Edward Pascal McKinney.

Life in tent and field, 1861-1865 (Volume 1) online

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dollars to deliver the message.

I was ordered, while at White House, to issue
rations to the negroes who followed us. It was
very difficult to do this as there was no way to
distinguish those who had been supplied from
those who had not. To facilitate the business I
had them divided into groups of one hundred, and
guards placed over each group. They were so
hungry that many would break away from the
guard when they had got rations and join the
next group so as to get a double supply.

From White House we proceeded to join
Grant's Army south of Richmond. The first day
and night behind Grant's lines the bullets whizzed
over our heads without intermission, sounding
very close. The troops in the camp paid no at-
tention and seemed unconcerned. The bullets
must have come a long distance as I could not
connect the whistle of a bullet with the sound of
a gun, and they were higher in the air than the

Expedition to Join Grant Before Richmond 149

sound would indicate, as in the morning there
were no holes in the canvas tops of the wagons.
They doubtless came from the picket line which
was probably on lower ground than our camp.



The next morning, March 28, 1865, the wagon
train started by an inside road in an eastward
direction, toward the left of our Army. It had
rained most of the time since leaving Winchester,
the last of February, and the roads were in a
worse condition than could be imagined by one
who had never seen a Virginia mud road. There
seemed to be no bottom. While struggling in the
mud, Custer's Division came back to help the train
through, having been sent by General Sheridan.
I rode forward to Dinwiddie Court House, where
General Sheridan had his headquarters in a little
tavern. This tavern and the Court House (both
about the same size) and one or two dwellings
comprised the County Seat of Dinwiddie County.
A cavalryman gave me some papers he had taken
from the Court House.

I found General Devin engaged in a skirmish
with Rebel Cavalry, and remained with him some
time. Toward night he was driven back, infantry
having reinforced the enemy's cavalry. Custer


Dinwiddle Court House 151

was ordered up to help Devin. He arrived at
the head of a long escort carrying the seventeen
battle flags he had captured from Early's Army
at Waynesboro, and followed by two brass band^s.
Without any delay he charged the enemy, with
his bands playing and his men shouting for all
they were worth. The enemy, supposing Devin
had been largely reinforced, fell back.

The next day I was with General Sheridan at
Dinwiddle Court House. He seemed full of sup-
pressed excitement. His eyes grew narrower and
longer. When officers came with reports or for
instructions he gave replies and instructions on
the moment, without hesitancy or taking time for
deliberation. The whole field and the position of
every Regiment of his Army, he seemed to know
by intuition.

He could not brook delays but expected his
orders to be executed as promptly as they were
given. Because of General Warren's delays at
the battle of Five Forks, Sheridan relieved him
of command of the Fifth Corps. This required
a good deal of nerve as Warren had been a popu-
lar and successful officer, but Sheridan had been
made by Grant responsible for the conduct of his
corps and this was justified by the result.

During the battle of Five Forks, April i, 1865,
I saw a whole Division of Infantry seated on the
ground, all gambling. They had been temporarily

152 Life in Tent and Field

relieved by another Division and were In rear of
the firing line, not out of danger. Such a posi-
tion without action is more trying than actual
fighting. Gambling under such circumstances is
perhaps excusable.

In the early evening, after the battle, I met
Brayton Ives, Colonel of the First Connecticut
Cavalry, escorting to the rear with his Regiment,
five thousand prisoners captured that day. Ives
was a classmate of mine at Yale College. We had
been intimate friends, had belonged to the same
boat club, and had pulled together in the same
boat in a Yale-Harvard race. I rode with him a
way. He told me that he had among the prisoners
, a prominent Yale graduate who had re-
sided in the North and was indebted to the North
for his education, but had joined the Southern
Army. Ives said he intended to make him

After the battle of Five Forks, Lee must havf
known the certainty of his defeat. If he had sur-
rendered without leaving Richmond he would
have saved many lives and much loss to the South.
Probably his best judgment was overruled by his
advisers. He evacuated Richmond in great haste,
withdrawing his troops during the night. Gen-
eral Grant followed him at once, the cavalry
taking the lead, and the supply train, under my
charge, followed the cavalry with all speed pos-

Expiring Efforts of Lee 153

sible. As we passed along the Weldon Railroad
I wondered how Richmond and Lee's Army could
have got supplies. In many places where there
were curves, fence rails were used on the lower
side to prop up the rails and ties to keep them
from sliding off.

At this time I was joined by Rev. Joseph
Twitchell, who wanted to be in at the death and
who remained with me until after Lee's surrender.
He had previously been chaplain of one of Dan
Sickles' Regiments. In college we pulled in the
same crew in several races and were quite inti-
mate. He was large and athletic and was said
to have carried some of the wounded off the bat-
tlefield on his back. From his experience in the
Army he was enabled to get through the lines.
He desired to meet Sheridan, and I introduced
him one day while Sheridan was riding along the
road at the head of his staff. Joe's hat fell off
and at the General's request one of his staff dis-
mounted and returned the hat.

I arrived at Sailor's Creek with the train while
the fight was on. Sailor's Creek was about the
last gasp of Lee's expiring Army. Beside the road
we halted near a surgeon's tent, from which arms
and legs came flying. The Union troops were
wading the stream up to their armpits in water,
under fire from the enemy on the other side.
When our troops reached the opposite bank the

154 Life in Tent and Field

enemy skedaddled. I forded the stream with the
wagon train, and as I went up the bank on the
opposite side, the line which the enemy had held
was plainly marked by dead bodies. One deep
cut made by the water beside the road was filled
with dead bodies fallen on each other.

I issued rations to the troops as I had oppor-
tunity, to one brigade here, to another there. The
road from Sailor's Creek to Appomattox was
strewn with arms^ knapsacks, canteens, bake-ket-
tles. I was astonished at the number of bake-
kettles left by the enemy. They were made of
cast iron with a cover and were quite heavy. I
did not see how, with their limited transporta-
tion, they could carry them all.

After the battle of Sailor's Creek, the pursuit
of Lee's Army by Sheridan's Cavalry was like the
rounding up of a flock of scattered sheep. At
Appomattox Station supplies which Lee had or-
dered there were captured, and Lee's only alterna-
tive was surrender. There was very little pomp
or circumstance attending the surrender. Gen-
eral Grant and General Lee arranged the whole
matter in a room by themselves. Lee's Army
quietly broke up and the men returned to their

But for Sheridan's Cavalry, Lee might have
held out for a considerable time. The mounted
troops could move much faster than infantry.

News of Lincoln's Death 155

Sheridan gave his own men almost no rest, either
night or day, nor did he give the enemy a mo-
ment's rest.

After the surrender of Appomattox, on our
return toward Petersburg, the news of Lincoln's
assassination reached the Army. The whole
Army went into mourning. Many of the soldiers
shed tears. Everyone felt a sense of personal
loss. Nowhere throughout the country was more
sincere grief than in the Army. Never in my
whole intercourse with the Army did I hear a
word of adverse criticism of Lincoln. The name
"Father Abraham" was a talisman which insti-
gated them to many heroic deeds and to patient
endurance of privation and hardship.



After Lee's surrender, on the twenty-fourth
of April, Sheridan's Cavalry and the Sixth Corps
of Infantry started for Greenville, N. C, to re-
inforce General Sherman who was on his march
to the sea. When we reached South Boston on
the Dan River in North Carolina, we were or-
dered back, as Sherman had already completed
his victorious march.

Our return to Washington was a long, tedious,
dusty march, across North Carolina and the whole
State of Virginia. It took nearly a month. We
reached Washington without incident May i6
and went into camp between Washington and
Alexandria. On the twenty-first of May, 1865,
we moved to Bladensburg, Md., in preparation
for the Grand Review, and on the twenty-third I
passed the White House in review with General
Devin at the head of his Division. A few blocks
beyond we broke ranks and I had a chance to
see the other Divisions pass. Just as I got back
to the White House one of the generals who was


The Grand Review 157

fond of a display caused his horse to cavort, and
his hat fell off, and he had to wait for a man to
dismount and pick it up.

It took all day of the twenty-third for the
Army of the Potomac in column of platoons, ex-
tending across Pennsylvania Avenue from curb to
curb, in close formation, at quick step, to pass a
given point. The following day, the twenty-
fourth, was taken up by Sherman's Army in the
same way. His men had a long, free and easy
stride, eloquent of their long march across the
States. Each of his Regiments had some pet or
mascot carried by one of the soldiers вАФ eagles,
owls, roosters, dogs, opossums. About two hun-
dred thousand men passed the White House in
review May 23 and 24, 1865. Those who wit-
nessed it, even the soldiers who were accustomed
to the armies in the field, were overwhelmed with
a sense of the power the Nation had put forth
in the cause of a free Government.



The next day after the Review the Cavalry
Regiments returned to their camps near Alex-
andria, where they remained until they were paid
off and mustered out. My tent was pitched on a
little knoll from which I could see in all direc-
tions. In it my clerk lived with me and kept his
desk and papers. I had sent him one afternoon
to headquarters with some papers. It was grow-
ing dusk and a good deal past the time for his re-
turn when, as I sat in front of my tent, I distin-
guished him a short distance away apparently
halted by two men. He was mounted on a black
mule and wore no uniform, but had on a linen
coat. There seemed to be some trouble and I
grabbed a loaded revolver and started toward
him on a run, in my stockings, without shoes. As
I drew near he spurred the mule to get away.
One of the men held him by his linen coat, which
he tore in two and the coat tails were left in his

As my clerk recognized me he was off his mule

Closing Scenes 159

in a second, and planted two blows, one with his
right hand and one with his left, in the officer's
face; then whirled him about and seizing one
coat tail and then the other, ripped his coat up
the back to the neck.

I recognized in the two men a Captain of the
New York Cavalry and his First Lieu-
tenant, The Captain was a six-footer but my
clerk was a mere stripling. I covered both offi-
cers with my revolver while we got away and
returned to our tent. But I anticipated trouble.

We hid all our weapons and awaited develop-
ments. In an hour's time my Commissary Ser-
geant came to my tent and reported that the

New York, with loaded rifles, surrounded

the knoll on which was my tent, and threatened
to blow niY whole establishment to hell, I stepped
out and could see their rifles on all sides gleaming
in the moonlight.

To my inquiry, "What troops are there and
who is in command?" an Orderly Sergeant whom
I knew stepped out and replied:

"This is Company of the New

York. Our officers have been attacked and in-
sulted, our Captain has both eyes blackened, and
we propose to take satisfaction."

I replied in a loud voice that all could hear:

"You ought to be ashamed to bring a whole
command armed with rifles to attack two unarmed

i6o Life in Tent and Field

men. Your Regiment has a high reputation for
bravery. Your officers were not attacked. They
themselves attacked my clerk, a mere boy."

We learned later that the two officers had been
to Washington and purchased new uniforms-, that
they had indulged freely, and on their return,
meeting my clerk, had mistaken him for one of
the natives. They had taken from him and de-
stroyed his pass signed by General Sheridan, and
but for my arrival would have given him rough

The Sergeant took his men back, and the next
morning both officers came to me, confessed that
they had been drunk, and begged me not to prefer
charges against them, which they said would be
ruinous to their reputation in their home town
where they were about going. I assured them
that I did not care to carry the matter further.
The Captain said that the coat which had been
ripped up the back had cost him sixty dollars that
day. Sixty dollars was a good deal of money at
that time.

We kept our tent standing one night, after all
the Regiments had left, in order to finish our
papers, and my clerk and I remained alone. The
solitude seemed intense. The camps had been
infested with thieves and robbers, who were like
the vultures that hover over a field after a battle,

Closing Scenes i6i

and we took turns standing guard all night, rifle
in hand.

In spite of our best precaution some miscreant
stole my blooded mare. She had carried me
through many dangers and had been my pet and
companion. We had eaten together and had
drunk from the same bucket. She would follow
me like a little dog. She had a pair of light heels
and knew how to use them against strangers. I
am sure she never became attached to another
master as she was to me. She was a faithful
friend and 1 mourned her loss many years.

The Government furnished all officers and sol-
diers transportation to their homes.

It was wonderful how soon so great an army
of men were swallowed up and absorbed in peace-
ful pursuits. Although more than half a cen-
tury has passed, I still dream of marching columns
and the rattle of musketry.



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Online LibraryEdward Pascal McKinneyLife in tent and field, 1861-1865 (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 8)