1865 May 29: Edwin Levings on The Grand Review — “The moments of that day will long linger in the memories of our boys”
A typescript copy of this letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Not having done it ourselves, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the transcription. The beginning and end of this letter are almost identical to parts of Edwin’s letter of May 27th. At this time, the 12th Wisconsin Infantry was part of the Army of the Tennessee (Oliver O. Howard), XVII Corps (Francis P. Blair), Third Division (Mortimer D. Leggett), 1st Brigade (Charles Ewing). For more details on the Grand Review, see The Prescott Journal’s article on June 3, 1865.
Washington D.C. 12th Wis. Vol. May 29, 1865
It has been some time since my last, but so much has transpired that I did not have the time. You are doubtless wondering when we are to come home. As yet there is but one order from the War Department mustering out and discharging troops, and that applies to those only whose terms of service expire prior to October 1, 1865. Our impatience to know what the War Department has in mind for us has been great, but we are contented to wait until it shall be their pleasure to inform us. With so many troops to be discharged, there are many minute matters to be looked after, requiring much time. If they will simply pay and discharge us, I will abide their time, be it weeks or months.
Well, the Big Grand Reviews are over, and never was Washington in such a merry or receptive mood. The Army of the Potomac passed in review the day before us, on the 23rd. We were fortunate and got a chance to see them and they presented a grand sight — all had new uniforms, polished brass on their accoutrements, guns shining brightly and most of them wore white gloves. all wore white gloves. In precision, they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue — their non-commissioned Officers wearing sabres and their band gaily decked out in spendid [sic] uniforms with bearskin hats. Next day was our day to perform and what a comparison it will be. We were to march as we always did — no pomp and ceremony for us. Some of the boys were issued new pants and we did the best to shine our battle-scared guns, clothing and what little brass there was left among us. Homer and I spent considerable time washing and fixing our steeds — at least we could do that much. That day we all fell in, and it seemed the minute the order was given, our boys took on an appearance of glory and holiness, and they marched, oh how they marched, never before did they stride like that. Just imagine the scene, Mother and Father, if you can ! Men marching in their old worn-out uniforms, some with new pants that stood out like sore thumbs, scuffed shoes, the guns seeming to speak out “we have seen better days,” our flags tattered and torn, and all along the way, crowds upon crowds of people, cheering so loudly they deafened our ears. Down Pennsylvannia [sic] Avenue we proceeded, and I fancied myself a “little Napolean” [sic] on my horse — and she lived up to qualifications by prancing as if she had been trained purposely for this type of duty and performance. Homer looked like a Roman soldier upon his stallion, presenting himselr [sic] in the best fashion to the onlookers. General Sherman [William T. Sherman] headed the column, followed by General Logan [John A. Logan], and each Brigade, headed by its own General and Staff. We were up front of our Brigade with General Leggett [Mortimer D. Leggett]. How proud we were. The color bearers carried the flags that told of our conflicts with the enemy. As we passed the reviewing stand, all eyes went right, and the boys did right shoulder arms in perfect timing. President Johnson [Andrew Johnson] with his Government Officials, some Foreign Officers and General Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] stood up and cheered us as we passed. I thought we would all lose some more buttons for our chests swelled up and our hearts throbbed. On we marched and back to Crystal Springs. Not one minute of the march did we think how hungry we were and that our breakfast had only been hardtack and coffee that morning. The moments of that day will long linger in the memories of our boys — though they looked like a lot of Bummers, they did not feel it in the least, and I feel sure the people appreciated them all the more for it. They know we have not had an easy time of it during this conflict, and are aware of it more now.
We do not live too well since we came to Washington. Homer says to tell you if they don’t pay us soon there is apt to be some foraging going on right here in our Nation’s Capitol [sic], for the boys cannot live without eating.
Hold on —
There is an order this morning stopping the muster-out of any more troops in the District, and it is said we shall proceed as organizations to our respective States, there to complete the work. There are good reasons for it. The boys, many of them, behave rather badly, and there is no doubt that if paid off here and let loose, many would lose all their money, and many would never get home. By the way, the Western boys do not hitch well with the Potomac chaps. Washington is in more danger today than when defended by McClellan’s troops [George B. McClellan]. I do not mean to say our soldiers are deficient in good morals generally, but simply to say our soldiers that in the presence of so many troops of all characters, the elements are stronger, and that society is much disturbed. [paragraph break added by UWRF Archives]
I have not been down town to see any sights. As it has been, and is, I am on duty two hours in every eighteen and we are Camped 4 miles North of town. As soon as I can though I mean to get down and see some of the things of interest. It was impossible to see anything the days of the 23rd and 24th even if we had the time. We were fortunate that General Leggett had the curiosity the day of the Potomac boys march for we would not have had the chance to see them otherwise. Cant’ tell you any more about our muster-out and I must go to my duty.
Until next time, I am your son, .Edwin
1. “Grand review of the great veteran armies of Grant and Sherman at Washington, on the 23d and 24th May, 1865. Sherman’s grand army. Looking up Pennsylvania Ave. from the Treasury Buildings, during the passage of the “Red Star” Division,” by Mathew B. Brady (New York : E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., American and Foreign Stereoscopic Emporium, 501 Broadway, 1865 May). Albumen photographic print on stereo card, cropped by UWRF Archives for this blog post. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-stereo-1s02873 (digital file from original stereograph, front) LC-DIG-stereo-2s02873 (digital file from original stereograph, back) LC-USZ62-57018 (b&w film copy neg. of full stereo) LC-USZ62-107052 (b&w film copy neg. of half stereo, left side).