Charles E. (Charles Edward) Benton.

As seen from the ranks; a boy in the civil war online

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AS SEEN FROM THE RANKS



A BOY IN THE CIVIL WAR



BY



CHARLES E. PENTpN

Of the One Hanired^nc] Fiftieth Ne/f Yo?^tate Volynfjcs



,,^ 5 -•



Which . . . J myself sa




hich I was a . . . part."

^NEID, II, V-vi.



G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

NEW YORK AND LONDON

XLbc l?nicherbocKer press

1902



I^V)



us, )-KaA . ^



THE NEW YORK
PUBLIC LIBRARY

2G587:)A

ASTOR, LENOX AND
:.„D^N FOUNDATIONS
R 1928 . L, •* '



t' t'' c'^ BY '■'; ' .

'•CHARLES E. BENTON
Published, July, 1902



Ube ftnfcfcerboclier prea», l^cw ffiotfc



.-mvr' on 1



>, J ' J' ,



TO THE ^'AITHFUL COUPLE WHO

WAITED IN, HOPE. AND TJiU§T, J^UD

ONE OF WHOM PaCSED TO :TBE-,GTHFR SHORE

WHILE THEIR BOY WAS ON HIS < WAY HOME,

THIS VOLUME IS AFFECTIONATELY

DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR



PREFACE

THIS is not a history in any sense, and it
can hardly be called a story of the war,
which was the greatest war of the age. There
have been many wars of longer duration, and
there have been slaughterings of weaker
races by stronger ones: but this was, from
the first, a death grapple between two civil-
izations represented by branches of the same
dominant race, and for four long years the
echoes of the picket's rifle never ceased. The
desperate and heroic character of the contest
is attested by the high proportion of casual-
ties in both armies, which were far in excess
of those of any modern European war.

As those who took part in it are fast pass-
ing away, I am minded to sketch at random a
few recollections of events which came under
my own observation and touched my own
experience, believing that the impressions
which events make upon any personality



VI



PRE FA CE



have a certain value in themselves. In these
sketches I have had constantly in mind that
large portion of the public — and may it ever
grow larger — who have never witnessed
scenes of war, and have written for them
rather -than for veterans, aiming to present
in a series of pen pictures the drama of the
civil war as seen from the ranks.




CONTENTS



Preface



PAGE

V



I.

The Making of the Soldier

The Dutchess County Regiment — Enhstment
— Night Ride to Poughkeepsie — The Muster-
ing Camp — Enthusiasm — A Regimental Band



■Departure.



11.



From Camp to Field . . . .12
A Winter in Baltimore — City Camp and Field
Camp — Short Rations — Fun and Hardship —
A Forced March — Echoes of Battle.

III.

Gettysburg ....•• 24
Approaching the Conflict — Meeting the
Wounded— On the Field— Entering the Bat-
tle — "How Does a Battle Look?" — Work of
the Stretcher-Bearers — Opening of the Third
Day's Battle— Recovering a Position — Hold-
ing Culp's Hill against "Stonewall" Jackson's
Veterans.



Vlll CONTENTS

IV.

PAGE

The Crisis Battle of the War . . 37
Pickett's Grand Charge — Daring Courage of
the South Breaks against the Firmness of the
North — What might have Happened — Hope
of RepubUcs.

V.

After the Battle . . . . -45
Emotions in Battle — QuaUty of Courage —
Gettysburg the Greatest Battle, both in Im-
portance and in Loss of Life — Greatest Regi-
mental Losses Known to History.

VI.

From Pennsylvania to the Potomac . 54
Aftermath of the Strife— The Price of Valor
— Acres of Dead Men — Phenomena of Death
in Battle — Repulsive Appearance of the Bat-
tlefield — A Forced March — Again Facing the
Enemy.

VII.

On the Potomac 64

Scenery of Western Maryland — Interviewing
a Scout — Enemy Escaped — Whose • the Fault
— Night March in Storm and Darkness — -Har-
per's Ferry.

VIII.
Virginia ....... 74

Entering Confederate Territory — Snicker's
Gap, with Feasts of Blackberries — Distant
View of the Shenandoah Valley — Sickness in
Camp — Coincidence — The Gravestone of a
Northern Girl Stops the Bullet Aimed at a
Northern Soldier.



CONTENTS IX

IX.

PAGE

From Virginia to Alabama . . .88

Forward to the Rapidan — A Military Execu-
tion, and how it was Conducted — Moved to
the Western Army — Incidents on the Way
— Guarding Railroad in Tennessee — Topog-
raphy of the State.

X.

A Winter in Tennessee . . -99

The Country was then New — Characteristics
of the Natives — Did n't Know the Flag —
Leaves from an Old Magazine — The Regi-
ment Makes its Own Bread — Interviewing
Confederate Prisoners.

XL

Over the Cumberland Mountains- . no

The Imp in the Attic — Leaving the Winter
Camp — Hardening to the Work — Last Camp
in Middle Tennessee — Climbing the Mountain
Range — Rivalry of Regiments — Nick-a-jack
Cave and its Blood-Curdling Traditions.

XIL

Old Battlefields 124

Lookout Mountain and its Surroundings —
Gateway of the Confederacy — Battles and
Battlefields of the Previous Year — River of
Death — ' ' Fighting Joe ' ' Hooker — General
Sherman, then and afterward — What is
Meant by "Flanking."



X CONTENTS

XIII.

PAGE

Battle of Resaca 134

Gruesome Preparations — Battle Scene like a
Play Set on the Stage — Assault by Colonel
(afterward President) Harrison — Our Regi-
ment Engaged — Enemy Repulsed — Con-
federate Chaplain Slain, with his Sons —
Removing the Wounded — Confederate Field
Hospital — Bridge Building Hastened.

XIV.

The Mystic Chords of Memory . . 146
Memories Revived by Old Letters — The Sani-
tary and Christian Commissions — "Uncle
John" Vassar, the Army Missionary — Cap-
tain Cruger Wounded — The New Chaplain
Wished to See a Battle — " Sherman's
Method" — The Recruit and the General —
Confederate Letter.

XV.

The Battle of New Hope Church . 158
Mind-Readers and Coming Events — Popular
Misapprehensions — Battles are Fought by the
Rank and File — Field Hospitals — Pathetic
Scenes — Rebuilding — Advancing — Pursuing.

XVI.

From Field to Hospital . . . 169

With the Ambulances — Caring for the
Wounded on the Way — Hardships for the
Sick — Temporary Stopping-Place Becomes
an All-Summer's Hospital.



CONTENTS XI

XVII.

PAGE

Hospital Experiences .... i8o
Peculiarities of the Patients — One who Lost
Half his Blood and All his Conceit — Grati-
tude of the Wounded — High Rate of Mor-
tality — Theory and Practice in Medicine —
Confederate Patients.

XVIII.

Hospital Experiences (continued) . 189

A Day's Duties— Curious Wounds — A Cheer-
ful Patient — Commonness of Death — Walt
Whitman's Hospital Pictures — A Berrying
Excursion — Murders by Guerillas — Return to
the Regiment.

XIX.
Atlanta 199

Sketch of City Mansion — Death of a Member
of the Band — Mystery and Adventure of his
Life — A Foraging Tour — Voting for President
— Amusements of an Army — Amateur Theat-
rical Company.

XX.

Marching through Georgia . . 208

Evacuation of Atlanta — The City in Flames
— The March Begun — Stone Mountain — De-
stroying Railroads — Immensity of an Army
— Refreshing Change of Diet — Crowds of
Slaves.



xii CONTENTS

XXI.

PAGE

Sherman's March to the Sea . . 220
"Shennan's Bummers" — Writer Joins the
Foraging Party — An Antique of the Race
Course — Capture of Milledgeville — A Cala-
boose, a Church, and a Liberty Pole — Investi-
gating a Prison-Pen.

XXII.

End of the March . . . 232

A Song by the Camp-Fire, and what Followed
— A Strayed Premonition — How Railroads
were Destroyed — Capturing a Steamboat —
In Front of Savannah — Rice Plantations —
Lumber for Winter Quarters.

XXIII.

Capture of Savannah and Invasion of

South Carolina .... 248

Army Suffering with Hunger — Enemy's Pru-
dent Retreat — Unparalleled Campaign —
Journalistic Enterprise — Crossing the Sa-
vannah into South Carolina — Cold Weather
again — Skilful Manoeuvring — General Kil-
patrick's Adventure.

XXIV.

Tramping AND Fighting in the Carolinas 262
The Burning of Columbia — Explosion in
Cheraw — Turpentine Factory in Flames —
Battle of Averysborough — '' Anirnis Opi-
busque Parati" — A Little Panic soon Ended
— Bentonvillc, the Last Battle.



CONTENTS XI li

XXV.

PAGE

The Dawn of Peace .... 273
Surrender of Lee and Johnston — Rejoicing
Interrupted — Lincoln and Seward — Through
Richmond and over Old Battlefields — A
Vast Bivouac of the Dead — Washington in
Mourning, but Exultant and Rejoicing —
The Grand Review.

XXVI.
The Home-coming 287

A Brief Review of the War — Regiment again
at Poughkeepsie — Only a Fragment of the
Original Membership Join in the Home-
Coming — An Honorable Record — Dutchess
County Welcomes its Veterans.




As Seen From The Ranks



CHAPTER I

THE MAKING OF. THE- SOLDIER '^

The Dutchess County Regiment— Enhstm en t— Night
Ride to Poughkeepsie— The Mustering Camp-
Enthusiasm — A Regimental Band — Departure.

A MILITARY company is passing with
its band. The rhythm of its marching
quickstep sways the air with the free insist-
ence with which the waltzer swings his part-
ner through the movements of the dance.
The swing and step of the company is so
perfect that unconsciously one accepts it as
part and parcel of the music. Neither would
be complete without the other, but com-
bined they exert a power to coerce, by asso-
ciation, the memory and imagination in the



2 AS SEEN FROM THE RANKS

reproduction of past experiences. In no
other way, by no other approach, can Mem-
ory's players so quickly assemble on the
stage and set thereon the play of past events,
as through thr; sense of hearing.

I stand on the cvirbstone, jostled and
pushed by the throng, '. but among them
marches a silent host' seeri only by myself.
My e^^es close and I seem to be part of the
passing procession: I am one of the band,
marching on the right Q'f the front rank, and
witli the instrument pressed to my lips it is
I who am playing a. brave march down the
street. I am .marching,, gtill playing, through
Baltimore; I am toiling on through a rich
farming country, over trampled fields of
wheat, to a blood-washed battlefield; I am
rejoicing in health, then wasted in sickness;
I am abounding in plenty, and again suffer-
ing with hunger.

Scenes throng in upon me with a rapidity
that forbids enumeration, but suddenly my
eyes open and there is the company still
marching and myself still standing on the
curbstone. How the music has tricked me!
Those events were more than a third of a
century ago, and the nineteenth century was
then in its strength of middle life. These



THE MAKING OF THE SOLDIER 3

are mere play soldiers, boys who wax their
mustaches and play soldier in time of peace.
But stop again ! my own lip was innocent of
beard of any kind, waxed or un waxed, when
I put my name on the enrolment, a signa-
ture which meant so much. The men of this
military company who look so young to me
now, average much older than the rank and
file of the army of the Union did in the '6o's.
That was essentially an army of men in ex-
perience, yet a majority of them were but
boys in years.

The question of human rights is always
vitally connected with political questions,
and at the time of which I write it presented
itself in a form seemingly much less trivial
than it has since. When it finally culmi-
nated in a crisis in which the issue was noth-
ing less than national life or death, a wave of
patriotic fervor, sometimes deprecatingly re-
ferred to as "the war fever," swept over the
land. This torrent of feeling was at its flood
in 1862, when, at the suggestion of Benson
J. Lossing, the historian, there was organized
in Poughkeepsie what was known as "The
Dutchess County Regiment," afterward offi-
cially styled the 150th New York State
Volunteers,



4 ^S SEEN FROM THE RAXKS

The camp was on a certain rocky hillside
of Poughkeepsie, and there may still be seen,
once a year at the time of the annual re-
union, a few gray-haired men who walk out
there, look at the place thoughtfully, and
then turn back to the city.

Naturally most of the work of organizing
was done by those who planned to be com-
missioned as the regiment's officers, and
there was much good-natured rivalry in try-
ing to fill the companies, for until the mini-
mum number was reached no officer could
receive his commission. The company in
which I had promised to enroll completed its
number under the stimulus of this rivalry.
When it was learned one Sunday that a cer-
tain other company was nearly completed,
and expected to be entered and its officers
commissioned on the Monday following, there
was more than one Paul Revere who rode to
distant points in the county where recruiting
was going on, or rather where work was
being done with that in view.

In my own town, Henry Gridley, soon
afterward commissioned ist Lieutenant of
Company A, notified all who had promised
to enlist with him, and we were soon started
on our thirty-mile ride across the county.



THE MAKING OF THE SOLDIER 5

There were plenty who volunteered teams
'and wagons to carry us thither; in fact more
were offered than were needed, and some
there were who drove along with us to see
the outcome of the rivalry. I remember
that we stopped at midnight at the residence
of the Examining Surgeon to pass the ne-
cessary physical examination, and then re-
sumed our ride. We reached Poughkeepsie
some time before daylight in the early days
of September. We had accomplished our
purpose in having our company the first one
to be filled to the minimum number required,
and were designated "Company A," while
our officers were duly commissioned before
any other company officers of the regiment,
and hence were the senior line officers.

The quarters of the camp were of the rud-
est description, — floorless sheds having three
tiers of bunks which were expected to accom-
modate two or three persons in each bunk.
But our hearts were very young and fresh
then. Probably three fourths of the regi-
ment were from farming communities, and in
accordance with the customs of the time they
were accustomed to sleep in unwarmed
apartments the winter through. But more
than all it was the exaltation of the time and



6 ylS SEEN FROM THE RANKS

events which made us look upon this and
other trivial hardships of camp life (which
were no real hardships in fact) as a sort of
military picnic.

As several hundred men were already
assembled in the camp there was some at-
tempt at military routine, the most note-
worthy at that time being what was termed
— by courtesy perhaps — the " Dress Parade."
This was attempted at the close of each day
on a level field at the foot of the hill, and at
the proper moment in the ceremony an old
cannon on the hill boomed a loud report.
This was called the "sunset gun," and upon
the instant the flag, which had been waving
all day on the flagstaff, suddenly slackened
its halyards and came down, " upon the run."

Day after day this performance was
watched most critically by a crowd of in-
terested spectators, and it was tacitly under-
stood that our ability to bring the war to a
successful issue depended mainly upon the
success the color-sergeant had in making the
flag run down at the exact moment the can-
non was fired. Our ideas of what consti-
tuted military efficiency were very crude, and
so were the drills and dress parades, but as
I now think of it I wonder we did so well.



THE MAKING OF THE SOLDIER 7

Yet it was no doubt partly accounted for
by the fact that the War Department had
loaned us an officer of the regular army, one
Captain Smith, as military instructor of the
officers in the details of camp and the rudi-
ments of military organization.

There was, as I have intimated, a great
deal of patriotic feeling at that time, and of
the most undeniable genuineness too. Be-
sides great numbers of the sons of well-to-do
families, there were some who left positions
yielding good salaries and enlisted as pri-
vates, the pay being thirteen dollars per
month. But it was a sort of a fad with
us then, and in fact all through the war,
never to mention this motive in camp save in
jest. Whoever arrogated the highest and
purest motives, and announced that he en-
listed because he loved his country, was sure
to become a target for the shafts of ridicule.
Even a year or two later, when of a midnight
we would be making some forced march in
the rain, nothing would bring such a burst
of cheerfulness as when a luckless private,
happening to fall in a slough and not forget-
ting the sublime American genius for humor,
would shout, " Hurrah for the Union." Yet
the sentiment we all ridiculed was genuine



8 AS SEE AT FROM THE RANKS

and strong, and continued so throughout the
war.

For the present we were rollicking in the
novelty of our new life. We were called in
the morning by a drum concert, and other
tunes by the same orchestra summoned us to
our meals and to our duties of various kinds,
not forgetting the "sick call" for those who
had eaten too much watermelon. The war,
though within a day's journey, still seemed
in the distance, and the probability that we
should soon be engaged in its conflicts and
hardships, while fully known, seemed hardly
to be realized. Just how it was that the
mirage of enthusiasm in which we lived and
moved managed to make the future look so
bright, when in all reason we had nothing to
look forward to but hardship and danger for
all, and death for many, is something I do
not yet fully understand.

It must be remembered that the summer
just passed had been a most disheartening
one for our cause, at least as far as the Army
of the Potomac was concerned, and that was
the army on which all in the East seemed to
keep their eyes fixed. The summer's cam-
paign had ended by the Confederate invasion
of Maryland and the battle of Antietam, in



THE MAKING OF THE SOLDIER 9

which more Hves were lost in one day than
in one day of any other. battle of the war.
Its result might have been a great victory
for us, but it was not.

It was fought, September 17, 1862, be-
tween McClellan, commanding. the Army of
the Potomac, and General Lee of the Con-
federate forces, who, as I have said, had
invaded Maryland. Accounts of the losses
are much at variance, but the best authori-
ties estimate that nearly or quite twenty-
four thousand men were killed or wounded
in the two armies between sunrise and four
o'clock in the afternoon on that fatal day.
At its close the Confederates still held a part
of their position. On the following morning
Lee sent a remarkable request to McClellan ;
he requested that he might have "a day in
which to bury his dead," which was granted,
and then he employed the time so obtained
to escape safely with his army across the
Potomac, leaving his dead unburied. ]\Ic-
Clellan had sixteen thousand fresh troops
which had not been brought into action, and
to grant such a request when victory was
within his grasp cannot be explained in any
way which is creditable to him.

I can but think now that the tremendous



lO AS SEEN FROM THE RANKS

enthusiasm which waxed and grew in the
North under these most discouraging circum-
stances was the most hopeful sign of a race
that would not be disheartened, but rose to
the occasion with a spirit that meant far
more than the actors themselves understood.

Our camp in Poughkeepsie was the star
attraction of the year and drew immense
crowds, for every recruit's friends and his
friends' friends came once, and some of them
many times to visit us. But the monoto-
nous "Right dress" and "Front face" had
hardly become an old story before it was
rumored in camp that we should start soon.
Meantime a band had been formed by de-
tailing from the ranks such as had played in
some band at home, and I was included in
the detail. In its first assembling that band
was something of a medley in its composi-
tion, and its music at first was far from being
perfectly harmonious. Still, our music was
as good for music as the regiment's drill was
for drill, and as time passed the spirit of
organization which dominates everything in
military life perfected both the regiment and
its band for the respective parts they were
to act.

October ii, 1862, there was the final cere-



THE MAKING OF THE SOLDIER II

mony by which we were mustered into the
United States service, and we jovially called
ourselves " Uncle Sam's boys." Then we
bade the camp good-by and marched down
to the Main Street landing, where the boat
was in waiting.

It was a time of tense feeling, never wit-
nessed by those regiments whose members
were from widely separated localities. As
we passed through the streets they were
thronged to our elbows, and I doubt not
every one of all the crowds had one or more
friends in the ranks. The excitement was
manifested in diverse ways. Some shouted
and hurrahed, while others gave way to
tears, and through this ecstacy of farewell
we marched aboard the steamboat, which
soon swung into the river and headed for
New York.

Thus began an experience which for some
lasted a few months, and for others to the
close of the war.




CHAPTER II



FROM CAMP TO FIELD



A Winter in Baltimore — City Camp and Field Camp —
Short Rations — Fun and Hardship — A Forced
March — Echoes of Battle.



IN the southern part of the city of Balti-
more was an old estate which had for-
merly belonged to the Stuart family. On
this property was located an army hospital
known as " Stuart Hospital." But my prin-
cipal interest in the locality was in an ad-
joining camp known as "Camp Millington,"
for this was our first halt after leaving Camp
Dutchess. Just at the time of our arrival
one of the family, Gen. J. E. B. Stuart of the
Confederate cavalry, commonly mentioned
by his nickname, "Jeb" Stuart, was en-
gaged in a raid across Maryland into Penn-
sylvania, and the camp was tenanted only by
empty tents and the guards walking their



FROM CAMP TO FIELD 1 3

beats, for the regiments which had been
there had gone to assist in repelHng the in-
vasion. They soon returned, however, hun-
gry and tired, and resumed camp routine.
Before long these first tenants of Camp
MilHngton were placed on board transports
and taken to New Orleans. In time we also
were moved to another camp. Camp Belger,
and as cold weather came on we were fur-
nished lumber and the regiment built bar-
racks for winter quarters.

These v/ere built in a grove of beautiful
oaks near Druid Hill Park, and were in the
form of one long two-story building which
occupied three sides of a hollow square. This
square thus enclosed had the trees suitably
thinned out and the stumps cleared away,
and then became our parade ground. The
central part of the barracks formed the offi-
cers' quarters, and several of them sent for
their families and instituted housekeeping
with a degree of comfort. The wings were
fitted into quarters for the enlisted men, each
company having a section to itself, the up-
per story having three tiers of bunks, while
on the first floor was a kitchen and mess
hall, the latter being provided with tables
and benches. At this permanent camp our



14 AS SEEN FROM THE RANKS

cooking was done by company cooks, but
never in the field, for there each one cooked
for himself.

At one end of the long building which con-
stituted the barracks was the guard-house,
where offenders against discipline were con-
fined for longer or shorter terms for minor
offences. At the other end was the band
quarters, and as no cook was assigned to us
we joined in hiring a man, an escaped slave.
Besides the moderate wages paid him we did
a sort of missionary work by teaching him
to read and write. He made really rapid
progress, which may have been accounted
for, partly at least, by the fact that there
were sixteen teachers to one pupil.

Some Northern people who visited the
camp during the winter gave him an oppor-
tunity to go North and hire out for good
wages, but not a step would he move in that
direction. He had a wife within the Con-
federate lines and he was waiting — waiting —
in hopes.

Besides the long building of which I have
spoken there were several smaller ones to
accommodate the quartermaster's stores and
the sutler.

Now surely our lines had fallen in pleasant



FROM CAMP TO FIELD I 5

places, for we were well provisioned and
comfortably housed in a large city abound-
ing in amusements. Great attention was
given to drill, and with the command " Order
arms" a thousand muskets would smite the
ground with a single thud. Yet curiously
enough, while it was known that the one de-


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Online LibraryCharles E. (Charles Edward) BentonAs seen from the ranks; a boy in the civil war → online text (page 1 of 14)