Christmas 1861, Camp Allegheny*
© David W. Wooddell, December 22, 2015
Up at Top of Allegheny, the soldiers who had not fallen sick, or been wounded or killed, or were on leave of absence in Richmond or elsewhere were guarding the Staunton to Parkersburg Turnpike through the remainder of December’s frigid winter. The men were put to work during the day digging the trenches deeper, and digging proper fortifications for the artillery on Battery Hill, making embrasures for the guns and barricades to protect the gunners. Private James Hall said on December 18, “We are expecting another attack. I have been working on some batteries today. We have to sleep with our arms and accouterments fixed.”
Hall was a 20-year-old former student from the Monongalia Academy in Morgantown. The son of John and Harriet (Rightmire) Hall, he’d returned home to his father’s farm near Philippi before enlisting in the middle of May in Company H, 31st Virginia Infantry. Hall’s great ambition the first year of the war was to serve as an officer. He was elected 3rd lieutenant in June the following year, to replace one of the lieutenants killed in battle.
Hall was less than sanguine about his cold existence on Allegheny Mountain on the 25th of December, when he wrote:
“This is Christmas, and as is common there must be some amusement and festivities going on. We are amusing ourselves hovering around a fire in our tent, which smokes us nearly to death. Though last night was Christmas Eve, I did not sleigh ride much! Instead of that, we were marched out with the regiment on the mountain, to guard the batteries and artillery. We spent our Christmas Eve very gaily, sure. We are still living in our tents, but we make them tolerably comfortable by constructing rude fireplaces in them. At night we do not fare so well. Some mornings when we awaken our blankets are wet with frost, and the inside of our tent lined with hoarfrost. Many times our hair is frozen stiff by congealed respiration, and our floor is covered with snow. This is a pleasant life, sure. I was at home this time one year ago.”
* Excerpted from David W. Wooddell, Hoffman’s Army: The 31st Virginia Infantry, CSA [Baltimore: David W. Wooddell/Createspace, 2015] Available exclusively at: http://www.amazon.com/Hoffmans-Army-31st-Virginia-Infantry/dp/1515396991
Hall’s quotes are from: James E. Hall, The Diary of a Confederate Soldier, edited by Ruth Woods Dayton, [Philippi, W.Va.: 1961]