A Company of Many Characters

Chapter 7 (March 12, 1863 - April 19, 1863)

The army louse, that historic “grayback,” which went in and out before Union and Confederate soldiers without ceasing, like death was no respecter of persons.

The best and most patriotic blood in the land flowed in its veins, from the Major General to the lowest private. The majority in Company G, in this camp at Dumphries, had their first experience with the army louse. We seemed to not want even our tent mates to know that we were lousy. The neatest escaped the longest, but sooner or later the time came when every one of us had them.

When for a little while we had none of the louse or very few of them, we imagined that some disease was lurking in our veins and that the army louse wanted none of our blood. It was said that the animal became a great-grandparent in 24 hours. We thought that they always bit where it was hardest to scratch, especially under the knapsack, between the shoulders while on the march.

When in camp, by boiling our clothes we soon got rid of the insects, but the boiling would need to be repeated often. The catching of the louse was called (k)nitting work. Some one was examining his garments, when one of the boys yelled out: “Hello, Freddie, you better get up and shake that shirt, then write home to your parents and sweetheart and tell them that you stood where hundreds fell.”

The wood tick was another pest with which we had to contend. It was round and small with eight legs and a small head. The head would be embedded in the flesh and the only way to get them out was to pinch the skin until they would back out. If they were pulled off, the head remained in the flesh and that would fester, giving the soldier much pain and trouble. The boys used to say that the wood-tick belonged to General Geary’s white-star division, because it had a white spot on its back.

You know a company of soldiers is always composed of many different characters with as many different dispositions.

One of these peculiar characters was Michael Schaffer, who was superstitious and a believed in spooks, hobgoblins and powwowing. The writer was on picket duty one night at a very lonely place in the woods. It was near a low, wet place and dark as dark could be and raining all the while. The will-o-the-wisps were plentiful everywhere.

When I was relieved by Schaffer. I called him aside and said: “Schaffer, Da holt di og uff.” “Fur was?” he asked. I said “du warst shunt ous finna.” [“Schaffer, you keep your eyes open.” “Why?” “You will soon find out.”]

I left him and he took my place on the picket post for two hours. I knew he was worked up and that the hours were long ones for him. When he was relieved and came back to the reserve post he saw me and said: “Schroyer, cum mole har. Node sancked ehr du worst recht. Dot drouse sin socha net sauver.” [“Schroyer, come here once. You were right. Out there things are not clean.”] “Why, did you see something?”, I said. “Gawiss, hov ich. Finf de shenshda hlana visa hundlin sin ols schiwicha my ba gasprunga.” [“Certainly I did. Five of the nicest white little dogs ran between my legs.”]  The poor fellow was just so worked up that he really believed he saw five little white dogs in that dark place.

Our winter quarters were built up with logs three and a half feet high about seven by eight feet floor space. Our chimneys were all built on the outside. The reason for that was that we had more room on the outside than we had inside

Our salt pork was shipped to us in barrels. These barrels were sawed in two and used for wash tubs. Other barrels were used for placing on the tops of our chimneys, the top and bottom of each barrel being knocked out so as to create a good draft. In the evening, when the roll had been called and taps sounded at 9 o’clock, all lights were ordered out, when we had any with which to obey the command. All were supposed to be asleep, but, of course, that was only supposition.

Then the lions would come forth from their lairs and seek their prey. A barrel, used for a tub, would be placed upon the chimney of some tent, in an inverted position. The smoke would soon fill the tent, and the innocent sleeping inmates would begin to cough, and cough, and cough, until they would be compelled to get out of bed, no matter how cold the weather, and remove the tub from the top of the chimney. The guilty ones would sit in some secluded spot and listen to what was said, and sometimes they would hear things they would rather not have listened to. After a while the mischief makers would retire and perhaps before morning someone would play the same trick on them.

The reader must kindly pardon the Dutch so often used in our little stories. The boys of Company G, all of whom were of German descent, would get into an argument in English, but as the argument would advance and they would get hot under the collar English was too slow, so they would finish up in Dutch, thinking that they could make it more emphatic. The balance of the Regiment being English speaking soldiers, they christened Company G, “The Dutch Company of Snyder county,” as we held up that end of it until the close of the war, and, I am glad to say, the survivors continue it at this late date.

On the fourth of April, Sergeant Henry W. Baker died. I can not recall the cause of his death. He was sick only a short time. His brother, George, living then in Selinsgrove, was informed of the illness and came right on, but when he arrived Henry was dead. Arrangements were made, the body embalmed and brought home for burial. He was placed beside Lewis C. Schroyer in the First Lutheran cemetery, Selinsgrove. John Matter died at Aquia Creek on the 29th of typhoid fever. That was the third death in the company.

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