J. D. (John D.) Bloodgood.

Personal reminiscences of the war online

. (page 3 of 16)
Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 3 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

position by dislodging and turning Jackson's

General Meade was in command of the Penn-
sylvania Reserves in our immediate front, and
about nine o'clock the order was given to ad-
vance. The scene was one of awful grandeur.
Long lines of trained, uniformed men stretched
up and down that immense plain, preceded by
a cloud of skirmishers, pressing on with firm,
unfaltering step into the very jaws of death,
determined to do all that human skill and
valor could accomplish or endure, to the end
that the old flag which they now proudly fol-
lowed might wave over every portion of our
fair land, over every billow of the sea, com-
manding the respect of all men at home and
abroad, with no star erased, no stripe removed.

Very much has been written in regard to va-


rious charges made by various bodies of men in
arms against contending foes ; and especially
has Pickett's charge at Gettysburg been ex-
tolled to the very skies ; but to my mind the
charge of the Pennsylvania Reserves, under
Meade, on the 13th day of December, 1862,
stands unrivaled in all the history of military
renown and valor. Had it been promptly sup-
ported and followed up the historian might have
recorded a victory instead of a defeat as the re-
sult of this encounter. As Meade moved steadily
onward he was greeted by the concentrated fire
of all the rebel artillery on that part of their line.
So severe was this that he was obliged to
pause for a short time till these batteries could
be silenced, which was partly accomplished
when the order was again given to advance.
But now they were greeted with a deadly vol-
ley from General A. P. Hill's division of in-
fantry, but with a ringing cheer they swept
onward, carrying everything before them, gain-
ing a position on the railroad and break-
ing the rebel line in two, capturing a large
number of prisoners and making the welkin
ring with their cheers of victory. Their re-
joicings were of short duration, however, for


heavy reinforcements were sent in to aid the
fleeing Confederates and stay the victorious
advance of Meade, whose gallant veterans,
bruised and battered, and nearly surrounded by
the rallying enemy, were compelled to retire.
This they did slowly and deliberately at first,
disputing every inch of ground ; but at length,
under a fierce charge of the enemy, they fell
back rapidly and with considerable disorder.

Up to this time our brigade had remained
on the north side of the river, held in reserve,
where we had been interested spectators of the
scenes above described. It was now our turn
to receive our baptism of fire, and, seeing an
orderly gallop up to where General Robinson
sat on his horse awaiting orders, we quickly
divined the meaning of the movement and
prepared for the conflict. We had not long to
wait, for the bugle sounded to " fall in." Pass-
ing down a ravine to the river's bank, we
crossed en the pontoon bridge, which swayed
from side to side under our feet. On reach-
ing the other side the order came, " Double
quick, march ! " On we went across the plain,
while the rebel shot and shell fell all around
us, plowing up great holes in the earth and


throwing mud and dirt in all directions. We
reached the scene of conflict just as the rebels
were about to capture one of our batteries of
brass twelve-pounders, which they wanted
badly, and which they were determined to
have at all hazards, but which we were equally
determined that they should not obtain, as we
had especial use for it just then. The struggle
was sharp, short, and decisive. The enemy
yielded their claim upon the prize and sullenly
retreated. No order being given to advance,
we held our ground.

The loss in our regiment was not very se-
vere, as the brigade was formed in two lines,
with three regiments in each. Our regiment
was in the rear line, and did not suffer very
heavily. We were placed in rear of the bat-
tery that we had helped save and ordered to
support it. This is the most trying place in
which men can be placed. When engaged in
active loading and firing the attention is largely
taken up with the business in hand ; but to
be obliged to lie passive on the ground, with
shot and shell flying all around, and nothing
to do but lie still and take it, is exceedingly
trying to the bravest heart. This was our


experience for three mortal hours that day.
Every shell seemed to come right at us. It is
wonderful how a man will flatten himself out and
hug his mother earth under such circumstances !

About this time General Robinson came up
to Colonel Madill, our regimental commander,
with his face all aglow with enthusiasm and
excitement, and inquired, " Colonel, can you
hold your men here ? " As the colonel was a
good, stanch Presbyterian of the old school we
will give his reply, although perhaps it bor-
dered a little on profanity : '* Hold them in
hell, general ! " was the pointed reply. In
explaining his reply afterward the colonel said
he did not mean to be understood literally but
figuratively. However, it was *' hot " enough
there to suit any man if he was not too par-

That night we slept on our arms in line of
battle, not knowing but that it would be our
last night on earth, as we fully expected an-
other advance in the morning. The ground
was low, soft, and muddy, and, finding a few
Virginia cornstalks, I laid them on the ground,
spread one edge of my blanket upon them,
folded the other side over me, and settled



down for the night. But those cornstalks were
so coarse and hard that sleep was out of the
question. So I worked them out from under
me, and, settling down in the soft mud, went
to sleep. About midnight I was suddenly
awakened by the discharge of a rifle near
where I was lying.

At the same time a member of our company
jumped up and in very forcible language de-
clared that some one had shot him, destroying
the first two fingers of his right hand. He
soon started for the rear, and that was the last
we saw of him. Next morning we discovered
that his gun had been discharged, the only one
in the company, and that he had doubtless taken
that way to muster himself out of the service.

This day was the Sabbath and was spent in
comparative quiet by both armies. The suf-
ferings of the wounded betwixt the lines of
the two armies were terrible indeed. Their
cries for water and assistance were most heart-
rending, but no relief could be given, except
at the almost absolute certainty of death to
any one who should show himself.

At last a flag of truce was accepted by the
rebel commander, and hostilities ceased for a


couple of hours, during which time many of the
wounded were removed. As soon as the flag
of truce was accepted both armies seemed to
rise as by magic from the earth. The pickets
conversed as if they had been old friends. The
moment the truce terminated every man within
range on both sides suddenly disappeared.

Monday morning two hundred men of oui";
regiment were detailed for picket duty, and
before it was yet light they were stationed in
a ditch within twenty rods of the Confederate
pickets. This ditch w-as occupied by our
forces during the fight, and many of the dead
and wounded remained in it. Our men did all
they could to give them relief, and Colonel
Madill, while on a visit to the picket line,
actually leaped over the ditch, picked up a
wounded boy, who was piteously calling for
help, and at the peril of his own life bore him
to a place of safety. Our men were obliged to
lie in that ditch, flat on their faces, from Mon-
day morning till Tuesday morning about three
o'clock. The weather was cold, the ditch had
considerable water in it, making the position
anything but comfortable, and we were sur-
rounded by numbers of the unburied dead.



Monday night, the 15th, about ten o'clock,
we were ordered to prepare to recross the
river with the least possible noise. We were
as ready to obey that order, at least, as we
were the other one when we went over. A
good deal of confusion resulted from the inter-
mingling of different columns marching in par-
allel lines. We at length all got safely over
except the two hundred who were left on
picket. We did not know what had become
of them, so we halted in a ravine near the
river that night waiting for the balance of our
regiment to come up. I lay down in the
bottom of the ravine and went to sleep.
It always rains after a great battle ; at least
I never knew any exception to this rule, and
certainly there was no exception this time,
for about three o'clock the rain began to fall
in torrents. None of us had any tents, so we
had to take it as it came. I lay still a while,
till the water began to run under me as it came
down the gully; then I concluded it was time
to get up. This I did, and, sitting on my
knapsack, threw my wet blanket over my head
and longed for daylight.



THE long, dreary night was ended at last,
and with daylight came renewed hope
and courage. Our grand army had been de-
feated, not for lack of skill or valor, but because
it could not accomplish the well-nigh impossi-
ble. We had left thousands of our brave com-
rades on the battlefield, martyrs to their love
of country, and the day of final victory seemed
to be farther in the distance than ever.

We who had for the first time been under the
enemy's fire now came to know what it all really
meant. Many of us had looked upon war more
as a romance than as a reality. But when
we came to face the enemy's cannon and witness
the horrible destruction of human life all the
poetry and most of its roseate hues faded com-
pletely away.

We soon resumed our march in the direc-
tion of our old camp, and quickly came up
with the remainder of our regiment, which we
had almost given up as lost. Of course we


were glad to see them again, and they were
glad to have escaped their perilous position.
They were the last body of troops to leave
that part of the battlefield, but so quietly
were they withdrawn that the rebels were not
aware of the departure of the Union army till
daylight the next morning.

The One Hundred and Fourteenth Regiment
Pennsylvania Volunteers, or '* Collis Zouaves,"
as they were best known, had a very fine brass
band, which was the pride not only of the
regiment, but of the whole brigade. This
band took up quarters in a large brick house
near the river when we first crossed over, and
remained there till after the evacuation. The
first they knew of this was the approach of the
rebel pickets, by whom the entire band was
captured. Their instruments were taken from
them and they were sent to Richmond as

We marched back past our old camp and
pitched our tents on a level plain about a mile
from the village of Falmouth. We now re-
ceived orders to build winter quarters, and
we were only too glad to obey. We went to
a piece of wood near by and cut down trees


and carried them on our backs and builded
what we called ** shebangs," which consisted
of pens about six feet wide and ten feet long,
varying in height from three to six feet. These
were covered with our tent cloths for a roof,
while at one end there was a fireplace built of
sticks and covered over with Virginia mud,
and at the other a sort of door. Many of
these were quite comfortable, although the
wind, rain, and snow would persist in sifting
through the crevices. One night we had a
fearful storm ; the wind blew a hurricane, and
the snow fell exceedingly lively, and, after we
had lain down to sleep, kept drifting in our
faces. We had a quilt which one of the boys
had brought from home, and this was used
next to us, it being much softer than a coarse
woolen blanket. This we drew up over our
faces, and as it became wet by the snow melted
by our breath we gave it another hitch upward.
Just as the bugle sounded the morning call wc
had reached the last edge of the blanket and
found it folded up over our heads. Arising, I
found our fireplace with several inches of snow
in it, and Jimmy Lunger's boots, which he had
set near the chimney corner, heaping full of snow.


It was a cold, chilly morning; we had noth-
ing to burn but green pine wood, and the situ-
ation was anything but delightful. We made
the best of it, however, and by the aid of a big
piece of pork we got up a pretty good fire and
felt better.

One day during our stay in Camp Pitcher,
which was so named in honor of a brave soldier
of that name, killed in the recent battle, the
entire brigade was ordered out to witness the
execution of a sentence of court-martial upon
a deserter. The man, it seems, had been re-
fused a furlough to visit his sick wife ; so he
started home on his own responsibility, but
was detected, arrested, tried, and convicted,
and we were ordered out to see the sentence
executed. The brigade was formed on three
sides of a square ; the offender, under guard,
was brought into the center. The buttons
were all cut off the clothes, his head was
shaved, the letter "D" was branded on his
left hip with a hot iron, and he was marched
all around the inside of a square — the band
playing the '* Rogue's March "—and then
drummed out of camp and dishonorably dis-
charged from the United States service.


He was about the most independent-looking
fellow I ever saw. When he came by our part
of the line he had both hands full of clothing ;
his head was erect and he stepped about a
foot high. Some of his comrades who sym-
pathized with him met him down under the
hill, got him a suit of citizen's clothes, gave him
a purse of money, and he went to selling news-
papers in the army, which avocation he pur-
sued till General Burnside ordered all newspa-
pers kept out of the army. Then he disap-

Fuel soon began to get scarce, and to supply
the deficiency the boys would go into the
woods, or where the woods had been, and cut
down stumps, pick up chips and brush and any
other article that would burn. The last days
of December, 1862, and the first days of Janu-
ary, 1863. were bright, warm, and beautiful,
and were well improved in drills, parades, re-
views, inspections, and the like. The army,
kept busy by these various exercises, had lit-
tle time to think of past defeats, but gathered
inspiration, courage, and hope for future con-

General Burnside was feeling keenly the dis-


grace resulting from his defeat at Fredericks-
burg, and he was most anxious to strike a blow
which would retrieve his lost prestige. He
therefore issued orders looking to another ad-
vance, proposing this time to cross the river
some miles below Fredericksburg, and by strik-
ing Lee on his right flank force him out of his
fortified position. But the authorities at Wash-
ington shared with the army in its general dis-
trust of Burnside's ability to command a large
army, and so President Lincoln sent him a dis-
patch instructing him not to enter upon active
operations without first receiving the Presi-
dent's consent. This put a stop to the pro-
posed movement, and the usual quiet duties of
camp life were resumed.

However, the restless spirit of the com-
mander in chief could not long allow him to be
idle. Besides, the Northern newspapers had
not yet learned that it was folly to engage in
winter campaigning, and they began to raise
the old cry, '' On to Richmond!" and "Why
don't the army move?" McClellan had been
removed from the chief command because he
was so slow, and now a similar charge was
made against Burnside. He determined to


make another final desperate effort for victory.
This time he would cross the river above the
town, and, striking Lee's army on its left flank,
force him to abandon Fredericksburg.

For some weeks active preparations were
being made with as much secrecy as possible,
the intention being to take the enemy by sur-
prise. But, notwithstanding all the precaution-
ary measures that Burnside could adopt, the
Confederate commander somehow obtained in-
formation concerning every important move-
ment the Union forces proposed to make, un-
til, doubtless, General Burnside thought, as the
Syrian king did, that there were traitors in
camp, or that some prophet revealed to Gen-
eral Lee the words he spake in his bed-
chamber. The truth was the camps of the
Union army swarmed with rebel spies, who
infested all parts of the army even to the head-
quarters of the commander in chief, and who
were very quickly able to detect any unusual
stir in the Union lines. A search among the
houses in Falmouth resulted in the discovery
in a cellar of a set of telegraph instruments
connected with a wire, which was laid across
the river to Fredericksburg and which was


used to convey the information gathered by the
rebel spies to the Confederate commander.
Of course this arrangement was broken up at
once, and by the exercise of great dihgence on
the part of the Union Secret Service agents the
sources of rebel information were greatly re-
duced. '

On Thursday, January 15, orders were given
to send all who were not able to perform the
duty of active service to the hospitals ; all ex-
tra camp equipments and unnecessary stores
and unused arms were turned over to the
proper officers, and everything looked as if
business was close at hand. Orders were also
received to be ready for marching early Satur-
day morning with five days' cooked rations in
our haversacks. The weather being unfavora-
ble, the time was postponed from day to day,
and it was not until Tuesday morning, January
20, that we were drawn up on the parade
ground and General Burnside's address to his
army was read to us by our adjutant. He
said that the hour had arrived when we were
about to advance to meet the foe again, and
relying on the justice of our cause, the help of
the Supreme Commander, and the courage and


loyalty of his army he expected to lead us on
to victory. The command *' Forward " was
given, and once more we turned our faces
toward the Confederate capital. Our hopes
were not very high at the best, for wc knew
something of the obstacles we had to over-
come before we could hope to get possession
of the enemy's stronghold.

A few days after the battle of Fredericks-
burg, while a number of us who were on duty
as cam.p guard were sitting around our camp
fire, an old colored man, who had escaped
from Fredericksburg and crossed the river
when our forces fell back, came alonp^ and
stopped to warm by our fire. He was quite
an intelligent man ; had always been a slave,
but was a Unionist all the way through. He
had been through the rebel fortifications and
knew all about them. Speaking of the rebel
position, he said : " I jist tell you what it is,
boss, dem rebels are in dar mighty solid, dey
is. Dey is jist like a snake in de hole. He
stick his head out an' he strike dis way and
dat way, and when you go for to hit him on
de head wid a stick, den he dodge back in de
hole, and you don't git him, but he's dar all de


same; but you just git him clar outen de hole
once, and whar is he?" Yes, that is exactly
the case, we thought, and we acknowledged
the soundness of the old darkey's reasoning;
but what puzzled us most was how to get that
** snake outen dehole." We had tried him in
front once, now we would try him on the

The weather was cool and wintry, the ground
bare but frozen solid, and as our brigade had
been designated to take the lead we started off
in pretty good spirits. In the dusk of the
evening we reached a point about a half-mile
from the river and about six miles above
Fredericksburg. Here we went into camp in
a wood completely screened from rebel view,
where we awaited the arrival of our pontoon
bridges and the artillery, under the fire of
which the bridges were to be laid. My regi-
ment, the One Hundred and Forty-first
Pennsylvania Volunteers, had been detailed
by the commanding general to cross the
river the next morning at daylight in boats,
drive away the rebel pickets, and hold the
ground till the pontoon bridges could be

laid. The evening was pleasant, although the


sky was overcast with clouds., and many of the
boys, on the suggestion of Lieutenant Brown,
who said it was needless to pitch our tents,
slept in the open air. But myself and two
comrades who tented together concluded we
would put up our tent, the lieutenant's advice
to the contrary notwithstanding. So we got
some sticks for the framework and gathered
cedar twigs for our bed, and soon had a com-
fortable place to sleep. No fires were allowed,
so we had to go without our coffee, but we
went to bed early and were soon asleep. Be-
fore midnight it began to rain — at first moder-
ately, then the drops grew larger, came faster,
still thicker, until it came down in true Virginia
style — in torrents. Some one came dripping
wet to the door of our tent and spoke. It was
the voice of Lieutenant Brown. '' Boys ! boys !
can't you let me in ? It rains like Jehu."

Of course we spooned up closer and took
the disgusted weather prophet in, and gave
him shelter for the remainder of the nig-ht.
All the rest of the night the rain continued to
fall, and so on the most of the following fore-
noon. A considerable rise of ground inter-
vened betwixt us and the river, and the most


of this was cleared land. We were soon or-
dered into line, leaving our arms and baggage
in camp, and marched up in the field toward
the river. The scene that met our eyes beg-
gars description. The whole hillside was cov-
ered with pontoon w^agons, ammunition w^ag-
ons, and pieces of artillery — all scattered about
in hopeless disorder, sunk in a sea of mud up
to the axletrees, while the horses and mules,
in mud up to their bodies, floundered about
vainly attempting to move their loads toward
the river. Officers were shouting, teamsters
swearing, but all to no purpose ; the elements
were against us. The teams were finally un-
hitched, long ropes w^ere attached to the
wagons, a hundred or more men were put to
each rope, and the implements of war were
again on the move. After dragging a pontoon
wagon to the top of the hill we would leave
it, go back and get another one, and this we
kept up till noon. A company of soldiers was
sent down to the crossing place at the river to
guard against being surprised by the enemy,
and looking across to the other side they saw
a board nailed to a tree on which was printed
in large letters, " Burnside is stuck in the


mud." From all indications there was no
doubt that the rebel generals knew all about
our movement, and were in force on the other
side. They doubtless would have made it ex-
tremely uncomfortable for our regiment if we
had gone over in boats, as it was intended we
should. Probably few of our number would
have escaped death or capture but for the in-
terposition of the elements in our favor. Con-
vinced of the utter futility of any further ad-
vance under the circumstances, General Burn-
side gave the order for his army to return to its
old position opposite Fredericksburg.



^ I ^HERE would be no great difficulty in
-^ carrying on a winter's campaign in Virginia
if it did not persist in raining at the most in-
convenient times and under the most embar-
rassing circumstances. The soil of Virginia
in the Rappahannock and Potomac regions is
exceedingly porous and light, firm and solid
when dry, but as soon as it becomes saturated
with water the bottom falls out, so to speak,
and it becomes impossible to move heavy
vehicles, such as pontoon trains, batteries, or
loaded baggage wagons of any kind. I cannot
vouch for the following story, related by a
soldier as having been witnessed by him on
that muddy occasion when Burnside failed to
get to Richmond, or, in other words, was
" stuck in the mud ; " but from what I saw

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 3 of 16)