Chicago Standard Genealogical Publishing Company.

A Volume of memoirs and genealogy of representative citizens of northern California, including biographies of many of those who have passed away online

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Online LibraryChicago Standard Genealogical Publishing CompanyA Volume of memoirs and genealogy of representative citizens of northern California, including biographies of many of those who have passed away → online text (page 3 of 108)
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the colored people.

Dinner being ready, we sat down to eat; but we had not calculateil on h.av-
ing company for dinner. In other words we had not consulted a body of rebel
ca\'alry belonging to General Stuart's command, who happened to be in that
neighborhood; an<l, seeing the farm house and some horse tracks leading to
it, they concluded that thev, too, were hungry, and without giving us much
warning were almost upon us before any one saw them. Our boys did not
stop to finish dinner, but were in their saddles in an incredibly short time, and
seeing that the odds were at least six to one against them they decided to
make a break for the open fields beyond the high fence spoken of, every man
for himself. I had a beautiful bay horse that I had not ridden long, and there-
fore did not know whether he could jump a fence or not; but, following the
balance of the horses, he made the lea]) in fine style, though in doing so he
either caught his heel in the top rail and threw it forward or the horse follow-


ing mine hit the rail, propelling it forward in such a manner as to hit me on
the back of the head with such force that it knocked me stiff and senseless,
I falling forward on the pommel of mj^ saddle, my horse following the bal-
ance ; and I knew nothing of what was going on around us for some time.
When I regained consciousness we were out of range of our pursuers, and two
of the boys were holding me on my saddle, they supposing that I had been
shot. That blow on the back of my head has caused me more suffering than
I can describe.

I had just been promoted to the rank of commissary sergeant of the
company, and this relieved me from picket dut}'. Company G was divided
into messes of from five to ten in a mess, and the duty was not arduous, allow-
ing me plenty of time to go on scouting expeditions. On one of these occa-
sions the regiment had just returned from a raid after General Stuart, and
had been in camp but a few hours when the order came to my tent saying in
a mysterious air, "Reeves. I want you to go on a scouting expedition over the
Blue Ridge mountains; be ready by noon."

We found that one of General Buford's scouts was to make a secret
expedition, and his party to consist of twcnty-ti\e men from the Sixth
Ohio Cavalry.


We Started from camp with high expectations of a very exciting time,
as we knew our guide to be one of the best scouts in the army. It was a dark
and dreary night in November, when we left our camp at Chantilly, and many
of us thought it a serious cjuestion whether we would not find ourselves in the
fond embrace of a body of rebel cavalry on the morrow; but we plodded along
in mere bridal paths all night. As the sun was just coming in sight, we were
going down the western slope of the Blue Ridge mountains into the Luray
valley. It was a beautiful sight, as we beheld the tents of the enemy but a
short distance down the valley. I remembered that one half year before we
camped on the very spot, — those months! the memory of them makes me
shudder as I think of the noble lives that have been sacrificed for the honor
of the old flag. The troops we saw proved to be a regiment of General Long-
street's cavalry, \^'e halted for breakfast, for horse and man, and a chance
to stretch our weary limbs. We again took up the march, going to the north
and west of the enemy, but keeping as close to the mountains as possible. As
we were coming around on the south side of the valley we had the good fortune
to capture a sergeant and five of his men, just going out to relie\-e the out-
post. From him we learned the strength of the forces and the kind i)f informa-
tion that we were looking for.

It was nearly dark when we again arri\e(I at the point where we took
breakfast that morning. That evening %ve were led through a winding by-path,
up the side of the mountain, to a large farm house. The scout said, "Now,
boys, you can unsaddle your horses, for we are in the hands of friends, and
the most of you can sleep in the house, if you prefer to do so." Most of the


men were a little skeptical and staid by their horses ; but I was willing to take
the word of the scout, and slept on a bed, for the first time in two years. We
were not disturbed, although we thought it was very imprudent in any officer
not to throw out a guard. "But all is well lliat entls well," and we returned to
camp without a nushap, and received the congratulatinns of the commandcr
and comrades.


A few days after we returned from the scout, the whole brigade was
called out to particii)ate in a sham battle, a real charge by regiments, but there
were to be no cuts m ir tlirusts ; though the parry was admissible. Our regiment
was pitted against the l'"u-st Maryland, and the men in both regiments were
much excited when they met in the charge, s; mie nf them forgetting that it was
a sham battle and using the culs ami thrusts ico freel_\- — in tact as they Avould
in a real battle. Many of the men were unhursed, but 1 do not remember
that any were killed. This experiment was not repeated, although ,we had
many hurdle-races, which were dangerous to horse and man.

Thanksgi\ing Day in the army was very generally observed; and our
mess, which ccuMsted of some of the choicest men in the company, was not
lacking in palrintism. There were M. H. Barber, Charles G. Miller, William
Davis, Washmgton (iillis and myself. We had proctu'ed a nice fat goose the
day befDi'e, — 1 w ill nut tell you how; but in some mysterious manner it became
ours by right of ijui>e>sii in. Washington Gillis was the cook on this occasion.
We had potatoes and hard-tack pudding. The pudding was made by soaking
the crackers over night, which made them delicioush^ soft, adding salt and
sugar. This was cociked in fat, fried out of salt pork, and here you have the
"par excellence" of a Mildier's Thanksgivin"- uudding. Our goose was put on
to cook in the early nidrning, and at 3 o'clock p. m. we hajl dinner. Bar-
ber, being the oldest, acted as the master of ceremonies. The expression on his
face as he carved that goose was something akin to the man that tried to eat
the owl ! The goose was served to the boys in fine style, befitting the momen-
tous occasion. They chewed and chewed, but could not master the goose ;
and it w^as resolved, without a dissenting voice, to cook it the wdiole of the
next day, and to add rice for soup. The soup was good, but the goose w^as
still tough. The next day we added beans for soup ( bean soup is ahvays
good), but oh! that goose! After a week of beans, rice and goose, we
decided to try some salt horse. Many are the puns that old goose aflr'orded
our mess for many months afterward.

Shortly after Thanksgi\-ing, our regiment was transferred to Dumfries
for picket duty. I will not forget the sight, as we came to General Burnside's
infantry command. It was something that one could never forget. It was
night, and quite dark. We, being slightly in the \alley, saw the army encamped
on the hillside, one line of fires above another, miles in extent. We went into
camp, and were soon adding another line of fires to the myriads of fires that
we saw. T well remember being on picket duty that night. It was my first
experience in the nld style of guard duty. Each guard, commencing at picket


headquarters, called the h(jur nf the night, "Twehe o'cl(.)ck and all is well!"
or the same, whatever the hour might be. This might be all right in infantry,
doing camp duty, but in outpost duty it will never do, as it gi\'es notice to the
enemy where every picket on the line is located.

On the 13th, 14th and 15th of December, 1862, the battle of Fredericks-
burg was fought. Our regiment was not engaged in it, but from the heights
of Falmouth, on the north side of the Rappahannock river, about one and one-
fourth miles away, we could see the battle as in a panorama. It was a most
wonderful sight, and, at the same time, the most awful that I ever witnessed.
Division after division of our men was marched against the enemy's breast-
works, only to be driven back, shattered and broken. I will here say that the
ground that our troops held was next to the river, and the enemy was strongly
entrenched on the hills to the south and west, with a gradual ascent of about
fifty feet to the mile, and it was like charging against a solid wall. It was here
that General Meagher's Irish brigade was nearly annihilated, and ne\-er a
brigade fought harder than they; but all to no purpose!

After the battle of Fredericksburg we w"ent into camp at Staiturd C(-)urt
House, to do outpost duty. Here we camped in the pine woods, and well do
I remember what a sorry time we had trying to burn green pine; but we had
plenty of good timber to build warm houses; and if it had not been for our
warm houses we would have frozen. This was the most dismal winter that I
ever spent in the army. The soil in this section is the worst kind of yellow
clay, and the mud was something terrible. We were obliged to haul our for-
age and rations about ten miles, and it required six span of good mules to draw
a small load. Being on the extreme outpost, we had to keep up a strong picket
line, and nearly every night some of our men were shot from ambush I)}' Col-
onel Mosby's guerrilla band.

At this time orders were \-ery strict as to furloughs and passes, espe-
cially to enlisted men ; but the officers were allowed many liberties that we were
not. I received a letter from my brother Calvin from Germantown Hospital
saying, "If you want to see brother Charles alive, you must come immediately."
(Brother Charles had been very sick for many weeks, and Calvin, who was a
captain of the First Minnesota Artillery, hearing of his sickness had come to
see him.) I w^ent to Colonel Lloyd for a pass, showing him the letter that I
had received from Calvin, and in his grufT, overbearing way, said. "You can't
have a pass." But I didn't give up trying. I had a friend in Lieutenant George
W. Wilson, who also was very close to the adjutant-general of the l)rigade
Wilson explained the case to the adjutant general, and in an hour I hatl
my pass, and that night was on my way to Washington, and arrived at the
hospital the day before brother Charles died. We had the remains embalmed
and sent to Orwell. Ohio. I remained in Washington one da_\-, and then
returned to my regiment. Colonel Lloyd did not know that I had secured a
pass until I reported to him; and to say that he was mad would l)e putting it
very mildly; and I think he never knew how I came by the pass.

Soon after my return we were ordered to Potomac Creek station, on the
R. & P. R. This was an ideal camping ground, and we were put thmugh a


niDSt vigorous drill on horseback liy that prince of driU masters. Colonel Duffie.
It was some time in the month of March that we were reviewed by General
Burnside, preparatory to the "mud march," so called. Not long after the
"mud march" Burnside was relieved of command, General "Joe" Hooker
being his successor, and everything in the Army of the Potomac w'as run on
the high-pressure principle. Horse-racing, hurdle-races, dances at headquar-
ters, etc., were a common thing. It reminded one very much of the description
of the last days of Claudius Ciesar's reign, with the persecutions left out.
This was kept up until the battle of Chancellorsville, May i, 1863.

About the first of March, 1863, General Averill took command of our
di\-ision, and Colonel Duffie command of the brigade. On the i6th of March
we were sent out to reconnoiter the enemy in force. On the morning of the
17th we arrived at Kelly"s Ford, after a hard march of one day and night,
in a drizzling rain, and our boys were not feeling very lively. We were con-
fronted in our way h< crds^ing the river with three formidable obstacles: First,
the river was very much -w > >llcn by reason of heavy rains; secondly, the enemy
had filled the ford on Uic cast Mde Ijy felling trees in it; and thirdly, there w-as
an old mill-race on the west >ide. running ])arallel with the river, and that
was filled with rebel infantry (dismounted cavalry). General Averill ordered
the ford cleared, which was done with the loss of a few of our sappers and
miners. The next was the cmssiuL; ami the dislodging of the enemy from the
mill-race, a thing not easily acciunpHshed. The Fourth New York Cavalry,
Colonel Di Cesnoli commanding, was ordered to cross and dislodge them;
but he refused to submit his men to the trying ordeal. 1 think from what I
know of the regiment that they would have willingly made the charge. Vol-
imteers from other regiments were then called for, fifty men from each. Lieu-
tenant-Colonel N. A. Barrett was in command of our regiment, and he
requested all those who would like to make the charge to ride three paces to
the front. The whole regiment rode forward. He then selected five men fron:
each company, and I am happy to say that I was one of them, and was one <A
the first to plunge into the river. It was a sorry sight, I can assure you, as
nearly one half of the men and horses that first went into the river were either
killed or wounded, the latter floundering in the rapid current. As fast as A\e
crossed we charged on the mill-race, shooting with our Colt's revolvers, which
soon put the enemy to flight, and we captured the whole of them, I think, about
sixty. After the cavalry had crossed, carrying the artillery ammunition in the
feed bags of the horses, and the artillery itself had crossed, we had dinner
before we made any demonstration on the enemy, further than to throw out
a strong skirmish line.

Our force now consisted of two full brigades of cavalry and the First
United States Battery. It was about 1 i o'clock, a. m., before we were ready
to make the advance. As we came from the river, about one mile to the west,
we entered a piece of woods, and beyond that a large open plain, where we
found drawn up, ready for action, the division of Fitzhugh Lee and a part of
Gordon's cavalry, ready to give us battle. They did not have to wait long, for
we were ready to charge at sight, and a beautiful charge it was, too. It was


like the coming" togethei" of two mighty raih^oad trains at full speed. The
yelling of men, the clashing of sabers, a few empty saddles, a few wounded
and dying, and the charge is over. One side or the other is victorious, perhaps,
only for a few minutes, and then the contest is renewed. A charge of this
kind is over almost before one has time to think of the danger he is in. We
charged them across the open, and into a piece of timber, and in about ten or
fifteen mmutes they m turn charged us, with the result that we were driven
to the point of starting. The artillery now came into play, but, owing to the
fact tliat the ammunition haid gotten somewhat damp in crossing the river, it
was very much handicapped. The First United States Battery was one of the
best in the service, but was of little use in this fight. We charged them again,
this time to stay behind their breastworks in the woods, where they shelled us
most vigorously for half an hour. Here 1 wish to remark that the most trying
position that a soldier can be placed in is standing in line facing a battery, or a
line of the enemy's infantry under their fire, antl unable to retaliate. Many
times we were placed in this position, and in this tight we felt the effect of it in
a marked degree.

A little incident occurred at this time that proved to be quite interesting
for a few minutes. I was acting orderly sergeant, and was at the head of tlie
company. Lieutenant George W. Wilson was sitting upon his horse at my
right, our knees touching, when a shell exploded at an angle of about forty-
five degrees in front of us, and ten feet from our heads, the pieces flying in all
directions. The sulphur in the shell, bursting so close to our heads, took the
power of speech from Wilson, and he did not speak a loud word for more than
a week. The bridle reins were cut entirely from his hands, we were both
slightly wounded, he in his left leg, and I in my right leg and left wrist, but
neither severely.

The enemy did not attack us again at this point; so we moved back toward
the river. As we were moving leisurely back our attention was called to a
body of the enemy's cavalry coming in on our right flank. General Duffie
ordered the Sixth Ohio to be ready to charge. The enemy (which proved to be
the Black Horse Cavalry, F. F. V., one of the best regiments in their cavalry
service) was formed for a charge. Colonel Barrett formed us for the charge,
with drawn-sabers, commanded not to move until ordered, and then charge as
one man. The enemy came at a terrible pace, swinging their sabers and yell-
ing at the top of their voices. When within about thirty yards we were ordered
to charge. Just in my front, as we came together, was a man fully six feet
tall and of splendid proportions. I saw that I had to face him. As I came up
on his right side, our sabers clashed, he at a right hand cut and I at a parry. He
delivered a powerful blow, but, thanks to a good saber guard, I saved my
head. In passing him I wheeled my horse so as to come up on his left side, at
the same time hitting him over the head and back; and at each strike of my
sabre I called to him to halt, which he did not do, and after hitting him fi\-e
or six times, without apparently doing him much damage, I tried a tierce point
on him with the result that a thrust through the neck brought him to the
ground ; but he was not dead, as I afterward found out.


Just as I had unhorsed my man, another "Johnnj-" came up on my right
and struck my saber with such force that it went spinning in the air. At the
same instant one of my company, by the name of Enos Hake, came up and sliot
the "Johnny." If he had not, I fear that I- would not now be alive to tell
the story. It would be hard to describe to you the feelings of one left as I
was, without a saber to protect himself, with hundreds of the enemy around
me. But happily this condition did not last long, for I drew my revolver and
sallied in again. A charge of this kind is usually over in less than five min-
utes, with many men lying on the ground, and many horses riderless, tearing
around as if mad. Sometimes the rider is being dragged with one foot in the
stirrup, and if not killed outright Ijy the enemy would surely be by his own

We were victorious in this charge, as we were in the ones preceding it.
The last charge was distinctively a Sixth Ohio charge, while the others were
by the different brigades, and we were only a small factor in them. We
received high commendation for gallantry from the commanding general, who
witnessed the charge. As we were returning to cross the river that evening,
I thought that I would see if my big "Reb" was among the prisoners, and to
my great surprise I found him. I asked him how he felt. He looked at me
in a very disgusted sort of way and said, "Are you the little cuss that unhorsed
me?" I assured him that I was. He, being an F. F. V., undoubtedly thought
that he ought to have killed a half dozen like me, as I only weighed at that
time about one hundred and ten pounds, and he about two hundred ! Taking
this engagement all through, it was the most satisfactory one that, up to this
time, we were ever engaged in, for e\-ery man fought to win.

We went back to our old camp at New Creek bridge to do outpost duty,
until the first of April, when we received orders to picket the Rapidan river
along the fords, which duty we kejn up until the army was ordered to Chan-


It was the worst planned battle of the war, with, perhaps, the battle of
Fredericksl)urg, fought by Burnsicle, five months before, as the exception. Our
division left their camp on the 26th of April, crossed the river at Kelly's Ford,
made a long detour through the wilderness country, and struck the enemy about
five miles southwest of Cliancellorsville house, which brought on the engage-
ment of the first of May. Part of the army cros.sed at Germania Ford, and
part at a point at and below Fredericksburg, I think with the intention of
drawing the attention of the enemy from the real point of attack. But, as far
as my observation goes, there was no real plan of battle followed out, if there
was one planned. The gist of the matter is, the job was too big for the man
that undertook it. There was much hard fighting on both sides, but to no
advantage on our side, that I could figure out.

Here it was that the famous rebel leader, "Stonewall" Jackson, lost his
life, while making liis famous charge on General O. O. Howard's Eleventh


Corps (a very unfurtunate circumstance to Howard at that particular time),
on tiie third day of the battle. Our cavalry was posted on the left of the Elev-
enth Corps at that time. It was just at dusk, and we, as well as the Eleventh
Corps, were eating our evening meal, when all of a sudden we were dis-
turbed by hearing quite heavy musket firing oflf to our right, and slightly iu
front, and the ne\-er-to-be-forgotten rebel yell that sounded above the roar
of musketr}- told us that some one was getting badly hurt. In about five min-
utes the Eleventh Corps (which were intrenched) doubled back on us, and for
a time even they could not tell what had been the real cause of the sudden evo-
lution they were making. Jackson had come upon them as they were eating
their evening meal, their arms were stacked, and, in fact, they were in the
worst possible shape to be attacked.

The point where we were stationed had been fought over that forenoon,
and the ground, being covered with dry leaves and underbrush, had caught
fire, and the wounded were being suffocated by the fearful heat and smoke;
we were trying to put out the fire and rescue the perishing. Such agonizing
cries I hope I shall never hear again. Many of them when found had buried
their faces in the earth to keep from being choked by the terrible heat and
smoke, and were literally roasted to death!

The next day I was standing near the old Chancellors\ille house, waiting
for some orders for our colonel (this being Hooker's headquarters), when a
solid shot struck one of the pillars of the porch against which General Joe
Hooker was leaning. It threw him to the ground, knocking what little sense
he had out of him. During the remainder of the battle he did not seem to
regain strength enough to give an intelligible order, and I doubt not that the
battle was lost partly owing to that accident, for we had a splendid armv. The
failure of the Potomac army to accomplish the object which it had in \-iew
naturally had a depressing effect on the rank and file of the army; but they
were not disheartened.

On the 5th the army recrossed the river, at the different fords nearest to
the battlefield, and went into camp to reorganize. Here I left my regiment to
take a position at General Kilpatrick's headquarters, as commissary of the
"brigade. My appointment to this position was wholly unexpected. As we
were crossing the river on the pontoon bridge, coming from the battlefield, the
general rode up to Colonel Steadman and said, "I want the best man you can
send me to take charge of the commissary." As I came across, the Colonel
called to me and said "Reeves, I want you to report to General Kilpatrick for
duty as commissary of the brigade." I remarked that I thought he could find
■one that could fill the place better. "No," said he; "you're the man; report at
once to the general," and in an hour I was at lieadquarters, which was under a
large sycamore tree.

The general was a rough and ready man, Init very much of a gentleman.
On first meeting him, one had the impression that he was very "rough : he
seemed to be a bundle of nerves, strung to their highest pitch. I rode up to
where he and his staff officers were eating their dinner ; he, seeing me, motioned


me to dismount. I saluted and said, "General, I have orders from Colonel
Steadman of the Sixth Ohio Cavalry to report to you for duty as commis-
sary." He said, "Damn it! do you know anythmg about commissary?"
"Yes, something." "Do you think you can keep the brigade in rations?" "Yes,
General, if they are to be had." "All right; you are the man we have been
looking for. Damn it ! sit down and have some dinner with us !" The gen-

Online LibraryChicago Standard Genealogical Publishing CompanyA Volume of memoirs and genealogy of representative citizens of northern California, including biographies of many of those who have passed away → online text (page 3 of 108)