by W. H. Shaw

Note:  This is the second of a four part series on Company E, 115th Regiment written by W. H. Shaw in 1864.   Additions will be updated once week until the entire series is online by mid June.

Back to Part I

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    Immediately after our arrival at Camp Fonda, and having reduced our excessive numbers to that allowed by he army regulations, the next and most important operation to be performed, was that of transforming one hundred and three men, from the status of free American Citizens, to that of so many mere automatic machines, to do the bidding of one man, was a task by no means trifling or insignificant.  Human nature had to be studied, the different and varied temperaments of that hundred men had to be carefully diagnosed, their peculiarities, their likes and dislikes, their home surrounding, their religious views, and in fact all the little details to go to make up the whole man had to be noted and photographed on the mind and memory of the commanding officer, especially if he wished to succeed in his undertaking.

    As soon as possible, the men exchanged their citizen apparel for that of the Union blue, and at once the boys began to put on the airs of veterans of a "hundred battles fought and victories won".  Of course, each man was then on his good behavior, and no sooner had he donned the blue, than he became infatuated with the idea that it was his Christian duty, and a duty he owed to his Country, to his maker and his family, to place himself on exhibition before his parents, his wife or his sweetheart, that they might see and realize for themselves, that he was a real live genuine defender of the glorious Old Stars and Stripes.  We were not yet mustered into the service of the United States, yet permits were granted, and while some were home on a twenty-four hours leave of absence, others were in Camp, going through the many intricate twisting and turnings, preparatory to become full fledged soldiers.  The Company drill at Camp Fonda was, however, a mockery or farce, yet it served the purpose of diverting the minds of the men from their pleasant home surroundings, and of giving them a slight glimpse of the promised land of well drilled thoroughly disciplined, and finely equipped soldiers.  As far as Company E was concerned, that object was fully accomplished.  The men while on drill or other military duty, seemed to vie each with the other, which could be most obedient to orders and quickest to learn both the correct position of as soldier, and the position of a true soldier.

    Camp life at Fonda, however, was not exactly the camp life subsequently experienced by the men on southern fields, in southern hospitals and prison pens.  Here, they seemed to be, and no doubt were, enjoying the most magnificent picnic of their whole lives.  Our stay at Camp Fonda was but one continuous gala day.  Even while on duty, the boys all seemed to enjoy themselves just as well as though they were not so many cogs in the great wheel that was destined to, and did crush the greatest rebellion with which this earth was ever cursed.  The Camp was open and free of access at any and all times for visitors, and the opportunity of visiting the boys was embraced by nearly or quite all the relatives and sweethearts of the members of company E, to see just how their soldier boys looked in Camp and drill, as that farce was called.

    We still well remember some of the fathers and mothers, as they tearful and no doubt prayerfully watched their boys while on duty trying to execute the various commands given by their officers.  The boys done their best, not only while the old folks were present and watched their every movement in Camp Fonda, but ever after, or at least while in the service.  The officers, like the men, were doing the best they could under the circumstances.  But one of the Commissioned officers, the Captain, had been in the service before, and that too in the cavalry, therefore was almost deficient in infantry tactics, excepts Scott's old school tactics as was the youngest and most inexperienced man or boy of the one hundred and three.  Several of the men had been members of the old Black Horse Cavalry, therefore had some idea of military discipline.  First Sergeant, J. L. Haines had occupied a similar position in the old 7th Cavalry, while Sergeant C. L. Clark, had not only served in the 7th Cavalry, but has served in a battery of artillery during the Mexican war.  However, both officers and men, managed somehow to comply wit the requirements of army regulations as they understood them, which of course, was very imperfectly.



    In a promiscuous gathering of a thousand men or even one hundred men, picked up from the various walks of life, there will naturally occur, little incidents outside the natural course of regular routine business, that would attract the attention of the general student of human nature, and that too, all the way from the sublime to the most ridiculous, and the clans at Camp Fonda in August 1852 (sic), were not an exception to the general rule.  Company E had not yet learned the art of war, and not to any great extent the laws of self preservation (every soldier knows what that means) although the boys managed to "pass muster" every time.

    The Contractor, if our memory serves us correctly, for furnishing supplies, or in other words, our boarding house boss at Camp Fonda, was John Hank Starin, as he was familiarly known to the boys.  The long board shanty that stood back a short distance from the road, and dignified by the title "dining room" was usually very well supplied with good substantial food, as John was particularly inclined, and no doubt intended to feed the men as human beings should be fed.  However, he would get deceived occasionally by those of whom he procured his provisions, and the boys would occasionally get hold hold of something labeled "beef", but upon chewing a small piece of it awhile, it would swell in their mouths, and form a sort of India rubber ball the size of a hen's eggs or larger. - On such occasions the boys enjoyed themselves by pelting the table waiters, the cooks, with such balls and even John H. if he put in an appearance, at such times was obliged to take his share of "beef".  Butter that was strong enough to walk alone and carry a well filled knapsack, would sometime take unto itself wings and fly through the air, and quite often would also ornament the person of the poor table waiter as well as leave its imprint upon the devoted head of the contractor.  But then, the boys got thoroughly cured of their toned epicurean ideas before the war ended, and Company E  was subsequently known to take in a whole team of dead mules, without so much as taking the hair off.  However, the men of Company E always looked back to "hotel de Starin" as an oasis in the desert of their military life and travels.

    The Village of Fonda in one direction and of Johnstown in the other, were not so far distant that it required a very great exertion or length of time to reach either place, and the boys soon learned that they had plenty of friends in either Village, who were always ready, and more than willing, to entertain them with all sorts of refreshments, from a liquid to the most solid and substantial.  With inducements so flattering, temptations so strong, and invitations so urgent and often and leaves of absence so plenty, the camp at times, had the appearance of a deserted grave yard.  This state of things soon came to be quite an annoyance, and the Colonel of the regiment made an attempt to enforce a sort of military discipline, which by the way, was the climax of all the Camp Fonda farces, by making details from the different companies and placing a guard around the camp, with strict orders to let no one, except officers pass outside the lines, without a written pass from the commanding officers of the company to which the man belonged, and countersigned by the then acting Adjutant of the regiment.  Old soldiers like "Lew" Clark sand G. M. Renschler of Company E, only laughed at the slim show of authority by one who knew nothing whatever of a genuine military life or discipline, and from those two experts the men soon learned the trick of getting away with what was yet, a citizen camp guard, with neither sword, pistol or gun with which to protect either the camp or themselves.  However, the officers and enlisted in of Company E seemed somehow to have a sort of mutual understanding, that orders or no orders, guard or no guard, there should always be enough of the Company in Camp and ready for duty, to execute any orders or perform  any duty required of the Company.  That understanding was faithfully and religiously adhered to, not only in Camp Fonda, but ever after while the war lasted.  And let us say right here, lest we should forget it, that a better one hundred and three men never broke bread, shouldered a musket, chewed hardtack and mule, stole a chicken or shot a southern rebel, than those that composed
Company E.

    Fathers and mothers of those who had enlisted to fight the battles of their Country were often in camp, just ot see how their boys were getting along. or care for any that might be sick, or dress the wounds of any that might have been unfortunate enough to get wounded during their absence for altho that was only a rendezvous for the gathering of the troops, yet some of the good old ladies seemed to think it a genuine battle field.

    We recollect that one day an old lady camp into camp and inquired for the Captain of Co. E., and after cornering him in the center of the field, and going through the ordinary salutations, she inquired of him if he knew her dear boy, giving his name?  Oh yes, I do, quite well, he's a nice young man, answered the Captain.  Well now, she said, I have come to see you about him.  He ain't strong and healthy,and I didn't want him to go to war, but he allowed he would, and if I didn't let him go, he'd run away and go.  So I told him if he'd join your company, I'd give him consent.  And now Captain, I've come to see you, and see if you would take care on'im?  Of course I will, replied the young man with shoulder straps.  Oh yes my dear madam, I'll take the best care of your boy; I always take good care of my men.   Well now Captain, will you see that he don't have it too hard in the army, and see that he don't get hurt?  Of course I will Mrs. __________, my men never get hurt.   They always come out safe every time.  Well Captain will you bring him home when you come?  Oh yes, my dear madam, most certainly I will.  I'll bring him home a corps, or corporal, or sergeant, or brigadier, or something else, and possible he may yet be a senator or governor or something else.  At any rate I'll bring him home.   I hope you will, she replied.  At this point the tears as large as small pumpkins began to roll down her cheeks and of course the Captain left quite abruptly, as he couldn't stand the old lady's tears half as well as he could rebel bullets.  Cases of this kind were of daily occurrence during the last few days we were in Camp Fonda.

    We have now been in camp Fonda nearly or quite two weeks, and Company E had come to be known as the "Country Company", "Mountain Rangers", &c, not that the men were any more countryfied, or that the altitude from whence they came was any greater that from whence they come was any greater than from whence came the other Companies of the regiment, but no doubt that jealous feelings originated because the men were a little more on their dignity, better discipled, or something else.  Sometimes they were known as the Gloversville Company, not from the fact that more of the men came from that locality than any other, but perhaps from the fact that Gloversville people seemed to take a greater interest in the welfare of the Company than that of most any other locality, they having contributed more for its enlistments; but enough of that for the present, as we will have occasion at a later period to mention this subject again.

    As the time was drawing near for the regiment to be mustered into the service of the United States and leave for the seat of war, the men of Company E conceived the idea of making their Captain a present of some kind, and make it a surprise as well as present, therefore appointed a committee of whom Sergeant Haines was chairman, raised the money, sent to Albany and purchased a pair of shoulder straps and bugle ornament for the Cap, which were of gold embroidery, an elegant sword and belt, together with a 12 foot silk sash, eight inches wide, the whole costing $150.  these mementoes of the good opinion of his men after three years' wear and tear during the war the captain has still in his possession.

    To be a good soldier, and take care of one's self in the army, especially in a volunteer force as was ours, it is quite necessary that the men, and for that matter the officers too, should be fully instructed in all the branches of military life, and especially that of providing and caring for the inner man.  We don't know how it was with other companies, but Company E while at Camp Fonda practiced in all the arts of War, except that of loading an Enfield rifle, and when the men reached southern plantations they were not obliged to go hungry and starve themselves on account of a lack of knowledge necessary to keep soul and body together,  therefore some of the farmers within a radius of three miles of Camp Fonda, breathed easier when the 115th left for the front.

    Everything being in readiness the regiment was drawn up by Companies on the 26th day of August, 1862, and mustered into the service of the United States by W. G. Edgerton, Captain 11th Infantry U.S. Army, and then the men felt themselves bound by a sacred tie to the service of the Country.

    (In last week's sketch, read , Sands Johnson, instead of John Sanders)

(to be continued next week)




On to Part III


This piece was typed by volunteer Jill Collins.

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Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:37:40 PDT