The Sutler, the Mainers, and the Pickpockets of the 13th Mass.

On November 23, 1863—the day before Thanksgiving—the members of the 13th Massachusetts Volunteers, encamped near Brandy Station, Virginia, received a much-welcome pre-holiday visitor. “This was a great day,” wrote regimental historian Charles E. Davis, Jr.:

The sutler arrived with a large amount of goods, which we purchased for the morrow. As he was the only sutler about, there was a great rush from other regiments to take advantage of his presences. Among others were members of the Sixteenth Maine; and as some of them added to their already overflowing cup of misfortunes, by losing their watches and pocket-books, they promptly accused us of stealing them.

Well, we must allow there was reason for this accusation, for it couldn’t be rubbed out that we had as fine a band of thievish recruits as could be found anywhere, and they just doted on the Sixteenth’s men, whose good old honest State of Maine ways held no chance against their deft skill as pickpockets.

Now, we had a very simple way of dealing with these Hessians that our much-beloved State sent out to mingle in companionship with us and teach us how to overcome honesty, and that was to put all our diamonds, watches, pocket-books, and silverware in the safe, while all movables, such as dippers, hardtack, etc., we chained. Whenever we laid a knife down we put a guard over it with a loaded musket. With these precautions we managed to hang on to most of our things until these dear comrades of ours stole away to reenlist in some other regiment, or to crack a bank.

from Three Years in the Army: The Story of the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers by Charles E. Davis, Jr. (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1894).

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