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Posted By: Mark Hageman on: 06/03/2009 14:37:06 EDT
Subject: RE: Making Sense of Re-created Events With Compasses

Message Detail:
William Clemens Letter
(This is part of the second batch of letters which will be posted as soon as I complete the conversion)

I remembered him giving compass readings in the third paragraph below- so I thought I'd post this preview

Curtis House Signal Station James River, Va.
May 1864

"All quiet on the James"- whilst I write- although we are still confronted by the army with which we have been contending during the last couple of weeks. There seems to be, as though it were a mutual understanding between both parties, a willingness to refrain from all firing, except when an advance may be made by either. Our outer pickets are within speaking distance of the enemy's outposts and I have heard they indulge daily in an exchange of sentiment as well as of such luxuries (to them) of coffee and sugar for tobacco etc. It is certainly an interesting spectacle to witness the position of the outposts - here our boys, each in his rifle pit protected by the earth thrown up in front of him, his watching all movements of the enemy who is in gun shot distance of him also watching the movements on our side. Yesterday afternoon the enemy’s works were crowded with the Johnnys anxious to see what might be going on, and they walked and laid about on their works with so much freedom and ease that one could hardly think they were in stones throw of their enemy. We are daily strengthening our works and make no pretensions whatever to advance, but remain contented behind them. What the strength of the army is before us, it would be hard to say, and there are many conjectures as to their movements. I think that a great portion of Beauregard's army has been taken away from here and sent to Lee, which is certainly probable when the present condition of Lee's army is taken into consideration. But I suppose Gen. Butler knows all about the affairs in the rebel army for as the correspondent in his article of the Herald, May 27th says he has a way of finding out everything when others can gain no information. Would that he had possessed that power before ever he landed this army at Bermuda Hundred and results might have been different from what they now are. Read that article in Herald May 27th dated Butler's Hd. Qrts and you can see for yourself how a newspaper correspondent may make a man a hero whether he be or not. In that article it is all 18th Corps and little- very little reference is made to the 10th when the bulk of praise should be given to the latter. It was the 10th, which was last to fall back and then only by order - and it is the 10th, which can prove by its immense losses that they did not fail in their duty. And it was (so says report and also N.Y. Times) Gen. Gillmore commanding the 10th Corps who suggested the strengthening of our fortifications in front of Drury's Bluff to resist any sortie of the enemy - and it was nobody connected with the 10th Corps who said "we are not on the defensive" and who found out in a few hours that had he known that he was on the defensive might possibly have avoided those disasters which his command suffered in consequence. Officers whom I have met and in conversing about the different reports in the papers concerning the movements of this army have told me that the best and most truthful history of it, can be found in the N.Y. Times of 23rd May - either 22nd, 23rd, or 24th but I think it is on the 23rd. I did not read it but have heard it is nearer the truth than anything yet. O.G. Sawyer's despatches to the Herald are a general thing to be relied upon, in fact- we may say truthful in every particular. But when such despatches as that of Herald 27th May - are given as correct in every way, I think it no wonder that the readers begin to doubt all.

The greater parts of our forces have left here. I know where they have gone but I will not say where for fear of this falling into a wrong channel. However before you receive this you will have seen in the papers their destination. I am daily here in communication with the flagship Admiral Lee Commanding squadron and also with the officers along the line of fortifications. This house is an unfinished one and I have my quarters on the porch, one corner being boarded up and have quite a snug room but rather airy. Our lookout is from the top of the house; we have a fine view of the country for miles in all directions except in front of our fortifications, the view in that direction, being interrupted by thick woods. Our fortifications run nearly north and south touching the James on the right (where I am) and the Appomattox on the left. The James is very crooked and in looking towards Richmond we look across it four times in about as many miles.

Richmond lies from my station, 20 degrees west we can distinctly see the tops of a couple of the church steeples. This side of the river is a high bluff and it is here nearly a hundred ft. above the level of the water. The gunboats lie directly below me and send a few shells occasionally towards the enemy's works. The rebel gunboats can be distinctly seen about six miles from here in a direct line between this point and Richmond. This morning I see two gunboats and one, which I think is a mortar schooner, all of them flying their new flag (which is a pretty one) white with blue and red corner. The country opposite is the most beautiful farmland I ever saw - it is truly magnificent and the scenery is only marred by the earthworks & fortifications of the enemy- which are thrown up in· many places. The plantations seem to be in the highest state of cultivation, grain looking beautiful and herds of cattle and droves of horses can been seen in many places quietly grazing - which certainly does not look as though they were impoverished in every locality. As I said we have a fine view of the country across the river and Johnny Reb may be seen doing his guard duty on this fort and digging and entrenching on another officers quarters and encampments here and there through the different roads - and were it not for an occasional shot being fired one would hardly think we were at war.

Nine days have passed by since you wrote last or at least that is the latest dates I have from home. The Journals have all come to hand and was glad to receive them as in them I can get all the news, The weather has been very pleasant the last few days with little rain. It is particularly pleasant here as we have a breeze nearly all the time from off the river.
With much love to all at home,
I am your Affectionate son.
Will (William Clemens)

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