J. D. (John D.) Bloodgood.

Personal reminiscences of the war online

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men came rushing to the rear, many of them
not having fired a shot, shouting, " I fights
mit Sigel, but runs mit Howard." In this
case, however, the soldiers were not to blame
for the defeat, for very few men of any nation-


ality will stand and fight when suddenly and
unexpectedly assaulted by a determined foe.
Two great mistakes had been made up to this
time. One was in placing General Howard in
such a responsible position, the other in send-
ing our division on a wild goose chase after
Jackson's baggage train. If that day, Satur-
day, the 2d of May, 1863, had been spent by
our whole army in building breastworks and
intrenchments, and had a competent officer
been assigned to the defense of our right flank,
the results of Jackson's attack would have
been a most disastrous repulse, which, followed
by the throwing forward of a heavy column
betwixt Lee and Jackson, would have ended
in a glorious victory for the Union army.



I J^ARLY Sabbath morning, May 3, we were
-■ — ^ aroused from sleep, but had no time for
preparing any breakfast except eating a shce
of raw salt pork and a cracker or two, for im-
portant business awaited our attention. The
pickets were called in and we were formed in
line on the side of the hill fronting to the west.
Hardly had our formation been completed be-
fore a rebel column struck us on the left flank,
and there were only two things we could do,
namely, stay there and be slaughtered or run
for a better position. We soon got ordered to
fall back, double quick, and we were not slow in
obeying the order. I never made better time
in my life than on that occasion, and I dis-
tinctly remember seeing one of the boys who
was ahead of me tumble over a pile of rails in
his hasty flight. He went end over end in one
direction while his gun did the same in another.
He paid no attention to his gun, however, per-
haps thinking that he had no use for it just then,


but continued his speed until, having reached a
favorable position, we halted, reformed, faced
about, and confronted the determined foe.

We soon reached a piece of woods in which
the rebels were swarming in full force. We did
not wait for orders to open fire, but let drive at
them to the very best of our ability. Soldiers
seldom, if ever, in action wait to fire by vol-
leys, but each man just loads and fires as fast
as he can. An officer mounted upon a mag-
nificent white horse, riding up and down be-
hind the rebel line, which was fighting behind
a breastwork of old logs, rails, etc., became a
conspicuous target for our rifles, and perhaps
hundreds of bullets were fired at him, till at.
last he disappeared.

Our ranks were being fearfully thinned out,
men were falling all around ; yet we held our
position. Looking to my left, I saw our flag
go down. Our color sergeant was mortally
wounded, but in an instant the flag is raised
again by one of the color guard. He falls, and
then Captain Swart, commanding Company
C, the color company, a noble man, a min-
ister of the Gospel, seizes the staff and raises
it again ; but he too falls, and for a moment


the old flag lies in the dust. I sprang toward
it, but Colonel Madill was riding close behind,
and seeing the colors fall the third time he
leaped from his horse, and, seizing the flag be-
fore I could reach it, he remounted and in
very positive language, not all of which is found
in the Presbyterian creed, he declared that if
that flag went down again he would go with it.
Now the conflict waxes hotter and hotter.
We now discover that the rebels are being re-
inforced, for a new line of battle is filing in to
take the places of those who have fought so
long and so well. Our ranks are soon thinning
out faster than ever under the fire of these
fresh troops, and we glanced around anxiously
looking for reinforcements. " Why don't they
come ? " we asked each other again and again.
But no help appears. We seem to be aban-
doned to our fate. Suddenly we are aware
that we are being flanked, that the enemy is
endeavoring to gain our rear, and there is but
one alternative — we must fall back or be cap-
tured. Slowly, sullenly we begin to retire,
rallying occasionally and giving the advancing
foe a volley and then continuing to fall back.
While thus engaged I came upon a soldier


who had been shot through the body, and my-
self and a comrade undertook to carry him off
the field. While thus engaged we looked up
and saw that we were about midway betwixt
our lines and the enemy's. The wounded
soldier also discovered our perilous position,
and told us we had better lay him down and
escape or the rebels would capture the whole
of us. This we did, but we had not a mo-
ment to spare, as the enemy was close upon us.

Upon reaching the vicinity of the Chancellor
House we found a new line had been formed,
passing which we reached a place of safety.
We were taken back into the woods to rest
a while and get some water, and were then
taken back, and, having been assigned a posi-
tion in this new line, we were ordered to throw
up breastworks.

While in camp on Arlington Heights we
used to go out on detail to work on the de-
fenses of Washington. We had but little
heart in this work, and it was a kind of un-
written law that any man raising a sweat must
go into the guardhouse. But in our present
condition we had all the stimulus we needed,
and it was astonishing how quickly we had



erected a fine line of breastworks, although we
had little to dig with except tin plates, half
canteens, bayonets, tin cups, and our hands.
If we had only had such a line of defense in
the morning we could have held it against any
force the enemy could have brought against
us, and many hundreds of valuable lives might
have been saved.

While we were occupying our new position
a battery in our front became engaged in an
artillery duel with a rebel battery some half
a mile distant. We received orders to
" cover," that is, to lie down so the bullets and
shells might go over our heads instead of
through our bodies. While lying on the
ground with my face turned toward our rear
a soldier's cap flew over my body and fell on
the ground beyond me. The previous instant
a shell had come over and burst in the air
just over us, but as the air was full of them we
lay still until the firing had ceased. Then upon
looking around I discovered that the cap had be-
longed to a young man named Robert McKin-
ney, who was lying with his head about a foot
from my body with both hands over his face,
which was turned to the ground. A large


piece of the shell had struck him in the back
of the head, and my clothes were bespattered
with his brains. He and I had come out of
the morning's fight together, and had con-
gratulated ourselves in passing through the
fearful slaughter unscathed. He was a most
exemplary young man, a graduate of Wyoming
Seminary ; was fitting himself for professional
life, and, best of all, was a most sincere and
devoted Christian, who carried his religion
even into the demoralizing tendencies of army
life. A grave was dug near where he fell, at
the root of a white oak tree, and, wrapped in
his blanket, he was laid down to his long sleep,
to be awakened only by the voice of Him who
is the resurrection and the life.

While occupying our fortified position the
Confederate sharpshooters occasionally paid
us their respects. General Berry, who com-
manded one of the brigades in our division,
while engaged in conversation with some of his
staff, all unconscious of danger, was struck by a
bullet from a sharpshooter's rifle and instantly
killed, although the rebel was perhaps nearly a
mile away.

Monday the two armies occupied their re-



spectlve positions, and all was quiet except
the occasional fire of a sharpshooter and some
artillery engagements. Tuesday was spent in
strengthening our defenses till just night, when
the inevitable rain began to fall. We had
packed up our effects under orders to be ready
to march, and there we waited through the
long, dreary, dark night, with the ceaseless
rain pouring down upon us, without shelter,
soaked to the skin, disheartened, wearied, and
exhausted by the terrible strain that had been
upon us for several days past, and many of
our comrades, whom we honored and loved,
silent in death or terribly wounded and in the
hands of the enemy. All of these circum-
stances combined to make it one of the most
terrible nights I ever experienced. Toward
morning I gathered a half-dozen bean poles
together, and, placing them side by side to
keep me out of the mud, I laid down upon
them, and, with the pitiless rain still pouring
down, was soon lost in a profound slumber.
About daylight we received orders to start.
We made our way out of the woods into the
road leading to the ford. The first step I took
into the road I went into the mud ankle deep.


I thought I had seen mud before, but this
beat the whole previous catalogue. The
homeward march from Burnside's ** Mud
March *' was boys' play compared to this. We
lost all semblance of order as soon as we
passed over the river, and picked our way
back to camp by twos and threes as best we
could. The bottoms of my pants becoming
overloaded with the sacred soil, I out with my
pocketknife and amputated about six inches
of the lower extremities, greatly to my relief.

It was nearly dark when we arrived at our
old camp, and the rain, which had stopped
falling for a few hours, came down again in
torrents. We made ourselves as comfortable
as possible, and the dark, stormy night was
followed by a bright, sunshiny morning. I
went out and looked over our half-deserted
camp, for more than half of the tents were
now deserted, the bare framework remaining.
Too well I knew where their former occupants
were, and that very many of them had spread
their tents on

"Fame's eternal camping ground."

A feeling of inexpressible sadness came over
me. Although I had been brought up in a


Christian home, surrounded by religious influ-
ences, I had hitherto neglected the claims of
the Lord Jesus upon me. I walked out of the
camp, and, kneeling down by the roadside, prom-
ised God that if he would spare my life and
give us victory in the great contest henceforth
my life should be consecrated to his service ;
and although it was many months afterward
that I sought and found the *' Pearl of greatest
price," yet that promise was never wholly for-

Sunday morning, when we went into the
fight, our regiment numbered four hundred
and seventeen men, rank and file. Of this
number we had lost, in killed, wounded, and
missing, two hundred and twenty men, more
than one half of the whole number engaged.
The severely wounded had fallen into the
'eneniiy's hands, and when we fell back across
the river were left to their tender mercies,
which were often cruel indeed.

Arrangements were finally made between
the two commanders by which many of our
wounded were paroled. Our ambulance train
visited the battlefield on the 13th and brought
over all the survivors. They were a woe-



begone-looking lot of men — haggard, dirty,
smoke-begrimed. They had been robbed of
their blankets and much of their clothing by
their captors : their wounds undressed. They
had lain without care or shelter, exposed to
sunshine and rain, for a whole week or more,
with only the coarsest food scantily supplied.
Many died for want of care. The intense joy
felt by the survivors on reaching our lines can
better be imagined than described.

One man in Company K became somewhat
excited during the fight on Sunday morning.
He loaded his gun and fired in front, then
loaded again and fired to the right, then
again to the left, then to the rear, and then
cried out, " Get up here, boys ; there is good
fighting all around here ! '* About this time
he was struck in the head by a minie ball, fell
senseless to the "earth, and was left for dead
upon the field. Great, therefore, was the sur-
prise and joy of his comrades, when the ambu-
lance train returned from the battlefield, to
find this zealous fighter among the other
wounded still alive. He was sent to the hos-
pital, and so far recovered that he returned to
the regiment and did excellent service afterward.


May 24 I was detailed to take charge of an
escort to attend the funeral of Sergeant B. F.
Beardsley, our color-bearer, who fell mortally
wounded during the terrific battle of Sunday
morning. With a detail of twelve men we
marched to the hospital where he died, and a
procession was formed, headed by a brass band,
followed by the guard of honor. Then came
the chaplain, then an ambulance containing the
body incased in a coffin made of cracker boxes
(which was the best that could be done); this
completed the line, as there were no relatives
present. We proceeded to the brigade burial
ground, where the grave was ready to receive
its trust ; a dirge was played by the band, the
coffin was lowered, the chaplain read the serv-
ice for the dead, and then the guard of honor
fired three volleys over the grave. Then this
dead hero was left to his long repose.



IT was many weeks before we fully recovered
from the moral effects of the disastrous de-
feat at Chancellorsville. The conception of
the plan was almost faultless, and up to Satur-
day night, May 2, every prospect was to all
appearance favorable. Had Howard but spent
the two days he occupied the position on our
right flank in fortifying his position, and kept
pickets well out in front, supported by a heavy
skirmish line, the fierce attack of Stonewall
Jackson would no doubt have been repulsed,
and his command, separated from Lee's main
army, might by judicious generalship have
been completely annihilated, while Lee's army,
hemmed in by Sedgwick, who had already
captured Fredericksburg and scaled Marye's
Heights on the east, and by Hooker's main
army on the west, must either have been surely
defeated or have fallen back on Richmond.
To my mind one thing is certain : if General
Grant or Sheridan had been in command of


the Army of the Potomac at that time General
O. O. Howard would never have commanded any
part of our army again while the war lasted.

Activity is a great antidote for despondency,
and nowhere is this more true than in an army.
No sooner had we got fairly settled in our old
camp than our attention was taken up by a
series of parades, reviews, drills, inspections,
and such like performances, which tended to
inspire us with new courage and gave us but
little time to brood over our defeat.

General D. B. Birney, our division com-
mander, conceived the idea of rewarding per-
sonal exhibitions of bravery on the part of the
soldiers of his command by preparing and pre-
senting a medal called the *' Kearney Cross "
to two or three of the survivors of each com-
pany, upon the recommendation of the com-
pany commander. Consequently an order was
issued that the names of such as had distin-
guished themselves in an especial manner
should be sent into division headquarters.
This was quickly attended to, and on Tuesday,
the 26th, the whole division was called out,
formed in a hollow square, the order of Gen-
eral Birney read, and then General Sickles made


a short patriotic speech, at the close of which
the names of the fortunate recipients were
read and the badges presented to them. Of
course they were highly gratified, but not so
the great majority who stood looking on, and
many of whom had displayed bravery equal or
superior to that of those who received the
badges, but who happened to stand in the
good graces of their company commanders.
General Birney proposed in his order to make
the practice a permanent one ; but we never
heard any more about it after that. It did
not work as he anticipated, but was treated
with ridicule by most of those who did not get
them. Some of the boys in our brigade whit-
tled crosses out of hard-tack, tied a string to
them, pinned them to their breasts, and went
strutting about the camp as big as life. One
sergeant wrote in large letters on his tent,
"Three brave men and sixty cowards."

About this time we received orders to move
camp, and on the early morning of the 29th
we packed up, left our comfortable quarters,
and marched down to the flats bordering on
Potomac Creek Bay and established a new
camp. This was a most unwise measure, as the


sanitary arrangements in our old camp were all
that were needed to insure good health, the
water was pure and plenty, our quarters large
and room}^ while the spot selected for our new
camp was a sandy plain where every gust of
wind brought a shower of sand and dust, which
penetrated everything, filling our eyes, hair,
food, and clothing. Besides, there was no shade,
and only a thin canvas covering to protect us
from the scalding rays of the sun. The only
redeemincf feature about it was that we were
in close proximity to the water of the bay,
where we could bathe and fish.

There was no help for it, however, and so
we went to work to make our new abode as
comfortable as possible. Tuesday, June 2, I
was sent in charge of a detail of men to guard
one of the large bakeries which had been built
to supply our army with soft bread. Here
bread was manufactured on a large scale ;
several thousand loaves were baked daily, and
were distributed while warm and fresh to the
army. A very good quality of bread was
furnished by these bakeries, and each man re-
ceived one loaf a day, which weighed about
twenty ounces. We could get butter of the


sutlers for from forty to fifty cents per pound.
Some of it, to be sure, was old enough to veter-
anize. Of course we could use less, but it was
butter all the same, and was a great improve-
ment on dry bread or salt pork and hard-tack

About four o'clock Friday morning we were
awakened by heavy cannonading in the direc-
tion of Fredericksburg. We discovered a good
deal of activity prevailing all through the army.
The seriously wounded were granted furloughs
as soon as they were able to travel, while many
less disabled were sent to the general hospitals
at Washington and other large cities. The
entire army was put under marching orders,
and active preparations for another campaign
were being made.

Of course we didn't know at the time what all
this meant, as all such movements are only
known to the commander in chief and his ad-
visers ; but we afterward learned that our lead-
ers had discovered that Lee's army had grown
restive and was making preparations for an ex-
cursion in some direction, and it was correctly
surmised that the granaries of the North were
the objective point.


One of our heavy batteries, therefore, was
trained on the enemy's position, and sent over
a few messengers with a view to waking him up.
No reply was received, however, and finally
a pontoon bridge was thrown across the river
and a large force was sent over, but no especial
advance was made. It was soon learned that
the Confederate army had vacated the posi-
tion it had fought so hard to hold, and was
moving up the right bank of the Rappahan-

We remained at the bakery till Monday, the
8th, when we returned to camp, where to our
great surprise and joy we found the paymaster,
whose visits seemed to us like those of angels,
few and far between. For the second time in
nearly a year we received two months' pay,
though in many instances the sutler received
the most of it. Whenever we were called up
for pay we always found the sutler at the pay-
master's elbow, and as each man's name was
called the sutler would give the amount of his
claim against the man, and this amount would
be paid directly to the trader and be deducted
from the soldier's pay.

Thursday, June ii, we were called out for


brigade inspection at seven o'clock in the
morning, and at its close we received orders
to be ready to march at a moment's notice.
Some of us went down to the river to bathe,
and while thus engaged the bugle sounded
"pack up." We got out of the water, put on
our clothes, and were soon in camp. Our tents
had already been struck, and in less than an
hour we were on our way to — we did not know
where. One unpleasant feature about those
long m.arches was that we seldom, if ever,
knew where we were going, and consequently
had no idea when we should get there. When
a traveler has his journey's end before him,
however weary or footsore he may be, he can
make some calculation as to the time when he
will be permitted to rest. But there is no such
inspiration for the soldier. He is under the
control of another mind, which controls his
downsittings and his uprisings, his marches
and his countermarches, and so he blindly
seeks his destiny, like Abraham, not knowing
whither he goeth.

All that long, hot, dry, dusty summer after-
noon we pursued our way up the north side of
the Rappahannock, till about dark we arrived


in the vicinity of the Orange and Alexandria
Railroad, having marched about twenty miles.
Not much over half of the regiment reached
our camping place together, as many with feet
blistered, or exhausted by the heat, dropped
out by the way, and it was several hours before
they all came up. This march was especially
severe, as the men had done but little of such
service during the winter, and therefore were
not hardened to it ; and many, supposing it
was only a temporary movement, retained all
their winter clothing, blankets, etc., which
proved a heavy load for a hot day's march.
As soon as we began to find that a long job
was ahead of us the overcoats and extra blan-
kets were dispensed with, and all other super-
fluous articles Avere scattered by the wayside.
I threw away everything but a blanket, my
haversack and canteen, and the clothes I had
on. When my shirt got too lively for comfort,
or too dirty for health, if a chance was offered
I went to a brook, took it off, skirmished it
over to reduce the army of graybacks to a
minimum, washed it in the creek, and put it on
to dry. It was a very primitive sort of a laun-
dry, but it was a good deal better than none.



The next morning we were on the road by
seven o'clock, headed northward — a direction
we were not much accustomed to travel in.
The day was intensely hot and the dust so
thick that objects ahead could be seen but a
few feet away. About half past three o'clock
we arrived in the vicinity of Bealton Station,
and went into camp in a beautiful green, grassy
grove of oaks, having marched about fifteen
miles. There were few men who closed that
day's march without blistered feet. Several
cases of sunstroke were reported and some
deaths. We remained in this grove till the
next morning, when we took up our line of
march, now bearing to the eastward in the di-
rection of Washington.

Up to this day's march I had stood it re-
markably well, having kept my place in the
company every day and been among the first
to reach camp at night. But this 15th day
of June, 1863, will be indelibly engraven on
my memory. We started on our march at
6 A. M., and following the line of the railroad
nearly due east we were urged on to the utmost
limit of human endurance, endeavoring, as we
afterward learned, to head off Lee and get in


between him and Washington before he should
get in between Washington and us. About
3 P. M., when within about a mile of Bull Run,
covered with sw'eat and dust, straining every
nerve to keep my place, I suddenly began to
get dizzy; I ceased perspiring; cold chills be-
gan to creep over me ; everything turned dark
before my eyes ; a deathly, fainting sensation
came over me. I just remember seeing the
outlines of a bush by the wayside, and drop-

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Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 5 of 16)