WAR FROM THE INSIDE
WAR FROM THE INSIDE
The Story of the 132nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry in the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion 1862-1863
FREDERICK L. HITCHCOCK
Late Adjutant and Major 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Published by authority of the 132nd Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Association.
Press of J. B. Lippincott Company Philadelphia 1904
Copyright, 1903 by F. L. Hitchcock
This narrative was originally written without the least idea of publication, but to gratify the oft-repeated requests of my children. During the work, the ubiquitous newspaper reporter learned of it, and persuaded me to permit its publication in a local paper, where it appeared in weekly instalments. Since then the demand that I should put it in more permanent form has been so persistent and wide-spread, that I have been constrained to comply, and have carefully revised and in part rewritten it. I have endeavored to confine myself to my own observations, experiences, and impressions, giving the inner life of the soldier as we experienced it. It was my good fortune to be associated with one of the best bodies of men who took part in the great Civil War; to share in their hardships and their achievements. For this I am profoundly grateful. Their story is my own. If these splendid gray-headed "boys"—those who have not yet passed the mortal firing-line—shall find some pleasure in again tramping over that glorious route, and recalling the historic scenes, and if the younger generation shall gather inspiration for a like patriotic dedication to country and to liberty, I shall be more than paid for my imperfect work. In conclusion, I desire to acknowledge my indebtedness to Major James W. Oakford, son of our intrepid colonel, who was the first of the regiment to fall, and to Mr. Lewis B. Stillwell, son of that brave and splendid officer, Captain Richard Stillwell, Company K, who was wounded and disabled at Fredericksburg, for constant encouragement in the preparation of the work and for assistance in its publication.
SCRANTON, PA., April 5, 1904.
I.—FIRST LESSONS; OR, DOING THE IMPOSSIBLE 13
II.—THE ORGANIZATION AND MAKE-UP OF THE FIGHTING MACHINE CALLED "THE ARMY" 22
III.—ON THE MARCH 35
IV.—DRAWING NEAR THE ENEMY—BATTLE OF SOUTH MOUNTAIN—PRELIMINARY SKIRMISHES 46
V.—THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM 55
VI.—THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM—CONTINUED 68
VII.—HARPER'S FERRY AND THE LEESBURG AND HALLTOWN EXPEDITIONS 79
VIII.—FROM HARPER'S FERRY TO FREDERICKSBURG 94
IX.—THE FREDERICKSBURG CAMPAIGN 108
X.—THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKSBURG—CONTINUED 120
XI.—WHY FREDERICKSBURG WAS LOST 132
XII.—LOST COLORS RECOVERED 141
XIII.—THE WINTER AT FALMOUTH 158
XIV.—THE WINTER AT FALMOUTH—CONTINUED 179
XV.—THE BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE 200
XVI.—THE BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE—CONTINUED 220
XVII.—THE MUSTER OUT AND HOME AGAIN 239
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
After the lapse of more than forty years, I hardly hoped to be able to publish pictures of all our officers, and have been more than pleased to secure so many. The others, I regret to say, could not be obtained. The youthful appearance of these officers will be remarked. All, I believe, with the exception of Colonel Oakford were below thirty years, and most between twenty and twenty-five.
Colonel Frederick L. Hitchcock Frontispiece
The Monument Facing title-page
Groups of Captains 16
Group, Chaplain and Surgeons 22
Colonel Charles Albright 44
Colonel Vincent M. Wilcox 50
Colonel Richard A. Oakford 59
The Silenced Confederate Battery 62
The Sunken Road 71
Field Hospital 76
Groups of Lieutenants 120
Major Frederick L. Hitchcock 167
Don and I, and glimpse of Camp of Hancock's Division, Falmouth, Va. 171
Reunion 132d Regiment, P. V., 1891, on Battle-field of Antietam. 200
WAR FROM THE INSIDE
FIRST LESSONS; OR, DOING THE IMPOSSIBLE
I was appointed adjutant of the One Hundred and Thirty-second Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, by our great war Governor, Andrew G. Curtin, at the solicitation of Colonel Richard A. Oakford, commanding the regiment, my commission dating the 22d day of August, 1862. I reported for duty to Colonel Oakford at Camp Whipple, where the regiment was then encamped, on the 3d day of September, 1862. This was immediately following the disasters of "Chantilly" and "Second Bull Run," and as I passed through Washington to Camp Whipple, I found the greatest excitement prevailing because of these reverses, and a general apprehension for the safety of the capital in consequence. The wildest rumors were abroad concerning the approach of the victorious rebel troops, and an alarm amounting almost to a panic existed. Being without a horse or other means of transportation, I was obliged to make my way, valise in hand, on foot from Washington over the "long bridge" across the Potomac, to Camp Whipple, some two miles up the river nearly opposite Georgetown. From the wild rumors floating about Washington, I did not know but I should be captured bag and baggage before reaching camp. Undertaking this trip under those circumstances, I think, required almost as much nerve as "real work" did later on.
Getting beyond the long bridge there were abundant evidences of the reported disasters. Straggling troops, army wagons, etc., were pouring in from the "front" in great disorder. I reached camp about three o'clock P.M. and found Colonel Oakford out with the regiment on battalion drill. An hour later I reported to his office (tent) as ready for duty. The colonel had been a lifelong personal friend, and I was received, as I expected, most cordially. I was assigned quarters, and a copy of the daily routine orders of camp was placed in my hands, and my attention specially called to the fact that the next "order of business" was "dress parade" at six o'clock. I inquired the cause of this special notice to me, and was informed that I was expected to officiate as adjutant of the regiment at that ceremony. I pleaded with the colonel to be allowed a day or so in camp to see how things were done before undertaking such difficult and important duties; that I knew absolutely nothing about any part of military service; had never served a day in any kind of military work, except in a country fire company; had never seen a dress parade of a full regiment in my life, and knew nothing whatever about the duties of an adjutant.
My pleadings were all in vain. The only reply I received was a copy of the "Army Regulations," with the remark that I had two hours in which to study up and master the details of dress parade, and that I could not learn my duties any easier nor better than by actual practice; that my condition was no different from that of my fellow officers; that we were all there in a camp of instruction learning our duties, and there was not a moment to lose. I then began to realize something of the magnitude of the task which lay before me. To do difficult things, without knowing how; that is, to learn how in the doing, was the universal task of the Union volunteer officer. I took up my "Army Regulations" and attacked the ceremony of dress parade as a life and death matter. Before my two hours were ended, I could repeat every sentence of the ceremony verbatim, and felt that I had mastered the thing, and was not going to my execution in undertaking my duties as adjutant. Alas for the frailty of memory; it failed me at the crucial moment, and I made a miserable spectacle of myself before a thousand officers and men, many of them old friends and acquaintances, all of whom, it seemed to me, were specially assembled on that occasion to witness my debut, and see me get "balled up." They were not disappointed. Things tactically impossible were freely done during that ceremony. Looking back now upon that scene, from the long distance of forty years, I see a green country boy undertaking to handle one thousand men in the always difficult ceremony of a dress parade. (I once heard Governor Hartranft, who attained the rank of a major-general during the war, remark, as he witnessed this ceremony, that he had seen thousands of such parades, and among them all, only one that he considered absolutely faultless.) I wonder now that we got through it at all. Think of standing to give your first command at the right of a line of men five hundred abreast, that is, nearly one thousand feet in length, and trying to make the men farthest away hear your small, unused, and untrained voice. I now can fully forgive my failure. The officers and men were considerate of me, however, and, knowing what was to be done, went through with it after a fashion in spite of my blunders.
The regiment was one of the "nine months'" quota; it had been in the service barely two weeks at this time. It was made up of two companies, I and K, from Scranton (Captains James Archbald, Company I, and Richard Stillwell, Company K), Company A, Danville, Pa.; B, Factoryville; C, Wellsboro and vicinity; E, Bloomsburg; F and G, Mauch Chunk, and H, Catawissa. It numbered, officers and men, about one thousand. Its field officers were Colonel Richard A. Oakford, Scranton; Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent M. Wilcox, Scranton; Major Charles Albright, Mauch Chunk; staff, Frederick L. Hitchcock, first lieutenant and adjutant, Scranton; Clinton W. Neal, first lieutenant and quartermaster, Bloomsburg; Rev. Schoonmaker, first lieutenant and chaplain, Scranton.
The transition from home life to that of an army in the field can only be appreciated from a stand-point of actual experience. From a well-ordered, well-cooked meal, served at a comfortable table with the accessories of home, howsoever humble, to a "catch as catch can" way of getting "grub," eating what, and when and where, you are fortunate enough to get to eat; and from a good, comfortable bed, comfortably housed in a comfortable home, to a blanket "shake down" under the beautiful sky, mark some of the features of this transition.
Another feature is the utter change in one's individual liberty. To be no longer the arbiter of your own time and movements, but to have it rubbed into you at every turn that you are a very small part of an immense machine, whose business is to march and fight; that your every movement is under the control of your superior officers; that, in fact, you have no will of your own that can be exercised; that your individuality is for the time sunk, is a trial to an American freeman which patriotism alone can overcome. Not the least feature of this transition is the practical obliteration of the Lord's day. This is a great shock to a Christian who has learned to love the Lord's day and its hallowed associations. Routine duty, the march, the fighting, all go right on, nothing stops for Sunday.
On the morning after reaching camp I had the pleasure of seeing Major-General John Pope, who commanded the Union forces in the recent battles of Chantilly and Second Bull Run, and his staff, riding past camp into Washington. He hailed us with a cheery "Good-morning" in reply to our salute. He did not look like a badly defeated general, though he undoubtedly was—so badly, indeed, that he was never given any command of importance afterwards.
On Saturday, September 6, we received orders to join the Army of the Potomac—again under the command of "Little Mac"—at Rockville, Md., distant about eighteen miles. This was our first march. The day was excessively hot, and Colonel Oakford received permission to march in the evening. We broke camp about six o'clock P.M. It was a lovely moonlight night, the road was excellent, and for the first six miles the march was a delight. We marched quite leisurely, not making over two miles an hour, including rests, nevertheless the last half of the distance was very tiresome, owing to the raw and unseasoned condition of our men, and the heavy load they were carrying. We reached the bivouac of the grand Army of the Potomac, of which we were henceforth to be a part, at about three o'clock the next morning. Three miles out from the main camp we encountered the outpost of the picket line and were duly halted. The picket officer had been informed of our coming, and so detained us only long enough to satisfy himself that we were all right.
Here we encountered actual conditions of war with all its paraphernalia for the first time. Up to this time we had been playing at war, so to speak, in a camp of instruction. Now we were entering upon the thing itself, with all its gruesome accessories. Everything here was business, and awful business, too. Here were parks of artillery quiet enough just now, but their throats will speak soon enough, and when they do it will not be the harmless booming of Fourth of July celebrations. Here we pass a bivouac of cavalry, and yonder on either side the road, in long lines of masses, spread out like wide swaths of grain, lie the infantry behind long rows of stacked guns. Here were upward of seventy-five thousand men, all, except the cordon of pickets, sound asleep. In the midst of this mighty host the stillness was that of a graveyard; it seemed almost oppressive.
Halting the regiment, Colonel Oakford and I made our way to the head-quarters of Major-General Sumner, commanding the Second Army Corps, to whom the colonel was ordered to report. We finally found him asleep in his head-quarters wagon. A tap on the canvas top of the wagon quickly brought the response, "Hello! Who's there? What's wanted?"
Colonel Oakford replied, giving his name and rank, and that his regiment was here to report to him, according to orders.
"Oh, yes, colonel, that is right," replied the general. "How many men have you?"
Receiving the colonel's answer, General Sumner said:
"I wish you had ten times as many, for we need you badly. Glad you are here, colonel. Make yourselves as comfortable as you can for the rest of the night, and I will assign you to your brigade in the morning."
Here was a cordial reception and hospitality galore. "Make yourselves comfortable"—in Hotel "Dame Nature!" Well, we were all weary enough to accept the hospitality. We turned into the adjacent field, "stacked arms," and in a jiffy were rolled up in our blankets and sound asleep. The mattresses supplied by Madame Nature were rather hard, but her rooms were fresh and airy, and the ceilings studded with the stars of glory. My last waking vision that night was a knowing wink from Jupiter and Mars, as much as to say, "sleep sweetly, we are here."
The morning sun was well up before we got ourselves together the next morning. The "reveille" had no terrors for us greenhorns then. We found ourselves in the midst of a division of the bronzed old Army of the Potomac veterans. They were swarming all over us, and how unmercifully they did guy us! A regiment of tenderfeet was just taffy for those fellows. Did our "Ma's know we were out?" "Get off those purty duds." "Oh, you blue cherub!" etc., etc., at the same time accepting (?) without a murmur all the tobacco and other camp rarities they could reach.
We were soon visited by Brigadier-General Nathan Kimball, a swarthy, grizzly-bearded old gentleman, with lots of fire and energy in his eyes. He told the colonel our regiment had been assigned to his brigade. He directed the colonel to get the regiment in line, as he had something to say to the men, after which he would direct us where to join his troops. General Kimball commanded a brigade which had achieved a great reputation under McClellan in his West Virginia campaign, and it had been named by him the "Gibraltar brigade." It had also been through the Peninsular and Second Bull Run campaigns. It had comprised the Fourth and Eighth Ohio, Fourteenth Indiana and Seventh West Virginia regiments, all of which had been reduced by hard service to mere skeleton regiments. The Fourth Ohio had become so small as to require its withdrawal from the army for recuperation, and our regiment was to take its place.
To step into the shoes of one of these old regiments was business, indeed, for us. Could we do it and keep up our end? It was certainly asking a great deal of a two weeks' old regiment. But it was the making of us. We were now a part of the old Gibraltar brigade. Our full address now was "One Hundred and Thirty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers, First Brigade, Third Division, Second Army Corps, Army of the Potomac." Our own reputation we were now to make. We were on probation in the brigade, so to speak. These veterans were proud, and justly so, of their reputation. What our relation to that reputation was to be, we could see was a mooted question with them. They guyed us without measure until the crucial test, the "baptism of fire," had been passed. This occurred just ten days later, at the battle of Antietam, the greatest battle of the war thus far, where for four bloody hours we held our section of the brigade line as stanch as a rock. Here we earned our footing. Henceforth we belonged to them. There was never another syllable of guying, but in its place the fullest meed of such praise and comradeship as is born only of brave and chivalrous men.
THE ORGANIZATION AND MAKE-UP OF THE FIGHTING MACHINE CALLED "THE ARMY."
We remained a day in bivouac after joining the Gibraltar brigade at Rockville, during which rations of fresh beef, salt pork, and "hardtack" (the boys' nickname for hard bread) were issued to the army, also ammunition.
The method of issuing rations was as follows: Colonels of regiments were directed to send in requisitions for so many days' rations, depending on the movements on hand, of hard bread and pork, and usually one day's rations of fresh beef. At brigade head-quarters these requisitions were consolidated, making the brigade requisition, and forwarded to division head-quarters. Here they were again consolidated into a division requisition, and so on until the army head-quarters was reached. Then the corps commissary received in bulk enough for his corps, and distributed it to the divisions in bulk, thence to brigades in bulk, thence to regiments, and finally from the regiment to the companies, and to the men. A long string of red tape, surely; and it might have been considerably shortened to the advantage of all, as it was later on.
An interesting feature of the issue of rations was the method of supplying the fresh beef. Live cattle were driven to the army and issued alive to the several corps, from which details were made of men who had been butchers, who killed and dressed the beef. The animals were driven into an enclosure and expert marksmen shot them down as wanted. This seemed cruel work, but it was well done; the animal being hit usually at the base of its horns, death was instantaneous. This fresh meat, which we got but seldom after the march began, was cooked and eaten the day it was issued. Enough for one day was all that was issued at a time, and this, after the non-eatable portions had been eliminated, did not overburden the men.
The hard bread was a square cracker about the size of an ordinary soda cracker, only thicker, and very hard and dry. It was supposed to be of the same quality as sea biscuit or pilot bread, but I never saw any equal to that article. The salt pork was usually good for pork, but it was a great trial to us all to come down to camp fare, "hardtack and pork." Sometimes the "hardtack" was very old and poor. I have seen many a one placed in the palm of the hand, a smart blow, a puff of breath, and mirabile! a handful of "squirmers"—the boys' illustration of a "full hand." It came to be the rule to eat in daylight for protection against the unknown quantity in the hardtack. If we had to eat in the dark, after a prolonged march, our protection then lay in breaking our cracker into a cup of boiling coffee, stir it well and then flow enough of the coffee over to carry off most of the strangers and take the balance on faith.
On the march each man carried his own rations in haversacks. These were made of canvas and contained pockets for salt, sugar and coffee, besides room for about two days' rations of hard bread and pork. Sometimes five, six, and seven days' rations were issued, then the balance had to be stowed away in knapsacks and pockets of the clothing. When, as was usual in the latter cases, there was also issued sixty to one hundred rounds of ammunition, the man became a veritable pack-mule.
For the first month many of our men went hungry. Having enormous appetites consequent upon this new and most strenuous mode of life, they would eat their five days' supply in two or three, and then have to "skirmish" or go hungry until the next supply was issued. Most, however, soon learned the necessity as well as the benefit of restricting their appetites to the supply. But there were always some improvident ones, who never had a supply ahead, but were always in straights for grub. They were ready to black boots, clean guns, in fact, do any sort of menial work for their comrades for a snack to eat. Their improvidence made them the drudges of the company.
Whatever may be said about other portions of the rations, the coffee was always good. I never saw any poor coffee, and it was a blessing it was so, for it became the soldiers' solace and stay, in camp, on picket and on the march. Tired, footsore, and dusty from the march, or wet and cold on picket, or homesick and shivering in camp, there were rest and comfort and new life in a cup of hot coffee. We could not always have it on picket nor on the march. To make a cup of coffee two things were necessary besides the coffee, namely, water and fire, both frequently very difficult to obtain. On picket water was generally plentiful, but in the immediate presence of the enemy, fire was forbidden, for obvious reasons. On the march both were usually scarce, as I shall show later on. How was our coffee made? Each man was provided with a pint tin cup. As much coffee as could comfortably be lifted from the haversack by the thumb and two fingers—depending somewhat on the supply—was placed in the cup, which was filled about three-fourths full of water, to leave room for boiling. It was then placed upon some live coals and brought to a boil, being well stirred in the meantime to get the strength of the coffee. A little cold water was then added to settle it. Eggs, gelatin, or other notions of civilization, for settling, were studiously (?) omitted. Sometimes sugar was added, but most of the men, especially the old vets, took it straight. It was astonishing how many of the "wrinkles of grim visaged war" were temporarily smoothed out by a cup of coffee. This was the mainstay of our meals on the march, a cup of coffee and a thin slice of raw pork between two hardtacks frequently constituting a meal. Extras fell in the way once in a while. Chickens have been known to stray into camp, the result of a night's foraging.
Among the early experiences of our boys was an incident related to me by the "boy" who was "it." He said he had a mighty narrow escape last night.
I asked, "How was that?"
"Out hunting for chickens, struck a farmhouse, got a nice string, and was sneaking my way out. Dark as tar. Ran up against man, who grabbed me by the collar, and demanded 'what are you doing here?' I was mum as an owl. He marched me out where there was a flickering light, and sure as blazes it was old General Kimball. I didn't know that house was brigade head-quarters.
"'What regiment do you belong to?'
"'You've heard about the orders against marauding, eh?'
"'Hand up those chickens, you rascal.'
"I handed them out from behind my shaking legs.
"'How many have you got?'
"'Dunno'—I had two pair of nice ones. The old man took out his knife and slowly cut out one pair, looking savagely at me all the time.
"'There! You get back to camp as quick as your legs will carry you, and if I ever get my hands on you again you'll remember it.'" He said he thought he'd try and forage away from head-quarters next time. General Kimball was a rigid disciplinarian, but withal a very kind-hearted man. He no doubt paid for those chickens rather than have one of his boys suffer for his foraging escapade. Perhaps I ought to say a word about these foraging expeditions to eke out the boys' larder. These men were not thieves in any sense and very few attempted this dubious method, but the temptation was almost beyond the power of resistance. The best way to test this temptation is to diet yourself on "hardtack" and pork for just about one week. Then the devil's argument—always present—was practically true there, "the chickens will be taken (not stolen) by some of the army, and you might as well have one as anybody."
The following story of a neighboring regiment will show that even officers high in rank sometimes found that "circumstances alter cases." The troops were nearing bivouac at the close of the day, and, as usual, the colonel ordered the music to start up and the men to fall into step and approach camp in order (the march is usually in route step,—i.e., every man marches and carries his gun as he pleases). The fifes and the snare-drums promptly obeyed, but the big bass drum was silent. The men fell into cadence step in fine shape, including the bass drummer, but his big shell gave forth no sound. The colonel called out, "What's the matter with the bass drum?" Still no response. A second ejaculation from head-quarters, a little more emphatic, fared no better. Patience now exhausted, the colonel yelled, "What in h——l's the matter, I say, with——" when a sotto voice reached his ear, with "Colonel, colonel, he's got a pair of chickens in his drum, and one is for you." "Well, if the poor fellow is sick, let him fall out."
A little explanation now about how the army is organized will probably make my story clearer. That an army is made of three principal arms, viz., artillery, cavalry, and infantry, is familiar to all; that the cavalry is mounted is also well known, but that in actual fighting they were often dismounted and fought as infantry may not be familiar to all. The cavalry and infantry—or foot troops—are organized practically alike, viz., first into companies of 101 men and officers; second, into regiments of ten companies, or less, of infantry and twelve companies, more or less, of cavalry, two or more companies of cavalry constituting a "squadron," and a like number of companies of infantry a "battalion;" third, into brigades of two or more—usually four—regiments; fourth, divisions of two or more—usually three—brigades; fifth, army corps, any number of divisions—usually not more than three. Logically, the rank of officers commanding these several subdivisions would be colonel, commanding a regiment; brigadier-general, his rank being indicated by one star, a brigade; a major-general, two stars, a division; a lieutenant-general, three stars, an army corps; and the whole army a general, his rank being indicated by four stars. This was carried out by the Confederates in the organization of their armies. But not so with ours. With few exceptions—ours being one—the brigades were commanded by the senior colonels, and towards the end of the war this was sometimes temporarily true of divisions; the divisions by brigadiers, whilst we had no higher rank than that of major-general until General Grant was made, first, lieutenant-general, and finally general.
The artillery was organized into companies commonly called batteries. There were two branches, heavy and light artillery. The former were organized more like infantry, marched on foot and were armed with muskets in addition to the heavy guns they were trained to use. The latter were used against fortifications and were rarely brought into field work. The light artillery were mounted either on the horses or on the gun-carriages, and, though organized into a separate corps under the direction of the chief of artillery, were usually distributed among the divisions, one or two batteries accompanying each division.
In addition to these chief branches of the service, there was the signal corps, the "eyes" of the army, made up mostly of young lieutenants and non-commissioned officers detailed from the several regiments. There were two such officers from Scranton, namely, Lieutenant Fred. J. Amsden, One Hundred and Thirty-sixth Pennsylvania Volunteers, and Lieutenant Frederick Fuller, Fifty-second Pennsylvania Volunteers, besides a number of enlisted men.
Another important branch of the service was the telegraph corps. It was remarkable the celerity with which wires would be run along the ground and on brush, day by day, keeping the several corps constantly in touch with the commanding general. There were comparatively few telegraph operators that could be detailed, and many had to be hired,—some boys who were too young to enlist. Dr. J. Emmet O'Brien, of this city, was one of the most efficient of the latter class.
It was Dr. O'Brien, then operating below Petersburg, who caught the telegraphic cipher of the rebels and by tapping their wires caught many messages which were of material assistance to General Grant in the closing movements of the war. It was he also who in like manner caught the movements of Jeff Davis and his cabinet in their efforts to escape, and put General Wilson on his track, resulting in his final capture. Mr. Richard O'Brien, the doctor's older brother, for many years superintendent of the Western Union Telegraph lines in this end of the State, was at that time Government Superintendent of Telegraphs, in charge of all its telegraphic operations in Virginia and North Carolina. He could tell many a hair-raising experience. He related to me the following incident, which occurred during Grant's operations around Petersburg, to illustrate the enterprise of the enemy in trying to get our telegrams, and the necessity of sending all messages in cipher. They never succeeded in translating the Union cipher. But one day an operator at Washington, either too lazy or too careless to put his message in cipher, telegraphed to the chief commissary at a place below City Point that fifteen hundred head of beef cattle would be landed at that point on a certain day. The message was caught by the rebels. The beef cattle were landed on time, but in the meantime Wade Hampton had swept in with a division of rebel cavalry and was waiting to receive the cattle. With them were captured a handsome lot of rations and a number of prisoners, including all of Mr. O'Brien's telegraph operators at that post. Mr. O'Brien said he cared a good deal more about the loss of his operators than he did for the loss of the cattle and rations, for it was very hard to get competent operators at that time. There was at least one vacancy at Washington following this incident.
Still another arm of the service was the pontoniers, whose duty it was to bridge non-fordable rivers. They were armed and drilled as infantry, but only for their own protection. Their specialty was laying and removing pontoon bridges. A pontoon train consisted of forty to fifty wagons, each carrying pontoon boats, with plank and stringers for flooring and oars and anchors for placing. In laying a bridge these boats were anchored side by side across the stream, stringers made fast across them, and plank then placed on the stringers. Every piece was securely keyed into place so that the bridge was wide enough and strong enough for a battery of artillery and a column of infantry to go over at the same time. The rapidity with which they would either lay or take up a bridge was amazing. If undisturbed they would bridge a stream two hundred yards wide in thirty minutes. They bridged the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg under fire on the 12th of December, 1863, in a little over an hour, losing heavily in the act.
Having now given some account of the organization of this great human fighting machine, it will be proper to show how it was handled. For this purpose there were four staff departments, namely, the adjutant-general's, the quartermaster-general's, the commissary-general's, and the ordnance departments. The first named was the mouth-piece of the army. All orders were issued by and through that officer. It was the book-keeper of the army. Each subdivision of the army had its adjutant-general down to the office of adjutant in the regiment, who was charged with issuing all orders, and with attending to their execution. He was secretary, so to speak, of the commanding officer, and his chief executive officer as well. Extraordinary executive talent and tireless energy were required in these positions. The adjutant must be able at all times to inform his chief of the condition of every detail of the command whether an army corps or regiment, exactly how many men were fit for duty, how many sick or disabled, and just where they all are. In fact, he must be a walking encyclopaedia of the whole command; added to this he was usually chief of staff, and must be in the saddle superintending every movement of the troops. Always first on duty, his work was never finished.
Two of the best adjutants-general the world has produced literally wore themselves out in the service—Seth Williams and John B. Rawlins. The first named was McClellan's adjutant-general, the latter was Grant's. McClellan is credited with having organized the grand old Army of the Potomac, the main fighting force by which the rebellion was finally crushed. This was doubtless true, he being its first commanding officer. But the executive ability by which that magnificent machine was perfected was largely the work of Seth Williams, a very quiet, modest man, but a master of the minutest details of every department and an indefatigable worker. It was said his chief could wake him in the middle of the night and get from his memory a correct answer as to the number of men fit for duty in any one of the hundreds of regiments in the army, and just where it was, and what duty it was doing. When one remembers that this knowledge was acquired only by a daily perusal of the consolidated reports of the various regiments, brigades, divisions, and corps of the army, and that he could have found time for one reading only, it will be seen how marvellous his memory was.
Rawlins was said to possess much the same quality. It may truthfully be said that the Army of the Potomac was organized and began its remarkable career in the life blood of Seth Williams, and it completed its work in a blaze of glory, in the life blood of John B. Rawlins. Seth Williams died in the service. Rawlins came home with the victorious army only to die. A beautiful bronze equestrian statue was erected at Washington under the influence of his beloved chief, Grant, to commemorate the services of Rawlins. So far as I know, Seth Williams shares the fate of most of his humbler comrades,—an unmarked grave.
I have said all orders were sent out through the adjutant-general's office. This, of course, applies to all regular routine work only, for during the movements of troops on campaigns and in battle orders had in the nature of the case to be delivered verbally. For this purpose each general had a number of aides-de-camp. In sending such orders, the utmost courtesy was always observed. The formula was usually thus, "General Kimball presents his compliments to Colonel Oakford and directs that he move his regiment to such and such a point." To which Colonel Oakford responds returning his compliments to General Kimball and says "his order directing so and so has been received and shall be immediately obeyed."
The quartermaster's department was charged with all matters connected with transportation; with the supplying of clothing, canvas, and equipage of all sorts. Both the commissary and the ordnance departments were dependent upon the quartermaster for the transportation of their respective stores. The wagon trains required by the Army of the Potomac for all this service were prodigious. They were made up of four and six mule teams with heavy "prairie schooners" or canvas-covered wagons. I have seen two thousand of them halted for the night in a single park, and such trains on the march six to ten miles long were not unusual. It will readily be seen that to have them within easy reach, and prevent their falling into the hands of an alert enemy, was a tremendous problem in all movements of the army.
The army mule has been much caricatured, satirized, and abused, but the soldier had no more faithful or indispensable servant than this same patient, plodding, hard-pulling, long-eared fellow of the roomy voice and nimble heels. The "boys" told a story which may illustrate the mule's education. A "tenderfoot" driver had gotten his team stalled in a mud hole, and by no amount of persuasion could he get them to budge an inch. Helpers at the wheels and new hands on the lines were all to no purpose. A typical army bummer had been eying the scene with contemptuous silence. Finally he cut loose:
"Say! You 'uns dunno the mule language. Ye dunno the dilec. Let a perfesser in there."
He was promptly given the job. He doffed cap and blouse, marched up to those mules as if he weighed a ton and commanded the army. Clearing away the crowd, he seized the leader's line, and distending his lungs, he shot out in a voice that could have been heard a mile a series of whoops, oaths, adjectives, and billingsgate that would have silenced the proverbial London fish vender. The mules recognized the "dilec" at once, pricked up their ears and took the load out in a jiffy.
"Ye see, gents, them ar mules is used to workin' with a perfesser."
The commissary department supplied the rations, and the ordnance department the arms and ammunition, etc. Still another branch of the service was the provost-marshal's department. This was the police force of the army. It had the care and custody of all prisoners, whether those arrested for crime, or prisoners of war—those captured from the enemy. In the case of prisoners sentenced to death by court-martial, the provost guard were their executioners.
ON THE MARCH
We are bound northward through Maryland, the vets tell us, on a chase after the rebs. The army marches in three and four parallel columns, usually each corps in a column by itself, and distant from the other columns equal to about its length in line of battle, say a half to three-fourths of a mile. Roads were utilized as far as practicable, but generally were left to the artillery and the wagon trains, whilst the infantry made roads for themselves directly through the fields.
The whole army marches surrounded by "advance and rear guards," and "flankers," to prevent surprise. Each column is headed by a corps of pioneers who, in addition to their arms, are provided with axes, picks and shovels, with the latter stone walls and fences are levelled sufficiently to permit the troops to pass, and ditches and other obstructions covered and removed. It is interesting to see how quickly this corps will dispose of an ordinary stone wall or rail fence. They go down so quickly that they hardly seem to pause in their march.
We learn that the Johnnies are only a couple of days ahead of us. That they marched rapidly and were on their good behavior, all marauding being forbidden, and they were singing a new song, entitled "My Maryland," thus trying to woo this loyal border State over to the Confederacy. We were told that Lee hung two soldiers for stealing chickens and fruit just before they entered Frederick City.
Much could be written about the discomforts of these marches, the chief of which was the dust more than the heat and the fatigue. No rain had fallen for some time, and the roads and the fields through which we passed were powdered into fine dust, which arose in almost suffocating clouds, so that mouth, lungs, eyes, and ears were filled with it. Sometimes it became so dense that men could not be seen a dozen yards away. The different regiments took turns in heading the columns. There was comparative comfort at the head, but there were so many regiments that during the whole campaign our regiment enjoyed this privilege but once.
Another feature of the march was inability to satisfy thirst. The dust and heat no doubt produced an abnormal thirst which water did not seem to satisfy. The water we could get was always warm, and generally muddy and filthy. The latter was caused by the multitude of men using the little streams, springs, or wells. Either of these, ordinarily abundant for many more than ever used them, were hardly a cup full apiece for a great army. Hence many a scrimmage took place for the first dash at a cool well or spring. On our second or third day's march, such a scrap took place between the advanced columns for a well, and in the melee one man was accidentally pushed down into it, head first, and killed. He belonged to one of the Connecticut regiments, I was told. We passed by the well, and were unable to get water, because a dead soldier lay at the bottom of it. His regiment probably got his body out, but we had to march on without stopping to learn whether they did or not. The problem of water for our army we found to be a troublesome one. Immediately we halted, much of our rest would be taken up in efforts to get water. We lost no opportunity to fill our canteens. Arriving in bivouac for the night, the first thing was a detail to fill canteens and camp kettles for supper coffee. We always bivouacked near a stream, if possible. But, then, so many men wanting it soon roiled it for miles, so that our details often had to follow the stream up three and four miles before they could get clean water. This may seem a strong statement, but if one will stop a moment and think of the effect upon even a good-sized stream, of a hundred thousand men, besides horses and mules, all wanting it for drinking, cooking, washing, and bathing (both the latter as peremptory needs as the former), he will see that the statement is no exaggeration.
An interesting feature of our first two days' march was the clearing out of knapsacks to reduce the load. Naturally each man was loaded with extras of various sorts, knicknacks of all varieties, but mostly supposed necessaries of camp life, put in by loving hands at home, a salve for this, a medicine for that, a keepsake from one and another, some the dearest of earth's treasures, each insignificant in itself, yet all taking room and adding weight to over-burdened shoulders. At the mid-day halt, on the first day knapsacks being off for rest, they came open and the sorting began. It was sad, yet comical withal, to notice the things that went out. The most bulky and least treasured went first. At the second halting, an hour later, still another sorting was made. The sun was hot and the knapsack was heavy. After the second day's march, those knapsacks contained little but what the soldier was compelled to carry, his rations, extra ammunition, and clothing. Were these home treasures lost? Oh, no! Not one. Our friends, the vets, gathered them all in as a rich harvest. They had been there themselves, and knowing what was coming, were on hand to gather the plums as they fell. The only difference was, that another mother's or sweetheart's "boy" got the treasures.
On September 11 we were approaching Frederick City. Our cavalry had a skirmish with the rebel cavalry, showing that we were nearing their army. And right here I ought to say that what an individual officer or soldier—unless perhaps a general officer—knows of events transpiring around him in the army is very little. Even the movements he sees, he is seldom able to understand, his vision is so limited. He knows what his own regiment and possibly his own brigade does, but seldom more than that. He is as often the victim of false rumor as to movements of other portions of the army, as those who are outside of it. On this date we encamped near Clarksville. It was rumored that the rebels were in force at Frederick City. How far away that is we do not know. The only certainty about army life and army movements to the soldier is a constant condition of uncertainty. Uncertainty as to where or when he will eat, sleep, or fight, where or when the end will come. One would almost doubt the certainty of his own existence, except for the hard knocks which make this impossible.
The celebrated Irish brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher, was in Richardson's division. They were a "free and easy" going crowd. General Richardson impressed me as a man of great determination and courage. He was a large, heavy man, dressed roughly and spoke and acted very brusquely. French (who commanded our division) was also thick-set, probably upwards of sixty years old, quite gray and with a very red face. He had an affection of the eyes which kept him winking or blinking constantly, from which he earned the sobriquet, "Old Blink Eye." I saw General Burnside about this time. He was dressed so as to be almost unrecognizable as a general officer; wore a rough blouse, on the collar of which a close look revealed two much-battered and faded stars, indicating his rank of major-general. He wore a black "slouch" hat, the brim well down over his face, and rode along with a single orderly, without the least ostentation. The men of the other regiments knew him and broke out into a cheer, at which he promptly doffed his hat and swung it at the boys. His hat off, we recognized the handsome author of the "Burnside" whiskers. He was not only very popular with his own corps—the Ninth—but with the whole army, and chiefly, I think, because of his modest, quiet way of going about. This was so different from General McClellan.
On our third day's march we were halted for rest, when an orderly rode through the lines saying to the different colonels, "General McClellan will pass this way in ten minutes." This meant that we were to be ready to cheer "Little Mac" when he came along, which, of course, we all did. He came, preceded by a squadron of cavalry and accompanied by a very large and brilliantly caparisoned staff, followed by more cavalry. He was dressed in the full uniform of a major-general and rode a superb horse, upon which he sat faultlessly. He was certainly a fine-looking officer and a very striking figure. But whether all this "fuss and feathers" was designed to impress the men, or was a freak of personal vanity, it did not favorably impress our men. Many of the old vets, who had been with him on the Peninsula, and now greeted him again after his reinstatement, were very enthusiastic. But notwithstanding their demonstrations, they rather negatived their praises by the remark, "No fight to-day; Little Mac has gone to the front." "Look out for a fight when he goes to the rear." On the other hand, they said when "Old Man Sumner"—our corps commander—"goes to the front, look out for a fight."
General Sumner was an old man—must have been nearly seventy—gray, and his color indicated advanced age, though he seemed quite vigorous. He went about very quietly and without display. He had a singular habit of dropping his under jaw, so that his mouth was partially open much of the time.
We bivouacked on the 12th of September in front of Frederick City, Md., in a field occupied the night before by the rebels, so the people told us, and there was abundant evidence of their presence in the filth they left uncovered, for they had slaughtered beef for their troops and the putrid offal therefrom was polluting the air. Still there we had to sleep. We marched the latter part of the day in the rain, and were soon well covered with mud. We managed to keep some of the water out with our gum blankets, and when we came to fix for the night, the men going in pairs made themselves fairly comfortable under their shelter tents. I should have explained that the only "canvas" supplied to the men on the march was shelter tents, which consisted of a square of stout muslin with button-holes on one side and buttons on the other. Two of these buttoned together and stretched taut over a ridge-pole and made fast on the ground, would keep out the heaviest shower, provided the occupants were careful not to touch the muslin. A hand or elbow accidentally thrust against the tent brought the water through in streams. There is a knack in doing this, which the experience of the vets with whom we were brigaded soon taught us. Choosing ground a little slanting, so the water would run away from them, they would sleep fairly dry and comfortable, even in a hard storm. As for us officers who were without shelter tents, we had to shift for ourselves as best we might. A favorite plan, when fences were available, was to place three or four rails endwise against the fence and make a shelter by fastening a gum blanket on top.
This worked fairly well against a stone wall for a backing, but against an ordinary fence one side was unprotected, yet with another gum blanket, two of us could so roll ourselves up as to be comparatively water-proof. My diary states that in a driving rainstorm here I never slept better in my life. I remember awakening with my head thoroughly drenched, but otherwise comparatively dry.
This night I succeeded in getting a "bang up" supper—a cooked meal—at a reb farm-house. It consisted of pork-steak, potatoes, and hot coffee with bread and butter. It was a great treat. I had now been without a square meal for nearly ten days. The old gentleman, a small farmer, talked freely about the war, not concealing his rebel sympathies. He extolled Stonewall Jackson and his men, who, he said, had passed through there only a day ahead of us. He firmly believed we would be whipped. He evidently had an eye for the "main chance," for he was quite willing to cook for us at twenty-five cents a meal, as long as he had stuff to cook and his good wife had strength to do the work. She seemed to be a nice old lady, and, hungry as I was, I felt almost unwilling to eat her supper, she looked so tired. I told her it was too bad. She smiled and said she was tired, but she couldn't bear to turn away these hungry boys. She said she had a son in the rebel army, and she knew we must be hungry and wet, for it was still raining hard.
The officers at this time experienced difficulty in getting food to eat. The men were supplied with rations and forced to carry them, but rations were not issued to officers—though they might purchase of the commissary such as the men had, when there was a supply. The latter were supposed to provide their own mess, for which purpose their mess-kits were transported in a wagon supplied to each regiment. The field and staff usually made one mess, and the line or company officers another. Sometimes the latter messed with their own men, carrying their rations along on the march the same as the men. This was discouraged by the government, but it proved the only way to be sure of food when needed, and was later on generally adopted. We had plenty of food with our mess-kit and cook, but on the march, and especially in the presence of the enemy, our wagons could never get within reach of us. Indeed, when we bivouacked, they were generally from eight to ten miles away. The result was we often went hungry, unless we were able to pick up a meal at a farm-house—which seldom occurred, for the reason that most of these farmers were rebel sympathizers and would not feed us "Yanks," or they would be either sold out, or stolen out, of food. The tale generally told was, "You 'uns has stolen all we 'uns had." This accounts for the entry in my diary that the next morning I marched without breakfast, but got a good bath in the Monocacy—near which we encamped—in place of it. I got a "hardtack" and bit of raw pork about 10 A.M.
On the 13th of September, we passed through the city of Frederick, Md. It is a quaint old town, having then probably three thousand or more inhabitants and a decided business air. The rebels, they claimed, had cleaned them out of eatables and clothing, paying for them in Confederate scrip, and one man told me they would not take the same scrip in change, but required Union money; that this was demanded everywhere. General McClellan passed through the streets while we were halted, as did General Burnside shortly after. A funny incident occurred with the latter. General Burnside, as usual, was accompanied by a single orderly, and had stopped a moment to speak to some officers, when a handsome, middle-aged lady stepped out of her house and approached. She put out her hand and, as the general clasped it, she raised herself up on her toes in an unmistakable motion to greet him with a kiss.
The general so understood her, and, doffing his hat, bent down to meet her pouting lips, but, alas, he was too high up; bend as low as he might and stretch up as high as she could, their lips did not meet, and the kiss hung in mid-air. The boys caught the situation in a moment, and began to laugh and clap their hands, but the general solved the problem by dismounting and taking his kiss in the most gallant fashion, on which he was roundly cheered by the men. The lady was evidently of one of the best families. She said she was a stanch Union woman, and was so glad to see our troops that she felt she must greet our general. There was "method in her madness," however, for she confined her favors to a general, and picked out the handsomest one of the lot. It is worthy of note, that during this incident, which excited uproarious laughter, not a disrespectful remark was made by any of the hundreds of our "boys" who witnessed it. General Burnside chatted with her for a few moments, then remounted and rode away.
Approaching Frederick City, the country is exceptionally beautiful and the land seemed to be under a good state of cultivation. In front of us loomed up almost against the sky the long ridge called the South Mountain. It was evidently a spur of the Blue Ridge. Another incident occurred soon after reaching bivouac, just beyond the city. We had arranged for our night's "lodging" and were preparing supper, when one of the native farmers came into camp and asked to see the colonel. Colonel Oakford and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox were temporarily absent, and he was turned over to Major Albright, to whom he complained that "you 'uns" had stolen his last pig and he wanted pay for it. The major, who was a lawyer, began to cross-question him as to how he knew it was our men who had stolen it; there were at least fifty other regiments besides ours on the ground. But he would not be denied.
He said they told him they was "a hundred and thirty-two uns," and he also saw those figures on their caps. The major asked how long ago they took it. He replied that they got it only a little while ago, and offered to go and find it if the major would allow him. But the latter was confident he was mistaken in his men—that some of the old "vets" had got his pig. His chief argument was that our men were greenhorns and knew nothing about marauding; that some of the "vets" had doubtless made away with his pig and had laid it on our men. So persuasive was the major that the man finally went off satisfied that he had made a mistake in his men. The man was only well out of camp when one of our men appeared at the major's quarters with a piece of fresh pork for his supper, with the compliments of Company——. Now, the orders against marauding were very severe, and to have been caught would have involved heavy punishment. But the chief point of the incident, and which made it a huge joke on the major, lay in the fact that the latter who was a thoroughly conscientious man, had successfully fought off a charge against his men, whom he really believed to be innocent, only to find that during the very time he was persuading his man of their innocence, the scamps were almost within sound of his voice, actually butchering and dressing the pig. How they managed to capture and kill that pig, without a single squeal escaping, is one of the marvels of the service. Certainly vets could have done no better. The man was gone, the mischief was done, the meat was spoiling, and we were very hungry. With rather cheerful sadness, it must be confessed, we became particeps criminis, and made a supper on the pork.
DRAWING NEAR THE ENEMY—BATTLE OF SOUTH MOUNTAIN—PRELIMINARY SKIRMISHES
Sunday, September 15, we broke camp at daylight and marched out on the Hagerstown "pike." Our division had the field this day. We crossed the ridge in rear of Frederick City and thence down into and up a most beautiful valley. We made only about seven miles, though we actually marched over twelve. We were in the presence of the enemy and were manoeuvred so as to keep concealed. We heard heavy cannonading all day, and part of the time could see our batteries, towards which we were marching.
Towards night we heard the first musketry firing. It proved to be the closing of the short but sanguinary battle of South Mountain. General Reno, commanding the Ninth Corps, whose glistening bayonets we had seen across the valley ahead of us, had overtaken the rebel rear guard in South Mountain pass and a severe action had ensued. General Reno himself was killed. His body was brought back next morning in an ambulance on its way to Washington. We reached the battle-ground about midnight, whither we had been hurried as supports. The batteries on both sides were still at work, but musketry firing had ceased. It had been a beautiful though very warm day, and the night was brilliantly moonlight, one of those exceptionally bright nights which almost equalled daylight. And this had been Sunday—the Lord's day! How dreadful the work for the Lord's day!
Here I saw the first dead soldier. Two of our artillerymen had been killed while serving their gun. Both were terribly mangled. They had been laid aside, while others stepped into their places. There they still lay, horrible evidence of the "hell of war." Subsequently I saw thousands of the killed on both sides, which made scarcely more impression on me than so many logs, but this first vision of the awful work of war still remains. Even at this writing, forty years later, memory reproduces that horrible scene as clearly as on that beautiful Sabbath evening.
It was past midnight when we bivouacked for the little rest we were to have before resuming the "chase." Being now in the immediate "presence of the enemy," we rested on "our arms," that is, every soldier lay down with his gun at his side, and knapsack and accoutrements ready to be "slung" immediately on the sounding of the "call." We officers did not unsaddle our horses, but dismounted and snatched an hour's sleep just as we were. Bright and early next morning we were on our way again. It was a most beautiful morning.
We soon passed the field where the musketry did its work the night before, and there were more than a hundred dead rebels scattered over the field, as the result of it. Two or three were sitting upright, or nearly so, against stumps. They had evidently been mortally wounded, and died while waiting for help. All were dressed in coarse butternut-colored stuffs, very ugly in appearance, but admirably well calculated to conceal them from our troops.
We rapidly passed over the mountain (South Mountain) and down into the village of Boonsborough. There was abundant evidence of the rebel skedaddle down the mountain ahead of our troops in the way of blankets, knapsacks, and other impedimenta, evidently dropped or thrown away in the flight. We passed several squads of rebel prisoners who had been captured by our cavalry and were being marched to the rear under guard. They were good-looking boys, apparently scarcely more than boys, and were poorly dressed and poorly supplied.
Some freely expressed themselves as glad they had been captured, as they were sick of the fighting.
My own experiences this day were a taste of "the front," that is, the excitement attending a momentarily expected "brush" with the enemy. Part of the time my heart was in my mouth, and my hair seemed to stand straight up. One can have little idea of this feeling until it has been experienced. Any effort to describe it will be inadequate. Personal fear? Yes, that unquestionably is at the bottom of it, and I take no stock in the man who says he has no fear. We had been without food until late in the afternoon for reasons heretofore explained. Towards night one of my friends in Company K gave me a cup of coffee and a "hardtack."
Just before reaching Boonsborough, a pretty village nestling at the foot of the South Mountain, our cavalry had a sharp skirmish with the rebel rear-guard, in which Captain Kelley, of the Illinois cavalry, was killed, I was told. At Boonsborough we found the field hospitals with the rebel wounded from the fight of the day previous. Their wounded men said their loss was over four hundred killed, among them two brigadiers-general, one colonel, and several officers of lesser rank. A rebel flag of truce came into our lines here to get the bodies of these dead officers and to arrange for burying their dead and caring for their wounded. The houses of Boonsborough had been mostly vacated by the people on the approach of the rebel army and the fighting, and the latter had promptly occupied as many of them as they needed for their wounded. Imagine these poor villagers returning from their flight to find their homes literally packed with wounded rebel soldiers and their attendants. Whatever humble food supplies they may have had, all had been appropriated, for war spares nothing. Some of the frightened people of the village were returning as we passed through, and were sadly lamenting the destruction of almost everything that could be destroyed on and about their homes by this besom of destruction,—war. Food, stock, fences, bed and bedding, etc., all gone or destroyed. Some of the houses had been perforated by the shells,—probably our own shells, aimed at the enemy. One man told me a shell had entered his house and landed on the bed in the front room, but had not exploded. Had it exploded, he would have had a bigger story to tell.
The rebels, we learned, had been gone but a few hours, and we were kept in pursuit. We marched out the Shepherdstown road a few miles, reaching and passing through another village—Keedysville. We were continuously approaching heavy cannonading. Indeed, we had been marching for the past three days within hearing of, and drawing closer to, the artillery barking of the two armies. Old vets said this meant a big fight within the next few hours. If so, I thought I shall better know how to diagnose similar symptoms in the future.
A mile beyond Keedysville we bivouacked for the night, after a hard, hot, and exciting day's chase. Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox came into camp with a great trophy, nothing less than a good old-fashioned fat loaf of home-made bread. He was immediately voted a niche in the future hall of fame, for two acts of extraordinary merit, namely, first, finding and capturing the bread, and, second, bringing it into camp intact, the latter act being considered supremely self-sacrificing. It was magnanimously divided by him, and made a supper for three of us. Our mid-day meal had been made up of dust and excitement.
All sorts of rumors were afloat as to the movements of the enemy, as well as of our own army. It was said Jackson was across the Potomac with a large force; that Hooker was engaging him, and that we were likely to bag the balance of Lee's army soon. One thing I learned, namely, that I could be sure only of what I saw, and that was very little, indeed, of the doings of either army. The soldier who professes to know all about army movements because he "was there," may be set down either as a bummer, who spent most of his time up trees, safely ensconced where he could see, or as a fake.
My diary records a night of good rest September 16, 1862, in this camp on the Shepherdstown road. The morning was clear, beautiful, and cheery. This entry will look somewhat remarkable in view of that which follows, namely, "No breakfast in sight or in prospect." Later one of our men gave me half his cup of coffee and a couple of small sweet potatoes, which I roasted and ate without seasoning.
The "ball" opened soon after daylight by a rebel battery, about three-quarters of a mile away, attempting to shell our lines. Our division was massed under the shelter of a hill. One of our batteries of 12-pounder brass guns promptly replied, and a beautiful artillery duel ensued, the first I had ever witnessed at close quarters. Many of us crept up to the brow of the hill to see the "fun," though we were warned that we were courting trouble in so doing. We could see columns of rebel infantry marching in ranks of four, just as we marched, en route, and as shell after shell from our guns would explode among them and scatter and kill we would cheer. We were enjoying ourselves hugely until presently some additional puffs of smoke appeared from their side, followed immediately by a series of very ugly hissing, whizzing sounds, and the dropping of shells amongst our troops which changed the whole aspect of things. Our merriment and cheering were replaced by a scurrying to cover, with blanched faces on some and an ominous, thoughtful quiet over all.
This was really our first baptism of fire, for though at South Mountain we had been in range and were credited with being in the fight as supports, none of the shells had actually visited us. Several of these came altogether too close for comfort. Colonel Oakford, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, and I were sitting on our horses as close together as horses ordinarily stand, when one of these ugly missiles dropped down between us. It came with a shrieking, screeching sound, like the pitch of an electric car with the added noise of a dozen sky-rockets. It did not explode. It created considerable consternation and no little stir with horses and men, but did no damage further than the scare and a good showering of gravel and dust. Another struck between the ranks of our brigade as they were resting under the hill with guns stacked,—only a few feet away from us. It also, happily, failed to explode, but we were sure some one must have been killed by it. It did not seem possible that such a missile could drop down upon a division of troops in mass without hitting somebody; but, strange as it may seem, it did no damage beyond knocking down a row of gun-stacks and tumbling topsy-turvy several men, who were badly bruised, but otherwise uninjured. The way the concussion tossed the men about was terrific. Had these shells exploded, some other body would probably have had to write up this narrative.
Another shell incident occurred during this artillery duel that looked very funny, though it was anything but funny to the poor fellow who suffered. He, with others, had been up near our battery, on the knoll just above us, witnessing the firing, when one of these rebel shells came ricochetting along the ground towards him as he evidently thought, for he started to run down the hill thinking to get away from it, but in fact running exactly in front of the shell, which carried away one heel. He continued down the hill at greatly accelerated speed, but now hopping on one foot. Had he remained where he was the missile would have passed him harmlessly. Except when nearly spent, shells are not seen until they have passed, but the screeching, whizzing, hissing noise is sufficient to make one believe they are hunting him personally. Veteran troops get to discount the terrors of these noises in a measure, and pay little attention to them, on the theory that if one is going to be hit by them he will be anyway, and no amount of dodging will save him, so they go right on and "take their chances." But with new troops the effect of a shell shrieking over or past them is often very ludicrous. An involuntary salaam follows the first sound, with a wild craning of the necks to see where it went. Upon marching troops, the effect is like that of a puff of wind chasing a wave across a field of grain.
Returning to our artillery duel, so far as we could judge, our battery had the best of the practice, but not without paying the price, for the second rebel shell killed the major (chief of artillery of our division), who sat on his horse directing the fire, and besides there were a number of casualties among the battery men. I had seen many a battery practice on parade occasions with blank cartridges. How utterly different was the thing in war. Infinitely more savage, the noise deafeningly multiplied, each gun, regardless of the others, doing its awful worst to spit out and hurl as from the mouth of a hell-born dragon these missiles of death at the enemy.
The duel continued for upwards of two hours, until the enemy's battery hauled off, having apparently had enough. Evidences of the conflict were sadly abundant. A number were killed, others wounded and several of the battery horses were killed. The work of the men in this hell of fire was magnificent. They never flagged for a moment, and at the conclusion were not in the least disabled, notwithstanding their losses. I think it was Nimm's battery from Pittsburg. This was the chief incident of the day. It was said the two armies were manoeuvring for position, and that a great battle was imminent. This from my diary. It proved to be true, and that all the skirmishes and "affaires" for the preceding ten days had been only preliminary to the great battle of Antietam, fought on the next day, the 17th.
We remained in bivouac here the remainder of the day and night. Burnside's Ninth Corps passed to "the front" during the afternoon, a splendid body of veteran troops, whose handsome and popular general was heartily cheered. He was a large, heavily-built man, and sat his handsome horse like a prince.
THE BATTLE OF ANTIETAM
Never did day open more beautiful. We were astir at the first streak of dawn. We had slept, and soundly too, just where nightfall found us under the shelter of the hill near Keedysville. No reveille call this morning. Too close to the enemy. Nor was this needed to arouse us. A simple call of a sergeant or corporal and every man was instantly awake and alert. All realized that there was ugly business and plenty of it just ahead. This was plainly visible in the faces as well as in the nervous, subdued demeanor of all. The absence of all joking and play and the almost painful sobriety of action, where jollity had been the rule, was particularly noticeable.
Before proceeding with the events of the battle, I should speak of the "night before the battle," of which so much has been said and written. My diary says that Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, Captain James Archbald, Co. I, and I slept together, sharing our blankets; that it rained during the night; this fact, with the other, that we were close friends at home, accounts for our sharing blankets. Three of us with our gum blankets could so arrange as to keep fairly dry, notwithstanding the rain.
The camp was ominously still this night. We were not allowed to sing or make any noise, nor have any fires—except just enough to make coffee—for fear of attracting the fire of the enemies' batteries. But there was no need of such an inhibition as to singing or frolicking, for there was no disposition to indulge in either. Unquestionably, the problems of the morrow were occupying all breasts. Letters were written home—many of them "last words"—and quiet talks were had, and promises made between comrades. Promises providing against the dreaded possibilities of the morrow. "If the worst happens, Jack." "Yes, Ned, send word to mother and to——, and these; she will prize them," and so directions were interchanged that meant so much.
I can never forget the quiet words of Colonel Oakford, as he inquired very particularly if my roster of the officers and men of the regiment was complete, for, said he, with a smile, "We shall not all be here to-morrow night."
Now to resume the story of the battle. We were on the march about six o'clock and moved, as I thought, rather leisurely for upwards of two miles, crossing Antietam creek, which our men waded nearly waist deep, emerging, of course, soaked through, our first experience of this kind. It was a hot morning and, therefore, the only ill effects of this wading was the discomfort to the men of marching with soaked feet. It was now quite evident that a great battle was in progress. A deafening pandemonium of cannonading, with shrieking and bursting shells, filled the air beyond us, towards which we were marching. An occasional shell whizzed by or over, reminding us that we were rapidly approaching the "debatable ground." Soon we began to hear a most ominous sound which we had never before heard, except in the far distance at South Mountain, namely, the rattle of musketry. It had none of the deafening bluster of the cannonading so terrifying to new troops, but to those who had once experienced its effect, it was infinitely more to be dreaded. The fatalities by musketry at close quarters, as the two armies fought at Antietam and all through the Civil War, as compared with those by artillery, are at least as 100 to 1, probably much more than that.
These volleys of musketry we were approaching sounded in the distance like the rapid pouring of shot upon a tinpan, or the tearing of heavy canvas, with slight pauses interspersed with single shots, or desultory shooting. All this presaged fearful work in store for us, with what results to each personally the future, measured probably by moments, would reveal.
How does one feel under such conditions? To tell the truth, I realized the situation most keenly and felt very uncomfortable. Lest there might be some undue manifestation of this feeling in my conduct, I said to myself, this is the duty I undertook to perform for my country, and now I'll do it, and leave the results with God. My greater fear was not that I might be killed, but that I might be grievously wounded and left a victim of suffering on the field.
The nervous strain was plainly visible upon all of us. All moved doggedly forward in obedience to orders, in absolute silence so far as talking was concerned. The compressed lip and set teeth showed that nerve and resolution had been summoned to the discharge of duty. A few temporarily fell out, unable to endure the nervous strain, which was simply awful. There were a few others, it must be said, who skulked, took counsel of their cowardly legs, and, despite all efforts of "file closers" and officers, left the ranks. Of these two classes most of the first rejoined us later on, and their dropping out was no reflection on their bravery. The nervous strain produced by the excitement and danger gave them the malady called by the vets, the "cannon quickstep."
On our way into "position" we passed the "Meyer Spring,"—a magnificent fountain of sweet spring water. It was walled in, and must have been ten or twelve feet square and at least three feet deep, and a stream was flowing from it large enough to make a respectable brook. Many of us succeeded in filling our canteens from this glorious spring, now surrounded by hundreds of wounded soldiers. What a Godsend it was to those poor fellows.
About eight o'clock we were formed into line of battle and moved forward through a grove of trees,[A] but before actually coming under musketry fire of the enemy we were moved back again, and swung around nearly a mile to the left to the base of a circular knoll to the left of the Roulette farm-house and the road which leads up to the Sharpsburg pike, near the Dunkard church. The famous "sunken road"—a road which had been cut through the other side of this knoll—extended from the Roulette Lane directly in front of our line towards Sharpsburg. I had ridden by the side of Colonel Oakford, except when on duty, up and down the column, and as the line was formed by the colonel and ordered forward, we dismounted and sent our horses to the rear by a servant. I was immediately sent by the colonel to the left of the line to assist in getting that into position. A rail fence separated us from the top of the knoll. Bullets were whizzing and singing by our ears, but so far hitting none where I was. Over the fence and up the knoll in an excellent line we went. In the centre of the knoll, perhaps a third of the way up, was a large tree, and under and around this tree lay a body of troops doing nothing. They were in our way, but our orders were forward, and through and over them we went.
Reaching the top of the knoll we were met by a terrific volley from the rebels in the sunken road down the other side, not more than one hundred yards away, and also from another rebel line in a corn-field just beyond. Some of our men were killed and wounded by this volley. We were ordered to lie down just under the top of the hill and crawl forward and fire over, each man crawling back, reloading his piece in this prone position and again crawling forward and firing. These tactics undoubtedly saved us many lives, for the fire of the two lines in front of us was terrific. The air was full of whizzing, singing, buzzing bullets. Once down on the ground under cover of the hill, it required very strong resolution to get up where these missiles of death were flying so thickly, yet that was the duty of us officers, especially us of the field and staff. My duty kept me constantly moving up and down that whole line.
On my way back to the right of the line, where I had left Colonel Oakford, I met Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcox, who told me the terrible news that Colonel Oakford was killed. Of the details of his death, I had no time then to inquire. We were then in the very maelstrom of the battle. Men were falling every moment. The horrible noise of the battle was incessant and almost deafening. Except that my mind was so absorbed in my duties, I do not know how I could have endured the strain. Yet out of this pandemonium memory brings several remarkable incidents. They came and went with the rapidity of a quickly revolving kaleidoscope. You caught stupendous incidents on the instant, and in an instant they had passed. One was the brave death of the major of this regiment that was lying idle under the tree. The commanding officer evidently was not doing his duty, and this major was endeavoring to rally his men and get them at work. He was swinging his hat and cheering his men forward, when a solid shot decapitated him. His poor body went down as though some giant had picked it up and furiously slammed it on the ground, and I was so near him that I could almost have touched him with my sword.
The inaction of this regiment lying behind us under that tree was very demoralizing to our men, setting them a bad example. General Kimball, who commanded our brigade, was seated on his horse just under the knoll in the rear of our regiment, evidently watching our work, and he signalled me to come to him, and then gave me orders to present his compliments to the commanding officer of that regiment and direct him to get his men up and at work. I communicated this order as directed. The colonel was hugging the ground, and merely turned his face towards me without replying or attempting to obey the order. General Kimball saw the whole thing, and again called me to him and, with an oath, commanded me to repeat the order to him at the muzzle of my revolver, and shoot him if he did not immediately obey. Said General Kimball: "Get those cowards out of there or shoot them." My task was a most disagreeable one, but I must deliver my orders, and did so, but was saved the duty of shooting by the other officers of the regiment bravely rallying their men and pushing them forward to the firing-line, where they did good work. What became of that skulking colonel, I do not know.
The air was now thick with smoke from the muskets, which not only obscured our vision of the enemy, but made breathing difficult and most uncomfortable. The day was excessively hot, and no air stirring, we were forced to breathe this powder smoke, impregnated with saltpetre, which burned the coating of nose, throat, and eyes almost like fire.
Captain Abbott, commanding Company G, from Mauch Chunk, a brave and splendid officer, was early carried to the rear, a ball having nearly carried away his under jaw. He afterwards told me that his first sensation of this awful wound was his mouth full of blood, teeth, and splintered bones, which he spat out on the ground, and then found that unless he got immediate help he would bleed to death in a few minutes. Fortunately he found Assistant Surgeon Hoover, who had been assigned to us just from his college graduation, who, under the shelter of a hay-stack, with no anaesthetic, performed an operation which Dr. Gross, of Philadelphia, afterwards said had been but once before successfully performed in the history of surgery, and saved his life. Lieutenant Anson C. Cranmer, Company C, was killed, and the ground was soon strewn with the dead and wounded. Soon our men began to call for more ammunition, and we officers were kept busy taking from the dead and wounded and distributing to the living. Each man had eighty rounds when we began the fight. One man near me rose a moment, when a missile struck his gun about midway, and actually capsized him. He pulled himself together, and, finding he was only a little bruised, picked up another gun, with which the ground was now strewn, and went at it again.
Directly, a lull in the enemy's firing occurred, and we had an opportunity to look over the hill a little more carefully at their lines. Their first line in the sunken road seemed to be all dead or wounded, and several of our men ran down there, to find that literally true. They brought back the lieutenant-colonel, a fine-looking man, who was mortally wounded. I shook his hand, and he said, "God bless you, boys, you are very kind." He asked to be laid down in some sheltered place, for, said he, "I have but a few moments to live." I well remember his refined, gentlemanly appearance, and how profoundly sorry I felt for him. He was young, lithely built, of sandy complexion, and wore a comparatively new uniform of Confederate gray, on which was embroidered the insignia of the "5th Ga.,[B] C. S. A." He said, "You have killed all my brave boys; they are there in the road." And they were, I saw them next day lying four deep in places as they fell, a most awful picture of battle carnage. This lull was of very short duration, and like the lull of a storm presaged a renewal of the firing with greater fury, for a fresh line of rebel troops had been brought up. This occurred three times before we were relieved.