Charles E. (Charles Edward) Benton.

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

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was fitted out from the regiment to go into
another county and there collect a tax levied
upon it for murders committed by guerillas.
Among those detailed for it was our ist Lieu-
tenant, Henry Gridley, and during the tour
he found and sent home some leaves from
he Bow's Magazine, published in New Orleans
and containing a letter from a correspond-
ent at Galveston Bay, Texas. The date of
the article is March, 185 1, and it contains
this suggestive sentence:

"And should the North, at length, in
the madness of fanaticism, rend asunder the
Union, the South would be prepared for the
consequences." Thus the " rend-asunder-
the-Union" thought was abroad in the South
even then, ten years before the war.

The article itself was a description of Mr.
Gail Borden's meat biscuits, then undertaken
in Texas. It was one of his first experiments
in making condensed food, and was tried
some years before he went to Wassaic, N. Y.,
where he accomplished his first real success


by making condensed milk. He was a near
neighbor of Lieutenant Gridley's home, and
when this article was placed in his hand it
must have seemed like an echo from a past

Lieutenant Gridley was killed in battle
on the following summer, and the bullet
which pierced his heart sped northward and
sore wounded a large circle of friends and
relatives. He graduated at Amherst in the
class of '62, and was loved and trusted by all
who knew him ; was spotless in character and
a goodly man to look upon, for he stood above
six feet tall and was straight and muscular as
an Indian. He was my schoolmate at the
Amenia (N. Y.) Seminary, and there comes
to my mind a couplet of his class song, which
in a half -earnest, half- whimsical vein, gave
expression to his fellow-students' admiration :

"Colossal in statue Henry Gridley is seen,
But no less gigantic in mind than in mien."

A sense of awe comes over one when we
reflect that his was one in nearly a million
lives that were sacrificed by the war. A mil-
lion men standing in a single line, shoulder to
shoulder, would make a line some four or five


hundred miles in length. They were men in
the prime of life, and in both the North and
South they represented something more than
"the average man." Who can estimate the
loss to the nation? Nor does the thought
stop here, for besides the relatives bereft, the
sacrifice involved the necessity that nearly a
million women must live their lives thence-
forth unmated, whether as widows or maids.

We had most of the time drawn for rations
those peculiarly hard and tough army crack-
ers known in the vernacular as " hard -tack."
There was a joke current in the ranks in re-
gard to this hard-tack. At one time large
amounts of it were made for the government
by a certain contractor by the name of Ben-
jamin Cozzens, and the initials of his name
appeared on each cracker. The men always
insisted that these letters referred to the date
of its manufacture, for it must be confessed
that they were not always as fresh as we
could have wished.

However that might have been, the Colonel
concluded arrangements by which we were
enabled to draw, in this winter camp, flour
instead of hard-tack. There was no lack of
trades among us, and the masons detailed for
the work tore down the chimney in an unused


house in order to obtain brick, and built some
of the large, old - fashioned, dome - shaped
brick ovens, such as our grandmothers used.
The carpenter, using boards taken from the
same house that furnished the brick, made
large bread trays and moulding boards.
When all was ready two men were detailed
from the ranks to do the baking.

" What ! " exclaims some twentieth-century
housekeeper, who deems her lot a hard one
because she has to make with her own hands,
and bake in a modern range, bread for a fam-
ily of three r "you don't mean to say that
two had to do all the baking for those hun-
dreds of hungry men?"

Certainly; they brought their water from
the river, moulded the dough by hand,
weighing it out into loaves of exact size, and
baked it in the old-fashioned brick ovens out
of doors. They did this easily and had leis-
ure time to spare. Every morning each man
in the regiment received a loaf of exact
weight, and it was always of the best quality.
There is never any "luck" in bread-making
when it is done by men.

The railroad which w^e were guarding was
a single-tracked road of old-fashioned con-
struction, but it was an exceedingly impor-


tant road just then, for it was the only means
of supplying our army at Chattanooga, five
hundred miles from its base of supplies at
Nashville. Hence the duty of guarding it
was not without responsibilities. For its de-
fence several stockades were built at impor-
tant points, and w^hile they would have been
no protection whatever against artillery, they
would have furnished a good temporary de-
fence against roving bands of cavalry. But
we never had to use them.

In the battles about Chattanooga a large
number of prisoners had been taken, and they
were sent north by this line. Sometimes a
train-load of prisoners would stand on the
side-track for an hour or so, and it gave us a
good opportunity to converse with "our
friends, the enemy." Such conversation was
usually in a friendly vein, on our side at least,
though chaffing and repartee were indulged
in by both parties. It afforded a good oppor-
tunity, too, for the study of " English as she
is spoke," and some could make shrewd
guesses at the nativity of certain Southerners
by their peculiarities of speech. In convers-
ing with one I detected the use of a phrase
and accent which reminded me of Baltimore,
and I asked him if he were not from Mary-


land. He replied that he was, and imme-
diately added that he thought I was from
New York. This suggested that possibly
there was a provincialism of the North, as
well as a provincialism of the South; some-
thing I had not thought of before.

The comparative leisure this camp afforded
was not without some amusements, which
were eagerly made use of. Though the de-
bating club languished, the card and domino
parties never did. The men in the ranks
could not be away in the night without per-
mission, but we in the band enjoyed a little
more freedom, and there was one thing we
especially enjoyed, and that was 'possum and
'coon hunts in the night.

We never asked permission from head-
quarters to go, for we knew it would not be
granted, and if the august authorities ever
suspected our escapades they probably
thought it not worth while to notice them.

We- w^ould collect a dozen or so of the
hounds in the neighborhood, and after dark
steal out into the woods. As we knew ex-
actly where the pickets were it was easy for
us to pass between them in the darkness, and
after getting well beyond the lines we would
turn the dogs loose and then sit down and


wait for the yelping bark which indicated
that they were in pursuit. Then it was with
difficulty that the impatient ones could be
restrained until we heard the other cry; the
deep-mouthed, measured, and mor'e delib-
erate baying, indicating that the quarry was

If it was " a 'possum up a gum tree," it was
easy to climb and, bringing him down, carry
the nondescript quadruped home alive, for he
seemed to be perfectly content when carried
by the tail. But the raccoon took to larger
trees, and these we sometimes had to chop

We soon learned the art of cooking our
game by the "kettle-roast" process, using
some large baking-kettles which we found in
the neighborhood. No more delicious morsel
was ever placed on a table than the fine
roasted opossum of Tennessee; it has some-
what the quality of the erstwhile popular
roast pig of New England, with an added
richness and the piquancy of a certain gamey

One night, after our return from one of our
hunting excursions, we found a lively interest
in camp in regard to a line of fires which were
visible in the distance. Some thought it


must be a camp of guerillas, while others
thought it might be a scouting band of our
own cavalry, which had gone into camp there.
They were fires which we had kindled, but
the night guard seemed so interested in the
spectacle that we crept quietly to bed, for we
had n't the heart to break in upon their en-
joyment by admitting that we had had any-
thing to do with it.

Our winter here was a pleasant interval of
war experience, and during the time we were
reinforced by the recovery and return of
some who had been taken to hospitals on
account of sickness and wounds.



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

FLORENCE PERCY, in an exquisite little
poem, represents Memory as a droll
fellow dwelling in the upper story and having
charge of all the facts and figures that are
placed in his keeping. She calls this keeper
of the psychological storehouse of past events
'' The Imp in the Attic.'' Some of the valu-
ables placed in his charge are lost, and some
are only found after long searching ; and it is
to be noted also that the controlling Imp of
each attic has idiosyncrasies quite his own.

Now that these events of the war have re-
ceded into the far past and can only be



viewed from the beginning of another cen-
tury, it will not surprise the reader that my
Imp has tired of presenting the record in
panoramic continuity, but sometimes prefers
instead to give a series of views, each clear
and distinct in itself, but not always sufficient
for a continuous narrative. Thus many
scenes and events are indelibly stamped upon
my memory, undimmed by the passing of
time, while others of equal or perhaps greater
importance I am unable to recall in their
proper order. Did not these memories touch
here and there with persons and events of a
later date I should sometimes doubt their
reality and be disposed to think they be-
longed in some pre-existent state.

When the soft, warm days of spring came,
it was made known that we had marching
orders. We were to join our corps at the
front, while newer troops were to take our
place in guarding the railroad. There was
great stir in camp, and even the mules, who
had grown fat and dull, caught the excite-
ment. Their loud braying when once inter-
preted by the camp wits, sounded like this,
"Jo-o-o Hook-er, Hook-ev, Hook-erV

Just as the leaves were putting forth and
the banks and roadsides were fragrant with


masses of wild flowers, we marched out of our
winter camp and turned our faces southward.
From the northeast to the south the blue
Cumberland Mountains rose against the sky,
their sides gashed by deep gorges and broken
by jutting spurs, but their top bounding the
horizon by a clear, straight line, as if it had
been planed off by some mighty glacier.
Steadily for. several days we marched south-
ward until we reached Decherd, a small coun-
try village and station on the railroad, and
this was our last camp in the valley of Middle

This section, as I have said, was still a new
country, and it had many of the frontier
characteristics of that day. Many of the
houses, even of those who owned plantations,
were small log houses, and those which were
of sawed lumber were of the plainest descrip-
tion. I do not remember that I saw a plas-
tered house in that part of the State. The
chimneys were invariably on the outside of
the house, and, what seemed to us a peculiar
feature, many of them were built of wood.
Rived staves of oak were laid up "cob-house
fashion," and the interior being plastered
with clay they answered the purpose of a
chimney for that climate, though it was said


that they were wont to catch fire on windy

Of the white inhabitants we saw only a few
women and children. There were probably
men concealed not far off, but they did not
show themselves, for doubtless some of them
disliked to be too closely questioned in regard
to certain mishaps on the railroad in that
vicinity but a short time before. Some rails
had been misplaced and a portion of a train

With our last year's experience in battle
and camp we felt that we could now fairly
claim to be called veterans. We had learned,
to the last fine details, the art of housekeep-
ing without a house ; we could avail ourselves
quickly and easily of every method and con-
venience that could be brought into use, and
we had learned — the greatest lesson of all for
men leaving a long camp — just what to leave
behind. Little household idols will accumu-
late in even a temporary stopping-place that
it seems hard to abandon, but they must be
left behind.

For the men in the ranks the arms and am-
munition must go where the men go. Next
in importance, the thing to stick by and die
by if necessary is the canteen, for water is


sometimes more important than food. Espe-
cially is this true in case of loss of blood from
wounds, for the great necessity then is water
to drink. After these articles comes the
light woollen blanket, the half -tent, the hav-
ersack containing three days' rations, and
possibly a rubber blanket to lie on at night,
though the government did not furnish this.

The articles which I have enumerated are
about load enough for the best and strongest
of men to carry on such campaigns as our
Civil War afforded, and he was the wisest who
took but few additional things, such as soap,
towel, etc., with the inevitable little hatchet,
a few cooking utensils, and one or two extra
pairs of stockings, for the feet which carried
the loads so many miles must have the best
of care.

' ' But one must have a change of clothing
in the course of the summer!" you exclaim.

Do not attempt it. Wash your clothes at
night when you can, drying them by the
camp-fire. If you happen to do it by day
and suddenly have orders to march, put them
on wet; it will not hurt you. Draw new
clothes as often as you can; they will be
charged to your account and you will not
mind the expense; but never, as you value


your expectations of seeing home again, at-
tempt to carry extra clothing on a summer

We were fresh and strong now, stepping
the miles off easily as jibe and jest, laughter
and song passed along the Hne. It was just
as the sun was sinking in the west that we
reached Decherd and saw the column ahead
filing into the fields to make camp. Then
there came galloping towards us a mounted
orderly who, saluting the Colonel, said, " Gen-
eral Ruger directs that you go into camp on
the right of the 3d Wisconsin, and he directs
me to show you the position." Then we file
into the fields, as the others before us have
been doing, while the wagons are being
parked at one side of the field. Details for
picket duty are told off rapidly, and as they
march away to their duties beyond the out-
skirts of the camp we hear in quick succession
the Colonel's orders: "Front face." "Stack
arms." " Break ranks; — march.''

Then follows a scamper over the fields to
gather rails for camp-fires, and little saplings
to furnish poles and pins for the tents, and
soon the plantation is dotted with white
tents, and numerous camp-fires are sending
up their columns of smoke. Each fire is the


centre of a little group, wrangling, shouting,
and laughing as they prepare supper. When
supper is ended pipes are lit for the brief re-
spite between eating and sleeping, and the
bands ring out lively and inspiriting music.

Then as the fires grow dim and twilight
fades, the forms vanish one by one ; but the
great Cumberland Mountain in our front,
which had looked so bonny and bright in the
distance, grows sombre and threatening as it
rises sullenly against the southern sky. To-
morrow we must scale the mountain, but
to-night — never mind; we are fast asleep
without a care, and the camp is sunk in a
silence that is absolute, for insomnia is the
one disease that never invades the field.

At the earliest dawn the silent air was
pierced with the strident notes of a bugle
near at hand, and in an instant night seemed
to have been routed and was in full retreat
among the mists up the mountain. Then
followed a busy hour, men running to the
brook for water and to the now rapidly van-
ishing remnants of the rail fence for more
fuel with which to replenish the fires. How
fresh and clean the morning air seemed, and
how the mountains echoed and re-echoed the
lively strains of band music and mimicked


the screaming bugle. Fried pork and hard-
tack, with milkless and sugarless coffee ! Did
any one ever taste such a good breakfast
before !

Our fatigue had vanished with the night,
and we noted that our feet, which had swol-
len with the constant pressure and strain of
carrying the loads, had begun to diminish in
size and recover a little of their normal hard-
ness, with increased strength and toughness.
We were getting hardened to our work. The
soldier soon learns not to remove much cloth-
ing at night, but he always removes his shoes
and stockings, if situated so that he can. " It
gives the feet a chance to rest," was the oft-
repeated phrase. An hour after the bugle
had called us the column was winding out of
the fields into the highway again. Such a
camp as this had been was a delight and a
joy, but not all of our camps were of that

The road up the mountain was fairly good,
and was not over-steep at any point ; but as
it climbed on and on, winding in and out of
the gorges, it was almost constant up-hill
work. This mountain climb was fixed in my
mind by an incident of the rivalry of regi-
ments which sometimes cropped out. For


some reasons well understood by veterans,
but not so easy to explain to those who have
not had the experience, marching at the rear
of a long column is much harder work than
it is to march at the head of the same column.

As it happened, this day our place was at
the rear of the brigade, and the pace was set
by the regiment which had the lead, and a
hard pace it proved to be. It taxed the
courage and grit of the regiment to the ut-
most, but there was a spirit and pride about
it all; for nothing short of necessity would
one fall out and be picked up by the ambu-
lance. At last the mountain-top was reached
and it proved to be as level as it had ap-
peared from the distance. We continued
along the top until we came near a little
stream, where we went into camp just at
dark. We were more fatigued than we had
been at any time since we left the winter
camp, and dire were the threats about what
we would do to "that blasted regiment" if
we ever got the chance. The opportunity
came sooner than we expected, and it was
fully improved.

The very next day we were assigned to
lead the brigade, and the regiment which had
led us such a merry dance up the mountain-


side the day before was placed at the tail end
of the march. There had been a sombre
cloud on Colonel Ketcham's ruddy brow the
night before, and this morning, as he mounted
his horse and turned to ride to the head, there
was a little nervous twitching about his red
beard that betokened something at work in
his mind. He had noted the situation on the
day before, but had said nothing, for he was
not a talker. We had not marched many
miles before we knew what he was thinking
of, for he was leading off at a "reaching gait."
The rests were short and few^ and as he saw
that the spirit of the thing was understood in
the ranks, and that all were keeping up well,
he increased the marching speed.

The way was an unbroken forest and there
was little undergrowth. The road wound up
and down over the undulating surface, and
for the most of the distance there was hardly
any drift over the rough rock surface, and
what little there was, was largely of broken
rock, w4th no soil to speak of. The moun-
tain air was exhilarating and our woes of yes-
terday were forgotten as we swept on and on.
Twenty miles we covered, and then we sud-
denly came to the southern edge of the moun-
tain plateau we had been traversing. The


road down the southern face of this mountain
can only be so termed by courtesy. It was a
path, a scramble, a slide, a zig-zag, a — well,
anything but a road. How the wagons were
got dow^n I never knew. They must have
been eased down with ropes in some places.

Having descended at last, we found our-
selves in a narrow side valley walled in by
lofty mountains, and fed by great springs
which poured in volumes from the base of the
cliffs ; and now the rain began to descend, a
steady and incessant downpour. When we
halted for dinner about noon, we had covered
nearly thirty miles since breakfast. In an
incredibly short time there were hundreds of
fires sending up their smoke clouds in defiance
of the rain, and around each was a group of
men holding little tin coffee pails over the fire
on the ends of sticks, looking for all the world
as if they might be fishing for salamanders.

But what of that regiment with which we
had hoped to get even — the one which had
led us so jauntily the day preceding? They
came grumbling and straggling in, foot-sore
and fagged, and half the dinner hour was
gone before they had all come up. We tri-
umphed in the fact that they never again
tried to "push" us on the march.


In the afternoon we followed this little val-
ley — more like a canon than a valley — to the
Tennessee River. Wearied with the fatigue
of crossing the mountain, and soaked to the
skin, we pitched our little tents in the grass
of the river bottom-lands, and, crawling under
them, we slept in spite of wet clothes, wet
grass, and wet everything; and I did not
catch cold. I, for whom colds had been the
bane of early life, never caught cold sleeping
out of doors. This suggests that the "cold"
microbe is kept alive in the house, and that
the scientific house-cleaning of the future will
include disinfection by some means.

But this camp was not as cheerful as the
one of two days before at Decherd.

This passage of the Tennessee River
through the mountains affords some of the
most picturesque and impressive scenery
that I have ever met with. At places there
are beautiful plantations on a wide expanse
of plain and meadow, which extend for miles
away from the river to where they meet the
mountain bluffs. Frequently, however, the
mountains close in, the valley disappears,
and the river holds its deep and silent course
between lofty crags, along the foot of which
the road winds in and out. Following up


the course of the river we camped one night
near a famous cavern known as " Nick-a-jack
cave," said to be several miles in extent,
rivalling Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

There are blood-curdling and romantic
traditions connecting this place with the
early history of this section. Migration in
those days did not rush over the world by
steam as at a later date, but moved forward
step by step. The water transportation
afforded by this river, however, enabled it
to pass the Cumberland range at one great
stride. The hardy Virginians clambered over
the Blue Ridge into East Tennessee, and,
launching their boats upon the river, quietly
floated their goods and families hundreds of
miles to the promised land of West Tennessee,
and even to Kentucky.

But there dwelt in this cave a powerful
band of Indians, and as their hiding-place
could not be found they ambushed and
preyed upon parties of emigrants. They
murdered one whole party except a little boy,
whom they took to this cave and brought up
as one of their number. But he remembered
his people, and when he was eighteen years
old escaped and made his way back to Vir-
ginia, where he organized a party which he


led for weeks through the mountain by paths
known only to Indians, until they reached
this hiding-place, where the tribe was com-
pletely surprised and most of them killed.

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Online LibraryCharles E. (Charles Edward) BentonAs seen from the ranks; a boy in the civil war → online text (page 6 of 14)