Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"It was the diptree that took her..."

Saturday, February 25, 1864, yet in the trenches.

Some time ago, I no longer recall if it was last year or the year before, I was the blessed recipient of a flag made by the hands of darling Rose May Talbird, a poor refugee of this war. I sent her a letter of thanks and wondered if ever again I might hear from her.

Today, I am in receipt of a letter, dated the third instant, from her mother. Rose May is dead. It was the diptree that took her from this world to the next. Someday, I shall see her and thank her in person.

We keep a vary eye to our right. We know that the Yankees are massed there, poised to make another strike against the railroad at a time and place of their choosing. They have tried this strategy before and for some time. They have extended their lines further to the south and west. We have extended our lines so that the Yankees cannot get around and behind us. As a result of this, our lines are mighty thin but so are we.

They have managed to tear up some several miles of rail forcing us to bring in supplies by wagon, bypassing the break. It is quite inconvenient to do things this way but the supplies, what few there are, do get through.

Some of the boys in the other companies have gone over to the Yankees, we hear. Good riddance to them. I hope they fill up on Yankee fatback and blow up.

The snow is done for the winter, we think. There are still patches on the ground but none has fallen for some time. We still are affected by sleet and a great deal of rain. It warms us thinking that Spring is not far away.

I Send You These Few Lines

Rose May Talbird was introduced to this blog via the diary entry dated March 30, 1864. While the name is a fiction, the idea of little children doing their part for the war effort is all truth. Diptree is the period common name for diphtheria.

It was no secret, from General Lee on down to the lowest private, that if things were to heat up and get serious, they would happen on the far right of the Confederate lines in the direction of the Southside Railroad. As long as the weather keeps the roads impassable to men, horses, wagons and artillery, not much should be expected to happen. Expected.

What was heard was correct. There have been several since the last reported desertions. There was a mass desertion from K Company of the 12th South Carolina.
Henry N. Flickenschildt, deserted February 23.
Henry Long, deserted  February 23.
Rowland Long, deserted  February 23.
D.P. Mahuffer, deserted  February 23.
J.W. Ramey, deserted  February 23.
George White, deserted February 23.
Doctor B. Whitfield, deserted February 23.

T.A. Murray, F Company, deserted February18.

The other regiments in the brigade were also suffering losses through desertion.

Abraham Potter, Doctor Potter, Madison Alverson, Benjamin Alverson, William Alverson, James Hadden, Michael Hadden, James H. Moseley, Uriah Mullins, J.W. Perry, J.P. Pitts, H.C. Player, Walter Pool, Elijh Pope, William Straton, and Ellison S. Waddell all deserted from the 13th South Carolina in the month of February.

The 1st and 14th South Carolina regiments plus Orr's Rifles, also from South Carolina, had similar problems with desertion.

McGowan's Brigade, comprising the five regiments mentioned above, was inspected in February of 1865. It is the last recorded inspection of the war. The inspection report stated that the brigade numbered 2930 present and absent. Reported present were 1764 but only 1404 were fit for duty. Some 1200 men just were not there. When the war was new, the brigade numbered nearly 4500.

How long until the roads dry?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Their was a Yank on either side of me."

Friday, February 17, 1864, trenches near Hatcher's Run.

Just when we think that the weather cannot hate us any worse, it does. When it is not raining, it is snowing. When it is not snowing, it is sleeting. When it is doing none of these things, the temperature falls to a point where penguins would be comfortable. We all suffer and most all are sick.

Firewood has never been abundant since we took up residence here several months ago. It had been hoped that this place, unlike the place we spent the last winter, would have a supply of firewood sufficient to keep a body comfortably warm for all this winter. That is so much hash. The easy wood is gone. To find more, we must go further and further away. The area in back of our works is bare of trees for many hundreds of yards. But there is wood in front of our works.

Two nights ago, a detail of wood-cutters was assembled with a guard. Several of us, including myself,  Hancock, Castles, Terry, Denton, Taylor and Vincent were to go with the party as guards. We were told to load our muskets but not cap them lest an accidental discharge reveal our presence to the Yankees and they send us all to the Promised Land.

It was well after dark when we sneaked away from our forward pits and moved towards the enemy, some of us armed only with axes. I would have preferred that we waited until the Moon was more in the wane but the cold drove us to take the chance.

We were told to chop quietly. Such lunacy. There is no quiet way to work an ax on a tree. In all reality, it was not entire trees we were after. Should we have felled one, we could not have hauled it back into our lines without benefit of horse and wagon which we dared not take with us. All we could attack were limbs and branches. It was raining and although it made us miserable, we were warmed a little by the thought that the rain may help conceal our intentions and our position.

Each blow of the ax sounded like a thunderclap. We expected at any moment that Yankee fire and brimstone would be visited upon us. The longer the axmen stayed at their work, the more certain we felt that the Yankees would finally realize what was happening under their noses.

Those of the guard tried not to get ahead of the axmen. I tried to determine my place by the sounds of the axes since it was too dark for these old eyes to see. Judging by sound did not work well due to the rain. I did not know it but I was in advance of the working detail. Crawling on my belly, I came to a slight rise which I took to be only that. Over it I went and tumbled into a hole. I had company.

I shall never forget the conversation.

"Ho, friend, do not hurt yourself." That was the first voice. There were two.

"Getting firewood are ye? Save some for us. We are cold, too, but so are those Rebs."

Dear God, I thought. These are Yanks and they think that I am one as well. There was a Yank on either side of me. I felt doomed. "I am all right", I said, hoping that a sentence of a few words would not betray my accent. The first voice spoke again.

"Where are you from, friend? Are you lost? You do not look familiar."

How do I answer his question? We sometimes know what states' troops are in front of us but seldom do we know the individual regiment. Not to answer his question would get me a prison cell or a bayonet.  I had no time to think this one through so I just replied, "Seventh." The second voice said,

"Seventh? Seventh Michigan? You and your people are lost. You are too far south of where you need to be. We are 69th Pennsylvania, in a different brigade, entirely. You and your people do not know this area. Go and warn away your friends lest they stumble into a Reb hornet's nest."

I thanked him and my Maker and crawled back the way I came. After a short while, I came across Denton and Vincent who had come looking for me. The detail had finished their business and was already making their way back to our lines.

The detail had gathered enough wood for a very short while but we enjoyed it while we could. I told my pards of my experience. All except Castles shook their heads. He asked, "Did you at least bring back some cheese and coffee for us?" I hit him with a rock.

I Send You These Few Lines

Going in front of one's positions towards those of the enemy just to gather firewood might not sound like a bright idea but J.F.J. Caldwell, the brigade historian mentions it in his book, "The History of a Brigade of South Carolinians". This is one of the works that I depend upon for this blog. There is so very little written about the brigade in which Tooms serves.

It is funny that the one Union soldier mentions a hornet's nest as the company Tooms is in was known as the, "Lancaster Hornets." Well, considering who is the author of this blog, perhaps it's not so funny.

Death of Baker at Battle of Ball's Bluff, Virginia

The regiment that the two Union soldiers belonged to, the 69th Pennsylvania, is of some interest. It was originally called the 2nd California and served with the 1st, 3rd and 5th California regiments all comprising the California Brigade. Certain people living in California wanted their state to have representation in the eastern combat theatre. They petitioned Oregon Senator Newton Baker to enlist troops in the east and have them accredited to California. Baker eventually recruited four regiments, all from Philadelphia. Baker, the brigade commander, was killed at the 1861 Battle of Ball's Bluff.

Shortly thereafter, Pennsylvania claimed the regiments and gave them Pennsylvania numbers and a new name, the Philadelphia Brigade. It was this brigade, under Alexander Webb, that held the apex of the stone wall at the copse of trees at Gettysburg during Pickett's Charge in 1863.

Brigadier General Alexander Webb

The historical phases of the Moon are to be found in the, "Confederate States Almanac", for 1865. The full Moon had just occurred on February 10.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"We swore an oath."

Friday, February 10, 1864, Trenches

The Yankees are playing with us again, d--m them. It was Sunday last, the fifth, about noon, when it was finally somewhere above freezing, that orders came to prepare for a march in one hour. It was a good thing that we are on short rations for we would not have had enough time to cook a proper amount. Our cartridge boxes were full even if we were not.

We marched south and a bit west, towards Hatcher's Run, on a road behind Heth's division which is the very far right of this army. I looked back and saw the entire brigade in line of march with us. The whole of the division might have been there as well. We are so few in numbers that a division might take up only as much room as part of a brigade.

Major General Henry Heth, division commander.

As we marched there was the usual speculation as to where were we going and why. The prevailing opinion amongst all of us high privates is that Grant was trying to get around our right to try again to break up the railroad. We all were very angry at the Yankees for moving against us in the middle of this cold winter, for causing us to abandon the relative comfort of our cabins and trenches.

To our surprise, the column was halted along the works for Heth's boys. Their works were empty as they had marched ahead of us. We were ordered to halt and form a skirmish line. In front of us we could hear artillery and rifle fire. We waited and we waited. At nightfall, our officers ordered us into Heth's works and there is where we spent the night. As it was cold, we built fires using their wood. We burnt nearly every chunk that they had. They will be now just as likely to shoot us as the Yankees.

The Mississippians of Davis' brigade returned that night and told of what happened. It seems that it was a small attack, perhaps just a raid to test our defenses. Whatever it was, our brigade saw no action nor so much as even seen a Yankee. On the sixth, we returned to our own works and burned our own wood.

Brigadier General Joseph Davis, pictured here as a colonel. Davis commanded a brigade of Mississippians in Heth's division.

The next day, we repeated the march and the occupation of our neighbor's works. There was more firing heard and although we were eager and ready for a fight, the only firing we did was the last of our neighbor's firewood. Hancock thought himself a wag. He wrote a receipt for the wood and a promise that the Confederate government would offer compensation upon the presentation of a claim with the proper documentation. Surely they must hate us.

For some time, there have been calls for greater efforts and more sacrifices to win our independence. Pledges have been made amongst some of the brigades and divisions that we would never surrender. We loyal Southrons would fight until liberty and independence were conquered. Recently, it was our brigade's turn to commit to such a pledge. A resolution was drawn up by our brigade to this effect and was voted upon. We swore an oath. Victory or death.

We have heard that some of the boys in the other companies have gone over to the other side.

I Send You These Few Lines

The engagements during the early part of February that Tooms writes about were part of the Battle of Hatcher's Run. It was not a raid but a full offensive. Two Federal Corps, the II and V plus cavalry attacked the Confederate right. The railroad was threatened but not severed thanks to the divisions of Heth and Gordon. However, Grant's were able to extend their lines forcing Lee to extend his, lines that were already too thin.

Andrew Humphries, Commander, II Corps

Gouverneur Warren, Commander, V Corps

During the winter of 64-65, many Southern units passed resolutions declaring resistance to tyranny until victory. Tooms' brigade, five regiments commanded by Brigadier General Samuel McGowan, passed a such a resolution declaring, in part, "Therefore, unsubdued by past reverses, and unawed by future dangers, we declare our determination to battle to the end, and not to lay down our arms until independence is secured. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Heaven!"

Samuel McGowan, commander of a brigade of South Carolinians.

Patrick Doran of Company F deserted in January. Daniel Fracheur of Company K deserted in December according to Federal records of prisoners. Both took the oath of allegiance at City Point, Virginia in the same month as their desertion.