On Picket Duty with the 96th Pennsylvania – February 1862

Enter the war zone.

A correspondent from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania visited the front lines just west of Alexandria, Virginia in the early months of 1862. He visited the encampment of the 96th Pennsylvania before traveling to the picket line where the regiment watched the border between Union-controlled Virginia and Confederate forces.

The 96th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
The 96th Pennsylvania at Camp Northumberland in early 1862. (NARA)

The writer submitted his story to Schuylkill’s most prominent newspapers, the Miners’ Journal. Here’s what he witnessed on his visit:

Camp Northumberland, Va.,

5 February 1862

Dear Journal –

The 96th Regt. Penna. Vols., is at present encamped about five miles from Alexandria, and is in one of the advanced divisions – Slocum’s Brigade. The general is the same who so gallantly distinguished himself at Bull Run.

When your correspondent reached here he found it almost deserted – eight companies of the regiment being on picket, and after a march of about three hours reached Benton’s Tavern – picket headquarters. The detachment was under command of Lieut. Col. Frick. The following nights we experienced several alarms, and your correspondent, ever on the alert, rushed out with the gallant men who are fighting for the Union; and fortunately, always returned with them.

Benton’s Tavern is situated about ten miles from Camp Northumberland. The walls of the room we occupied are profusely ornamented with very fine pictures, sketches, etc. A beautiful picture, from one of the old masters, just at the top of the stairs, is magnificent, and no doubt, [unintelligible] is pleasing recollections to many gallant soldiers. Another very handsome picture of more recent date, is very creditable to the artist. I can give but a faint idea of the effect of these pictures – they must be seen to be fully appreciated.

There are besides, a number of pretty sketches, altogether giving a pleasing appearance to the now tenantless (except by our pickets) inn. A number of lines of expressive poetry, by some pious soldier, dedicated to Beauregard, I am sorry my space will not permit me to lay before your readers.

On Sunday morning our pickets were relieved and after a weary march of ten miles, through mud up to your knees, and if you were so unfortunate as to step into an old post hole, up to your neck, we reached camp. I shall always retain a lively recollection of my picket excursion with Company C of the 96th.

This regiment is a splendid body of men, and through the unceasing exertions of Col. Cake and able staff, will be one of the most efficient regiments in the service. I “boarded” with Capt. Lessig, and Lieuts. Severn and Russel of Company C and none whose hospitably entertained your correspondent can be other than courteous gentlemen and gallant soldiers.

The mud is very deep, and the roads are impassable. The soldiers say this country has no bottom. It holds water remarkably well, whether it has or not. Water won’t even run downhill, and stays on the surface of the ground until dried up by the sun and wind. The health of the regiment continues remarkably good.

Yours, etc.


Benton’s Tavern was an occasional picket post at the intersection of the Little River Turnpike and the Columbia Pike just west of Alexandria, Virginia.

Featured Image: Soldiers on picket duty in Virginia early in the Civil War – Library of Congress

Read more about the 96th Pennsylvania in the Civil War HERE

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One thought on “On Picket Duty with the 96th Pennsylvania – February 1862

  1. Just discovered your blog and FB page. I ordered the David Ward book on the PA 96th because family research indicated my great-grandfather, James O’Donnell, of Newkirk, served in this division, Co. K, for 3years and I want to learn more about his experience. He survived the war but hung himself, apparently due to health problems, and was not successful in collecting his pension.

    Liked by 1 person

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