PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE WAR OF 1861
As Private, Sergeant and Lieutenant in the Sixty-First Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry
CHARLES A. FULLER
Prepared from data found in letters, written at the time from the field to the people at home.
News Job Printing House, Sherburne, N. Y. 1906
March 1st, 1861, I started for Cleveland, Ohio, to enter the law office of Boardman & Ingersoll as a law student. I was in that city at the time of the inauguration of President Lincoln.
After Sumpter was fired on I was anxious to enlist and go to the front with the "Cleveland Grays," but trouble with my eyes induced me to postpone my enlistment. After the President issued his call for 300,000 additional troops, I learned that Lieut. K. Oscar Broady, a recent graduate of Madison University, who had seen some military service in Sweden, his native country, was raising a Company for the War, in which many Hamilton and Sherburne men were enrolled. Isaac Plumb, one of my most-thought-of friends, was in the number; there were others—Edgar Willey, Israel O. Foote, Fred Ames, and more whose names I do not now recall. I decided to wait no longer, but seek the enemy with the men of this Company.
I left Cleveland Sept. 5th, 1861, and reached Utica Saturday afternoon in time to find that the stage down the valley had gone, and I must remain there until Monday morning, or use some other means of locomotion southward to Sherburne. The question I asked myself was, "Why not test your leg gear NOW, and see what you can do as a foot-man?" I answered "All right," and started out, though it was well into the afternoon. That evening I reached Oriskany Falls, a distance of about 20 miles. I camped for the night at the hotel, but was up the next morning before the hotel people. I left the price of the lodging on the bar, and started south. It was about 24 miles to Sherburne, which I reached about noon. I supplied the commissary department from houses along the road.
My father and mother had no hint that I had left Cleveland. When I entered the house my mother said, "Why, Charlie Fuller, you've come home to go to war." She was the daughter of a man who was in the Revolutionary Army when but sixteen years of age, and she had always been proud of the fact, and she was, I am sure, gratified that she had a boy desirous of imitating the example of her deceased father.
On my way through Hamilton, I had left word what I was there for, and I was assured that Lieut. Coultis would soon be down to enroll me.
The next day he was on hand; he had, I believe, been in a militia company; at all events, he appeared in the toggery of a militia officer. He said he was authorized and prepared to "swear me in." I told him I was ready for business, and then and there took the oath. I tried to feel easy and appear unconcerned (whether or not I succeeded to outward appearance I can not say) but I know that inside there was more or less of a lump to swallow, for, to some extent, I realized that it was not a picnic.
I was home for a week, in which time four men joined me. They were Lewis R. Foote, Porter E. Whitney, Newel Hill and Albert H. Simmons. To show what war does, the following summary is a fair sample—Foote, wounded at Fair Oaks, discharged; Whitney, several times wounded, lastly in the Wilderness Campaign, 1864, transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps; Hill, discharged early for physical disability; Simmons, detailed to Commissary Dept., discharged on account of physical disability; Fuller, discharged on account of wounds.
Monday, Sept. 16th, 1861, our squad of five left Sherburne for Hamilton. We were there until Thursday, when we started for Staten Island, the headquarters of the forming regiment. Coultis had about thirty men. We reached the rendezvous about 11 o'clock Friday and received a warm welcome from old friends on the ground.
This forming regiment was located on ground within the present enclosure of Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island. Spencer W. Cone had the Colonel's Commission, and his regiment had the fancy name of "Clinton Guards," whether in honor of George, or DeWitt, I do not know, and perhaps Cone didn't.
The explanation of Broady's connection with Cone's regiment, undoubtedly, is this: The father of Spencer W. Cone was a Baptist Doctor of Divinity, of Baltimore, Md. Probably he was known to, and a friend of the managers of Madison University. Quite likely it was assumed that so good a man as Cone. D. D., would have a son of ability and piety, well calculated to lead his men to victory, or, if to death, the death of the righteous; and, so, I assume, it was regarded as a fortunate circumstance that the young men who had been connected with Madison University were to go into this man's regiment.
Mr. Cone was one of those (what Simeon Cameron is alleged to have characterized a writer) "damned literary fellers." He had been a contributor to the New York Mercury, and other periodicals. He had a penetrating and quite powerful voice, and displayed in his person some of the pomp and circumstance of war, and, to the novices in his camp, he was for a time regarded as a "big injun." Events proved this to be unfounded and, before the regiment really met the enemy, he ceased to be the Colonel. At this time one Manning wore the uniform of Lieutenant-Colonel, and one Lynch that of Major.
A quarrel was worked up among the officers, and, it was said, that Cone proposed to leave it to the line officers whether he should continue as Colonel, or step aside for another. The vote was taken and Cone was loser. Then he refused to abide by the result. He was ordered to leave camp and refused. Hands were laid on him to compel his withdrawal, he resisted with oaths and froth and a show of fight; but he was overcome by superior force and exported from the camp. I think Maj. Lynch assumed command. After a few days the camp was moved a number of miles to a place called Silver Lake. This move was on Saturday.
The next morning some of the officers were informed that Cone was on the road to this new camp with authority to take command and to place in arrest all of the officers who had aided in his displacement. There was a great scampering on the part of these officers, and soon they were conspicuous by their absence. In a little while the valiant Cone appeared on the color line, and ordered the men to turn out; his order was obeyed. Then he showed authority for taking command of the regiment, and he offered to pardon all who had been in the movement against him, if they would return and promise to be good in the future. The skedadling officers got the word, came back, were forgiven, and resumed their places; that was the last the regiment knew of Manning and Lynch.
The Monday following the regiment moved back to its old quarters near the fort, and remained there till ordered to Washington. In this unfortunate fiasco the regiment lost about two hundred men by desertion, from which depletion it never recovered. When ordered to the seat of war, I think there were not much above 700 men, and the regiment never saw the time when it had full ranks—that fact alone accounts for its not being in the list of those that lost two hundred in battle. I believe the number killed in action, or who died in a short time from battle wounds, was 193, or seven short of the number. When brigaded, my recollection is, that it was at least one hundred and fifty men short of the number of any other regiment. It had the same number of officers that the other regiments had, and, with them, the loss in killed equalled, I believe, the losses in the 5th New Hampshire, which has the distinction of having lost the most men killed in action of any infantry regiment on the Union side in the War of the Rebellion.
Francis C. Barlow was appointed Lieut-Col. in place of Manning, and Capt. Massett was promoted to Major. In each case a good exchange. Barlow did not appear for duty at Staten Island and was not generally known to the regiment until it went into Camp at Kendall Green in Washington, D. C.
Saturday, Nov, 9th, 1861, orders were issued to break camp. The men's knapsacks were loaded down with things necessary and things that could be dispensed with, (which were thrown away when real campaigning was entered upon.) No doubt an average knapsack at this time would weigh from twenty-five pounds and upwards. The regiment left its formation camp for the front about seven hundred strong. We took a steamer and landed at Perth Amboy. There we took cars for Washington, reaching Philadelphia during the night, and were at once marched to a citizens lunch barracks, where the regiment at one time was substantially fed. From an early date in the War the patriotic citizens of Philadelphia did this to every regiment that passed through the city. New York and Philadelphia differ in many ways. In 1861, and during the following years of the War, there was an antipodal difference between these cities in their regard for and treatment of the Union Soldiers. In Philadelphia the troops were, in going out, you might almost say, banqueted, and when the wounded began to come back from the front great hospitals were run by the voluntary services of the best women in the city. I had personal experience in each of these ways showing appreciation of the work of the soldier. I have never heard anyone accuse New Yorkers of making any systematic effort to cheer the boys on as they went out, or care for them as they came back wrecked by disease or torn by the missiles of the enemy. The city of New York is entirely too practical to be diverted by patriotic sentiment, if, as a municipality, it has any.
About 8 a. m., Sunday, we left the city of Brotherly Love and reached Washington at 9 p. m. The regiment was marched into a large building capable of housing a thousand men, called the "Soldiers' Rest," located at the terminus of the Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Monday, Nov. 11th, the regiment was marched into an open field not far from the Capitol and to the right of it as the city is entered. This field was called Kendall Green. For years it has been solidly built upon.
Lieut.-Col. Barlow in this camp first made himself known to the regiment. He was not at first sight an impressive looking officer. He was of medium height, of slight build, with a pallid countenance, and a weakish drawling voice. In his movements there was an appearance of loose jointedness and an absence of prim stiffness. At once schools and drills were established for commissioned and non-commissioned officers and rumor credited Barlow with their establishment. Discipline became stricter: the duties of the soldier were better explained, and the men sensibly improved. There was no doubt to whom is due the credit for the change. In a short time there was a feeling in the air that the strength of the regiment lay in the person of the Lieut.-Colonel. Francis C. Barlow was a great soldier. He was, in my judgment, fully equal for a corps commander. He knew the details of his business; he had the military instinct; and he was fearless. At first, from his exacting requirements and severity he was quite disliked, if not well hated; but, as time went on, and it was seen that he knew more than any other man, or set of men, in the regiment—that he knew how to work his men to the best advantage, and would see that they had what the regulations prescribed, and, that, when danger was at hand, he was at the head leading them, this animosity was turned into confidence and admiration.
Thursday, Nov. 28th, the regiment broke camp at Kendall Green and started with overloaded knapsacks for Alexandria, by the road, some eight or ten miles distant. The Potomac was crossed on Long Bridge, the road ran by the partly built Washington Monument. The march was a hard one, largely on account of the men being loaded like pack peddlers.
At Alexandria the regiment took cars and was run out a distance of six or seven miles on the Orange & Alexandria railroad to a point called Springfield Station. This was a place consisting of an old wood-colored house. The men were ordered out, and, as the tents were not expected up that night, preparations were at once begun to make brush huts for bivouacing. Some time had been spent and the work nearly done when the long roll began to beat. The men at once took their places behind their stacked arms. Col. Cone was rushing about in a highly excited manner, holding a revolver in one hand and his bridle reins in the other, resolved, no doubt, to die bravely, if need be. There was not a round of ammunition in the regiment. I never learned that there was a show of the enemy. Perhaps it became known at headquarters that we had no loading for our guns. At all events, a train was sent out to take us back to Alexandria. We got back without accident, and spent the night in the round house.
The next day we marched out on the turnpike running near the railroad about three miles, and made a camp called Camp California. It was at the foot of the hill on which Ft. Worth was built. If I am not mistaken, our regiment, which had been numbered the 61st, was the first one on the ground of the brigade that was to be here formed. In a short time the others arrived and were as follows: 5th New Hampshire, 4th Rhode Island, 81st Pennsylvania, each of them having a larger membership than ours. Brigade General O. O. Howard was assigned to the brigade, which was No. 1 in Sumner's Division. Corps were not yet formed.
Besides guard mountings and dress parades, five or six hours a day were consumed in company, regimental and brigade drills. The men were worked hard, and, by this time it was generally understood that learning to be a soldier was no loafing business.
The first time we saw Nelson A. Miles was in this camp. He then was a fine looking young man on the staff of Gen. Howard.
As the Fall weather came on the men generally took colds that were of the coughing kind; the full strength of cough music was heard at night, when other sounds were hushed. Then, seemingly, every man tuned it up with his own peculiar sort and tone of cough. The concert surpassed in volume that coming from a large frog swamp in the flush of the season. Many became down sick and were sent to hospital. Those who stood the exposure gradually toughened and became proof against such sickness.
One night after tattoo the long roll began to beat. Officers and men hurriedly dressed, snatched their arms and accoutrements and formed in the company streets. As soon as a company was ready it started for the color line, and, as soon as the regiment was formed, it started on a brisk walk towards the front, or in the direction of our pickets. When once fairly under way the order was to "step out," and finally, to "double quick." We went in the direction of Edson's Hill, where our picket reserves were stationed. It was a distance of several miles and was travelled in a short time. It proved to be a sham alarm, and was got up to see how we would perform if it were a genuine affair. For one, I made that midnight march expecting to meet the enemy.
As we were going up the hill where the camp fire of the picket reserves were burning, I heard what I took to be a powerful human groan; I said to myself "this, indeed, is bloody, brutal war," and I was, as best I could, nerving myself to face the enemy and do my duty in the deadly fray. We reached the top of the hill in safety, and there, sitting and sprawling around their camp fires, were our men wholly unconcerned. I determined to know what there was concerning the wounded man whose groan I had heard and I went back where I had heard the sound of pain and found a six-mule team. In going by it had been unobserved. I concluded on this discovery that the outcry of my wounded man was nothing more than the grunting and braying of an ass, and I was relieved.
About the first of January, 1862, orders were issued for the detail of recruiting parties from every regiment to go to the States for the purpose of getting new men to make good the losses in the field. For this purpose, from the 61st N. Y., Lieut. Wm. H. McIntyre of Co. C was named to command the party. With him were Lieut. Blowers, Co. F, Corporal Jenks and myself of Co. C, and two or three other men whose names I have forgotten. We left camp Monday, Jan. 21st, 1862. We reported to Maj. Sprague, U. S. A., at Albany. He granted us a few days furlough and we all visited our homes.
Our recruiting headquarters were at, or near, 480 Broadway, New York. No bounties were offered, and, while we all did our best, the result was nearly a failure. Not more than a dozen good men were secured. Our party was heartily sick of the job and sincerely desired to be returned to the regiment.
About the 1st of April a movement was made by the Army of the Potomac. At this time army corps had been formed. I think Sumner's, the Second Corps, had but two divisions. The First, Richardson's in which was Howard's brigade; Meagher's, or the Irish brigade, and French's; the Second was commanded by Sedgwick. I believe the corps, division and brigade commanders were as good as any in the army of the Potomac. The first move of the army was on to Centerville, and the Bull Run battlefield. The enemy fell back. Then McClellan changed his base to the peninsula between the York and James rivers.
April 15th, 1862, the recruiting office was closed and our party started for the regiment. We stopped at Fortress Monroe and procured rations. From there took a steamer up the river about 20 miles to Shipping Point. We found our regiment some miles further to the front.
When we reached camp we received a soldier's welcome from the boys. They showed what a few weeks of exposure would do for the outside of a man; skin and clothes; they were tanned, ragged and lousy.
As we were back from the entrenchments some distance, our efforts were mainly directed to building corduroy roads.
Sunday, May 4th, orders came to pack and be ready to move at once. Soon it was reported that Yorktown had been evacuated. We did not get into motion, finally, until the 5th, and then went out but a short distance, when a halt was made until about dark when we again started and went through the rebel defenses. It had rained some during the day and this Virginia mud was a difficult thing to stand on, especially if the standing was on an incline. A slow and laborious march was continued until midnight, or past. When we halted many of the men had fallen out on the march, but came up in the morning. After breakfast a short distance was made; then a halt was ordered; then came the news that Williamsburg had been taken, and the enemy were retreating up the peninsula. The Second Corps, or our division of it, returned to Yorktown and went into camp the next day, which was Wednesday. We remained in this camp until the next Sunday, when we took transports up the York river to West Point, at which place we unshipped Monday, May 12th, and went into camp. I remember that this locality was pleasanter than the country about Shipping Point and in front of Yorktown.
A division of our men had a brush with the enemy here a few days before our arrival. Quite a number of our men were so sick at this place that they were sent back to Yorktown, and one, at least, of the number died. I refer to Charles Smith, a genial, good man.
Thursday, May 15th, reveille beat at 2 a. m., and we marched at 4 a. m. At first it was fine marching, but towards noon a drenching rain set in, and in a short time we were wet to the skin. We made fourteen miles. We went into camp in a piece of woods. While here quite a number of the men were taken with a sudden dizziness, and would fall while drilling. The first orderly of my company was William H. Spencer. He was promoted to First Lieutenant of Deming's Company, and later on to the Captaincy of Brooks's Company. His promotion advanced my best friend, Isaac Plumb, Jr., to first sergeant. For some weeks he had been suffering from a low fever, and Arthur Haskell was acting orderly. In this camp he was taken with this strange disease and sent back, and I was made acting orderly, in which office I acted until after the battle of Fair Oaks.
Sunday, the 18th, we again started and marched five miles and went into camp. By this time the men had become somewhat familiar with Gen I. B. Richardson, their division commander. He was a large, heavy, powerful man, a West Pointer, and commanded, I think, the Second Michigan at Bull Run. He put on no military style: generally he was clothed in a private's blouse, which, if I remember correctly, did not have on shoulder straps. His speech, when not aroused, was slow and drawling; he did not appear to care for salutes and the men began to regard him as one of them; he had their confidence and affection, and they willingly followed him. As our regiment was marching this day, he was along side of it, and a newspaper man who had some previous acquaintance with him, remarked: "If you have got as good a division as you had regiment at Bull Run, it will make some dead rebels before long." The general smiled and drawled out, "I guess they'll do."
Monday, the 19th, we marched about five miles and camped, it was said, near New Kent Court House. There is a little church on a hill not far from this camp, and the story was current that Washington was connected with some affair that took place there, I have forgotten what it was. This camp was but a short distance from White House, where, it was said, the Confederate General, Lee, had large possessions.
Wednesday, the 21st, we marched at 6 a. m., and made ten miles and went into camp on the York and Richmond Railroad, about eighteen miles from Richmond. Saturday, the 24th, we marched in the direction of Cold Harbor, a point, rather than a place, and about seven miles from Richmond. Indications multiplied that before long the two great armies would lock horns, and prove which was the best man of the two.
On the 26th, Porter, with a part of the fifth corps, had a brush at Hanover Court House. Our people took quite a number of prisoners, and, on their way back, passed by our camp. They gave us to understand there were a sufficiency left back to do up the business for us.
Wednesday, the 28th, the 61st was taken out in the vicinity of Fair Oaks, as a guard to an engineer, who was mapping out the roads. They came in sight of rebel camps, and were treated to a few harmless shells. I was not with the regiment, being in charge of the camp guard.
On the afternoon of May 31st, heavy cannonading was heard on our left, across the Chickahomeny river. For a week, or more, the men had been constantly under arms, so to speak. Three day's rations were kept in the haversacks; arms and ammunition were frequently inspected; orders were given warning the men to be in their places and prepared to move at a moment's notice; so, when the first sound of battle was heard, the men, almost of their own accord, formed on the color line, equipped for a march, where ever it might be to. In a few minutes aides were going from division to brigade, and from brigade to regimental headquarters, and soon the regiments had their orders to march.
For some days before there had been heavy rains which had raised the Chickahomeny river from a low, sluggish stream into a broad, deep, swift running river. As soon as the army got into its then position; by which it was divided by the river, several bridges were built to more effectually reunite the army. The Second Corps had two such bridges, Richardson's being some distance below Sedgwick's. Each division was started for its own bridge. Richardson's was two feet under water; the leading brigade forded through on this bridge, waist deep in the water. Our brigade was ordered to cross on Sedgwick's bridge. It was floored with small logs laid side by side on log stringers. This bridge seemed to be resting on the water and as we marched over it some of the logs would roll and dip in a manner to shake confidence in its stability, but we crossed on it all right.
I remember seeing a brass gun stuck in the mud on the other side, and the men working to release it. All of this time the sound of battle was ringing in our ears, and its volume indicated that it was one of consequence.
This change of bridges delayed the first division. Sedgwick got up in time to take a hand in the fight of May 31st, but it was after dark and not far from 9 o'clock when our division stacked arms. Some of our men went over the battle field that night and helped care for the wounded. My duties as acting orderly required my constant presence with the company. All was painfully quiet; we did not so much as hear a sound from a wounded man.
The next morning at four o'clock, the men were quietly ordered up. No fires were allowed, so the breakfast was moistened with cold water. After eating, the companies were equalized, and after furnishing a detail to some of the other companies, Company C had forty-one men, indicating that there were four hundred and ten muskets present for duty in the regiment. We were on a part of the battlefield of the day before, and there was considerable of the debris of the battle lying about. The brigade—Howard's—was closed in mass by regiments, the 61st on the left. The waiting for a battle to open is always a trying time for troops. When a movement, or action, is under way the dread leaves. So now, while we were standing with arms in hand watching for the first sign, and straining to catch the first sound we were an anxious multitude.
After a while a section of Pettit's battery was placed at a corner of the field we were in, and by the woods, presently a few shots were fired—possibly as a signal—then came a scattering musketry fire, then a volley on the right of the line, then a rapid increase, and soon the most tremendous infantry fire I ever heard. There was no cannonading, but it was the fearful crash of musketry, where thousands of guns on each side were getting in their work as rapidly and viciously as possible. Orders were now received for the advance of our brigade, and the regiments started out on the double quick. Action of any kind, though it took us towards the enemy, was welcomed. In a short time the railroad was reached, and the 61st was deployed along the track. I cannot assert of my own knowledge, but presume the other regiments of the brigade were in line of battle on this track.
At this point the railroad ran through a piece of woods, and we, though facing occasional bullets from the enemy, could see but a short distance ahead of us. While in this place waiting further orders, Col. Barlow, himself, went forward into the woods to learn more of the situation.
From the stray bullets coming over some of our men were hit. It came to the mind of one, or a few ingenious men in the ranks, that a recumbent posture would conduce to safety, and he, or they, at once took it. This hint was taken up by others, and in a very short time every man was flat on his belly. Presently the Colonel appeared, and, perhaps, looked twice for his regiment he had left standing. He at once roared out, "Who ordered you to lie down? Get up at once." And every man was on his feet. Then the order came, "Forward, guide center. March!" and we entered the woods.
At this point the timber was quite heavy; there was considerable small growth, and under foot it was swampy. It was impossible to maintain a good line. In such an advance the naturally courageous will press forward, and the naturally timid will hang back, and the officers and file closers have their hands full to urge up the laggards.
In my place as orderly I was directly behind Lieut. Wm. H. McIntyre, commanding my company. Next to me, on the left, was Corporal Willey, an old friend from my town. As we were working our way to the front he spoke to me, and said, "Charley, am I hurt much?" I looked up and saw the blood running down the side of his face, and that a part of his ear had been shot away. I said, "No, nothing but a part of your ear is gone," and we pressed forward.
Soon we came upon the 52nd N. Y., I think of French's Brigade, lying on the ground in line of battle. I suppose they had exhausted their ammunition and were waiting for our appearance. We passed over them, and advanced a few rods, when the order was given to halt. Then strenuous efforts were made by our officers to get the men up in the ranks and to dress the line; while this was going on no firing was had on either side. I did not see a rebel, and did not think one was within musket shot. Lieut. McIntyre stood in the Captain's place, and I immediately behind him in the place of first sergeant. Suddenly a tremendous volley was fired by the enemy at short range, which was very destructive. McIntyre sank down with a deathly pallor on his countenance. He said, "I'm killed." I stooped down and said, "Lieutenant, do you think you are mortally wounded?" He replied, "Yes, tell them I'm killed." He never spoke again.
A corporal in the next company was shot through the head and fell on to McIntyre's body. I drew up my gun, fired, and then threw myself down behind these two bodies of my friends, loaded my gun, raised up and fired it. This process I repeated until the firing ceased. It was a ghastly barricade, but there was no time for the display of fine feelings. The call was to defeat the enemy with as little loss to ourselves as possible.
I cannot say how long this firing continued, but the time did come when our shots were not replied to, and it was evident we had a clear front. While the firing was in progress I saw a sight that in all of my subsequent experiences was not equalled in shockingness. Sanford Brooks, a stalwart man of my company, and from my town, was shot through the head. The bullet entered at the side and just behind the eyes, and went through in such a manner as to throw the eyes fairly out of their sockets. The wound did not produce instant death, but destroyed his reason. The blow did not fell him to the ground—he stood upright with his gun clinched in one hand, his sightless eyes bulged out of his head, and he staggering about bereft of reason. He lived for a day or two, talking constantly of camp life, and the things that were on his mind before this fatal shot.
After the firing had ceased, orders were given to get together and change position. I did not know that Second Lieutenant Coultis was wounded, and called for him. I was informed that he had been wounded early in the battle and had gone to the rear. This left me in command of the company, and I gathered up the fragments and marched them off.
Illustrating the liability of false information and impressions to stand for facts, is the belief entertained by Gen. O. O. Howard, that Lieut. McIntyre helped him off the field when he was wounded in this battle. Some years ago the General wrote an interesting series of articles for the National Tribune concerning his campaigns. In describing the battle of Fair Oaks, he stated where he was when he received the wound that necessitated the amputation of his right arm. In the course of his statement he said that Lieut. McIntyre helped him off the field. This I knew beyond peradventure to be a mistake, and I wrote the Tribune an account of the matter so far as McIntyre was concerned, and said my object in so doing was to help put some man in the right who might claim that he had done this service for Gen. Howard.
(In June, 1897, the class of 1894 of Colgate University set up a tablet in the library building in memory and in honor of the sons of the University who had fallen in the war of 1861. Gen. Howard was hired to be present and deliver an address on the occasion. In it he referred to McIntyre and said, after telling how he was aided by McIntyre at Fair Oaks, "He gave his life for me." I was present and heard him make this statement. I took the trouble to write him a full statement of the affair and tried to convince him that he was wholly mistaken in supposing that McIntyre aided him personally that day. In reply I received a short letter to the effect that he so well knew every officer in the 61st that it could not be possible that he was mistaken. I showed this letter to a number of our officers, who knew nearly as well as I do that Gen. Howard is wrong, in fact. I need not add, that without exception they agree with my recollection of the matter. Probably no event of consequence will ever hinge on the truth or error of my statement of this matter.)
Doubtless, as in other human affairs, every person has experiences in battle peculiar to himself and his individual temperament. In this first real meeting of the enemy, my own, imperfectly described, were as follows: As soon as the first volley was fired all dread and sense of personal danger was gone, the death of the two men, one in front and the other to the right of me produced no shock of horror. I seemed to regard it as the to-be-expected thing, and, as I have above said, I loaded and fired my gun from behind their dead bodies as unconcerned as though it had been in a sham battle. I now remember, that when the firing ceased, I was unaware of the strain and excitement I had been under, until we were ordered to move, when I found that I was in a tremble all over.
The Confederates had planned wisely, but they failed in working their combination, and were, I believe, fairly beaten. Before this battle, Col. Barlow was rated highly for his military scholarship, after the battle he was recognized by his superior officers as one of the bravest of the brave.
In this battle the regiment lost over twenty-five per cent. of the number present, including the Lieut.-Col., two captains and several lieutenants. (Fox's "Regimental Losses" makes the number 110).
Later in the day word came to me that a wounded man wanted to see me. I went back a few rods and there found my personal friend and townsman, Edgar J. Willey—the man who had lost a part of his ear before we became engaged. He had been hit several times, but the one mortal wound was through his lungs. Every breath he drew was an effort, and the inhaled air in part went out of the wound with a sickening sound. As I came up to him he smiled and held out his hand. I expressed deep sorrow for his condition, but he said it was all right, he had no regrets. He told me that he could live but a little while, and requested me to write to his people and say that he hoped they would not mourn for him. His bible was opened and lying on his breast. He lived for a day or two, and was buried on the field where he fell fighting, like the brave soldier he was.
After the battle the sun came out with southern vengeance. We left our tents and camp equipage at our late camp, and, to make the situation more comfortable, and to guard against sun stroke, the men began to put up bough huts, and before night we were tolerably protected.
The army was in a state of expectancy, wondering whether the enemy would make a fresh attack, or whether we would press forward and follow up what had been gained. If we had known better, as we came to, the halting (not to say cowardly) make up of the commanding general, we would have taken it for granted that we were to sit down and intrench and wait the pleasure of the enemy for a change in the situation.
There was no serious attack for several weeks. The lines were formed and fortified; breast works, with a ditch in front, were built, with here and there a small fort, or redoubt, in which a part of the field artillery was placed.
Picket duty came about twice a week. The lines were near together; and the men were ugly. No chance was missed on either side for firing at a man in sight, and every day more or less were killed or wounded, on the line.
To guard against surprise, the men were aroused and called out by 3:30 a. m., and took their places behind the works, guns in hand, and there stood till sunrise.
As our camp was in the Chickahomany swamp, the water generally was bad, and soon made itself felt in the health of the men. Hot coffee was served to the men as they stood in line, and later, rations of whiskey were issued to dilute the water with.
So long as there is a trace left of this line of breastworks, the exact location of the camp of the 61st can be fixed, as it was just in rear of the line, and half of the regiment was on one side of the railroad track and the other half on the other.
Stonewall Jackson was on his way to aid Lee. On June 26th he appeared, and the Confederate attack opened on our right at Mechanicsville.
Friday evening, the 27th, a part of our division was sent to Porter's aid. He commanded the right wing of the army.
Saturday, the 28th, orders were received for all sick to be sent to the hospital, and for all extra baggage to be turned into the quartermaster. At about 10 a. m. we struck tents and marched down the line to the left, and went to work throwing up rifle pits at right angles with the line of works. This, was, I suppose, in anticipation of the enemy getting possession of the redoubt to the right and raking the line. After a little this was abandoned and we went into the woods in the rear. There we cleared the ground so that a line of battle could be formed. We remained in this position till after dark, when we returned to the old camp ground behind the works. We simply lay on the ground with accoutrements on ready to act in a moment. All night long baggage and artillery trains were rumbling to the rear. The great siege guns that were mounted at this point were loaded on cars and their carriages burned.
By this time there was no doubt in our minds that McClellan's proud advance had come to a halt, in fact, that the pendulum was swinging the other way. About daylight Sunday morning, the 29th, our division began moving up the railroad track away from Richmond and in search for another base. We soon came to the commissary depot of the army. Here were piled millions of dollars' worth of supplies—hundreds of thousands of rations were to be cremated, the torch had been applied to the mass and the work of destruction was well under way. Some of our men slid out of the ranks and went to this stock of stores and helped themselves to whatever they saw that they wanted. They came back with their rubber blankets loaded with sugar; which they divided among their comrades.
After some maneuvering, our brigade was formed in a piece of woods, and we fought what was called the Battle of Peach Orchard. The only loss we sustained here was from the enemy's artillery. Their advance was stayed sufficiently for our retreating troops, and trains to get by; then our corps fell back to Savage Station, where we again formed line of battle and awaited the approach of the enemy. Before dark a determined attack was made. It was handsomely repulsed.
It has been stated that at this place Gen. Heintzelman, commanding the third corps, told Sumner that the orders were to fall back; thar Sumner protested, and insisted that the Army of the Potomac should retreat no further, but, on the contrary, should attack the Confederates; that Heintzelman finally had to tell the old man that, having delivered the orders, he could act on his own responsibility, as for himself he would fall back as directed; and that Sumner replied he supposed he would have to follow, but he had not been brought up to retreat from a victorious field.
Those who are ready with reasons for faults and failures in the affairs of mankind, may now lay it to Providence the selection of McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac, on the ground that a brave and competent general would have defeated the rebels too soon, and reconstruction would not have been as thorough as it was in the end, owing to the more complete exhaustion of the Confederates. For myself, I have no opinions on such deep subjects. I simply know his selection as a fighting commander was a terrible blunder.
We remained at Savage Station till about 9 p. m., when the retreat movement through White Oak Swamp began. It was very dark. It had rained sufficiently to make the roads very slippery, and, in addition to their being filled with infantry, there was the artillery, and hundreds of baggage wagons to be got over this piece of road before daylight. Owing to the condition of the soil, almost everyone had frequent falls. The column moved at a snail's pace, probably on an average of not over a mile an hour. We were on our feet all night, crossing the corduroy bridge that spanned the stream at the further side of the swamp as daylight began to show in the East. The ground beyond the swamp was a bluff some 20 or 30 feet above it, and on the brow of it our guns were placed later in the day. Back of the bluff was a large, open field, which was literally packed with artillery and baggage wagons. We were marched into position and allowed to lie down. For one, I was so nearly exhausted that I got onto the ground without taking off my knapsack, and at once went off into sleep. About 8 a. m. we were called up and made our breakfast. At this time the baggage wagons were getting out as fast as possible.
About 11 a. m. our pickets reported the advance of the enemy, and in a short time two or three of their batteries opened a lively fire. There were then, perhaps a hundred wagons in this open field. The shelling had a quickening effect in clearing it of all teams permitted to go to the rear.
Our batteries were quickly placed in position and returned the fire. A portion of my brigade, including my regiment, was placed in support of this artillery. While the cannonading was going on, Colonel Barlow was sitting on his old bay horse near to the guns, observing the situation as cooly as if it had been a sham battle. We lost at this place a number of men. This artillery fight lasted I should say for an hour, then tapered off. We still lay behind the guns, and in support of them until near sundown. Then the retreat was resumed. I think the 61st N. Y. was among the last to leave the position.
It was a scorchingly hot day. The sun was never brighter. No air stirred, but the light soil, powdered into fine dust, rose up in clouds that made the march a hardship. For a time we moved slowly, hearing cannon in the distance. Presently, for some reason, the order came to "Step out," which meant quicker time and longer strides; and a little later the order was to "double quick." Pretty soon we passed squads of cavalry posted along the road, that didn't seem to be doing anything in particular. In those days the cavalry was not what it came to be under Sheridan.
Further on we came to fragments of infantry that showed they had been where war was in practice. Many wounded were about, and disabled artillery was numerous. Before us was a piece of heavy woods; just before entering it on the right, was a long, story-and-a-half building, that was I think, but I am not certain, a tavern. About this building were many wounded—very likely it was in use as a hospital.
The regiment entered the woods on the double quick. The road was arched over head by the meeting of the outstretching limbs. As darkness was coming on, it looked like entering a tunnel. Men, singly and in squads, were making their way to the rear, some sound and whole, but many with wounds. As we met these men we were greeted with statements, prophecy and advice. I remember hearing, "This is a tough one." "You'll catch hell, if you go in there!" "You'd better dump those knapsacks, you'll not want them at the front!" I had made up my mind to that effect, and was putting my hand back to unhook the knapsack strap when Isaac Plumb came up to me and asked what I was going to do. I replied that I was going into the fight without incumbrances. I was impressed with the belief that we were to have a desperate struggle, and, I think, I never felt more like it than I did at this time. I pitched the knapsack to one side, and Plumb did likewise.
I think our regiment had on the field about two hundred men divided for working purposes into four companies. One of these field companies of some fifty men, under Captains Mount and Broady, were not with us. They had been detached and sent off on some special work, so that Barlow had, I judge, one hundred and fifty men. The first company was commanded by Captain Wm. H. Spencer. He was when he enlisted in Broady's company, a student in the freshman class of Madison University. He was appointed orderly sergeant of Company C., and retained that place until his promotion to a lieutenancy in Deming's Company I. On the death of Captain Brooks he was made captain of Company G. He was one of the best officers in the regiment. I was at the head of the regiment as we were now advancing along this wooded road. Suddenly the head of a column came in sight and very near to us, and at once the head files of this regiment sent a volley into our regiment. The effect was to make the 61st fall back on itself, so to speak. Col. Barlow was some ways down the line, and there was imminent danger of a stampede on our part for a few seconds. Some of us near enough to the head of the column to take in the situation, enlightened the other regiment and our men, as to the facts, and we passed one another without further damage. I do not know that anyone was hurt by this unfortunate fire, but there were a number of close calls. I remember that one man had his canteen shot away, and others bullets through their clothing.
The further we advanced the clearer came the sound of battle. As we were thus pressing on, I well remember Capt. Spencer saying, as he grimly set his teeth, "Men, we will sell our lives as dearly as possible!" I believe every man of us regarded it as a desperate adventure.
Further on we came to a cleared field of considerable size, in which there were, I believe, one or two small, old buildings, perhaps negro houses. Just before reaching the open field we turned off to the right and came in on the right hand side of the field, and lay down behind the rail fence. While in this situation, a general officer came up and had a talk with Barlow. From what I heard at the time and have since read, I am of the opinion it was Gen. Kearney. I heard him say, "Colonel, you will place your men across that road, and hold it at all cost." Barlow replied, "General, you know I have but few men." "Yes," he said, "but they are good ones." The general, whoever he was, then went off. Barlow at once ordered the men up, and to advance. The fence was passed, then a right wheel made, an advance of some rods, and we were near to the edge of the field and directly across the road. The order was given to lie down. Shortly after this was executed, a voice came out of the woods in front of us, and very near by. It was too dark to see anything, but our ears took in every word of the question asked, "What regiment is that?" At once an Irishman replied, "Sixty-first New York." Then came the command, "Lay down your arms, or I'll blow every one of you to hell." That sentence was scarcely out of his mouth, when Barlow roared, "Up and at them, men."
The command was instantly obeyed. We got in the first volley, and it was doubtless effective. Some of our wounded left on the ground and captured next day, reported, when we next saw them, that there was a large number of dead rebels close up to the line of our field.
As soon as our volley had been delivered the men of their own accord dropped back a rod or two, lined up and went steadily at work. As I have suggested, it was too dark to see anything within the woods, and, if the enemy could see anything of us, it was just a line.
Our fire was at once returned. As soon as our empty muskets could be loaded the men would take a quick aim at a flash in the woods and let drive. The enemy did the same. In no battle that I was in, did the bullets sing about my head as they did here. No doubt this came from the aim drawn on the flash of my musket. This steady, rapid firing continued till it ceased from the woods, and we concluded that we were victors.
Barlow then directed that the sound men take to the rear those alive, but wounded so that they could not help themselves. A sergeant by the name of Marshall, as I now remember, was badly wounded through the thigh. Another man and I attempted to carry him back. I found that my gun was an obstruction and I laid it down, thinking I could come back and find it, or some other. We carried our comrade to the rear, where quite a number were placed, among them Capt. E. M. Deming, who was suffering from a broken leg. We were close friends, having been together in the winter of '60 and '61 in the Academic Department of Madison University. I stopped to have a little talk with him, believing that there was to be no more fighting that night.
Presently my attention was called to the fact that there was a fresh lining up of men where we had just fought. It was not so dark but that the outline of a body of men could be distinguished in the open. At once the firing from both sides was resumed as brisk as ever. Later on I learned that a part of the 81st Pa. had come to our aid.
I was not long in sensing that my position was not military. Some of my regiment must be in that line, and I was some rods to the rear, and without a gun. I did not propose to go hunting for a lost gun in that darkness and under fire. In looking about, I discovered a gun standing against a tree. I took it, saw that it was loaded, and then conceived the notion that I might make a flank attack on the rebels by myself. The line of battle on each side was but a few rods in length. Where I stood the trees were not thick, and I was a little to the right of the firing. I made an advance movement that brought me nearly up to the line of our men, but, as I said, to their right. I decided that Providence had favored me in providing a good-sized stump just beyond and in the line I proposed to fire. I brought my gun to an "aim," waited for a flash from a Confederate gun, and pulled the trigger. About as soon as could be, after the flash of my fire, came quite a volley of bullets singing around my head, from the enemy's line. I moved closer to my stump for more complete protection, when to my dismay, I found it to be only a body of tall grass. I did no more firing from that position, but fell back in good order.
The fighting soon ceased and our men retired and took position in the road in the woods, but near to the open field. We lay down on our arms. After a while the enemy came up where their wounded were, and we could hear them call out the regiments to which they belonged as they were picked up. Finally matters quieted down and most of us went to sleep.
At the time we called this the battle of Charles City Cross Roads. I think the accepted name at present is Glendale. This position had been during the day desperately attacked by the Confederates and heroically defended by the Federals. If the enemy had succeeded in their purpose they would have cut off a large section of our army and captured property of great value. In my account of the fight written at the time to my people I said, "Barlow got us together in line and found that a good deal more than half of the men were gone, and pretty much all of the officers. Captains Deming, Spencer and Moore lost legs, and Angell was wounded. Lieut. Crawford and Adjutant Gregory were wounded. Col. Barlow and Lieuts. Keech and Morrison were the only officers with us, and some of these had very close calls, all of them had bullet holes in their clothing. Barlow's horse was killed and Keech's scabbard was battered up with one or more bullets. But forty men were together unharmed at the end of the contest."
That my account of this fight may not stand alone as a stubborn and desperate one, I will quote from the account of it as found in Appleton's Annual of 1862. While it may be obnoxious to the charge of gushiness, to those who were in this fight, by daylight, or in the night, I think scarcely anything can appear exaggerated. It is as follows:
"The advance of the Confederate force was actively resumed early in the morning. Generals D. H. Hill, Whiting and Ewell, under the command of General Jackson, crossed the Chickahominy by the grapevine bridge, and followed the Federal retreat by the Williamsburg and Savage Station road. Generals Longstreet, A. P. Hill, Huger and Magruder took the Charles City road with the intention of cutting off the retreat of the Federal forces. At the White Oak Swamp the left wing under General Jackson came up with the Federal force under Generals Franklin and Sumner, about 11 a. m. They had crossed the stream and burned the bridge behind them. An artillery fire was opened on both sides, which continued with great severity and destruction until night. The result of this battle was to prevent the further advance of the enemy in this direction, which was the single line of road over which trains had passed.
"Late, on the same day, a battle was fought between the forces of Gen. Heintzelman and the main force of the enemy, which attempted to advance by the Charles City road to cut off the retreat. This force was led by Generals Longstreet, A. P. Hill and Huger. The former, however, being called away, the command devolved on Gen. Hill. As the masses advanced upon the Federal batteries of heavy guns, they were received with such a destructive fire of artillery and musketry as threw them into disorder. Gen. Lee sent all his disposable troops to the rescue, but the Federal fire was so terrible as to disconsert the coolest veterans. Whole ranks of the Confederate troops were hurled to the ground. Says an actor in the conflict: 'The thunder of cannon, the cracking of musketry from thousands of combatants, mingled with the screams of the wounded and dying, were terrific to the ear and to the imagination.'
"The conflict thus continued within a narrow space for hours, and not a foot of ground was won by the Confederates.
"Night was close at hand. The Federal lines were strengthened and the confidence of the Confederates began to falter. The losses of his exhausted and wornout troops in attempting to storm the batteries were terrible. Orders were given to Gen. Jackson to cover the retreat in case the army should have to fall back, and directions were sent to Richmond to get all the public property ready for removal. The Federal forces, perceiving the confusion, began step by step to press forward. The posture of affairs at this time is thus related by a Confederate officer: 'The enemy, noticing our confusion, now advanced, with the cry, 'Onward to Richmond!' Many old soldiers who had served in distant Missouri and on the plains of Arkansas, wept in the bitterness of their souls like children. Of what avail had it been to us that our best blood had flowed for six long days? Of what avail all our unceasing and exhaustless endurance? Everything, everything seemed lost, and a general depression came over all our hearts. Batteries dashed past in headlong flight; ammunition, hospital and supply wagons rushed along, and swept the troops away with them from the battlefield. In vain was the most frantic exertion, entreaty and self sacrifice of the staff officers! The troops had lost their foot-hold, and all was over with the Southern Confederacy!
"In this moment of desperation Gen. A. P Hill came up with a few regiments he had managed to rally, but the enemy was continually pressing nearer and nearer! Louder and louder their shouts and the watchword, "On to Richmond!" could be heard. Cavalry officers sprang from their saddles and rushed into the ranks of the infantry regiments now deprived of their proper officers. Gen. Hill seized the standard of the 4th North Carolina regiment, which he had formerly commanded and shouted to the soldiers, "If you will not follow me, I will perish alone!" Upon this a number of officers dashed forward to cover their beloved general with their bodies; the soldiers hastily rallied, and the cry, 'Lead on, Hill; head your old North Carolina boys!' rose over the field.
"And now Hill charged forward with this mass he had thus worked up to the wildest enthusiasm. The enemy halted when they saw these columns, in flight a moment before, now advancing to the attack, and Hill burst upon his late pursuers like a famished lion.
"A fearful hand to hand conflict now ensued, for there was no time to load and fire. The ferocity with which this conflict was waged was incredible. It was useless to beg the exasperated men for quarter; there was no moderation, no pity, no compassion in that bloody work of bayonet and knife. The son sank dying at his father's feet; the father forgot that he had a child—a dying child; the brother did not see that a brother was expiring a few paces from him; the friend heard not the last groan of a friend; all natural ties were dissolved; only one feeling, of thirst, panted in every bosom—REVENGE.
"Here it was that the son of Maj. Peyton, but fifteen years of age, called to his father for help. A ball had shattered both his legs. 'When we have beaten the enemy then I will help you,' answered Peyton, 'I have other sons to lead to glory. Forward!' But the column had advanced only a few paces further when the Major himself fell to the earth a corpse. Prodigies of valor were here performed on both sides. History will ask in vain for braver soldiers than those who here fought and fell. But of the demoniac fury of both parties one at a distance can form no idea.
"Even the wounded, despairing of succor, collecting their last energies of life, plunged their knives into the bosoms of foemen who lay near them still breathing.
"The success of Gen. Hill enabled other generals to once more lead their disorganized troops back to the fight, and the contest was renewed along the whole line, and kept up until deep into the night; for everything depended upon our keeping the enemy at bay, counting too, upon their exhaustion at last, until fresh troops could arrive to reinforce us. At length, about half past ten in the evening, the divisions of Magruder, Wise and Holmes, came up and deployed to the front of our army."
As I have suggested, the foregoing quotation is a somewhat florid account of desperate, prolonged fighting.
The following account of the 61st's fight at Glendale is taken from the Portland Daily Press. It is the narration of a leading actor in the battle, and was given at the annual meeting of the Maine Commandery of the Loyal Legion held at Riverton, May 3d, 1899.
"This paper will deal chiefly with my personal experiences as subaltern and Captain in the Sixty-first N. Y. Volunteers during the first and last days of June, 1862, in the Peninsular Campaign, Virginia.
"Omitting the narrative of the regiment's participation in the battles of Fair Oaks, Peach Orchard, Savage Station and White Oak Swamp, we come to the battle in which the writer received the wound which crippled him for life.
"As we drew near to the battlefield of Glendale, we came to a place which tried the courage of us all. I shall never forget that scene. The road ran through an open field which was dotted here and there with dead and wounded men. There were all the grim tokens of the rear of a desperate battle, straggling men, cannon without horses and with broken carriages, battle smoke in the air, and the sound of a gun which was out of sight in front accompanied by the howl of grape shot. We halted here a few moments to give the stragglers time to come up, and to give all a chance to breathe after our exhausting march. Besides the men that were lying around us wounded, others were coming out of the woods in front limping and bleeding. They greeted us with such cheering assurances as "You'll get enough in there," "Better throw away them knapsacks, you won't want 'em in there."
"Before us there was a dark forest of great hemlocks, and I can see yet the lurid light of the setting sun through the trees and the powder smoke; and I remember that the question came into my mind, "I wonder if I shall ever see another setting sun." I did not, of course, give any outward sign of such thoughts. I had enough to do to inspire my men with courage, telling them we must sell our lives at a high price. But I have heard some of the regiment, who went through many subsequent battles, say that that was the dismalest battle they ever saw.
"Down into the narrow road, through the dark hemlocks we passed. It was full of powder smoke, which with the dark foilage, shut out most of the daylight that remained. There was a solitary gun away off on our right, whose occasional boom sounded like a knell.
"We came out of the woods on the right side of a clear field where a portion of the afternoon battle had raged, and lay down by the side of the road, conscious that we were in a ticklish place. There was occasional firing over us into the field, and once in a while a bullet dropped near us. But this soon ceased and the battlefield, as a whole, was quiet, and I began to hope that the battle was over. But our colonel was of another mind. He had reported for orders to Gen. Robinson of Kearney's division. The twilight was deepening and the stars were out, when the order came, "Get up men, STEADY NOW, FORWARD, March!" Every man sprang to his feet. Quickly we were over the fence with bayonets at a charge, and when we were well in the field the regiment made a half right wheel towards a piece of woods on the other side. I was neither depressed nor elated, but it was a relief to be in motion with my company. I was simply in the line of duty, responsible for myself and my company. I remember how finely the regiment marched across that field through the shadows and the smoke to unknown horrors beyond. We advanced to within two or three rods of the woods and lay down. It was too dark by this time for us to see whether the woods were occupied or not, but after a brief interval we learned all about it. While we were all on the qui vive, wondering what would come next, a voice broke forth from the woods clear and distinct, "What regiment is that?" Every heart stood still. Who would answer? And what would he say? To my astonishment and dismay one of our men piped out, "Sixty-first New York." Then came the blustering reply, "Lay down your arms, or I'll blow you all to hell." Instantly we were on our feet, and by the time the orator in the woods had finished speaking his little piece our men had poured in a volley before they were ready for us. This must have seriously damaged them, for their return volley was lighter than I expected. There was nothing for us to do however, but to fall back a few rods, loading and firing. We soon halted however, and settled down to the grim game of give and take in the growing darkness. The flashes of their muskets were all that our men had to guide their aim. It was dismal business. Our line grew thinner, and I noticed that my company was melting away before me. Anxious to hurt somebody I drew my revolver and emptied one barrel into the woods, but then considered that I might want the rest for closer work before we got through, and put it up again. Soon I felt a smarting pain in my left knee and sat down a few paces apart to see what made it. Finding it only a buckshot I hastened back to my company, but it took that buckshot wound six weeks to heal. It seems to me now as if I had not been back with my company more than a minute when crash came a blow on my right leg, just above the knee, like the blow of a huge club. There was no mistaking that. I dropped because I had to, and I lay flat on my back so as to avoid other bullets, and waited for further developments. Those were solemn moments for me, and yet not so terrible as one might suppose. They were not at all dreadful. I was just waiting to see if I was going to die from loss of blood, not knowing but an artery was severed. I distinctly remember thinking that I would hardly turn my hand over for the choice, whether to rise presently to a new heavenly home, or to struggle back through unknown sufferings to my old earthly home. But after a few moments the instinctive desire to live in the body prevailed. I saw that I was not going to bleed to death, so I called a couple of men to carry me back to the road away from the firing line. In doing this, one of them put his arms under my knees, and the pain in the wound soon became so frightful that I begged them to lay me down and let me die. They carried me to the road however, a short distance, and there left me.
"So there I lay on my back, looking up to the quiet stars and listening to the combat which was still going on. This is a narrative of personal experiences and feelings, designed for family use, and so it is in order for me to tell how I felt as I lay there. It might be expected that I should say that I was longing to be back in the fight impatient to be leading my brave men up to the muzzles of the enemy's muskets. But if I were to say so I would lie. As I lay there, I was not all smitten by a fit of the heroics nor anything of that kind. I was tired, almost exhausted by the exertion and excitement of the day, two days in fact. And it felt fine to just lie still there and rest. As long as I kept still my wound did not pain me much. I hated bullets and had no appetite for glory or promotion, and it was a relief to lie there out of range of the detestable mines. Moreover, I had full confidence that my men would give a good account of themselves, whether I was with them or not. There was satisfaction too, in feeling that I was through, that I had kept in the line of duty until I was shot and disabled, and that I had given to my country all that she asked of me in the shooting line of endeavor, and could now take up life again on a new basis. To be sure there were some chances against my getting safe home again, but I had a cheerful confidence that I should be able to pull through somehow. I have often been amused while thinking of my feelings as I lay there across the middle of the road. The prevailing sensation was one of relief. I was no cow-boy or rough-rider. I was just an ordinary patriot and student, ready to bleed and die if need be for my country, but never spoiling for a fight. And I know that many of my bravest comrades were made of the same stuff.
"My greatest want just then was water, and that I couldn't get it until a rebel supplied me next morning. Even when our regiment came back to the road where I lay, or what was left of it, no one could get a drop for me. Colonel Barlow came to me after the fighting was over, and showed all the tenderness of a brother, letting me see a side of his nature that I had never known anything about before. He deplored the fact that there was no way by which he could have me carried off and kept within our lines. And so, after having me moved to the side of the road, and after my friends had come and talked with me and bade me good-bye, that splendid little regiment marched away about two o'clock in the morning, and left me to reach home, nearly dead, after about twenty-four days, by the way of Libby prison.
"The Sixty-first New York left about one-third of their number dead or wounded on that field, including six out of its nine officers, of whom three lost one leg each, and one of them died in Libby prison. Only a month of fighting and its numbers were reduced from 432 to about 150.
"Dropping now the personal narrative, let us in the briefest sketch, follow that plucky little regiment under its peerless commanders.
"See them the very next day at Malvern Hill, again enduring the pounding of artillery until nearly night, and again in open field engaging the enemy under cover of the woods until they had fired 90 rounds per man and were all ready to charge with bayonets if required.
"See them at Antietam, with the ranks replenished from the hospital and recruiting offices, under the cool and skilful leading of their colonel, getting advantage of a whole rebel brigade where there was a deep cut in the road, and, after slaughtering many of them, actually capturing about three hundred prisoners, more than they themselves numbered. There they lost their intrepid colonel, Barlow, by a desperate wound and subsequent promotion.
"But he was succeeded by a soldier equally brave and gallant, Lieut. Colonel Nelson A. Miles, who in the battle of Fredericksburg led them to the useless slaughter at the foot of Marye's Heights, until a bloody wound in his neck spared the regiment a desperate attempt to get a little nearer than other regiments to the invincible lines of the enemy.
"See them at Chancellorsville, with Miles again leading in a brilliant fight on the skirmish line.
"See the devoted little company in the Wheat Field at Gettysburg, hardly a company all told now—only 93—baring their breasts to the storm of Confederate bullets and leaving 62 of their number, two-thirds, among the killed and wounded.
"Nearly a year later, after 600 recruits had made it nearly a new regiment, see it keeping up its old reputation for hard fighting in the Wilderness campaign, losing 36 at Corbin's Bridge and 13 at Po River, and then at the famous Bloody Angle at Spottsylvania, having a place of honor and peril in one of the two leading brigades which scaled the rebel works and took between three and four thousand prisoners. Then see them at Cold Harbor sacrificing 22 of their number in a bloody repulse in that useless slaughter.
"In the siege of Petersburg see them in repeated engagements. At Ream's Station, when one regiment after another of recruits gave way, Walker tells us that Gen. Miles, commanding a division, 'calling up a portion of his own old regiment the Sixty-first New York which still remained firm, threw it across the breastworks, at right angles, and commenced to fight his way back, leading the regiment in person. Only a few score of men—perhaps 200 in all—stood by him; but with these he made ground, step by step, until he had retaken Dauchey's battery, and had recaptured a considerable portion of the line, actually driving the enemy into the railroad cut.'
"At last at Farmsville, only a day before the end of the struggle, this regiment sealed its devotion to the flag by the loss of four killed, including one captain, and twelve wounded.
"In the round up of Lee's army culminating at Appomatax, two divisions of the corps were commanded by Sixty-first men. Barlow commanded one and Miles the other, and between them they fought the last infantry battle of the Army of the Potomac."
"In Colonel Fox's admirable analysis of the Regimental Losses during the Civil war, he shows that the Sixty-first New York came very near having a place among the forty-five regiments that lost over two hundred men, killed or mortally wounded in action during the war. Its actual loss was 193, including 16 officers. He says: 'The Sixty-first had the good fortune and honor to be commanded by men who proved to be among the ablest soldiers of the war. They made brilliant records as colonels of this regiment, and, being promoted, achieved a national reputation as division generals. The Sixty-first saw an unusual amount of active service and hard fighting. It served through the war in a division that was commanded successively by Generals Richardson, (killed at Antietam), Hancock, Caldwell, Barlow and Miles, and any regiment that followed the fortunes of these men was sure to find plenty of bloody work cut out for it."
In the place we were marched to we lay down. Very soon the fifty men under Captains Broady and Mount, who had been detached, joined the forty or so of us making all told a fighting force of from ninety to one hundred men. Most, if not all the men, except those on guard, went to sleep.
About two o'clock a. m. of July 1st, we were quietly awakened and cautioned to make no noise. The order to move was whispered and we started silently.
A good part of our way was over a road through the woods. No artillery or wagon trains were in the way, and we shoved along at a good pace. Most of the canteens were empty before the last battle, and now the men were suffering for water nearly as much as it was possible for them to. I do not know of any of our troops following us, and it is my belief that we were the last of the Army of the Potomac to go over this road, as we were, the following December to cross the pontoon bridge at Fredericksburg.
I suppose we made a march of from three to five miles, when we came into open country, not far from three o'clock a. m. The light was just beginning to show in the East. We did not know the locality or the name of the place if it had one. We saw that a part of our army at least was massed here. Later on we came to know that it was Malvern Hill, where a great battle was soon to be fought. I am glad we did not know it before it came. In our ignorance, we assumed that now the fighting was over for a time, and we would be given a chance to recuperate after the strain of the past week. As soon as arms were stacked details for water gathered the dry canteens and went in search of the much needed fluid. Those who could, stretched out on Mother Earth for another nap.
As soon as the sun was up the men stirred themselves, made coffee and ate such food as they had in their haversacks—hard bread, and boiled salt pork, or beef. At such times the soldier's menu is not elaborate, and he is satisfied if there is enough of it to prevent the pangs of hunger.
We were occupying an open field with other troops of our corps, without protection from the broiling sun. The intense heat was not as bad as a battle, but some of our men were used up by it. I think it must have been in the neighborhood of 10 a. m. when some of our men spoke out: 'There's the reb's planting a battery.' Every eye was turned in the direction indicated. It was plain to be seen that artillery was being placed, but, at the distance, I could not distinguish the uniforms, and I declared that they were our men. My wisdom did not have long to maintain itself, for in a short time shells were dropping in on us in a way no friend would shoot.
Now preparations were rapidly going on for a great battle—the last of an historic series. Ammunition was being distributed to the infantry, boxes of cartridges were brought to us and opened while we were standing this shelling. Capt. Broady superintended the distribution. Every man filled his cartouch, and then Broady made us take from forty to sixty rounds in the haversacks. He declared as he went up and down the lines, when some of the men grumbled at the quantity, 'Men, you may be glad to have them before you get more.' After a while our batteries silenced the guns that had been making it disagreeable for us.
While we were in this place a matter transpired that has left an unfading impression on my mind. A member of our regiment, who had been much of the time detailed, and had acted as hostler for some of the field officers, but was now with his company, came up to Colonel Barlow with a woe-begone countenance and told him that he was sick and not able to be in the ranks, and said that the doctor thought he ought to be permitted to go to the rear. No doubt Barlow had noted the use this man had been put to, and, where he believed a soldier was managing to escape danger and find a soft place, he always endeavored to make it as unpleasant for that man as possible. The Colonel was not in an amiable frame of mind. He was on foot, old "Billy" had been killed the night before, and he felt like having a dialogue with someone. He asked this man some questions which satisfied him he was a coward. His wrath broke out vehemently. He cursed and swore at him and called him a variety of unpleasant and detestable things and then he began to punch him with his fist wherever he could hit. Finally he partly turned him around, and gave him a hearty kick in the stern and said: "Damn you, get away from here! You're not fit to be with my brave men." The fellow departed as fast as his short legs would carry him. I knew of no other man presenting an excuse or asking for leave of absence that day. I believe every man of us preferred to meet the rebels rather than the vocal scorn and denunciation of Barlow. I believe he did not know what personal, bodily fear was, and he had no consideration for a coward.
I met Barlow in New York in LaFayette Post Room, at the time Sixty-first Regimental association was formed. I made this remark to him: "I never went into a battle without an effort of my will, and always expected to be wounded or killed." He said in his quiet way, "I never felt so, I never had an impression that I was to be hurt." In the address at Hamilton, N. Y., in 1897, before referred to, Gen. Howard said that Gen. Barlow was one the bravest and coolest men he ever saw in battle.
After a while our brigade was moved forward and about half way up a rise of ground—it was hardly a hill—at the top of which were an old house and barn. We were ordered to lie down in support of a battery in front that was doing a lively business. I remember that before getting down I spread my rubber blanket to lie on. The fragments of the exploded shells came showering down upon and about us, presently a chunk large enough to have laid me out a harmless corpse came tearing through my blanket, but in a spot not covered by my body. Every now and then along the supporting line a man was knocked out. It was at this time that Ralph Haskell, a Hamilton boy, and another lying beside him had their brains knocked out by these shell fragments. They were but a few feet from me and I saw the whole bloody business.
About this time a remarkable freak was perpetrated on the body of Capt. Broady. He was standing, when in an instant he was thrown to the ground with great force, and he lay there quivering as if life were the same as extinct. Col. Barlow saw him fall and ordered his body taken to the rear. This was done by a number of men, who remained by the body to observe the passing of the last breath, when to their surprise the captain opened his eyes and, with his slightly Swedish brogue, inquired if he was much hurt. The men replied, "Why yes, you're all knocked to pieces." The captain wiggled about some and then asked, "How do you know men, do you see the blood run?" They had to answer "No." By this time his consciousness had fully returned. He directed the men to help him onto his feet and soon came back with his old-fashioned nippy gait. Barlow had regarded him as ticketed for the "happy hunting ground" and when he saw him walking back to the line, he was quite surprised. He looked him over for a moment, and then said to his regiment, "Men, give Capt. Broady three cheers, he's a brave man." This we did with a will. When we got to a place where an examination could be had, it was found that Broady had been so struck by a piece of shell that it went through his overcoat, and then rotated in such a manner as to cut the tails off from his dress coat, so that, after we got to Harrison's Landing the captain went about dressed in that frock coat with the skirts cut off. In other words he was supporting a jacket.
Shortly after this episode we were ordered forward up the slope to the level ground and where the before mentioned old house and barn were. We again lay down. The enemy were shelling these buildings at a terrific rate, the rattle and crash of the shells into that woodwork made the hair fairly stand on end. As we first lay down, it was found best to have the men face about. This was done without getting up and countermarching, but by facing around and bringing the rear into the front rank. The officers crawled back as best they could, and the sergeants did the same. I was making my way to the rear when one of the officers turned up his head and said to me, "Where in the devil are you trying to get to?" The tone indicated that he thought I was trying to sneak off. This made me mad, and I snarled out, "I'm trying to get into my place. If you think I'm afraid, I'll go to the front as far as you dare to!" Within the following year this officer came to know me well, and had, I believe, confidence that I would not seek to avoid a place of danger.
After a time this artillery attack on our position ceased, and we were ordered forward to the brow of the hill on the other side. Here we had planted the greatest continuous row of cannon I ever saw set for work in a battle. I would not be surprised to have it said by authority that fifty of them crowned the brow of this elevation. Our position was immediately on the right flank of this line of guns.
The Seventh New York, a German regiment, was formed on the left of the Sixty-first N. Y., and in the rear of the artillery as a support. This German regiment joined our brigade after the battle of Fair Oaks. It came to us from Fortress Monroe, about one thousand strong under Col. VanShack. He had, I believe, served in the German army and was a fine appearing officer, but a full blooded German organization was not, in this country in those days, on a par with "Yankee" troops. A sprinkling of Dutchmen was all right. We had in the Sixty-first Germans and Dutchmen, who were the peers as soldiers, of any in the regiment, but this Seventh regiment when it went into action jabbered and talked Dutch to exceed in volubility any female sewing society ever assembled. As they came up and got into position the volume of jabber almost overcame the rattle of musketry and the roar of artillery. I am certain their conduct did not favorably impress our men. If the German Emperor's army is not made of grimmer stuff than I saw exhibited in pure German regiments in our army, I would not fear the result in matching them with Americans from the North or the South.
It was said, and I suppose it was so, that in front of us was Magruder and the story was current that he had served his men with gun-powder and whiskey. Many stories are on the wind at such times that are no nearer the truth than lies. I do not believe the rank and file very often had their courage braced up with whiskey.
The battle of Malvern Hill was a splendid fight for our side, and I firmly believe if we had been commanded by a brave and confident man like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas or by some of the corps commanders of the Potomac Army, Gen. Lee might have been pushed at least into the defences of Richmond. But McClellan was on the James protecting the gun boats, and composing a scolding letter to the president—probably.
From our position on the brow of the hill, it was open ground for a distance and gently sloped off to the woods. Time after time the enemy formed for the purpose of making a charge on us, but no sooner did they appear than this immense line of artillery opened fire, which no troops in the world could withstand. In aid of the artillery fire, the infantry posted so as to have a chance, poured in volley after volley. Col. Barlow practiced here that which I never saw before or after in battle—volley firing by ranks. Then he changed it to firing by files and then to firing at will which is as often as you please. This tremendous storm of missiles held the confederates at bay. They did in a feeble way reply to our fire, and we lost in killed and a large number wounded. At times our firing was so rapid that the gun barrels became heated to the point that they could not be grasped and the men held their guns by the sling strap. I had some personal experiences in this battle that were unique in my service. Our muskets were the Enfield rifle, an English gun, much like the Springfield. They were, of course, muzzle loaders, breech loaders then were the exception. The Minnie bullet had no device for cleaning out the barrel, and after a dozen shots it would become foul, and often it was difficult to ram the bullet home. After I had fired my gun a number of times, in attempting to load, the bullet lodged half way down. I made desperate efforts to send it home but to no purpose. I found a stone large enough to pound on the end of the ramrod, but the only effect seemed to be to set it the snugger. It was the wrong place to hesitate in. I capped the tube, drew up the gun and pulled the trigger expecting an explosion. The kick was strong but I did not discover any damage to the gun—doubtless the barrel was injured. I picked up another gun left by some dead or wounded man and resumed my work. After exhausting the cartridges in my cartridge box, I had my hand in my haversack for a fresh package, when I felt myself severely hurt in the arm. The sensation was, it seemed to me, as if a red hot rod had been run over it. I supposed I was badly damaged and brought up my arm so as to examine it in the growing darkness. I found that a bullet had taken the skin off from my wrist, a piece as large as a cent, and only to the depth to allow the blood to slowly ooze through. The momentary hurt of this slight flesh, or skin wound was more severe than I experienced a year later when the bones of my leg and arm were shot through. The next day on the march to Harrison's Landing, where we halted long enough for lunch, I discovered that this bullet had gone through my haversack, cutting off a piece of the rim of my tin plate, and, in its passage had journeyed through my bags of coffee and sugar and had compounded them considerably.
In this fight George Joyce of Co. C was seriously wounded through the arm, so that he was obliged to go to the hospital. He was a singular person—small in stature, illiterate, and until he became known for what he was, regarded by all as a braggadocio. I do not remember that his remarkable qualities were observed until the night before at Glendale. It was during the second attack, while I was off on my flank movement, that Barlow ordered the men further forward. A man spoke out, "We will follow the colors." Joyce had them, or took them as a volunteer—as he was but a private—went to the front with them, jabbed the staff into the ground and said, "There's your colors! Come up to them!" and the men obeyed. For this act Barlow complimented Joyce, and then and there promoted him to an orderly sergeancy in another company. I shall mention Joyce again, when he next appeared with the regiment at Fredericksburg.