My regiment left New York by night in a flare of torch and rocket. The streets were lined with crowds now hardened to the sound of fife and drum and the pomp of military preparation. I had a very high and mighty feeling in me that wore away in the discomfort of travel. For hours after the train started we sang and told stories, and ate peanuts and pulled and hauled at each other in a cloud of tobacco smoke. The train was sidetracked here and there, and dragged along at a slow pace.
Young men with no appreciation, as it seemed to me, of the sad business we were off upon, went roistering up and down the aisles, drinking out of bottles and chasing around the train as it halted. These revellers grew quiet as the night wore on. The boys began to close their eyes and lie back for rest. Some lay in the aisle, their heads upon their knapsacks. The air grew chilly and soon I could hear them snoring all about me and the chatter of frogs in the near marshes. I closed my eyes and vainly courted sleep. A great sadness had lain hold of me. I had already given up my life for my country — I was only going away now to get as dear a price for it as possible in the hood of its enemies. When and where would it be taken? I wondered. The fear had mostly gone out of me in days and nights of solemn thinking. The feeling I had, with its flavour of religion, is what has made the volunteer the mighty soldier he has ever been, I take it, since Naseby and Marston Moor. The soul is the great Captain, and with a just quarrel it will warm its sword in the enemy, however he may be trained to thrust and parry. In my sacrifice there was but one reservation — I hoped I should not be horribly cut with a sword or a bayonet. I had written a long letter to Hope, who was yet at Leipzig. I wondered if she would care what became of me. I got a sense of comfort thinking I would show her that I was no coward, with all my littleness. I had not been able to write to Uncle Eb or to my father or mother in any serious tone of my feeling in this enterprise. I had treated it as a kind of holiday from which I should return shortly to visit them.
All about me seemed to be sleeping — some of them were talking in their dreams. As it grew light, one after another rose and stretched himself, rousing his seat companion. The train halted, a man shot a musket voice in at the car door. It was loaded with the many syllables of ‘Annapolis Junction’. We were pouring out of the train shortly, to bivouac for breakfast in the depot yard. So I began the life of a soldier, and how it ended with me many have read in better books than this, but my story of it is here and only here.
We went into camp there on the lonely flats of east Maryland for a day or two, as we supposed, but really for quite two weeks. In the long delay that followed, my way traversed the dead levels of routine. When Southern sympathy had ceased to wreak its wrath upon the railroads about Baltimore we pushed on to Washington. There I got letters from Uncle Eb and Elizabeth Brower. The former I have now in my box of treasures — a torn and faded remnant of that dark period.