John J. Hight.

History of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 online

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ners unfurled, and music by the bands. The 14th Corps left
the town to the right. We found a pleasant town, but most
of the people were gone. A few houses had been fired b}-
the bummers, but the flames were extinguished by the
advance guard, and provost guards were put on dutv. We
moved on tlirough the town, and camped, three miles out on
the Rocky Mount road, having marched thirteen and a half
miles, and camping before night. General Sherman joined
us at Winsboro.

The rebels are continually massing in our front, and a bat-
tle may be fought before many days.

Wednesday, Feuruary 22. — The orders, which were
given yesterday, to divide the train, were countermanded,
and we marched with the 20th Corps, on the Rocky Mount


road, only one Division and short train being in advance of
us. The 14th Corps moves up the raih'oad, to destroy it,
and make a demonstration on Chestertovvn and the upper
fords of the Catawba.

House robbing has become universal. I do not mean all
the men rob houses, but all the houses are robbed. Burning
forage has become so frequent that it has become necessary
to put on guards, to save the stock following in rear of the
army from starving. We are not only playing smash with
the enem}^ but also cutting off our own supplies. In the
regions about Columbia and Winsboro, many valuables, sent
from Charleston for safety, were found, and appropriated by
the finders.

Rocky Mount is a rough ridge, about two hundred and
fifty feet high, forming a bank for the Catawba.

At four p. m. we reached the river, which is a rapid, clear
stream, dashing over innumerable rocks. It was with diffi-
culty that a sufficient depth of water to lay the pontoons
could be found. There are high hills on either side, form-
ing, perhaps, the most difficult approaches of any river yet
bridged by us. When we reached the river, none of our
men were on the other shore, and the enemy was momen-
tarily expected to dispute the passage. The pontoon is rap-
idly pushed, until completed, and a Brigade moves over and
secures the crossing. Our Generals declare that they have
outwitted the rebels. While they were looking for us above,
on the usually traveled route, our army came suddenly here,
and secured this ford. The rijjht wins: is crossing some-
where below. When we first came to the river, General
Williams was very anxious to get a few men over, "to keep
oft' Cowans and eavesdroppers," as he expressed it. These
were soon followed by the Brigade named above.

Thursday, February 23. — We remained in camp while
the 20th Corps was crossing. General Sherman came up,
and stopped a while in our camp, talking freely to some of
the soldiers. He informed them of the fall of Charleston,
and told them that he knew that "they" (the Charleston-


ians) "couldn't stand when you boys were coming up liere."
Taking up some Carolina beans, he asked the men how long
they cooked them. When they told him, he said, "You can
make money by cooking these beans an hour and a halt'."
He inquired ol' the soldiers how these compared with the
regular arm}' bean ; when they said they were inferior, he
replied, "That's what I thought. But we must forage off
the country, even if the supplies are not so good." The boys
were much pleased to have the General make himself so
common among them, and speak words of encouragement.
Sherman is very popular, among his officers and men. He
is a man of brilliant genius, and those in his army can best
appreciate the strategy of his movements, which he is con-
stantl}^ making. The General has but a small staff, and a
slender escort, and has few tents. He goes about quietly,
making much less pomp than becomes his position.

There are pretty well authenticated rumors that some of
our foragers have been put to death by the rebels. Some
steps have been taken towards retaliation, by our people — I
am not informed of their nature. "War is no child's play."

Oar people drive in all the cattle in the country, and shoot
such as cannot travel. They are the most miserable stock I
have ever seen. The largest are but little larger than dogs,
and all are mere shadows.

Affairs seem to be culminating towards a great battle in
eastern North Carolina, or northwestern South Carolina. In
all probabilit}', all the rebel armies will come together, and
there will be one grand battle, decisive of the fate of the

I took a walk about the ferry. On this side may be seen
the ruins of a canal, built, perhaps, in early times, around
the rapids. On the top of the hill beyond there is a singular
tomb, strongly enclosed by stone pillars and an iron fence.

It began raining early, and increased towards night.
The passage of the army is delayed because of the rough-
ness of the approaches. Indeed, there seems to be no
hurry. Many troops might have crossed last night. Gen-


eral Williams, commander 20th Corps, and Captain Whittle-
sey, his Qi;artermaster, are on hands at the end ot the
bridge, pushing over the trains.

Friday, February 24. — The cavalry completed their
crossing last night. The 20th Corps resumed and finished
by II :30. There was nothing then to cross except the 14th
Corps. The right wing is crossing somewhere about Cam-
den. The rain is falling and it is no easy task to get the
trains up the hill on the other side. General Morgan takes
the place of General Williams, and Captain Remington that
of Captain Whittlesey. Morgan commands 2d Division,
14th Corps. He wears a glazed cap and an anxious face,
to-day. He is always plainly dressed and carries his hands
behind him. He has some kind of a nervous twitching
which he attempts to conceal in this way. He has the
appearance of a modest, retiring, unassuming man. Manv
a joke is perpetrated at the expense of Jimmy Morgan, but
I believe him to be a good officer. I cannot learn anything
definite of his origin. Some one told me that he was for-
nTerly an ice packer, at Qiiincy, Ills., and came out as
Colonel of a Regiment from that State.

By dark only the 2d Division baggage and ist Division
supply train were over. It was still raining and the river is
rising, yet all hands quit and go to bed. The stream may
soon become impassable.

There is a marked inefficiency amongst manv of the
officers of the 14th Corps, which stands out in paintul con-
trast with the 20th Corps. Captain Remington, Chief
Assistant Qiuirtermaster, wears a broad brim hat, appar-
ently picked up in the country. There are none such now
in the market, or worn by decent people. His boots are old
and rough. His pants are such as are issued to common
soldiers, perhaps "left on hand" at some issue and hence
cost nothing. His coat is old. This plainness of dress is
not caused b}^ poverty — then one could respect it. It is not
caused by the nature of his labors, for when he has nothing
to do but ride along it is the same. The Government pays


him a large salary, and requires, among other things, that
he should wear a certain kind of dress ; this is in part what
he is paid for. Still, out of a sordid, mean, and avaricious
spirit, he wraps himself in "cast off clouts." Just as we
might expect, he has no refinement of language or manners.
He swears in an}^ company. He is always ascribing the
very worst of motives to his fellow men. He feels no
interest "in king or country." He is a poor Quartermaster.
He seems to be without care. He was one of the dirty tools
of Jeff Davis, who stood at Ebenezer creek and kept inno-
cent poor people from crossing. He seemed to think that
turning women and children back to slavery, suffering and
death, was humanity. When the work was done, he declared
that it was the hardest dav's work he had ever done, and
that long since he had called on General Davis to perform
this act of humanit}^ Davis, himself, is a t3'rant. In the
march one day there was a narrow place in the road ; it was
blocked up by a wagon, and a man on a mule. The latter
was coming to meet General Davis, who wished to send an
orderly for some purpose. The man on the mule could not
get out of the way, Davis swears he can, and without wait-
ing for things to untangle, which they would in a moment,
he kicks the mule, which falls and throws its rider. The
orderly is now made to jump his horse over man and mule.

There are many excellent ofllcers in the 14th Corps, and
the men are as good as an}-. But the Corps is mismanaged,
and a spirit of jealousy has possCvSsed the command.

Sati:rday, February 25. — It is raining hard, this morn-
ing. The river is rising and the waves are becoming w'ild
and impetuous. The bridge is extended at each end. Too
much time was consumed by this. Crossing was not com-
menced until two p. m. The steep approach, just at the end
of the bridge, has been overcome by the rise. The bridge
heaves like a ship in a storm, liallast is placed on the lower
ends of the boats. The water threatens to sweep away the
bridge. No great effort is made to secure the bridge or
hurr\' over tiie trains. The latter move slowly until dark


and then ceases. The pontoon trembles and heaves ; the
waves dash madly against the sides and over the chess.
Deeply impressed with the great misfortune that threatened
us, and stung by the shocking dullness of those in charge, I
walked over the bridge and about camp until late. I then
lay down, but could not sleep, as I knew that all the army
might have been over. We usuall}^ cross within two days —
we have been here three. There are difficulties, but they
might have been overcome. The bridge might have been
made secure. I lay asleep until midnight. There came a
loud crash, and tlien the tidings, "the bridge is gone."
The Pontoniers were on the bridge at the time it gave way.
Those who could, rushed to the shore. What became of
the others they could not tell. Nor could it be discovered
how many boats were gone, amid the darkness of the night.
As the crisis was over, I fell asleep.

Sunday, February 26. — Daylight revealed twelve boats
gone. No one had been lost. Bob Steel, of Company K,
was the last one to rush from the bridge to shore. Some
wags. in camp composed a parody on the occasion, some-
what as follows :


The boy stood on the pontoon bridge.

Whence all but him had fled;
The waves dashed madly on the boats

Which trembled 'neath his tread.

They wrapped the bridge in waters wild,

They tore the balk and chess,
Dragged the anchors, snapped the ropes —

And made a perfect mess.

Then came a burst of thunder sound —

The boy! Oh I where do we "diskivcr;"
Ask of the waves, which far around

With fragments strew the river.

Racksticks, frames, and can\as fair,

That had ever been strong and stout;
But the noblest thing that perished there

Would have liecn tliat boy — if he hadn't run out.


This hasty version mav not bear the criticism of poets,
but it will do for Pontoniers.

There is some plain prose about our present situation.
We are in the presence of an enemy, and our army is
divided. We have only two Divisions on this side, and the
rebels have a railroad from Richmond to our rear. If they
do not improve this opportunity they are blind.

The spirit of the Pontoniers is "can't.'' The debris of
the bridge is taken from the stream, and General Davis
gives orders to attempt nothing farther. The army "hangs
fire" at the Catawba.

Monday, February 27. — Adjutant Marshall, of the 51st
Indiana, was captured during the famous Streight raid. He
has remained in "durance vile" from that time to the
present. x'Vt one time he escaped as far as Northern
Georgia, but was brought back. He escaped again, recenth',
and has been staying some days with us.

We had ten wagons captured to-day, in a most disgrace-
ful manner. They were out foraging. The Lieutenant and
guards deserted them, save Doades, of Company I, who
desired to do his duty. We might have recaptured them,
but "can't" rules the day.

General Buell was sent tor, to lay a new bridge. River
swift. Smooth bottom. Generally said to be impossible.
Sherman orders guns spiked, wagons burned, horses and
mules swam, and men brought over some wa}'. Army in
deplorable plight. Bridge commenced in old place. Mate-
rial taken down to a place thought to be more favorable.
Water terribly swift. Not enough ropes or anchors. Latter
wont stick. Amid the sneers of many, General Buell pushes
on the work. Anchors are made of the forks of trees.
Hundreds of fifth chains are collected from the trains.
Great stones sink the wooden ancliors. The work goes
bravely on. liy eleven p. m. the bridge is done. Perse-
verance has triumphed over "can't." Our guns and trains
are saved. Disgrace to Sherman's army is prevented.
This is one of the magniticent triumphs of the war. It


almost equals the damming of Red river to save our fleet.
I told some of the boys that here was a lesson for young

Tuesday, February 28. — Crossing continued during the
remainder of the night and until completed, at 3:30 p. m.
The rebels are pressing on the rear. I remained all day a
spectator of the crossing. The 69th Ohio are rear guards.
Rebels come up in sight on the other side, and there is bang-
ing. The rebels were mounted, and made a brisk attack,
but our men hold their ground, and taking up the bridge
goes on all night. Our camp is about a mile from where it
was last night. The night's work was dreadful on the men,
many of them having been up for several successive nights.
The mud, here, is ahead of anything I have ever seen in
my warfare ; it is almost impossible to get the wagons up the
hills ; and when up, the horses and mules sink in almost up
to their bodies. It is impossible to ride, or even walk,
through many places. We have no feed for the stock, and
but little for the men. "Hard times" are here.

Wednesday, March i. — We are committed to the charge
of General Buell and his Brigade. This is humiliating to
our officers ; but we have so completely played out that we
cannot complain much. We certainly need a guardian.

General Buell's Brigade is the rear of the army, and we
are behind it. There is a short small-pox train about a
quarter of a mile behind us.

Our general direction is east. We were warned of a few
rebels on the right, and arrangements were made accord-
ingly ; but we did not see them. Almost all the road is cor-
duroyed. Whole Divisions and Corps are engaged in the
work. The land is desolate. Fences are thrown into the
road for corduroy ; many houses are burned ; nothing eatable
for man or beast is left. The 20th, 17th and 14th Corps are
ahead of us.

We marched tifteen miles, and camped, at eight p. m.,
near Hanging Rock. It was then after dark. Men and
mules are entirely worked out.


We are now on Revolutionary grounds. The battle of
Camden was fought not far from here. Hanging Rock,
which I did not see, is famous as the place where General
Marion captured some British officers while playing cards.

During our march next day (March 2) we passed over
some horrible roads and some desolate country. We only
advanced ten miles, but it took all day and parfc of the night
to make it.

March 3, we crossed Flat Creek, passing through Tixiho,
or Hickory postoffice. We came to a place eighteen miles
from Lancaster, and twenty-seven by one road and twenty-
eight by another, to Camden, and twent3r-eight to Chester-
field. We went the latter road. We are on a forced march.
Camped two miles bcvond Big Lynch, after dark. Ordered
on to save us trom capture, or something else. Stopped
from 7 :30 to nine o'clock to feed, and then marched on,
over good roads, to Carlin's camp, at Blakner's cross-roads
— seventeen miles in all, reaching there by twelve, midnight.
Some of the bummers were captured by rebels to-day. We
have rumors of the capture of Petersburg, Wilmington,
and Richmond.

Saturday, March 4. — To-day, we moved in advance of
Carlin's ist Division. It is rare for us to go in advance of
anvthing. The rebels are posted about our place in the
column and are hovering on the flanks, attempting the cap-
ture of the pontoon. General Wheeler made a dash on the
road yesterday, between the ist and 2d Divisions. Early in
the afternoon a column of rebel cavalry was seen passing
toward our rear, on the left. There was sharp musketry
and cannonading a mile or two to our left, where Kilpat-
rick's and Wheeler's forces were engaged.

Moved east on the Chesterfield road to Mt. Grougan ; we
then turned north and took the Ilailey's Ferry road, stop-
ping one hour for dinner by the way. Roads pretty good
until we neared Thompson's creek. Here we had to
abandon Miles Ragsdale's ambulance, as it turned over, and
we could get it no fartlier.


Soon after crossing Thompson's creek we enter North
Carolina. The soldiers all say that they will not destroy
property here as they did in South Carolina ; accordingly
house burning ceases.

About eight p. m. we camped in Anson County, North
Carolina, about ten miles from the Great Pedee, famous in
the times of Marion. The distance marched to-day is
seventeen miles.

Sunday, March 5. — We marched early, over good roads,
along the State line, ten miles to Pagues' Ferry, about eight
miles above Cheraw ; arriving there at twelve m. We hnd
the Pedee about nine hundred feet wide and eight feet deep.
As we only have eight hundred feet of boats the question
comes up, "How can the stream be bridged?" The
remainder of the day was spent in an attempt to give a prac-
tical solution to this problem.

There is cannonading, explosions and tires at Cheraw.
We hear of the capture of guns, small arms, and materials
of war. Some of the pontoon materials were sent up to us.
We received some oars, anchors and ropes.

Monday, March 6. — The construction of the bridge goes
on slowly, as almost insurmountable difficulties must be
overcome. Says Morgan to Buell : "This work goes on
slowly: I have people who could do it sooner." Buell:
" You had better do it then." Morgan : "I know nothing
about it." Buell: "Then I would say nothing."

Two pontoons are made by stretching tents over wagon
beds. Two trestles are put in, the ends being sunk with
stones. At last, after thirty-six hours of arduous and thank-
less labor, the bridge is completed, after a manner. Kil-
patrick's command commences to cross at five o'clock p. m.

Tuesday, March 7. — As the 20th Corps went to Cheraw
to cross, we have only the cavalry and the 14111 Corps to cross
here. There is trouble with the pontoons during the day.
The wagon bed pontoons, invented by Jimmy Morgan,
sink, and one had to be removed and a trestle made in its
place. Davis curses our officers for imbecility. Buell


relieved unci moves on with his Division, which now takes
the advance. Carlin's Division is over by eleven a. m.
Baird comes next, and is over by 3 :30 p. m. Morgan's
Division and train is over by dark. The front of our train
reached camp, about one mile from the river, at ten p. m.
The Regiment worked all night. It is a thankless job to be
Pontoniers. After connection was severed with the other
shore three men came and called for a boat. They repre-
sented themselves as belonging to the 2d Division, of the
20th Corps. They plead long and vigorously for a boat to
be sent over. But when they found that no attention was
paid to them, they tired on our men, and no more was heard
of them. They may have been rebels, but our men did not
return the fire.

There was a semi-idiotic boy in Company F, sent out last
fall, b}^ some mean man in Indiana, and with the connivance
of other men, to save himself from the draft. This boy had
not sense enough to take care of his food or clothing. He
was lacking in sufhcient vigor to stand the service, and has
dragged out a miserable existence, until to-day, when he
died, in the ambulance. We brought the body over the
Pedee, and buried him, about ten or eleven p. m. A
grave was dug, evergreens were thrown on the bottom ; he
was then laid in and covered with evergreens, and, on these
the soil was laid. The moon's mild light gave a peculiar
sadness to the scenes as we offered prayers about his grave.
A high crime was committed by those who sent this boy to
the army. There are too many such cases. Our good
people are too good to trust their hides in battle.

Wednesday, March 8. — The advance troops are to strain
every nerve until Cape Fear river is reached. One of the
questions discussed by us, is, will communications be opened
when we reach there? A rumor reached General Sherman,
when we were on the Pedee, that our men were already at

Marching this morning at seven, we mox-ed, at first,
^'ery slowly. As \\'e ha\'e received iKly good mules trom


each Corps — 20th and i6th — our teams are much improved.
Our men had come over the Pedee and collected a large
quantity of forage, and Lieutenant McMahan had started a
mill on Mark creek. For eight or ten miles we passed
through a splendid country. We passed New Hope M. E.
Church in the Pagues neighborhood. We cross Mark
creek and turn north, towards Rockingham. We then turn
east and enter a banner pine country. It is an almost
endless turpentine orchard. Rained hard all day.

Camped at 9:15 p. m., after a march of twenty-four
miles. This is very hard on men who were up all last night.
The men who slept last night were asleep to-night, when oiu"
boys got in.

Thursday, March g. — We were all made glad by an
order this morning to report to tlie 20th Corps, which
camped in the same place we did. We moved in the rear
of the Corps — 2d Division being in our immediate front.
Began raining in the afternoon and continued until night.

About dark we got into a quicksand swamp. Here, the
front of the column camps at 6:30, the rear at ten. Horses,
and mules fall, w^agons sink to the hub.

Lee sends a dispatch to Wheeler, to hold Sherman in
check at all hazards. Wheeler replies, that he cannot even
hold the "bummers" in check. Sherman, riding one day
at the head of the column, came to a fork in the road.
After looking about a tew moments he took the right hand
road. The "bummers," coming up a few minutes after,
took the left. When Sherman saw this, he came over to the
left-hand road and fell in behind the bummers. Such are
the stories afloat about the bummers. Some of them have
been captured and killed during the last few days.

We marched through swamps and over bad roads, next
day (March loth) covering a distance often miles.

Early next morning (March iith) when we came within
eleven miles of Fayetteville, we struck a good plank road.
The people might have such, everywhere in these parts, as
pines cover the land. All the 14th Corps has passed on.


We moved east nine miles and camped two miles from the
river. Marched eighteen miles. It was late at night when
we stopped. There was no wood about camp. The bum-
mers had taken the town at ten a. m. ; eight were killed.

Sunday, March 12. — Marched at eight o'clock; moving
down the principal street of the town. The splendid United
States arsenal — which makes the town all it is — stands on
the right. Little, or no injury, had been done to the town.
We moved within a quarter of a mile of an old bridge
which was burned yesterday. Rebels are said to be on the
other side. Our guns lire over at them. Went down to
see, and learned that a little tug had just come in, opening
communications with Wilmington. This is the first com-
munication since leaving Sister's Ferry. Saw some bo3'S of
the 13th Indiana, who had come up in a tug. I could not
get any papers, but the boys told us that Lincoln had been
re-inaugurated ; Schofield had landed at the mouth of Cape
Fear river ; Wilmington was captured and our troops were
now moving towards Goldsboro.

Orders came around that we could send mail out at three
p. m., and ever^doody went to writing, so that by the
appointed hour a large number of letters were written.
These will be the tirst letters received from Sherman's army
for a long time.

Our people make a bridge of seventeen boats — three hun-
dred and fifty feet ; Buell ordered by Davis to superintend,
but does not get there in time ; place, just below the old

Online LibraryJohn J. HightHistory of the Fifty-eighth regiment of Indiana volunteer infantry. Its organization, campaigns and battles from 1861 to 1865 → online text (page 40 of 47)