War Diary: Battle of Antietam
The following is an excerpt from the diary of Major Archibald N. Partridge, adjutant to the honorable General Alpheus S. Williams in command of the Union 1st Division, XII Corps at the opening of the Battle of Antietam during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
The sun had not yet fully risen and was already horrid such that it beat down on the necks of the assembled men of 1st Division like the hat of an angry gentleman. I squinted in that hateful glare and could just pick out the fine auburn beard of one Lieutenant Milton of 2nd Brigade. It swelled up like a bellows about his chin and tapered down in a graceful arc and beyond the circle of his grim face like the lip of a hinged teapot. It was quite fine and made for a rather pleasant Van Dyke, though I told him that a cultivation of the mustache might better complete the symmetry. I then dismissed the troops in good order to assume their positions for the advance on Sharpsburg.
Maj. Archibald N. Partridge
I find that secondary only to the good health and provisioning of an army the careful grooming of hair of the face is the most potent calmative that could ever be prescribed for dyspeptic morale. A victory is fine for the lads, yes, but it will fade in their thoughts as quickly as the moon courses through its cycles. It is only with the constant reminder of well tended follicles that they are kept limber and ready to grapple with the forces of secessionism. With a deep breath of the air I smiled at the scent of a freshly worked lather and ducked into the tent of my patron and honorable General of the Union Army, XII Corps, Alpheus S. Williams.
As I had anticipated General Williams stood in undershirt and slacks with his woolen suspenders drooping about his legs. Corporal Louis, who I hold in little esteem, was holding a mirror brought from Pennsylvania to allow General Williams a full and unfettered view of his majestic lathered beard and mustache. I gave Corporal Louis a quick glance and fought to conceal my disgust at the sparse and unwashed coarseness of his commoner's chin curtain. Though unwilling to shear such offensive twists of nearly pubic grit from his jaw Corporal Louis also seemed unable to fully grow it out to at least a thickness that would not serve as an embarrassment to the Division and an affront in the eyes of the Lord Almighty.
"Are the men ready to give them what for, Major?" General Williams asked to me as he considered himself in the mirror.
"I believe so, General." I replied. "Might I say that Lieutenant Milton, should he survive the battle, may be due for a promotion and possibly an award for extreme bravery in the face of the enemy."
"Ah, yes," General Williams turned his head so that he might peer back and forth between myself and the mirror, "he is the fellow from 2nd Brigade with the Van Dyke. Very nice, very nice. Command material I believe, Major. Would you be so kind as to hand me that jarred cream there?"
I instinctively reached for the Boston's Finest ambrosial I knew him to prefer but he waved me away towards a jar of Brown's Pearl Shaving Paste from the most elegant perfumery of New York City. Though the paste held no scent beyond the natural cleanness of a wash lather it allowed for the most precise trimming and shaping of the beard. I nodded my silent approval and handed it to General Williams."I see you recognize the make of this fine paste," General Williams remarked as he began to spread it on the yet-unlathered portions of his beard. "General McClellan will be visiting before the fight commences and I wish to impress upon him the good order and drill of this fine unit."
Gen. Alpheus S. Williams
"I understand, sir."
"Your own Friendly Chop is quite well prepared, Major. I appreciate the attention you have paid to the point at which the coarser hair of your cheek meets with the sweep of your finer mustache hair. It is a bit of a trick to make the two blend in such an intricate fashion as you have done, particularly with such substantial chops."
My cheeks reddened at the compliment.
"Sir, I thank you, but it is little more than a badly twisted handlebar in comparison to your own resplendence."
With scissor snips and a quick running of the shaving razor around his beard General Williams finished his trimming and turned to me. The sight that presented itself was nothing short of magnificent and I had to stifle a cry of pleasure and steady myself from a swooning that weakened my legs. The sweep of his mustache was of such size and magnificence it more closely resembled the proportions of a French Fork spread apart and ending in needle-sharp points. His beard blended expertly with this bold declaration upon his lip and created a syncopation that was nothing short of divine. That beard was at once coarse and silken, of a size and shape that was both manly and delicate, like a Swiss pistol or a fine suit jacket of Paris made from the inverted skin of a Cherokee savage.
General Williams needed no comment to recognize my immense respect for him. He finished his dressing and exited the tent with me at his side just as General McClellan arrived to survey our readiness.
General McClellan slowed his fine Arabian horse Abracadabra to a slower trot as he drew near and in the early morning haze I caught my first good look of the General. His uniform was immaculate, the sterling pommel of his saber reflected light and the brass buttons of his jacket were polished until they more closely resembled gold. Though he does not lean to the pomp of many he still wore one of the finest mustaches I have ever seen upon a human face. It was dark and finely oiled, but not to the extent that the oil might overtake the natural essences of the face. Its shape was that of a gull drawn by a child with a soft hand and sense of things aesthetic and it smelled lightly of sandlewood as he drew near us. Beneath it the perfect accent: an exquisitely trimmed chin puff that was as delicate as it was practical.I noted then that he held beneath one arm two flatted pieces of board lashed together with catgut and with something thereby enclosed within them. He handed it down to General Williams and I stepped closer to look as well. Betwixt the boards was pressed a single daguerreotype of exceeding clarity. Pictured upon it was none other than our most hated foe and traitor to the Republic, General Robert E. Lee.
Gen. George B. McClellan
"Look well, men." General McClellan instructed with authority. "That is our enemy."
I looked again and my breath caught in my throat. This was not what I had expected of General Lee. The secessionists were little better than rabble covered in grotesque patches of hair as thin and uneven as the pathetic flora of the great American desert. But, such was not the case when I gazed at the portrait of General Lee. For blossoming from this scoundrel's chin was a hoary beard of such robustness and grooming that it called to mind a cloud brought to the shape of a man's face by the Lord himself. A volume of superlatives oozed out of my mouth unbidden and McClellan's lips pressed together with concern beneath his regal bristles.
"Yes, these things you say are all true, Major, but let us not forget that he is just a mortal man." McClellan admonished me and I looked away from the daguerreotype lest my thoughts continue uninterrupted to voice. "His beard and mustache are both unmatched in all of the army of the Union. It is this that gives the traitorous host of men under his command such fighting spirit and animal cunning.""Sir," General Williams interjected, "I believe I see his weakness as well as his immense strength in this photo. Though his beard is of almost angelic construction I see that it is not the style best suited for his features. Had he selected a Balbo, as was often the style in the previously civilized South, the results would have certainly been even more pleasing to the senses."
Gen. Robert E. Lee
"A-ha!" General McClellan exclaimed. "You have seen through to his strategy. He is less than he himself believes and his greatness is an illusion crafted to maintain the loyalty of his men. Very good, General Williams. General Mansfield in command of XII Corps did not see things so clearly. I will have him strangled so that you may assume command."
"I…I…," General Williams began to stammer his thanks.
"Save your graciousness, General. There is a battle to be won. Muster your men, we ride in one hour!"
I pen this document for posterity on the evening of the battle itself, having been won by the narrowest of margins by the genius of General McClellan and the thorough understanding of the enemy's psychology by General Alpheus S. Williams. Though Sharpsburg itself has not been taken, in the dim light of dusk I can see the Confederates preparing to make away from their fortifications there and into a retreat that will only end with the fall of this foolish rebellion.
It is now my most solemn of duties to begin the unhappy task of penning letters back to the widows of fallen men from 2nd Brigade and describe to them the honorable way their husbands gave their lives in the face of such savagery. It was as if the great bearded lion of darkest Africa confronted the mange-afflicted hyenas of parts the same. Though bloodied, the nobility of the lion is inviolate and the cowardly pack of hyenas slinks away to chew at their balding hindquarters in frustration.
Lieutenant Milton has survived the day with but a shrapnel wound that will at worst result in minor amputation of less than half of one leg. Though it is unfortunate he will be moved to convalesce elsewhere, when the opportunity arises I am certain he will make his way back to us.Perhaps the greatest blow to the fighting spirit of the 2nd is the loss of Private Connor O'Hanrahan, who fell beneath a fusillade of fire from the Texan filth of General Hood. Though of irksome heritage and most uncultured manner, O'Hanrahan the Mick had served as a delight during the hours between battle with his ribald jokes and tales of foreboding Ireland. I might have been inclined to flog a man of such attitudes but I could not help but respect him for the immense beard he had carefully grown over the course of the campaign. It cascaded like a crimson falls from his face and reached nearly to his belt so that it looked like nothing so much as a great child's bib. It seemed somehow improper that a man of such low stock should have such majestic hair upon his face, but I did not speak out for I knew how it served as an anchor for the men of 2nd Brigade.
Pvt. Connor "Mick" O'Hanrahan
So it was that I saw him fall to those Texans, shot slashing through his gorgeous beard and blood erupting from front and back. Though I did not deign to hold him as he expired I did stand and watch as he died so that I might recount the incident to his crude wife and spawn. After the battle I immediately sent riders for his corpse and I have detached his head and placed it upon bayonet near the brigade's encampment so that they might be reminded of his fighting spirit. For his wife I plan to send a full parcel of desiccated potatoes as I am given to understand this is all these creatures eat.
God Bless the Union and the Honorable President Abraham Lincoln.
Major Archibald N. Partridge
2nd Brigade, 1st Division, XII Corps
I hope you have enjoyed this presentation of War Diary. I am in possession of quite a stockpile of journals collected from battlefields across the globe and in the future I may transcribe them should this type of article be well received. If it is not well liked then I will place the journals in a steamer trunk and sink them to the bottom of the sea so that they might concern us all no more.