME: Down East Books, 1985).