David Whitney

Part II – Chapter 5

David's Military Service

Preface — Patriotic Duty Twofold

This chapter of David Whitney's story is by far the largest portion presented here. It is longer than either of the other two main parts, and some of its sub-chapter sections are longer than other complete chapters. It is the story of his military service to his country over two periods of enlistment, one from September 1862 to August 1863, and the other from just after Christmas 1863 until the summer of 1865.

In the first enlistment, David saw little combat but many deaths of comrades due to disease in the camps of northern Virginia. Even David did not entirely escape being sick, having spent a brief period in the infirmary early in 1863. But he did survive and was present at a well-known battle just before his first enlistment expired.

David's second enlistment took him through many of the fiercest battles of the last year of the war that led to the Union victory. Most of these are described here at length, but, as far as possible, from the standpoint of the frontline, lowest level soldier, as Private David Whitney was for the duration.

Unlike most war histories that focus on well-known, leading figures—the celebrities of war—this account mentions very few high-ranking officers by name. It is based on a variety of sources, including individual National Park Service battle accounts, a two-volume history of Vermont's service in the Civil War, and various other books and articles. Most important to understanding David's standpoint were the letters another young man his age from the same town and serving in the same units wrote home to his family during his and David's two enlistments.

In David's Active Duty List below, sections 1-4 describe his first enlistment, sections 5-12 his second enlistment. Four of the battles that David fought in have sections of their own. Three of these are well known and generally considered important turning points in the war. The fourth one, number 10, describing the Battle of the Monocacy, was brief in duration but fiercely fought and has been considered—by some observers at the time as well as subsequent historical judgement—the battle that saved Washington from capture by the Confederate Army.

The description here of the Battle of the Monocacy is the longest of the sections and goes the furthest in detailing what a frontline soldier such as David must have experienced from the time of being ordered to a battlefield, through preparations for battle, the battle itself, and, finally, its immediate aftermath.

During David's two enlistments, he covered a lot of terrain, especially in the states of Maryland and Virginia. He traveled extensively by train in various accommodations, passenger cars as well as cattle cars. He also sailed on various steamships and steamboats, first along Long Island Sound through New York Harbor and on to New Jersey, and later down and up the James River in Viriginia, up and down the Chesapeake Bay, between Virginia and Maryland, and into Baltimore Harbor, as well as out of the Washington waterfront and down the Potomac back to the Chesapeake. But most of the time he marched from battlefield to battlefield on foot, including a six-day, 120-mile forced march from northern Virignia across Maryland to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. This account of David's journeys through combat is written in such a way that a reader interested in tracing, on maps, David's path during the Civil War, should be able to do so.

The entire, choronological sequence of sections in this chapter may be read from beginning to end by starting with the first one, Nine Months with the 15th Vermont Volunteers, and then, after reading it, clicking on 'Next' at the bottom or top of each page until you come to the 13th and last section. If you are interested in any particular battle, the brief descriptions on the Synopsis page will give you a concise overview of the account of each section and link you to the appropriate section's page also.

David's Active Duty List