Ice, snow and freezing temperatures assailed the Civil War Times offices in Leesburg, Va., this past winter, costing us a couple of days of work during the production of this issue. Civil War soldiers who had to serve picket duty on even the coldest of days in the Old Dominion, would understandably scoff at what we endured. Wilbur Fisk of the 2nd Vermont, for example, recalled a Virginia night on guard duty in February 1864 when he felt like “some malicious fiend had been sponging my back with ice cold water….” But Fisk and his contemporaries would have agreed with us on one point: The first temperate days of spring feel wonderful.
Lieutenant J.F.J. Caldwell of the 1st South Carolina, a unit certainly not accustomed to the cold, remembered with pleasure how the “balmy May sun shone out, the trees put forth leaves, the violet and the daisy displayed their modest blossoms, [and] the birds sang cheerily” when warm weather finally returned to Virginia in May 1863.
On May 1, 1864, a year after Caldwell wrote his appreciation of Old Sol, Edward K. Wightman, a noncommissioned officer in the 3rd New York, celebrated the return of spring in a letter written from a camp near Fort Monroe, Va., to his brother: “The hard ground, green grass, blossoming trees, and budding flowers…has transformed us into new men and made us better soldiers by fifty per-cent.”
Who could doubt Wightman’s argument that the sun’s exhilarating warmth heightened their martial abilities? It is a shame, though, that Wightman was writing about his last spring: He was killed in the assault on Fort Fisher, N.C., on January 15, 1865.
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.