August 22, 1863
---Oliver Norton Willcox, a Union soldier in the 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry, writes home, commenting on the viciously hot weather in Virginia, the food, darftees and substitutes, and the new commander of the brigade:
Beverly Ford, Va.,
August 22, 1863.
I received a piece of paper from E. a few days since, saying that he had received my letter and would answer it soon. The answer has not come yet. The envelope contained the perfumery I sent for, and, if it is not effectual, I don’t know of anything that would be. Fortunately, I am not troubled with the “crumbs” now. All the men who ever are rid of them are so now. A good boiling does the business, but there are some who would be lousy if they had every convenience and a year’s time, and just as soon as we start on a march again they will be all over. “All is quiet on the Rappahannock” yet. The hot weather paralyzes both armies, but lying still they are gaining. The flies are so troublesome that horses do not gain so fast as they would in cooler weather, but they still improve some. Many of the cavalry regiments and batteries are getting new horses.
The commissary is issuing soft bread two days out of three, nice fresh bread, too, and, oh, if we had some butter! He issues small rations of potatoes and dried apples occasionally, and dessicated vegetables. I presume you have never seen any of this last. It is in square cakes an inch thick and seems to consist of potato, carrot, turnip, onion, cabbage, red pepper, etc., scalded and then pressed and dried. I am confident that if we could learn how to cook it we should like it. We are all hungry for vegetables, but I cannot cook it nor have I seen any one who could so that it will be good. We have put in fresh beef and made soup of it, and we have boiled it down dry and tried it every way we can think of, and don’t succeed yet. The fault seems to be that each vegetable loses its individual flavor in the cooking and all blend together in a nondescript sort of a dish that isn’t good a bit.
The principal topics of news in camp are the arrival of the conscripts and the departure of Colonel Rice. Captain Judson came down from Philadelphia this week with two hundred men for the Eighty-third, and he has gone back for more. Of the two hundred but three men, so they say, were drafted. All the rest are substitutes, and most of them two years and nine months men. They seem to be pretty hard nuts. They are very quiet here, but Captain Judson says they had quite a tendency to get lost on their way down.
Colonel Rice’s “eagles” have been setting a good while, and the other morning on waking he found they had hatched a pair of “stars” and “marching orders” to report in Baltimore, and with many thanks to the eagles he proceeded to obey immediately. The senior officer of the brigade now is Colonel Chamberlain of the Twentieth Maine, a former professor in a college and a very fine man, though but little posted in military matters. He is absent now on sick leave, though about to return, I hear.