Gilbert Crocker's Civil War

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Gilbert Crocker's Civil War


24th Regiment, New York Volunteers


A history of the 24th New York with a significant amount of detail regarding their stay at Upton's Hill


Rodney E. Johnson


Oswego County Historical Society 24th Publication




Public Domain

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Gilbert Crocker's Civil War pg.66

The Twenty-fourth went into winter quarters at Upton's Hill where they built Fort Upton. Gilbert was not part of the construction
crew at Fort Upton but was detailed, instead, to stay back at Camp Keyes. He writes to his
sister from there in October saying: It is lonesum here now as the
boys are most all up on munsons
hill there is a few of us
left here to take care of things
i gess that they will be back in
a few days we 'that are left
here dont have any thing to do . .
i gess ithere is not much danger
of a fight very soon here the
boys are making a fort up most
to munsons hill i dont no what
made the rebles leave they had
the woods all round munsons hill
surounded with a brest work of
rails they had torn all the fens
down (60)
Two days later the regiment
moved to Upton's Hill where Gilbert
wrote to his mother that:
We moved up on uptons hill yesterday
it is near munsons hill
it is a pleasant place here I
had ruther soldier it than to pick
up stone but I should like to be
at (Orwell for a visit With you?
section of letter missing) (61)
He gives us a good glimpse of
camp life as he continues:
You want to now what we do for
lights we have candles half a
one a night they are made of
sperm and are so hard that the
sun wont melt them but they
give good light we have tea
twice a day but we have to by a
part of it there is cabeges and
potoes here that we can by - every
day if wa want to we had
some cabbages for super I
have got so I can cook most eny
thing we get a chicken once a
while beef steak once a week
we have a good deal more than
we oan eat but we can sell it
for the money we got a wash
bord and tub the other day I
washed a shirt and rubed the
hide off my fingers in five minets
but I got it clean after a while
and my fingers have got well a
gain (62)
Scouting was always a pathway
to adventure and a welcome relief
from camp boredom. In this
same letter he reports an expedition
made by five men from Co. G
and Captain Barney with seven of
his men from Co. K (Ellisburg
company) who
Went out a scouting and two
miles beyond falls curch they
saw six horse men a coming
they shot at them and they ran
but they got one of them and five
horses and six sadles 13 pistols
one sword and one over coat
bill semore mat samsons frank
baker bill moriey waliice outercark
from our company were
out bill semore got 3 pistols
they shot one of the horses ded
I guess (63)
While some soldiers wrote often
of affairs of the heart, both real
and imagined, Gilbert Crocker had
either a very Victorian sense of
propriety or he had found no opportunity
to meet the fairer sex.
The soldier in the ranks, it should
be realized, had much less opportunity
in these matters than the
commissioned officers. One of the
few references to a desire for
feminine association is found as
he tells his mother that "I have
not heard a woman's name in so
long (that) I dont know how it
would sound." (64)
Gilbert shows a very human nature
when he compares his lot
with the life he had known in Orwell.
He asks:
How much does milo get a
month I should think wages
would be high there is so many
a coming here I believe we
will make the most money this
And then he adds -this crowning
touch, "And we shant have to
break roads in the snow neather"!
We find Gilbert referring to
some local boys who must have
enlisted in a cavalry unit during
the summer or fall. He writes:
The compney that the boys have
gone in have not got here yet I
heard they was in troy but was
a coming to Washington soon come in this compny it is not
so easy work to be a cavlaryman
as it is a privet they have
got to take care of there horses
and keep fcheim a looking good
The special interest here depends
on our ability to know what Gilbert
Crocker's future held. Little
did he know, as he wrote this, that
he would, himself, enlist in the
cavalry in 1864!
The shortage of money back
home, of which he had heard rumors,
and the cost of everything,
both at home and in camp, occupied
Gilbert's thoughts on many
occasions. From their winter quarters
at Upton's Hill he reported
that "There is plenty of money
here and every thing els that we
need only boots they ask from
five to seven dollars a pair and
they are sail (sail cloth or canvas
or sale?) boots at that." Little
wonder that he and many of the
others sent "to home burch to
have him make them boots." (67)
(Homer J. Burch of Orwell?)
One night the boys in Gilbert's
tent had a little sport:
The other night our tent blowed
down in the night when it was
so dark that we cold not see a
foot but we went and got a
light and I guess you would a
laughed if you had seen us put
it up in the rain we did not
stop to dress wink held one
part and I hild the other and
filo pines it down but we have
got it so now that it cant blow
down we want the only ones
that had a rain that night the
water was so deep in the river
that the long bridge was all under
water I dont know whether
it has gone down or not. (68)
Gilbert must have been a good
looking young man with perhaps
a touch of vanity if we are to
judge from his several references
to having his likeness taken and
then being dissatisfied with the
results! He writes to his parents
in November, saying, "You want
to see how I look I went and got
my picture took some time ago
but it looked so that I did not
mean to send it but William hoollis
was a going home so I sent it by
him I dont want you should let
any one see it I will get it took
a gain as they have got a house
built to take them in now." (69)
Gilbert wrote one letter to his
mother during ithe fall of 1861
which is a most complete description
of their "fare" and food management.
He reassures his mother
You may know I dont have very
hard times as I never weighed
so much in my life as I do now
we have plenty to eat and that
What is good a nuff for any
body we have fresh beef twice
and three times a week besides
salt pork and beef and bacon
with beans peas rice homeny
coffe tea shugar molases we
draw our rations and cook
them all to gether only 'the shugar
and molasis we get a
pound of shugar for 8 days we
have the best kind of bread it
is mast Jenerly warm when we
get it every morning when the
bread wagon comes they all
start for there bread they have
a two horse wagon load for the
regement I wish you cold be
here and see how we live most
of the boys have got a fire place
in there tents we have not got
any in ours yet but we are a
going to have one (70)
A practice which is of interest
was the policy of allowing the men
so much money for rations on
the company level. If they didn't
require the entire amount for a
given period of time the cash residue
was turned back to the company.
Gilbert reports that Company
G received $45 for rations that
they had not drawn and he used
this as proof that they were eating
Drill is always good for some
comment in soldierss' letters as
we see from Gilbert's correspondence.
The army life with its inconveniences
seems to agree with
him because he reports that they
carried their knap sacks four
hours, yet didn't feel very tired.
He adds that, "It is not half as
hard work to cary them as it was
at first we have a battalion or
a division drill a bout every day
but it is not very hard work to
drill now." (71)
Early in the summer they had five men to a tent but in Upton's
Hill they used the small shelters
very much like the present day
pup tents. Gilbert described his
accommodations for his mother in
a letter of December 19th. At that
time they had 101 men in Company
G and he wrote:
I guess we shall stay heire all
winter as the oficers are making
them log houses I am going to
make one and set my tent on it
it will be a bout 6 x 7 feet we
have got a floor in it now and a
straw bed to sleep on I have
got two woolen blankets one
of them is lined with bead tick
and a India rubber blanket that
I had give to me and the cither
that stays with me has got one
blanket and two bead quilts so
we can sleep just as warm as
though we ware in a bead the
boys have not all got straw
beads. (72)
His tent mate was a fellow referred
to as "ame" who took care
of the cooking for both of them,
according to Gilbert, "rather than
do anything else"! (73)
The last letter wrote in 1861
was to his sister in which he
said, "Tell mr peabody to rite me
a good long letter and I will send
him a little niger when I get down
south where we can catch one."
Gilbert had a great interest in
his younger brother "edy" and
sent messages to him on many
occasions. In one letter he sent
"edy" word that he didn't believe
he could send him a gun but he offered
him, instead, a pair of his
old pants which might be cut,
down to size! (75)
The men celebrated New Year's
Day, 1862 with special festivities.
They played ball most of the day
while in the afternoon they "had
a greased pig to catch but there
was so many that he cold not run
fur." (76)
Many of the horses diedduring
the winter, perhaps from overexposure
and reported "horse
distemper" as they had to stand
out doors. One driver lost a team
worth $300. It was apparently possible
to get a paid job as a teamster
on the supply wagons. Gilbert's
friend or relative known to
us only as "Wink" did this during
the winter of 1862. (76)
We are led to wonder whether
or not the humor is intended as
Uncle John (constantly referred to
in the letters and a Civil War version
of the Sgt. Bilko type) is reported
in one letter to have said
he was going to "by a watch and
a revolver he says a watch is
so handy when on gard"! (78)
We may be justified in feeling
critical of the limited drill and
the nearly complete disregard icr
rifle practice during the war. Certainly
the policy reported by Gilbert
Crocker would not be conducive
to producing expert marksmen.
While country boys would
have a good knowledge of firearms
at that time, many of the citybred
recruits would be either
wholly or partially lacking in this
skill. Writing from Camp McDowell,
Va., Gilbert relates:
I went and shot at a mark a few
times I shot 60 sixty roods
(rods) at a tree a foot through
the second time that I shot I hit
the tree we have to pay for our
catriges iff we shoot them at
marks so I dont shot much . . .
we have all got new catrige boxes
and belts. (79)
Gilbert wrote to his sister, asking
her to give his respects to
"all the school girls" (80) so we
feel that he is not entirely without
His mother sent him pictures of
the family and gloves; of the pictures,
he declared that he "would
not take $1000 for them" as they
all looked just as they had when
he left home. (81)
Uncle John shows a good Yankee
instinct for making money:
I suspose uncle John will have
between 30 and 40 dollars to
send home he makes lots of
money washing and doing chores
for the likeness man but you
must not say anything about it
to any one. (82)
The Civil War was not without
certain military practices which
are easily recognizable today. One
of these was sick call. Crocker
gives a good description of the
time-honored methods:
Our regement had to go out on
picket sunday and stay two day I had a cold so I went to the
old doctor and got excused
when we dont want to do anything
we go to the doctors and
get excused iff we make the
doctor belive we are sick it is
just as well sometimes there
is a dozen goes to him some
are lame some have a lame
shouldier we have lots of fun
when we go to the doctors. (83)
Wood always presented a problem
where there were so many
men in a close area (as in winter
quarters), burning large amounts
of fuel daily. In addition, the inefficient
fireplaces in the shelters
were not noted for getting the
most heat from a cord of wood;
therefore, the problem of a supply
Which was near the camp site
was one which was seldom solved.
Attempts could be made, however,
and this is the account of one such
Sunday, after they the regement
had gone out on picket what
fewe off us ware left here
thought we would have some
wood without fetching it so far
so just after dark we got to
gether and while part watched
to see iff the gard ware a coming
the rest cut down a big oak
after it fell we went back to our
tents and in the morning we
went and cut it all up and caried
it to our quarters thinking
how lucky we ware not to get in
the gard house I went to work
and cut mine up and put it all
in my tent I had just got it in
when the officer off the gard
come a long and wanted to now
who cut all that wood Some off
the boys told him they cut it so
he told them to go to the gard
house but most off the boys did
not now who cut it so they did
not have to go to the gard house
after they had got all the boys
in the gard house they made
them fetch there wood to the
gard house so ended our geting
wood we have to fetch
most off our wood bout a hundred
rods there is a few trees
close by but the general wont let
them be cut but we get once in
a while one (84)
The orders came early for moving
out of camp in 1862. On February
28th, Gilbert wrote that they
had been ordered to pack up
everything and taking "one shirt
one pair off drawers one pair
socks one blanket wish (which) we
will put in our nap sacks," they
went out on picket duty. (85) This
led right into the march south as
a part of the general movement of
the Army of the Potomac under
General McClellan. The 24th advanced
to Bristoe Station and then
Catlett's Station and finally the
heavy march towards Fredericksburg.
Gilbert reports the scene which
they found at Manassas where the
rebels had "a lot off logs painted
for canon" (86) as well as the
quaker guns at Centerville. He
describes the march to Alexandria
in some detail. Upon their arrival
at Alexandria, they received instructions
to return to Upton's Hill
as "the boats had not come to take
us to richmond." (87) Gilbert continues
by saying:
I am geting pretty tuogh since
last Sunday we have marched to
days with our nap sacks and it
rained bouth days Wednesday
thursday and friday we had a
brigade drill and tuesday we
went to centerville I feel just
as well as i did before we started
only my feet are some sore
i dont feel any thing off that pain
in my side now (88)
The justifiable pride of a strong
body in good health .
From a camp near Falmouth
Gilbert wrote a long and descriptive
letter to his mother in which
he tells of their experiences on the
march to the Fredericksburg area
and reports conditions there:
We have not crossed the river
yet but I think we shall before
long they have got two bridges
a crosit the river one is a pontoon
bridge the other is built
off cannall boats I went down
to the river this forenoon some
off our cavaldry went a crost the
river last night and this morning
some off our wagons went a
crost and got some hay and corn
I went down the river three
miles the city runs down the
river two miles it is not very
wide it is a nice place most



Rodney E. Johnson, “Gilbert Crocker's Civil War,” Mapping the Civil War in Arlington, accessed May 21, 2024,

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