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Martin A. (Martin Alonzo) Haynes.

A minor war history compiled from a soldier boy's letters to the girl I left behind me, 1861-1864. Dramatis personae, The soldier boy - Martin A. Haynes, Company I, Second New Hampshire Volunteer In online

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Online LibraryMartin A. (Martin Alonzo) HaynesA minor war history compiled from a soldier boy's letters to the girl I left behind me, 1861-1864. Dramatis personae, The soldier boy - Martin A. Haynes, Company I, Second New Hampshire Volunteer In → online text (page 5 of 16)
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going to be another big naval battle. But there wasn’t; and the old
“South America” pulled out and ran up to the York river.

There is now a tremendous army before Yorktown, as well as in it, and
there will be a great battle. _We_ have got the largest train of siege
artillery ever brought together, and _they_ have got some very strong
forts and batteries. Our guns will be in position and open on the
rebels before this letter reaches you. There is skirmishing every day.
Berdan’s sharpshooters are making themselves the terror of the rebels.
They have some wonderful marksmen, and firing from little pits dug
well out towards the rebel works, they make it mighty interesting for
the rebel gunners. In some of the rebel batteries it is as much as a
man’s life is worth to attempt to load the guns. The instant he shows
himself near the muzzle one of Berdan’s men gets him. Some of them use
telescope rifles. At some points the rebels put up planks to screen
themselves while working the guns. I was a little acquainted with one
of the Sharpshooters who was killed a few days ago—John Ide of Company
E—a New Hampshire man from Claremont.

———————

_L_

CAMP WINFIELD SCOTT,
NEAR YORKTOWN, VA., _April 20, 1862_.

Today we received our first mail since leaving Camp Beaufort. We have
moved up three miles nearer the rebel lines and are now doing our full
share in the siege operations. We are working hard, building forts
and trenches and roads, and should soon be able to qualify as experts
with the pick and shovel. While our camp is probably a mile and a half
from the rebel lines, our work is being done very much nearer, you can
be sure. Yesterday and today we were out building roads. From where
we were working we had a better view of the rebels than they did of
us, and they didn’t pay much attention to us until we were on our way
back. We got a little careless then, I suppose, and the first thing we
knew one big shell burst directly overhead, while another tore up the
landscape not very far away.

Day before yesterday a lieutenant of the Engineer Corps was brought on
a stretcher back by our camp, one arm torn off and otherwise mutilated.
He was sitting on the ground, making a sketch, when a rebel shell burst
almost in his lap.

We are having, really, a pretty hard time of it. We are turned out
almost every night and held in line to repel anticipated attacks. [This
was one of Gen. Naglee’s fool stunts, that Hooker soon put a veto on.]

Our camp is on a big plain, gullied here and there by creeks. Near to
us are the spots pointed out as the headquarters of Washington and
Lafayette during the Revolutionary siege. I saw a little earthwork
yesterday which was thrown up at that time, and a rusty iron cannon
ball was dug up by the working party.

Our new four-piece [“shelter” or “dog”] tents have one great
advantage—perfect ventilation. The tent’s crew of four button their
sections together, and have a roof to crawl under; but the house is
wide open at both ends.

It was just one year ago tomorrow that our company was first sworn into
the service. We hardly thought then that one year from that date would
still find us ’way down South. So far as I am concerned, I am enjoying
myself immensely. Was never in better spirits or in better health.

_Wednesday, April 23._—At last I have another chance to write on my
letter. I have been on duty every day for six days. Today I am on camp
guard. Our siege guns are now almost all in position, and they will
doubtless get to work pretty soon. Thousands of men are working day and
night on the siege works and the roads. On this wing of the army we are
building a road along the side of a creek leading up to the rear of our
batteries. The roadbed is twenty-four feet wide, made by tumbling in
one bank of the creek. As this is mostly on the side toward the rebel
works, leaving the road under embankments from ten to twenty feet high,
troops and supplies going up to the front will have almost perfect
cover and protection.

There is a continual skirmish all along the line, and men are killed or
wounded every day. The other night a large force of rebels made a sally
upon six companies of the Third Vermont, but the Sixth regiment, with a
section of artillery, came to their support, and the rebels were sent
back home in a hurry. We lost about 45 men, including two captains; the
rebels about the same number, including a colonel.

Day before yesterday I managed to work about as much discomfort into
twenty-four hours as ever fell to my lot. We were working on the road.
It rained all day, and I was, of course, thoroughly soaked. And when we
got back to camp there was no warm, dry nest to crawl into. Instead,
the rain poured through the tent in streams, and there was no way to
get away from it. It has taken me till now to get back to anything like
normal conditions.

I saw two deserters from the rebels, who came in this morning. One of
them was from Pennsylvania. He was pressed into the rebel service and
took the first opportunity to desert.

My old tent-crew of Camp Beaufort is broken. It is no longer a matter
of choice and selection. We are counted off in fours and tent in the
same order we stand in the ranks. My present mates are Bill Ramsdell,
Lyn Woods and Joe Gleason—all royal good fellows.

———————

_LI_

CAMP WINFIELD SCOTT,
BEFORE YORKTOWN, VA., _May 1, 1862_.

Physically I am pretty near used up. Night and day we are on duty in
the trenches or on fatigue work, supporting batteries, throwing up
earthworks, building roads, regardless of weather conditions. Last
night we were digging on a parallel, or trench for infantry, the end of
which was at the edge of the bluff overlooking the York river. It was
all open ground between us and the rebel works, and, though very dark,
the rebels kept the scene fairly well lighted up. Every two or three
minutes there would be a flash way up there to the front, then a roar,
another flash in the air down our way, and pieces of iron flying. The
big guns, though, did not worry us much. It was practically impossible
to land a shell in the trench from one of these guns. But they had one
big mortar working that was quite another matter. Every time this was
fired the burning fuse marked its course. Up, up, up it would climb,
then hang for an instant and come sweeping down, down, down. It did not
land one shell in our trench, although it put some uncomfortably close.

I managed to steal one little nap, but it didn’t last long. I got quite
a comfortable seat at the end of the trench, overlooking the river.
I have a recollection of watching the lights on vessels far down the
river and in distant camps, and of listening to the lap of the waves
on the beach below me. And I went to sleep. And I woke up—quick. I was
trying to decide whether the rebels had sprung a mine or landed a shell
in the trench, when it happened again, and I saw what the trouble was.
Only a short distance below was the black mass of one of our gunboats,
which had crawled up unusually close, and was firing her big shells
right over our heads into the rebel works.

The rebels made an effort to drive in our pickets on a part of the
line, this morning, but got rather more than they were looking for.
A burial party has just gone by, to give a soldier’s burial to a New
Jersey boy killed in the affair. The cemetery, near our camp, is
rapidly filling with the bodies of men who have been killed or have
died of disease. Each grave is marked by a neatly-lettered headboard.

Company H of the Massachusetts First charged a lunette, or small outer
earthwork, which had become a nuisance, the other morning, and drove
the rebels out at the point of the bayonet. They had three men killed
and a dozen or fifteen wounded. One of their men had a remarkable
escape. A ball struck the eagle plate on his breast strap—a round brass
plate backed with lead—doubling it up and going through just far enough
to show the point at the back. The blow knocked him several feet, and
he naturally thought, for a little time, that he was a goner.

That night we were in the trenches in support of the Hungarian battery.
The rebels appeared to have a pretty accurate idea of its location,
notwithstanding it was screened by trees, and sent shot and shell
thick and fast. One shell struck on the parapet and rolled down under
a platform on which six men were sleeping, but fortunately did not
explode.

It rains or drizzles most of the time, so we are kept tolerably
uncomfortable.

_May 2d, afternoon, 2 o’clock._—The regiment went into the trenches
to work today, but as I was not feeling well I remained in camp. The
rebels have been doing more shooting today than any other day before,
and many of their shot have struck near our camp. I went to sleep about
noon, but was awakened by the infernal screech of a shell, and took it
as a hint that I had better finish your letter. I do hope that May will
prove a pleasanter month than April. I hope our batteries will open
before long, for I want to see this affair closed up. If we thrash them
soundly here and at Corinth, I think the war will be about as good as
over.

———————

_LII_

WILLIAMSBURG BATTLEFIELD, VA., _May 7_.

I am all well—not hurt a bit. Not time to write any. Mail going right
out by a private citizen. Go right up and tell my folks I am well. An
awful battle. Harder than Bull Run. MART.

[Written on an irregular scrap of brown paper.]

———————

_LIII_

NEAR WILLIAMSBURG, VA., _May 8, 1862_.

Have just come in from a trip over the battlefield, and was fortunate
enough to pick up the big sheet of paper on which I am writing this
letter. I will commence at the beginning and tell you all about it.

On Sunday morning, as soon as it was discovered that the rebels had
evacuated Yorktown, we were ordered to pack knapsacks and be ready to
march immediately. We had no time to cook rations, and went for two
days with only the fragments we happened to have in our haversacks. We
marched up over the rebel intrenchments and through Yorktown. The rebel
works were very strong and would have been a hard nut to crack. The
rebels had planted torpedoes along the road, but none of our regiment
were hurt by them. The road was in a horrible condition and badly
crowded, and we did not get along very fast. It was nine or ten o’clock
at night when we filed out into the woods by the side of the road and,
with all our harness on, laid down for such rest as one could get under
such conditions and in a drizzling rain. We were up at half-past four
the next morning and soon on the road again, up through the woods. We
had gone about a mile and a half when we came to a big slashing, where
the trees over an area about twice as large as Merrimack Common had
been felled, criss-cross, in every direction. Beyond this, a large open
plain, with a line of small forts, one of which was directly facing
the road up which we were advancing. Our regiment filed out and formed
line to the right of the road, and the Massachusetts First upon the
left. We threw out skirmishers and advanced up through the slashing. It
was rough navigating in that network of prostrate trees and interlaced
limbs and branches, as we had all our housekeeping outfits on our
backs. My haversack got caught and was torn to pieces, but I made that
good on the field the next day. We wormed our way ahead, up to the edge
of the open field, and there halted for our artillery and the rest of
the division to come up. We had a pretty lively time there, but nothing
very fierce. The rebels had four or five field pieces in the fort and
skirmishers scattered along the front in little pits. We distributed
ourselves behind stumps and logs, and quite a number had a genuine
earthwork, made by punching holes through a thick mass of dirt that
clung to the roots of an overturned tree. The cannon in the fort sent
a solid shot, every little while, smashing and crashing down through
the timber; but a number of our crack shots paid particular attention
to those guns, while others devoted their talents to educating the
rebels in those little picket holes. Perhaps half a dozen, selecting
some particular hole, would lay with their sights covering the little
mound of fresh dirt outside. The instant a head showed, there was
trouble in that pit. They soon got enough of it, and for a long time
the pits in front of the Second, for all we could see, might have been
so many graves. All this time the rain was pouring, and we were fairly
waterlogged. As business dragged, some of the men unfolded the little
sections of tent and spread them over branches for a shelter. Others
nursed up little fires and cooked a cup of coffee. Up to this time we
had not had many men hit. Lieut. Burnham, of Manchester, was shot in
the leg, and will, I am told, have to lose it. A man named Cole [Uriah
W., of Co. H] was killed by a cannon ball.

At length our artillery came up and went into position in front of us.
We lay supporting them an hour or two—and they were not having a very
hot time of it. Then in the woods to our left, beyond the slashing, a
tremendous fire of musketry broke loose. Volley followed volley, and
after a while it was evident the firing was coming nearer, which meant
that our troops in that part of the field were being driven back, and
the rebels were gaining ground towards us. They came upon us through
the slashing and along the edge of the field. I got in three or four
shots across the road—which was better than most of our fellows could
do—when the order was passed to fall back to the edge of the woods and
re-form. This was no boys’ play. Balancing on a log and looking for the
best path, my cap went flying and the bark from a limb I was holding
onto. I had no further doubts as to the proper course—a tunnel was
safer than an overhead bridge, just then, and the rest of the way I
kept as close to the ground as I could.

Once again out of the slashing and in line, we were ordered across the
road, where the entire regiment was deployed as skirmishers through
the woods some distance back from the slashing. Then we were ordered
to sail in, and moving forward we were soon in as lively a mix-up as
you could well imagine. The first squad of rebels I ran onto I mistook
for Eleventh Massachusetts men, there being a similarity of uniforms,
and I was going right up to them, when Al. Simmons shouted, “Look out,
Mart—those are rebels!” and fired. Quicker than you could say it,
I was behind a big tree, and the ball had opened. It was a regular
Indian fight, dodging through bushes and from tree to tree, sometimes
forward and sometimes back. There were no end of personal encounters,
and fights between squads and detachments, and all sorts of mixups,
some ludicrous and some tragic. “Heenan” had his usual luck, coming out
damaged but alive. He had a sudden and close collision with a rebel
who came up out of somewhere like a jumping-jack. Nich. grabbed the
reb’s bayonet and pushed it one side just as the fellow fired. He says
he intended to polish that fellow off with his fists, but two others
jumped in, and things were going hard with Nich., when some of us saw
his predicament and started for the rescue with a big whoop and empty
guns. They faded into the background, however, and we didn’t get one of
them. Nich. is now nourishing a somewhat lacerated powder-stained hand.

One of the funny incidents was when Dave Steele, a lieutenant in
Company G, made a dash into a squad of rebels, shouting, “Surrender,
you d— cusses, or I’ll blow you to Hell!” What he was going to do his
“blowing” with—as he had no arms but his sword—is still a question; but
the rebels took his word for it and dropped their guns.

Gardner [Orrin S.] of my company—said to be part Indian and who looks
it—was peekabooed and pestered by a couple of rebs in the cover of an
old rifle pit, until he got out of all patience, gave a wild Indian
war-whoop, and closed in like an express train and put a stop to any
further foolishness.

Toward the last of the fight, though, we had all we could do to keep
from being run over. From the way they swarmed in on our front it was
very evident the rebels were being heavily reinforced. We were in a
pretty solid line now, with stragglers from other regiments mixed in.
But we were getting short of cartridges. Hooker, plastered with mud
from head to foot, rode along the line and told us to hold that line
fifteen minutes longer. Back in the woods we heard a band strike up
and play “Yankee Doodle.” We were losing men rapidly. Captain Drown
was killed and others killed or wounded. Then our reserves came up,
paddling through the mud as fast as they possibly could, and we all
went in together and won out.

It was pretty near night when the fight was over and the regiment got
together, counted noses, and bivouacked a little ways back, in the
woods. We began to realize then that we were mighty hungry. But luck
came my way. Lym. Dickey brought in a prisoner that he got the drop on.
Lym. and I hitched up together that night, made the best shelter we
could with our pieces of tent, and took our rebel friend into the mess.
Lym. and I had oceans of sugar and coffee, and that was about all. Our
guest had a corn pone and a quantity of excellent bacon, but no coffee.
So we pooled our issues, had a most enjoyable supper, and snuggled in
together for a fairly comfortable night. In the morning we shook hands
with him, said good bye, and Dickey turned him over as a prisoner.

The day after the fight I went out over the whole battlefield, and a
dreadful sight it was. In an old Revolutionary rifle pit close to the
edge of the timber, where our last rush struck the main line, it was a
ghastly sight. In one spot seven bodies lay, literally, in a heap. They
were apparently cut off from rapid retreat by the barracade of felled
trees. Up half-way through the slashing I came into a path, hardly
wide enough to be called a roadway, which had been opened up for some
purpose. In this regiments of the Excelsior brigade had made their
fight and had suffered heavy losses. In some spots I could have walked
a considerable distance upon dead bodies. I followed this path out into
the woods at the left, where the Jerseys fought; and beyond them, dead
rebels scattered about. One of these had piled up a little cob-house
screen of rails, which was about as much protection as a pasteboard
box would have been. He was still there, prone on his breast, his gun
thrust through between two rails, a finger on the trigger, and a little
round hole in the top of his head.

The dead were lying in almost every conceivable position, sometimes
absolutely grotesque if it were not so pitiful. Some apparently never
changed the position of a muscle after they were struck—arms in
position as if loading; some still clutching their piece in one hand
and in the other the ramrod with the charge driven part way home. The
rebels had some Indians in this fight—I saw at least two lying among
the dead. The dead are not all buried yet, but are being covered up as
fast as the details can get to them. I have quite a number of bullets I
picked up, and buttons from the uniforms of dead rebels.

We will move on from here as soon as supplies come up, and will
probably have more fighting before we reach Richmond. It was awfully
rainy the day of the battle, but is sunny and beautiful now. I have
tried to give you some idea of what a time we had. I had just time to
write you the briefest sort of a note Wednesday morning. Did you get
it? I begin to feel now as though we should get through before many
months, for I know we are going to thrash them out before long.

———————

_LIV_

WILLIAMSBURG, VA., _May 11, 1862_.

We are now encamped on a large field just outside the city and close to
William and Mary College. I have had a chance to look the city over a
little, and find it a very homelike, cozy little burg. It is one of the
oldest towns in the United States, with many nice buildings and ancient
residences of the old Virginia gentry. The college is the oldest in
America. Washington, Scott and many other famous men were educated
here. On the college grounds is a rather badly-kept marble statue of
Lord Berkley, one of the old colonial Governors of Virginia.

The women here are the most rabid of all secessionists—fairly venomous.
Yesterday one of them, entirely unprovoked, hissed out to Gunnison,
“You vile wretch!” “Gunny” kept thinking it over, and getting madder
and madder, until today he stormed up to the house and demanded
satisfaction of the head of the household. The old man regretted the
unfortunate incident, and politely invited Gunnison to make the house
his home while in town; and Gunnison came back to camp not quite
determined whether he had won or lost.

Most of the public buildings here are being used as hospitals—full of
wounded rebels. I suppose they enjoyed the parade of Yankees when our
army passed through here—an almost uninterrupted stream of men for
three days. The gayest sight was when a regiment of 1600 lancers went
by. The rebs left a few cannon here, and in some places quantities of
shells which they evidently could not take along with them. They also
planted torpedoes in places, and a number of men were blown up. Some
were discovered before they were stepped on, and it is said General
McClellan has ordered that rebel prisoners be set to work digging them
up.

We are having glorious weather, clear and sunny, with the birds singing
merrily. And it seems rather nice to be in a city again, with signs
of civilization, albeit slightly ancient and mildewed. We are very
comfortably quartered now. The rebels left great numbers of big tents
[the old conical “Sibleys”] which we appropriated; and with only
three or four in a tent we are very far from being crowded. Yesterday
afternoon George Slade and I took a walk down to a little place about
two miles from here, called Cottage Creek. It is a delightful bit of
a place, where peace reigns in the midst of war. Three or four little
cottages, a picturesque old mill, with an ancient bridge over the
creek, make up as pretty a stage setting as one would see in many a day.

Beginning tomorrow, we will have to drill two hours a day as long as
we stay here. The general impression is that we will not be here many
days—not longer than until the prisoners are sent to some safer place.
The rebs left most of their wounded in our hands, and they have the
same care as our own. I had a talk with one of them who was at Bull
Run, and it was very interesting to hear him tell of the battle as he
saw it. He belongs to a Virginia regiment, and when the war broke out
was living near Alexandria. He says he has been at his home since the
war. It was lucky for him he was not caught, as his life might have
been the forfeit as a spy.

One of our “missing” men, of Co. G, was found in the brush yesterday,
where he had crawled out of the fight and died.

I hear that a lot of our men who were taken at Bull Run have been
exchanged and are at Fortress Monroe. Won’t we have a jubilee when they
get back! [As a matter of fact, one at least of these prisoners—George
C. Emerson of Company B—joined in season to take part in the fight, and
was killed.]

Gen. Grover, who has displaced Naglee as commander of this brigade, has
been appointed Military Governor of this district. I would like to look
this region over at my leisure, for a distance of a dozen miles or so,
it is so full of historic associations—Jamestown, Captain John Smith,
Pocahontas, Powhattan, and various other distinguished residents of the
long, long ago.

If it were not for home I think, on the whole, I should be quite well
contented with army life. But I guess this affair will be settled up
before long, and when sleighing-time comes in New Hampshire I will be
there to help you enjoy it.

———————


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Online LibraryMartin A. (Martin Alonzo) HaynesA minor war history compiled from a soldier boy's letters to the girl I left behind me, 1861-1864. Dramatis personae, The soldier boy - Martin A. Haynes, Company I, Second New Hampshire Volunteer In → online text (page 5 of 16)