Colonel Johnson took command he found some of his men unable to bear a musket on the right shoulder and some on the left; there were men who could not wear the cartridge-box belt, and men who could not wear the waist belt; some had been excused from the cartridge-box, and had their cartridges in their pockets; one could carry twenty rounds, another ten, and another five. These variations were not dictated by the caprice of the soldiers, but by the judgment of surgeons.
The six companies were assigned to Colonel Johnson on the 7th of May. Four days afterward he received an order to embark at 6 on the following morning for Belle Plain, Va., then a depot of stores and prisoners in the rear of the Army of the Potomac. The regiment numbered 10 officers and 514 men present for duty, and 10 men present sick. The first five days at Belle Plain were passed in a continual rain, without tents, without rubber blankets, without medical stores, without even a surgeon. Until May 24 the regiment guarded the rebel prisoners at the post and escorted detachments of them northward, transmitting in this manner 2,996, with a loss of two escaped and one killed in the attempt. As General Grant advanced toward Petersburg it became necessary to move the base of supplies southward, and on the 23rd of May a medical examination was made of the Eighteenth to decide what men could go to Port Royal, a distance of about twenty-five miles by land. The surgeons reported that of the 474 present 166 could march without knapsacks, and that the rest were not able to march at all. The officers all refused to be examined, or represented themselves as fit for the field. While the mass of the regiment, 308 men, were put on a transport and sent by water to their destination, Colonel Johnson with his select band, still miserably provided for active service, set out as a part of the marching column. The first field night of this forlorn hope of invalids was passed in a furious storm of rain and hail, without tents or other cover, the men wrapping themselves in their wet blankets and finding what shelter they could in the corners of rail-fences.
Next morning Colonel Johnson requested that his command might be left to make its own way and take care of itself in its own time.
It could not advance, he said, above a mile an hour; if attacked by guerrillas it could not run away and it would fight; it did not fear any force which was not superior in numbers; its greatest enemy was rapidity of movement. All that day he and his officers coaxed the men on; ordered, pleaded, persuaded, reasoned with the poor fellows who dropped by the roadside; halted those who could walk, to enable those who could only limp to catch up; marched fifteen minutes at a time and then rested ten; accomplished in thirteen hours only twelve miles. On the morning after the conclusion of the journey but 42 of the 166 were able to fall in for roll-call. Then the surgeon who had been assigned to the regiment was ordered to Washington. Colonel Johnson himself attended to the sick; that is, he administered to the lighter cases such medicine as he understood and had; but the graver maladies, the old wounds which had reopened, the limbs which were warped by injuries or helpless with rheumatism, were necessarily neglected. At Port Royal the regiment, now reunited, received its shelter tents. After four days" duty as provost guard it proceeded by transport to White House Landing, on the Pamunkey, where it remained until the 21st of June. Here is the list of duties performed at White House Landing by these six companies of men who had been declared unfit for any purpose but that of the hospital. Guard over rebel prisoners, both at the post and during transportation