In view of the nearby home-coming of Company A, perhaps it would not come amiss for me to say a word about the boys. I saw a great deal of soldier life at Camp Thomas, Chickamauga, and know what hardships the boys had to endure even in camp. I had a number of Michigan men under my care - from Co. 's C, D, and G - as well as many from other states, and secured furloughs for a number of convalescent soldiers that could be spent on the mountain, that they might better recover from the malaria of the valley. So I know whereof I am speaking.
The U. S. surgeon general sent out repeated warnings as to how the health of the troops might best be maintained but his warnings were largely disregarded. The soil was allowed to become completely infiltrated with garbage and excreta. The summer rains (which were frequent last summer, though unusual for that climate) washed the foul and decomposing matter into the creeks and springs from which the drinking water was taken. The wonder was, not that so many were ill, but that so many escaped.
A furnace in which to burn all refuse from the camps and a distilling plant to furnish good drinking water would have saved nine-tenths of the sickness, and could have been as easily erected and maintained as the huge bakery, bath house, etc, were which were operated for months on the ground.
A great deal of stress was laid on the auto-production of illness by the consumption of quantities of spirituous liquors on the part of the men. Many officers who neglected their duty and failed to care for the men under them, threw the blame of the great extension of disease upon the men who drank.
When the illness became more pronounced, and no proper care was given the men, and many actually died of neglect, then the whole army became panic stricken. The terror in the men's hearts increased as they saw their comrades die practically uncared for, and the death roll grow rapidly larger, with the dreadful rules and regulations and red tape that hindered all good intentions, and made bad matters worse, and no knowing whose turn would come next.
In this most trying time, the 31st Michigan men bore themselves quietly and bravely, and their officers looked after their men kindly. The whole regiment had gained a good reputation among its neighbor camps for steady habits and orderly bearing. Out of the whole 1,000 men but one men needed punishment for drunkenness all through the summer. The canteen erected for the benefit of the Michigan men received little encouragement until the strong liquors were replaced by "soft drinks. " This no doubt had something to do with tbe entire regiment presenting a quite good health record, as compared with other regiments. But good habits did not prevent death from stalking in their midst, for hygienic laws had been broken.
The men I saw from Michigan uniformly spoke of what a good Colonel Gardener was, what a good captain Co. A had, and what a nice set of boys Co. A seemed to be. So the people at lome should not fail to appreciate the good record their boys made in Camp Thomas.
By the way, no other Y. M. C. A. tent was better supplied nor so extensively used as that of the 31st Michigan.
Then when the boys went to Knoxville they won the esteem of the citizens there, and they should not fail of recognition on their return home.
In closing, to show how army regulations sometimes operate, let me cite an instance occurring with an Illinois cavalry ambulance corp. The entire regiment spent a day or two on Lookout Mt. taking with it all its sick horses and men. A march of four or five miles across the country and another four miles up the mountain side was sufficient in that southern sun to make the sick ones worse. On returning to camp, the ambulance men put the sickest man into the ambulance head first according to rule. A civilian seeing that this would necessitate the invalid being carried down the mountain side head downward, remonstrated first with the men, then with the captain, then the colonel, but to no effect, for the regulations could not be changed without weeks of appeal to Washington. So the poor man rode down hill four miles head first, and when they reached the bottom the man was dead. In curious contrast to this care of a man, several horses (3) which had been lamed by dragging cannon up the mountain, were left there till recovery, with seven men detailed to feed and care for them.