Co. B, 1st Btn, 1st Repl Reg Eng
Washington Barracks, D.C
Will answer your letter today while I have time for tomorrow is Inspection day and I will be as busy as a cat on a tin roof. We are going to the target range at Annapolis, MD for sure, I guess, for I was talking to the top Sergeant this PM and he said we would go sometime between now and the 8th of July. I'm just aching to get turned loose with this new Enfield of mine. I'll have it so hot I'll have to have some asbestos paper to handle it with! I've got it all cleaned up now as bright as a morning star to go on guard tomorrow night and to stand Inspection with.
I had ordered a pass for tomorrow and Sunday but nothing doing on the pass business when they hook you up for guard duty.
Two companies, A & D, are already at the target range now and will probably never come back to Ft. Foote. We have been digging trenches today, I suppose just for the practice. If you could see all the string of real for sure trenches around this camp, you'd think sure we were preparing for a siege! One thing sure, they would come in awful handy if Washington was besieged. There is a blue million of soldiers and sailors around here in Maryland and Virginia. There is Ft. Foote, Ft. Hunt, Ft. Washington, Camp Mead, Camp Laurel, Camp Hunphreys and some others. You needn't wish the Kaiser any bad luck because we are going to settle with him and it isn't worrying us a little bit either.
If you could hear us fellows in here sometimes, you'd wonder if we were going to a picnic or 4th of July! There were 10 or a dozen of us in this tent Wed. night and it was raining, but we had things so lively that it was kind of unusual so a lieutenant came up and stuck his face up to the screen and says "Are you fellows from Indiana?" and one big stiff yelled "Yes, are you?". He didn't know it was the lieutenant or he wouldn't have said that for 30 minutes yet. That was too much for the Lieutenant so he says "All signs of Life" and beat it. They like to hear cheerfulness and say it's a sign of life.
We got the devil for acting dead because the boys were so leery of the officers they were afraid to open their heads when the officers were around. One time they said we were the deadest bunch that ever struck camp and they shot it to us and made fun of Indiana until we didn't care if we all got punished. We just turned loose like we were at home and gave them a real taste of wild western Hoosierdom! We haven't had any trouble since, but they did say some pretty hard things about Indiana and I've had to hold my breath till I counted to 10 thousand a time or two. They got the crowd of us so mad that I'll tell you what pretty nearly happened when I come home. There isn't any one in the camp who is in the least sorry to see the hatchet buried. Even the Captain came to our tent tonight and looked in and joked and laughed about us getting ready for Inspection tomorrow and on leaving wished us good luck and laughed! We liked all these officers when we first came here and when they were off duty and we were out having a good time, they would come around as common as any of us. But they laid rules down so everlasting firm that we were afraid to talk out of a whisper so they thought we were a bunch of dead heads. But when they got to slinging mud at Indiana, gosh, but we were 1200 of the maddest fellows in the USA.
We have to hike to the rifle range at Annapolis when we go. It is 45 miles. Some jaunt, eh?
You wanted to know how I like it by this time so I'll tell you the truth. I like it fine only for one or two things. One thing is the fact that a fellow has to stand for a good many things that are unfair. A time or two I have got a calling for not having some certain piece of clothing they issue, but when I've been to the supply tent after them many times and they don't have them in stock. Then they order me to go back for them and the supply Sergeant will raise the devil because you keep running after them when you know they don't have them. If you don't go, you get a calling from some officer. That's just one example of unfair treatment. The other thing is that they pick up some few greenhorns that can't do some certain thing and they just specialize on that thing in order for the greenhorn to learn it. It just near runs the rest of us threadbare. Anything a fellow has to do over and over and over just for the sake of some fool who can't learn gets old, as Snyder says. The rest is all right. There is something about military life that kind of attracts a fellow if he tries to learn, but take one of these soft mamma's boys and he sees a hard time in the Army.
No, I never hear from any of the folks in Illinois, except from Buck once in a while. Well, I don't have time to write all I want so will have to quit for everything is on the boom. Everybody raising thunder but it is about time for taps now and when that bugle hits the first note, this camp will be so still you could hear the grass growing in the White House yard up at D.C. So will have to slip this in my pocket and finish it down at the guard house while I'm off beat. They don't care for a fellow writing when off shift. So will close and get my bunk ready to hit the hay.
On guard, Sun. PM
No, I haven't seen Wesley. He might be at most any of these camps around here and be in what they call Washington Barracks. I expect if Wesley did what Aunt Mandy said she heard he did, he is in the guard house or penitentiary! My corporal that skipped a while back came in Tuesday and we got him in the guard house or guard pen. We got a big pen with barbed wire fence 25 strands high and about half as big as the garden. The prisoners have their tents pitched in it. We have 15 today and one is a corporal and one is a sergeant but they have to dance to the music of us privates now.
Say, I don't know whether I got your letter of the 16th or not. I got one along there sometime in which you and Maw and Allie all wrote some. We can't keep letters here unless we have them in our pockets where everybody could read them. We just tear them up and stuff them in the waste basket as soon as we answer them. I hope Bill does come home and stay. I intended to write and tell him to, but couldn't find out his address.
Well, I had to move. I was sitting out beside the guardhouse and those prisoners were begging for paper and pencils. They aren't allowed anything that way and don't even get any mail while they're in the jug.
Well, you said to write anything I saw or heard that it was news to you so I am going to tell you about my night on guard last Sat. night. I went on at 6 o'clock. My post was No. 5 covering pump station and the wharf, all government property in view, including a few boats tied to the wharf and concrete mixer and pile driver used in rebuilding the old wharf. The wharf runs out in the harbor like a piece of a bridge and, say, but that was the finest place after night. Last night is the first night it stayed warm and I did the whole shift in my shirt sleeves so about 11 PM I heard someone coming on the wharf from the land. I yelled "Halt, who's there?" The answer was "Sergeant of the Guards" so I says "Advance, Sergeant of Guards to be recognized" so he came up and talked awhile. He asked me to repeat my orders just to try me, so after he left the boats began to come in from Alexandria and Washington bringing soldiers to camp. Everybody was tired and didn't care if they stopped or not so I had a grind for an hour passing them thru. George Prosser was in the bunch I passed through.
I was relieved then from midnight till 4 AM and went up to the camp kitchen to get a lunch. They had a new man on post by the kitchen now so I worked it to make him "halt" me. He did and asked who is there; I answered "Member of the Guard" so he advanced me to be recognized but he forgot to halt me. I was almost on top of him when I stopped anyway, and he got balled up and stuttered awhile then yelled out again "who's there?" Ha! I laughed and he says "Is that you, Mack?" He just laughed and said he didn't know a thing about the job. I ate supper and got out just as he halted a boatload of soldiers and stood beside him and whispered what he should say. He certainly told them like he was the commanding officer. I just got 3 hours sleep from 1 to 4 AM and I would have stayed down on the wharf all night if it had been allowed. There were several steam boats passed in the night all lighted up and made a pretty sight on the water.
When I was relieved at midnight there was a fire on the river bank about two hundred yards from the wharf. I told the corporal I'd been watching it and that someone was feeding it up every once in a while. He said we would go down there. Now there was just a little path between the river and the bluff and it was dark and full of ditches and big rocks. Of course I fell down first shot out of the box and bumped my knee against my gunstock. I got up on the other side of the ditch and rubbed my knee while the corporal took his whirl and got up. By that time if anybody every was at the fire, he certainly had good warning and plenty of time to get out. It was a good thing he did for I was about mad enough to hand him 6 rounds of Uncle Sam's pleasant pellets!
The Captain was officer of the day today and he certainly made us step high, wide and handsome. He came down last night and asked each one to report his general orders and four out of the bunch didn't remember them. He ordered them to report to his office when they got off guard so they will get a good calling and maybe a week on the wood pile. Believe me, when I go on guard I say my orders over as I walk till I know them good. I'm by them like Frank was by "pepper and the pot."
I got my pass yesterday but it won't do me any good, I guess. There was only about 16 who didn't pass Inspection Sat. Quite a change from two weeks ago when they 84 who didn't pass.
Back in my tent finished up my last shift in a regular downpour of rain. It is still raining but I'm dry as a powder house. Colba Day was on guard. He had Post 1 around the guard house and Lloyd Phillips from Boone County had No. 2 and the two beats lap about a hundred feet. Phillips said Day halted him every time around. Said he would have just walked on if he didn't know Day was loaded for bear! Ha! We had some fun out of Phillips. Some of the boys said Phillips stepped on a stick and thought it was a snake, then screamed for corporal of the guards. He said yes he was scared to death all night. Said a dog ran out from under the office building as he went by and nearly ran over him. Then one of the mules popped off and fairly made his hair stand on end. Then, just as he was stepping the sideditch to get back in the road, Day yelled to him and he nearly fell in the ditch. Gosh, but a bunch of green dudes like us see an awful time doing guard duty!
Seven of us took the prisoners down for a bath this PM and we certainly had entertainment to spare. There are 3 doors to the bath house and we drove them in and then stood in the doors and watched the performance. They set up a regular grand opera and one refused to take a bath. The Belgian here undertook to make him strip off and the Belgian can't speak good English so you should have heard the goose latin. He finally made him strip and get under the shower.
Well, if this doesn't make you sick, I'll write again. As ever, your son,