IN THE RANKS:
WILDERNESS TO APPOMATTOX COURT-HOUSE.
THE WAR, AS SEEN AND EXPERIENCED BY A PRIVATE SOLDIER IN THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC.
BY REV. R. E. M'BRIDE.
A tale of the times of old. The deeds of days of other years. —OSSIAN.
CINCINNATI: PRINTED BY WALDEN & STOWE, FOR THE AUTHOR. 1881
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1881, by
R. E. M'BRIDE,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
In giving this book to the public we do so under the same plea which justifies those pleasant gatherings called "reunions," where men of the same regiment, corps, or army, meet to extend friendly greetings to each other, to friends, and all comrades in arms.
The writer has found it a pleasant task to recall the scenes of fifteen years ago, when, a mere boy in years, he had a part in the events here recorded. He is conscious of a kindly affection toward the men who were his companions during those stirring times. Kindness, thoughtfulness, forbearance, toward the boy-soldier, are not forgotten. If he found any thing different from these in his intercourse with men or officers, it has passed from memory, and he would not recall it if he could.
We trust, also, that this work may have a mission of utility to the generation that has grown up since the war.
There is a certain almost indefinable something, which has been summed up under the expression, "military traditions." This comes not alone from formal histories of the wars of the nation, but more largely from the history which each soldier carried home with him after the war was over. It meant something more than a certain amount of small family vanity, when men used to say, "My father was a soldier of the Revolution;" "My father fought at Lundy's Lane."
There lay back of this the stories told to wondering little ones while they gathered around the arm-chair of the soldier grandfather. Here were planted the seeds of military ardor that found expression at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Atlanta, and the Wilderness. It is thus the past of the nation projects itself into the present. Our comrades that sleep down yonder guard their country more effectually than if, full armed, they kept unceasing watch on all her borders. Though dead, they yet speak,—yes live, in the spirit which yet lives in the hearts of their countrymen. The cause they died for our children will love; the institutions they preserved at such cost, our sons will perpetuate by intelligent devotion to freedom and her laws.
Is it in vain, then, my comrade, that I sit down in your family circle, and tell your children the story of our hardships, trials, reverses, victories?
This narrative is submitted to you almost as first written, when intended only for the perusal of my own family. In recounting events subsequent to August 19, 1864, when the One Hundred and Ninetieth is spoken of, the One Hundred and Ninety-first is also included, as they were practically one.
Since completing the work, the author has learned that the report of the Adjutant-general of Pennsylvania gives these regiments, the One Hundred and Ninetieth and One Hundred and Ninety-first, no credit for service subsequent to the battle of Welden Railroad, in August, 1864. We give an explanation of this in the closing chapter, and send forth this volume, hoping that it may serve, in some measure, to do justice to as devoted a body of men as Pennsylvania sent to the field.
SENECA, KANSAS, March, 1881.
Alexander, John, 25
Appomattox Battle, 215
Amusements, 93, 158
Bethsaida Church, 66
Birkman, Capt., 72, 118
Boggs, Lieut., 35
Baiers, Lieut., 21
Carle, Col., 94, 100, 225
Coleman, Mike, 26, 68, 172, 182
Coleman, Sergt., 47, 72
Culp, Eckard, 68
Craig, Wm., 39
Delo, Chaplain, 59
Dodds, Jasper, 21
Dunn, Geo., 134
Eshelman, Abe, 26, 85
Elliot, John, 28
Edgar, John, 170
Fort Federal Hill, 112
Fort Steadman, 162
Five Forks Battle, 188
Gaines' Mill Battle, 20
Graham, Daniel, 60
Gravelly Run Battle, 172
Grossman, Louis, 40
Harris, Wm., 135
Hatcher's Run Battle, 148
Hayden, Lieut., 73, 221
Jones, Capt., 31
Kinsey, Capt., 73, 120
Kenedy, W. H. H., 224
M'Cullough, M. F., 31
M'Guire, J., 135
Miller, Ed., 182
Moreland, C. L., 63, 100
Mushrush, Benj., 27
North Ann River Battle, 62
Pattee, Col., 73, 85, 118, 179, 219
Peacock, Lieut., 118
Preston, Geo., 121
Quaker Road Battle, 171
Rowanty Creek Battle, 148
Running the Gauntlet, 90
Rutter, Wm., 85
Stanley, John, 31, 69
Stewart, Joe, 25
Stewart, Capt., 22
Steen, David, 33
Shaffer, J., 68
Walb, L. C., 204
Welden Railroad, 118
Welden Raid, 124
White, Allen, 31
White Oak Swamp Battle, 75
Wilderness Battle, 30
Woods, O'Harra, 22
Wright, Ernest, 218
I have long purposed the following work, designing to put in a form somewhat permanent my recollections of experiences in the great war, believing it may be a source of satisfaction to my children in later years. Already many of those scenes begin to appear dim and dreamlike, through the receding years, and many faces, once so clearly pictured in memory as seen around the camp-fire, in the march, and on the field of battle, have faded quite away. These things admonish me that what is done must be done quickly.
In the following pages you will find the names of men otherwise unknown, because their part in the great conflict was an humble one, yet none the less grand and heroic. This is written during the brief and uncertain intervals of leisure that may be caught up here and there amid the pressing work of the pastorate. You will not, then, I trust, undervalue it because of literary blemishes. It is history as really as more pretentious works. It is a specimen of the minutiae of history, a story of the war as seen by a private in the ranks, not by one who, as a favored spectator, could survey the movements of a whole army at a glance, and hence could, must, individualize brigades, divisions, army corps. It is the war in field, woods, underbrush, picket-post, skirmish-line, camp, march, bivouac. During 1864 no memorandum was kept, and a diary kept during the spring of 1865 was lost, within a year after the close of the war. Hence I have depended on memory alone, aided in fixing dates, etc., by reference to written works. Beyond this, the histories consulted were of little assistance, as their record of events sometimes differed materially from my recollection of them. In such cases I tell my own story, as the object is to record these things as they appeared to me.
In recording events of which I was not myself a witness, I give the story as heard from the lips of comrades. Such portions are easily discernible in the body of the narrative. You can have them for what they are worth.
"I can not tell how the truth may be, I tell the tale as 'twas told to me."
IN THE RANKS.
It is a little word. A child may pronounce it; but what word that ever fell from human lips has a meaning full of such intensity of horror as this little word? At its sound there rises up a grim vision of "confused noise and garments rolled in blood." April 12, 1861, cannon fired by traitor hands, boomed out over Charleston harbor. The dire sound that shook the air that Spring morning did not die away in reverberating echoes from sea to shore, from island to headland. It rolled on through all the land, over mountain and valley, moaning in every home, at every fireside, "War! War! War!"
Are we a civilized people? What is civilization? Is it possible to eliminate the tiger from human nature? Who would have dreamed that the men of the North, busy with plowing and sowing, planning, contriving, inventing, could prove themselves on a hundred battle-fields a fiercely warlike people? The world looked on with wonder as they rushed eagerly into the conflict, pouring out their blood like water and their wealth without measure, for a sentiment, a principle, that may be summed up in the one word—"nationality." "The great uprising" was not the movement of a blind, unreasoning impulse. A fire had been smoldering in the North for years. The first cannon shot, that hurtled around the old flag as it floated over the walls of Fort Sumter shook down the barriers that confined it, and the free winds of liberty fanned it to a devouring flame.
The Yankee—let the name be proudly spoken—as he turned the furrow, stood by his work bench, or listened to the jarring clank of his machinery, had mused with heavy heart and shame-flushed cheek how a haughty, brutal, un-American spirit had drawn a line across the land, and said, "Beyond this is not your country. Here your free speech, free labor, and free thought shall never come." While this line was imaginary, he had waited for better days and larger thought to change the current of the times; but when it was transformed into bristling bayonets and frowning cannon, the tiger rose up within him, and with unquestioning faith he took up the gauge of battle. Men talked of the "cold blood of the North." That blood had surged impetuously through the veins of warrior freemen for a hundred generations. Here in the New World it had lost none of its vigor. The sturdy spirit that in other years ruled the hand that wielded the battle-ax, still ruled, when the hand was employed in subduing mountain and prairie. The North was averse to war, because it was rising to that higher civilization that abhors violence, discards brute methods, and relies on the intellectual and moral. Such a people, driven to desperation, move right forward to the accomplishment of their object with a scorn of cost or consequences unknown to a lower type. Hence it is that the people of the North, without hesitation, grappled with a rebellion the most formidable ever successfully encountered by any government. For a like reason their great armies, melting away like frost before the sun when the rebel flag went down, mingled again with the people without jar or confusion.
Turning away from a half million graves, wherein they had buried their slain, their bravest and best beloved, they forgot all bitterness for joy that peace had come. No people in the world had greater reason for severity than the victors in this strife. War, willful, unprovoked, without the shadow of justification, had been thrust upon them. This had been preceded by a series of usurpations the most unblushing ever endured by a free people. These were a part of the plan of a band of traitors, who had plotted for years to overthrow the existing order of things, and establish an empire with human slavery for its chief corner-stone.
The "Golden Circle," with its center at Havana, Cuba, its radii extending to Pennsylvania on the North, the isthmus on the south, and sweeping from shore to shore, was the bold dream of the men who plotted the destruction of the American republic. Their object was pursued with a cold-blooded disregard of all right, human and divine, worthy of the pagan brutality of the Roman Triumvirate. Prating about the "Constitution" with hypocritical cant, they trampled upon every safeguard of popular liberty, and at last, in defiance of even the forms of law, plunged the people of the Southern States into a war with the government, which, even if successful in securing a separation, could only have been the beginning of woes, as their plans would develop.
But notwithstanding the heinousness of the accomplished crime, not a man was punished. It is doubtful whether popular opinion would have approved the punishment of even the arch-traitor, Jeff Davis. The common sentiment was expressed by the oft-repeated verdict: "Enough of blood has been shed." Whether this was wise or not it is vain to inquire. Perhaps the future will vindicate the wisdom of the generous course of the government. Thus far it has seemed like folly. The South has shown a persistent vindictiveness unequaled in the history of any people, a cruelty toward the helpless victims of their hate that is shameful to the last degree. The cowardly assassination of political opponents, the brutal murder of black men, women, and children, has been defended openly or covertly by pulpit, press, and platform. If any disapprove, their voice is not heard in condemnation of the wrong.
This may have resulted partly from the fact that many of the people of the North, notably many so-called statesmen, ignored common sense and gave way to gush and sentiment. There is nothing gained in this prosy world by calling black white. The leaders of the rebellion were guilty of the horrible crime of treason, and we baptized it something else. The result is manifest to all who are not willfully and wickedly blind to the facts.
Yet it is the part of duty to hope for the speedy coming of an era of calmer judgment, of real and healthy patriotism, when every American citizen will claim our whole land as his country.
When the civil war began, my home was with the family of Mr. John Dunn, in Butler County, Pennsylvania. The old gentleman was a Democrat, and at first had little to say about the war. One evening he returned from the village in a state of intense excitement. He had heard of the disastrous battle at Bull Run. It is no exaggeration to say that he "pranced" around the room, chewing his tobacco with great vigor, telling how many of our "poor boys" had been slaughtered by the —— rebels. His apathy was at an end. He could see where the line lay between treason and patriotism, when once that line was traced in blood.
At this time two Butler County companies, C and D, of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Reserve Volunteer Corps, were in camp near Pittsburg. The corps was sent forward to Washington at once, and from that time till the close of their term of service, they gallantly represented the Keystone State in every battle fought by the Army of the Potomac. My brother, Wm. A., was a private in Company C. He enlisted June 10, 1861, and fell, with many other brave men, at the battle of Gaines' Mill, June 27, 1862.
From what I could learn from those who were present, the following are the facts concerning the disaster which befell the regiment in this engagement, and my brother's death:
Late in the afternoon of the 27th, the Eleventh moved forward to relieve a New Jersey regiment, which had been fighting in a piece of woods near the center of the line. The rebels came swarming against them, line after line, but were continually driven back by the relentless volleys that blazed out from the ranks of the Eleventh. Unfortunately, about the time they became engaged, the line on either side of them was driven back, and they were left to contend alone against terrible odds. Neither men nor officers knew their real situation until men began to fall, from volleys poured into them from the flanks. Major Johns went in the direction from which the fire was coming, thinking that some of our own troops were firing on them through mistake. He was made prisoner. Adjutant M'Coy was ordered to report the condition of things to General Mead. On reaching the open ground, he saw the battle flags of nine rebel regiments on the flank and rear. He at once reported to the colonel. Orders were given to fall back, the intention being to hew a way out through the enemy. At this point my brother fell. Having just loaded his gun as the command was given to move toward the rear, he paused to give a parting shot. A bullet struck him in the face, penetrating the brain, and he fell dead.
The regiment, hemmed in on every side by overwhelming numbers, with one-fourth of their number killed or wounded, at last surrendered. Company D lost eight men, killed, in this engagement, besides a number mortally wounded or permanently disabled. Of the former was Jasper Dodds, who was wounded in the knee by a rifle ball. After being removed to Richmond, he wrote a cheerful letter to his mother and friends at home, no doubt expecting to recover. He died July 18th. Jacob Baiers, then sergeant, afterwards promoted to captain, was shot through the lungs, and never wholly recovered. He continued in service, however, until April, 1864. The regiment was exchanged in time to participate in the second Bull Run battle, where again their loss was terrible. Seven men of Company D were killed or mortally wounded. It is said that Jesse Fry and Boss. M'Cullough were the only men of the company on their feet and unhurt at the close of the battle. Scarcely were their ranks somewhat filled up by returning convalescents, when the other great battles followed. On every field they left their dead. "South Mountain," "Antietam," "Fredericksburg,"—these words you can see in the muster roll, after that word which even yet chills the heart, "killed." Captain Stewart was struck through the breast at Fredericksburg, and died in two hours. Young O'Harra Woods was promoted for gallant conduct in this battle. The honor was well bestowed and nobly borne. He fell at Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, bravely leading his men in that great battle. But why particularize; brave men all.
"Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die."
Butler County, famous for rocks, hills, buckwheat, psalm-singing, and soap mines. Psalm singing? Yes. The sturdy Scotch-Irish that grew among her hills, as a rule, would sing to the Lord with no other words than those of the warrior king and the holy men of old. Have you heard their solemn songs? I hear them to-night—it is not imagination, not "their songs," but "our songs." A voice of singing floats down through the years, very holy and very tender; for now all the singers are "evermore before the throne," except two, whose infant lips could scarce pronounce the words:
"Lord, bless and pity us, Shine on us with thy face; That th' earth thy way, and nations all May know thy saving grace."
Yes, psalm-singing! But the soap mines? We protest! We have hunted huckleberries on her hills; we have pursued the groundhog in her woods, the 'coon around her cornfields; we have swum and fished in her sparkling streams; from Dan to Beersheba we have worked, played, done "many things we ought not to have done," and left undone many things it was our duty to do; but we never saw a soap mine. We can testify before all the world that the people of Butler County make their soap in the usual innocent and odorous manner.
PROSPECT, Butler County, a dreamy village of the olden time. The houses accommodate themselves to the cross-roads. One road stretches from the county seat westward; the other from the "stone house" goes winding along toward Pittsburg. The houses have also a contented, self satisfied look; the stores and the tavern seem to consider themselves permanent factors in the world's machinery. On a pleasant day an "honorable" or two might be seen sunning themselves in front of store or tavern, whittling, and adding dignity to the surroundings.
In this quiet village one chilly morning in December, 1863, the writer mounted the stage-coach and went rattling over the frozen ground toward Pittsburg, to enlist in the volunteer service. Just seventeen years ago that very morning I had begun the business of life on rather limited capital; and although it had been improved with considerable success, yet the kindly prophecies, particularly of my copperhead friends, did not portend a very lengthy nor brilliant military career. The next day I made my way to the provost-marshal's office, and, after due examination, was pronounced all right, and sworn into the service. If I lied about my age, obliging memory has written it over with something else, and it is gone from me. But I think Captain ——, of Prospect, did the lying; at least let us hope that he has sufficiently repented of it long ere this.
I selected Company D, of the Eleventh Pennsylvania Regular Volunteer Corps, and was assigned accordingly. The recruits were retained for some time at Camp Copeland, then about the dreariest, most uncomfortable place I ever saw; shelter and provisions insufficient, bad whisky and blacklegs abundant. Joe Stewart, John Alexander, and myself tented together here. They had enlisted for the One Hundredth Pennsylvania, the "Roundheads." Joe was an old acquaintance. He served gallantly till the close of the war. John was a noble boy and found a soldier's death at Cold Harbor. After one of the fruitless charges made there, when the Roundheads came back foiled of their purpose, John was not with them. In the darkness of night which quickly closed around, Joe went out to search for him. As he was picking his way stealthily among the dead and dying, he heard a well known voice calling softly near by, "Joe, Joe, is that you?" It was John, lying there, shot through the breast. He warned his rescuer to be very cautious, as the rebel videttes were near. With much difficulty he got him back to our lines. This was the night of June 2d, and he died on the 4th.
I left the latter part of January to join the regiment, then camped at Bristoe Station, on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. With me were two recruits for Company E, Abe Eshelman and Mike Coleman. The former was killed at Petersburg; the latter, a live Irishman, was mustered out at the close of the war, after a year and a half of valiant service for his adopted country. We went by Harrisburg, Baltimore, and Washington, thence by the Orange and Alexandria road, every mile historic ground, past Bull Run, where, the soldiers say, the dead would not stay buried, and finally we alight at Bristoe Station. On the right over there are the Bucktails; a little further toward the west the Second is camped. Over the hill toward Brentsville, past the artillery camp, is the Eleventh.
Here I found John Elliot, who had served with the regiment since its organization. He, brother William, and myself had been boy companions before the war, although I was younger than they. I went into the mess with him, S. L. Parker, and Benjamin Mushrush. After being with them but a short time, I was taken with that scourge of the army, measles, and was removed to the surgeon's tent. I was on picket when the disease made itself felt. The day and night on which I was on duty were stormy, rain and snow. As a result, I had a lively time of it. The disease left my voice so impaired that, for a long time, I was unable to speak above a whisper. During my stay at the surgeon's tent, I employed myself studying his books on surgery, and acquired a knowledge on the subject which was utilized at a later period.
John Elliot had enlisted April 25, 1861, although not mustered into the United States service until July 5th of the same year. He felt that he should be mustered out at the former date of 1864. As the time drew near we conversed frequently on the subject, and he was in some perplexity as to duty in the case. The morning of the 25th found him on picket. I prepared the morning meal for the mess and then relieved him until he should breakfast. Soon he returned in a more than usually cheerful spirit. After chatting pleasantly for a time, he spoke of his term of enlistment.
"I have that matter all arranged now," he said, "as far as I am concerned. I am not certain whether the government has a right to hold me any longer or not; but I will stay till it sees fit to discharge me. The country needs soldiers this Spring. I would like to visit home. It's been three years since I saw mother and the boys; but it's all right. God has kept me safely through all these battles, and I can trust him for time to come."
This was the substance of his language, his exact words, as near as I can remember. They are noble words; as grand as ever fell from the lips of Christian hero. Many a time afterward they were an inspiration to me. His face was bright that beautiful Spring morning with a joy that was not of earth. The night watches had been spent communing with God,—yes, face to face. Had he known that the midsummer sun would look down upon his grave, would his decision have been different? I think not. He knew too much of war and battles not to count the cost. From a Southern prison-pen his brave spirit went up to God.
April 29th we broke camp and proceeded to near Culpepper Court-house. Before leaving camp we sent our extra baggage, clothing, etc., to Washington, and, of course, never saw them again. During the night of May 3d we marched for the Rapidan, crossing at Germania Ford. The next evening we camped in order of battle near the Wilderness Tavern. The following morning the division moved out on a country road toward Robertson's Tavern. Passing through woods, we came to an open field, where line of battle was formed. The Bucktails were in front, skirmishing. We could see them on the ridge, and their occasional shouts and rapid firing showed that the battle had begun. For the first time I heard the whistle of the rifle ball, as a stray one now and then whistled over the line of battle. After waiting thus for some time, we moved back some distance, in the direction from which we had come. Here I spoke a few words with John Elliot, the last we ever exchanged. In the confusion which followed he was made prisoner, and died at Andersonville. Soon the noise of battle began to deepen in our front and at the right. Hurried orders were received; the line moved by the right flank, double-quick. The Seventh Regiment deployed and vanished into the woods, forward, and the Eleventh followed in line of battle. Moving on through the thick underbrush, the enemy was quickly encountered. Their first volley was deadly. A ball struck Boss. M'Cullough in the forehead. He fell dead, a portion of his shattered brain lodging on the arm of John Stanley, a boy of seventeen, who had come to us during the Spring. John shuddered, shook it from the sleeve of his blouse, raised his gun and began firing. Captain Jones, of Company A, White, of Company C, and many others, fell dead before this first volley. Soon it was discovered that the division was flanked. Our line was at right angles with the position in which the subsequent fighting took place. To crown all, the woods took fire, and soon the only problem that remained was to withdraw as quickly and safely as possible.
While this turmoil was progressing, to me so strange and bewildering, the surgeon, Dr. Lyon, came across me, and directed me to go to a certain point at the edge of the woods, east of the Wilderness Tavern, to help care for the wounded. Thither I made my way. As I passed on through the woods, I was soon out of reach of the bullets, which had been flying thick and fast. When I came to the open ground, I saw more clearly than ever the results of the battle, still going on in the woods beyond. The multitude of wounded and dying men crowded the road. Some were limping painfully along; others were being carried on stretchers, or helped along by comrades.
Reaching the designated place, I found the field tents erected, and all full of suffering men. I took charge of one in which were twenty-seven wounded, several amputations, and other bad cases. They lay with their heads toward the canvas, a narrow path being left between their feet. All that could be done for them was to give them food and water, bathe their wounds, and render any little service by which their sufferings might be mitigated. Their heroic patience astonished me. Men, torn and mangled, would utter no groan, nor give any vocal expression to the agonies which racked them, except sometimes when sleep or delirium found the overmastering will off guard.
Toward evening I learned that the regiment was just beyond the Wilderness tavern; and, getting relieved for a short time, I started to go to them, as I had the extra coffee of the mess. As I came in sight, they moved hurriedly away toward the right, where the battle was raging fiercely. It was useless to follow, and I began to retrace my steps. Pausing a moment on an elevated knoll, I gazed on the strange scene that spread out before me. From the right on the turnpike, a line, somewhat curved, extended a distance of three or four miles to the left. On the right the line was enveloped in woods, in which a terrific conflict was going on. Sedgwick's corps was standing between the army and disaster. In the center, on elevated ground, beyond some low woods, I could see a rebel line of battle, while the sharp fire of skirmishers in front showed that here the lines of blue and gray would soon smite together. Further toward the left, a line of blue extended along the edge of a narrow field, facing the woods just beyond, into which it poured incessant volleys, while the smoke that rose up from the woods showed that an active foe was there. Behind our line, flat on the ground, lay a second one. A tragedy, grandly, awfully sublime, was enacting before me. A hundred thousand men were grappling in deadly conflict. While I gazed the line of battle slackened its fire; the second one rose from the ground; then both swept forward across the field and into the woods beyond, bearing the enemy before them. For a few moments there was silence, and then the struggle was renewed as fiercely as ever. I returned to the field-tents to go on with my work of mercy among the suffering.
As night drew on the battle ceased, and the men lay down to sleep where they had fought, ready to renew the strife at the return of light. In the tents there, while the army beyond was resting, part of our nation's heroes continued the contest through the solemn hours of night. They fought with the giant Pain, and some of them went down into the dark valley, and close by the chill waters they faced the King of Terrors.
I slept none that night. As morning approached, I went to the edge of the little opening which had been cleared in the woods for the tents. While I stood here looking off toward the scene of yesterday's battle, the sound of a single rifle shot rang out on the air, then another and another, and then a deafening roar of musketry burst forth and raged along the whole line, continuing almost without interruption all day.
In the afternoon Lieutenant Boggs and David Steen were brought in wounded, the former by a rifle ball in the thigh, the latter severely bruised by a fragment of shell. He had been wounded at Gaines' Mill and Fredericksburg. After his return this time, I heard him say that he had come to have more dread of going into battle since he had been wounded so often. Still he never shrank from duty. He was killed the following August at Welden Railroad.
Here I saw the only instance of impatience on the part of a wounded man of which I have any recollection. A young fellow lay about the middle of the tent, wounded in the knee, a ball having cut the skin on one side without injuring the bone. His long legs were extended almost across the narrow path along which I was compelled to walk in passing from one to another. He was grumbling and complaining, demanding and receiving attentions in a gruff and uncivil manner. He would also mutter threatenings of what he would do should I hurt him in stepping over his crooked legs outstretched in my way. To all of this I paid no attention and signs of ill-nature continued. Finally, a bright young man opposite, whose leg was amputated at the thigh, raised himself on his elbow and proceeded to express his opinion of such conduct in language much more forcible than pious.
From this place we moved some distance to the left, where the tents were erected in an open field. Here an incident occurred which illustrates the false estimate placed upon the civilization of the North by the masses of the South. A wounded rebel, an intelligent-looking young man, was brought in from the field in an ambulance. We came with a stretcher to carry him into the tent. He looked at us with a frightened, helpless look, and asked:
"You won't hurt me, will you?"
I assured him we would be just as careful as possible. He seemed surprised to be treated with kindness, having been taught, evidently, that the Yankee invader was a barbarian. Removed to the tent, I examined his wound. A bullet had passed through the ankle joint, and the only remedy was amputation. He inquired how it was. It seemed hard to tell him that he must go through life maimed.
"That is a bad foot; but the surgeons will do the best they can for it. You may lose it." Some time after he was removed, I suppose to have his foot amputated, and I saw him no more.
The next move was to Spotsylvania. Grant had grappled with his enemy, intending to hold on "all Summer." The same spirit seemed to animate his army, from General Meade down to the latest recruit in the ranks. The lines of blue came out from the smoking underbrush of the Wilderness, their ranks torn and decimated, and closed in around the bristling batteries and rifle-pits of Spotsylvania with a relentless courage that was sublime.
Here the tents were pitched in a little, open lot, a house to the right as you faced the position where the fighting was in progress. The tents were not sufficient to contain the wounded, and they lay on the ground on the outside by thousands. Those long rows of suffering forms, gashed and mangled in every conceivable manner, told a dreadful tale of human wrath. That gallant division, the Reserves, had preserved their well-earned reputation for stubborn valor at a terrible cost. Their greatest loss was sustained in a single onset against the rebel position. The enemy was posted in strong rifle-pits, beyond a narrow strip of swamp. Orders were given to charge these works. The division moved forward. They had never failed in such an undertaking. Their charge had always pierced the enemy's line. This had been their record during three years of warfare. But men can not accomplish impossibilities. Baffled by the swamp, cut by the merciless fire that blazed out from the pits, they are driven back, rally, re-form and charge the second and third time, and then retire to the position from which they had come out.
The field-tents here were nearer the front than before. Bullets and an occasional shell whistled over us. My work was still the same, caring for the wounded, assisting the surgeon, or occasionally binding up a wound myself.
During the second day, while engaged at the farther end of the tent, I heard at the front a familiar voice. As soon as I was disengaged I went to the front end of the tent, eager to learn from whom the well-known voice proceeded. There lay a large, noble-looking young man, severely wounded in the thigh. He was conversing quietly with a wounded comrade by his side. Voice and face were as familiar as if heard and seen but yesterday. Puzzled and deeply interested, I did not speak, but proceeded to bathe his wound. While thus engaged, his eyes fell upon my face. Looking at me intently a moment, his face brightened, and he exclaimed:
"You are Rob M'Bride, aren't you?"
"Yes; and you are Billy Craig," was the immediate reply.
As soon as he pronounced my name, it all came to me in a moment. We had been school-mates at Courtney's School-house. He was then one of the "big boys," and I a lad of nine or ten. I had not seen him since. He was one of those large-hearted, royal souls, that could find pleasure in little acts of kindness, that bound me to him very closely. He bore his sufferings with heroic fortitude. When the time came to remove the wounded, and they were being hurried away in ambulances and rough army wagons, I went to Dr. Lyon and told him of the case. He went with me to an ambulance and ordered room reserved in it for him. I then had him carried to it, made him as comfortable as possible, bade him good-bye and God speed, and saw him no more on earth. He died from his wound some time in June.
May 11th, Lewis Grossman, of Company C, was brought in, terribly wounded by a shell. One arm and leg were crushed, and he was otherwise bruised. I did not see him until after the arm and leg were amputated. He was a young man of great physical endurance, or he would never have rallied from the shock. He was as pale as a corpse when first brought into the tent, but rallied in a little while, and was able to take some refreshment. When left to himself his mind wandered, and he would talk as if he were engaged in the quiet pursuits of peace. Unless prevented, he would remove the bandages from the stumps of his amputated limbs. When spoken to, however, he would refrain from this, and talk rationally of the present circumstances. Dr. Lyon finally told me to give my attention entirely to him. This I did until he was sent away. He told me how his wound was received. He was in front, skirmishing. He was in the road in front of a rebel battery, and in the act of loading his gun. Perceiving they were about to fire, he still delayed a moment, thinking to get in another shot before leaping to the shelter of a large tree that stood near. It was a costly delay.
The shell came screaming toward him, burst, and dashed him stunned and mangled to the ground. As he concluded this narrative, he added, with the utmost seriousness: "But they haven't made much off me, after all. I've peppered them in almost every battle the Potomac army has fought since the war began."
He got along finely, and there seemed every prospect of recovery. When some of the boys called on him at Washington, on their way home in June, he requested them to say nothing to his friends about the extent of his wounds. But from some cause—perhaps gangrene—he died August 3d, and is buried in the National Cemetery at Arlington.
Nearly opposite Lewis lay a young man of very fine face and attractive appearance. He was mortally wounded. Most of the time his sufferings were very great, but no earthly skill could bring any relief. As death drew on, his mind wandered. He was fighting his battles over again. He was not the poor, crushed mortality that lay here. His spirit was over yonder, where the cannon's sullen roar and the awful din of musketry, the cheers of the struggling combatants, told of a deadly strife. Sometimes he was distressed and troubled, sometimes exultant. Anon his face would light up with the strange fire of battle, and he would raise his arm and cheer. Once he said quite distinctly: "Here is a chance for a brave man." Later he became calm, and quietly fell asleep, to wake no more on earth till the great day of God.
"Soldier, sleep, thy warfare o'er, Sleep the sleep that knows no waking, Dream of battle-fields no more."
One of the Bucktail Regiment lay on the ground in front of the tent, shot through the chest. He was, perhaps, twenty-five years of age, large and well-formed, his face stamped with the marks of intelligence. While engaged near him, I saw another of that band of heroes coming toward him with great strides, an expression of anguish on his face which I can not forget. He threw himself on his knees by the wounded man, kissed him, then covered his face with his hands, and his great manly form shook with convulsive sobbings. Tears trickled down the cheeks of the other. Not a word was spoken until, after a while, the storm of emotion had passed. Then they conversed calmly for a while, and parted with the quiet dignity of brave men who say farewell while the shadow of death lies dark around them.
A man was brought in shot through both thighs. I did not know his name, but had heard his voice among the worshipers in the church-tent at Bristoe Station, and knew that he was a man of God. After a brief examination, the surgeon announced that amputation would be necessary.
"Very well, doctor; get around to it as quick as you can. I suffer terribly."
Another was shot in the thigh, the bone shattered to the hip. When told that the limb must be amputated he objected.
"But you will die if it is not done."
"I can't help that; it shall not be amputated with my consent."
Within twenty-four hours he was dead. Whether wise in his decision or not, he met the result without flinching or complaint.
A boy with his arm torn off by a shell expressed his only complaint in the words, "I never can fight any more."
One evening, worn out by constant labor and watching, I lay down in a vacant place in the tent, from which a dead soldier had been removed, to find rest for mind and body in sleep. As I lay there thinking of the dreadful scenes around me, of the wounded and dying here, the dead just over yonder, I began to wonder what would be the sensations of a man shot in the brain. Suddenly there came a shock, as if the whole machinery of life had stopped at once. How long a time elapsed before consciousness was resumed I do not know; the interval may have been momentary; but as a dim sense of being stole over me again, I was quite convinced that a stray shot had struck me in the head. Rousing myself, I deliberately felt my head, to learn the exact state of things. To my surprise and gratification, I found every thing in due order. I leave it to those who are skilled in the mysteries of the nervous system to explain the phenomenon; but you must allow me to believe that I know something of what it is to be shot in the head.
The time arrived, at length, when the field hospitals must be moved because of the changed position of the army. A heavy rain began on the 11th, and continued for some days, making the roads almost impassable. The wounded that remained were removed as speedily and as mercifully as possible. Some had to be left behind. Nurses were detailed to remain with them. As night came on every thing was in readiness, and the rest of us were directed to take our departure without delay. Two of us started together after dark. We made our way through the mud and intense darkness about twenty rods, to the edge of a wood. We resolved to go no further, come what might. Doubling myself up at the root of an old stump, I was soon oblivious to both rain and danger. Just as day was breaking, I awoke, and arousing my companion, we hastened away.
This closed my experience in the hospital. I was so worn out by the constant strain which such labor made on body and mind, that rest was imperative. During all these days I could get no definite information of the fate of John Elliot. The wounded reported that he was missing, but whether among the dead or living they could not tell. It was difficult to drive away the thought of the painful possibilities that imagination would bring up. Had he been disabled that first day in the wilderness and perished in the flames of the burning woods? Had he been mortally wounded, and died alone in the thick underbrush which veiled so many tragic scenes? Had death come more swiftly and mercifully, or was he a prisoner and unharmed? Such were the questions that might be solved by inquiry among the members of the company.
After some delay I found the regiment by a little stream called the Ny. The spot on which they were camped, or rather resting under arms, was within beautiful shelling range of the rebel batteries, as I found out afterward to my great discomfort and dismay. Toward evening, Sergeant W. Coleman was taken quite sick, and at his request I started with him to find the hospital. After proceeding some distance, he became so ill that we could go no further, and some means of conveyance must be found. A stretcher was procured, and two men to carry him. To these I confided my charge, and began to retrace my steps. It was now after dark, a clear, moonless night. Crossing the little stream at the point where I had left the regiment a few hours before, to my great disappointment not a man could be found.
What to do was a puzzling question. The resolution was finally taken to spend a few hours, at least, in trying to find them. At first I started in a direction bearing toward the right, but soon met a column marching toward the left. Reasoning that if troops were being moved to the left, none would be moving at the same time toward the right, I fell in with this column, determined to see what the outcome would be. Soon the open ground was crossed, and the column began to bear to the right of its line of march, through the woods. Presently I noticed that an unusual silence was observed. Not a word was spoken above a whisper, every noise and clatter incident to the march were carefully avoided.
Growing weary at length, and reflecting that after all I might be going away from the regiment instead of toward it, I dropped out of the line and lay down against the root of a tree close to the road, to sleep till morning. Half sleeping and half waking I lay there, dreamily watching that army of shadows gliding stealthily by. Shadows they seemed as they moved hurriedly along under the gloom of the overhanging trees, as noiseless almost as an army of spirits from Homer's nether world. The mystery of this secret night march served to quicken imagination, and I could see this same column grimly marshaling in "battle's magnificently stern array" in the dim light of the coming morning, ready to burst upon some exposed point of the enemy's line.
Opening my eyes a little later, the same ghostly procession was filing past, but in an opposite direction. This meant that, sooner or later, my rest must be disturbed, or I might be left in an exposed and dangerous position. Present comfort, however, being the stronger motive just then, prevailed, and I sank into unconsciousness again. From this I was aroused by some one shaking me by the shoulder and warning me in a whisper that I must wake up and come on. The muffled "tramp, tramp" had ceased, the rear of that shadowy army was vanishing in the darkness; one solitary figure waited, delaying a moment, to see if I was fully awake. Rising, I followed. Reaching the open ground from which we had entered the woods, I found myself alone and bewildered. Proceeding some distance with rather a vague notion of direction, I determined to make a final halt till morning. All that was necessary to make myself comfortable was to sink down on the ground without removing any thing, my knapsack fitting conveniently under the back of my head, supporting head and shoulder as if intended for the purpose. Thus bestowing myself by the side of a rail fence, I was soon sleeping soundly.
But my rest was destined not to be undisturbed. Something awoke me. What! Was this night given over to ghosts and spirits intangible? Again the forms of men were gliding noiselessly about me. Above were the twinkling stars, around were busy men, and silence everywhere. With instinctive cautiousness I lay motionless, furtively noting the curious scene. A moment's careful attention explained it in part. One by one the rails of the fence were taken up with the utmost caution and borne away. They were building breastworks somewhere. There was work to be done, I thought, and preferred to finish my much delayed sleep, if allowed to do so. I lay motionless, only sufficiently awake to dimly take in the situation. Twice men came and stooped over me with their faces close to mine, looked intently, and turned away in silence. Congratulating myself on my good fortune, that I was going to sleep the night out while others worked, I gave myself again to repose.
When I awoke the sun had got fairly started on his course, and was pouring his rays full into my face. The events of the preceding night seemed like a dream; but there was evidence about me that my visitants had not been as ghostly as they seemed. The fence by which I had lain down had disappeared, and I was alone in an open field. Utterly bewildered, I addressed myself to the somewhat difficult task of deciding what must be done. On either side of me could be seen what I knew to be earth-works, but not a living thing was visible. The field gave evidence of having been fought over, for the well-known debris of a battle were strewn around. At length my mind was made up to go to the rear, find the division hospital, and get information.
But where was rear? Where was front? Where was any thing? After meditating profoundly on these questions, I decided that my course lay in the direction of the earth-works on one side of the open ground. This was the "rear," and these works had been abandoned in the progress of advance. Proceeding leisurely in this direction, I had not advanced far until I was surprised by the boom of a cannon behind me. A shell screamed over my head, and exploded with a sharp ring against the earth-works a few hundred yards ahead of me. Looking back, I saw a Yankee officer standing on the earth-work, glass in hand, watching the effects of the shot. This was a revelation. I was between the lines, and heading for the rebel works. That shot saved me a trip to a Confederate prison-pen. Hastily retracing my steps, I lost no time in reaching our lines, expecting each moment that an artillery battle would break out while I was between the combatants. The position was perhaps a half-mile to the right of the spot where I had last seen the regiment. No infantry was visible, but no doubt there were troops concealed in the woods near by. The sharp ridges by which the open ground was broken were occupied by artillery, the men standing by their guns.
The day was before me, and I was resolved to have a little more experience; the more so as I could make my observations in comparative safety. Those guns frowning grimly over the earthen redoubts meant mischief. I would see an artillery fight; my curiosity was soon amply gratified. Standing near a vacant redoubt, looking toward the rebel batteries, suddenly a white smoke burst forth, followed by the roar of cannon and the hissing shriek of shells, as the noisy missiles came tearing through the air toward us. After the first discharge, the rebel fire was directed chiefly to the right of the earth-work behind which I had taken refuge, though shells kept striking and bursting around. My position, however, was favorable for a view of our own batteries, and for observing the effect of the enemy's fire. Sometimes the shells would strike the ground, sending the dirt many feet into the air, and go tearing across the field, touching the ground and bounding again at intervals. Others would strike the earth-works, or explode in the air, and hurl their fragments far and near, whizzing and buzzing to the earth.
This noisy combat lasted for some time, and ceased,—not because either of the combatants was seriously damaged, as far as I could see, but because they were tired of it.
This will be as appropriate a place as any to remark, that "shelling" is usually quite harmless, except when the guns are served by skilled artillerists, and under favorable circumstances. Unless the shell is exploded at the proper distance and altitude in front of a line, it is not likely to do any injury. A cannonade which, to the uninitiated, would seem sufficient to destroy every thing before it, will be faced with the utmost equanimity by veteran troops, if the artillerist have the range too "long." It is always very annoying, however, as there is no telling when a shell may prove a little "short," and distribute its fragments for rods along the line. The men are usually ordered to lie down, unless directly engaged. The shell cleaves the air with a frightful sound, that is but faintly described by the word "shriek." Few men can refrain from "dodging," as the dangerous missile comes over with its unearthly sound. The writer has frequently tried it, but can remember no instance of marked success, except while engaged, or otherwise employed. Perhaps the most disagreeable sound of all, is when the guns are charged with grape and cannister, and send their destructive contents through the air with a grinding, groaning, gnashing sound, that chills the blood of the listener. This may partly result from association, as such a charge is seldom used except at close range, on a charging line. Then, if directed by cool, determined men, the effect is terrible. Those who have once heard this sound can never forget it. It requires but little imagination to fancy that the fiend which was sending forth such loud defiance just now, has grappled with his adversary and is hissing out his horrid rage in the midst of Titanic strugglings. A little experience will enable you to determine from the sound what a gun is firing; shot, shell, or grape. The artillery-men usually have little fear of shell, but dread a volley from infantry. With the infantry the case is reversed. Generally the men preferred the branch of service to which they were accustomed. Each did not envy the other.
The cavalryman rode all day; but at night he had to care for both himself and horse. The infantryman had nothing to care for but himself. He would make his coffee, and sleep all night, while the cavalryman must scout, or picket front or flank. Sometimes the infantry must spend a part of the night in throwing up breastworks, or making a night march; but usually he considers himself more certain of rest and comfort than his fellow-soldiers of the mounted force.
I now continued my search for information as to the whereabouts of the regiment. I had almost reached the little flat by the Ny, at the point where I had last seen my comrades the evening before, when, to my astonishment, the roar of cannon broke forth again, and the shells came hissing over my head and bursting all around me. There was not even a stump or stone for shelter from the pelting storm of iron, and in the woods just over the stream, the trees were being torn and rent asunder as if by thunderbolts. This was more of a joke than I had bargained for. Reflecting a moment, I concluded to take my chances among the trees. A slender foot-log over the stream afforded means of crossing. When about the middle of the log a shell howled close to my head and dashed through a tree with a fearful crash. Nothing deterred, I sat down at the root of a sturdy oak which would shelter me from fragments, at least, and waited for something to "turn up." The rebels evidently thought that troops were concealed in the woods, and were determined to make it hot for them. They made it lively for me; but unless that afforded them some satisfaction, they might have saved their ammunition.
Later I learned that the Reserves had moved to the left. Passing along in that direction, I came to a hill on which a battery was planted. The men were standing by their guns, ready for action. Close behind these, on the face of the hill were the caissons, and back of these, men holding the horses, the men themselves sheltered in holes which they had dug in the hillside. Things looked decidedly breezy about that hill. My curiosity to witness an artillery fight had been fully gratified some time before; so I passed on without delay, and soon found the object of my search some distance further to the left.
Late in the afternoon of the 17th an orderly galloped to headquarters, the bugle sounded "fall in," and we were moving toward the right at a rapid pace. Heavy firing could be heard in the direction of our right flank, and we were hurrying toward the scene of action, to strengthen the threatened point. We arrived about dark. The fighting had almost ceased, and the enemy were handsomely repulsed. The attack had been made on a body of inexperienced troops, mostly heavy artillery, who were marching from Fredericksburg to join the Army of the Potomac. They were well-drilled and disciplined, and made a gallant and successful fight, though with heavy loss. In their first fight they had faced Lee's best veterans, and defeated them. The old soldiers were inclined to regard it as rather a joke—the lively manner in which the rebs welcomed them to the front. This disposition to see a bright, a laughable side to every thing, may be set down as one of the peculiarities of the Yankee soldier. In victory or defeat, success or disaster, ease or hardship, some one of a group of soldiers could find something from which to extract a jest or on which to found a pun.
The next morning I went out over the field. Details of men were engaged in burying their fallen comrades. The dead were collected in groups, a trench sufficiently wide and deep was dug, and they were laid side by side as decently as possible, and covered with two or three feet of earth. When it could be done, the graves were marked. I have seen this done by our men for the rebel dead, when there was time and leisure for such care.
Under an apple tree lay a rebel who had been shot in the forehead, a little above the center. He must have been shot before sunset of the previous day. It was about noon when I saw him, and strange to say, he was still alive. He was unconscious, and probably had been from the moment he was struck.
In a negro cabin lay a young rebel soldier, a fair-faced, handsome boy, shot through the right lung. I inquired after his wants, and made him as comfortable as might be. He said he had not suffered for want of care. Soldiers had been in frequently during the day, and all had been very kind. He spoke of this with great satisfaction. I notified Dr. Lyon of the case, and he was taken care of.
The next day we advanced some distance toward the enemy. Skirmishers were thrown forward, but no serious fighting took place. As the skirmishers were going out, Chaplain Delo dryly inquired if he might not accompany them, giving as his reason that he would like to get Captain Coder's horse killed if it could be done conveniently. He had charge of a horse belonging to the captain, who had displeased him about something in connection with the horse. There was no opportunity of gratifying the worthy chaplain's wishes.
Again the army was in motion, leaving behind now as useless what before had been fought for so tenaciously. As we moved away, the Eleventh was in the rear, nothing between us and the enemy, but some cavalry, to cover the rear of the column, as the army moved off to strike Lee from a new position. We were passing over a wide, open piece of country. The rebel cavalry and our own had become hotly engaged, and a spirited fight was in progress clear across the open ground behind us.
About this time Daniel Graham became quite ill, and was compelled to fall out of the ranks. I remained with him to help him along. The undertaking proved to be rather a serious one. He would struggle bravely on for a while, and then sit down panting and exhausted. I carried his gun and knapsack, and finally took him by the arm to keep him up.
Meantime the battle going on behind us drew nearer and nearer, and the bullets were whistling around us with uncomfortable frequency. At last Daniel became utterly discouraged; and, as he dropped upon the ground to rest at one of his frequent halts, he declared it was no use, he could go no further. He urged me to leave him, and make my escape.
"There's no use of talking that way. After you rest a few minutes, we'll try it again."
"But I'm clear used up, and there's no use of both of us being prisoners."
"We're not prisoners yet by a good deal. We are going to come out all right. You are worth two dead men yet."
But notwithstanding my brave words, I was almost of his opinion, though not convinced that the time had come to give up all hope. It was my duty to stay with him as long as there was any prospect of getting him off.
Our cavalry was now nearly up to where we were, and I announced that he must come along. Helping him to his feet, we started. Courage and strength now seemed to revive. We made good progress, and were soon out of danger. In the course of an hour or two he was able to take his gun again, and in the evening we came up with the regiment.
In trying to recall the scenes of this period, there are some that seem like the fragments of a half-forgotten dream, distinct in themselves, but without any definite connection as to time or place. They are but pictures, some of them becoming faded and indistinct; others bright and fresh, as if they had come from the painter's hand but yesterday. I see a long column of weary soldiers, winding along over hill and valley, in the night, gliding past a stately mansion, with beautiful grounds and shaded walks, and everywhere the freshness and fragrance of Spring. Again I see a line of battle stretching out across an open field, the men resting lazily in their ranks. A little to the left, near some shade trees, stands a battery, ready for action, the guns pointing toward some unseen enemy beyond. It is noon, and the sunlight is pouring down upon the scene, bright and clear.
May 23d we came to the North Ann. We halted in open ground, before we reached the river. Fighting was in progress at the front, where the rebels were disputing the passage of the river. While we waited here, a battery came thundering past at full speed, and soon the roar of their guns told that they had found something to do.
While this was in progress, we were ordered to move. The column was headed, first to the rear, then toward our right. By a rapid march we reached a ford, higher up the river. Without delay we waded right through. The water was swift, and three or four feet deep in places. The bottom of the river was stony, and the stones were slippery. This, with the swiftness of the stream, made the footing of the most active rather precarious. A German, named Moreland, a teacher by profession, and a man of fine qualities, had joined the company but a little while before. He was not very active at best, and at this time had very sore feet. As we were hurrying across, suddenly a wonderful splashing and floundering were heard toward the rear of the company, and Moreland's feet were discovered twinkling above the surface of the water, while with his head he seemed to be making a critical examination of the bottom of the stream. At last he regained his footing, puffing and blowing like a porpoise, amid the cheers and horse-laughs of his comrades.
Once across, no time was to be lost. We had stolen a march on the rebels, and if we would use our advantage we must be about it. The movement was not long unknown to the enemy. As fast as the troops reached the high ground on the other side, they formed line of battle, keeping the left flank covered by the river, and facing down stream. As the remaining troops crossed, they formed on the right, the line as it formed advancing downward and outward from the river, in a curve.
The Eleventh was not far from the left. They moved down the stream some distance, and halted in the midst of a beautiful farm. Before them was a valley, across which the Bucktails were advancing as skirmishers, and beyond this the ground rose again, and curved off toward woods in the distance. Scarcely had our line reached this point, when the enemy "came down like the wolf on the fold." Judging from the promptness and vigor with which they assailed us, they evidently counted on making our enterprise another Ball's Bluff affair.
As the Bucktails advanced, their rapid firing warned us that they had discovered the advance of the enemy. Dust was seen rising on the high ground beyond, and horses were dimly seen. We judged that batteries were coming into position. We were not long in doubt. Suddenly a perfect volley of artillery burst forth. The air seemed filled with the shrieking shells and whizzing fragments. The men could do no more than lie down and let the storm rage. For some time we had not a single gun in position to reply, and the rebels poured in their fire without hindrance. Soldiers who had been through all the battles of the Potomac army, affirmed that they never experienced such a noisy onset, except at Gettysburg. As quickly as possible our batteries came into position, on both sides of the river. Now the tumult was doubled. The earth seemed to shake. When our artillery opened in reply, the rebels turned their attention in that direction; but on account of the awkwardness of their gunners, we were annoyed almost as much as when under their direct fire. On the right there was severe infantry fighting. Of this we could hear little, on account of the terrible cannonading going on around us. The losses of the regiment were slight, owing to the fact that the rebels overshot us. A few were wounded, but I think none were killed. The loss of the corps was about 350. The rebel loss was reported at 1,000, including General Brown, who was in command.
May was now drawing to a close, and with it would close the history of the Pennsylvania Reserves. The 30th found us in the vicinity of Bethsaida Church. We were moving on with those stops and starts which indicate that the head of the column has met with some obstruction. Skirmishing was going on in front, and from time to time the boom of cannon came rolling up from the left. We were moving along a road which led through open farm country, and through a strip of woods, beyond which skirmishing was heard. During one of the frequent halts, while the men were resting, some standing, others sitting or reclining at ease, a rifle ball came whistling through the air, and struck with a sharp snap in the rail-pile on which myself and others were sitting. It struck between Jim Shaffer and myself. We both naturally squirmed a little at the unpleasant nearness of the malicious little messenger. The affair called forth laughter and jocular exclamations from those around: "How are you Johnnie!" "Hit 'em again!" "Go in!"
The incident would not have caused any special notice, had it not been so unexpected, on account of our distance from the scene of action.
Forward now through the woods, out upon the open ground beyond, where the division is forming for its last battle. Their left now rests not far from where their right was when they fought at Gaines' Mill, nearly two years before. They advance some distance. "Some one has blundered." They have no support on either wing. They are flanked, and, after a brief struggle, are driven back. Some noble men were lost here. Parks, of Company D, is mortally wounded; Daniel Graham is made prisoner. In the retreat, two men carry back John Stanley, wounded in the arm and side. At the wood they rally. A fence is torn down, and with this and whatever is nearest at hand a breastwork is hastily improvised. A few of the Bucktails have rallied on their right, and thrown up a similar defense of logs, rails, any thing that can stop a bullet. Here the line seems to terminate; but just beyond and a little back, is a brass battery, concealed by bushes, every gun charged with grape and canister. A house stands close behind the line, in a recess of the woods.
Now the enemy is seen advancing. Line after line comes swinging out. Shells come screaming over. One explodes in front of Company D. Its fragments sever the flagstaff close to Jim Shaffer's head, rip open Mike Coleman's cap, tear off Culp's arm near the shoulder. Another bursts in the house, and sets it on fire. A woman, bearing a baby in one arm and leading by the hand a little child, comes out of the house, still unharmed. Frightened and bewildered, she is passing along the rear of the line instead of hastening away from it. A kind-hearted soldier directs her toward a place of safety. But now the rebel lines are within rifle range. Volley after volley is poured into them, and their ranks melt before the terrible fire. In our front they falter; but toward the right they see a chance for victory. They will swing around our flank, and crush us as they did but an hour before. With exultant yells, their left comes sweeping on, wheeling to envelop our right. But now there bursts from the underbrush a blast as if from the pit, crashing, tearing, grinding, enfilading their lines, leaving in its track a swath of dead and dying. This is decisive, and the battle is won.
Over a hundred dead were counted in front of the Eleventh and the few Bucktails on their right. One man was struck with a charge of grape, or by a bursting shell, and his body from the knees to the neck was crushed and torn into an indistinguishable mass.
John Stanley, who was wounded in this action, was a brave, noble boy. Looking along the company line, with its veterans of so many battles, the remnant of a hundred as brave men as ever followed a battle flag, you would not have guessed that this boyish face could be the calmest in the hour of trial. During that month of battles, he was always in his place, without bravado, but with unflinching courage, doing his duty. I saw him at the woods, as they were taking him from the field. His pale face was as calm as ever. He never returned to us, nor did I learn the result of his wounds.
The next morning the Reserves were withdrawn from the front. Their term of service had expired. The veterans and recruits were reorganized, forming the One Hundred and Ninetieth and One Hundred and Ninety-first Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. The others started on their homeward march.
Of Company D, fourteen men returned—five non-commissioned officers and nine privates. Eleven had re-enlisted. Thirty-five were dead, of whom twenty-three had been killed in battle or mortally wounded; and six were prisoners in the hands of the enemy, of whom two died.
Of the eleven veterans, only seven were present, the others being wounded or prisoners. By the close of the war, forty of the original one hundred and one had died in the service. During the first three years, twenty-four were discharged for wounds or sickness. Such is the record of these heroic men. Mingled feelings of joy and sadness were in the hearts of all, as good-byes were spoken, and they marched away. The war-worn veterans, who now turned their footsteps homeward, and those who stood there, watching their going that day, knew too well how certainly these "good-byes" might be "farewells." I think I saw tears in a certain brave colonel's eyes; and perhaps strong hands were clasped with a little more than usual fervor, as friend looked into the face of friend; but there was no "scene." These men were too much in earnest for that.
Then came reorganization. It seemed like a "general breaking up." It was. Instead of the mere handful of men that stood about the torn and tattered colors of the old regiment but yesterday, nearly a thousand were grouped together in the new organization. They might all be considered veterans. Some had been in service since the beginning of the war; all had, at least, the experience of the present campaign. It was generally felt that the new regiment had in it some elements of success not to be found in one brought into existence under ordinary circumstances. The officers of both regiments were tried men, who had the confidence of all. Most of them had risen from the ranks, and had received promotion, step by step, with the approval of their comrades. Sergeant William Coleman, of Company D, was made first-lieutenant of Company I; and Lieutenant R. Birkman, of Company E, was promoted to captain of Company A, of the One Hundred and Ninetieth. These both served faithfully until the close of the war. Lieutenant Hayden, of Company —, of the Eleventh, was transferred to the One Hundred and Ninety-first, and lost a leg at Appomattox Court-house, the morning of Lee's surrender.
With organization still incomplete, these two regiments were pushed forward to the front, and had a share in the terrible fighting at Cold Harbor. As soon as possible, however, the organization was completed, and the two companion regiments became the Third Brigade, Third Division, Fifth Army Corps. William R. Hartshorn was commissioned colonel of the One Hundred and Ninetieth, and Joseph B. Pattee lieutenant-colonel. The latter, a brave and capable officer, commanded the regiment during its entire history, except when absent, wounded, as Colonel Hartshorn was absent, for some cause, most of the time. I was assigned to Company C. Neri B. Kinsey was captain. Lieutenant Moses W. Lucore was in command until some time after July, when Captain Kinsey returned. He was severely wounded, in October, and discharged the following March, on account of his wounds. The regiment adopted the bucktail, in honor of the old "Bucktails," who were more largely represented in the One Hundred and Ninetieth than any other regiment.
In the afternoon of June 12th, we received marching orders, and soon tents were struck, and we were on our way, none knew whither. At this time we were short of provisions. I had a very small quantity of coffee, but nothing else, except fresh meat, which had just been issued. When orders came to strike tents for the march, I was engaged in cooking a slice of fresh beef, by holding it to the fire, spitted on a sharp stick. With an appetite sharpened by a more than orthodox fast, I was watching the operation most devoutly; and the savory odor which rose from the sputtering morsel awakened anticipations which only a ferociously hungry man can imagine. But I was doomed to illustrate the words of the Scottish bard:
"The best laid plans of mice or men Gang aft aglee."
With my half-cooked meat in my hand, I swung on my knapsack, and we marched away. The march continued, without intermission, during the night, except now and then a brief halt for rest. Towards morning we crossed the Chickahominy, at Long's Bridge. Here we halted for rest and breakfast. My entire commissary outfit consisted of about one teaspoonful of coffee. We had halted for breakfast, and might as well go through with the programme. I went to the river and procured about a pint of liquid from that famous stream, and boiled the coffee with due circumspection, and drank the product.
The final member of the above sentence is not inserted to inform the reader that we did not eat the "product"; but, in explanation, when we thought of that Chickahominy water, the "old man" stirred mightily within us, and we greatly desired to say that it was good, knowing well with what unction every unfortunate that ever tasted it, would say, "O, what a lie!" We would like also to insert a few thoughts about G. Washington, who could not tell a lie, but we forbear. We drank that coffee as a war measure.
Our course was then toward the right, a short distance along the river, soon bearing away from it toward Richmond. During the forenoon we reached White Oak Swamp, where the enemy was encountered in strong force. We moved out past some timber to where the cavalry were skirmishing with rebel troops posted in the woods beyond. Part of the regiment deployed as skirmishers and advanced to where the cavalry were fighting and joined in the fray. The rest remained in their rear as support. We lay down in a slight depression of the ground about four rods behind the skirmishers. As we were getting into position a few were wounded; but after arrangements were completed, we lay in comparative safety. About three hundred or more yards to the left, on a little knoll, two guns were in position. Except these, which seemed unsupported, I could see no other force. Where the other troops were or how posted, I have not been able to make out.
The day was warm, and after our night march, the men were fatigued and sleepy. Before long many of them were sleeping soundly, unmindful of the bullets that were whistling over. I do not know how long we lay thus. There is a peculiar satisfaction in sleeping under circumstances of danger. You are no more exposed than when awake, and you don't have to do the thinking. Suddenly I awoke to a consciousness that something had "broken loose." A volley of musketry was poured into us from the rising ground in front of our skirmishers, and the bullets were hissing close above us. I lay still a moment as they passed over, and then sprang to my feet. The skirmishers were giving way, still facing the rebel line of battle that was charging forward. On the left, our guns were belching forth grape and canister into the rebel infantry, that came sweeping on like ocean waves. I think these guns were lost. The last I saw of them the rebel troops seemed to roll right over them. We were driven back to the woods. Here we checked their advance, and held the ground till night. A part of the Fifth Corps and one division of cavalry had been thrown up in this direction to make a diversion, and also to cover the flank of Grant's army while it crossed the Peninsula to the James River, and placed itself before Petersburg. Hence there was not much object in fighting except to hold our position for a sufficient length of time. In the evening a heavy force of the enemy was reported moving toward our left. For this reason, or in carrying out the original programme, we marched in the same direction, starting just after dark. As we fell back in the afternoon, I found a haversack containing some hard-tack. This our mess divided. We did not fail to commiserate the unlucky chap whose loss was our gain. This was a very unsatisfactory fight. It always seemed to me like a scrub race. The rebels plunged in as if they thought it was a 2.20 affair, at the least. The march continued all night. About two in the morning I concluded that the thing had gone on about long enough, and, without any ceremony, made my bed beside a stump in a little opening in a strip of woods through which we were passing. It was after sunrise when I awoke. Breakfast was not an elaborate affair, and was quickly dispatched. It consisted of the vivid recollection of the two delicious hard-tacks which I had eaten the day before. It was light diet, but the best that could be afforded. I found that the column, after keeping the road right on for some time, had about faced and retraced their steps to a point opposite where I had slept. A road here led to the left of our original line of march. This they followed a couple of miles and camped. I found them without trouble. Here we waited, with nothing to eat, till the evening of the 15th. This is the only time I ever felt the pangs of extreme hunger. During three days and nights of almost constant marching and fighting, I had eaten one ration of fresh beef and two crackers. It seemed as if I was all stomach, and each several cubic inch of that stomach clamoring incessantly for "grub."
The boys amused themselves laying out an imaginary bill of fare. The merits of sundry inviting dishes were zealously discussed. Roast turkey was eloquently extolled by one; another set forth the attractions of a table to which forest, mountain-stream, or river had contributed delights. Sometimes the grotesque imagination of some wild fellow would conjure up a feast so full of horror that a famished cannibal might well protest. In striking contrast with this was the gentle pathos of word and manner as some boy told of dinner at the old farm-house among the hills, where mother poured out the fragrant coffee, rich with honest cream.
NOTE.—Some additional facts have been learned regarding this affair. The One Hundred and Ninety-first was on our left, beyond the battery. The attack was made about four in the afternoon. The One Hundred and Ninety-first had fallen back, and Colonel Pattee had received orders to withdraw. Deeming it hazardous to retire across open ground under such a fire, he rallied the skirmishers on the reserve, and met the charge of the enemy there. In a few minutes the Colonel's horse was shot dead under him. After a sharp fight the rebels broke, and we retreated to the woods before they could rally. The battery was not captured. A failure to hold our position here would have compelled a general battle, and delayed the flank movement to the James.
On the 16th we marched to the James River. I do not know at what point. The rest of the corps, together with the Second, Sixth, and Ninth, had crossed at Wilcox's Landing. I think we must have reached the river lower down. We were crowded on board transports. Judging from the time we were on board, we must have been carried a considerable distance up the river. We landed on the south side. Here we rested awhile. I went down to the river to bathe and to wash a shirt. Hundreds of soldiers were in the water, plunging, splashing, diving, enjoying themselves like schoolboys. After sharing in the sport to my heart's content, I washed my shirt. The process was simple enough. The garment was well soaped, then held on a large stone and pounded with a club or any thing convenient. A final washing out completed the operation. This is the usual modus operandi during a campaign. When I have described this process in these latter days, some of my good friends have manifested an unreasonable and unnecessary skepticism as to the real and ultimate object of the pounding. But I solemnly affirm that the purpose is to expel the dirt from the garment.
There is a little animal. Every soldier knows him. Noah Webster, LL.D., knew him. Noah is good authority. He derives his name from the Gothic verb liusan, to devour.
The noble Roman knew him. He called him pediculus. He is truly democratic in his instincts and disposition.
He loves a rebel. But a copperhead loves a fat army contract. So does he. On this line he is cosmopolitan. He has some splendid business qualifications. He is modest, retiring, persistent, insinuating. He comes to stay. He will stay if you let him. He sticketh closer than a brother. If you don't want him you must skirmish for him. You can not argue him out of it.
I once knew a warrior that cultivated him contrary to army regulations. We protested. They were firm friends, like David and Jonathan.
One day stern Law, embodied in a corporal and a file of men with glistening bayonets, took that man down to the running brook, and, regardless of the frosty air and chilly temperature, with a scrubbing broom they cleansed and variously purified him, furnished him a new outfit of regulation clothing, and brought him back as bright and rosy as need be. He made some remarks. They were comprehensive, but not to edification, and we will not reproduce them. If that veteran still breathes the vital air, he voted for Hancock last Fall.
This seems like a digression, but it is suggested by the facts of the case. As before remarked, I washed that shirt. When I began it was only an ordinary shirt. When I got through it was a most extraordinary garment. There were "millions in it." I skirmished, and washed again. The result was astonishing. I thought of Moses, Aaron, and Egypt, and wondered why Pharaoh did not let the people go. It was a moving sight. It may be there yet, or it may have followed the army. I do not know. I retired from the scene sadder, but wiser.
During the forenoon the march to Petersburg began. The day was very warm, and the dust which rose as the column pressed on rendered the hot air stifling. The men suffered greatly from thirst. I do not remember any march more trying in this respect. Late in the afternoon we halted to rest. There was a strip of rough, broken ground on the right, a kind of ravine, about half a mile away. I went over there in search of water. Not a drop could be found. Returning to the column, I learned that there was water some distance to the left. Here was a beautiful spring of clear, cold water flowing in abundance. My intention was to drink very moderately; but I forgot all about this when I raised my quart cup, brimming full of the delicious beverage, to my lips. Of course I paid the penalty of my imprudence, and before dark was so ill that I was compelled to leave the ranks. I kept up with the column until after dark, but finally gave up all hopes of keeping with them, and camped till morning. The regiment, meantime, had reached the vicinity of Petersburg, and during the severe fighting there, had suffered some loss. Lieutenant-colonel Pattee was dangerously wounded. Lieutenant Steel, of Company A, received a terrible wound in the face. Abe Eshelman, formerly of the Eleventh, was mortally wounded, and died a few days later at City Point. The regiment was on a sandy ridge in front of woods, facing the rebel works, at a point nearly where the Norfolk Railroad passed through their lines. Behind them, in such a position as to fire almost over them, was a battery of rifled guns, which kept up a fire of shells upon the rebel works at intervals day and night. The rebel batteries responded at intervals of but a few minutes. This position was also under a continual fire from rebel sharpshooters, their balls reaching as far as the woods beyond with fatal effect.
The second day we were here, June 18th, William Rutter was mortally wounded. He had picked up a piece of corn-cake in the field back of the works. Some jesting remark was made about the cake and the rebel that made it, when he said he would go out and get some more. He was sitting in the pit beside me. He rose, still laughing, to carry out his purpose; but as his head and shoulders were exposed above the pit, there was a sharp "crash," and he grasped his left shoulder with his right hand and uttered a smothered exclamation of pain. A large rifle ball had penetrated and crushed the shoulder joint. He was taken back at once, and the arm amputated. It was reported that he did not survive the operation; but I have since learned that he lived till the 15th of July. We lost a number of men in this way and on the picket line.
The pickets were changed during the night, usually between nine and ten o'clock. This was the occasion for a lively time down on the line, in which the artillery usually joined. Sometimes this picket firing, with its accompaniment of booming cannon and screaming shells, would rise almost to the dignity of a night battle. In front, from the picket pits, rifles blazed and flashed with their crackling roar; and farther back, the great guns belched forth their lurid flames, casting a momentary glare over the weird scene. The gunners would range their guns before dark, so as to give the rebels a good one when the time should arrive. Every device was resorted to that would make this night-firing effective and annoying to the enemy.
Not long after the siege began, and while we were yet at this point of the line, we got a mortar-battery—two guns—into position. One clear, calm evening, the Yankees proceeded to try a little of this new-fangled music on our friends across the lines. The mortars were planted some distance to the right, and in such a position that we had a fine chance for observation. The line had been unusually quiet, as if the beauty of the tranquil sunset hour had subdued for a season the fierce spirit of war in the hearts of men. The sun's last ray had faded from hill-top and tree, and twilight was settling down upon the scene, when we heard on our right a strange, grumbling, muffled roar; and with a rushing sound, we saw what seemed two lighted tapers mounting upward, describing a curve through the air, and descending upon the rebel works, followed by two sharp, ringing explosions. There was a moment's pause, and then "boo-oom," and again two curves of light were marked along the dark sky, and the great shells descended upon the rebel works, exploding with a terrific crash. Still no reply from the rebel guns. Again the mortars boom out as before; but now, as if by a preconcerted signal, the batteries for about a mile along the rebel line cut loose at once, a perfect volley of cannon, all centered on the one point, around which the shells burst and flashed like a thousand thunderbolts. Not a cannon replied from our lines; only at intervals, for a while, would growl out that "boo-oom," and above the flash of bursting shells and flaming cannon would rise those two little points of light, curving slowly upward and then down, with a seeming deliberation that contrasted oddly with the whirl and bustle below. This continued a few minutes, and the "boo-oom" ceased. The little mortar-battery was "knocked out of time." Then there arose along our line a great "ha-ha"—an army laughing. Such was the spirit in which the men had watched this unequal combat. But the laugh quickly changed to a cheer, and a hundred cannon roared out their savage thunder from either line. Gradually the noise of strife died away, and an hour later the army slept.
As before noted, our rifle-pits extended along a sandy ridge, the ground open in front, sloping downward to the railroad. On our right the ground was somewhat rough and broken; but immediately in front, at the railroad, the ground rose abruptly for several feet, and then sloped gradually upward toward the rebel works. Toward the left of this point, the abrupt rise disappeared; but in general, the rebel works crowned elevated ground beyond, and the entrenched picket-lines of the two armies were in the open ground between the railroad and the rebel entrenchments. On the right, as you would go down from our trenches to the road, a kind of ravine extended toward the rebel works, and was commanded by their rifles. A large and well-manned picket-pit was established at its head, from which they sent their bullets hissing down almost without hindrance.
On the afternoon of June 19th, I think it was, word came in from our picket-line that ammunition was running short, and a fresh supply must be sent out. Myself and nine others were detailed to perform this rather delicate operation. The ammunition wagons were beyond the strip of woods in our rear, and we must run the gauntlet of sharpshooters, and risk odd shells in going and returning over this route, before getting started from the works. Taking each a piece of shelter-tent, in which to carry cartridges, we started for the wagons. If any man, that has been placed in similar circumstances, can say that he felt no unusual agitation, in view of the possible consequences, I must be allowed to suggest that he is got up on a different plan from myself. The truth is, I was considerably shaken up over the matter. It would seem quite heroic to be able to say that I was glad of it, when assigned to this dangerous duty. I am free to confess I was not glad of it. When selected for this purpose, I went through with it. The world looks very bright, on a fine June day, to a healthy boy of seventeen. He is not particularly anxious to exchange it for another, least of all by way of minie balls, when he has no chance to send back any in return. To do our work without faltering, it was necessary to count on a hurried burial down there between the lines that night. Whatever reckoning others made, this is how it seemed to me, and we might just as well look the probabilities square in the face.
Taking as much ammunition as each could conveniently carry, we returned to the rifle-pits, and thence to the skirmish-line. For some distance we had partial protection from the rifle balls, by crouching low as we walked; but as we advanced we drew the fire of the rebels more and more, as they discovered us and our object. At last we reached the ravine. It seemed as if a perfect stream of bullets was hissing down it; but we must pass. One after another we dashed through. As I passed, I turned my head to the right, and glanced up the ravine. The pit, at its head, seemed to smoke, from the rapid fire of its occupants. As I turned my head, a bullet clipped close to my face, and seemed to touch my hair. Onward we went, at the top of our speed, and soon reached the shelter of the high bank by the railroad.
Here we rested a few minutes. All were safe thus far. A fine spring bubbled out of the bank. How cool and refreshing its water seemed! Here were a number of men who had been shot on the picket line, some dead, others dying, one or two unharmed, caring for the wounded, until night should permit their removal. The sight of these mangled, bloody forms here was grimly suggestive. We must not think too much. The most dangerous part of our work still remained. The ammunition must go to the picket pits—must be carried there under the close range of rebel riflemen. During our progress thus far our pickets had kept up a sharp fire on the enemy. As we started for the pits the fight became more exciting. Both parties exposed themselves more recklessly, the rebels to shoot us before we could complete our mission, and our men to keep them down and make their fire less deadly. Bullets hissed at every step. I went toward the left, past several pits, I know not how far, and stopped at one in which was a lieutenant. Forgetting the situation for a moment, I stood upright, and stretched myself for relief from the weariness of carrying my heavy load. Instantly a bullet whizzed past my head, and dashed into a tree in the rear of the pit. Quick as a flash the lieutenant jerked me down, and warned me of the danger of exposure. After resting awhile, I started to return. Back to the railroad, again our only protection was the rapid fire and deadly aim of our riflemen. Thence to the main line, the only point we dreaded much was passing the ravine. The return was at last successfully accomplished. Notwithstanding the severity of the fire to which we were exposed but one of our number was injured—mortally wounded, I was told. Had it not been for the return fire of our own men not one of us would have reached the picket line alive.
This was my first and only visit to the picket line at this point. The same evening I was detailed for guard duty at brigade headquarters, where I remained till after July 4th.
On this part of the line it was not the custom to station videttes in front of the picket pits at night, as was usually done. A constant fire was kept up day and night. The boys used to invent various contrivances for the special benefit of the "graybacks." I have seen them work for hours to mold a bullet of such form as would make a particularly ugly sound, and then fire it across with a double charge of powder. But the favorite amusement was shooting iron ramrods. These could be picked up by hundreds over the battle-ground of the previous days, and, with a little careful fixing, could be made to fly with considerable accuracy. They were thought to have peculiar penetrating power, if they could be made to strike a picket pit with the sharp end. As they would send such an unusual missile whizzing through the air, they would laugh and chuckle over the anticipated consternation it would cause. One result often prophesied was that they would "string" a goodly number of the enemy on the ramrod. Whether such direful results were ever produced, we had no means of knowing.
Colonel Carle, of the One Hundred and Ninety-first, then in command of the brigade, had his headquarters in the woods about a hundred yards in the rear of the line. Here we were exposed to shells and stray rifle-balls, which occasionally reached us. The only damage inflicted was the loss of a quart of coffee, which was overturned by a fragment of shell striking in our fire while we were preparing dinner. About the same time one man was wounded at division headquarters, a few rods to our right.