Sunday, September 23, 2012

"We delight in killing them."

Tuesday, September 23, 1862, at Opequon Creek, near Martinsburg

When it appeared that McClellan would make no move against us, our army yielded the field to them and we marched towards the Potromac and Virginia. Our division formed the rear guard of the army.

McClellan was not going to let us go in peace. Several miles beyond where we crossed the Potomac at Boteler's Ford, the Yankees crossed, too and followed us with a notion of chewing us up. The division was turned around and we went back to kill them again. They had massed some artillery against us but not enough to stop us. The Fourteenth took the worst of their guns but bravely moved on. Our regiment suffered but one wounded. I fired my new Yankee musket but five times. I hated to give up my old musket but as it was a smoothbore, it did not have the range to kill Yankees beyond a sixty yards or so. This rifled musket can easily double that distance.

We were compelled by the lack of ambulances to abandon some of our wounded to the mercies of the enemy. I have not heard if Colonel Barnes is among them.

I do not know where the rest of the army is. I only know that we are near Martinsburg. For all I know, we are still the rear guard since we are so close to the river. I cannot imagine that this place can sustain the whole army for long so they must not be here. We must be ready to move quickly to oppose any more attempts by the enemy to cross over to our side.

Until someone beats the long roll, we are engaging in resting and refitting ourselves. Almost everything that composes us soldiers has to be put right again. We have had some chance to launder our uniforms and ourselves. Our officers have insisted on it. As I was one of the few who thought ahead enough to save some soap, I was rather popular. Now I am soapless and not half clean yet. The waters are cold but the fires are hot so it is even.

Our rations have returned to normal, that is to say ordinary and monotonous. The good people of Martinsburg have little to spare since our last visit. Perhaps we should not have been so greedy then. We make do with corn, salt pork and crackers. Things will be better in the spring if we do not starve first.

Although, at present, we do not do battle with the two-legged enemy but rather, we are engaged in battle with the six-legged enemy. He is called by several names, some of which I will take note of here.  When not being condemmed to the infernal regions, they are called, "confederates", "zouaves", "greybacks" and "tigers", amongst other names. We take no prisoners, we fight under the black flag. We kill them in droves and they are rapidly replaced by more. We kill them by smoke, we kill them by boiling, we kill them between our fingernails. We sit in groups around the campfire and seek them out. 

Duncan, Lyles, Adkins and Terry have a wager. The one who kills the most wins one hardtack cracker. I heard Adkins exclaim, "Fifty-two!", a moment ago.

We spend a good deal of time doing this. As we have not had the time to take a proper clensing of ourselves and our clothes for some months, all of us are being attacked by great hosts. We delight in killing them. Sometimes, a garment such as a shirt, is infested beyond all efforts to save it. When it is thrown away, we say that it has been paroled. I did not parole my drawers. I burned them. I am wearing my last shirt and already know that it has been invaded by advance scouts who will pass the word to the main body that fresh meat is hard by. Someday, I will burn this shirt, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"...watered with blood."

Saturday, September 20, 1862, in Virginia

If I do not write this down, I will not be able to recall this in the future. Yet, in order to do this, I must recall it and it sickens me to do so. On Tuesday night, we could hear the cannonade in the distance and knew that our time to enter the fray was close. On Wednesday morning, the entire division was put on the road early in the direction of the thunder.

We marched faster than usual and rested so little. We all knew that something big was happening and we must be there in a hurry in case our presence would make the difference. As we came nearer to the source of the sounds, they grew in such scale that we knew that whatever was happening, it was larger than we had imagined.

As we approached the battlefield, we could see Yankee signalmen waving their flags. If they were signaling our arrival, there was nothing we could do about it. They were too far away to shoot down. When we joined battle, the brigade was facing a lush cornfield into which we entered, not knowing what would be on the other side. In the cornfield, while taking the top of a slight rise, we encountered the Yankees. We opened fire as did they. They were Rhode Islanders, and as we held the high ground, we cut them down as if they were the corn itself.

They Yankees stood our fire for awhile and withdrew rather rapidly to the cover of a stone fence. Our Colonel Barnes ordered a charge and so we complied, yelling all the way. Barnes noticed that we had advanced so far from our lines that we were unsupported and withdrew a bit. Once others advanced to within supporting distance, Barnes ordered the attack resumed and we drove them away from the fence.

There we stood and shot it out with the enemy. In our squad, Vincent was hit in the left hand. In our company, John Fain, Bill Taylor and a boy of just seventeen, Elias Frasier, were killed. Colonel Barnes suffered a Minie ball to his thigh which is a very bad would to have inflicted. Barnes had taken over command of the regiment after Dunnovant had resigned this spring. I suppose Major Jones, if he still lives, is now in charge of the regiment.

When night fell, we were still in posession of our part of the field, and there we stayed, largely falling in place to the ground. We dared not pitch a proper camp lest the Yankees advance again upon us. I fell asleep straight away, without any supper. If anything happened after I entered the realm of the unconsious, I remained thankfully unaware.

When dawn broke the next day and the haze had left the fields and our eyes, we could see a sight that should never be seen by anyone. The hills here are gentle and we could see for some distance. We observed spots before our eyes, many spots dotting the fields. Each had been someone's son but no more. They have been turned into spots of grey and blue lying peacefully on green fields now turned red. 

All during the day, part of us stood to as the rest of us ate or replenished our cartridges or searched for friends alive or dead. I could only get down two crackers and no more. Finding sweet water was difficult. My canteen is now empty. I noticed poor Castles, and several others, have to remove themselves from us to go and evacuate their stomachs. 

What is grown in fields watered with blood?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"We Can Hear the Distant Cannon."

Tuesday, September 16, 1862, Harpers Ferry, Virginia

It was not much of a fight. We came here to remove the Yankee threat to the army's rear, to keep our supply lines safe. We spent the time since leaving Martinsburg moving on Harpers Ferry. It took a while but we surrounded the town with our guns. Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights and Bolivar Heights, overlooking the town and commanding it from above. Had the Yankees fought better to hold these heights, we could never have claimed victory.

But they did not fight more than a token's worth. We positioned our guns and infantry more or less without interference. Yesterday morning, we opened fire on the garrison. We could get at them but they not at us for we were too high. They did resist for a while but there comes a time to recognize that continued resistance only gets men killed with no positive gain to balance the scale. They surrendered and we moved it. Our brigade had not fired a shot.

Better than winning the battle for those of us high privates was the capturing of all their supplies. It reminded us of the capture of the Yankee supply depot at Manassas Junction. There were so many muskets captured that all of us now have new Springfields. Duncan got rid of that riduculous top hat in favor of a Federal kepi. We all profited ourselves with something from the Yankee supplies. I have enough hard crackers to last all year. I also took a wool shirt as winter is coming. Several of us went to visit the firehouse where the abolitionist John Brown and his insane followers made his last stand in '59.

Hill's division, including our brigade, has been left behind to see to the parole of the prisoners while Jackson and the rest of his command goes south. We do not mind as it gives us extra time to enrich ourselves courtesy of Massa Linkum.

Several of us in the company were guarding some of the prisoners. I saw men from Vermont, Ohio, Illinois and New York. It was New Yorkers of the One Hundred and Fifteenth specificly that we were guarding. Duncan and I got to talking with some of them. One was named Doxtater, another was called Platt. Both were young men, just past their teens. Then there was Joseph Wood from some place called Ephratah. He was the old one at thirty-seven. All three of them were both disappointed at having been surrendered and yet at the same time relieved that they are being paroled . No one will be shooting at them until they are properly exchanged.

We exchanged small plesantries with them and avoided politics for the most part. They looked very dejected and expressed much dissatisfaction with their senior officers. One of them said that if Jackson had been their general they would have prevailed. Castles and Duncan escorted them to where they could fill their haversacks with rations before they leave.

It is now dark and I am about out of ink. All attention is directed to the south, in the direction Jackson went. We can hear the distant cannon. This isn't over yet.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"There Are Yankees in Harpers Ferry."

Saturday, September 13, 1862,

On Thursday instant, we crossed the Potomac and returned to Virginia. We crossed near Williamsport, several miles above White's Ford which is where we left Virginia and entered Maryland. We are leaving Maryland not much worse for our visitation. The shelves in the shops were depleted of goods but I suspect they were re-plenished soon enough after we left. They do have some very good cheese up there. Their hams are good but I prefer those in Virginia.

On Friday, we came to Martinsburg where we were treated as both conquering heroes and liberators. There had been a Yankee garrison here and we hoped to engage them but they evacuated the town before we arrived. We were looking forward to visiting the shops again as we did in Frederick but things are different here.

No one would take our money. We could buy nothing but could take anything we liked. As we marched into town there were buckets of water placed along the way to slake our thirst. I am rather sure that some of those tin buckets contained something stronger than water. The girls and a good number of the women tossed flowers. The boys "marched" along side of us, trying to look martial. It is apple season here and one of the merchants rolled out a barrel of apples and we helped ourselves as we marched by.

We did not suffer to stay long. Jackson has seen fit to order us back on the road. There are Yankees in Harpers ferry. They are between us and home. We will move them.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"We are going back to Virginia."

September 11, 1862, towards Williamsport

I had thought as all of us had thought that we were taking the war to the enemy. Is that not why we crossed the Potomac into Maryland? Yesterday morning, we left Frederick bound for Boonsboro, even further into Maryland. 

Our reception in Boonsboro was cooler that the one we received in Frederick. Boonsboro is a wretched place by comparison. The women looked as if they were weaned on a lemon. None of us were able to acquire anything wearable or edible except Castles who purchased, if that is the right word, a single cheese. He was good enough to share it. Castles is a good man.

Perhaps something has happened to cause the army to change direction. We are going back to Virginia and we do not know why. Reasons for our turnaround are flying through the ranks. No one is happy about this. We came to do battle and the only action we have seen is with that Dutch woman in Frederick. We have never before been so fit and eager and we all have shoes. We will wear them out returning to Virginia.

"The women are all stone-faced."

Tuesday, September 9, 1862, Frederick, Maryland

We have spent several days at this place and the reaction of everyone is a mixed one. We saw few faces when we marched into town. Most of those we saw had expressions of curiosity. There were few who looked at us approvingly. We have seen a few Confederate flags and all have been small ones. The women are all stone-faced. The young girls point at us and giggle. If we were expecting to be met as liberators, those who we thought we were liberating would rather we were on the Moon. 

Even so, our stay here has not been unplesant. Frederick is well-appointed with all types of shops and it will be some time before they forget their newest customers.  General Lee had issued strict, strict orders that the army was not to seize private property by impressment or any means other than payment. There are two types of payment, the first being Confederate paper money and the other being payment certificates, issued by our government which were like promises to pay after the war was over.

Some shopkeepers took our paper money either as a curiosity or out of fear that we would wreck the shop otherwise. Others flat refused to sell anything. We had to try to acquire something even though we had been well-supplied at Manassas Junction courtesy of Uncle Abe. We all suffered in various degrees for want of something. We "Dandy Eights" split ourselves into two parties for purposes of legal foraging. 

We entered one shop and before we could make our manners, a large elephant of a woman speaking something we took to be Dutch, chased us out with a broom. We fared a bit better in the second shop where Castles found a new pair of shoes and Hancock purchased a new hat and two tins of sardines. Duncan found six pair of socks and bought every one. I found nothing.

On our way to the third shop, we were approached by three young ladies not older that fifteen. They asked us for some of our buttons as momentos of our visit. We gave each one of them one from each one of us. They wished us well and went on leaving us short by a dozen buttons. At the third shop, the buttons were all replaced although the cost was a full five dollars. Each one of us were able to buy a new shirt. Castles and I bought two each. Hancock found a red vest with a black velvet collar. We tried to talk him out of buying such an impractical item of clothing but he had to have it. Duncan bought a top hat and looked the fop.

We should have gone looking for victuals first but we did not. As a consequense, other famished rebels had already cleaned out most of the foodstuffs. We were determined to get fed and well-so. On main street was a butcher and a bakery sitting aside one another. Castles and Duncan went to the butcher while Hancock and I visited the bakery. When we entered the bakery, I thought that surely this must be how it smells in Heaven. To smell that again would be worth a bayonet charge against a cannon. The bakery owner was a Southern sympathizer and gave us a warm welcome. We walked out with a dozen loaves of fresh bread and two small crocks of butter one of which was apple butter.

We met the other two on the sidewalk. They were empty of hand and hard of words for the butcher. He had told them that previous ragged rebels had bought everything he had and even if he had anything, he would not accept filthy rebel money. I thought how could he have sold anything if he would not accept Confederate money. It did not sound right so I told Castles and Duncan to mind the bread and butter while Hancock and I tried our luck. We emerged some few minutes later with three rabbits, a small turkey and four hams. Our money he would not accept but a Federal five dollar gold piece he would. It was some of my now diminishing savings from when I closed by bank account in Beaufort prior to leaving for Columbia to join the army. 

We met the other party from the Eights back in camp. The others had done rather well. Each now had a new blanket and one also for Duncan who had thrown his away on the march from Manassas. Crenshaw had two dozen eggs. All the victuals were cooked and entirely consumed in one sitting. We are now sick. It is a very good thing that none of us have to do guard duty tonight. I got too close to the campfire and singed my trousers. Tomorrow, if I am able to do so, I will shopping for trousers. And more victuals.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"...we crossed the Potomac..."

Sunday, September 7, 1862, north of the Potomac

During the time we spent regaining our strength after the little affair at Chantilly, a fair number of stragglers caught up with us and our ranks were somewhat swelled. Jackson marches us so hard that straggling is a problem. Her has ordered that stragglers be shot if they cannot match the pace with the main body but I know of no one that has been sent on in this manner. It is just as well that we do not shoot our own as the Yankees do a fine job of that themselves.

Even as our numbers increase, it is not as significant as it may seem. We have discovered that our losses in the company were greater than we had supposed. We knew about Conners, Johnson, Kirk and Robinson but now we have discovered that Taylor was killed as well. Lieutenant Buchanan, the regimental adjutant now rests in peace. We have not heard if Colonel Barnes is still among the living. Troy Crenshaw is in the hospital doing only fairly. Wilson Crenshaw sees him every day.

We had thought that after we had beaten Pope and sent him packing back to Washington, that we might be pursuing him with the ultimate objective of placing Washington under siege. During our pursuit, we changed direction and went north whereas Pope went northeast towards Washington. Our route of march took us into Loudon County where we crossed the Potomac at White's Ford near Leesburg. I do believe that we are bound for Frederick and perhaps Philadelphia beyond that.

Although Maryland is a Southern state, she did not secede with the rest of her sisters. She has remained in the Union at the point of the bayonets of an occupying army. Even though she is being held in captivity against her will, some of us in Lee's army refused to cross the river into a "Union" state saying that such a move was an invasion onto foreign soil and that by doing so, the Confederacy can no longer say that it is defending its own soil. 

I will respect their opinions and hope they will not be shot as deserters but as for myself, I believe that northern Virginia has suffered enough from Yankee depredations. It is high time that the war was taken to the enemy in his own yards and fields. Let us liberate Maryland and then give Pennsylvania a blow, knocking that state clean into New York. If we kill enough of them, they will leave us alone. We can do this for we are Lee's soldiers. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"... the Manassas Bloodletting."

Tuesday, September 2, 1862, near Ox Hill, Virginia

Thursday past started well enough. Jackson put Hill's division into line of battle next to an unfinished railroad cut on the old Manassas battlefield of a year ago. Our brigade formed the far left of the division line. We could see Sudley Church from where we were standing. We were on a hill, a slight hill. We were ordered to hold the hill. Then there was battle. 

It started quietly, as battles sometimes go and then things rapidly got out of hand. At roughly ten of the clock, the Yankees attacked and our General Gregg sent in the First to meet them. The Yankees were reinforced by two regiments of New Yorkers, according to their colors. The First was in trouble and Gregg ordered in the Twelfth to assist the First. The Yankees had the gall to send some Pennsylvanians against us.  Gregg then sent in the Thirteenth and we stood and shot it out with the enemy for an hour, I think.

After this hour, the enemy threw large amounts of infantry at us. We were only three regiments. The rest of the brigade, two regiments, were in reserve. Our colonel, Barnes, ordered a charge. There were only three hundred of us in the regiment and we were ordered to charge.  It should not have succeeded. We should have been swallowed up whole but instead, we broke a regiment of New Yorkers. They retreated, allowing us to turn and catch some more New Yorkers and even some West Virginians in the flank. They became dispirited and retired.

Now a hole opened up in the Yankee lines and Colonel Barnes ordered us in even though we had been engaged for quite some time and had suffered considerable losses. But fortune favors the bold and in we went only to be met by some Yankees trying to plug the hole. They broke, too, and we followed them until we met their artillery. Flesh can only withstand so much and Gregg withdrew everyone to the place from which we had started.

We were allowed no respite as the Yankees threw several waves at us in succession, trying to break our line. We were determined not to be broken. From this moment to the end of the day, I remember not much more than loading and shooting, loading and shooting. They came at us, we shot them away and they came at us again. 

There are some incidents that I will remember despite my best future efforts to forget. I caw Andy Conners of our squad get shot. I did not know him well but will miss him anyway. Kirk and Robinson, neither of whom I knew also fell. Troy Crenshaw was wounded. This has given his brother Wilson, one of our Dandy Eights mess, great distress.

The worst happened when I dropped my ramrod and bent over to retrieve it. I heard the ball hit. I did not have to think anything about it. I knew what had happened. My gut told me. Someone fell on me and then I knew who was hit. It was Bill Johnson who was standing behind me in the rear rank. He was dead before he fell on me. That was my bullet. He was my friend.

We ran out of ammunition so we fixed bayonets and rodded the cartridge boxes of the dead but they yielded little. I took poor Bill's box but he had only four rounds left when he died. I knew there was his blood on his cartridges but I tasted nothing and I bit into them. Crenshaw's Virginia battery and some North Carolinians from Branch's brigade came up and helped to take off the pressure.

For a brief while, they stopped paying attention to us and we started breathing easier. However, the pressure that was taken from us was applied at another place in the line and it broke. Since the Twelfth was not too preoccupied, we were sent in to make things right. Another brigade was brought up to support us and the line was reformed. 

The Yankees threw in fresh reserves and our brigade line was forced back. We halted and reformed, declaring that we would retreat no further. We were saved the event of a last stand when the Thirty-seventh North Carolina came up in support. Someone called out, "Longstreet is here", and we felt better knowing we were heavily re-inforced. 

Longstreet sent Ewell's division to our position and Lawton's Georgia brigade and Early's Virginia brigade relieved most of our division including us. We went to the rear of these two brigades and prepared to move forward should the line be broken again. When night fell, we fell to the ground, all done in. We held the hill as ordered.

All during the night we listened to scattered musket and cannon fire. We also listened to unhuman sounds from friend and foe alike. Some faded away, some did not. We did what we could no matter what color their uniform. Some were beyond help so we left them with a canteen and went on. There is something about a body being wounded that increases the thirst. There were many canteens to choose from. We understand that our Colonel Barnes was wounded, probably while leading the charge.

This was just the first day.

On the morning of the second day, we arose early and prepared breakfast. Our ammunition was replenished and we formed ranks for another battle. We were quite satisfied to be placed in reserve as other, fresher regiments took our place. Even so, some of us were still desirous of returning to the fray. The Yankees did make some attempts to oblige us but McIntosh's South Carolina battery kept them at bay.

On Sunday, the 31st, there was no rest. Pope had had enough and his army began retreating in the direction of Centervile. Jackson called on us, his "foot cavalry" to pursue and somehow cut off his retreat and destroy him. Yesterday, we came close to cutting off his line of retreat and he fought hard to keep us away.

The entire brigade, including the Twelfth, not yet recovered from the Manassas bloodletting, was put into the front line. The exchange of musketry was not nearly so intense at this place, Chantilly as it was at Manassas. The weather turned against us with a pouring rain. Pope slipped away under the twin cloaks of darkness and weather.

Now it is Tuesday night. There are many campfires and we now have the time to consume a fairly decent meal. I still have two tins of sardines and a small cheese which I will consume tonight as it will go bad soon. We are remembering Bill Johnson and Andy Conners who have passed from this world but not from our hearts. Wilson Crenshaw was not with us as he was with his brother Troy at the hospital. We do not know how bad his wounds are but pray for his recovery.

Lieutenant Williamson and Sergeant Harper came by to tell us to get some sleep as it is a long way to the Potomac. Did we beat them that badly? Are they retreating all the way to Washington? Will we attack and capture Washington and end this terrible war? If Lee says we must then we will do so.