Letter from Austin, Matthew S.

Soldier: Austin, Matthew S.
Allegiance: Union
Unit/Service Branch: 5th Infantry
Home State: New Jersey
Date Written: Wednesday, November 13th, 1861
Location: Meridian Hill, Washington
Correspondence Type: Letter
Subjects: Camp Life, Commanders, Comrades, Daily Life, Eastern Theater, Family, Friends, Newspapers, Patriotism, Rumors
“Meridian Hill”
Camp 5th Reg. NJ Vols.

My Dear Father

The package you sent me by express was delivered in camp today by Adam’s Express. The rubber blanket is a better article than the one lost but not so large. The cap cover is too low for the forage cap we wear (not depth enough in front) will make it answer the purpose however and the cork soles will be great protection to the feet. The soil of this part of the country (generally) is clay - heavy - and does not take up the rain rapidly and hence, is very damp (after rain) for several days. It is so now, although we have not had rain since Saturday last - weather has been very pleasant since Sunday. The rumors in camp today are that Gen. Casey’s brigade is to go to South Carolina soon - certain it is that within ten days, we shall move to some point already decided upon by the commander in chief. The prospect of going to S.C. creates the liveliest interest in camp and all are unanimous in the expression of their desire to be sent immediately. The official report of the expedition to S.C. under Gen. Sherman and Com. DuPont lends interest to the rumor of the immediate removal of this brigade to the same reality. The success in Ky is very cheering and as soon as the commanding general sees that his army is in a disciplined condition throughout the month will not have to complain of that which appears to be “armed inactivity”. It is not the work of a day or month to get men into that state of discipline which gives a commander confidence in them.

I think it will prove true that all the Jersey regiments on this side the Potomac will soon join an expedition southward. It has been hinted for several days past by Captain of Cos. That our stay here is of short duration - today Surgeon Fisher tells us we are under marching orders - tomorrow it is believed a general order will read on parade. I have not received anything through Lieut. Abbott - tomorrow if I have time and can get leave of absence I will call at his quarters (7th Reg.).

On Monday evening all the regiments around Washington (and in Virginia) enjoyed all of the grandest display of fireworks that can be conceived of, in honor of McClellan. Thousands of voices rent the air from the numerous encampments on “Meridian Hill”, as piece after piece filled the air with its brilliant and changing lights. From the hills in Virginia, rocket answered rocket and fire answered fire. To us, who, at the moment, were ignorant of the reason of such a display of fireworks, the most peculiar interest was manifested and there were scores of suggestions as to the cause - it was generally thought some signal victory had been announced in Md. - perhaps from the fleet - while many thought is was for a general advance of the army - although it was absurd in its pace. (McClelland will never take such a mode of ordering his regiments to move.) At the time - whatever the cause of the display - we know it was enjoyed more by us than by the citizens of Washington - as we could see all the answering fires from our friends in Virginia - which those in the city could not.

Since the return of the brigade, we have had splendid weather - plenty of music - constant drill by regiments & brigades more activity than before the expedition into Md.

Continue in most excellent health and spirits and hope the regiment will soon go to S.C. or some other Southern state.

Hope to hear from you soon and as often as possible.

Give my love to John - should like to hear from him occasionally.

Capt. Gould Co. “E”, was put under arrest this morning for staying out of camp without leave last night. It would have been all right with him had he been in camp at morning parade - he will probably resign.

Capt. M Co. “K” from Freehold, has been under arrest some four weeks - cause was making remarks - under appropriate head - in his report as “officer of the day”.

First Lieut. Cottrel, Co. “K” put under arrest yesterday for not turning out the guard on the approach of the regiment.

First Sergt. Of Co. H under arrest for excusing men from parade - for some slight reason. Several sergeants have been reduced to the ranks for slight causes - some for drunkenness.

Our sutler is permitted to sell Lager Beer and the men often get intoxicated there on.

You will be careful never to give any information in regard to arrests in the regiments or anything that would or could be construed into ? of the officers on my authority. I desire to keep clear from any and all liability to arrest.

I do not believe, for instance, that the sutler can sell Lager Beer and not violate the gen. order in regard to selling liquor in camps but a complaint should come from another source it at all.

For myself, I get on pleasantly but as to officers and men - there is the most intense hatred toward Col. Starr - there are a variety of causes that lead to such feelings - too numerous to mention.

Give love to all the family when you go up.

Truly and affectionately

M.S. Austin
Com. Serg’t.
5th NJV