Winter during the Civil War was particularly trying and monotonous for the armies. The winter months presented impassable, muddy roads and harsh weather which precluded active operations. Disease ran rampant during the winter months, killing more men than battles. But with all of its hardships winter also allowed soldiers an opportunity to bond, have a bit of fun, and enjoy their more permanent camps. Through these bleak months all soldiers, Union and Confederate, had to keep warm and busy in order to survive. However, in the winter of 1862-1863, the “Union” Army of the Southwest, commanded by Maj. Gen. Samuel Ryan Curtis, was on the march and campaigning in Northwest Arkansas. As part of that army, the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment was far away from its former headquarters in Fort Scott and 1st Sergeant, soon-to-be 2nd Lt. Charles W. Porter recorded the following entries in his journal. His original journal is owned by the Wisconsin State Historical Society and a transcribed copy is located in the manuscript collection of Fort Scott National Historic Site and an edited version has been published by the Bushwhacker Museum in Nevada, Mo.
Dec. 31, 1862
At daylight we were again on the road. We had a cold and uncomfortable night and but little sleep as we had no tents with us. The ground was frozen enough to bear a horse and rider. Our march today was by the Boston Mountains and across the same streams we met with on our march to Van Buren. We did not see the sun until 10 o’ clock a.m. on account of the mountain heights. These mountains are in many respects sublime in appearance. They are quite rocky, some of the rocks have a perpendicular height of 100 feet or more, while many are shelving and ragged, covered with pine and cedar besides other kinds of trees.
Fred A. Copeland of our company lost his horse and was obliged to appropriate a donkey for his use. The only way he could keep the lazy beast up with the company was to put an ear of corn on the end of a cane stalk and hold it in front of the animal, when he would hasten to overtake it. The boys gave Fred the name of “Barlarn,” a name he did not fancy and in order to get rid of the accursed name he disposed of the beast on arriving at camp. After a march of 30 miles today, we arrived at our old camp at Rheas Mills at a little before sunset.
Thursday, Jan. 1, 1863
A new year has dawned upon us and with it the war is still in progress. I set about to enjoy the day as my limited means would admit. I took a few drinks of brandy to stimulate my exertions. I procured some canned peaches and oysters at the sutlers (a portable “civilian general store” that traveled with the army in a privately owned wagon or wagons) and soon surprised the vacancies of the inner man. During the day, I received my commission as 2nd Lieutenant of Co. F, 3rd Regt. Wisconsin Cavalry and the consequence was I was elected to do some treating. Many of the boys in and about our Regiment partook freely of “Coffin Varnish” (homemade whiskey) and many rows occurred during the day. I was with my companions until a late hour and a jolly carouse we had. The day was cloudy, windy and with some sleet. At dark we had marching orders for the morrow.
Friday, Jan. 2, 1863
It rained nearly all night. Early this morning, the reveille called us forth to our morning duties and prepare for another move. Our company was detailed to take charge of a herd of government cattle and proceed to Fayetteville, the county seat of Washington County, Ark. At 10 o’clock a.m., we started and passed over some nice country and saw some good farms. After marching 18 miles, we arrived at Fayetteville at 8 o’clock p.m. The place has the appearance of once being in a flourishing and quite prosperous condition. But, war had done its work of devastation in the business portion, as Confederate Gen. McCulloch had burnt it. Orderly Sgt. E.M. Cooper and myself fortunately found a place of comfort for the night with a family. We had a good, warm supper and a nice bed on the floor before the fire. Today was pleasant.
Saturday, Jan. 3, 1863.
I was up quite early this morning, after a good sound sleep. Our hostess provided us with a good breakfast. At 10 o’clock a.m., we were ordered to take our stock (cattle) to Elm Springs and we immediately moved forward in a northerly course through some beautiful farm country and good timber. After marching 12 miles, we arrived at Elm Springs an hour before sunset and camped. This place has but few buildings and a large flour mill. Our entire force camped here tonight. Today was pleasant.
Sunday, Jan. 4, 1863
I assisted Stephen Wheeler to make out our company payrolls today as the last rolls we made out were not correct. It was therefore necessary to make out new ones. Today was clear and chilly.
Monday, Jan. 5, 1863
I did not feel well today so I did not do any duty. Brother Walworth was sick in bed today and unfit for duty. Nothing unusual in camp. Today was cloudy and chilly.
Tuesday Jan. 6, 1863
I was confined in my tent with sore eyes today. Brother Walworth is better. There is no exciting news with us today. All quiet in and about us at this time. Today was very cool.
Wednesday, Jan. 7, 1863
This forenoon, our forces here were preparing for a review in the afternoon when we passed in review by Maj. Gen. Schofield, our department commander. Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry, in order, marched in a continual line until sunset, when the last column passed the general’s notice. Tonight, the officers had a grand dance and superb supper in honor of our Gen. Schofield. During the early part of the evening, some drunken soldiers stoned the building where the dancing was. Gen. Schofield was hit on the head disqualifying him somewhat from enjoying the entertainment. I learn that the perpetrators of this foul act were of a Kansas Regiment. There were a number of others hit at the time, but no one was seriously hurt. I was ordered with my Company to guard the locality against further assault.
At supper, I was provided with plenty of green peas, hot biscuits and butter, cakes and pie. Well, I soon struck a business-like attitude and these fine rations soon vanished from the dishes that were provided for their reception to a place long since deprived of these luxuries. Today was very cool. I was on duty all night.
Thursday, Jan. 8, 1863
I took a little sleep this morning and got up for breakfast. My eyes continue to be very sore, so I did not do much duty today. Orderly (Sgt.) Cooper had cause to tie James G. Winter s of our company to a fence with his hands tied behind him, drunkenness and disorderly conduct was the cause. Today was pleasant but cool.
Friday, Jan. 9, 1863
There was nothing unusual with us today. Tonight some troops left camp. I did not learn where they were going. We had orders to be ready to march in the morning. Today was cool, but pleasant.
Saturday, Jan. 10, 1863
The order of last evening was countermanded (canceled), so we remain in camp. A large (wagon) train with refugees and a large number of Negroes left camp this morning for Fort Scott, Kan. Men, women and children, white and black, made up the freight of the train. Today was pleasant.”
Now then, 2nd Lt. Porter, his company and the balance of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry remained on campaign until they returned to Fort Scott in the spring of 1863. As these journal entries indicate “campaigning” did not always include combat. Although a variety of happenings indicate that this campaign was not dull for 1st Sgt. Porter, who received his promotion to 2nd Lieutenant and eventually reached the rank of captain as the war went on.