BY ONE WHO TOOK PART IN IT AS A PRIVATE
SOLDIER IN THE 21ST VOLUNTEER REGIMENT
OF INFANTRY FROM MASSACHUSETTS
By James Madison Stone
All rights reserved
To the memory of the soldiers of the 21st Regiment, and to their loyal descendants, living or dead, this volume is affectionately dedicated by
This volume does not claim to be a tactical, or strategic history of the campaigns of which it treats; it aims rather to be a narrative of the every-day life and experience of the private soldier in camp and field—how he lived, how he marched, how he fought and how he suffered. No sooner had some of the volunteers reached the front, and been subjected to the hardships and exposures of army life, than they fell sick, were sent to the hospital and were discharged without passing through any serious campaigns. Others were wounded early, were disabled and were never able to return to their regiments. The more fortunate passed sound and unscathed through battle after battle and campaign after campaign through the whole war. Three years of active campaigning and a year in the hospital was the allotment of the writer, who thus was in the service from the beginning to the end of the war.
Whatever the merits or demerits of this work may be, the impressions and the composition are my own. They are an elaboration of notes made during the war and directly after it, following which, it has taken the form of a diary.
[Pg 6]The part of the work which has been least interesting, consumed more time and required some research, has been in fixing the dates when the different incidents occurred, they having passed entirely from memory long ago. With these few words, the work is submitted by the writer to his comrades of those four eventful and trying years, when the life of the Republic hung in the balance, in the hope that it may be an aid in calling to mind fading recollections of pleasant incidents, as well as heroic deeds performed by comrades.
|Learning to be a Soldier||9|
|Leaving Camp Lincoln for the front. At Baltimore, Maryland. Cantaloupes and Peaches. Annapolis, Maryland. Chesapeake Bay oysters. Assisting negroes to escape. Doing picket duty on the railroad. A Negro husking. Chaplain Ball arrives from Massachusetts. Assigned to the 2d Brigade, 2d Division, 9th Army Corps.|
|The North Carolina Campaign||27|
|On shipbound. Burial at sea. At Hatteras Inlet. Battle of Roanoke Island. Battle of Newbern. Reading Johnnies’ love letters. Athletics. Battle of Camden. Went to the relief of the 2d Maryland.|
|In Virginia under General Pope||53|
|A ride in the Confederate doctor’s “One horse Chaise.” Living off the country. Learning the distance to Germania Ford. The Second Battle of Bull Run. The Battle of Chantilly.|
|With McClellan in Maryland||83|
|The Barbara Fretchie Incident. The Battle of South Mountain. Death of General Reno. The Battle of Antietam. Clara Barton. President Lincoln visits the army. Visited a farmhouse very near a Confederate Camp.|
|The Fredericksburg Campaign||101|
|A hard race for a pig. Chaplain Ball returns home. Picket duty along the river. The Battle of Fredericksburg. Burying the dead. Christmas revels with the Confederates. A band of horn-blowers. A raid on the sutler. A costume ball at Hotel de Ville.|
|Playing Soldier in Kentucky||127|
|Our breakfast at Baltimore. The trip west. The Reception at Mt. Sterling. Moved into the town.|
|The Campaign in Tennessee||137|
|We crossed the Cumberland Range. The patient mule. Seeing a railroad engine with a train of cars make a dive. The siege of Knoxville. Will you lend me my Nigger Colonel. Re-enlistment. Recrossed the Mountains, returning to Kentucky on the way home, on our re-enlistment furlough.|
|Home on a Re-enlistment Furlough||155|
|The trip home. Reception at Worcester. The Social Whirl. We returned to Annapolis.|
|With Grant in Virginia||159|
|The Battle of the Wilderness. The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Johnnies caught un-dressed. The Battle of Bethseda Church. The Johnnie who wanted to see the sun rise. Life in the trenches during the siege of Petersburg. Wounded.|
|Life in the Hospital||182|
|That ride in the ambulance. Emory Hospital. The woman with my Mother’s name. The dreadful death rate. President Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Booth’s Ride. Doing clerical work in Philadelphia. Discharged.|
Leaving Camp Lincoln for the front. At Baltimore, Maryland. Cantaloupes and Peaches. Annapolis, Maryland. Chesapeake Bay oysters. Assisting negroes to escape. Doing picket duty on the railroad. A Negro husking. Chaplain Ball arrives from Massachusetts. Assigned to the 2d Brigade, 2d Division, 9th Army Corps.
During the winter of 1860 and 1861 there was great uneasiness felt in the North. The South, through the democratic party, had been the ruling section of the country most of the time since the establishment of the Republic, but at the time of the election in the autumn of 1860 a northern political party had won. That party was not only a northern party, but it was an abolition party. The election of an abolition president, Mr. Lincoln, by the North, was at once regarded as a menace to the slave holding interests of the South, which section at once began to make preparations to withdraw from the Union. As the spring months passed and Mr. Lincoln, the new president, took his seat, secession was more and more talked about. Soon the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked in Baltimore. Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was fired upon. Battalion after battalion of the state militia were being hurried away south for the protection of the Capitol. It thus became[Pg 10] more and more apparent that there was to be war, and the all-important question from the northern viewpoint was, the preservation of the Union. One Sunday in the month of June I went home to visit my family, I being at the time at work away from home, and while there, quietly asked my mother what she would say if I should enlist. Well, that question produced a shock, and was not answered as quietly as it was asked. I was told I could not enlist without her consent, which she should not give, and I was heartily laughed at by my brothers and sisters. However, when it became known that a company was being recruited at Barre, I went quietly over there and enlisted, then I went home and told the family what I had done. There was a rumpus, of course, but it passed off, and after a few days, hearing nothing from the company, I decided to go back to work again and await developments. On the 22d I learned that the company was going into camp at Worcester the next day. I was on hand and went along.
A number of stage-coaches were provided to take us to Worcester. It was an interesting and picturesque ride of a little more than twenty miles. Arriving in Worcester early in the afternoon, we went to the Agricultural Fair Grounds, which had been converted into a campground and named Camp Lincoln from[Pg 11] Levi Lincoln, the first mayor of Worcester and a Governor of Massachusetts, and set to work putting up tents and forming a company street. Sleeping in tents, drilling and doing guard duty seemed strange at first, and was a good deal of a change from the duties of a farmer’s boy, but it was interesting to be among a lot of live young men who were brimful of enthusiasm, patriotism and fun.
When I joined the company at Barre, I was surprised to discover a number of Dana boys there: Henry Billings, Henry Haskins, German Lagara, Gil Warner and Harding Witt. Harding Witt and I had been schoolmates and good friends for a number of years, so I was especially glad to find Harding there. Reveille was sounded at five o’clock. Most of the boys did not find it difficult to get up at that time but a few of those boys made the greatest ado about getting up on the minute. They were very likely boys who had always been called by loving mothers and had been called two or three times every morning. A quarter of an hour after reveille every man had to turn out to roll call. The men thus had fifteen minutes to dress and put their tents in order. At six o’clock the breakfast signal was sounded and all fell in line to go to the cook-house and get their breakfasts. The cup and plate furnished[Pg 12] by the government were of tin, much like those I remember having seen children use in early boyhood. They were expected to stand the rough usage of army life. Knives, forks and spoons were of the same rude character. Pedlers, however, early appeared in camp with a combination, the three hooking together and making a very light, portable and convenient thing to carry, and many of the boys bought and carried them in preference to those furnished by the government. Some of the rations were served out to the men, as soon as received from the Commissary Department, such as sugar, salt, bread and salt pork. Other things like corned beef, beans and coffee were cooked by the company cook and served at meal times hot. Soft bread, a very good kind of wheat bread, was furnished at convenient times when we were in camp, at other times we received the regular army crackers. These were sometimes, during the first year, very poor; they had doubtless been in the government storehouses a long time, but later on when we received fresh crackers they were very palatable.
At eight o’clock every morning the surgeons’ call was sounded and any man who did not feel well could go and see the doctor, perhaps get excused from duty, get some pills or some[Pg 13] quinine to take, or, if sick, be given a bed in the hospital. Although I spent nearly the entire year in the hospital (the last year of my service, after being wounded in July, 1864), previous to that time I only once answered the surgeons’ call and that was when every man in the regiment was ordered up to the surgeon’s tent and given a dose of quinine and whiskey. This was while we were at Newbern, North Carolina, when chills and fever were prevalent in the regiment. At nine o’clock in the evening tattoo was sounded, the signal for all soldiers to repair to their quarters, and fifteen minutes later taps gave the signal for all lights to be extinguished. This living in accordance with military regulation, seemed a little strange and reminded the writer of the time when he lived in a factory village where a bell sounded the time to get up, where one is rung into the factory and rung out again, suggesting a kind of life where a man becomes simply a cog in a wheel.
We had been in camp about two weeks when we learned the Barre company was to be known as Company K, and that the regiment was to be the 21st Regiment of volunteer infantry from Massachusetts. We had wall tents with floors, and very good bunks to sleep on. If nothing else could be got a chip or a quart[Pg 14] bottle made a candlestick, but a bayonet which could be stuck in the ground was more reliable. A large potato flattened on one side and a hole dug out for the candle, or a cake of soap were also pretty serviceable. When I enlisted at Barre I received a military cap, it was one of the caps of the Barre Militia Company. It was the only garment of a military character I had until I received my United States uniform just before leaving Worcester for the front. The color was navy blue and it was trimmed with a red cord. It was a French type of cap, but it was afterwards known as the McClellan cap throughout the army.
Drilling was, of course, the principal work of the day, at first in marching, company drill, platoon drill, squad drill, all to familiarize us with the movements of soldiers in two ranks. After a time we received muskets and then began the exercises in the manual of arms. Those muskets were of the most horrible kind imaginable, but they answered to drill with. That, however, was all they were good for excepting old junk. The name of our first captain was Parker. He was about six feet, six inches long. I think he was elected captain on account of his great length. He had been in the militia, I believe, but he knew as much about drilling or military matters generally[Pg 15] as a South Sea Islander. As time went on, it was probably realized at headquarters that Captain Parker was not a suitable man to command a company in actual service, and he was never sworn into the United States service, and when we left Worcester for the front, the company was commanded by Thomas Washburn, a Worcester man. The first lieutenant was a Methodist minister, a schemer and a shark. He expected to be made chaplain of the regiment and failing in that, soon left us, taking with him about $90.00 of the company’s funds. The second lieutenant was a man by the name of Williams, a Barre man. I remember him as a man with a very large beard. A tall, slim man who was something of a drill master used to come over to camp, from the city and drill us occasionally. He wore a military uniform, stood very erect and had rather a military bearing. I think he would have accepted a commission in the company if one had been offered him, but he was not thus honored by Company K.
While in camp my sister Lizzie came down to Worcester and visited me, staying with some friends in the city, and the day we broke camp and started for the front, my brother John came down to see me off. August 16th, an officer of the United States regular army[Pg 16] visited the regiment and mustered us into the volunteer service of the United States. The next day we received our uniforms, a woolen and an India rubber blanket. This last had a slit in the middle through which the head could be thrust, one end dropping down in front, the other end covering the back, thus taking the place of a waterproof overcoat. Our uniforms were of two colors, light or sky blue and dark navy blue. The trousers and overcoats were of sky blue, the latter having a cape. The blouse and cap were of a dark or navy blue. The cap was somewhat like the McClellan cap in form, but the circular stiff part on top tipped forward farther than on the McClellan cap.
The uniform of the non-commissioned officers, the corporal and sergeant, were the same as the private, they wearing chevrons on the sleeves of their coats to indicate their ranks. The commissioned officers were not expected to associate with the privates at all; they belonged to another class of men entirely. They dressed in a very smart way. Their uniforms were all tailor-made, all dark blue in color; the dress coat quite a little like the Prince Albert coat; the cap they wore was usually the McClellan cap. Our accoutrements consisted of a belt, a cartridge box, cap box, bayonet-scabbard,[Pg 17] haversack, canteen and knapsack. We were also furnished with new guns, Springfield smoothbores. These were a little better than those we had been using to drill with, but they were none too good. Thus, in a few days, these hundreds of boys were converted into a regiment of infantry soldiers, and on August 23d we marched forth from Camp Lincoln, our belts bristling with large bowie knives and revolvers, and started for the front. We took a train for Norwich, Conn. There we boarded a boat for Jersey City. As we passed along through the state, people in large numbers were gathered at the railroad stations to greet us, and from nearly every farmhouse a little flag or handkerchief signaled us a sympathetic goodbye. While we lay on the wharf at Jersey City, who should appear but George and Fred Lincoln of Brooklyn, N. Y. Their father was a Hardwick man and the family used to spend their summer vacations at the old family home in Hardwick at the time I worked for Mr. Walker. We had thus come to know each other quite well. They were two fine boys and I was glad to see them. About noon a train of freight cars were ready and we clambered aboard and started for Philadelphia. All the way through New Jersey the people were out in the streets waving their handkerchiefs and bidding us[Pg 18] goodbye. So much goodbye-saying annoyed me after a time, and I withdrew inside the car out of sight and engaged my mind with other thoughts. About eight o’clock in the evening we reached Philadelphia. Here we were marched to the Cooper Shop saloon and were given a fine supper. We were very hungry and that supper was so good. We were made so welcome and everything connected with it was so kindly and so genuine that through all our lives this was one of the incidents we looked back to with a feeling of grateful appreciation. If that was an example of Quaker kindness and Quaker charity I raise my hat to the descendants of William Penn and his colony.
Havre-de-Grace, where we arrived the next morning, August 25th, will always be remembered as the place where we received our first ammunition and where for the first time, we loaded our muskets with real ball cartridges. We were nearing Baltimore and would soon be on the edge of Rebeldom, but when we arrived in Baltimore, nothing occurred out of the ordinary. We marched unmolested and unnoticed through the city to Patterson Park, where we went into camp. I confess to not having slept much the first night we were there. It seemed as if it must be a city of dogs and the whole population was on the street[Pg 19] barking all night. Such a barking, such a never-ending uproar—I never heard anything approaching it until I visited Cairo and Constantinople in recent years. Those cities are filled with tramp dogs, and as a result there is a constant breaking out of the barking of the dogs through the whole night. The second night we were at Patterson Park, the long roll was beaten at about one o’clock at night. We turned out, fell into line ready for business in short order but that was all there was to it; it was part of the exercise we were to become accustomed to, I imagine. We stayed at Baltimore three days and nothing out of the ordinary occurred. To be sure, we were not treated very cordially, but we were not insulted, we were just left severely alone. Personally, after I got a taste of the peaches and cantaloupes, I thoroughly enjoyed myself there. Those peaches and cantaloupes were of the finest kind and so cheap, I ate to my heart’s content—rather to my stomach’s content. August 29th we went to Annapolis, where we were quartered in the Naval School buildings. The cadets and everything that was movable had been taken to Newport, R. I. The grounds of the academy supplied us with a fine drill field and we utilized it constantly and became, as we thought, quite proficient. But one fine day as the troops assembled there to[Pg 20] go on the Sherman expedition to Bufort and Port Royal, S. C., there came two German regiments from New York City. Every man was by birth a German and they had evidently been through the military training incident to all native German boys. Well, the evolutions of those regiments as they drilled were a revelation to us. None of us had at the time seen anything comparable with it and it made us feel as provincial as you please.
At Baltimore we had a glimpse of negro life,—but it was only a glimpse. We were there so short a time, and not being allowed to leave camp, all we saw was the glances we got as we marched through the city on our way to the camp and as we went away. But at Annapolis and on the railroad out in the country we had a chance to see something of the negro and negro life. Those we saw on the street and about the town at Annapolis were fairly well dressed and looked a little poorer only than those one would see in a northern city. One day, however, while out rowing with a crowd of the boys we landed at the wharf of a man in the oyster business; boat loads of oysters were arriving at the wharf, brought in by negroes who raked them, and in a small building were a number of negro men and women opening oysters. These last were a sight to be remembered.[Pg 21] The negroes were hardly dressed at all, and the few clothes they had on were of the very coarsest material, and they looked about like the kind one would expect to see in Africa. Our cattle and horses in the North have the appearance of being better cared for, and as those negroes worked, there was no intimation of intelligence; they worked like horses in a treadmill. Later on, while doing picket duty out on the railroad, I saw a lot of cornfield negroes at a negro husking. There was a long pile of corn heaped up just as it was cut in the field and all around it sat the negroes husking. They sang most of the time a monotonous sing-song tune. There were present negroes from different parts of the plantation and there was a feud to be avenged. All at once each man whipped out an axe-handle and at each other they went with a fury thoroughly brutal, pounding each other on the body, head or anywhere. The overseers were soon after them and had them separated and at their husking again. The axe-handles, all that could be got hold of, were taken away from them. These field negroes, or cornfield negroes, are about the lowest and worst in the South. Great care has to be exercised to prevent them from getting hold of knives. Had half a dozen of these negroes had knives at that time there would have been a lot[Pg 22] of blood spilled. There was quite a little spilled as it was.
October 22. There has been quite a bit of excitement the last two days in camp caused by the secreting in the grounds of a negro slave who was also assisted in his escape by some of the boys. The negro belonged to Governor Hicks and he was seen making his escape into the grounds. Colonel Morse did his best to find the negro but no one else gave himself any trouble about the matter. The negro was carefully hidden in an old chimney until night, when one of the boys stole a rowboat in the town, took it around to a little dark place behind some old sheds, loaded Mr. Negro into the boat, gave him a bag of hardtack and started him off down the sound in the direction of Baltimore.
It was no uncommon thing for negroes to be assisted in making their escape by the boys, but this negro, having been seen entering the grounds by the main gate, and the owner being no less a person than the Governor of the State, the affair was given exceptional importance.
Those of us boys who were fond of shell fish, had a treat at Annapolis. The famous Chesapeake Bay oysters were in abundance, cheap and delicious. Besides these, there was a kind of crab the fishermen brought to the[Pg 23] wharf and sold to us, that was as sweet and as delicious as they could be.
October 29. Company K and three other companies were sent out on to the railroad between Annapolis and Annapolis Junction to do picket duty along the railroad, relieving the companies that had been out there while we were at Annapolis. When we boarded the train to go out, it was discovered that the orderly sergeant was drunk. It was his duty to have the camp equipment for each of the posts along the road all together, and kept together, that it could be unloaded from the train without delay at each of the different stations. When we reached the first station it was found that the camp equipage was in the same muddled state as the sergeant’s brains. It was the usual thing when a non-commissioned officer sinned to reduce him to the ranks. The orderly sergeant of Company K fared the regular fate in this instance. The new orderly sergeant was a man by the name of Charles Plummer, a stranger to all of us. He had joined the company just before we left Worcester. From what we had seen of him at that time, he gave us the impression of being a man of exceptional ability. The last vestige of life in the barracks ended at that time, after that we slept in tents, and each did his own cooking,[Pg 24] such as it was. To break the monotony of our meals, different methods of treating hardtack were devised—like toasting, moistening and frying, etc. The canteen wash, when one was willing to carry the water from the stream to camp, rather than wash at the stream which was usual, consisted in one soldier holding the canteen and pouring the water on to the hands of No. 2, until No. 2 had got a good wash, then turning about and No. 2 holding the canteen and pouring the water for No. 1 to have a wash. Our washing of clothes was most of it done at the stream, but as we had no means of heating water they were not boiled and were not as clean as they might have been. It was a common thing for negro women to come around and get soiled clothes to wash.
Doing picket duty on the railroad we found very uninteresting and monotonous work, and we were greatly pleased when we heard Governor Andrew had been at Annapolis, had promised us new guns, and that we had been assigned to the Ninth Army Corps and were to go on the Burnside Expedition. Our stay on the railroad was thus cut short, and on December 18 we were relieved from further duty there, and returned to Annapolis. We then discovered that in our absence out on the railroad, a chaplain had arrived from Massachusetts,[Pg 25] Rev. George S. Ball of Upton, a man whom, as time went on, we came to have the highest regard for.
December 19. Together with the rest of the troops assembled there, some ten or twelve thousand men, we were reviewed by General Burnside and on the 20th there was a grand inspection, after which we were told that the 21st had been assigned to the 2d, General Reno’s Brigade, and that we were the first regiment selected by the General and were to occupy the right flank of the brigade.
December 21. We received our new rifles and were greatly delighted with them. They were Enfield rifles, made in England. The 22d and a number of days following, we were marched out into the country, into a very large field, and put through regimental drill for four or five hours every day. It was the first time the regiment had all been together since we were at Baltimore. The 26th we received a supply of ball-cartridges and went out into the same great field again, put up a lot of targets at different distances and practiced firing at them for a number of days, accustoming ourselves to estimating distances, and adjusting the sights on our guns to the different distances. We had our final drill and practice in firing at target the 2d of January. After we went in[Pg 26] town off the railroad we did a lot of drilling and firing at target and I think the boys were then in fine shape for a campaign. The stay at Annapolis was an excellent experience for us. We became accustomed to army life and if we were ever to be in shape for active service we were then. The last days at Annapolis were very lively; new regiments were arriving daily. There were inspections; ships were gathering in the bay; Colonel Morse resigned command of the regiment to become Commander of the Post; Lieutenant-Colonel Maggi took command of the regiment, and on January 6th we went on board the ship Northerner, bound for we knew not where.
On shipbound. Burial at sea. At Hatteras Inlet. Battle of Roanoke Island. Battle of Newbern. Reading Johnnies’ love letters. Athletics. Battle of Camden. Went to the relief of the 2d Maryland.
Although we went on board ship the 6th of January, 1862, we did not leave port until the 9th. General Reno, our brigade commander, came on board the 7th and we were much pleased that he was to be with us on our ship during the voyage.
The morning of the 9th we moved down the bay; late in the afternoon the weather grew thick and we anchored for the night. The next day about noon, the fog having lifted, we moved on and about sunset sailed into Hampton Roads and anchored with a number of other ships of the squadron not far from Fortress Monroe.
The “Northerner” was a large boat, but a thousand men aboard made her very much crowded.
Between ten and eleven o’clock the night of the 11th, amid a furore of signals, whistles, ringing of bells, etc., we left Hampton Roads and headed out to sea. I had turned in when we started but soon realized that we had left the placid waters of Chesapeake Bay, and that[Pg 28] the good ship “Northerner” was plowing its way through the waves of the open ocean.
It was midwinter. The wind was blowing strongly; the ship rolled and plunged and as I lay in my bunk I soon became aware that many of the boys were sea-sick. I felt a little peculiar myself, but decided the best thing for me to do was to lie right still in my bunk. I soon went to sleep and slept until morning. As soon as I got up I was sick, too. I ate no breakfast and was sick most of the forenoon, but during the afternoon my stomach became settled and during the rest of the voyage I was able to eat and was as well as usual.
The next day our destination was revealed. We were bound for Hatteras Inlet and the North Carolina coast. The cape, a narrow belt of sand, came into view. The waves breaking on the sand made a white line all along the cape and we could hear the roar of the breaking waves. The forts at the inlet that looked like two piles of earth could be distinguished but the sea was too rough to attempt to enter the inlet so we anchored in a sheltered place and waited until the next day when the wind and sea having quieted down we were able to pass safely through the inlet.
Cape Hatteras is known to mariners as a rough, stormy place. The wind blows almost[Pg 29] a gale there nearly all the time. We were thus heartily glad when we found ourselves safely inside the inlet. Our ship was among the first to arrive inside; for many days ships of the squadron continued to come in.
This was the first trip on the ocean for many of us, but while it was very rough and fraught with exposure and danger, the spirit of adventure was so strong among the boys that on the whole it was welcome experience.
After we arrived in harbor we learned that the captain of the ship was found dead drunk, by General Reno, the night of the 12th, at the very most critical time when we were approaching the inlet. He was put under arrest and command of the ship was turned over to the first mate. The captain intended to run into the inlet that night, which would have been a very perilous thing to attempt.
Just before running into the inlet we witnessed a new and weird ceremony,—burial at sea. The night of January 12th and 13th two men had died on board; one a Company A man, and a Company B man. They were each put into a canvas sack with a 32-pound ball at the feet and dropped overboard.
The basin where we were anchored was simply a deep hole just inside the inlet. It was large enough to accommodate ten or fifteen ships[Pg 30] comfortably, but towards the last of our stay there, when all or nearly all the ships of the squadron had arrived, and there were seventy or eighty ships there, the place became dangerously crowded.
Soon after reaching the inlet it was discovered that the “Northerner” and some other vessels drew too much water (nine feet) to cross the bar which had only eight feet of water at high tide, to admit of their passing into the sound. We lay there from the 13th until the 26th when, after the regiment and everything else that was movable had been transferred to other vessels, three tugs succeeded in dragging the “Northerner” across the bar. The two weeks we lay anchored in that basin seemed like months. All one could see was sky, water and the cape, a narrow strip of sand stretching off to the north and south, the whole a picture of desolation. The ocean waves came pouring and thundering unceasingly in from the east, pounding the cape as if determined to force their way into the sound. The wind blew a gale and it rained most of the time. The sun shone only twice during the two weeks. On account of the delay, the water supply ran short and but for the rain we would have suffered for water.
Two ships of the squadron never made the inlet. The “City of New York,” a freighter[Pg 31] loaded with tents, ammunition, etc., ran onto the rocks and went to pieces trying to make the inlet. The “Pocahontas,” another freighter, loaded with horses, went ashore some distance up the coast. One day the colonel and surgeon of the 9th New Jersey Regiment came into the inlet in a rowboat from their ship outside, for orders. They got their orders and started back, but were swamped in the breakers in plain sight of us. The ships were continually dragging anchor and running into each other. Just before we got across the bar it became known that we were bound up Pamlico Sound to attack Roanoke Island.
Life became more bearable after we got across the bar out into the sound. The storm had passed off, the sun came out. We received our first mail from home the 28th. The gunboats practiced firing at targets and we boys practiced firing at ducks and gulls with our revolvers.
February 5th we started up the sound, the gunboats taking the lead. It was a handsome sight, eighty ships in all, forty gunboats, and about the same number of other ships carrying the troops, baggage, provisions, ammunition, etc. The naval part was under the command of Flag Officer Goldsborough. At about five o’clock we anchored in plain sight of Roanoke Island. We were enveloped in a dense fog all day[Pg 32] the 6th and did not move, and saw nothing. To break the monotony, Colonel Maggi got us together on the hurricane deck and made a speech. Considering their brevity, as well as his accent which was very Italian, his speeches were very funny. This one was about like the following: “Soldiers ob de 21st, to-day you be 21st, tomorrow you be 1st.”
February 7th at nine o’clock we moved on, the gunboats leading the way, and they were soon engaged first with some Confederate gunboats, then with the forts on the island, the rebel gunboats retiring behind a line of obstructions.
The battle between our gunboats and the forts continued more or less fiercely all day. In the middle of the afternoon Fort Bartou, the fort nearest us, was practically silenced. At four o’clock we began to load into small boats preparatory to making a landing, and at five o’clock three or four thousand Union troops were on the island.
We landed at Ashby’s Cove, on the edge of a large field, where the water was sufficiently shallow to enable us to get ashore from small boats there being no landing of any kind on that side of the island. The boat I was in ran up into a lot of bogs and grass. As I sprang from the boat I made a good jump and landed on a large bog and got ashore with only wet feet,[Pg 33] but one of the boys who followed me made a less successful jump and landed in three feet of water. Just at that moment we saw the light flash on bayonets just across the field in the edge of the wood, and we expected the Johnnies would open fire on us every minute, but they did not, nor did we open fire on them. Soon we were up to the edge of the wood where we had seen the flashes of light on the bayonets. There was a road there and what we had seen evidently was flashes on the guns of a company of soldiers passing along that road.
Early in the evening it began to rain and it rained most of the night. By putting on my rubber blanket which protected my body, arms and legs, my havelock kept the rain out of my face and neck, then with a stick of wood on which to sit on the leeward side of a tree trunk, I kept myself dry and got through the night fairly comfortably and got quite a little rest.
About seven o’clock the morning of the 8th the first brigade moved past us down the road leading to the Confederate barracks and forts. About half a mile down that road the Johnnies had built an earthwork and mounted cannon. The first brigade, as it approached the earthwork, moved to the right to attack the fort on the left flank. Two little brass howitzers manned by sailors went next and we followed[Pg 34] them until we were in sight of the fort, when we moved to the left to attack the fort on the right flank. As we got into position the Confederates finding themselves out-flanked on both sides, retreated. The road in front of the fort was the only dry land on that side and it was occupied by the sailors and their howitzers. The fort, however, was built at the end of a tongue of dry land extending toward us. This tongue of land was completely enveloped in front and the two sides with shallow water, the troops on both sides thus operated in water from one to three feet deep.
Directly after losing their entrenched position, the rebels surrendered, we marched over to their barracks and went into camp. That night we had a fine supper and slept in fine, comfortable quarters, the first time we had slept in a real comfortable place since leaving Annapolis.
Just before we started to charge, the moment intervening between the order to cease firing and the order to advance, George Booth was wounded in the mouth; he was talking to me at the time and the ball entered his mouth, leaving no mark on his lips, knocked out two or three teeth and passed through his neck. He died in the hospital about a month and a half later.
It is always interesting to analyze the feelings[Pg 35] one had when going into battle, especially the first one; the feelings of the same man differ so much, however, on going into different battles my belief is that much depends upon the state of the nervous system at the time.
It is very well known that the bravest men have on certain occasions been very much depressed before going into certain battles, yet went through them doing very brave things and came out unscratched. On some occasions, I do not remember that my feelings were exceptional at all, while on other occasions I remember distinctly feeling very nervous. The times that were the most difficult for me to control myself were when we were ordered to hold a position and being without ammunition we had nothing to do to employ our minds but just stay there and take the enemy’s fire, such an instance as occurred at Antietam on the ridge in the afternoon of the fight.
At Roanoke Island the idea most prominent in my mind as we went into our first fight was the desire to see a Johnnie and then perhaps to get a shot at him. Any fear of going in or possible result did not occur to me. It is impossible to say this in relation to some of the great battles in which I took part later on, for my desire to see Johnnies was satisfied long before the war ended.
[Pg 36]The day after the fight, Colonel Maggi took the regiment over into a big fort on the west side of the island, formed us around a big cannon there, then climbed up onto the gun carriage and with a big black cannon for a back ground made speech number two. This was like speech number one delivered on the “Northerner,” but with variations. It was about as follows: “Soldiers ob de 21st, yesterday you be 21st. I tol you to-day you be 1st, you be 1st.” Flag Officer Gouldsborough, Commander of the Naval Squadron, was in the fort and he also made a speech to us. He was a big massively built, handsome man with a large full beard. He made the impression of being every inch a naval commander.
The day we landed on Roanoke Island, February 7th, there died on the steamer, “Northerner” one of the most interesting men in the regiment, Charles Plummer Tidd. He was a personal friend of Dr. Cutter, the surgeon and had been a personal friend and follower of John Brown. He had been in Kansas with them and with the latter at Harper’s Ferry from which place he, with two others, made their escape. He enlisted in the 21st because Dr. Cutter was there, under the name of Charles Plummer; he enlisted as a private in Company K, and soon after was its orderly sergeant which[Pg 37] office he held at the time of his death. Plummer was buried on Roanoke Island, and Miss Cutter, to whom he had just become engaged, was buried beside him. Later, however, both were taken up and buried in the National Cemetery at Newbern.
Just before we left the island, Colonel Maggi resigned. Colonel Maggi was a military educated Italian, and it was said had seen service under Garibaldi. He wished to enforce the same kind of military discipline in our regiment that is maintained in the regular army. Our boys, as volunteers, would not submit to it; there was trouble and he resigned. It was a very unfortunate thing; he was a fine officer and his loss was very much regretted. In addition to this, all our company officers left us. Captain Washburn and Lieutenant Williams disobeyed orders and were dismissed. Lieutenant Sermondy, who enlisted in the company in the hope that he might become Chaplain of the regiment, having failed in obtaining the appointment, and doubtless having seen all the fighting he cared to, resigned and went home. This put Company K in an awkward position. Second Lieutenant Charles W. Davis of Company A, was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant, and put in command of the company.
[Pg 38]During the time we remained on the island we drilled a little in addition to guarding the prisoners who were soon sent to Elizabeth City and paroled. March 4th we went on board the “Northerner” again. The sailors of the old ship had her gaily decorated for the occasion and we were welcomed on board again most cordially.
Not until the 11th did we move, then at night we dropped down the sound to near Hatteras Inlet. On the morning of the 12th we started down Pamlico Sound toward the mouth of the Neuse River. We were then told we were headed for Newbern, and up the river we sailed until we came to the mouth of Slocum’s Creek, a small stream emptying its waters into the right side of the Neuse about fifteen miles below Newbern. Here we anchored for the night.
The next day we were engaged most of the forenoon in landing, which was accomplished without interference, and about noon we started up the right bank of the river toward Newbern. We soon struck the railroad connecting Newbern and Beaufort and an extensive earthwork, and farther on toward Newbern still another, and a cavalry camp with a considerable quantity of provisions. Later on in the afternoon we reached the immediate front of the enemy’s[Pg 39] last line of works filled with soldiers and a fort with cannon mounted. Here they evidently intended to make a stand. We halted for the night and our company was thrown out in front of us as a picket line. That was the first time I had been on picket duty right in front of the enemy, and if I remember rightly, I kept very much awake that night. Early in the morning we had coffee and directly started forward to the attack. The ground in our immediate front was uneven and as we passed over a little hill we came in sight of the Johnnies filing into their works in front of us. As we moved down the hill and across a narrow valley with a small stream winding through it, other troops appeared on the little hill we had just passed over. The Johnnies opened fire on them, we moved up to the brow of the next rise of ground and opened fire. Thus the battle in that part of the line began.
A thing happened as we were making our way across the little stream just mentioned that afforded the boys some amusement. The stream was too wide to ford but there were places where one could jump across. Picking their way across in that way, to be sure, broke the line up pretty badly. It was just at that time the Johnnies opened fire on the troops in our immediate rear on the little hill. The[Pg 40] Johnnies’ opening fire was vigorous. There was a terrific roar of musketry and the way the balls tore through the treetops over our heads sounded peculiar enough, but we were protected, being so low down. One of the officers of our company had been a member of a country band at home, furnishing music for balls and dancing parties about the country. He had been the prompter, had called off the different dances. As we were getting across that stream in the midst of the roar from the Confederate musketry the officer referred to, became very much excited and danced around furiously ordering the company to keep in line, etc. None of the boys were particularly disturbed, but the officer referred to was very much excited. The boys noticed this, and directly some one piped up “All promenade.” Instantly another sang out, “Ladies, grand change.” That had the most remarkable effect on that officer. He saw at once that was banter aimed at him. He quieted down and behaved himself like a little man through the rest of the fight.
We lay there and fired away until about eleven o’clock, when General Reno saw a favorable opportunity to make an advance. With the right wing of the 21st a charge was made breaking the enemy’s lines and capturing[Pg 41] a battery; our right wing was forced back somewhat but the Johnnies were not able to recover their line entirely, nor get the guns of the battery away. Our boys shot down the horses and we all advanced. Directly, the Confederates saw their line was broken and they began to retreat all along the line. During the fight I had visible evidence of three close calls. I was lying with Brig. Barnes behind a little log that partly protected us, firing away. First the bayonet of my gun was hit, then a ball passed through my roll of blankets, and last the stock of my gun was shot away. Those hits were each made an instant after I fired. I think a Johnnie saw the smoke puff out from where I lay and fired at it.
When my gun-stock was shot away I had to go back and get another. Pat Martin had been killed. I saw him lying on the ground with a bullet hole through his forehead. I was given his gun and went back to my place again. The bullet that went through my roll of blankets also made two holes through my blouse on my shoulder underneath the blankets.
Captain Frazier of Company H did a clever piece of work at this time. He was in the right wing, his company was one of those that made the charge breaking the enemy’s line and capturing the battery. When he was in the most[Pg 42] advanced position, he was hit and fell to the ground; a few minutes later after the Johnnies had retaken the ground, he came to, the wound being a scalp wound, the bullet not penetrating the skull only stunned him for a moment. He was made prisoner and sent to the rear under guard. He was soon all right. He took in the situation and determined to play opossum. He feigned very sick, induced the guard to let him lie down in the shade of some bushes a little way from the road. He then kept a sharp watch out, saw the Confederates were retreating and at the proper moment pulled out his revolver, got the drop on his guard, made them lay down their guns and marched them back to the place where we were.
We moved on a quarter or a half a mile where we came to the Johnnies’ barracks. In front of the cook-house the tables were all set for breakfast but apparently not a thing had been eaten. The poor devils had been obliged to fall into line before they could eat their breakfasts and had fought the battle on empty stomachs. That must have been the reason why they lost.
As we got over the excitement and had a chance to look around we discovered we were as black as a lot of niggers. Our powder was bad, the air was thick and heavy, forcing the smoke[Pg 43] down to the ground and as we perspired it stuck to us; my gun had kicked so my shoulder was dreadfully sore, and my head had been nearly snapped off every time I fired, toward the last, and it ached enough to split open.
We occupied the Johnnies’ camp for a few days and had no end of fun going through their things and reading the love letters they had received from the girls they had left behind them. The next day we buried our four boys who were killed. They were Pat Martin, James Fessenden, Joseph E. Stone and James Sullivan.
Of the four men killed in our company, I felt in only one a personal loss. Jimmy Sullivan of Westboro, was an exceptional boy, two years my junior. His was a light-hearted, joyous nature. He was the pet of the company and without an enemy in it. How he was killed I never knew; from the advanced position I occupied during the action it was impossible for me to know what was going on in the company.
We remained in the rebs barracks three days, then went into camp in tents on the south side of a large field stretching along the right bank of the Trent River about a mile and a half from Newbern. That was not a bad place and we enjoyed the time we stayed there very[Pg 44] well. Up to that time we had used the Sibley tent quite a little, a tent of the same form as the Indian tepee and doubtless designed from it, but they have evidently been given up, for from this time on we saw no more of them. The tents we were supplied with there were the wall tent used by the officers, hospitals and for commissary stores, and the small shelter tents for the men. The snakes were rather thick and too neighborly to suit some tastes. It was not at all uncommon to find one comfortably asleep in one’s pocket or shoe as he dressed in the morning, or sunning himself under the edge of the tent in the afternoon, but they were not dangerous. I never heard of any one being bitten by one of them.
A party of us boys built a trapeze and a vaulting bar, and started quite a little interest in athletics and had a lot of good fun there.
We had been at Newbern but a few days when Miss Carrie Cutter, the daughter of the surgeon died of spotted fever. She went south with us from Annapolis to assist her father in the care of the sick and wounded men of the regiment. She was a delicate girl of eighteen years and could not withstand the exposure incident to army life. Her body was taken to Roanoke Island and buried beside that of her friend, Charles Plummer Tidd.
[Pg 45]There was a good deal of sickness in the regiment at this time. The water we drank was surface water: many of the boys had chills and fever and a great deal of quinine and whiskey was taken. Some of the boys used to turn out quite regularly and go up to the surgeon’s tent for the quinine and whiskey. Others of the fellows were unkind enough to intimate that they really went up for the whiskey, which was, of course, unjust and wrong.
We had been here but a few weeks when a batch of recruits arrived at the regiment, two of which were assigned to our company. One of them had a few locks of rusty red hair hanging down over his shoulders, while his face was partially covered with a faded yellowish red beard. He was at once dubbed the Collie. The day after his arrival he was met by a friend of Harding Witt. This friend suggested to the newcomer that he could not have been informed of the regulations of the service or he would have been to the barber-shop and that soldiers who did not have their hair cut and their whiskers trimmed within forty-eight hours after joining the company were liable to imprisonment for five days. Our friend with the yellow hair innocently fell into the trap and begged his comrade to conduct him to the company barber. This was precisely what[Pg 46] was wanted, and the newcomer was escorted to the tent by Harding Witt and his friend, which had been ordered to give the impression of a barber-shop. A large chair had been placed in the center of the tent with a mirror in the front of it, and near the chair was improvised a table on which was arranged a razor, scissors, cologne water and perfumery. Harding impersonated the barber, with coat off, a large white towel pinned in front of him like an apron. He sat reading a novel as the two entered. On seeing them he sprang to his feet and shouted “Next!” The recruit took the chair and Harding commenced operations. He took out his watch and laid it on the table, explaining as he did so, that the time was short but he would try and have him shaved and his hair cut by parade time. He had trimmed the beard from one side of his face and had cut the hair from one side of his head, when the drum beat. The recruit was dismissed till after the parade when he was told to return and the job would be finished.
When the Captain took command of the company his eyes fastened on the recruit instantly, and he ordered him three paces to the front. As the man lumbered forward, for he was as awkward in actions as he was rustic in looks, the boys were ready to burst with[Pg 47] laughter. Indeed some of them did shout. The captain took in the situation, saw the poor fellow was the butt of some one’s joke, smiled and ordered him to his quarters. After parade, Harding finished his job.
Later Tom Winn and I found a large cotton field a mile and a half or two miles to the west of the camp, where the ground was just covered with running blackberries. We noised it around the camp and directly a fourth of the regiment could be seen out there picking blackberries. Dr Cutter heard about the berries and believing them beneficial to the health of the boys, recommended the giving of passes liberally, and extra large rations of sugar were also served to eat with them and for a while we had all the berries to eat we wanted.
April 17, we went on board the old “Northerner” again. We were told we were going on a special expedition to the rear of Norfolk, Va. We moved down the river along Pamlico Sound, past Roanoke Island up Albermarle Sound to near Elizabeth City and landed on the opposite side of the sound near Camden at just sunrise April 19. We started off into the country. At eleven o’clock we had marched a distance of eighteen miles through the dismal swamp, parts of the way over a corduroy road in a terrific heat. A number of the[Pg 48] boys were sunstruck. E. B. Richardson of our company received a partial sunstroke. At eleven o’clock we struck the Johnnies at a place near South Mills. Our errand was the destruction of the stone locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal at that place. At four o’clock we had accomplished our purpose, the Johnnies had been driven away and the locks of the canal destroyed. From four to eight o’clock we rested, had coffee and supper, then started back and arrived at the boat and went aboard at sunrise the next morning.
Soon after we started on our return trip it began to rain and it rained in torrents all the first part of the night. That return march was something indescribable. The logs of the corduroy road became very slippery when wet and if I fell flat once I did twenty times that night. That march of thirty-six miles between sunrise and sunrise, fighting a battle, destroying a canal, eighteen miles through a swamp in a terrific heat, and the return eighteen miles in a dark, stormy night, part of the way over a corduroy road, was a test of our powers of endurance we never exceeded during the whole four years of our service.
We clambered aboard the boat, threw off our knapsacks and dropped, and I do not think I moved during the whole day. At night the[Pg 49] cook came around and woke us up and we had a cup of coffee and something to eat. After that I unrolled my blanket and lay down on it and went to sleep again and slept straight on until the next morning. We arrived at Newbern early in the forenoon and at mid-day of the 22d we were back in our camp again.
That was the time when the dread Merrimac was receiving her finishing touches at the Gosport Navy Yard. The whole north quaked with fear of that huge iron monster. Government officials at Washington were very much disturbed about the mighty ironclad that so much was being written about in the public press. They were concerned lest she should steal down Dismal Swamp Canal from Norfolk to Elizabeth City, destroy our squadron in the sound, then escape to the high seas through Hatteras Inlet, hence our expedition, and destruction of the locks of the canal at South Mills.
Had the officials at Washington known then that the Merrimac drew 22 feet of water, that source of anxiety would have been dispelled at once, for no ship drawing such a depth of water could have manoeuvred in the shallow water of Albermarle and Pamlico Sound, much less passed over the bar at Hatteras Inlet where there is only eight feet of water at high tide.
I brought back from South Mills in my knapsack[Pg 50] one thing I did not carry up there, namely, a Johnnie’s bullet. When we first reached the battle ground, as our picket-line was feeling the Johnnies’ position, the 21st was moved up just in their rear as a support and ordered to lie down. In a moment I was asleep, but directly something woke me. I had no idea what it was that started me. We were then ordered forward, and I thought no more of it until the next day on the boat, when I opened my knapsack I found a ball, a hole in my knapsack and holes through a number of other things. It had entered the side, passed about half way through and brought up against a little hand dictionary. Then I knew what it was that awoke me as I lay asleep just in the rear of our picket line.
A full blooded African, who was employed by Dr. Cutter about the hospital, was one day asked by the doctor his name. “Nathaniel” replied the negro. “Any other name?” said the doctor to which Sambo replied, “Why de last name is always de massa’s name, Massa Johnson.” “What do the people down here say this war is about?” asked the doctor. Nathaniel replied: “Why, sir, dey say dat some man called Linkum is going to kill all de women and de chilun an drive de massa away, and all de colored folks will be sold to Cuba.”[Pg 51] Nathaniel then proceeded to give some new and highly interesting particulars respecting the genealogy of the President of the United States. “Dey say his wife is a black woman and dat his fadder and mudder came from Ireland,” said he, speaking with emphasis.
The doctor indignantly refuted the aspersions cast upon the family of the President and disabused the negro of the false impressions which he had received from his secessionist mistress.
On the night of May 16th, in the midst of a terrific thunder-storm, the long roll was beaten and we fell into line in light marching order. The night was as dark as a pocket but we formed line and dressed as readily as at mid-day, the lightning was so bright and so continuous. As soon as the line was formed we started off at a quick pace. After marching a few miles, one of the officers told us that the 2d Maryland Regiment was surrounded some miles back in the country, and we were going to their relief. They had been on a scouting expedition and had been entrapped. Soon after daylight having marched about fourteen miles, we met them on their way back to Newbern. They had extricated themselves from the trap they found themselves in, but they were well-nigh starved. Our cooks set to work and got them[Pg 52] a rattling good breakfast, for we had taken a wagon load of provisions along. After the breakfast was disposed of we marched back to Newbern and the 2d Maryland was ever after a good friend of the 21st.
At sunrise, July 6, 1862, we left our old camp on the bank of the River Trent, went on board of a large schooner and started down the river. At night we anchored near Hatteras Inlet. The next day, after being towed over the bar and through the inlet we sailed for Fortress Monroe where we arrived the middle of the afternoon of the 8th. The 9th we were taken to a landing at Newport News and went ashore in plain sight of the masts of the “Cumberland” and “Congress” as they stuck up out of about sixteen feet of water.
It was just six months ago we started from this same place on the North Carolina campaign. When we leave here this time we shall join Pope to take part in his campaign in front of Washington.
A ride in the Confederate doctor’s “One horse Chaise.” Living off the country. Learning the distance to Germania Ford. The Second Battle of Bull Run. The Battle of Chantilly.
While we remained at Newport News we had a rather pleasant time. We drilled a little, we played ball a good deal, we ate quahog clams, we received boxes from home filled with good things, and we swam in the waters of the bay; the sun was very hot, but there was always a good breeze.
One of the boys, a rather awkward fellow, received a box from home. It contained among other things a box of dried prunes; he stewed some of them for sauce. He had no more than got them finished when the order was given to fall in for inspection. In his haste he upset his pan of sauce on his gun and equipments; line was formed and along came the colonel, the captain and the inspecting officer. He presented his gun to the inspecting officer; but to the surprise and horror of the officer, his gloves of immaculate whiteness, were covered with a soft brown sticky substance. He looked at his gloves for an instant, and with an oath demanded “What is that?” and the king of the awkward squad made answer, “It is nothin’ but stewed[Pg 54] prunes.” For an instant military discipline was powerless, but the man was sent to his quarters and was later dealt with.
By the last of July the report was abroad that we were to leave soon and instead of going up the James River to reinforce McClellan, as we expected to do, on the 3d of August we started to join Pope. We sailed up the Potomac to Aquia Creek. We landed on the 4th, and took train for Fredericksburg, arriving there in a short time and went into camp about a mile from the town.
There we remained until the 12th, and who of the 21st boys does not remember how we enjoyed the delicious fresh spring water that was so abundant there, after drinking the North Carolina surface water?
Directly after our arrival there, heavy picket posts were sent out on all the roads leading to the camp. I was in the detail which was established near the village of Falmouth, a little pine grove near the house of the local physician furnished us a fine camp ground. The physician was a man about sixty years old, of one of the “first families of Virginia,” and “secesh” through and through. Occasionally he would come over to our camp and talk with us. He was free to concede that his sympathies were with the South, and spoke with freedom[Pg 55] of the superiority of the southerner; he was very certain the Confederacy would be established. We answered his assertions respectfully, but quietly determined to give the old man a jolt if we had a chance. The night before we left there, Harding Witt appeared at my tent door at about three o’clock in the morning; the way was clear. A colored boy, one of the doctors’ servants who had engaged to co-operate with us for a consideration, had just been over and informed Harding that the doctor had been hastily called to Fredericksburg and would not return until afternoon the next day. It had been predetermined that if possible we would have a ride in the old man’s chaise. He had a good horse, and the chaise was large enough to hold three of us on a pinch. The party was to consist of Harding, Billy and myself and we were speedily on the way. As we approached the house we found the negro waiting for us; he then led the way by a back path to the rear of the buildings. The horse was soon harnessed into the chaise, and led by the same path down to the road. Billy unrolled a bundle of small United States flags he had got from the sutler and we proceeded to decorate that team as it was never decorated before, then we loaded in and started for camp. We reached there just as ranks were broken[Pg 56] after the morning roll call. We rode up and down the parade ground a few times, then drove over into the company street and received the congratulations of our friends; then went for a drive and rode back again. When we reached the doctor’s house we told his wife, it was President Lincoln’s birthday and we thought we would take a ride to celebrate the occasion; besides we were concerned about the horse, lest he should become foundered standing in the barn so long without exercise. She called us a band of horse thieves, barbarians and vandals, and gave us a number of other pet names which have escaped me. We fully expected to be disciplined for this prank, but not an officer of the regiment saw us and not a word of reproof was ever said to one of us about the affair. It is needless to say the doctor did not honor us with a call that day and towards night we moved on, starting on a night’s march towards Culpepper Court House—now marching, now standing still, dragging slowly along over one of the worst conceivable roads and not making more than ten miles during the whole night.
In the early morning of the 13th, we halted and had coffee. After a rest of three or four hours we started on again and by night when we went into camp we were within a few miles of Bealton station; rations were issued and we[Pg 57] were taken on some freight cars and carried to Culpepper Court House. What a railroad that was? We covered the cars inside and out, we could not have run at the rate of more than eight or ten miles an hour, but that speed seemed dangerous. The cars swung, bumped and rolled along. I expected every minute they would leave the track, but they did not, and about the middle of the afternoon we reached Culpepper Court House. We marched through the town out a little way into the country and camped for the night. August the 15th we moved forward again in the afternoon about five or six miles and camped near the battlefield of Cedar Mountain. We had then become a part of General Pope’s army, a part of which was in camp near by, and we immediately proceeded to take advantage of Pope’s General Order No. 10, which allowed the army to live off of the country.
The land was not overflowing with milk and honey; the cows, what there were of them, were kept milked pretty dry. However, the next day after we reached that neighborhood, a party of our boys did get a hive of bees, and another party to which the writer belonged succeeded in capturing a sheep. We had plenty of pork and bread, and with mutton and honey added, we lived very well.
[Pg 58]One afternoon while we were there, Harding Witt and I started out for a walk to see what there was to be seen going over towards the battlefield. We had just passed a deserted log house with a dead horse lying in front of it, when we overtook a long, lank, lean woman; she had a boy about eight years old with her. She had a large bundle of bedding on her head; in one hand she had a basket full of cooking utensils and was holding onto the bundle with the other.
As we approached she called out to James, who was heavily loaded with household things, “Geems, whorey up, you are so slow!”
“Who lives in that house we have just passed?” said I, pointing to the log cabin.
“Were you there during the fight?”
“Guess I was.”
“Where was your husband?”
“He war dead.”
“Was he killed in the battle?”
“No, big Pete Jones killed him about two months ago.”
“How far is it to Germania Ford?”
“Two skips and a right long jump ar reckon,” and Harding and I trudged along as we had learned the distance to Germania Ford.
By the 16th, it became interesting and[Pg 59] picturesque to see the Johnnies signaling in the evening from every hilltop on the other side of the Rapidan; we seemed to be very near them—almost among them.
The afternoon of the 18th, things looked very ominous; great clouds of dust could be seen rising all along the southern horizon; our trains were moving to the rear; large masses of provisions were being destroyed. Just about sunset Confederate troops could be seen on the high ground on the other side of the river, and as darkness came on, the southern and southwestern sky became illuminated, indicating camps of an army. Signaling, too, was carried on vigorously from the hilltops. During the afternoon we were told that the army was to fall back to the north side of the Rappahannock and that our brigade was to act as rear guard. The first part of the night dragged slowly along and it was past midnight before we got started, but the road was clear, and once under way we moved rapidly.
Our regiment led the brigade on this march and as we approached a road that led to Raccoon Ford a little way off to the right, General Reno rode up to the head of the column and showed some anxiety. The Confederates had something of a force at Raccoon Ford and he, I imagine, knew we were running pretty close to[Pg 60] them. They did not attempt to disturb us, however; they very likely did not know we were passing so near them, and we sped along, reaching Kelley’s Ford about noon the 19th, having marched a distance of twenty-three miles.
The last mile before we reached the ford the road ran along near the river bank. It was hot and dusty, and the sight of that cool fresh water was too great a temptation for three of us boys, so down we went, stripped off and took a duck. We had no more than got into the water when we heard firing just behind us. The Johnnies’ cavalry had overtaken us and had opened fire on the boys up in the road. We caught up our clothing and trappings and ran along beside the river under the bank up to the ford not more than half a mile and there dressed ourselves, then went and joined the regiment which was nearing the ford. The attack did not amount to anything. We soon crossed the river and went into camp.
The thing that interested us most while at the ford, was the attacks by the Confederate cavalry on our cavalry pickets that were stationed in the wood on the farther side of a very large field, on the south side of the river. The Johnnies attacked and drove in our pickets two or three times. To see the two forces manoeuvre[Pg 61] on that field was interesting; if the enemy came too near the ford a battery of artillery, stationed on high ground near us on the north side of the river, would open fire on the Johnnies and send them scurrying back into the wood again. We remained at the ford two days.
Early in the morning of the 22d, we left Kelley’s Ford, going up the river. Soon we heard artillery firing ahead but it did not last long. We soon passed through Rappahannock station where there were a lot of dead horses lying about, probably the result of the firing we had heard early in the morning. In the early morning of the 23d there was heavy artillery firing at Rappahannock station again. The commissary stores there were burned and I think the place had been evacuated. Clouds of dust may be seen off on the southwest and western horizon; artillery and infantry firing in front and to our left may be heard most of the time. We fired off and cleaned our guns and reloaded them again. All the signs indicate that we are drifting toward a battle.
August 24. We started on the march early, but after going a little way turned into a pasture and halted, a fine steer was driven up and killed; in an hour all the eatable part of that creature had been consumed. There was a large field of corn nearby to which we helped[Pg 62] ourselves, and we had as good a breakfast as any fellow ever needed. About ten o’clock heavy artillery firing opened in front of us. A squad of Confederate prisoners passed us going to the rear. There is firing on three sides of us, in front, to the left and in our rear. We are going slowly along now, marching two or three miles, then halting for an hour or two.
We were ordered to support a battery that was firing across the river at a Confederate battery. A lot of our sharpshooters along the river bank were firing away too. Directly the Confederate guns were silenced but the river was between us; it was high, there was no ford nearby and we were obliged to leave the guns there. As we moved along during the afternoon, some ambulances loaded with wounded men passed us going to the rear. “Where were you hit?” asked one of the boys. “Passing the time of day with some cavalry on the other side of the river,” was the answer received. At night we camped near our train and had some coffee, the first we had had since leaving Kelley’s Ford.
About eight o’clock the morning of the 25th we left camp, soon passing a bridge across the river on fire, then a dead negro lying beside the road. Some of the boys examined him and said his flesh was still warm. Those clouds[Pg 63] of dust are still visible off to the left. We passed through the town of Warrenton about noon, then marched till midnight. How the boys growled! And how they swore! Weren’t we a tired lot when we halted! It seemed as if we would go to sleep marching. When we halted we took a few steps to the side of the road and dropped. We learned the next morning that we were at Warrenton Junction, where we stayed all day.
Leaving camp early in the morning of August 27, we marched part way back to Warrenton, just for exercise, very likely. The reports circulated about Stonewall Jackson being bagged and the like on this campaign are so common that they have come to be the laughing-stock of every one. We marched most of the day and halted at night at the village of Greenwich. Just before we went into camp, Billy started off across the fields a’foraging. When he returned he brought with him a basket of turnips. He gave me three of them and that night I cooked and ate them. Well, it seemed to me that I never ate anything in my life that went to the right spot like those turnips. Cannonading in our front and clouds of dust rising off to the west and north on the horizon are almost continuous, and once more comes the report that Stonewall Jackson is[Pg 64] caught at last. It is a mistake to think that the private soldiers are not, after a certain amount of experience, able to size up their commanders in a fairly correct way. If there is a master mind at the head, they know it very quickly, and it did not take the men of the 21st long to discover that there was no master mind at the head at that time. So much backing and filling, so much talking about bagging that old fox, Stonewall Jackson, soon became a matter of ridicule and all our dependence was placed in General Reno.
August 28. We started early in the morning in the direction of Manassas Junction, reaching there about noon to find it had been burned. The storehouse and the trains of cars, all loaded with supplies, were in smouldering ruins. A few dead rebels lying about was the only redeeming feature. Late in the afternoon we started for Bull Run and when we camped in the evening, we were under the impression that we were in the immediate neighborhood of the old Bull Run battlefield.
August 29. We started early in the morning, passed through Auburn and headed direct for the firing line; it sounded as if a battle was under way. A lot of paroled prisoners passed us going to the rear as we moved along. We soon reached a high hill to the top of which[Pg 65] we climbed. We had a fine view of the center and right center of the Confederate line, but where the Union army was I have not the remotest idea. Occasionally a brigade would be sent into the wood, down to our right center, would be cut to pieces and come out again. General Reno did not leave us for a moment.
At about noon three batteries of artillery came up onto the hill and we took position in their rear as their support. A little later in the afternoon, the first brigade of our division, was sent into the wood on our right center, but soon came out broken and mangled and they were followed by the Johnnies, who pressed forward to capture the artillery in our front, but the artillery was too much for them. They in turn were sent back in confusion. Then the Johnnies massed a lot of artillery in our front and opened fire on the batteries we were supporting, and for an hour or an hour and a half the shot and shell came over there thick and fast and more of it. Two cannon of our batteries were dismounted, one ammunition caisson was blown up and a number of horses were killed. We were right in range, and got the full benefit of it. This was one of the instances where we were under fire but could do nothing ourselves, but lay there and take[Pg 66] it—every fellow trying to see how close to the ground he could get.
Toward evening we were ordered in; the brigade was moved down onto the slope in front of the artillery, then we halted. We remained there a little while and returned to our place in the rear of the batteries. We were told General Reno had seen General Pope, and had convinced him that to send our brigade in there unsupported would be needless slaughter. Just at dusk we witnessed off to our left a minor action that characterized the whole battle. A battery of artillery was placed on some raised ground and was firing away; it was supported by a single regiment of infantry. All at once we saw a Confederate line of pickets creeping up on the battery. By picking off the gunners they soon had the battery silenced. Then a strong line of Confederate infantry advanced; the regiment of infantry in support moved forward, but they were dispersed and the battery was taken. Thus ended the first day’s fight so far as we saw it.
After that, we drew back a little way and had some supper; some of the boys made fires and cooked some coffee. One of them while standing over the fire, his legs spread apart fixing his coffee cup, had the cup knocked from his hand. A Johnny sharpshooter had fired from a [Pg 67]distance at the fire; the ball, passing between the man’s legs, hit the cup; the fires were put out directly after that.
August 30. Everything remained quiet until the middle of the afternoon, then the Confederates began an advance on the left. There were a few troops there to face them, but not many. There seemed to be no head to, and no order in our forces, and the Johnnies with their long lines of battle well massed, moved forward with but slight opposition. As they advanced they threatened our position and we fell back to another hill farther in the rear. Toward dusk we moved off to the left in double quick time. We stopped and left our knapsacks in a little grove as we went along. We knew then there was business ahead, but we were ready for it as long as General Reno was with us, for we had entire confidence in him. He had hardly been out of our sight these last two days. We came on to a main road, followed it along a short distance, crossed a bridge over a small stream, moved to the left up on to a low hill and formed a line of battle; we were told to hold that bridge.
As we moved to our positions we were exposed to the enemy’s artillery and lost a few men, but we were undisturbed.
General McDowell, that picturesque figure[Pg 68] with the great mass of snow-white hair, and General Milroy, were on the hill when we arrived, and seemed delighted with the appearance of the brigade and its timely arrival. Two batteries of artillery were immediately brought up and put in position by General Reno. We had not long to wait. Sharp picket firing soon gave notice that our skirmish line was attacked and was falling back, and we heard troops forming down in the wood in front of us; and soon on they came to the attack. Twice during the evening they charged up that hill, the first time a single line of battle, the second time two lines of battle deep, and each time they were repulsed with great loss. They hardly fired a gun, and we did not open fire until they were within three or four rods of us. Then we gave it to them in good earnest, the artillery with double charges of canister. We almost swept them from the hill. They went down in dozens, and retreated a broken and disorganized mass.
Late in the evening the Johnnies made an attack on the left flank of the 51st New York that was on our left. We changed position and assisted the 51st in repulsing the attack.
Later, the Confederates advanced a skirmish line to see if we were still there. They found us there. Toward midnight there was every[Pg 69] appearance that they had given up trying to take the hill that night. It was quiet all along the line save for the groans of the wounded and dying men that covered the slope in front of us. It was a beautiful night, and to lie there and listen to the appeals of those poor fellows and be unable to do anything for them was heartrending. Toward midnight we stole quietly away, first moving the cannon back by hand.
General Hill in his report of the second battle of Bull Run stated his loss in the attack on the Henry House Hill the evening of August 30, 1862, as 600 men.
It is impossible to refrain from giving an account of Dr. Cutter’s experience in this battle.
Early in the afternoon of the 29th when the first brigade of our division was ordered in, Dr. Cutter went in with it. He was at the time acting as division surgeon. The first brigade got into a bad place, lost heavily and was forced back. As they began to retreat Dr. Cutter drew his sword and tried to hold the men up to their work. At that moment he was seen to fall to the ground and was supposed to be killed. A few minutes later, however, he regained consciousness and looking about saw a Confederate soldier standing over him and apparently about to run him through with his[Pg 70] bayonet. Dr. Cutter pointed to his green sash and warned the soldier against killing a non-combatant. “But you have a sword in your hand now,” replied the soldier. A Confederate officer coming up at the moment ordered the soldier to move on and took the doctor to the rear. He then discovered what had happened. He had not been wounded at all. A bullet had struck the buckle plate of his waist belt and knocked the breath from his body, the effect of which having now passed off, he offered to assist in taking care of the wounded. This he was allowed to do and worked with the Confederate hospital staff all the afternoon taking care of the wounded, both Confederate and Union.
The Confederates were not slow in discovering that Dr. Cutter was a man of exceptional knowledge and ability and, when night came on, the gray headed old man was taken to General Hills’ headquarters and treated as an honored guest. During the evening he told the Confederate officers gathered flatly who he was, and advanced his abolition ideas with perfect freedom. The Confederates saw that they had in their midst one of the fathers of Abolitionism in Massachusetts; that they were having the other side presented by one qualified to speak. It was a novel situation. They were[Pg 71] at the time confident in the success of their cause, and, while they laughed at his strictures, they encouraged him to go on and listened to him nearly the whole night.
The evening of the second day’s fight Dr. Cutter, still a prisoner, was in the vicinity and witnessed the massing of troops for the assault on the Henry House Hill and somehow had an intuition that it was the old second brigade that defended the hill, but not until well into the night did news reach headquarters that the Henry House Hill was defended by Reno’s command. This delighted the old doctor. He made the Confederates acknowledge they got all they wanted and then told them who gave it to them.
The second battle of Bull Run was a disastrous battle for General Pope and the “Army of Virginia” but not for the old second brigade. We had checked the enemy’s advance at a most critical moment, for as we moved back to Centreville that night we found the road choked with trains and artillery, much of which must have fallen into the enemy’s hands had they not been stopped at the time. As it was they made no further effort to advance after the engagement at the bridge until the next day. Meanwhile our artillery and trains got straightened out and well out of their way.
[Pg 72]Nothing of importance occurred to us on the 31st. We lay quietly in camp near Centreville the whole day.
September 1st, about two o’clock, we broke camp and started towards Fairfax Courthouse. As we started off, the report got around among the boys that Stonewall Jackson was in our rear, or threatened our communications with Washington. About four o’clock as we were marching along we heard a bugle on a small ridge to the left and in front of us. On looking up we saw a cornfield, and the upper edge of it filled with Johnnies picking green corn. We were not more than a fourth of a mile from them and could see individual men distinctly. We halted and loaded our guns. Then we moved along past the Johnnies leaving them to our left, they disappearing behind the ridge. We soon came to some wood lying in front and extending off to the left. The 51st New York entered the wood ahead of us with a picket line advancing in front of it. It was soon evident that each command had lost all connection with the other, and was advancing no one knew where or why. The 21st seemed to have obliqued to the left of the 51st. We then came upon a line of Johnnies. We, thinking them to be the 51st, did not open fire until we received a most murderous fire from them.[Pg 73] In the meantime a heavy thunderstorm had come up, and we were soaked to our skins. My gun went all right the first time, but it was impossible to load it in such a downpour. I then got out my revolver and fired away with that. Every one who had a revolver fell back on that when his gun refused fire I expect. Captain Walcott seeing his men could not keep up much of a fire drew his revolver, stepped in front of his company and opened fire. When he had emptied his revolver he glanced around for his men,—they had gone. It was the same in all the companies, with their guns out of order, they could do nothing but fall back. We left a lot of poor fellows in that wood for whom nothing could be done but to bury their lifeless bodies. A little way back we re-formed and marched back to the edge of the wood.
As we emerged from the wood General Phil Kearney rode up and ordered us to advance through the fields to the left of the wood we had just come out of, without a moment in which to put our guns in order. By that time it had stopped raining and the colonel begged for a few minutes that the men might put their guns in order, but without avail. Kearney could not be reasoned with and swore that if we did not move at once he would have the regiment put under arrest, and forward we went. It[Pg 74] was then getting dark, and all we could see was lines of fire off to the left; we soon entered a cornfield and marched nearly through it. At the farther side was a Virginia rail-fence, beyond that, was a pasture half grown up. As we arrived within three or four rods of the rail-fence the order was given to halt and no sooner did we halt than the enemy opened fire from behind the rail-fence. What could we do? Not one in ten of our muskets was serviceable. Those who had revolvers used them; I used mine for the second time that day. We stood there a minute or two and then we retreated. When the Johnnies saw we were unable to return their fire they appreciated the situation and over and through the fence they came to capture prisoners, and before I knew it one of them was quite near me shouting: “Halt, throw down your gun,” etc. But I did not halt, nor did I throw down my gun, but I did run and he ran after me. I soon decided in my mind that he was not gaining on me, then I thought I was increasing the distance between us; directly, I discovered a ditch in front of me. It looked very wide. My shoes were loaded with Virginia mud; could I jump it? I realized that everything depended on that jump, and I made a great effort. I struck the farther edge just far enough on to balance over,[Pg 75] picked myself up and started off up the other slope. Glancing back, I saw the Johnny who had chased me ordering some of our boys out of the ditch; they had made the fatal error of trying to secrete themselves in that ditch. I kept on going to the rear, until I reached the part of the field from which we started on that last advance with General Kearney; then I began to hunt around to find the boys.
General Kearney went in with us as we advanced into and through the cornfield; he rode along beside the colonel. When we got to within about four rods of the fence, the colonel was sure he saw soldiers move behind the fence and said to Kearney, “There is a Rebel line of battle behind that fence.” “No, there isn’t,” said Kearney and spurred his horse forward to get a nearer view. As he got to within a rod and a half or two rods of the fence, the Johnnies opened fire and General Kearney was one of the first to be killed at that time.
When I began to hunt about for the boys, Billy Morrow was one of the first I run across. We soon found others and then the colors. Billy and I then thought of one of our friends, a fellow by the name of Bradish, a Company E man, who was hit in the wood. Billy had seen him at about the same time I did as we came out of the wood, and believing we were near[Pg 76] the place, we started out to see if we could find him. Bradish had been one of the nine who had played ball at Newport News, and we were both very fond of him. We thought he was badly wounded and wondered if we could not find him and do something for him. It took but a few minutes to find the place. Then began the lone search. The last I saw of Bradish was as we neared the edge of the wood coming out. He was hobbling along trying to keep up with us. I did not know where he was hit, but I thought in the thigh or about the hip, for one of his legs seemed quite powerless. There were a number of dead men lying about but we were unprepared to believe our comrade was dead, but when we examined the dead men we found Bradish was one of them. We found a place under a great pine tree; we dug a shallow grave and buried him near the place where he fell. We put a stone at each end of the grave, carved his initials on the trunk of the tree and left there one of our beloved comrades and one of the best soldiers in the regiment.
The expression on his face I shall never forget, it was so changed and so painful. Had we not been searching for him and turned him over, for as he lay his face was partially concealed, and so got a good view of it, I should[Pg 77] not have recognized him. He had probably died soon after we left him as we started on the advance into the cornfield, for he was entirely cold. The face of Pat. Martin, as I saw him after he was killed at the Battle of Newbern, was entirely expressionless; he was shot through the brain and probably never knew what hit him. The Confederate who died while I was gone to get him a canteen of water, the morning after the Battle of Bethseda Church had a rather peaceful and happy expression on his face. Many of the men I helped to bury after the Battle of Fredericksburg had drawn, distressed, painful expressions on their faces; some of them gave one the impression that they had suffered the most intense agony just before death. I never watched a man die who was killed in battle—the private soldier is too busy to watch his best friend die at such a time. In this Battle of Chantilly, the losses in killed, wounded and prisoners in the regiment were 140, the heaviest loss we had sustained, in a single battle, up to this time. Three of our finest officers were killed; Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, Captain Fraser and Captain Kelton. We felt the loss of these men very deeply; but the worst thing about the whole matter was, we felt we had been sacrificed to no purpose. Every one felt that had General Reno been[Pg 78] with us it would all have been different, but he was sick back to the rear in an ambulance off duty, and with him absent everything went wrong. General Kearney seems to have been entirely off his base that night; the way he ranted and swore around there was disgusting.
The fault in the wood seems to have been that the officers of the 21st did not keep in touch with the 51st New York, and wandered off no one knew where.
At roll call the next morning, September 2, there was but a shadow of the 21st present. After a while we started for Alexandria, moving very slowly, marching and halting by turns, the roads being choked with artillery and trains. During one of these halts, as we lay beside the road, a thing occurred which showed the stuff at least one boy of that army was made of. There was a boy in our company by the name of Harding Witt. Harding was a Dana boy. I had known him a long time and I knew him well. We had been school companions and had enjoyed fishing excursions together many a time.
Harding was on the picket line at the time of the fight in the wood and so was absent from the company. But late at night after the fight was all over I heard he had been wounded. I heard nothing more and saw[Pg 79] nothing of him until the next day when halted in the road on our way back to Alexandria, I saw some one approaching. He had no gun and no knapsack; he had a canteen, his right sleeve was slit up and I could see a white bandage on the arm. The same could be seen on one of his legs. The trouser’s leg was slit up and a bandage could be seen on the leg. He also had a bandage on his head. As he approached nearer I recognized Harding. He came up and as we shook hands I said to him: “Well, Harding, they called for you last night.” “Yes, Mad,” said he, “they called for me five times but I am all right.” That boy had been hit five times, in the wood the night before, but he wasn’t taken prisoner nor was he in the hospital. He was, however, obliged to go to the hospital later.
We moved back to the vicinity of Alexandria and went into camp where we stayed until September 4th. During those days a number of the boys found their way back to the regiment. They had strayed away after the fight, some of them perhaps, making as famous runs as were made by some of the soldiers after the first Battle of Bull Run.
Among those to return at that time was our beloved surgeon, Dr. Cutter. Imagine our surprise and delight one afternoon on seeing him[Pg 80] march into camp. When the Confederates were ready to move on, he was set at liberty and had made his way back to Alexandria where we were in camp. To us, he seemed to have risen from the dead. The officers of the first brigade had reported him among the killed, and that report had been accepted by the men of the regiment, and to see the old hero again so unexpectedly, startled us.
If I remember rightly, it was in this campaign, as we were falling back along the east side of the Rappahannock River, I first noticed a colored man, we later called Jeff Davis, hanging around the cook’s quarters trying to make himself useful. He would gather wood for the cook’s fire, tote the water, and on the march help carry the cooking utensils. In due time it was discovered that Jeff was an important acquisition to the company. He was good natured and just as willing to do things for the other boys as for the cook. Jeff Davis was a runaway slave, middle-aged, medium sized, wore top boots with his trousers tucked in, his shirt front was never buttoned either at the throat or lower down. His hat of black felt looked as if it had been thrown at him and he had caught it on one corner of his head. He had an easy going, rollicking gait and laugh, and was as full of fun as an egg is full of meat.[Pg 81] Still, Jeff was full of business, too, and when, later on, he became company cook, the cooking was never better done, or the interests of the company more carefully guarded than by him, and it was as cook of Company K we realized his supreme usefulness and worth. Acting as a sort of company treasurer, when the company was paid off, he would pass around the hat and nearly every fellow would throw in a half a dollar or a dollar. Nothing would be seen of that money until we got into a hard place for food, then Jeff would manage to get us something to eat. Jeff was the best kind of a forager; he knew how to buy and he knew instinctively where to find things.
During the Knoxville campaign, had it not been for Jeff we should have suffered much more than we did, although much of the time we received only half rations from the Commissary Department and at times we received only two ears of corn for a day’s ration, but every once in a while Jeff would get hold of something and give us a good meal. On the march over the mountains he picked up a little Mississippi mule and the amount of food that man hunted up and brought into camp during the siege of Knoxville was prodigious. If a foraging party went out from headquarters after forage for the horses and mules, Jeff was[Pg 82] pretty sure to go along and he seldom came back to camp empty handed. Had any one asked Jeff how he got those things, he would have been shot on the spot—but no such foolish questions were asked.
The things he got from people of his own race he doubtless bought and paid for, but it is very doubtful if the white planters ever saw much of Jeff’s money. To be sure, he had some interesting experiences. One time he came near being captured by some of Longstreet’s cavalry, but he succeeded in evading them and reached camp in safety. Jeff remained with the company until the end of the war, came home with us to Massachusetts, settled in one of the hill towns of Worcester County became a respected citizen, married, raised a family and died there.
The Barbara Fretchie Incident. The Battle of South Mountain. Death of General Reno. The Battle of Antietam. Clara Barton. President Lincoln visits the army. Visited a farmhouse very near a Confederate Camp.
On September 4th, we left our camp near Alexandria, marched to Washington, passed through the city and out into the northwest suburb, and went into camp.
We remained there until the 7th, when we started through Maryland, marching leisurely along making only a few miles a day through as beautiful a country as one could wish to see. The evening of the 12th at early dusk we filed into a great pasture on the east side of the Monocacy River and went into camp. Lights were beginning to glimmer across the river and we were told they were in the city of Frederick. Camp refuse lying about indicated that the field had been used as a camp ground for troops in the immediate past, and inquiry brought out the fact that some of Stonewall Jackson’s troops had camped on the identical field the night before. This was enough to set the brains of the wags in motion and one asked immediately what the result would be of mixing northern and southern gray-backs? Soon, however, coffee was served and drank and we[Pg 84] lay down to sleep under a most beautiful Maryland sky.
The next morning we started and marched leisurely down to the river, crossed over it on an old wooden bridge and marched up into the city. There a halt was called and we lay in the street an hour or two. We had been there but a few minutes when the report was passed down the line that a loyal old woman lived on the street, who had a Union flag flying from a window and when ordered to take it down by the Rebels the day before, had refused to do so and it was shot down. Indeed, right opposite where Company K was resting, was the house, the flag still flying.
Soon after we learned of this incident, General Reno, accompanied by an aide, rode down. He stopped before the house, dismounted, and went in. He remained inside only a few minutes. As he came out an old lady accompanied him to the door. At the door they stopped for a moment, then, as he came away, she shut the door. General Reno mounted his horse and rode away.
Directly the order was given to move on; we marched through the town and headed toward the Shenandoah mountains, which in Maryland are no more than a high range of hills.
This account is what I remember of the[Pg 85] Barbara Fretchie incident. Since the war I have learned that General Reno’s visit to Barbara Fretchie’s house was made for the purpose of purchasing the flag that had been shot down the day before. He did not receive it, however, Barbara being unwilling to part with the flag which had then become doubly sacred to her. She gave him another, however, which has since found its way to the Museum of the Loyal Legion in Boston.
As we marched along that afternoon we saw two Johnnies hanging from the branch of a tree in a pasture a few rods from the road. They had been executed for foraging by Stonewall Jackson’s orders. Toward night we went into camp near Middletown.
September 14. We remained in camp until afternoon. Artillery firing was heard off on the mountain late in the forenoon. About two o’clock we started for the front. As we approached the active part of the field we had an opportunity to see what a field hospital was like during an engagement. We were almost up to the firing line going in, when we came to a little elevation. Behind that hill a field hospital had been established. The wounded were lying there in large numbers and others were being constantly brought in. The surgeons were at work taking care of the[Pg 86] wounded, examining, binding up, operating, etc. Near the tables I saw a pile of arms, hands, legs, feet, etc., which had been amputated. The bullets were coming over there pretty thick but they were nothing compared to the sights and sounds seen and heard in that field hospital. It was the first field hospital I had ever seen; I never saw one afterwards, and I thank God for that. We were halted there beside it for a minute or two, otherwise we should not have had so good a view of it. When the order came to go forward, I for one, was glad, and I think every man in the company was glad. Every man in the company I think, preferred to face bullets at the front and at short range, rather than stay back there, partially covered, under those conditions. During the one or two minutes we halted there, a little Michigan drummer boy was brought in. He was a manly little fellow, a little chap not more than fourteen or fifteen years old. One of his legs had been badly wounded. One of the boys asked him how it was going out at the front. He raised himself up on one elbow and said: “Well, the 17th is behaving very well.” The 17th (17th Michigan) made its reputation that day as a fighting regiment.
When we got up to the fighting line the Johnnies were falling back and we simply [Pg 87]followed them up clear to the top of the range, and by six o’clock they had apparently withdrawn from our front. The fight in our part of the field was then over and our brigade was resting in a field at the top of the range in Foxes’ Gap. The road we were following over the range passed along on the right side of the field in which the brigade was resting. At the lower right corner the road made a right angle, turning to the left, passed along behind an old stone wall directly in front of us, at the lower edge of the field for a few rods, then turned to the right and went off down the west side of the mountain.
We had been resting there only a few minutes when we were opened fire on by some Johnnies from behind the wall in front of us. They were evidently a company of sharpshooters, who in their retreat had turned back, determined to look for an opportunity to get a crack at us. They had evidently come up that road until they reached the turn, there they formed themselves along behind the wall at the lower edge of the field, and opened fire. General Reno, his staff, and two or three officers were sitting on their horses just to the rear of the brigade, which was massed there by regiment. General Reno was hit at that time and in that way, and died about eleven[Pg 88] o’clock that night. There were not more than thirty or forty shots fired. A regiment back to the rear in a place where it could be handled better than we could in our massed state, moved around on to the Johnnies’ right flank and opened fire on them, killing and wounding a number, and the rest retreated.
About nine o’clock the morning of September 15th, we started down the west side of the mountain range, heading in the direction of Sharpsburg. As we clambered along down the hill, an incident occurred that amused us quite a little, we were meeting little bunches of prisoners that were being taken to the rear from time to time, they were in the main, stragglers that had been picked up by our cavalry. Glancing down a little side road we saw a squad of Johnnies approaching us, they were being followed by a mounted officer wearing the blue. We were soon able to see it was one of General Ferrero’s staff. This officer, we learned later, was an inveterate forager and as the general and his staff passed along down the hill a little while before us, the officer saw some distance from the main road a rather prosperous looking bunch of farm buildings, and thinking there was a good opportunity to do some foraging, rode over there. The piazza was on the back side of the house and as he rode[Pg 89] around the house, there sat seven Johnnies on the piazza, their guns were all standing in one corner a little distance from them. He was tremendously startled as well as they, but he got his senses first, got his revolver out and got the drop on them before one of them moved. He then ordered them into line and marched them over to the main road, arriving there as our regiment was passing along. As we wended our way down the side of the mountain, the view we had below of the valley of the Antietam was of surpassing beauty; Sharpsburg across the valley was barely distinguishable; then to the right and to the left, up and down the valley as far as the eye could penetrate, stretched one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. The next day we lay in camp a mile or two from the Antietam River all day. The morning of the 17th, the battle opened on the right in good earnest, but not until well into the forenoon did it begin in our front, we being on the extreme left. Then we were ordered forward to support a battery. As we lay there behind the hill on which the battery was located, I had an interesting adventure. A shell fired at the battery on the hill in front of us struck the ground, bounded and struck the ground just back of me, I being seated on my knapsack facing the rear; it plowed a hole[Pg 90] under me from back to front and came out between my feet. The ground settled down into the trench, my knapsack and I going down with it. Well, that shell was given room as quickly as possible. I rolled over three or four times and the other boys who were sitting near did the same, but fortunately it did not burst and no one got more than a good start. A little later my brother Vertulan, assistant surgeon of the 19th Massachusetts Regiment, gave me a call.
About noon we were ordered in to take the Stone Bridge. Other troops had been hammering away at it for some hours but without success. We were moved down toward the river and opened fire on the Johnnies across a narrow valley on the other side. As we moved forward we came in sight of the bridge and the stream just below us. We stayed there in the open on the side hill sloping down toward the river quite a while, firing away. After a while we saw the fire of the Johnnies was slackening. Then we heard some troops down to our left cheering. From their position they could see the Johnnies were retreating better than we could. But as soon as we saw they were starting, we started too, and being much nearer we were easily the first to reach it. We crossed the bridge, turned to the right and marched[Pg 91] up a little way and halted to wait for ammunition, we having only a few rounds left. For a while troops came across the bridge and poured past us by the thousand. After a while we moved up on to the high ground opposite the bridge. A dead Johnny, a sergeant was lying there on the ground. Harry Aldrich turned him over and got his portemonnaie out of his pocket. He opened it and found done up in a little piece of paper a number of five dollar gold pieces. A little later I came upon a man lying dead holding in his hand a photograph of a group of children. He had evidently found himself mortally wounded, had thought of his family at home and had taken that picture from his pocket to take a last look at the likeness of those he loved so dearly and had died with the picture in his hand. Toward night we advanced toward Sharpsburg and took a position on the brow of a ridge facing the high hill where Lee had his reserve artillery massed, and there we stayed until well into the evening. We soon fired away all but one of our cartridges, retaining that one against an emergency. The Confederate infantry was behind a stone wall part way down the hill from the artillery. One of the Johnnies killed behind that wall had my knapsack on his back. He had found it in the little grove[Pg 92] beside the road near the Henry House Hill on the Bull Run battlefield, and carried it into Maryland.
The knapsack was found and identified by the man who painted the initials of my name, company, regiment and state on the side of it. He was a Company K man who was detailed in the hospital department. He found it in going over the field gathering up the wounded and burying the dead after the battle. It was there on that ridge that Lieutenant Holbrook was killed. He was knocked all to pieces by a cannon ball fired from one of the guns on the top of the hill. He lay about eight or ten feet to my right at the time.
A regiment came up during the afternoon and took up a position on our left and stayed there until they had fired away all their ammunition and then, without regard to us or to holding the line, retired. We had been ordered to hold that position until dark, ammunition or no ammunition, and we stayed there until well into the evening. We lost forty-five of the one hundred and fifty men of the regiment in that fight. After nightfall we withdrew, went down to the vicinity of the bridge, had coffee, and were supplied with ammunition.
During the evening an incident occurred, the effect of which was to last a long time. It[Pg 93] was after we had drank our coffee and had received our ammunition late in the evening. An army nurse asked some of the boys to go with her and assist in getting some wounded men who were near some houses outside our picket line up along the Sharpsburg Road. The boys went, brought in the wounded men and took them to a hospital nearby, no one getting hit, although they did draw the Rebel fire. The work being finished and having been done in so fine a spirit, the nurse wished to know who the men were, and where they came from. Learning they were Massachusetts men and from her own Worcester County, she was quite affected and revealed her own identity—Clara Barton of Oxford. A few moments of friendly handshaking and this first meeting ended, only for a time, however, for later on she visited us at Pleasant Valley and vowed eternal friendship. After the war she became a member of the regimental association, was a regular attendant at the annual reunions and ever declared herself a comrade of the boys of the regiment.
We remained in camp over night not far from the bridge.
September 18. Early in the forenoon we were moved to our extreme left, were deployed and did outpost duty. At night we were[Pg 94] marched back to the other side of the Antietam and went into camp in an apple orchard.
September 19. It was reported early in the morning that the Rebels had retreated. We soon formed line, crossed the river and moved over across the battlefield where there were a good many of our dead lying about. We moved along down to the Potomac where the Antietam empties into it. A few Johnnies were in sight on the other bank of the Potomac but disappeared when we opened fire on them.
During the next forenoon who should appear in camp unannounced, but General Burnside. He had ridden over from his headquarters, wherever they were, with a single orderly, and in his cardigan jacket; he “had selected a fine place for us to go into camp,” he said. We were ordered into line and followed him to our new camp ground. He stayed there a half an hour or an hour talking with the officers and men. He told us we could stay there a while and get rested, then rode away.
The reason for this act of kindness toward the old regiment by General Burnside I have never been able to fully account for. He may have known that General Reno regarded it with special favor and General Reno had just been killed at South Mountain. Brigade after brigade had been sent in to take the bridge at[Pg 95] Antietam but it remained for the old 2d Brigade to accomplish the work. The 21st was the only New England regiment in the 2d Brigade, and he being a Rhode Island man, may have had something to do with it. At any rate, it made the boys feel mighty good to have the old general come over and show a personal interest in the regiment. The capture of the Stone Bridge by the old 2d Brigade deserves special mention for more reasons than one. One reason is the following: Charles Carlton Coffin, war correspondent of the Boston Journal, was an eye witness of the affair. He wrote home to his paper an account of the battle. In that account he spoke in such enthusiastic terms of the charge of the old 2d Brigade at the capture of the bridge that a special edition of the paper appeared a few days later containing it. In that article he declared, “The heroism of the assault upon the bridge by the three regiments was unsurpassed either on the Rebel or Union side, in the annals of the war.”
October 1. We moved down into Pleasant Valley and went into camp. We remained there until the 27th, resting, drilling, and being supplied with clothing, shoes, shelter tents, etc.
The 3d. President Lincoln visited the army and there was a grand review. A review at that time of the Army of the Potomac, just[Pg 96] at the end of McClellan’s service with it, showing his great organizing ability at its best, was a spectacle of exceptional interest. The Army of the Potomac numbered at that time about 145,000 men. It moved in formation by company front, double quick time, regiment after regiment, brigade after brigade, division after division, army corps after army corps, infantry, cavalry and artillery, tramped, surged and poured past the reviewing party, at the head of which sat the President. It was a formidable spectacle and must have pleased Mr. Lincoln. The President, it must be conceded, made a peculiar impression as he sat on his horse, his long legs almost dangling on the ground, or curled up and locked under the horse’s body, his tall hat tipped back, among a lot of military men (every one a soldier from the ground up, and every one as trim a type as could be wished for) and sitting his horse as if a part of it. But when the troops had all marched past and the reviewing party rode away, they could not get away from him. Awkward as Mr. Lincoln looked, he was at home on his horse. He had a good horse and he stayed right with them to the end.
A few days later Clara Barton made us a visit. She brought her knitting with her and stayed all the afternoon. She hunted up the[Pg 97] boys who had assisted her the evening after the battle. She went around among the officers and men chatting with them in the pleasantest way. Toward night we had a dress parade. She was made daughter of the regiment. She made a little speech and there was cemented a friendship begun under fire which was destined to last to the end of the lives of all participants.
October 27. Crossing the Potomac at Berlin we again entered Virginia marching as far as Lovettsville. The next day we were informed that the 9th Army Corps had become a part of the Army of the Potomac. In the middle of the afternoon of the 29th we left camp and marched until about sundown. As we passed a farmhouse late in the afternoon I noticed some boys from companies ahead of us jumping over the wall and getting cabbages from a patch right beside the road. I followed suit and got a good one. Later on as the head of the column turned into the field where we were to camp for the night, I noticed the major was demanding the cabbages from the boys ahead of us. I did not like the idea of being cheated out of mine, so I out with my big knife, halved it and gave one piece to Billy. We had no trouble in each of us concealing his half, but some one had to have some fun out of it, and as we passed, the major piped up, “I say,[Pg 98] Tom, what are cabbages worth a pound?” The major, I think, took it as a slap at him instead of being a little fun among ourselves, for he looked as ugly as a meat axe at us, but he did not see any cabbages and we did have cabbage for supper. The next morning we broke camp early and marched along the east side of the Blue Ridge mountains as far as Vestal Gap. The following day, November 2d, we moved along up the valley as far as Snickers Gap, where we stayed two days.
November 4. Reports were flying around camp early in the morning that the Johnnies were pouring through Ashby’s Gap in force and that they meant fight. At nine o’clock we started for Ashby’s Gap, but on our arrival there, there was not a Johnnie in sight—another of those old-fashioned false reports. We moved on as far as Manassas Gap the 5th. All the way along as we approached we could hear the artillery at the gap. Our men occupied the east end and the Confederates the west end. Some one said the artillerymen were paying their respects to each other.
November 6. We moved back from the mountain range about ten miles to the town of Orleans. The next morning we started out and marched a few miles, then filed left, crossed a narrow field into a piece of woods and stacked[Pg 99] arms. After sitting around a little while I started out to see if I could find a house and get something to eat a little out of the ordinary, for to be constantly eating hardtack and salt horse became a little monotonous after being indulged in month after month.
I passed along through a series of fields on high ground, then bearing a little to the right passed through a strip of wood from the farther side of which a ridge appeared a few rods out in the field. When I reached the top of the ridge, the looked-for-house appeared in sight a few rods down the other slope, and down to it I went. When I got within five or six rods of the house, a Johnnie came out and walked off down towards some wood on the farther side of the field. This opened my eyes, and then I saw for the first time that that wood down there was alive with Johnnies—not an ordinary picket post but a regiment, or a brigade was there. There were tents and camp-fires in large numbers. I must have been five or six rods from the house, and the wood where the Johnnies were, some eight or ten rods beyond, when I made this discovery, but this was no time to hesitate.
I walked down to the house and asked the woman if she had any corn-bread to sell. She said, “No, I have just sold the last I had to one[Pg 100] of our men.” That “our men” showed me at once that she knew who I was. I stepped out into the yard, took a look around and sauntered back up over the hill again. When I got out of sight of the house I quickened my steps until I was a good distance from that camp.
November 8. A change of great importance has taken place in the army. General McClellan has been relieved of command of the “Army of the Potomac,” and General Burnside, the old commander of the 9th Army Corps, has been put in his place.
Here ends the Maryland campaign. We shall soon start on a campaign that will be known as the Fredericksburg campaign under General Burnside.
A hard race for a pig. Chaplain Ball returns home. Picket duty along the river. The Battle of Fredericksburg. Burying the dead. Christmas revels with the Confederates. A band of horn-blowers. A raid on the sutler. A costume ball at Hotel de Ville.
General McClellan was relieved of command, November 8th, 1862, and General A. E. Burnside succeeded him in command of the Army of the Potomac.
The same day we left our camp at Orleans, we marched to Jeffersonton and went into camp in the village. About twenty men of Company K were detailed to go on outpost duty about a mile from the center of the town on one of the roads leading from it. It was my fortune to be one of that detail. We camped near the house of a Virginia farmer with whom, during the three days we remained there, I came to be on very good terms. He was about fifty years old, seemed honest and talked freely and fairly about the war. He gave me an account of the experience he had with “our men,” as he called the Confederates. As they were passing his place one time, he said to his wife in the morning as they began to pass, “Wife, shall we do something for these men? They have a hard time of it.” After some consideration it was agreed that he would kill a pig. He would also arrange[Pg 102] a fire down by the road for doing the frying. The house was located back on high ground about fifteen rods from the road. The negroes were to bake corn bread up at the house and carry it down to them at the road. He was to fry pig meat and his wife was to make sandwiches and as far as possible she would give each soldier a sandwich as he passed by. They worked there until nearly night, when a sergeant asked him if he had been up to the house lately and told him he had better go up. Just back of the house was an old road leading off across the fields, and beside that old road he found the soldiers were working the same scheme, he and his wife were carrying out down by the main road, the negroes doing the work. They had killed another pig, were frying meat, baking corn bread, making and passing out the sandwiches, and business was flourishing.
Toward evening of the 11th it was noised about that we—our brigade and a battery of artillery only were at Jeffersonton—were in an exposed position and that we should be ready to move at a moment’s notice. During the first part of the night I was on picket duty out on the old road above referred to back of the house. I was lying flat on the ground behind a rail fence. I saw a man approaching. He was coming up that old road. I waited[Pg 103] until he was about thirty feet from me, then I ordered him to halt. He turned and ran like a deer. I fired, but I did not stop him. This occurred at about ten o’clock. At eleven o’clock I was relieved from guard duty and at about twelve o’clock we left there and before daylight the next morning we were on the other side of the Rappahannock.
During the day (November 11), our brigade commander had discovered that we were some four or five miles in front of the rest of the army and in a dangerous position. Longstreet had evidently discovered this too, and during the day his scouts were finding out how strong we were, etc. Had we remained there another day we might have had an opportunity to show our strength.
I cannot omit to mention an incident which occurred at the last minute just as we left the old farmer’s place. The farmer and I had been rather friendly during our stay there, but he had never given me a piece of corn bread to eat, or a class of milk to drink, and I was indignant, and I determined to get square with him. As we were about to leave, I thought of an apple tree out back of one of his buildings in which a small flock of turkeys roosted nights; so three of us boys went around there and succeeded in capturing two of them. They added somewhat[Pg 104] to the weight of our luggage, but we had not a long march to make and did not mind it. We remained in camp all day the 12th, nothing occurring out of the ordinary. On the afternoon of the 13th Billy, Tom and I had gone back into the woods a little way out of sight of camp to engage in a little hunt for the loathed but ever present gray-back. I had finished the campaign and was resuming my clothing, Tom had entirely redressed, but Billy was still on undress duty. Suddenly Billy, whose quickness of sight and hearing were remarkable, shouted Rebs! Rebs! Down a cross-road along beside the woods on our right, a squad of the enemies’ cavalry hove in sight, they saw us about the same time Billy saw them, and started for us. I was barefoot, but I ran as best I could carrying my traps in one hand and holding up my unbuttoned trousers with the other. Directly I heard a musket shot just behind me, and turned to see that Billy in entire undress, had unhorsed the leader of the Rebel squad. We ran for all we were worth for camp, Billy in his extreme undress state bringing up the rear, he never was good on the retreat anyway; as we ran we shouted Rebs! The boys soon came pouring out of their tents, and the Johnnies seeing what they were running into, turned and made good their retreat, leaving their wounded [Pg 105]comrade behind them. We started down the river the 15th, marching along the left bank and on the evening of the 18th, went into camp on the same field we camped on August 13th, when we were on our way to join General Pope.
November 19. We continued our march down the river and toward night went into camp opposite Fredericksburg. After supper I noticed a lot of the boys down along the river bank, and a lot of Johnnies on the other side. They were having a good deal of fun jollying each other across the river. We remained in camp down opposite the city for ten days, watching the Rebs as they worked away on their entrenchments on the heights back of the city. The chaffing of the men on either side of the river was early put a stop to.
The day after we reached Fredericksburg, rations being a little short, I thought I would go out foraging. I must have gone three miles when I saw a pig disappear over a little hill about a quarter of a mile ahead of me. I chased him for a good mile, gaining on him steadily, and as I got up within a few rods of him, fired at him twice with my revolver, once wounding him, when bang went a carbine and over rolled Mr. Pig, dead. Imagine my surprise at hearing the carbine so near. I stopped, looked around, and behold I had chased the[Pg 106] pig right into one of our cavalry outposts and one of the men had shot him. It might just as well have been a Confederate outpost, for I must have been nearly four miles from camp. Well, we skinned Mr. Pig, cut off some meat and fried it, and we had a good meal, the cavalrymen furnishing hardtack. Then we divided the rest, the cavalrymen keeping a part, and I trudged back to camp with the remainder.
November 29. We were relieved from duty along the river and went into camp with the rest of the brigade about a mile and a half back from the river on high ground.
December 1. As the weather grew colder many of us set to work to improve our quarters. My tent-mate and I raised the walls of our tent about two feet high, using three logs of wood on each side. At the end opposite the entrance we built a fireplace and chimney. The fireplace was the most difficult part, as it was impossible to get stone to build with. We were thus obliged to use sticks of wood for binding material, covering them with mud, otherwise we would have had conflagrations constantly. Indeed, they did occasionally occur, the wood in the walls of the fireplace taking fire. The two bunks were placed one on each side, raised a foot, or a foot and a half from the ground. An open space was thus left from the fireplace to[Pg 107] the entrance. Our shelter tents were used for covering. Two pieces answered for the roof and a piece for each end. The pieces of shelter tents were square with button holes and buttons on every side, so they could be buttoned together and make a quite satisfactory covering. A little fire in the fireplace and the tent was very comfortable. To be sure if the fire was allowed to get low or to go out the tent would cool off very quickly. The cloth of those shelter tents was especially good in regard to shedding water, considering how thin and light it was.
December 4. Chaplain Ball having resigned, to our great regret left us for home. When I got up the next morning I found it was snowing and it was very cold; wasn’t I glad to have a good bunch of wood under my bunk to enable me to have a good fire. There is a lot of talk about camp of a battle and on the 9th, sixty rounds of cartridges were given each man, which looks like business. There was a general inspection the 10th and it was to be observed that troops were being moved about considerably. Very early in the morning of the 11th two heavy guns were fired, and a little later our artillery opened fire on the Confederate works, all along the line on the other side of the river. About half past eight we fell into[Pg 108] line and marched down to a point near where the engineers were trying to lay a pontoon bridge across the river opposite the upper part of the city. The men were not able to get more than half way across the river on account of the Johnnies’ sharpshooters concealed in houses and other places on the other side of the river, who shot down every man who attempted to work on the bridge. Early in the afternoon General Burnside rode down to the river where the men were trying to lay the pontoon bridge. He immediately solved the problem. He suggested that a charge be made across the river by men in pontoon boats, and that as soon as the boats should reach the other shore, the men should form line and advance. Not, however, until the boats took over loads of men the second time was the advance made. Then they formed line and went forward and the sharpshooters were driven from the waterfront. The bridge was completed at about four o’clock, and troops began to move across the river. The city was cleared of Rebels that night, they falling back to the heights beyond. We, however, went back to our old camp on the east side of the river for the night. About noon I went over and took a look at the incompleted bridge. There were two or three dead men lying stretched out at the farther end of the[Pg 109] bridge where the Confederate sharpshooters had stopped the work.
General Woodbury with a corps of engineers had charge of the laying of the pontoon bridge. They were supported by parts of four regiments—the 7th Michigan, the 19th and 20th Massachusetts, and the 50th New York. The men from the 50th New York had charge of the boats at the time of the charge, and the attack was made by the men from the 7th Michigan and the 19th and 20th Massachusetts.
December 12. We left camp leisurely and marched down to the river, crossed the bridge, moved down beside the river and halted. As we reached the further end of the bridge, who should I find there looking for me, but my brother Vertulan. He was assistant surgeon of the 19th Massachusetts Regiment, a part of which regiment had been in the charge, in the boats, the day before, he going over with the second lot of boat-loads.
The early morning was foggy and we got over there under cover of the fog without exposure; but soon the fog cleared. Then the Johnnies’ artillerymen had a good view of the approach to the bridge for a short distance. They soon got their range and were able to drop shells in there with considerable accuracy, doing more or less damage. We remained there[Pg 110] under the river bank all day and all the next night.
December 13. Now comes the fight. About ten o’clock we moved out through the city and formed line of battle on the other side, and there we waited until past noon. Then we moved forward. The field across which we charged must have been from half to three-quarters of a mile wide. Before we reached the foot of the range of hills which, at that point were called Mary’s Heights, we lost heavily in crossing that field.
When about half way across the field, Sergeant Collins, the color bearer was mortally wounded. Plunket then took the colors and a little further along he was wounded in his left hand by a minnie ball; in an instant after a shell burst right in his face and carried away his right hand and forearm, the colors falling on his wounded arm and hand. Olney then took the colors and carried them through the rest of the battle. The blood to be seen on the flag in the State House came from Plunket’s wounds at that time.
All along the top of the ridge in our front, the enemy’s artillery was posted, and at the foot of the hill was the infantry. As we reached the farther edge of the field just in front of the Rebel infantry, we came to a board fence.[Pg 111] We were ordered to lie down behind that fence. Then the order was given to fall back behind a little ridge and lie down, and there we remained the rest of the afternoon firing away whenever we saw a man or the head of a man to fire at. Late in the afternoon a battery of artillery came out and took a position about a quarter of a mile in our rear and opened fire on the Johnnies directly in our front, firing right over our heads, the balls passing so near the sound was anything but agreeable.
Just before we started on the charge, as we lay in the field just back of the city, a Company I man was killed by having his head carried bodily away by a cannon ball, the body rolled over, the blood spurted from the neck as water comes from a pump, until the heart pumped the body dry, the body then settled down a lifeless mass.
The circumstances leading up to this man’s death were peculiar. He had from the beginning a presentiment that if he went into a battle he should be killed and up to that time he had succeeded in evading each fight. This the boys did not like, and abuse was heaped upon him unmercifully. Soldiers have no respect for a man who deserts them in the most trying hour. Life thus became so unbearable to him, that as it became known there was to be a battle, he[Pg 112] wrote his farewell letters to his family at home, gave them to his captain, requesting him to post them in the event anything happened to him. Company I was right near Company K at the time, and nearly every one of our boys saw him killed, and often afterwards spoke of the incident.
During the afternoon a new regiment was sent out to re-inforce us. When they got within fifteen or twenty rods of us, they halted and opened fire on the Johnnies through us.
During the evening we were relieved and went back to the city to the place under the river bank and had a good supper and a good drink of whiskey. It is notorious that not a single general officer crossed the river in front of the city at the Battle of Fredericksburg. It is not strange that General Burnside should have failed in command of the Army of the Potomac. Any officer who should have succeeded General McClellan would have met with the same fate, that army was so divided by jealousies and partisanship. Army correspondents spoke of these strifes and bickerings as notorious and scandalous. The efficiency of the command was thus seriously impaired by the internal dissensions. Before we went to sleep the report was circulated about the regiment, that General Burnside would lead the 9th Army Corps against[Pg 113] Mary’s Heights the next morning, and Reno’s old brigade was to have the advance.
The next day, the 14th, we remained in camp down by the riverside all day, and no attack was made. In the evening we went back to the same part of the battlefield where we had fought, relieved some troops there, and we were told we were to stay there through the next day and that we were to hold that position at all hazards. We were about fifteen or eighteen rods from the Johnnies’ line at the foot of the hill. They were behind a line of breastworks; we had almost nothing in front of us. The men we relieved had dug up a little earth and had dragged together a few dead bodies, but only a few. As soon, however, as our boys understood what was expected of them, they set to work. But digging was pretty slow work with the ground frozen and nothing but bayonets and case knives to dig with. But a good many dead men were dragged together, so that some of the men had something of a semblance of a protection. Thus we prepared for the day, which soon came. But it did not seem as if it would ever pass. We could not fire a gun. The Johnnies might fire as much as they liked. We must lie as still as the dead men about us. But finally the day did pass, night came on; we were able to get up and stretch and[Pg 114] shake some of the cold from our half frozen bodies. At twelve o’clock we quietly withdrew, passed through the city, which was now deserted crossed the pontoon bridge and went back to our old camp.
After a great battle there are no end of stories of experiences and hair-breadth escapes going the rounds of the camp. The following story which went the rounds at the time, appealed to me and has thus stuck in my memory. A man who was in a Massachusetts battery that was in Hooker’s corps and was engaged around to the right of us, on the east side of the heights, had an interesting encounter with a Johnnie which might have resulted very differently from what it did. His duty when in action was to swab out the cannon after it was fired, then in loading to ram down the cartridge. His position was thus near the muzzle of the gun and the most advanced of any of the men working the piece. The battery took an advanced and an exposed position. The Confederates charged on it hoping to capture the guns, but the battery mowed them down furiously. One Reb, however, kept right on, marched right up and made a bayonet thrust at him. He turned, parried the thrust with his swab, knocking the muzzle of the Johnnies’ gun down; the bayonet, however, went through the thick part of his left[Pg 115] leg just below the knee. At that moment the sergeant in command of the gun who stood a few feet to the rear, drew his revolver and shot the Johnnie who fell to the ground, the stock end of the musket going down with him. The bayonet sticking through the leg of our friend, thus gave him a dreadful twist, but he stooped over, picked up the gun and pulled the bayonet out of his leg, jumped on to the cannon and as the other men had brought up the horses he rode away. He thus made his escape and the battery lost no guns.
The morning of the 17th it was my fortune to be one of a detail of fifty men ordered out on special fatigue duty. We were marched down to the headquarters of the corps guard and stayed there all day. At night rations were sent down to us, and we slept in one of the guard tents that night. The next morning (the 18th) we were marched down to the river bank under a flag of truce. The Johnnies showed a flag of truce on the other side of the river. We got into a boat and crossed over. As soon as we were on the other side, we learned that we were to go up onto the battlefield and bury our dead. We marched through the city out onto the very field where we had fought, and where we did picket duty the 15th, to witness the most ghastly, the most shocking, the most [Pg 116]humiliating scene possible. The field was covered with dead men. Dead men everywhere, some black in the face, most of them had the characteristic pallor of death; nearly all had been stripped of every article of clothing. All were frozen; some with their heads off, some with their arms off, some with their legs off, dismembered, torn to pieces, they lay there single, in rows, and in piles. I did not count them, but there must have been three hundred dead men in the row behind which we concealed ourselves on the 15th, a part of which we dragged together the night before. Just to the left of our regiment, at the time of the fight there stood a brick house. From this house, inside and just behind it, we carried more than forty dead men. I have no idea how many men were lying behind the board fence, but there were certainly one-quarter of a line of battle—one-half of a single line.
After the Johnnies had got us picks and shovels, we set to work to dig in the frozen earth the trenches which were to contain the men and fragments of men who had given up their lives on the plains in front of Mary’s Heights. We put them in rows, one beside the other, wrapped them up in blankets or in whatever else we could get to put around them. There was practically no means of identifying[Pg 117] one out of a hundred of them. Thus they lay in unknown graves.
Two long days we worked there tearing a trench in the frozen earth and filling it with the bodies of frozen men, with nothing to eat but what the guards could spare us from their scant rations. Our party buried nine hundred and eighty-seven men.
About sundown, our work being finished, we went down to the river, crossed over and returned to camp. Those days at Fredericksburg were among the most disheartening and most dreadful I have every known. The assault on Mary’s Heights was so ill-advised; the day’s picket duty on the field was so nerve-racking; then the two days’ work in a half-starved condition, burying the dead, a work so heartrending at best, was enough to upset one’s mind if anything could upset it. I do not think there were any desertions from our regiment during the next month or two, but there was a great deal of desertion from the army, and it was not to be wondered at. There was a general feeling of despondency pervading the Army of the Potomac, the feeling was deep and wide spread. The conviction was general that the men in the ranks were superior in intelligence to the southerners and just as brave, that the army was better disciplined and[Pg 118] much better supplied, that what we lacked was leaders, the men were not tired of fighting, but they were tired of being sent to the slaughter by incompetent generals. From what I was able to observe when burying the dead the 18th and 19th, the Rebels were in a happy state of mind, they had full confidence in their leaders, and perfect faith in the success of their cause. With us complaining, scolding and faultfinding, was indulged in by all. Croaking had become as common as eating and showed the moral of the army was depressingly low, and had Lee been the general the South believed him to be he would have taken Washington the summer of 1863. It is reported that there were 8000 men absent without leave. This campaign and the mud campaign that followed it, did one good thing if nothing more, it showed those people at the North who were always complaining and demanding that the army move, how difficult it was to campaign in Virginia during the winter season.
December 20. At about ten o’clock, who should appear in camp but my brother, the assistant surgeon of the 19th Massachusetts. He had come up to see how I had weathered the storm. I took him into my tent and we had a little talk. I told him about the ordeal we had passed through, and he related to me his[Pg 119] experience and his duties in taking care of the wounded, and how they were not yet all cared for. But he had got away as soon as he could, to come up and see how it had gone with me. After a short time, he seeing I was unhurt, became drowsy, dropped over on my couch and in an instant he was fast asleep. I straightened him out, put my blanket over him and let him sleep. He never moved until ten o’clock in the evening when as taps were sounded I woke him up and he went back to his wounded again.
Doing picket duty down by the river was pretty uncomfortable work the last of December, and the 21st was honored with that kind of duty altogether too often. Sitting or crouching in those rifle pits, always on watch through those long winter nights was pretty tough. One night a lot of the boys broke into the Lacy house, a fine, large mansion that stood a short distance back from the river, and tore a pipe organ to pieces, each man taking a pipe and the next morning when we returned to camp we all played,—perhaps you would call it a tune. It may have been amusing to the mules in the train parks along the way, but judging from the howls that issued from the camps we passed, I am not of the opinion that it was appreciated by the men. But it afforded[Pg 120] us some amusement and what did we care for mules’ ears or men’s ears, for that matter? If they did not like our music they could stuff cotton-batting in their ears.
A captain of one of the companies was given a furlough about this time and went home for a time. When he returned he wore a brand new coat with shoulder straps of the recruiting officer’s size. He marched around the camp with an air of great importance. One day, one of the boys of his company did some little thing not to his liking and that man was tied up by the thumbs. This was so uncalled for and so unjust, it caused a very bitter feeling against the officer throughout the company. Practically every man in the company became his enemy. He realized the existence of this feeling and soon after resigned and went home. It was freely remarked in the regiment that the officer referred to did not dare to go into another fight with that company. And since the war he has never, to my knowledge attended a reunion of the regimental association.
December 22. We were on picket again. The evening of the 23d, there occurred the most important social function of the season. We had a fancy dress ball at the Hotel de Ville, or in other words in the sutler’s tent. All the quality of the regiment was present. The[Pg 121] belles of the evening were Miss Huggins, the Widow Blush, Miss Lumpkins, Mrs. Austin and Miss Blinks all of Worcester, Mass. Miss Blinks wore an elegant wreath of birch leaves. Her gown was red and white, the red being part of a red woolen shirt furnished by one of the friends of the lady. Miss Lumpkins was a beautiful creature, her complexion of dark bronze contrasting finely with the grass green color of her dress; she wore a wreath made of wheat and white clover blossoms. Miss Huggins, was a little undignified in her actions. Her dress was thought by some to be decidedly low at the top and high at the bottom, however, she passed as it was understood that women in high society are expected to make the most of their charms. Her dress was sky blue and her apron an American flag; she wore no corsets, thus her body appeared a little flabby. The lady in whom we all felt the liveliest interest was the widow. She had all the grace and elegance of a duck, her style was simply enchanting. She wore a bright red dress, low-necked, with a white rosette at her belt, with large hoops that bounded around in the most wonderful way. Her extreme modesty was remarked by all the gentlemen; whenever she danced she was the center of attraction. The ball was a strictly private affair, no commissioned officers were[Pg 122] allowed to take part. A few newspaper men were invited and enjoyed the fun. They declared that as women have ere this dressed in men’s clothes there was no reason the boot should not be put on the other foot. Mrs. Austin’s dance of the schottische with double-soled cavalry boots was excellent; she was a well-known auctioneer in the city of Worcester.
December 24. Again on picket duty. It was a lively night on the other side of the river, innumerable camp fires and firing of guns. The Rebs were making it lively at their Christmas revels. Afterwards we heard of an interesting affair, a part of which occurred that same evening. At Rocky Ford up the river a little way above Falmouth, there was a detail of cavalry permanently located. Through trading coffee, tobacco and sugar our boys had become quite a little acquainted with the Johnnies on the other side of the river, and when Christmas time came the Confederates invited a number of them over to celebrate Christmas with them. The boys accepted the invitation and went over, had a fine time, were well entertained and got back without anything happening to mar the pleasure. A few days later when New Years came, our boys returned the compliment and invited the Johnnies over[Pg 123] to spend New Years with them. Everything went finely until late in the evening when who should walk into the tent but the officer of the day, then the deuce was to pay. The Rebs were marched off to headquarters, but our boys would not allow the thing to end that way, went with them to headquarters, explained the whole matter, taking all the responsibility, and the affair was dropped. The Johnnies were allowed to return but they were all told they must not do so any more.
December 25. We all went down to the railroad and saw our wounded boys off, Tom Plunket among them. They were to be taken to a hospital in Washington. Reports of another grand move were being circulated about camp now every day. General Burnside reviewed the 9th Army Corps, January 6th. It was a wet, cold, horrid day and very little enthusiasm was manifest. January 7th we went on picket down by the river again, but it has become less trying than it was earlier in the winter. We were not obliged to stay concealed in our rifle pits so closely. Walking about on both sides of the river by our men and by the Johnnies, had become quite common and no firing was indulged in.
January 16. We received cartridges and extra rations and orders were given to be in[Pg 124] readiness to move. Something was evidently in the wind.
January 18. Troops were moving up the river. Lee’s left flank was to be attacked by Hooker and Franklin. But the troops did not get far. A heavy rain-storm had set in and the artillery was stuck in the mud. A regiment which was stuck right beside our camp, knowing we belonged to Burnside’s army corps, would every once in a while make a diversion and give three groans for General Burnside. As we were comfortable in our tents and they were without tents, out there in the rain and mud, we pitied the poor devils rather than resented their taunts.
At three a.m., the 19th, reveille was sounded. We got up and packed our knapsacks. But we got no further. The order was countermanded and we went on picket duty once more. The morning of the 22d before we went back to camp, the Johnnies built a big sign board and painted on it in letters that could be read a mile away, “Burnside Stuck in the Mud.” On our way back to camp that day we passed guns and baggage wagons still stalled in the mud. During the day orders were given to return to camp, and as those men who had been out in the storm wet to their skins for forty-eight hours, covered with mud, with misery and disgust painted on every face, plodded their way back to their[Pg 125] camps, they made a picture of army life never to be forgotten.
Soon after ten o’clock on the night of the 23d, a sutler who was established near our corps, was charged, his tent was torn down and his goods confiscated to the last cookie. The owner (an ex-cavalry officer) made a great defence, wounding some of the boys. But what could one man do with one little revolver, when faced by two or three hundred veterans of many a bloody military and whiskey campaign? He was overpowered by the gallant veterans and forced to flee for his life. Of course the guard appeared after the mischief was done, the battle won and the wolves had gone to their dens.
The last of November when we were relieved from duty down by the river and went into camp back on high ground, from what we could see no one would imagine there were ten thousand men within ten miles of our camp. The country all about there was sparsely populated, and as one looked out on the landscape from that high ground, practically all he saw was woods. How different the aspect two months later as we were about to leave there? As far as the eye could reach all one could see was parks of military trains, parks of artillery, and camps of armies. Every tree had disappeared, yes,[Pg 126] every stump and every root had been dug out of the ground and used to keep that army warm during those winter months. How remarkable the change, it could not be witnessed without wonderment.
February 6. Orders came for the regiment to be ready to move at a moment’s notice with three days’ rations in haversacks, and the next day we took train for Aquia Creek; arriving there about noon we went immediately on board the steamboat “Louisiana” the 9th. We steamed down the Potomac arriving at Fortress Monroe the next morning. Not until the 11th did we go ashore, then we landed at Fortress Monroe, marched over to Newport News and went into camp in a horrid rain, only a short distance from the place where we camped the previous summer. It was a beautiful place and later on as the weather became warmer we enjoyed it very much. We were reviewed the 25th by our new corps commander, Baldy Smith.
We were at Newport News six weeks. We were heartily glad to be away from the jealous, political schemers so prevalent in the Army of the Potomac. There was a fine, loyal and friendly spirit among the men of the 9th Army Corps; we had learned to fight together, and confidence in, and respect for, each other was universal.
Our breakfast at Baltimore. The trip west. The Reception at Mt. Sterling. Moved into the town.
The early spring of 1863, found us at Newport News awaiting orders. Finally, on March 18th, orders came and on the 19th, the 1st Division went on board transports.
March 26. We went on board the steamer “Kennebeck” during the forenoon, and in the afternoon started for Baltimore. In the early morning of the 27th we steamed into the harbor of that city. The 2d Maryland was in the 1st Division and it was a Baltimore regiment. It had passed through the city just ahead of us and had arranged with its friends there, to be on the lookout for the 21st when we came along and see that we had a good breakfast. Well, there was nothing for sale at any of the restaurants near the wharf to members of the 21st, but we were all treated to as good a breakfast as any fellow could wish for. The editor of the Baltimore American, whom we had become acquainted with when doing picket duty on the railroad near Annapolis Junction, in the autumn of 1861, was there to welcome us. After breakfast we fell in line, marched up to the office of the Baltimore[Pg 128] American and the band played all the national airs. Every one made a speech. We gave three cheers and a tiger a number of times and then we marched back to the wharf again. This reception was arranged for by the 2d Maryland, in memory of the Pollocksville breakfast we gave them May 17th, 1862, down in North Carolina. We did not leave Baltimore until the next morning (the 28th), when just at dawn we steamed away and on through Harrisburg, Pa., and Altoona, where we were given a fine supper at midnight.
At Pittsburgh, on the 29th, we were marched to a public hall and given a fine reception; left in the morning for Cincinnati. On the way, at Coshocton, Ohio, we were received with great cordiality by the people, were given a fine breakfast and the tables were waited on by as handsome a lot of young ladies as can be seen anywhere. We reached Columbus, Ohio, early in the afternoon of the 30th. We were cordially received there and furnished coffee and sandwiches. After this was all over and the people who had furnished the lunch had gone home, the train remaining in the railroad station, some of the boys wandered up into the town to see the capitol buildings and anything else of interest. A little way up a guard was encountered, refusing the boys admission[Pg 129] to the town. After some bantering the guard opened fire on the boys, killing two and wounding a number of others. This so enraged the boys that there was a general rush for their guns, and had not the officers been on hand at the time there would have been a lot of blood spilled. The boys were got on to the train and we left the town as soon as possible.
The guard that opened fire on our boys was a detail from a new regiment of Ohio soldiers. How a lot of new soldiers doing ordinary guard duty in a city like that were given loaded muskets was impossible to understand. We reached Cincinnati at two o’clock the next morning, March 31st. We marched to the Market House where we received a good breakfast and cordial greeting from the people. While there, we learned that we were assigned to the “Army of the Ohio” and that General Burnside had been put in command of the “Department of the Ohio.” In the middle of the day we crossed the river and took train for Paris, Ky., arriving there in the early morning of April 1st. We went into camp and remained there three days.
April 3d. We marched to Mt. Sterling, a distance of twenty-two miles. Here, we were to do frontier duty, assisting in protecting the people of Kentucky from raids by Confederate cavalry and guerrillas which had become very[Pg 130] common. The march to Mt. Sterling was through the blue grass region and over a fine turnpike—the first fine road we had seen since leaving New England. Mt. Sterling is the county town of Montgomery County and has about 3000 inhabitants. But as we marched through the town we saw not one of the 3000. The streets were deserted, the blinds on the windows were closed and the doors barred. We marched on through the village out on one of the main roads and went into camp. A strong guard was put around the camp and no one was allowed to go in town.
During the evening the day after we reached Mt. Sterling, the cavalry pickets were driven in by a guerrilla band, but they got no farther than our picket post. There they came to a very sudden stop. The next day we changed camp, going to a large pasture on high ground finely drained and with a grove of beautiful trees in it, about a mile from town.
The reason for the cold reception we received from the people of Mt. Sterling on our arrival there, was because we were from the black abolition state of Massachusetts. They preferred, we were told, to remain unguarded rather than be guarded by Massachusetts men. However, it was our fortune to see a most remarkable change in the sentiment of the[Pg 131] people toward us in a very short time. Colonel Clark, the commander of the regiment, was an Amherst professor, a man of intellect and culture, and a man of an exceptionally fine presence. He was a fine example of New England culture and must have made a superior impression on the leading men of the town and county. As soon as we reached there a strong guard was put on the court house, the jail and every other public building and piece of public property that required guarding. Not a soldier was allowed in the village excepting the guards on duty; no one was allowed to touch anything he did not buy and pay for in the regular way. Raiding the town by guerrillas was stopped, perfect order was maintained. And as a result on the 17th we were invited, by the civil authorities, to move down into the village and camp in the beautiful grounds in front of the court house; and there we remained until early in July.
This period of three months was the most delightful period we had during the war. It was a veritable campaign of peace. Confidence returned to the people of Mt. Sterling, the court held its regular sessions, a thing that had not been done since the war broke out. We were paid off; money was spent freely and Mt. Sterling put on her holiday attire. After[Pg 132] we moved down into the court house grounds there was no guard kept around the camp, the boys were allowed to go and come as they pleased so long as they behaved themselves and were present at roll-call. In a short time they became acquainted with the people of the village and in the country around. They used to wander off into the country for miles, call at the farmers’ houses, and buy things to eat. In this way they became acquainted in families, and those acquaintances in many instances ripened into friendships. A Company E man and I went off into the country one day some three or four miles. We came to a medium-sized, pleasantly situated house, with a lot of hens in the yard. We thought this our opportunity to get some eggs, which was our errand, and walked up to the door and knocked. We were invited in. As we were buying our eggs two young ladies appeared. We did not feel like rushing away then, although the girls were a little slighting in their answers to questions and in speaking of the Confederates referred to them as “our men.” In the course of the conversation it was disclosed that they had relations in the Confederate army. However, the girls were young and attractive and we did not hurry. There was a piano in the room and my friend suggested that one of them favor[Pg 133] us with a selection. The younger one, a girl about twenty, sat down and played “Dixie” and “My Maryland.” As she finished she swung around on her chair and glanced at each of us in a way that said, what do you think of that. We complimented her and asked her to play the “Star Spangled Banner,” and “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean” which she did as a favor. My friend then asked her to play the Marsellaise. She did not recognize it. Would he hum it?—she might remember it. He hummed it, but it was evident she did not know it. Finally, she said in a rather saucy way, “Why don’t you play it yourself?” He said he would if it was agreeable. A plainly dressed private soldier sat down to the piano but from that moment the instrument seemed inspired. He played the “Marsellaise,” “The Watch on the Rhine;” then he played a number of selections of dance music from Strauss and other things. If he stopped they would say, “Oh don’t stop, play something else.” For nearly an hour he played ahead—those people and I as well were charmed; it was interesting to see those girls glance at each other and at their mother at times when the music was especially interesting. When finally he did stop, the saucy distant airs of the girls were gone, they had become our friends. We were then less [Pg 134]disposed than before to leave, and when we did go it was with the understanding that we would come again and in future buy all our hens’ eggs from them.
We did no drilling while there. Our principal duties were picketing the roads leading into the town from the south, east and west, keeping the brass plates on our accoutrements and our shoes, well polished. Reports of guerrillas being in adjoining towns reached us from time to time, but as those men never really wanted to fight, but only to steal, they never approached very near Mt. Sterling.
In talking with one of the Union men of the village one day about the people who were in sympathy with the South he said, “Zeek Jones over there was until lately one of the biggest Rebels in the blue grass region; he preached it and he sung it until the Rebel cavalry came along and bought out all his horned cattle, horses, potatoes and general truck and paid him in Confederate money; then he sung a new tune—he’s been cursing them ever since. He sits up nights to swear about them. Nothing like that to bring a man around, stranger,” and the old man haw-hawed right heartily.
About a mile from the village on one of the roads leading from it, a picket post had pitched its tent near what appeared to be some deserted[Pg 135] buildings. At night there issued from the house the most delightful music. The unknown singer had a contralto voice, with all the richness of tone of the most highly trained prima donna. For three successive evenings there poured forth from the house a concert the like of which those soldiers had never heard. On the third night one of the boys could endure it no longer, his curiosity had got the best of him. He approached the building, climbed over the garden wall, passed around the house, and, lo, there was an open window. He stole up to it and peeped in. The room was full of music. For a moment he was lost in the splendor of the tones, when lo, upon the kitchen table sat a colored girl singing as if her heart would burst. As she sang she scoured her dishes. She saw him! He dropped and slunk away. “Go way dar you soger man, or I’ll let fly de frying pan at you head. You mustn’t stan dar peeking at dis yer chile.” The romantic vision was dispelled. The soldier stole back to his companions, but that entrancing music was never heard to issue from that house again.
Once we marched to Paris and once to Sharpsburg to attack guerrillas, but in each instance when we reached the place the guerrillas had disappeared.
Twice we were ordered away, but each time[Pg 136] the people sent to headquarters extensively signed petitions praying that we might remain there a little longer. And stay we did until the corps was nearly ready to march into Tennessee, and the capture of the hearts of two Kentucky belles of the blue grass region, by men of the 21st were among the results of our campaign in Kentucky.
July 6. With sincere regret we said goodbye to our many friends at Mt. Sterling and marched to Lexington. The farmers of the vicinity showed the sincerity of their regard for us by turning out with their teams and carrying our knapsacks the whole thirty-three miles. It was a sweltering hot day, and in our untrained condition it was all we could stand. As we reached Lexington we found the streets filled with farmers and their stock, they having come to town to escape from a guerrilla band that was reported to be in the vicinity. But we were there in time and the guerrillas did not attempt to enter the town. We went into camp in a large field near Fort Clay. The 16th we changed camp, going to a beautiful grove near the Lexington cemetery. Here we remained until we started for Tennessee.
We crossed the Cumberland Range. The patient mule. Seeing a railroad engine with a train of cars make a dive. The siege of Knoxville. “Will you lend me my Nigger, Colonel?” Re-enlistment. Recrossed the Mountains, returning to Kentucky on the way home, on our re-enlistment furlough.
We remained in camp near the Lexington cemetery at Lexington, just one month, until August 12, 1863, when we made our first start for Tennessee. We took train for Nicholasville, then marched to Camp Nelson, where we went into camp, and stayed another month having a delightful time in that most healthy and beautiful place.
September 12. We started in good earnest on our march over the mountains but went only as far as Camp Dick Robinson. As we went into camp we were drenched by a fearful thunder storm, hailstones falling the size of marbles. The next day we made a good day’s march passing through the town of Lancaster. The 14th we passed through the village of Crab Orchard, camping for the night a little way beyond the town.
The 15th we remained in camp, but the 16th we moved on a good distance in spite of the dreadful roads, along the sides of which lay numerous wrecks of army wagons, dead mules, etc.[Pg 138] We were then getting into the foothills of the Cumberland range, and also into the abode of the rattlesnake, a number having been seen the last day or two. Colonel Hawks made an interesting discovery as he started to retire last night. He found a rattlesnake about two feet and a half long comfortably coiled up in his blankets, that was not the kind of bedfellow the colonel was looking for, and he was despatched at short notice. The 17th we met a lot of Confederate prisoners being taken to the rear. They had been captured at Cumberland Gap. They were about the dirtiest and most repulsive looking lot of men I have ever seen. We climbed Wildcat Mountain, a hill so steep it did not seem as if the trains could ever get up it; but by going slow and with a good deal of pushing and pulling by the boys they did succeed in reaching the top without accident. We passed through the town of Loudon and Barboursville, and September 21st crossed the Cumberland River at Cumberland Ford.
September 22. We passed through Cumberland Gap. Two days’ march brought us to the Clinch River, which we forded. Fording rivers and some of them pretty deep ones, was a new experience for us, but before we left East Tennessee we had learned that lesson,—if experience will teach a lesson,—pretty thoroughly.
[Pg 139]September 25. We crossed the Clinch range, the descent from which on the south side was dreadfully steep. Ropes were tied to the wagons and they were held back by the boys and prevented from tipping over. Thus they were eased down and reached the foot of the hill safely. Along the foot of the hill lay wagons and dead mules by the dozen, a whole line of them extending all along around the foot of the hill.
September 26. Lunched at the famous and glorious Panther Spring. What a spring! The water is as clear as crystal and enough of it to make a river ten feet wide and three feet deep. We continued our march through Newmarket and Strawberry Plains, reaching the immediate vicinity of Knoxville the 28th.
A word must be said right here about the unpretending, never-flinching army mule. I do not believe we shall ever know how much we owe to that toughest and most patient creature. We had seen the mule at his ordinary army work in Virginia, which was well nigh play compared with the work he was called upon to do, the hardships he was obliged to endure and the sacrifices he was forced to make in that advance over the mountains into Tennessee.
His rations were always short, his load a heavy one, and he was asked to haul it over[Pg 140] roads, the wretchedness of which can not be described nor can it be imagined by any one who has not been in a similar place. It is almost literally true that the whole line of march from Camp Nelson to Knoxville was strewn with his dead comrades; what one of the boys said in that connection as we reached Knoxville was not wide of the mark, namely, that he could in the darkest night smell out his way back to Camp Nelson by the odor of the dead mules lying along the way. Granted he had his peculiarities, so had Caesar his. His voice was peculiar, he was very handy with his heels, but he could make a supper out of a rail fence, a breakfast out of a pair of cowhide boots, and pull his load along through the day without a murmur. To me he was as near being the martyr of the Tennessee campaign as the men who fought the battles.
We had been at Knoxville but a few days when news came in that the Rebels were advancing from the northeast from the vicinity of Lynchburg down the valley, thus threatening our communications in the vicinity of Morristown, and Cumberland Gap. On the 4th of October we took the train for Morristown. From there we marched to Blue Springs, where we had a little brush with the Johnnies October 10th. They were soon put to rout and we[Pg 141] started back to Knoxville. We were sixty miles from Morristown, but in three days we were back there again and took train to Knoxville, where we arrived the 15th. In this campaign we saw plenty of marching but no real fighting, and got well soaked two different times. We remained quietly in camp at Knoxville until October 22nd. Then, however, prospects suddenly became good for an active campaign. Longstreet, with an army of 20,000 men, one of the fine army corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, was approaching Knoxville from Chattanooga and in the evening we took train and went down the valley as far as Loudon to meet him and dispute his advance. We reached Loudon about midnight and bivouacked in a large meadow on the south side of the Holston River. Before morning a cold rain-storm came on, making life for a couple of days about as miserable as it could well be. Our tents arrived the 24th, when we crossed to the north side of the river and went into camp.
The 28th, the Johnnies made a spirited attack on our boys, driving in the pickets. We took up the pontoon bridge and fell back to Lenoir. What a job we had carrying those great heavy boats to the railroad station a good fourth of a mile. Government mule-teams were there by the dozen, still we were called upon[Pg 142] to lug those boats such a distance. While we were moving the pontoon boats, an interesting thing occurred. A railroad train that had been captured was run off a wrecked railroad bridge into the Holston River. The bridge was a high one, thirty or forty feet, and it was an interesting sight to see the train make the plunge and disappear entirely from view in the river.
November 10. I commenced building winter quarters. A number of the boys had begun to cut logs for the same purpose, as it was thought we might stay at Lenoir through the winter. The 11th we marched back to Loudon and covered the laying of the pontoon bridge, returning to Lenoir in the evening. At daybreak, the morning of the 14th, we were routed out, struck tents and formed line in the quickest possible time. Our outposts were being driven in and we could hear the crack of the rifles and see the smoke from them out on the meadow as we moved out of camp. The Johnnies’ line of battle came into view directly and we realized we were in for some fighting at short notice; we had not been badly surprised, but dangerously near it.
At this time the climax was reached in an experience we had with a recruit that came to us during the Maryland campaign about the time of the Battle of South Mountain, I think. He[Pg 143] was a deacon in the Baptist church. Two or three times during the campaign, when we were in camp, the evening being quiet and favorable, our newcomer would kneel down in his tent and make a prayer. He would pray for the nation, for the cause for which we were fighting, for the President and for all the boys. At such times the boys would keep very quiet and be very respectful. Everything went along all right until the Battle of Fredericksburg, when we did picket duty among our dead the second day after the battle. It was discovered that our friend, the deacon, came off the field that night with his pockets full of watches he had taken from our dead comrades. Now there was an unwritten law in the army that no man should rifle the pockets of our own dead; he might take all he could get from the enemy’s dead, but our own dead were sacred, and inviolate, and any man found breaking that law was despised. The deacon, however, felt himself pretty independent. He was well-to-do; he always had money and received many useful things from home—like gloves, socks, fine high boots, and he had a set of false teeth set in a gold plate. He did not make any prayers for the public benefit for quite a while after the Fredericksburg affair, but when he did make one, the company street for a minute or two[Pg 144] was as quiet as death; then all at once the old truck began to arrive on the deacon’s tent. Empty tin cans, tin cups, empty whiskey bottles, old shoes, anything in the way of rubbish that could be found, suddenly found its way to the deacon’s tent. Well, that prayer was brought to a very sudden close and it was never repeated. As we moved out at daybreak, the morning of November 14th, things looked about as dark as most of us cared to have them. But some of those boys were never disturbed at anything, and remembering the deacon one of them piped up, “I say, Billy, if old blank should get hit now, what should you go for?” “I should go for his teeth,” said Billy. “What should you go for, Tom?” “I should go for his boots.” “What should you go for, Gus?” “I should go for his gloves?”—this at a time when most of the boys felt funny if they ever did, the deacon right among the very fellows who were ready to pick his bones. We succeeded in stopping the Johnnies. Indeed, that attack proved to be only a feint and during the day our trains and artillery started towards Knoxville. Not until the evening of the 15th did we start back, then during one of the darkest nights and over one of the muddiest roads imaginable, we floundered along, reaching Campbells Station a little before morning. At dawn we were thrown out[Pg 145] on to the Kingston road. We were there none too soon. Within a half hour after we were in position, Longstreet’s advance came in sight. Longstreet’s feint at Lenoir was evidently made in the hope of holding us there until he could reach Campbell’s Station, thus placing himself between Burnside and Knoxville. We changed position twice during the day, but did little fighting in either. The fighting was done in the beginning by the cavalry and later by the artillery, we falling back from ridge to ridge and keeping pretty well out of it. That night was cold and rainy and as dark as a pocket, and it was a difficult matter to make a thirteen-mile march. However, we reached Knoxville in the early morning of the 17th, and immediately set to work throwing up fortifications.
Knoxville is located on the north bank of the Holston River, on high ground elevated about one hundred feet above the general level of the valley. It was thus easily defended with a small force and our water supply was secure. The location of the 21st during the siege was on the north side of the city. We were a little short of rations; indeed, we were on half rations the whole time. However, I was a very good forager and managed to have enough to eat most of the time. One time I succeeded in picking up a pair of geese out in the country.[Pg 146] At another time I got a tub of lard and a fine smoked ham. On another raid I got a barrel of flour. To cook the flour I was obliged to pay $2.00 for a package of baking powder worth ordinarily fifteen or twenty cents. The following story was brought over from the 51st New York one day during the siege. The regimental teams had been out foraging two or three days before. Some negroes belonging to Miss Palmer had deserted their mistress and followed the teams back to camp. A few days later Miss Palmer rode into camp and inquired for the colonel. The colonel appeared, tipped his hat politely and placed himself at her service. “Colonel,” said she, “your men have been over to our town and stole all my niggers and I have just ridden over to camp to see if you will be kind enough to lend me my to shoe this horse.” The colonel assisted her in alighting, had her boy hunted up, and set him to work shoeing her horse.
While in a store a day or two ago, buying a pair of gloves, the cry of fire was heard outside on the street, and going to the door there could be seen smoke issuing from the windows on the opposite side of the street and soon the flames burst forth. The fire spread to other buildings and it looked for a short time as if nothing could save the city. A New York[Pg 147] regiment chanced to be near by and went to the assistance of the fire department. That regiment contained a large number of firemen from New York City. They knew how to fight a city fire and in a very short time the fire was under control. In the afternoon as our relief picket, to which I belonged, was on the way to its post, we passed through the town, I saw one of our boys who was enjoying General Pope’s General Order No. 10 to the full. He was floating along down the street still able to keep his feet, but not his balance. He had on a white masonic apron and a bright red scarf under his belt. As we passed him he halted, faced to the front and presented arms with so much swiftness he lost his balance and went sprawling out on the sidewalk. Poor fellow, he meant all right; he wanted to be very respectful and very military, but was a little too top-heavy to carry the thing out well. He had, I expect, been to the fire. When out foraging on the south side of the river one time, I came across in one of the huts of the negro quarters, quite a handsome young mulatto woman with her children. They were all quite well dressed. The children, however, were noticeably lighter in color than their mother. She was evidently the favorite domestic of the house and was as bitter a Yankee hater as any of the white women.[Pg 148] She declared the colored people did not want to be niggers for the Yankees. I wondered if I could not understand why she was content with her life there.
There was picket firing most of the time and two hot engagements during the eighteen days of the siege. On November 17th, General Sanders was heavily engaged on the extreme left over next to the river. November 29th, Longstreet attacked Fort Sanders furiously. That fort was only a little way round to our left but we were not engaged. The Johnnies got something of a surprise in that attack. When the siege begun it was all wood in front of the fort; but by the time of the attack the trees had all been cut down, leaving the stumps three to four feet high, then telegraph wire was strung from stump to stump all along the front. When the Johnnies reached that part of the field they were very badly broken up and lost much of their force. That was the first place where telegraph wire was used as an obstruction to an advancing column, so far as I know. Eight or ten months later at Petersburg barbed wire was used extensively, and in the present war in Europe we hear a great deal about its being used.
The night of the 23d, our boys were driven from their rifle pits down in front of the main[Pg 149] line of fortifications. The next night about three o’clock we were routed out and went down to the left of the rifle pits, and at daylight made a charge and took them back again. There was another regiment went with us on that charge. The rifle pits had been taken possession of by a regiment of South Carolina sharpshooters, and if they had been able to hold them they could have raked the edge of the city and two or three streets.
December 3. The scouts brought in word that Longstreet had given up the siege and was preparing to withdraw from our front; and the next day it was reported that the Johnnies were really moving off to the right up the valley. On the 5th, a party of us boys went over and took a look at the Johnnies’ camp and works. There was a good deal of camp refuse lying around. The weather was getting very cold.
The 7th. We started after Longstreet, going toward Morristown. We marched up to the vicinity of Blaine’s cross-roads and stayed there until we re-enlisted. It was a cold, hard time we had those days. My feet were cold all the time. I was not comfortably warm for a number of days, and rations were dreadfully short. Some of the time we had nothing to eat but corn on the cob. We roasted that and eat it and it kept us from starvation. The[Pg 150] 9th, I helped to catch a pig, but it was very small. There was not much meat on it.
December 24. The order concerning re-enlistment was read to a part of the regiment, the other part of the regiment was off on picket duty. When the question of re-enlistment was put to the boys there was a good deal of hesitation. A few only put up their hands. The idea of going home on a furlough for thirty days was a strong inducement, but the conditions under which we were living at the time were unfavorable. December 26. Our supply train was captured out in the vicinity of the gap with all our hardtack, sugar and coffee, etc. Re-enlistment was growing popular. I re-enlisted to-day. The temperature hovered around the freezing point. One hour it rained, another hour it snowed or the moisture fell in a sort of sleet. We were camping in a little hollow in the wood sloping towards the south.
December 28. It was reported that two-thirds of the men of the regiment had re-enlisted. That proportion was sufficient to enable the regiment to go home, as a regiment, on veteran furlough. It was reported about camp that the 21st was the first regiment in the 9th Army Corps to report thus re-enlisted.
January 6, 1864. Orders came directing that we be in readiness to start for Camp Nelson and[Pg 151] the north at once, and in the afternoon of the 7th we set out. About two hundred Confederate prisoners were to be taken along. My shoes were in pretty good shape, but those of some of the boys were very poor. The 8th we made an early start. The air was clear and cold and we made a good day’s march. The 10th, we reached Cumberland Gap—were disappointed not to get any rations, but after passing the gap and marching a few miles beyond, we came on to a supply train and drew two full days’ rations. What a treat to have a meal of good fresh hardtack and a cup of good coffee again. The 11th, we did not get far, we were delayed by the train. The roads in the mountains were something terrific. In many places we were obliged to cut ruts in the ice for the wheels of the wagons to go in. Forded the Cumberland River at Cumberland Ford. Pretty cold business fording large rivers in midwinter with the temperature down to 15 degrees above zero.
January 12. Waited until noon for the train to come up. The train has delayed us all along the way. The roads are so very bad. Came upon a supply train and drew two days’ rations.
We reached Loudon, Kentucky, January 14. Here, some of the boys were able to get new shoes, to their great relief. It snowed all day[Pg 152] the 15th and at night we camped in deep snow. The next day the roads not having been broken out, we lost our way and floundered around all the forenoon.
January 16. The home stretch. Made a long march of twenty-five or thirty miles in the rain, reaching Camp Nelson just before dark. Found our old Adjutant, Theron E. Hall, detailed there in command of the post. He put us in a big empty storehouse where we had a fine night’s sleep.
From the 17th of November to January 18th, a period of two months and one day, was a period in which we suffered more from privation and exposure than any other period of the same length during the war. During the siege we were under fire and short of rations all the time. The next period up in the vicinity of Morristown and Blaine cross-roads we were on duty nearly all the time. It was very cold. We were very short of clothes and had almost nothing to eat. Then the tramp over the Cumberland mountains through the snow, with almost nothing to keep us warm for eleven days, was something terrific. The fact that we were on our way home was the only thing that buoyed us up during the last part of it. I am writing this at seventy-four years of age, and as I go over that march through the snow,[Pg 153] fording great streams in midwinter on that trip across the mountains, I am entirely unable to comprehend how we were able to endure it. We had a very good opportunity to observe the Johnnies we were taking along at short range, and to get their viewpoint of the war. They were from Longstreet’s command and while they had nothing but good to say of old Pete, Stonewall Jackson was their idol. He had been killed at Chancellorsville only a little while before and they felt his loss deeply. “Stonewall did a heap of praying—he do ’specially just before a big battle,” said one. Another lean old fellow: “’Lowed Stonewall was a general, he war. If you-uns had a general like him, ar reckon you-uns could lick we-uns.” One of them lamented that, “It was no use to fight, now old Stonewall war dead.” One I asked what he was fighting for. “’Cause I don’t want to be licked. What you-all come down here for—to invade our country and run away with our niggers? You-uns must have a powerful spite against we-uns-all.” In stature they averaged much smaller than our men, and they were very ignorant; I doubt if one out of ten of them could write his name.
January 19. We remained at Camp Nelson; drew clothing, ate hardtack and drank coffee to our heart’s content and were as happy a lot[Pg 154] of mortals as ever walked the earth. The next day we marched to Nicholasville and took a train for Covington. There was a hole in one of my teeth that had added measurably to my misery on the trip over the mountains. As we passed through Nicholasville, I saw the sign of a dentist. I walked in and sat down in the dentist’s chair and told him I wished he would pull that tooth. He pulled it without any ceremony. When he put the forceps on to it, it rebelled fiercely, gave one final gasp and the maddening pain was ended.
We were put into some very comfortable barracks at Covington and stayed there until the 29th while the necessary re-enlistment papers were being made out. I bought a very slick military jacket to wear home. We were paid off, and so started for home with a pocket full of money.
The trip home. Reception at Worcester. The Social Whirl. We returned to Annapolis.
We left Cincinnati on our way home to Massachusetts in the afternoon of December 29th by train, going through Columbus, Cleveland, Buffalo, Albany and Springfield, arriving in Worcester in the morning of January 31st, and marched over to Camp Lincoln, which was to be regimental headquarters during our stay.
After we left Albany, as we passed along through the Berkshire Hills, we realized we were in the old Bay State again and that it was midwinter. The ground was buried deeply under the snow and the air was cold. Wherever we stopped on our way east we were warmly received. At Worcester the reception was enthusiastic. The 21st was the first three years’ regiment to re-enlist in the 9th Army Corps. It was the first veteran regiment to return to Worcester County, and if not the first, it was one of the first, to return to the state. The people of Worcester appreciated this and turned out in large numbers to welcome us home. At[Pg 156] the railroad station the mayor and a committee of citizens and a throng of people greeted us.
The official reception February 1st, was a most enthusiastic affair. A parade containing every organization of any size in the city was formed, with the mayor and city government at the head. We paraded the streets of the city; Plunkett marching beside the colors. Then in the afternoon there was a meeting in Mechanics Hall with speeches of welcome, etc. Our furloughs were for thirty days and were dated February 1st. The next day we were off for our homes and a glorious vacation. I got as far as Barre the second, stayed all night at the hotel, and the next morning hired a team and drove over to Dana. The place looked natural and every one seemed happy. Riding about, visiting friends, attending reunions, dancing parties and balls, was now the order of the day and of the night. What a vacation! What a season of pleasure! It was of its kind the most delightful time of my life. Nehemiah Doubleday invited my sister Jane and I and a few other close personal friends up to his house for an evening. They had music, served refreshments, and we had a most delightful time. My sister, Mrs. Kent did the same thing, and there we spent another very enjoyable evening. The town of Hardwick gave an entertainment of[Pg 157] welcome to the boys from that town in our regiment. I had worked for Mr. Arad Walker of that town and had a lot of friends over there, and so I was invited and went, and had a most royal time. Such cordiality on the part of the people. Such a warmth of welcome was entirely unexpected. Some one of those Hardwick men had his arm around me all the evening. I never got out of the sight of Mr. Walker while there. Every time I met Mr. John Paige he would put both his arms around me and give me a hug. Rev. Mr. Sanger could not have treated a son more cordially than he did me. Every man I met there, and I met a lot of them, treated me as if I was a son or a brother. As I went home that night I felt I was as much a son of Hardwick in the war as I was of Dana.
When I enlisted and went out in 1861, I did it simply because I could not stay at home. When I went back at the end of my veteran furlough I felt I was one of the representatives at the front of a fine section of Massachusetts. On March 1st, our thirty days’ furlough was at an end, and I returned to Worcester and to old Camp Lincoln again ready for duty. I was not wanted, however, and was told I could go home again and stay there until sent for, and home I went for another two weeks of pleasure, but all good things come to an end, so did that re-enlistment[Pg 158] furlough, and the 14th I was summoned back to Worcester, the 15th found me with the regiment and the 18th we started south again.
On the way back at Philadelphia the 19th we were given a fine supper at the Cooper Shop Saloon and the next morning at Baltimore we were treated to a fine breakfast at the Union Relief Association rooms. Proceeding on our way we arrived at Annapolis in the afternoon of March 25th. We went into camp and stayed there until we started to join the Army of the Potomac at the Wilderness. After the fine times we had had at home, ordinary camp life was decidedly dull. Troops were arriving daily and we soon learned the 9th Army Corps was assembling there preparatory to joining General Grant’s army on the Rapidan. Every fellow had left a girl behind him. Writing letters was freely indulged in by all, and the mails were loaded with sweet-scented, delicately addressed notes, and Oh, such longings for home.
The Battle of the Wilderness. The Battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse. Johnnies caught undressed. The Battle of Bethseda Church. The Johnny who wanted to see the sun rise. Life in the trenches during the siege of Petersburg. Wounded.
On the 23d day of April, 1864, we again started for the front, leaving Annapolis with the rest of the 9th Army Corps. We passed through Washington on the 25th, and were reviewed by President Lincoln and General Burnside. That night we camped near Alexandria. On the 27th we marched to Fairfax Court House; the 28th to Bristow Station. The 29th took us to near Warrenton Junction. The 30th we moved on a little and camped near Bealton Station. Here we remained until the 4th of May, when we moved forward to Brandy Station. We were then getting into the immediate vicinity of the Army of the Potomac and the report was circulated during the evening that that army had crossed the Rapidan.
May 5. The report that the Army of the Potomac was in motion and had crossed the Rapidan was confirmed early in the morning, and we pressed forward as rapidly as possible to join it. We reached the Rapidan in the evening, crossed over at Germania Ford and went into camp.
[Pg 160]May 6. We started before daylight and at eight o’clock reported to General Hancock, who had just been pushing Lee’s right flank back. We were placed on the left of Hancock’s corps. About ten o’clock, the 21st was sent to make a reconnaissance. We formed a line at right angles to Hancock’s line of battle, well out in front of it, and swept clear along past the whole front. This was a hazardous and mighty unpleasant thing to do and we lost some men in doing it. When we got back, we took a position on Hancock’s right and were there when Longstreet’s corps made the advance in the afternoon. That was a pretty tough reception, the Johnnies got in the part of the line where we were. We had three solid lines of battle to meet them, drawn up on land sloping toward the enemy. At the foot of the slope was the first line of battle; far enough back to shoot over the heads of the men forming line number one was line number two. The 21st was in the second line. Then far enough back to shoot over our heads was line number three. We were all lying flat on the ground. Two or three minutes before the Confederate line of battle came into view, in our immediate front, two or three little gray rabbits came jumping along towards us; at the same time we got glimpses of the Confederate line of battle as[Pg 161] it advanced off to our left, the wood being less dense there, we saw the lines cross little openings.
The Johnnies came up with terrific force—three lines of battle deep. They forced back our first line a little, but the second and third lines never moved, but kept pouring the shot into them unmercifully. They stayed there about twenty minutes to half an hour and retreated. After they had fallen back many of us went down to our front earthwork, from which our first line retreated and where the Johnnies formed and where they stayed the few minutes they were in our immediate front. There were a lot of dead and wounded men lying all about there. As I looked about I saw a middle-aged man looking around. He was examining the dead men in a most earnest way, I could not take my eyes off of him. Directly, he found the one he was searching for, it was a young boy, his son. He took hold of the boy’s hand, he spoke to him, but his son was cold in death. He sat down beside him and sat there sobbing but motionless for a long time—the tears streaming from his eyes. One of our boys ventured up to him after a while and inquired if he knew the boy; “yes,” said he, “that is my Charley, that is my cub; but he is silent now, once so full of life and so active.”
May 7. There was no fighting done. We[Pg 162] lay quietly near the place where the last fighting was done the day before. Early in the morning of May 8th, we started on the march toward Spottsylvania Court House. We passed Chancellorsville during the night and camped a little to the rear of Fredericksburg during the afternoon. We moved forward a little the 9th, and in the afternoon dug intrenchments along beside a small stream,—I think it was the Ny. It was all quiet along our front when we reached that position, but later there was a good deal of sharpshooting. We were within a few hundred yards of Spottsylvania Court House at that time, but neither Burnside or Grant knew it until we had been moved away to the right, and it was too late to profit by the advantage we had gained. We had got clear around on Lee’s right flank. The 10th, during the early morning, we moved around to the right into a large pasture partly grown up. Sharpshooters were very active all along our front. General Stevenson was killed by a sharpshooter at that time.
About daylight in the early morning of the 12th we were awakened by the bursting out of a fearful roar of infantry fire just to our right where the second corps was. We were moved along a little nearer to it, to the upper edge of a pasture next to some wood. While we were[Pg 163] there a shell burst right among a half dozen of us, a piece of which struck Lawriston Barnes in the side, mortally wounding him. Augustus, his brother, stood near and caught him as he reeled to fall. Volunteers were called for to go up into the wood and make a reconnaissance. Tom Winn offered to go and went, and in a few minutes he returned, bringing with him a Johnny. A little later we moved up through the wood and made an attack on some Johnnies in an entrenched position in an open field, but we did not drive them out; they had the advantage of a strong position and our force was too small to make such an attack with any prospect of success. As we went up through the wood we passed a Johnny who was killed while aiming his gun. He was lying flat on the ground behind a stump. His head had dropped forward a little, but otherwise he was in the exact position of aiming his gun; he had been shot through the head and killed instantly. He was evidently one of the sharpshooters who had been annoying us that morning when we were in the edge of the pasture where Lawriston Barnes was killed.
That engagement of Hancock’s corps at the salient, called also the “bloody angle” has gone into history as one of the most desperate engagements of the Civil War. We remained in the[Pg 164] immediate vicinity until the 19th, when we were moved away to the left, to the extreme left of the army, I think, and threw up a lot of earthworks. We lay quietly near our earthworks all day the 20th. The next day about the middle of the afternoon we started for the North Anna River, marching all night and all the next day through a most beautiful section of the country and camping at night near Bowling Green. The 23d we approached the North Anna River in the afternoon. The roar of the artillery just ahead of us steadily increased until it became perfectly terrific. It was the first time during the campaign the artillery of either army had had an opportunity to make itself heard. Again, the artillery of the two armies was separated from each other by a good-sized river; each thus felt perfectly safe, and they barked away to their hearts’ content. Just before we turned into the field to camp for the night, a cannon ball fired by the Johnnies at our artillery on the hill ahead of us, struck the hill, then bounded along down and finally rolled along the road among the feet of the horses of a regiment of cavalry that was passing us—we having moved to the side of the road to let them pass. The way those horses jumped around there indicated distinctly that they knew what it was, and that they did not like the looks of it a bit.
[Pg 165]May 24. During the middle of the forenoon we were moved down on to an island in the river with another regiment, expecting to make a charge across that part of the river on the Johnnies’ works on the other side. We stayed there a few hours, then returned without attempting any advance. In the middle of the afternoon we moved up the river a little way and crossed at Quarles Ford.
May 25. On picket duty out on the bank of a small stream. Captured two Johnnies. I was on the picket line. We were placed quite a distance apart, so I was entirely alone. The bank of the stream was quite high, I being some twenty feet higher than the river and about ten or twelve yards from it. I saw the Johnnies approaching me on the other side of the river when some thirty or forty yards away. They were sauntering along, their right hands holding a number of canteens, their left hands their guns. I was lying behind the trunk of a fallen tree. I kept perfectly quiet until they were about twenty or thirty feet from the other side of the river, when I ordered them to throw down their guns. They dropped them instantly. Then I ordered them to come in, which they did without hesitation. They forded the stream, clambered up the bank, and as they reached the top, stood still and apparently took[Pg 166] in the situation. They were men about thirty years old, one a medium-sized man, the other a large man, five feet, ten inches or six feet tall. I think they felt a little awkward as they discovered they had surrendered to a mere boy. The larger one took a fancy to my gun and stepped forward as if expecting me to hand it to him for examination. I brought my gun down to the charge, cocked it, and told him to keep his distance or I should shoot. The smaller man took hold of the other, pulled him back and said to him, “Don’t go near him, he’ll shoot you.” “You may be sure I shall,” said I. Then I started them to the rear, keeping about a rod and a half behind them. When I reached headquarters the colonel came out of his tent and came up to me and said, “What have you been up to, Mad?” An officer stuck his head out of a nearby tent and shouted, “Why didn’t you bring in the whole regiment while you were about it?” Another called out, “Tell us how you did it, Mad.” Another answered back, “Ah, he surrounded them.” And so they had quite a bit of good-natured fun at my expense. Well, a corporal and guard came and took charge of the Rebs and I went back to my place on the picket line again.
May 26. We recrossed to the north side of the river and went back to near Oxford and went[Pg 167] into bivouac. The army was on the move and we were doing picket duty. I was way off in the wood, apparently all alone and there was not another picket within fifteen rods of me. I was lying down behind the trunk of a tree some twenty to twenty-four inches through at the base. All at once I saw a Johnny coming down through the wood. He was coming directly toward me, coming along quietly, glancing now to the right, then to the left. I let him approach to within about three or four rods of me when I ordered him to drop his gun. He dropped it and came in. He was a big six-footer with a big, black beard eight or ten inches long. I took him back to headquarters, turned him over to the officer of the day and went back to my post again. This was great luck for me. In two consecutive days I had, entirely alone and unaided, captured three Johnnies,—two at one time and one at the other; and they were the only men I captured unaided during the whole war.
May 27. Some of our boys had a little fun with some Johnnies that morning. The Johnnies shot across the river and killed a cow that belonged to a farmer living nearby. Then they stripped off their clothes and swam the river, intending to have a good cut of beef for dinner. As soon as they were over the river[Pg 168] our boys appeared, took them prisoners and marched them off to headquarters just as they were. The armies had both gone. We were the pickets of the rear guard. We had been keeping very quiet in the wood, and the Johnnies probably thought we had all gone. Well, they did not have meat for dinner and we did. About noon we left the North Anna and followed on after the army. The 28th we marched all day and most of the night, but during the night the marching was less steady, the artillery that was ahead of us was obliged to repair the roads in two or three which caused delays. During those halts the boys would, every one of them in two minutes after the halt was made, be lying beside the road fast asleep. On a long, hard march there is always more or less straggling and those fellows once behind may have quite a little trouble in finding their regiments again; but they go straggling along inquiring for their regiments, brigades or perhaps their army corps, etc. Well, that night as we were lying beside the road asleep, an officer came along—a very important and very arrogant fellow—he woke up Tom and asked what regiment that was. Tom rubbed his eyes, looked about and shouted loud enough to be heard a quarter of a mile, “The 279th Rhode Island.” A little way off[Pg 169] another fellow piped up, “That is a blasted lie, this is the 119th Ireland;” the officer made no reply but moved on.
In this campaign there is firing going on somewhere along the line most of the time. For any one who has not been in a real hard campaign, it is impossible to imagine what life is like there—especially nights. If near the enemy thus being unable to have any fire with which to cook a cup of coffee, having nothing to drink but cold water and nothing to eat but hardtack with perhaps a slice of salt pork. A roar of musket fire along the picket line giving one a start and waking him up, stragglers tumbling over you or waking you up to inquire for their regiments, sleeping on the ground perhaps in a rain-storm are all in the regular order of experience. On the 30th of May we reached Cold Harbor, we were advanced into a position near Shady Grove and told to throw up some earthworks. The pickets seemed only a few steps in front of us and were firing away like mad; the bullets coming over where we were altogether too thick for comfort. May 31. We stayed in that position all day and that night I was detailed on picket. About midnight I went on duty, we went down across a large field and clear down on the farther side, relieved the pickets in little holes they had dug to conceal[Pg 170] themselves in. There were spades there and before daylight we had increased the size of the holes so they were fair-sized rifle pits. When that line was established it was done just about as badly as it could be. It was placed clear on the farther edge of a large field about four or six rods from the edge of the wood, the Johnnies’ line of pickets being in the edge of the wood. About ten o’clock the officer of the day appeared about thirty or forty rods to the rear and signaled for me to go back and get orders. I was acting sergeant at the time and had command of the pickets of that part of the line. I went back to him, got my orders and returned to my post again. That was the most perilous duty that fell to me to perform all alone during my whole service. As I went back I was a single mark for from a dozen to fifteen Rebs for a run of fifteen rods, and on my return just the same again, and that time I was running directly toward them.
It was a common thing in those days to hear the bullets zip past one, but a thing occurred then that was new to me. It was a plowed field I was crossing and as the bullets struck the ground they would kick up a little dust. I remember distinctly seeing those miniature clouds of dust three or four times on those runs.
As near as I can judge I was fired at about[Pg 171] twelve or fifteen times each way, but I escaped without a scratch. Had they had some decent shots there I would have been shot into mincemeat and why I was not is a thing I have never been able to understand. Some of our boys in the rifle pits declared they heard the Johnnies clap as I jumped down into the rifle pit on my return. Well, in the middle of the afternoon when I received the signal to fall back I gave the order, but not more than half the men struck out,—the remainder preferring to remain there and be taken prisoners rather than take the risk of that run across the field. When I got back fifteen or twenty rods I turned and looked back. The Rebs were taking those of our boys that remained, out of the rifle pits. We now formed a skirmish line and fell slowly back. The Confederates formed their skirmish line and began to follow us up. The retreat down to Bethseda Church, a distance of about three or four miles, was most exciting, the Johnnies following us up pretty closely. But once in a while we would make a stand. Then they would bring up their artillery, and lines of infantry would swing into place. Then we would quietly drop back again. When we reached the vicinity of Bethseda Church there were lines of battle everywhere. We were ordered back to the rear of the lines and were[Pg 172] then sent to our regiments. The 21st was quite a little way off to the left. Emmons had just been killed when I found the regiment. Marcus Emmons was a Hardwick boy. He was an awkward, unsoldierly appearing man, but he was a man of considerable intellectual ability and a man of splendid character; and, so far as I ever saw, he was as brave as the bravest, without any show or parade, but always did his duty faithfully. Had he been possessed of a fine soldierly figure and bearing, he could just as well have held a commission as lieutenant-colonel or colonel as to have been a sergeant.
That night we camped right near the battlefield, and early the next morning I got up and started to take a walk over the field out near the Confederate battery where so many horses were killed. I found a live Johnny; there were a number of dead men lying about among the caissons and dead horses, but one I saw moved. I went up to him and greeted him and asked him if he was badly wounded. “Yes,” said he, “I guess it is all up with me.” He was lying flat on his back and appeared to be unable to move, gazing up into the sky, his eyes were restless and rolling. He had been shot through the body and his spinal column had been injured, I think. All but his hands seemed paralyzed,[Pg 173] those he could use a little. I inquired if I could do anything for him. “Yes,” said he, “I wish you would turn me over on to my side so I can see the sun rise.” The sun was just about to appear over the eastern horizon. I turned him over on to his side, then I found a canteen and went to get a canteen of water for him. When I got back fifteen minutes later the poor fellow was dead. He had fallen asleep to awake, I trust, to a more glorious sunrise than that early sunrise of June 3d, 1864.
From the 2d to the 12th of June the 21st was not seriously engaged. There was more or less fighting along the line, but it was not our fortune to be in it.
In the evening of June 12th, we left Cold Harbor and in the evening of June 14th we were at Charles City on the James. We crossed the river on a pontoon bridge about midnight of the 15th and started for Petersburg as fast as we could go, arriving there late in the afternoon. It was on this march I fell out, the first and only time I every fell out on a march. My shoes were worn so badly they hardly protected my feet at all and they galled me murderously. I fell out beside a brook, gave my feet a good bath, made a cup of coffee, took a little rest and then went on, coming up with the regiment during the evening. The boys were engaged[Pg 174] at about six o’clock when the 9th and 2d Corps made the first attack on Petersburg. Our boys drove the Johnnies from the first line of works, and the next morning when we moved forward we found the next line abandoned. During the night we moved to the right and forward preparing for another advance at daybreak. When we advanced the morning of the 17th, I was on the picket line; as we passed a deserted line of earthworks I saw a dead Johnny lying in one of the trenches. He had an open letter in his hand, I took the letter from his lifeless fingers folded it and put it in my pocket, when I had a chance to read it I discovered it was from his sweetheart at home in Georgia. He had evidently thought of her when he found himself mortally wounded, had taken the letter from his pocket and died while reading it.
There were two more incomplete lines of works in our front. We hoped to take both these lines, but being unsupported we succeeded in taking only one. During the day some reinforcements arrived and a regiment was put right in front of us; we thus had two lines of battle with which to advance, they going ahead. In the early evening the order came to advance. The regiment in front of us that was to take the lead never moved a peg, and we were obliged to charge right over them. On each of our[Pg 175] flanks there were good strong lines, so being well supported on both sides we captured both lines. Some distance to our right our men were less successful, they did not take the last line, and soon began to draw regiment after regiment from our force, until we were so spread out to cover the line, we did not have more than one man to each six feet. A continuous fight was kept up until about midnight, when our ammunition running low, our firing became slack. The Johnnies doubtless noticed that, made an advance and we were forced back to the second line again. As we left those works two things occurred that are worth mentioning. In front of us was a wood, directly in front the wood came up to within fifteen or twenty feet of our works. To the left the space between the breastworks and the wood was much greater. So as the Johnnies advanced they came in sight in the open space to the left first, and I fired at them there. Then I set to work to load my gun; but before it was finished they were coming out of the wood and across the narrow space right in front of me. I put on a cap and fired at a man only a few feet away with my ramrod still in my gun. The Johnny was doubled up. I think my ramrod hit him right in the stomach. Then I skipped for the rear. The regimental colors were a little way to my right. Captain[Pg 176] Sampson was right near them. Three Rebs started for our colors about the time I shot my ramrod into the Johnny. Captain Sampson jumped up on to our works and cut one of them down with his sword. The other two retreated. Then Captain Sampson and the few men there were remaining with the colors also fell back. I hunted about and got me a complete gun and I found a dead man with some cartridges in his cartridge box. These I appropriated. So I was all right again.
In the early morning of the 18th preparations were made for another advance; but when the pickets went forward they found the works we had captured and lost the night before were deserted. The Johnnies had fallen back about a mile to a shorter line of works nearer the city. The next night we moved up to a desirable position at an average distance of one hundred and fifty yards from their works, and commenced putting up earthworks for siege purposes. During the next ten days it was remarkable to see how the fortifications appeared. They sprung into existence as if by magic. The 9th Army Corps was the second from the Appomattox River; Hancock with his corps being on our right. And thus we came into position in front of Cemetery Hill. As we lay there about four hundred feet from the crest[Pg 177] of the ridge, there was a little to our left a slight elevation, a little knoll. On this prominence the Confederates located a six-gun battery, which was known as Elliott’s salient. It was this battery that was destined later to be undermined and blown up.
Two nearly parallel lines of intrenchments were laid out for the infantry, varying from 150 to 300 yards apart. At first most of the work had to be done at night under the cover of darkness. But later on after the works were under way and we had got our bearings we could plan to work during the day. The top of the intrenchments were finished in such a way as to cover one’s head when firing. We were furnished with bags. These we filled with dirt and piled up on top in such a way as to make loopholes through which to fire. Fortifications for the artillery had also to be built. They were located on the more elevated parts of the field and on a line with, or to the rear of, the second line of intrenchments of the infantry. It was soon arranged so the troops in the two lines alternated each other, each taking his turn for three days in the front line and then having three days in the second line. But in the matter of danger the difference was slight. The lines were so near together and both so near the Confederate works, the men in either were[Pg 178] within easy range of the enemies’ sharpshooters. The men in the second line, however, had some advantages. They could have a little covering over their heads to keep off the blazing rays of the sun. They could also take off their accoutrements and unloosen their clothes at night and so get a little better rest. While in the front line no covering as a protection against the sun could be used. One must keep his accoutrements on, and his musket, if he laid it down, must be within his reach.
In addition to the regular intrenchments for the infantry and forts for the artillery, there were, just to the rear of the first line of breastworks, passages connecting the different intrenchments and batteries. These were about six feet deep and eight or ten feet wide; they ran everywhere. With these and the regular breastworks the ground was completely honeycombed. In front of our breastwork was a ditch, an abatis and a line of barbed wire entanglement. The Confederate and our lines were so near together that every possible thing was resorted to, to prevent being surprised or to check an advancing line of battle. A view across the field was peculiar, not a man could be seen. Lines of abatis, barbed-wire fences, piles of earth with the black noses of cannon projecting out between them, was about all[Pg 179] one could see. In the course of ten days after our lines were established we were pretty well dug in, so the ordinary rifle of the infantry, the field artillery and even the siege guns, did not disturb us much. The mortars, however, we did not like; the shells from them, we had not, at the time I was wounded, learned to avoid. Later on, bomb proofs were built back of the second line; these the boys could get into when off duty and be protected. Life in the trenches was dreary and trying, although in ways interesting. The Johnnies did not keep up a continuous fire, but once in a while they would throw over a dozen or twenty shells, apparently to stir us up to see how we liked it.
One day, four of the boys in the second line were sitting on a blanket playing pitch, when, with a terrific whiz and shriek, down came a mortar shell and buried itself in the earth within three feet of one of them. The way those boys rolled and tumbled over each other to get out of the way of that shell, was interesting to see, but it only gave them a start; it did not burst and no one was hurt.
Weren’t we indignant one noon? The cook had just brought up from the rear a kettle full of fine smoking hot baked beans. He had just set them down and stepped back a pace or two, the boys were all skurrying around getting[Pg 180] their plates so no one was very near, a shell came down and burst right beside that kettle of beans and knocked it all to atoms. One boy who was some ten or twelve feet away was hit in the side by a piece of the shell. It cut a groove out of his side as clean as a gouge cuts a groove from a piece of wood. An amusing thing happened the other night over a little way to our left where they were using pack mules for working squads. A mule loaded and bristling with shovels, picks and axes, broke loose from his company and, with fearful clatter, went charging fearless and alone. The Rebs, believing they were being charged upon by our cavalry, were for an instant in confusion, but got into their works and opened fire on our friend with long ears. The mule not liking that kind of a reception whirled about and came cantering back to his comrades again. As the mule came prancing back, it dawned upon the Johnnies what had really happened and they began to laugh, our boys hearing them joined in and for an instant a perfect roar of laughter and shouts rang along both lines. In that way, under those conditions the siege went on; under those conditions we lived. To stay in those trenches in that terrific heat, with not a breath of fresh air, in the dirt—for every spear of grass had early disappeared—was a[Pg 181] thing only the most hardy could endure. I early formed the habit when we were in the second line, of rising a little while before daylight in the morning and going down to a little stream in our rear and taking a bath. And it was while returning from one of those trips, the morning having got a little advanced, I was hit by a sharpshooter. The ball passed through my left thigh about half way from my hip to my knee, passing just behind the bone from the right side to the left. I crawled back to a place of cover. Then some of the boys came with a stretcher and carried me back to the place where the ambulances were kept. From there I was taken in an ambulance back to the hospital, in the rear of the fighting line some mile and a half or two miles away.
Along most of the line there was little picket firing. Men moved about exposing themselves to considerable extent. But in front of the 9th Army Corps there was continuous firing from the beginning. The third division of the 9th Army Corps was a division of negro troops. The Confederates knew this and resented it and in this way took their revenge, although the negro division was not present until after the mine explosion.
That ride in the ambulance. Emory Hospital. The woman with my Mother’s name. The dreadful death rate. President Lincoln’s Second Inauguration. Booth’s Ride. Doing clerical work in Philadelphia. Discharged.
July 30, 1863, my twenty-third birthday, found me in a field hospital a little way to the rear of the 9th Army Corps, whither I had been taken the day before after being wounded.
About daybreak we heard the report caused by the mine explosion, and then the roar of the artillery that followed. Early in the forenoon a train of ambulances was loaded with wounded men, I among them, and taken to City Point to make room for the wounded they were hourly expecting to be brought from the front. The ride from the hospital to City Point was most trying. The ambulances went rolling and jolting along across trackless fields the whole way. My wound bled a good deal and pained me badly, but I bore it quietly, my companion in the ambulance being apparently so much worse off than I. He complained and moaned dreadfully until we were near City Point when he became quiet and remained so for the rest of the journey.
When we reached the hospital at City Point,[Pg 183] a man came and helped me out of the ambulance and into the hospital. At the same time two men took out my companion. He had to be lifted bodily out, his form was rigid and cold—he was dead. Then I understood why at a certain time on the way his moaning had ceased. My wound was dressed, I had a bath, a nurse brought me a plate of soup and I felt very much refreshed.
August 1. Notice was given in the tent where I was that a boat was at the wharf down at the river to take to Washington all wounded men who could get down to the wharf and get aboard the boat. I told one of the nurses that if I had a pair of crutches I thought I could get down there. She got me the crutches and I set out. I had not gone many rods when my head began to spin around and I began to feel very strange. I stopped and stood still for a moment, then who should pass by right in front of me but Alf Rider, a Company K man. I shouted, “Alf!” He looked around, saw who it was, came back and helped me down to the boat. He then went and got a canteen of water and brought it to me. Wounded men were coming aboard all the afternoon. By seven o’clock the boat was crowded and we started for Washington where we arrived the next afternoon. On the way we had no food, but water[Pg 184] we had. My neighbors, none of whom had any canteen, all used mine, and between us we emptied it a number of times. But one of the boat men, a fine fellow, did not allow it to remain empty long at a time. He kept us supplied with water and we got along very well.
As soon as we reached Washington I was taken in an ambulance and carried to Emory Hospital and placed in Ward 4. Doctor Ensign, a New York physician, had charge of the ward. A Mr. Gage, a medical student from Massachusetts, was wound dresser and took care of my wound. I had been in the hospital only about a week when the erysipelas developed in my wound, and August 9th I was taken to the erysipelas ward. This ward was under the charge of a Dr. Bates, of Worcester, Mass. Dr. Bates and his assistants had no trouble in quieting down that erysipelas, and on August 30th, I was taken back to Ward 4 again. What horrible care my wound received! It was dressed only once a day and then so badly. September 16, gangrene broke out in it and I was taken to the gangrene ward.
This ward was under the charge of the same physician as the erysipelas ward—Dr. Henry Green Bates of Worcester, Mass. Dr. Bates’ wife was a Brookfield Stone, and she, seeing my diagnosis card, discovered that my mother’s[Pg 185] name and her maiden name were identical. Although no near relationship could be established, it created a friendly interest, and Dr. Bates took care of my wound himself, dressing it twice a day until the gangrene was out, which was in just six days. But I was not then sent back to Ward 4. I was made comfortable in a private tent and remained under his care until February, 1865, during which time the Doctor and Mrs. Bates kept me supplied with newspapers and books to read and delicacies to eat.
Early in February, Dr. Bates left Emory Hospital, going to Newport News to take charge of a hospital being built to take care of the wounded expected when the campaign should open at Petersburg, and I was sent back to Ward 4.
The critical period of three months with me, from August to December, 1864, I was cared for by Dr. Bates, and to him I owe my life. Had I been obliged to remain in Ward 4, through those three critical months, I should not have survived. The work of the wound dresser, I always thought, was very inferior. The food was fairly good and we had plenty of it. We also had plenty of stimulants—a little bottle of brandy and a bottle of porter every day.
There must have been a large number of badly wounded men on the boat that took me[Pg 186] to Washington. For a while the long roll was heard so often at that hospital carrying out the dead, it was abolished, the effect was so depressing.
When I was taken back to Ward 4, at the time Dr. Bates left, Dr. Ensign learned that Dr. Bates and his wife had formed something of an attachment for me and that I had been a sort of special patient over there. I was, consequently, ever afterward treated with a good deal of kindness by him and so got through the rest of the time I was in the hospital very comfortably. It was depressing to note the change that had taken place in Ward 4 during my absence in Dr. Bates’ ward. When I went into Ward 4, it was full to crowding. On my return, less than half the beds were occupied, more than half the patients having died.
In the ambulance that carried me from the boat to the hospital was a man who must have been in great pain. He complained bitterly. He was wounded in the foot. The day after we got to the hospital his foot was amputated. In a few days a piece of his leg was cut off, and again his knee was sacrificed, and inside of two weeks he was a dead man. The gangrene was in his foot when we got to the hospital and as soon as an amputation was performed it would break out in the new wound made. He[Pg 187] was a Connecticut man, married. His wife came on and was with him during the last days he lived and took his body home with her.
A Michigan man used to excite my sympathy. He was wounded in the right shoulder and the bones of that joint were knocked all to pieces. The upper part of the humerus, a part of the clavicle and a part of the scapula had been removed. He was a great broad-shouldered, six-foot-six man, and to see that Hercules pacing up and down the ward—for he could not keep still—his arm in a sling and holding it up or steadying it with his left hand as best he could, the wounded shoulder still hanging way down—was a most pitiable sight.
The day after I got to the hospital I noticed a bed away by itself in one corner of the ward, with a large frame over it covered with mosquito netting, and I soon saw things which indicated that there was a wounded man there. On inquiry, I learned there was a man in there lying at the point of death. The doctors did not expect him to live and they were just trying to make his last hours as comfortable as they could. He was a German by birth and belonged to a New York regiment. He had been hit in the thorax, the ball passing through from side to side piercing the bones on both sides and going through a portion containing vital parts.[Pg 188] When I was taken to the erysipelas ward he was still alive, and when I came back, the wound dresser thought he had begun to mend. When I returned to the ward in February, he was able to get around on crutches, and when I left the hospital in May he could walk without his crutches. He was not very elastic on his feet to be sure, and it was pretty funny walking. He walked on the end of his feet and toes, his heels being up in the air—but he could balance himself and get around quite a little. This was regarded in the hospital as a remarkable cure and it was attributed to the remarkable vitality of the man.
During the first weeks I was in the hospital, when the ward was full of wounded men, many of them seriously wounded, it would be expected there would be considerable noise. To the contrary there was almost no noise at all. One almost never heard a moan and the attendants wore slippers with felt bottoms, so they moved about making hardly the slightest noise.
Dr. Ensign, the doctor who had charge of Ward 4, was a New York doctor. In addition to his having the care of Ward 4, he was operating surgeon of the whole hospital. He and Dr. Bates, I think, were the two principal physicians there. Dr. Bates, as already stated, had charge of the two worst wards—the[Pg 189] gangrene ward and the erysipelas ward. Dr. Moseley, the head doctor, was, I think, just a figure head. He never did anything and was seldom seen about the hospital.
By the first of March I was on crutches and able to get around pretty well. So desiring to hear the President deliver his inaugural address on the 4th of March, I, early in the forenoon, went down to the Capitol, got into a good position on the east side to see and hear Mr. Lincoln. I stayed there, heard the address, saw the sun burst out on Mr. Lincoln. The throng came, the famous Second Inaugural Address was given, the throng melted away, and I returned to the hospital again. When evening came I went over to the White House to a public reception, fell into line, and passed around and shook hands with Mr. Lincoln. He seemed to be in the best of spirits.
April 10. The daily papers announced the welcome news of the surrender of General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. The surrender had taken place the afternoon before at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. It was the signal for the display of the greatest enthusiasm. In a short time salutes began to be fired, and every fortification and every battery in the vicinity of Washington fired a national salute. We boys in the hospital climbed up on[Pg 190] to the top of the wards; from there we could see the smoke shoot out from the top of every hill in sight, and the roar of the artillery was like a great battle.
After Lee’s surrender, the period of national rejoicing was destined to be short, and terminated in a most abrupt and tragical manner—the assassination of President Lincoln.
My own personal experience on that eventful night of April 14th and 15th had in it an element of interest. The road from the quarter of the city where Ford’s Theatre stood, to the Navy Yard bridge across the Anacostia River near the Navy Yard, passed quite near one corner of Emery Hospital, which was laid out in the form of a square. I was quartered at that time in a tent that stood at the corner near the road, and heard a man ride past at great speed going in the direction of the Navy Yard bridge. It was an uncommon thing for any one to pass along that road at night and it attracted my attention. A few moments elapsed and a squad of cavalry rode past like the wind. That aroused me again and I called the attention of the night watchman to it. “Oh, you’ve been dreaming,” said he, “go to sleep.” But I could not go to sleep, I was sure something out of the ordinary had happened. A little after midnight the news was brought to the[Pg 191] hospital that the President had been assassinated. I was then confident that it was Booth I had heard ride past the hospital, and later reports proved my conclusion to be true.
Early in May I was transferred to the veteran Reserve Corps and assigned to a company in Philadelphia and then was detailed to the adjutant-general’s office of the state of Pennsylvania do clerical work, and stayed there until I was discharged in July. The work amounted to very little; an occasional hour’s work was all I had to do.
The captain of the company of the Veteran Reserve Corps to which I belonged, Buckley by name, was a specimen. He was a typical Irish politician with all the bluster and swagger of that class. He was associated with the sutler and was, all in all, one of the most unsavory specimens to be found anywhere.
In July, I received a notice from the adjutant-general of Massachusetts that my regiment had been mustered out of the service of the United States, and on the 22d, I was paid off, mustered out of service and returned home. Thus ended my four years and six days’ service during the Civil War, and thus end these recollections which have assumed proportions quite surprising, considering what was contemplated at the outset.
[Pg 192]In studying the history of the Revolutionary War, I have often wished I could read the diary of a private soldier of that time, that I might form an impression of the life of the soldier in the ranks during that war.
If, some day, a student should come along who is interested in the history of the Civil War, and who would like to know something more about it than just the main facts, which is all the histories usually give, it is hoped that these recollections will be of assistance to him in that respect.
Few soldiers, too, had so varied an experience as fell to the lot of the writer. Again, it has been a source of genuine pleasure to think over the old campaigns, with their diversity of experiences, and put what I have been able to call to mind into readable form.
James Madison Stone.
Boston, January, 1918.
|My task is done, my song hath ceased, my theme|
Has died into an echo it is fit
The spell should break, of this protracted dream.
The torch shall be extinguished which hath lit
My midnight lamp and what is writ is writ.
Would it were worthier but I am not now
That which I have been, and my visions flit
Less palpably before me and the glow
Which in my spirit dwelt is fluttering faint and low.
|Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.|
|Canto 185. Lord Byron.|