J. D. (John D.) Bloodgood.

Personal reminiscences of the war online

. (page 7 of 16)
Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 7 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

yards to the front. Here we waited for some
time and then made another advance and
stacked arms in a corn field. By and by the
skirmishers got to work in our front, and the
rebel shells began to come over, paying us their
respects. The regiment stood in line behind
their guns, which were stacked, but my posi-
tion (I was a sergeant) was directly in the rear
of the ranks. By this time Jim began to con-
clude that his cake was all dough, so he, also
being in the rear of the line, scraped away the
dirt with his foot, and, pouring out his batter
into the hollow, covered it up again. It was
a veritable masked battery, and Jim little


dreamed of the mischief it was destined to

Soon afterward the command came to *' cov-
er," and down we all got, flat on our faces, so
as to give the rebel shells plenty of room to
operate over our heads. Now it so happened
that a certain corporal of our company, when
he threw himself down on the bosom of his
mother earth, landed his stomach directly in
the midst of Jim's masked battery, which was
speedily uncovered. The corporal was so
busily engaged in dodging the rebel shells
that he didn't take any particular notice of the
moisture in the region of his stomach and legs,
but lay there for some time wallowing around
in the poultice till nearly his whole anterior
surface was overspread with a mixture of flour,
water, and dirt. Suddenly the order came,
** Attention ! " and every man sprang to his
feet. It was then the luckless corporal first
discovered the plight he was in. No one but
myself had seen Jim plant his battery, so no
one else knew where the corporal had got his
extra rations. But wasn't he mad, though?
He wasn't given to profanity, as many soldiers
were, or he would have made the atmosphere


blue around there. He finally took his knife
and scraped off as much of the corn field as he
could, and the order to advance being given
he waited for the balance to get dry before
rubbing it off. Just then a battery of twelve-
pounders went past us on a gallop and were
unlimbered and planted along the crossroad
leading from Little Round Top and inter-
secting the Emmitsburg pike at the Peach

Behind this battery we were placed as in-
fantry supports, and the contest was fairly
opened. Our guns opened fire upon the ene-
my, and at once drew the fire of several rebel
batteries upon us. The shells came from three
different directions, converging at the point
where we lay. They seemed to rake the very
earth itself, threatening to sweep us all to utter
destruction. Volunteers were called for to
carry shells from the ammunition chests to the
guns, as several artillerymen had been disabled,
and that left them short of help. As many
as could help responded, and so the furious
conflict raged on with unabated fury.



OIT was perfectly awful to lie there pas-
' sively and helplessly exposed to that
fearful vortex of fire ! It seemed to me that
every shell was intended for me personally,
and was coming straight at me ; and so it
seemed to all the other soldiers. However, as
the shells traveled faster than the sound, by
the time they got where we could hear them
they were so far past us as to be harmless so
far as we w^ere concerned. Many burst in the
air and scattered fragments in every direction ;
others struck the ground, throwing a shower
of mud and stones high in the air. For more
than an hour we remained in this position, un-
der the concentrated fire of several rebel bat-
teries, coming from different directions. We
were then in line facing the south, with the
Emmitsburg road on our right flank, while our
left extended in the direction of Little Round
Top. That morning, when General Sickles
reported at headquarters for orders, General


Meade directed him to occupy the position
which had been held by General Geary, but
who had withdrawn his command to another
part of the field. This officer had already va-
cated his position, and, there being no one to
give Sickles the necessary directions, he was
obliged to use his own judgment in choosing a
line which he could hold to the best advantage.
He therefore formed his line, commencing on
the right along the Emmitsburg road, the
point held by the left of the Second Corps,
thence south along the above named road, to
the Peach Orchard, where this road was inter-
sected at right angles by a crossroad coming
from the direction of the Little Round Top.
Here our line turned a square corner, extend-
ing along this crossroad and reaching the
vicinity of what is known as the Devil's Den.
The angle formed by this disposition extended
more than half a mile in advance of our main
line, and it was the apex of this angle which
we occupied during the time we were sup-
porting this battery and also in the subsequent
fight. Longstreet was not slow in discover-
ing the weak point in our position, and
during the afternoon he massed his whole


corps for a sudden onslaught on our part of
the line.

About four o'clock the battery in our front,
having exhausted its ammunition, was with-
drawn and the command *' Attention ! " rang
out along the line. Nearly every man sprang
to his feet. There was one soldier I distinctly
remember who got up on all fours, but who
was so badly frightened he couldn't stand up
straight. '' Get up there," I shouted to him.
*' I can't do it," he replied, and it was really
ludicrous to see him in that position, ducking
his head every time a shell came over. Just
then the order rang out sharp and clear above
the tumult of battle : *' Charge ! Forward,
guide center, charge ! " And on we went,
rushing on through the Peach Orchard, where
we struck a rebel column on its flank as it was
pushing on toward Round Top in hot haste
to get possession of that key of the whole
Union line. We immediately opened fire
upon the enemy, and poured out a tempest
of leaden hail upon them. So deadly and un-
expected was our assault that the enemy
halted, reeled, and staggered like drunken men,
then scattered and ran in every direction like



a flock of frightened sheep. We gave several
rousing cheers and felt decidedly good. As
we afterward found, we had delayed the re-
inforcements sent to assist the rebel troops,
which were making desperate efforts to drive our
forces from Little Round Top, a result which
would have been most disastrous to our army,
as it would have rendered our whole line un-
tenable, as batteries upon that eminence com-
manded nearly the whole Federal line. As it
was, we delayed the rebel column until our
forces had gained a firm footing upon the sum-
n]it of Little Round Top, and thus contributed
largely to the great victory which followed.

But our rejoicing was of short duration.
Longstreet was now ready to strike our already
decimated and exposed column. The first we
knew the enemy appeared upon our right flank
in three solid lines of fresh veteran soldiers.
Before they opened fire upon us we made a
right face, filed to the right, and changed our
regimental line from facing to the south to fac-
ing to the west. The Third Maine Regiment,
which had been on our right, and the Third
Michigan, on our left, had both retired, as had
also every regiment in the brigade, and there


we stood, a little handful of one hundred and
eighty men arrayed against two full rebel
brigades. The rebel column came in full view
along the Emmitsburg road, where there was
a board fence.

*' Hadn't we better get out of this ?" anx-
iously inquired one of our captains of Colonel

*' I have no orders to leave here," was the
reply. *' If I had my full regiment here we
could whip the whole crew," he added.

Now some of our boys open fire upon the
enemy, when Major Spaulding shouts, *' Cease
firing, boys ; those are our own men." At that
moment a little breeze unfolded the flag in our
front, and George Forbes, of our company,
shouted out, *' They are rebels, major; I see
their flag." And raising his gun he took de-
liberate aim and fired. The firing now became
general all along our lines on both sides. At
the first rebel volley thirty of our little band
fell to the ground either dead or wounded.
Nothing daunted, we continued to pour into
their solid ranks the death-dealing missiles,
while the rebel bullets cut the air around us
like hail. Our colors went down, but were again


raised to the breeze. Again they fell, when
they were seized by the firm hand of Colonel
Madill and again they floated in the air. They
were riddled by rebel bullets and torn by rebel
shells, but they did not fall again.

General Sickles received a wound which
shattered his leg, and he was carried bleeding
from the field, the command devolving upon
General Birney. General Graham fell severely
wounded and was a prisoner in the hands of
the enemy. Our gallant Major Spaulding re-
ceived a severe wound, and while being carried
off the field was struck again by a ball which
shattered his thigh. The enemy was pressing
closely, and he was left under a tree, where he
was made a prisoner and taken to the rebel
field hospital, where his leg was amputated.
He lingered in great agony till the 27th of
July, when he died.

Our ranks were growing fearfully thin, and
no help appeared. The word was passed along
to fall back slowly ; which we did, rallying oc-
casionally to give the advancing foe another
volley. After falling back a few rods I looked
up, and a little to my left and front I saw two
rebels kneeling on the ground, either taking


that position to get better aim or, as I thought
at the time, engaged in robbing our dead. I
raised my gun, and just as I was drawing a bead
on them, zip ! went a bullet through the leg of
my pants so close to my ankle as to singe and
burn it, but it did no serious damage. I low-
ered my gun a moment to ascertain the amount
of damage done, and then raised it again, took
deliberate aim, and fired. When the smoke
disappeared they had both disappeared also,
but of course I could not tell whether I hit
them or not.

Wc continued to retire slowly, keeping up
a constant fire upon the enemy till w^e reached
the point we had started from in the morning,
where we were met by a division of the Sixth
Corps, which took our place in the line and
succeeded in staying the rebel advance.

While supporting the battery one of the boys
not on duty took several of our canteens and
went for water, but did not get back till after
the fight. Biting off cartridges and inhaling
so much gunpowder smoke created a fearful
thirst, so it seemed as if I could scarcely en-
dure it. On our line of retreat I passed
by a mud-puddle by the wayside. I took my



tin cup and, dipping it full of water and mud,
drank it down without stopping. Water never
tasted better anywhere than that did. When
we reached a stopping place there were to-
gether just nineteen men, including three com-
missioned officers besides the colonel.

The reinforcements promised us at first had
been sent to save Round Top from falling into
the hands of the enemy. We could distinctly
hear the tumult of battle raging fiercely in
that direction. Gradually the firing slackened,
and as the shades of night settled around us
it ceased altogether, and both armies, seem-
ingly exhausted by the fierce struggle, reposed
upon the battlefield. We had left upon the
field twenty- seven men dead ; five officers were
severely wounded, and one hundred and twenty-
one men were wounded or missing. Most of
the latter were killed, as none of our men were
taken prisoners unless wounded, and many
of the wounded afterward died. Total killed,
wounded, and missing, one hundred and fifty-
three, out of a total for duty of two hundred
men. That night we remained upon the field,
and after dark a wagon loaded with supplies
reached us. The several companies were called


in order by their respective letters. Some
companies drew for four men, some for five,
some for six, till Company K was called. A
man jumped up and said, '' I'm Company K."
And sure enough, he was the only man present
to represent that company. He was captain,
lieutenant, noncommissioned officer, and pri-
vate all by himself. By the next day several
who had become separated from the regiment
in the tumult and confusion came up, but then
we had less than half a company all told.

The Third Corps, having suffered so severely,
was held in reserve during the third day's fight,
but our position was anything but a pleasant
one, as we were still under fire and were kept
running back and forth, strengthening weak
points wherever needed. Shortly after noon
we were posted near the cemetery, when the
most terrible artillery battle that ever shook
this continent occurred, the number of guns
engaged on both sides being more than three
hundred. For about three hours this terrific
storm of iron hail continued, but this was only
the prelude to a still more desperate struggle
which was to come. Suddenly the rebel guns
became silent, as if totally exhausted by their


mighty effort ; then the Union guns gradually
slackened their fire, when from the woods,
three quarters of a mile away, in front of the
Second Corps, long lines of Confederate soldiers
were seen emerging. Dressing up their lines
as deliberately as if on dress parade, they made
their preparations for the struggle, which was
to be one of life or death to the Confederacy.
When all was ready for the advance the order
was given, and twelve thousand men, the flower
of the rebel army, under the command of Gen-
eral Pickett, with glistening bayonets started on
the march of final destiny. Mighty issues for
the weal or woe of the human race hung on the
results of the coming encounter. Every Union
soldier seemed to understand the mighty re-
sponsibility resting upon him. He grasped his
musket with firmer grip, set his teeth, and
watched the advance of his enemies sweeping
in long lines, like the undulating waves of the
sea across the wide space of meadow-land be-
fore him. Not a musket was fired ; but now
the Union artillery posted on the prominent
points along Cemetery Ridge opened fire,
throwing their shells with deadly precision into

the enemy's ranks, making huge gaps which


were immediately closed up, but not causing a
moment's hesitation in the onward movement.
On, on they came, like a huge tidal wave, heed-
less of the mighty storm of deadly missiles
sweeping through their ranks from our bat-
teries, till they had reached a point fairly
within range of the Union rifles. Now the
order comes ringing down our lines, ^' Ready,
aim, fire ! " and from the throats of thousands
of loyal muskets there leap crimson tongues of
fire, and thousands of bullets are sent on their
deadly errands. The smoke cleared away in a
moment, but lo ! the ground was thickly strewn
with writhing and bleeding forms. For a mo-
ment the rebel lines halted, wavered, trembled ;
then, closing up on the center, with tremendous
strides they rushed for the Union lines. And
now the struggle is hand to hand, musket
to musket, till friends and foes are mingled
together in undistinguishable confusion. Again
the old Third Corps came to the rescue, striking
the charging column on its left, while the First
Corps assailed the enemy on his right, the rebel
supports having already given way.

When General Pickett saw hundreds of his
men throwing down their arms and surren-


dering to the Union forces, which nearly sur-
rounded them, with a sad, heavy heart he
ordered a retreat.

More than two thousand prisoners were cap-
tured, besides the thousands who were killed
and wounded.

As the shattered rebel columns retreated
across that open space they were greeted with
a farewell salute from our lines, and hundreds
fell on the retreat. Then there arose from the
Union lines a mighty shout of victory, fol-
lowed by another and another, till from hilltop
to hilltop the notes of triumph rolled along,
strangely mingling with the roar of the huge
guns which were still dealing death and de-
struction to the retreating foe.



WHEN the sun of that long hot July day
had retired behind the western hills,
and the shades of coming darkness had spread
themselves over those blood-red fields of car-
nage, the great struggle had come to an end
and a great victory, decisive and complete, had
been won by the hosts of freedom. But O, at
what a fearful cost ! While the glorious news
went flashing over the electric wires to every
city and hamlet throughout the entire North,
the evening stars were looking peacefully down
upon scenes of utmost horror and indescrib-
able suffering. All along that battle line, ex-
tending at least ten miles, were scattered the
forms of human beings, lately in the full bloom
of youthful and manly vigor, but now multi-
tudes were utterly silent and totally uncon-
scious to all earthly surroundings, " resting
where they wearied and lying where they
fell ; " while greater numbers, with bodies torn
and rent, were lying there mangled, bleed-



inor, burnincr with thirst and weak with loss
of blood, thinkin-g of peaceful homes, wives,
children, parents, brothers, and sisters, and
wondering if help would ever come.

All that night relief parties were* searching
every part of that field where it could be done
without drawing the enemy's fire, and by morn-
ing a large portion of our wounded were gath-
ered into the field hospitals, where the surgeons
were busily engaged in repairing, as far as they
could, the deadly work of the previous day.

Morning came, ushering in the anniversary
of our national independence and bringing
good cheer and renewed hopes into the hearts
of many stricken heroes who had not yet been
gathered in from the harvest fields of death.
Burial parties were sent out who dug shallow
trenches in the most convenient places, and in
these the slain of both armies were laid in long
rows, and then covered over with the same
earth they had moistened with their warm,
generous life-blood.

I walked over a part of the battlefield and
watched the burial parties at their work. One
thing peculiar struck me, and that was the dif-
ference in appearance of the dead soldiers


of the two armies. The rebel dead retained
nearly their natural appearance, while our dead
had almost invariably turned a very dark pur-
ple in the face. Why it was so I could not
even guess. I came to the body of a Confed-
erate soldier, and seeing a tin cup fastened to
his haversack I unbuttoned it and kept it as
a relic of the war. On the outside it was
stained with his blood and bore the marks of
hard service. I looked across what is now
called the Valley of Death and saw many hun-
dreds of horses which had also fallen in the
terrific struggle. These were bloated and
swollen as large as the skin could hold and
were already creating a fearful stench. I next
went to our Third Corps hospital to see some
of our boys who had been wounded. Just as
1 arrived an attendant was carrying out a
wheelbarrow load of bare arms and legs which
the surgeons had just been amputating. It
was the most horrid sight I had yet witnessed,
and I involuntarily turned away from it. I
found several of our company here more or
less severely wounded. One young man,
William Chamberlain, lay on a stretcher to-
tally unconscious, his life rapidly ebbing away.


I wrote a note to his father, who resided at
Wysox, Pa., informing him of his son's con-
dition. The poor fellow lingered till Tuesday,
the 7th, when he quietly breathed his last.
His remains were taken home by some of his
neighbors who were visiting the battlefield,
and were committed to rest amid the green
hills of his own native State.

My tentmate, Oliver Morse, whom I have
previously mentioned, was first reported miss-
ing, but there is no doubt that he fell dead at
the first volley we received from Longstreet's
men. We had been schoolmates and play-
mates together from boyhood, had enlisted at
the same time, and so far had been together
all through our army life. He had gone out
as a musician, and had he remained in the
band would not necessarily have been exposed
to much danger, as it was the musician's duty
in time of action to help take care of the
wounded ; but after our ranks had become so
thinned out he voluntarily took a gun, and for
several months had served in the ranks, doing
his duty faithfully and cheerfully, till he fell
upon the soil of his native State, a martyr to
the cause of human freedom.


Had Pickett's bold charge and disas-
trous defeat been promptly followed up by
an immediate countercharge by all the Union
forces available there is little doubt that
Lee's army would have been entirely annihi-
lated. But General Meade was a little inclined
to be overcautious in the presence of an
enemy, a fact which Sickles was very sus-
picious of when he placed our line so far in
advance as to almost certainly insure an attack
from the enemy. Sickles was full of fight, and
nothing pleased him better than to stir up a
muss with the rebels. He knew that if the
battle once commenced Meade would have to
fight whether he wanted to or not. But he
got all he wanted that time, and has gone on
crutches for the past thirty years as the result
of getting into that fight.

After the battle was over we came across
some of the Pennsylvania militia, who had been
called out for thirty days by Governor Curtin
to assist in repelling the great invasion. They
were the sickest, sorriest, most forlorn set of
fellows I ever saw. They had just got a little
taste of soldiering, just enough to make them
thoroughly disgusted with the whole business.


and they were every one of them heartily tired
of war, and having been away from home two
whole weeks they were anxiously longing for
the time to come when they would be per-
mitted to return to the peaceful shades of
home life and once more greet and embrace
their wives, children, parents, and sweethearts.
One young man whom I knew hardly stopped
to doff his uniform after getting home before
he packed his grip and left for more peaceful
climes, beyond the reach of Uncle Abe's proc-
lamations or of cruel drafts. To this day if
you want to hear a big war story just stir up
some thirty days' militiamen from the old
Keystone State.

During our first winter in camp the writer's
father paid us a visit, and of course we were
very glad to see him, and the next day we
thought we would observe the occasion by
giving a grand banquet in his honor.

So we had hard-tack on toast, or toasted
hard-tack, and a fine lot of fricasseed pork and
some Old Government Java coffee, without
milk, and a good big pailful of cooked rice for
the first course ; and for the second course we
had just the same, only in reversed order, and


so on through the whole six courses. And we
supposed, of course, that our honored guest
would feel highly complimented by the atten-
tion we had bestowed upon him, but before he
had got halfway through the first course he
laid down his tin spoon, and with a look of un-
utterable disgust remarked, '' O, if I could only
sit down to mother's table once more I would
be so thankful ! "

Of course we felt sorry for him, and expressed
our sympathy by a hearty laugh at his expense,
then told him that we thought he ought to stand
such fare two or three days if we could as
many years.

On the afternoon of July 4, while waiting
for Lee to get his army out of our way, we
received news of the capture of Vicksburg
by General Grant. It would be impossible to
give even a faint description of the enthusiasm
with which this news was received by our brave
boys. We swung our hats and cheered our-
selves hoarse. It really seemed as if the tide

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryJ. D. (John D.) BloodgoodPersonal reminiscences of the war → online text (page 7 of 16)