Letter written by Captain David W. Norton of Company E, 42nd IL Volunteer Infantry, to his mother, from a camp near Tipton, MO. Norton’s company has seen no fighting since they left Camp Hunter in Tipton. They marched to Warsaw on the Osage River hoping to fight General Sterling Price, but were disappointed. They were then forced march to Springfield, MO and joined General David Hunter’s division. He describes the rations and weather conditions. Upon arriving at Springfield and finding no Confederate troops, the hard and hurried march had been unnecessary. Some blamed General John C. Fremont, though most still have confidence in him. Norton warns that the newspapers are exaggerating the number of casualties suffered by Union troops. After staying in Springfield for a few days, they marched back to Camp Baker. Norton mentions that he had been ill, and the doctor tried to keep him from marching on to Warsaw. Initially he stayed behind as ordered, but the next day rode out to join his company when they received new orders to head to St. Louis. Since then, his health has recovered. He has been busy making muster and pay rolls for the company. He mentions an engagement with a small camp of Confederate troops, and how he took prisoners against the authorization of Major Roberts.
Camp near Tipton Mo.
Dec. 2nd 1861
As I have just learned that a mail by which I sent you a letter from Springfield Mo. has not been since heard from, I thought you must be somewhat anxious to hear from me. You have undoubtedly read of Battles fought and to be fought in this state since you last heard from me. This Regt. has been in none – excepting those to be fought! I don’t know which of my letters you may have received so I will tell you all that has occurred to me since I left Camp Hunter, Tipton 28th of Oct. We marched to Warsaw on the Osage River in 3 days. This was the first place where we were sure to have a fight with Gen. Price! When we arrived he was no nearer to us than when we started. We remained at Warsaw 3 days and crossed the river – on that bridge you may have seen illustrations of in Harper’s, – and marched 6 or 7 miles and camped at Camp Baker where we remained until the 1st of Nov. Our soldiering now begun for the first time. At nine o’clock on the evening of the 1st we received orders to march immediately to Springfield leaving our camp equipage and all men who could not march night and day behind. We started at 10 o’c. I had in my company to go with me, my 1st Lieut and 62 men out of a comp’y of 94 Rank & file. We marched all that night and joined Gen. Hunter’s division
at their camp in the morning. We stopped here long enough to cook our breakfast and marched again. We made 30 miles that day – 42 miles our regiment marched without sleep. We laid ourselves at length on the prarie that night and did some ‘tall’ sleeping even if we did for the 1st time do with out tents and other camp conveniences such as full rations and something to cook them in. But we did not miss our rations until the next morning, for we were too tired to think of eating.
We were up next morning in time to eat such rations as we could get – being fresh beef with out salt and one pilot brisket to a man –
in time and marched about an hour before day. We marched about 30 miles that day and camped in the woods, where fortunately we had plenty of fuel, for although it was not very cold, still we were so tired that we all felt as cold as if it had been winter in place of Nov. This day our men began to give out; and I marched into camp with only 40 men. We built large fires and waited for our beef and hard bread with a great deal of impatience for the butchers were slow and the teams with the bread had no kept up with us. We had just got our meat when an officer dashed into camp at full speed with an order from Gen. Hunter, – who had gone on ahead of us, -for us to march to Springfield without resting – So the long roll was sounded and we ‘fell in‘ in hot – (or rather cold) haste expecting that the enemy must be upon us, and minus our suppers we started in the dark to meet him. My boys would have left their meat on the ground had I not by
precept and example induced them to put it in their haversacks. I put a “junk” of about four lbs in my haversack and they then followed suit. We marched that night in a cold mist – which was gotten up for our especial benefit until just at daylight when our commanding Gen. ordered a halt of about 2 hours. The way the most of the men threw themselves upon the ground at the order was a caution to young men not to go soldiering in Missouri! I stopped to build some fires to sleep by and then rolled my blanket around me and went to sleep in short order. The drums beat in two hour and up we jumped and I pulled out my beef and after dividing it with some of my boys who didn’t get any, I stuck my part on a stick and heated it through by my fire and eat it with as good relish as ever I eat roast turkey at home. We ‘fell in‘ in good spirits after our nights rest, and started again for Springfield perfectly sure we should have a fight when we got there – if not before! We arrived at Springfield that afternoon – having marched on short rations (and very short too) 100 miles in two nights and less than three days.
The Gen. said our Regt. did the best in the division and we had about 300 men when we arrived in camp – so you may judge how many men some of the other regiments had. One Regt. did not have more than half a compy! – I had 38 men – the largest number excepting one that any compy in our Regt reported. Our march was bad enough – but what was worse than that was that we were no nearer a fight than when we
started from Camp Baker. The way our poor tired men cursed the one who ordered us on in such haste, was shocking to church members I assure you. No one but Hunters particular friends and the newspapers blame Gen. Fremont. Notwithstanding all that has been said against him, this army so far as I can learn, have more confidence to-day, in Gen. Fremont than in any other man under Gen. McClelland. About 20,000 men were hurried to Springfield without camp equipage and slept without cover, when Gen. Price was not within 56 miles of the place and showed no disposition to come nearer. Many a good man will pay for that march with his life, – which would have been all right if the march had been necessary, but as it was not it is a perfect shame. One of my own men I am expecting daily to die from the effects of the march. I for one do not believe that Gen. Fremont ever ordered us to make a forced march. I believe it was done to through [throw] a slur upon Gen. F.
Bad as our case was – those long articles in the papers, asserting that our men were dying by hundreds & thousands under the hedges and by the road sides, between Tipton & Sedalia and Springfield were nothing but outrageous lies from beginning to end. Our Regt. left only one man seriously sick on the whole trip and that was on our return. And he was left at a comfortable farm house. Those men who dropped out of the ranks from fatigue on the way all came into camp within three days. Those articles made thousands of hearts in this army boil with bitterness at those men who stay at home and write lying articles against those who are
fighting for their country. If they confined themselves to pointing out their faults we could stand it although that is mean enough when they are where they are where they can not defend themselves – but to make such lies of ‘whole cloth‘ is contemptable.
Gen. Fremont, I believe, did everything a man surrounded by vipers as he was – could do.
We remained at Springfield 6 days and started on the back track. We reached Camp Baker on the fifth day. I did not give out once on the march until we were within about 3 miles of Camp Baker when I was taken with a kind of ‘gone-ness,’ and they put me on a horse on which I road to camp. The Dr. would not let me walk any farther as I wished to do on account of the example to my tired me. We received orders before daylight next morning to march across the Osage river at Warsaw and camp three miles beyond. As our teams were not with us we must again leave our Camp and sick behind. I was sick that night and the Doctor reported to the Major that I had the (Billious Fever?) And that I could not be moved, but as I had never yet allowed my company to march without being at their head, I told the Doctor I should go, and began to dress accordingly, when the Maj. came to my tent and ordered me to remain behind – nominally to take charge of the camp and sick, but really because he thought it dangerous to move me in a lumberwagon for he and the Doctor thought that they had a sick Capt. in your son, notwithstanding I knew better. They were rather anxious to get me on the sick list – not that they wanted me to suffer, but only because I had always made fun of them for getting tired or ‘played-out‘ as we call it. For you must know that the Major had nick-named me the ‘Stout Cap‘ as I
had not been on the sicklist since the Regt. left Chicago. Well the Regt. marched from Camp Baker and I staid behind in obedience to Maj’s orders. In the afternoon one of the officers came back to camp and said the Regt. was to march at daylight next morning and to proceed to St Louis immediately. I thought from that that they must want to send us immediately into Kentucky and having no notion of being behind, I got up and had a horse saddled and started at sun down to ride to the other camp, about 12 miles. It was hard work to ride and took me about 5 hours to go camp. The next morning when the Major saw me he threatened to put me under arrest for not obeying his orders, but when I told him that I understood that he was to march that morning he laughed at my conceit
at for thinking the Regt. could not get along without me, and called me a fool for running the chance of making myself sick. While I was talking to the Major, the Doctor came to report that he had succeeded in getting an ambulance to send for me. He was surprised and angry at seeing me, and said I had signed my death warrant that time sure! He said I was as sick as any man in the Regt. and had the Billious fever, but I knew better – so he got angry and so did I, and he insisted I was sick and I that I was not, and, so ended the affair. We did not march until the next day. I was hardly able to march, but would not ride because I would not acknowledge that the Dr. was right. I actually drove sickness “from my tent‘ and have been in first rate health ever since. That one day is the only day that I have not been in command of my company since we
left Chicago. I am ‘fat and saucy’ – so say my “supperior officers,” for my old habit of saying what I think at all times and in all places has not left me yet. – In fact camp life just suits me – I believe I weigh more now than at any other time since I was at home.
My time is fully occupied with affairs of my company for I have the whole to do, excepting what can be trusted to my non-commissioned officers. My Lieutenants are of very little use to me, as they are either sick or lazy all the time.
We arrived at Camp Hunter, Tipton, on the 19th ultimo. Since then we have marched to Syracuse and back to our present camp. How long we shall remain here I can not guess.
Since we came here I have been very busy making muster and pay rolls for my co. and in writing up my company books, which were very much behind on a/c [account] of our long marches.
We have marched since leaving St. Louis, about 450 or 500 miles (since the 8th of Oct.)
The only thing our Regt. has done against the Rebels, has been done by my Co. We went out to take a camp of Secesh while we were at Camp Baker. We surprised them and took fiver prisoners and six horses. – One Major and four soldiers, several rifles & other traps. The next day I went out again to finish up the business and to take another squad camped two or three miles farther off. Some of Gen. Hunters Cavalry got the start of me and got to the camp before me and after a short but sharp fight took some prisoners and horses. I went to finish up the other job and took about 20 head of cattle and 14 horses
The joke of the Affair is that Maj. Roberts sent one of his pet’s Capt. Vardon with his whole company to take this Major and his squad. Maj. Roberts would not authorize me to do the same thing that he ordered Capt. Vardon to do. I had the best guide and went straight to the camp about 12 miles, took it and returned to our camp the same night. What I did, I did on my own responsibility. The next day – after I had got the cattle & horses in a field ready to drive to camp, – who should march up but Capt. Vardon, who had marched all the day before and half of that day to get to the place I was already to leave with my booty. If ever a man was angry – Capt. V. was, to find me in full possession of the ground and ‘plunder’ and to learn that I had taken the prisoners and part of the horses in to camp the night before. I t was a good joke on him and on the Major too for selecting an old English officer to do what a young Yankee could do a great deal better.
When we found the Secesh camp the men took to the brush but our bullets call so loudly on five of them that they surrendered without being hurt. They are a cowardly sett out here. They know they are in the wrong and can’t stand fire.
I must close now as I must go up to Tipton to see my sick boys of whom I have one Lieut. (the one whose likeness I sent you) and 10 men in the Hospital there.
Write soon and often to
(Excus Brevity) D. Woodman Nor
Capt. Co. ‘E’
42nd Regt Ills. Vols
-Page 4, Across Top-
P.S. I visited the Battle field where Gen. Lyon was killed; while I was at Springfield will write about it in my next D.W.N.
Major David Woodman Norton was born 31 January 1838 in Chelsea, MA. He had two other brothers (Joshua and John) who also enlisted and served in the Union Army. He enlisted with the 1st Zouave Regiment of Chicago and was then promoted to 2nd Lieutenant of the 42nd IL Infantry then Captain on July 22, 1861. He eventually joins Major General John M. Palmer’s staff as acting Assistant Inspector General. He was killed in action near New Hope Church, GA on June 2, 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign.