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"They Need Not Wish to Know" Picket Duty with the 6th Indiana

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Many of the soldiers that enlisted in the Union and Confederate armies enlisted with romantic ideas and dreams of glory and heroics. Once they reached their camps near the front, the dreary and monotonous duties quickly dashed those ideas and dreams. The soldier-correspondent "HOOSIER," informed readers of this reality. In short, army life is not what they would think, and they should not wish to experience it themselves. On February 2, 1862, the Louisville Journal published one of his letters detailing the occurrences of the boys in the 6th Indiana.


Correspondence of the Louisville Journal


Camp at Green River, KY.,

January 31, 1862

This is the last day of January, and I wish I might say that it was the last day of winter; but that is not so, as old Boreas gives us to know that he will rule in his way independent of the "Union soldiers."But I have another wish--that with the close of winter may also come the closing of this rebellion. God grant it! And I cannot see why the desirable finale may not be accomplished, if our forces are pushed forward in a prudent and strategic manner, as the lat glorious triumph of the Union forces at Mill Springs has launched a thunderbolt of terror in the very heart of rebeldom, and were the different divisions of our army to march simultaneously on the strong holds of the secesh, we might soon exclaim, in the words of the immortal Perry: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours." But will it be?

The "Cis ver Fluvial" army is still destined to share this "masterly inactivity," and, with the exception of picket duty and occasional drilling, be content with reading of wars and "rumors of wars."

Our regiment (6th Indiana) was out on picket on Tuesday, over Green River, and returned on Wednesday at dusk. Many of your readers perhaps wonder what this picket business is; and, indeed, they need not wish to know--from experience, at any rate. It is about the most disagreeable task connected with "soldiering," and, for my part, I vote it a perfect "bore." And yet it is an "honorable" position, we are told, and must be enjoyed! and no one regiment is allowed to monopolize the berth. Well, we had a "nice" time of it (your correspondent included in the we), as it commenced raining on Tuesday night, and continued to drench us all day Wednesday until we returned to camp. Soldiers are not generally considered to be "overly clean" in regard to their persons, and the "clerk of the weather" seemed to have caught up this idea, as he gave us a shower bath that not only penetrated our blankets and great coats, but also the pores of the skin. He need not have troubled himself, though, on our behalf, as we live where water is plenty; and where we make a good use of it, not forgetting that "cleanliness is a virtue," even if others do. One thing is certain, however, in regard to our ablution in this case--the Government has saved some soap by the operation! Hope the Commissaries will note this.

"Green River, 1861" by Adolph Metzner, LOC
"Green River, 1861" by Adolph Metzner, LOC

Our friends at home might well pity us sometimes, if they could form an idea of our exposure on picket, and yet we have a good time of it when the weather is fine, as the boys like any change that will relieve them from the monotony of lying in camp, and our Captain (C. R. Van Trees) delights in roasting potatoes in the camp fires (as did the renowned Marion), to which fact a certain Brigadier General can bear witness. I would like to expatiate more in regard to picket duty, and the danger and responsibility connected with it, but have not time now. Nor could I well illustrate without giving facts, which, should they meet the eye of the enemy, might prove of some importance.

On Wednesday, while our regiment was on picket, and just as we were expecting to be relieved, a report came to headquarters that 15,000 rebels were advancing on our outposts, and we were consequently ordered, by Lieutenant Colonel Prather, to look well to our guns, as a probable approach of the enemy was anticipated. And while our Lieutenant Colonel rode coolly through the lines repeating the order, we went to work on our we fire-arms to get them in shooting order. (And, mark you, every rub is given very reluctantly on these blamed cannon-barrelled muskets,) In the mean time, the 15th regulars had come over to the anticipated point of attack, and we, being relived by the 34th Illinois, were held for a brief time as a reserve, but no enemy appearing, and deeming the report false (as usual), we, with the regulars, re-crossed the river and came into camp.

Every day, every hour, every minute in the day, we hear such queries as the following: "I wonder when the paymaster will come?" "Has the paymaster come?" But such questions are no news here, as they have been repeated over and over for the last month. It is the "same old tale" of the soldiers' wrongs, and it would take an Argus eye to ferret out the one upon whose shoulders rests the almost criminal delay. When the man with the "tin" does arrive, then we will have "news."

The bodies of General Zollicoffer and Bailie Peyton will leave Munfordville to-day for Bowling Green, under an escort composed of General Johnson and one Captain from each brigade in this division. Would that their misguided men had been engaged in a better cause. Then we might have said, "How are the mighty fallen!" and breathed the response, "Peace to their ashes."

Now, I have a catastrophe to record--one that grieves my very heart to think about. Our regimental standard, the beautiful flag presented to us by the loyal ladies of Louisville, is no more. By some accident or other a fire broke out in the tent occupied by the non-commissioned staff, in which tent the flag had been placed, and before it (the flag) could be reached the flames had not only penetrated its oilcloth covering, but had also marred the silken folds of the beautiful flag itself in such a manner that it will never be fit to wave again over the heads of the brave men, who fairly adored it, and who looked upon it as a presaging emblem of victorious fields yet to be won. Ladies of Louisville, this item of news is calculated to raise feelings of regret in your patriotic breasts, as we know that with its presentation were linked many fond hopes and aspirations; but the feeling is allied with our own; and though we much regret this disastrous loss of our beautiful flag, rest assured that the motive which prompted the fair donors, and the donors themselves, shall never be forgotten. To lose our flag, and in such a manner, is truly provoking; but i cannot be helped now. Rather would we have had the province ofplanting its fair folds on the battlements of the enemy, or of bearing it back to those who gave it, if need be, with its stripes rent by the traitorous bullets of the enemy; but such was not its destined fate.

The weather is as fickle as a young maid just entering her teens. We have a cloudy canopy o'erhead, and a carpet of mud beneath our feet. It is a miserable state of affairs for the sick in camp.



Derrick Lindow is an author, historian, teacher, and creator of the WTCW site. His first book, published by Savas Beatie, will be released soon. Go HERE to read more posts by Derrick and HERE to visit his personal page. Follow Derrick on different social media platforms (Instagram and Twitter) to get more Western Theater and Kentucky Civil War Content.

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2 comentários

David Foote
David Foote
24 de nov. de 2023

Love to read about the words used by letter writers. "old Boreas" being one of those. Thanks.


22 de nov. de 2023

love this post. Keep up the good work on an undercovered part of the Civil War

The war on Kentucky in 1861-62

i enjoy your articles on pickett duty on the Green River and the Bacon River

looking forward to your project tying the 1000 mile front together particular the Cumberland Gap and Bowling Green portion of the line

Great Stuff

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