Herbert George in the fall of 1863 was eager to leave behind his uniform as a soldier in the 10th Vermont regiment and get into lice-free civilian clothes.
The boys grew up on a farm in Newbury, Vt., with three sisters. Their father, who drank and gambled, wasn’t much of a provider. The boys all left home at a young age, two to farm, two to become telegraph operators.
Charlie and Osman first joined the 10th Vermont in the summer of 1862. Their younger brother Herbert soon followed. Two years later, brother Jere enlisted.
All four brothers joined the regimental band.
A Soldier's Curse
In November 1863, the 10th Vermont was on the march in Virginia. Herbert wrote home about life as a Civil War soldier. It was lousy – literally.
Writing from camp near Culpeper, Va., Herbert wrote:
Dear folks at home
… While we are in camp I feel just as well contented as I ever did at home but when we are on the march and I get awful tired and can't stop to rest I feel a little ugly. Some times we are not allowed to get anything to eat in all day and then have to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and get our breakfast in the dark. Then is the time when a soldier will curse the rebellion.
The Lousy 10th Vermont
For all that, he wrote, he was glad he hadn't waited to be drafted because his time was already half up. His health had improved and he dreamt of home.
But he didn't want to bring the bugs back home with him. There were plenty:
…If I should be lucky enough to get a furlough next winter should want to go home with decent clothes on, don't want to wear any home out of the field for they will be lousey. The ground here is covered with old clothes & lice & no man can keep them off only by picking them off when they bite. If we take off any of our clothing nights we have to hitch them to a steak or they will crawl off where we can't find them. We can drive a pair of pants or a shirt any where with a little patience.
The same, he wrote, was true of their wormy hard tack. "When we fill up our haversacks we have to be careful to put the string over a stump or something to keep them from running away haversack and all Ahem!..."
Such was the life of a soldier, he concluded.
With thanks to "Bully for the Band!": The Civil War Letters and Diary of Four Brothers in the 10th Vermont Infantry Band, edited by James A. Davis. This story was updated in 2019.