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New Englander Warren Lee Goss caught “the war fever” after hearing that Confederate sympathizers in Baltimore had attacked the 6th Massachusetts on its way to Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1861. He soon found that Army life required a sense of humor as well as a sense of patriotism.

I lay awake all night thinking the matter over…and I resolved to enlist.

“Cold chills” ran up and down my back as I got out of bed after the sleepless night, and shaved, preparatory to other desperate deeds of valor. I was twenty years of age, and when anything unusual was to be done, like fighting or courting, I shaved….

My first uniform was a bad fit: my trousers were too long by three or four inches; the flannel shirt was coarse and unpleasant, too large at the neck and too short elsewhere. The forage cap was an ungainly bag with pasteboard top and leather visor; the blouse was the only part which seemed decent; while the overcoat made me feel like a little nubbin of corn in a larger preponderance of husk. Nothing except “Virginia mud” ever took down my ideas of military pomp quite so low….

I thought the drill-master needlessly fussy about shouldering, ordering, and presenting arms….The first day I went out to drill…I said to the drill-sergeant: “Let’s stop this fooling around and go over to the grocery.” His only reply was addressed to a corporal: “Corporal, take this man out and drill him like h—ll”; and the corporal did! I found that suggestions were not so well appreciated in the army as in private life….After a time I had cut my uniform down so that I could see out of it, and had conquered the drill sufficiently to see through it….

“Recollections of a Private,” in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War

Originally published in the June 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here