To the Virgina Front
The end of the Michigan furlough is where Hill’s journal begins. "Will leave to morrow," he wrote on February 16, 1864. A send-off dance marked the occasion: "Ball at Webster House to night in honor of the 16 Regmt, My Partner beautiful Lady from Cincinnati Miss Elvira Ward. Every thing passed off agreeably." The next day the regiment’s travel began. They left Saginaw and that night arrived in Detroit. From there, the trains took them to Toledo, Cleveland, Erie, Dunkirk and Elmira in New York, then south through Harrisburg and on to Baltimore, where the regiment was detained for twenty-four hours. Hill’s diary entries detailed the delays and difficulties of his trip, in which he joined the other regiment officers.
On February 22 the men stayed in Washington, and on the next day they left for the front. At the headquarters of their division two miles from Bealton Station they began building cabins for their winter camp. While Hill’s men set up camp, Hill enjoyed a whirlwind of social calls and theater in Baltimore and Washington. In Baltimore he attended a military dress parade, called often on friends, and went with them to see the celebrated Mrs. D.P. Bowers perform in two hit plays based on sensational Victorian novels, Lady Audley’s Secret and East Lynne. "At Baltimore good times these," he summarized in his journal.
Back in Virginia, the regiment’s men spent their time grading camp roads, building cabins and putting fences around the camp, performing picket duty, guarding the railroad line, and drilling the new recruits until mid-March. These activities were not glorious but there was always the threat of a surprise attack by enemy forces. Until General Grant arrived to take charge of the Union forces, much time was used for rifle drills and other preparations for the fight.
Captain Hill, meanwhile, left Baltimore for Washington for some unspecified medical treatment, which began on March 2 and probably allowed him several weeks’ leave. He took full advantage. Although there are gaps of more than two weeks in his diary during mid-March and again in early April, its entries detail some of his socializing at the capital. Hill’s fondness for the theater was gratified by the presence in town of two of America’s most famous actors. Early in March he was able to see Edwin Booth in signature roles as Richelieu and Richard III, and a few weeks later he watched the venerable Edwin Forrest perform as Richelieu and Damon. Other entries speak of social calls, playing billiards, and "a sunset walk in the evening with Madam Adelina," who also hosted "a magnificent supper" as a parting present for Hill.
On April 16 Hill finally packed for Virginia. Again there are two weeks without diary entries as Hill mingled with the men of his company and set up his cabin at camp. General Grant, meanwhile, was finalizing plans for a mighty spring offensive. The massive Army of the Potomac, with about 115,000 men, was to move south across the Rapidan River and stalk the 64,000 men of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant hoped to force Lee into open combat away from entrenched positions as the Confederate general moved his defenses or retreated to protect Richmond. This relentless campaign would eventually take nearly a year and cost more than 100,000 Union casualties.
Carl Guarneri, Saint Mary's College History department
Alyssa Sisco Ginn, Saint Mary's College Class of 2008