Camp Mud Hole
November 24, 1861
It is now Sunday afternoon. It is not very pleasant for it rained all day yesterday and the night before and I was on guard too. It was not very pleasant but I am no better than anyone else to do it I would rather be a private and stand guard than to be a corporal of the guard. He has to be up all night and we only have to stand two hours on and four hours off. I would a great deal rather be a private than an officer.
We have moved again from our camp. We are moved about one mile further south. We can see nothing and if we look north we can see the same. If we look east or west we will see the same thing. We are in a perfect mud hole. It is the hardest place for a battery to encamp that ever I saw. Our tents are on the hill or on the side of it. It’s nice enough for our tents but our guns are are right in the mud. We came here on Friday. It will be pleasant enough when it don’t rain. I suppose when it is pleasant, it will be nice enough, but it has not been pleasant since we came here. ¹
I begin to get used to the moving for we have moved four times already. There has several times some sugar stolen and every time they stole sugar we had to move so I think we will move pretty soon for there was some sugar stolen last night and every time it is stolen, we have none in our coffee. They punish the whole company for the offense of one man. I don’t think that is fair but anything is fair in war time. We have had very nice times since we came from Washington. We are drilling as fast as possible and I think we get along very nicely. Most everything goes on but the eating part. Sometimes we are scanted but it is made up when we get it gain. We had to live on hard bread and coffee for three days. I think it is pretty hard living but I won’t complain for if we did not see some few hardships, we would not know what it was to be a soldier. But that is nothing. I think it is fun. If we had everything we wanted, we would not have anything to talk about when we get old. I am perfectly satisfied with everything.
There is only one thing that sticks in my crop [and] that is I wish I had enlisted in the cavalry. They have everything. They have a carbine, a revolver, and a saber and only one horse and we have two horses, two sets of harness and a great many others things not worth mentioning, and everything is charged to me and if I lose anything, I have to pay for it. I want you to consider whether I had better get transferred to the cavalry. If you like it, I can get transferred. I would rather be in that than where I am, not because I don’t like the company but you know I always wanted to be in the cavalry. You know I can ride a horse as good as anyone, and another thing, they go out scouting most every day. They see a great deal more of the country than anyone else. I tell you what, they have plenty of fun. I know I would like it a great deal better than artillery but if you would rather I should stay where I am, I will be contented.
You wanted me to tell you how the Potomac is. I cannot say much about it for I have not seen much of it. But what I have seen of it, it is on one side very smooth and level. That is on the side next to Washington. And on the other [side] it is rocky and very broken. The river is not very deep but it is a wide one. The water is very muddy and so is all the little creeks and brooks. The water is very much tainted with lime. When I first drank it, it tasted very bad and gave me the dysentery pretty bad. But I soon got used to it. I don’t mind it at all now. It tastes as good as any other. We are about eight miles from the river. The country is very broken and it is quite stony. They are not very large ones but they are plenty (it snows quite hard at present—it is the first snow of the season). The soil is very thin. It is mostly clay. Some parts are sandy. It is pretty nearly all the same as the skaters hook—only the hills are three times as high. There are some covered with woods and some are as bare as your hand. I haven’t seen a crop since I came here. The fences are all torn up. There is roads through gardens and over cornfields and all over. The forts are mostly made of sticks, stone and clay. I have only seen five forts since we came.
I have not received my box yet but I expect to get it tomorrow. Albert sent me a receipt yesterday. I am very much obliged to you for sending me some money but I have not seen it or cannot find out anything about it. I can’t get to Washington but I have sent for it several times with the post master and if it could be found, he would have it. I have not received the other either. I cannot account for it. I hope it will be found for it will come very acceptable at any time. But don’t worry on my account for I am getting along very well. I have never been so healthy as I am at present. The boys say I am getting fat but I don’t see it. I hope I am. Peter Vanduyne is so fat he can hardly see. All the boys are well but Charles Monks and Theodore Acker.
I am very sorry to hear of such bad news of those Monks boys. I am sorry you had not known sooner that I was going to be married but we will have it over when I come back. Mary thinks that I will come back in the spring but I don’t. I will not leave the war till it is over if it lasts three years—not because I don’t want to see you all, but I don’t want to have such a time of parting. You may think I took it very easy but I did not. It was the hardest thing I ever did. I know id I did not put on a stout face, Mother would feel all the worse. She felt bad enough as it was. It will be all the better when I come back. Tell Mother I will remember here in everything. I hope she is well and all the rest. I see you and Uncle Cornelius, but I guess you will not feel able to come to see me since you have lost another horse. But if you come, you must make Uncle Cornelius pay your fare. It is only eight dollars a trip. But as you say, he must make his will before he comes. How does he like it because I am married? Tell him I married the girl I had up to Winokie one Sunday the first time I came home. He thought she was pretty.
I think we are in our winter quarters but I can’t tell yet. I will let you know in the next letter. I wish Mother would please make me two red flannel shirts if she can. I wish she would make them double breasted. She can make them like the fire shirts so I can wear them over my other one. There is a great many in camp. I think they are very comfortable. If Mary is in the country at your house, tell her to make them send them as soon as possible. I would like to have Anna write me a letter and all the rest. I have a great deal to write but little time so I must stop. With love to all. Write soon.
From your affectionate son, — Cornelius
P. S Please direct your letters thus: C. Van Houten, Battery B, N. J. V., Washington D. C. in care of J. E. Beam
I would like to tell you all the particulars but I have no time. Give this locket to Anna. If Mother has a pair of good woolen stockings to spare, I would like to have them. If you send anything with the Express, give it to Albert. He will send. He must do something for his country. The boys send their best respects to you.
¹ The History of Battery B by Michael Hanifen (p. 10) says that, “About the middle of November the Battery was ordered to report to General S. P. Heintzelman at Alexandria, Va., and went into camp near the telegraph road on Cameron’s Run, north of Fort Lyon. A few days after that Captain Beam selected a spot for a camp in a glen southeast of Fort Lyon. There stables were built for the horses and on a plateau above stockades for the Sibley tents. Stoves were furnished for each tent, and there the winter was spent in drilling and the usual camp duties and amusements.”