J. D. (John D.) Bloodgood.

Personal reminiscences of the war online

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their faces. They were obliged to fall back.
The rebels took advantage of this circumstance
and, advancing in a tremendous charge, tem-
porarily threw our line into confusion. The
Twentieth Indiana, however, held their posi-
tion, and when the rebels advanced sufficiently


to expose their flank the Indiana boys poured
into them such a volley as caused them to halt
and stagger. Just then the Sixth Maine Bat-
tery gained an enfilading position and opened
a deadly fire upon the Confederate ranks. Our
boys who had fallen back had again rallied,
advanced, and opened a galling fire upon the
enemy. By five o'clock the Confederate forces
had been completely repulsed and had fallen
back with heavy losses. At 6 o'clock P. M.
Meade ordered another attack by our forces,
but as there had been continuous fighting all
day, and our troops were much exhausted and
nearly out of ammunition, the order was coun-
termanded and the two armies remained
quietly holding about the same respective po-
sitions they had held in the morning. Our
regiment had been in three desperate engage-
ments during the day, and had expended nearly
two hundred rounds of ammunition per man.

That night and the next day were spent in
comparative quiet, each army improving the
intermission in caring for and removing the
wounded and burying the dead. Late in the
day an advance was ordered, and our bo}-s
with little opposition gained the next line of


breastworks in advance. This line was held
till it was withdrawn to take part in the move-
ment to get around Lee's flank toward Rich-
mond. The losses of the One Hundred and
Forty-first, considering the numbers engaged,
had been quite severe. Out of about two
hundred and eighty men who participated in
the battle thirteen were killed or died of
wounds and fifty-nine wounded, while three
were reported captured or missing, making an
aggregate of seventy-five. General Grant, find-
ing it impracticable to drive the rebel army
out of its stronghold by a direct attack, deter-
mined to move around Lee's right flank, get
possession of Spottsylvania Court House, and,
securing a position, throw down the gauge of
battle where the conditions would be more
nearly equal. Lee very quickly divined the
intention of Gr^nt, and sent Longstreet's corps
to seize Spottsylvania Court House and plant a
line of battle directly across the Union line of
march. This was easily accomplished, and
when the advance of the Fifth Corps, which
led the way — Robinson's division in the ad-
vance — struck the Spottsylvania ridge it was
most unexpectedly assailed by a volley of


musketry from the enemy concealed on the
opposite side of the ridge. General Robinson
fell, severely wounded, and the column was
thrown into considerable confusion. It was
evident that more fighting must be done on
this line, and the balance of the army was hur-
ried up. The One Hundred and Forty-first
left its position on Sunday morning, May 8, in
the Wilderness, and set out on its march for
this new line of battle. The day was intensely
hot, the dust almost suffocating, and many of
the boys were overcome and prostrated by the
heat. About noon it reached a point on the
Cathurpin road and immediately began throw-
ing up intrenchments, and by dark had com-
pleted a strong line of defense.

On Monday Meade was all ready for an ad-
vance, but the rebels held a naturally strong
position, which had been further strengthened
by fortifications until it was evident that it
could only be carried by an immense sacrifice
of men by direct assault. Therefore the Union
commander concluded to postpone a direct
general assault until he had so far investigated
the enemy's position as to be sure that there
was no better line of attack. In the meantime


there was almost constant skirmishing going
on but no general engagement. In front of
the Second Corps was a small stream, narrow,
but deep and unfordable, called the Po River.
Hancock was ordered to cross this stream and
make a reconnoissance in force on the enemy's
left. Accordingly, pontoons were laid down,
and after considerable delay he succeeded in
getting his forces safely across. The next
morning he ordered an advance, and the One
Hundred and Forty-first was deployed as skir-
mishers and were pushed ahead some two
miles, constantly pressing back the rebel line
and finally encamping on a height of ground
for the night. They had captured four pieces
of artillery, a number of baggage wagons, and
a considerable number of prisoners since cross-
ing the river, and Hancock was making ar-
rangements for further aggressive movements
when he received orders to send two of his
divisions to the support of Warren's Fifth
Corps ; for Meade had decided to make a gen-
eral assault on the rebel lines in front of War-
ren's position. While the column was re-
crossing the Po River the One Hundred and
Forty- first was in the rear and was sharply


assailed by a body of rebel troops and quite a
spirited engagement followed. Finally, the
Union forces all succeeded in getting across
without much loss, and then the bridge was
taken up and another covered bridge was de-
stroyed. This movement was known as the
Po River Expedition. Although the regiment
had been under fire nearly all day, and had in-
flicted considerable damage on the enemy, it
suffered no loss either in killed or wounded.

The point where Meade had determined to
make an assault on the enemy's position was a
high elevation known as Laurel Hill, which
fairly bristled with cannon and swarmed with
infantry. About three o'clock Warren's men
were ordered to charge the position. The
troops advanced bravely, but were driven
back with heavy loss. Again an advance was
ordered, and some of Warren's men succeeded
in reaching the parapet, but were unable to
hold it. General Hancock was then ordered
to bring up his two divisions and let the '* Dia-
mond Clover" Corps attempt what the Fifth
Corps had not been able to accomplish. About
sundown all was ready, and Birney's and Gib-
bon's divisions moved forward to the assault.


The troops had witnessed the failure of Warren's
men to take the ridge and the terrible slaugh-
ter which resulted, and moved forward with a
good deal of reluctance, for they all felt it to
be a hopeless undertaking and that they were
like sheep being led to the slaughter. The
word of command, however, had gone forth,
and they must obey, even to death. In solid
lines onward they sweep toward that fatal
crest, when suddenly from the dusky muzzles
of thousands of rebel muskets leap crimson
tongues of fire, and the deadly bullets come
crashing through our ranks, covering the
earth with uniformed bodies. But still those
lines move on with unfaltering step till those
huge guns, shotted to the very muzzle with
grape and canister and trained with deadly
precision upon the advancing columns, belch
forth their death-dealing contents into the very
faces of our boys, mowing great gaps in those
already decimated lines. Then our columns
halt, waver, advance, halt again, then waver as
if in uncertain balance, then break into a wild,
disorderly retreat, and rush for a place of
safety, continuing their flight till they are
safely behind their line of works.



r~^ ENERAL GRANT decided to makean-
^^^ other attempt to drive tlie Confederate
forces from their stronghold. A certain angle
in the rebel line had been fixed upon as the
place of assault, and the old Second Corps was
selected as the assaulting column. Wednesday
evening, May 11, camp fires were lighted all
along the front of the Second Corps, and after
they had got to burning brightly the troops
were formed in line and ordered to make the
least possible noise. The roads were very
muddy and soft on account of recent rains, and
the night was pitchy dark, making the march a
most uncomfortable one. The line of march
was nearly due east and in rear of the Fifth and
Sixth Corps, across fields and through woods
and swamps, by the m.ost direct route to the
point of attack. About three o'clock on the
morning of the nth the regiment reached
its destination, and after being deployed and
placed in position the boys were allowed a short


rest, though no fires were allowed to be built.
In silence the boys in blue waited for the break
of day, which was the time appointed for the
attack. Afewhundred yards in front were the
sleeping lines of the enemy, resting secureh ,
as they supposed, behind their fortifications,
which were very strong of themselves. They
were also surrounded by an abatis, which is
made by felling trees with the limbs outward,
the tops being cut off and the ends sharpened.
The works, which were in front of our brigade,
were manned by Terry and Walker's brigade
of Johnson's division of Ewell's corps.

About half past four, in the deep gray of
the morning, the Second Corps was massed for
the assault. It was a moment of intense and
thrilling interest. There was an awful sus-
pense in the hearts of those gallant veterans as
they stood there with beating hearts and
quickened respiration, firmly grasping their
trusty rifles, with bayonets already fixed, wait-
ing for the word of command. It was now a full
week since they left their camps on the north
side of the Rappahannock. They had met the
foe on many a hard-contested field, but neither
side had gained any perceptible advantage


over the other. In the last assault upon the
enemy our boys had suffered a decided re-
pulse. Before them frowned those formida-
ble lines of intrenchments, behind which were
long lines of vigilant, brave, and determined
soldiers, whose prowess and skill they had
learned to respect. Much depended on the
result of the coming struggle. Almost every-
thing was to be gained by victory, while defeat
might prove terribly disastrous to the Union
cause. And then it was almost or quite cer-
tain that the price of either victory or defeat
would be the lives of many of that heroic
band and the maiming of many others, or
what might be even worse, captivity, starvation,
and death in Southern prisons. And then
those loved ones at home! But hark! Out
ring the bugle notes clear and sharp, cutting
short all such thoughts and reveries. It is
sounding the charge. Then comes the com-
mand, '^ Attention, column! Forward, guide
center, march ! " And suddenly those long
lines move forward. No gun is fired, no
word spoken ; but in terrible silence those
gallant lines press onward until the enemy's
picket line is encountered. This is brushed


aside or captured with scarcely a moment's
liesitation as being hardly worthy of notice.
As the breastworks were neared our boys with
a ringing cheer broke into a run and made a
grand rush for the enemy's intrench ments.
As they come near tlie rebel works a terrific
volley of musketry is poured into their faces,
but though the ground is dotted with bleeding
forms they heed not the carnage ; seizing the
abatis with their hands, they tear it aside, and
in an instant more our brave boys are scaling
the breastworks and are in the enemy's line.
Then the struggle became hand to hand,
ket to musket. Those of the enemy who were
nearest the front threw down their arms and
surrendered. Then our lines, which had be-
come completely mixed up and disorganized,
made another grand rush for the second Con-
federate line, which they carried instantly,
sweeping everything before them and pushing
on for nearly a mile. The trophies of this
splendid achievement were about four thou-
sand prisoners captured, twenty pieces of artil-
lery with their caissons (ammunition chests on
wheels) and horses, many thousand stands of
small arms, and more than thirty stands of


colors. Major General Edward Johnson, Brig-
adier General G. H. Stuart, and many officers of
less note were among the prisoners. Captain
Peck, of Company B, captured a rebel colonel.
During the charge and in the subsequent move-
ments many of the One Hundred and Forty-
first became separated, and the rebels, throwing
in a line of reinforcements on their flank, took
several of our boys prisoners. Our colors nar-
rowly escaped the same fate.

It was only for a very short time, however,
that our men were allowed to enjoy peaceably
the fruits of their well-earned victory. Lee
seemed to be determined to regain the ground
he had lost, and, massing a heavy force of
men, he made five successive and desperate at-
tempts to drive our men from their advanced
position. The attempt was in vain, however,
for our boys, reinforced by the veterans of the
Fifth and Sixth Corps, successfully resisted
every assault and manfully maintained their
ground till midnight, when Lee withdrew his
torn and bleeding forces to his inner line of
works. The fight around that bloody apex
has passed into history as among the bloodiest
of the war. An oak tree twenty-two inches in


diameter, in rear of Wilcox's rebel division,
was literally cut down with bullets, and at
about midnight fell with a tremendous crash,
injuring quite a number of the First South Car-
olina Regiment. The ground was completely
covered with the dead and wounded, and the
ditches had to be cleared of the enemy's dead
more than once to make room for the living.
For several hours the two lines fought on
opposite sides of the same breastwork. Men
were bayoneted and shot through the crevices
betwixt the logs, and it was as much as a man's
life was worth to show his head on either side.

The One Hundred and Forty-first w^as in
the thickest of the fight. The oak tree above
mentioned, a section of which isnow on exhi-
bition at the United States Museum at Wash-
ington, stood directly in front of our regiment.
The following extract is from a letter written
by Lieutenant Colonel Watkins, of the One
Hundred and Forty-first. He says, under date
of Friday, May 13 :

*' We are lying in the mud. We have been
fighting incessantly since the 5th. Yesterday
we charged very heavy breastworks and car-
ried them after some loss. The slaughter on


both sides passes description. We marched
all night, night before last, attacked the rebel
works at daylight in three lines with fixed bay-
onets, fought over the works all day and all
night in the rain and mud. Our men are wet
to the skin, and are now eating their first meal
since night before last. My heart bleeds wdien
I think of our sufferings and losses. I am un-
hurt, but exhausted with fatigue and anxiety.
'* Our losses in the regiment have been mi-
raculously small for the number and obstinacy
of the fights in which we have been, and can
only be attributed to the fact that we fought
much of the time behind breastworks and
were guarded by a kind Providence. The day
we took the enemy's works was one of contin-
ual musketry, such as has not been seen before
in this war. You will not believe me when I
tell you that I saw large trees, one eighteen
inches through, of white, oak, literally cut down
by musket balls, but such is the truth. Just at
this point our own and the rebel dead lay in
heaps, pierced, some of them, with hundreds of
balls. So horrid and sickening a sight I never
saw before. Here we fought nearly twenty-
four long hours, almost hand to hand, in a


heavy rain. Our regiment has behaved nobly
and taken more prisoners than it numbers."

The remainder of the night succeeding Lee's
withdrawal was one of exceeding discomfort.
The dead were strewn so thickly that there
was scarcely room for the living to lie down.
The incessant rain had filled the ditches with
water and transferred the soft fresh dirt into
beds of mud. These beds were certainly soft
enough to suit anybody, but were also decidedly
moist. But when human nature is completely
exhausted it is not so particular where it finds
rest. So our boys lay down in the ditches or
on the muddy slopes, surrounded by the dying
and the dead, and, forgetful of the recent terri-
ble strife and the horrible surroundings, re-
lapsed into sound slumber. The morning of
the 13th was gloomy, cloudy, and rainy. No
general engagement took place, but almost
continuous picket firing was kept up, varied
occasionally by an artillery duel, which served
to keep the soldiers of both sides on the alert.

Our boys improved their time in strengthen-
ing their works, burying their dead, cooking
rations, and in preparing for future develop-
ments. Many of the enemy's dead lay in the


ditch which they had dug. They were left
just as they fell, except that they were covered
over with dirt shoveled from the top of the
mounds they had thrown up. They had lit-
erally dug their own graves. Our own dead
were buried in rear of our line, with no coffin
or shroud ; they were simply wrapped in their
blankets, if they had any, and were buried
wherever it was most convenient.

Saturday, the 15th, our men held the same
position, and the rain continuing to fall they
pitched their shelter tents, in many instances
for want of room, directly upon the graves of
their dead comrades. The rebel sharpshooters
kept up a continuous and murderous fire, which
rendered it exceedingly dangerous to get away
from the shelter of the earthworks.

Saturday evening a detail of men under Cap-
tain Peck, of Company B, was sent out in our
front on picket. Such service in the immedi-
ate presence of a vigilant enemy is not only
fraught with great responsibility and discom-
fort, but is also extremely hazardous. Senti-
nels are posted one or two in a place along the
entire line, sometimes but a few feet apart,

behind trees, logs, rocks, or anything that can



afford shelter, where they are often obh'ged to
remain for hours at a time, often in intense
darkness and, as in this case, surrounded with
dead men, watching with the utmost vigilance
for any movement or approach of the enemy.
Soldiers on picket are often obliged to remain
in positions so cramped — sometimes lying on
the cold, wet ground behind logs or curled up
in holes dug in the ground — that when relieved
they are scarcely able to walk. When it can be
done with safety sentinels on picket are relieved
every two hours and remain off duty for four
hours; but in many instances pickets can only
be changed in the dark, when the enemy cannot
see. to fire, and therefore they must remain all
day and part of the night on this perilous duty.
It is often the case that, where two picket
lines remain for any length of time near each
other, by mutual agreement they refrain from
firing upon each other. Often during the war
the pickets of the two armies became very
friendly, visiting each other's posts and ex-
changing newspapers and other articles. Our
boys traded coffee and other articles of food
with the Confederates for tobacco, which was
about all the article for barter they possessed.


This practice of intercommunication was for-
bidden by the commanders on both sides, but
under such circumstances men make their own
rules and regulations, their chief concern be-
ing that they are not detected in their irregu-
lar practices. It is much more comfortable to
perform duty when one can stand up, move
around, keep a fire, and keep up the circula-
tion, without the constant expectation of be-
coming a target for somebody's rifle, than to
remain for hours hidden behind a log, tree,
rock, or stump, where the slightest exposure
of one's person will be followed by the '' zip "
of a minie ball coming altogether too near for
comfort. Our boys would often place an old
hat on a ramrod or stick and slowly and cau-
tiously raise it above the breastworks in front
of them. This would be followed by the si-
multaneous crack of perhaps a score of rebel
muskets, when the old hat would be jerked
down perforated with bullet-holes, while our
rifle-pits would ring with peals of laughter at
the joke upon the Johnnies. Then some joker
would shout: *' O, you get out, you reb! You
couldn't hit the broadside of a barn. What is the
use of wasting your ammunition in that way?"



THE losses of the One Hundred and Forty-
first from May 8 to 20 were as fol-
lows : Killed or died of wounds, thirteen ;
wounded, twenty-five ; captured and missing,
seven ; making an aggregate of forty-five. For
the week succeeding the terrible fighting at
Spottsylvania Ridge, on the 1 2th, our regiment
remained for most of the time in the line of
works it had captured from the enemy. On
Tuesday, the 17th, a part of Ewell's corps
made a charge on our lines, driving in our
picket, and advanced within short range of our
line, but a single volley sent them rushing
back to their works with considerable loss.
Then General Hancock ordered a counter-
charge, and our division made a short advance,
which accomplished nothing, and our troops
soon retired behind their works. The follow-
ing extract from a letter of Lieutenant Colonel
Watkins will explain the situation. Under
date of May 18 he writes:


" I am now sitting behind the very same
breastworks and upon the very same ground
we fought so long and obstinately over on the
1 2th inst. I have just eaten a supper from an
old oilcloth spread over the buried remains of
brave soldiers, amid the most noisome smell
one can imagine. I do wish we could get away
from here. Six days ago we took this place,
and have not gained any ground since. As I
write I keep my head low to avoid the deadly
missiles of the enemy's sharpshooters. We
had a hard fight to-day in attempting to take
one of the enemy's lines in front, but failed.
We are expecting an attack to-night in return.
We are in front, where we have been most of
the time. It does seem that they ought to
take us out and give us a little rest. The days
are very warm, but the nights are cool and
^^ggy- ^^ ^^^ ^^^ so worn out and exhausted
that when we once get to sleep it is almost
impossible to get awake again. I hope we will
move from this spot soon. The stench is in-
tolerable and the associations by no means

In the evening of the iSthour men received
the welcome order to leave their position be-


hind the intrenchments. They speedily packed
up their effects and were soon on the march
eastward. They encamped near the Freder-
icksburg road, some three miles from their
former position. Here for the first time in
two weeks they were not under fire, but could
breathe the pure air, wash their clothes, and
cook their food without danger of being
stricken down by bullets or shells. General
Grant had by this time begun to despair of
driving the rebels from their position by
direct assault ; he therefore determined to
resort to his former plan of turning the
enemy's flank, and, by threatening his com-
munications with Richmond, force him to re-
lease his grip on Spottsylvania Ridge. He
therefore issued his orders to that effect, and it
was in accord with this plan that our regiment
moved to the eastward. Lee, however, had
already anticipated this design, and, detaching,
sent Ewell's corps around the Union right
flank with orders to seize our line of communi-
cations with Washington, which was by way
of Fredericksburg and Aquia Creek, and cap-
ture our trains if possible. Fredericksburg was
then held by Tyler's division of heavy artillery


serving as infantry, which was also holding
the Fredericksburg road in the rear of our
army. Ewell's men struck this road near where
our brigade was encamped, and made a desper-
ate attempt to capture our ammunition train,
which was just passing. Tyler's men, however,
gallantly met the rebel charge and succeeded
in holding them in check till Birney's division
could come to the rescue. Our regiment had
no idea that its services would so soon be
called into requisition again ; consequently they
had improved the opportunity to wash their

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Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 12 of 16)