In the winter of 1863, my great great grandfather and the rest of his regiment (98th PA) spent their time in Brandy Station. This was the area in which the Army of the Potomac had their winter encampment (for some reason, I'm picturing Valley Forge). It was during this time that the 98th Pennsylvania's time was up and they had to decide to reenlist or not. My great great grandfather did, indeed, reenlist.
While studying his life.....what he did during the Civil War....and even after, I decided to do some checking up on what exactly happened in Brandy Station during that winter. I found two markers in Brandy Station that explain about life during that period. Here are what the markers said:
On the night of December 1, 1863, following its unsuccessful advance against Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Mine Run Campaign, a cold and tired Army of the Potomac withdrew across the Rapidan River and returned to Culpeper County. On these fields and throughout most of Culpeper and part of Fauquier Counties, 100,000 Union soldiers set up a massive winter encampment that disrupted the lives of local residents. Union commander Major General George G. Meade ordered that the army establish its camps in an enormous oval-shaped configuration. As protection, an outer ring of cavalry pickets stretched around the army, backed up by an inner line of infantry. Supplies from Alexandria, Virginia rolled down the Orange and Alexandria Railroad into Brandy Station, the army's principle supply depot, and to Ingalls Station, 1.2 miles to the north. The encampment, which lasted from December 1, 1863 to May 4, 1864, was described by one soldier as a time "when the shattered regiments regained form and fair; when the new men learned the ways of the old, and caught the spirit of the organization they had entered...and the new body, thus composed, was to be thrown into one of the most furious campaigns of human history."
"A man could walk for miles and never leave the camps around Brandy Station." Anonymous Union Soldier
"A few weeks ago it was a wilderness; now it is a city of log huts, hardly a tree to be see." 126th New York Soldier
The 1863-1864 winter encampment proved a busy time for the Army of the Potomac. "There was something fascinating about our winter city of 100,000 men," a staff officer recalled. "Many pleasant recollections cluster around the old camp at Brandy Station...history should know that our military service did not consist entirely of being shot at or trying to shoot at the other man." Thousands of new recruits joined the army and learned how to be soldiers. For members of the "old" regiments, the issue of re-enlisting was of grant interest; those who decided to sign on for "three more years" - or until the end of the war - were treated to a 30-day furlough, a $300 bounty, and special veteran stripes for their uniforms. Soldiers grumbled over the unpopular abolition of the First and Third Corps and the transfers of their regiments into other corps. In March 1864, following his appointment as general-in-chief of all the Union armies, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant came to Culpeper County. Although George Meade continued to command the Army of the Potomac, Grant chose to make his headquarters in the field with his army and directed operations until the end of the war. Not two months later, in early May 1864, the men of the Army of the Potomac packed their knapsacks, fell into line, and left these camps for good. On May 4, they crossed the Rapidan River and marched to the Wilderness. Before the momentous and bloody Overland Campaign ended, nearly half of those who had spent the winter at Brandy Station would be dead or wounded.
Reading about this time in the history of our country just reminds me of how precious we should consider life. I can't imagine what they must have gone through....the lack of warmth, few clothes, no luxury items, were they wanting for food? With the Christmas season approaching, thinking about the struggles that the armies on both sides went through, how little they had, what they had to do without, etc., really makes me thankful for what I do have. I am not the richest person, sometimes I wonder how I am going to pay my bills, but they get paid, I have food, I have a place to live (and its in the most wonderful town ever), and I have clean clothes on a daily basis. Stopping and thinking about the past makes me even more thankful for the future. The slate is clean....we can do with the future whatever we want....so here is my question: What will we do with our future? Let's remember to look at the past so that we can look toward a bright future.