Nelson Appleton Miles.

Personal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire online

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Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 3 of 51)
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them by their fathers.

For some time before the beginning of the war I gave much thought
to military matters, and made an effort, with such advantages as I could
procure, to qualify myself in the military art so that when the day of
actual conflict came I might be as well prepared as possible for rendering
my country the best possible service. To that end I devoted as much time
as I could spare from other duties to a study of the political questions then
at issue, and I could not but observe the preparations that were being os-
tentatiously made in the South to ensure the accomplishment of their
purposes by a resort to arms if need should arise. At the same time
I turned my attention to the study of books relating to military history,
strategy, tactics, and the army regulations.

Together with a few young men in Boston I placed myself under the
tutelage of an old French colonel named Salignac, and all the time I
could find available was devoted to the study and practice of military
drills, the duties of officers, discipline, and the methods of command and
administration. This French officer was a most thorough soldier in all
his methods and action, and the corps of young men under his instruction
finally grew from a single small company until it numbered first and last,
over three thousand men. By him were schooled a very large number of
the men who afterwards became officers of Massachusetts regiments.









HE great Civil War, lasting for four long years, drenched the
soil with the best blood of our people. It shadowed nearly
every household of our land with the drapery of mourning.
The passions and prejudices engendered by the protracted
and bitter struggle have, with the lapse of time, in a large
measure subsided, and as the years roll on are surely though
gradually passing away from the hearts of men. The antag-
onistic ideas which contended so strenuously for the mastery,
and from which were kindled the flames of conflict, are now
better understood, are more clearly harmonized by a mutual yielding of
extreme views, and their influence has less effect than ever before upon
the general welfare of the whole people.

The character of that war was so extraordinary, the issue at stake so
important and the results, while far-reaching and beneficent to all man-
kind, affected so directly and especially the destiny of our great undevel-
oped West, that a brief review of those issues and results would seem
appropriate before proceeding to the chief topics of this volume.

The first and great question at issue ' between the contending parties
was whether the republic could be dissolved by the action of one State or
of a number of States, or whether it had the capacity to endure; whether,
in fact, it had the inherent right and power of self-preservation. There
was no question as to the power of the Federal Government when wielded
against foreign aggression, but both its legal right and its actual power to
quell internal dissension and hostility especially when such hostility was
assumed and supported by a State or a confederation of States were still
to be established. This question had from time to time since the forma-
tion of our government absorbed the serious attention of the people, and


had engaged the best thought of our most eminent statesmen. Closely
connected with this question in our political history was the long con-
tention over the existence or extension of the institution of human

No political party had proclaimed any intention of interfering with the
labor system of any State. The important question was as to the future
status of labor in our great Western domain, then unsettled and unorgan-
ized ; and this was the question which aroused the fiercest political contro-
versy and the bitterest personal animosity.

Acrimonious and heated discussions in the press and in the halls of
legislation, had inflamed the passions and prejudices of the people until a
peaceable solution of the questions at issue finally became impossible.
The storm clouds which had been gathering for years at last burst forth
in devastating fury in 1861. The election to the presidency of Abraham
Lincoln in 1860, upon a platform opposed to the further extension of slav-
ery, was the immediate occasion or excuse for the war. Earnest efforts for
the preservation of peace and unity were made by patriotic men, both
North and South, but without avail. Reason, argument, fraternal ties,
the memories of a common and glorious history, were all swept aside. A
few may have been actuated by political and military ambition, and other
selfish motives, but it is certain that the masses of our people on both
sides believed themselves to be contending for a principle the great ques-
tion of the moral right or wrong of human slavery.

During these long years of fierce and incessant strife, through the
storm there stood at the helm of the ship of state a man of the people,
yet a most uncommon man, patriotic, calm, persistent, unmoved by
clamor, tender-hearted as a woman, yet an intellectual giant, and with a
devotion to his trust never surpassed in the history of the human race.
Abraham Lincoln is forever embalmed in the loving gratitude of the Amer-
ican people, and the sentiment is not bounded by partisan or sectional

Side by side with Abraham Lincoln in the early days of the great war
stood our most accomplished and distinguished general, the hero of two
foreign wars. To these two men, one born in Kentucky, the other in Vir-
giniaAbraham Lincoln and Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott more
than to any others, Americans of that critical time, as well as the seventy
millions of to-day and the unnumbered millions of the future, are in-
debted for the salvation of their republic and the preservation of a free



From the spring of 1861 until that of 1865 there was waged such a war
as mankind had never before witnessed. The best blood of the land was
engaged in that conflict. The flower of our youth soon formed the larg-
est, most intelligent and best equipped armies that the world had up to
that time seen. During all those four years the contest did not cease for
a single day. It was a death grapple of giants.

Somewhere, along a battle-front extending from the Chesapeake to the
upper Kio Grande overland, and from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the
Chesapeake by sea, the sound of flying bullets marked the fleeting mo-
ments, and the boom of cannon tolled the passing hours.

For every day of those four years of strife there was an engagement,
great or small, which brought death and sorrow. Every other interest
was overshadowed, and all the energies of both combatants were strung
to the utmost tension, a tension never for a moment relaxed until the
final close at Appomattox.

The inventive American genius which had been so prolific in peaceful
pursuits was turned into warlike channels, and novel inventions and
appliances for war purposes on sea and land were introduced and ap-
proved by the test of successful trial. Boys from the field, the factory,
the counting house and the college entered the ranks, and favored by the
swiftly changing fortunes of war many rose by their own merit to such
leadership as elsewhere could only have been gained by birth and influ-
ence, or by long years of unremitting effort combined with unusual talent.
This war was in many respects without precedent. The world's history fur-
nishes no similar record of so gigantic a rebellion suppressed, nor of such
a vast body of armed men subject to the orders of a single commander.
The valor and devotion of the American soldier, as attested by the appal-
ling lists of killed and wounded on both sides, are the common heritage of
the reunited nation.

That feature of the conflict which for moral grandeur towers above all
others was reserved for the triumphant close. Never before were com-
plete victors so generous to the vanquished. The highest thought of the
boasted age of chivalry was now immeasurably surpassed in a magnanimity
to defeated foes hitherto unknown.

It was my fortune to take part in that memorable struggle, and it may
not be amiss for me briefly to allude to some incidents which most im-
pressed themselves upon my memory. No two can see the panorama of
the war alike, for each sees it only from his own point of contact, but to
each who survived, it was a schooling for all his future life. General



Sherman has said : " The best school of war is war," and he might have
added that the thorough discipline of the military service is always a most
valuable education for any sphere of manly occupation.

Leaving the commercial pursuits upon which I had entered, I turned my
efforts to the raising of a company of volunteers. A number of public-
spirited men called a public meeting in the Roxbury district, Boston, and

in urging the enlistment of men pledged them-
selves to raise a fund and donate a portion of it to
each member of the company as they should volun-
teer; this fund, when so desired, to go to the benefit
of his family. In the expense of recruiting this
company and making good to the men these pledges
which had not been entirely fulfilled, I
expended one thousand dollars that my
father had given me, and twenty-five hun-
dred more which I had borrowed, giving
my note for the last. With the aid of
others I succeeded in raising a fine com-
pany, was duly chosen captain, was
commissioned as such by the governor
of the State, and with that rank was
mustered into the United States ser-
vice. Subsequently the governor
claimed that on account of my youth,
twenty-one years, I should accept a
lower commission and yield up the one
I held, to be given to a political friend
of his. To this I of course demurred,
but on the evening before the regiment left
for the field, the governor sent his adjutant-
general to me with a first lieutenant's com-
mission, and with directions for me to return
the captain's commission which I had pre-
viously received. As I had engaged in the
service against the enemies of my country, I did not propose to abandon
that service to engage in a contest with the governor of my State, how-
ever just my cause, though I certainly regarded the position he had taken
as unwarranted and harsh in the extreme. I, therefore, began my military
service as a captain reduced to a first lieutenant, in the Twenty-second




Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, organized and first commanded
by Colonel Henry Wilson, afterward Vice-President of the United States.
Before leaving for Washington, in September 1861, the regiment was
paraded on Boston Common and presented with a flag at the hands of
Hon. Robert Winthrop, at that time the oldest living Ex-Speaker of the
House of Representatives, and lately deceased. In receiving the flag Colonel
Wilson acknowledged the gift by an eloquent speech which created the
greatest enthusiasm, closing with these words :

" We hope that when this contest shall close, the unity of the republic will be assured
and the cause of republican institutions in America established evermore. We go forth,
sir, in that spirit to do our duty, cheered with the confidence and approbation of our friends
in Massachusetts. And may God in his providence grant that by no act of ours we shall
lose that confidence and approbation."

After serving for a short time with the regiment I was detailed for staff
duty as aide-de-camp, and afterward as assistant adjutant-general of a
brigade. On the 31st of May, 1862, on the recommendation of that dis-
tinguished soldier, General Francis C. Barlow, I was
appointed lieutenant-colonel of his regiment, the Sixty-
first New York Volunteers, by Governor E. D. Morgan,
and on September 30, of the same year, was com-
missioned by Governor Morgan to the colonelcy of the
same regiment, to fill the vacancy caused by the
promotion of Colonel Barlow to the rank of brigadier-
general. On the 12th of May, 1864, I was promoted
to brigadier-general ; on the 25th of August
the same year I received the brevet of major-
general, and was promoted to the rank of major-
general of volunteers the following year.

Among the incidents of my early service in
the army which impressed themselves indeli-
bly upon my memory, were those attending the
organization of the Army of the Potomac under
General George B. McClellan ; the crossing of
the Rappahannock ; the return to Alexandria ;
the embarkation in transports and debarkation
at Fort Monroe ; the advance up the Peninsula
until face to face with the enemy under General Magruder in his line of
fortifications near Yorktown, Virginia, stretching from the James to the
York River. I remember that this movement occasioned the comment



at the time, even among the young volunteers, that the principal army of

the nation should not be risked upon the point of a peninsula with an army

intrenched in its front, its base surrounded by water and guarded by only

that little Monitor. This vessel had been furnished
by the genius of Ericsson and the patriotism of
himself and Messrs. Bushnell, Griswold and Win-
throp, at their own expense, as a defense against the
formidable Merrimac, the then terror of the seas,
whose powers were not exhausted until she had been
blown up by her own men after Norfolk had been
captured by General Wool, and General
Magruder's army was in retreat up the
Peninsula, followed by McClelland. I
recall the fierce battle of Williamsburg,
the terrible battles of Seven Pines, Fair
Oaks, in which I was wounded, Gaines
Mills, Savage Station, White Oak Swamp,
Nelson's Farm and Malvern Hill. In
the last a most important, desperate and
decisive battle was fought, though the
legitimate advantages of the victory
were not realized, as our army was im-
mediately ordered down to Harrison's

Landing on the James River, where it remained for several months. I

also remember the recall of our army from the James

River back again to Alexandria, and its advance during

what is known as Pope's Campaign, or the battles of Cedar

Mountain, the second Manassas and Chantilly. Then

followed the advance of Lee's army into Maryland and

the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, suc-
ceeded by McClellan's advance again to Warrenton,

Virginia. Then General Burnside's disastrous battle

of Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, where I was

seriously wounded, was followed by the opening of

the campaign of 1863 in the fiercely-contested but

disastrous battle of Chancellorsville, under General

Hooker. In the retreat from Chancellorsville the MAJOR-GENERAL FRANCIS s.

Union army lost a most important battle, and the

Confederate army achieved a great victory ; yet their loss was greater than



ours, for it included that genius of war, Stonewall Jackson. In this battle
I was terribly, then supposed to be mortally, wounded, and was obliged to
be out of the field for a time. Before I was able to return to my own com-
mand in the field, I organized a brigade of the volunteer forces raised in
Pennsylvania to aid in checking Lee's invasion of that State. This brigade
was organized at Huntingdon on the Juniata River, but its services, with
other like forces, were not required, owing to the results achieved in the
great struggle and victory of the Army of
the Potomac under Major-General George G.
Meade over Lee's exultant army at Gettys-

Later I was able to return to the Second
Army Corps and take part in the campaign
of the autumn of 1863, and the terrible cam-
paign of 1864 from the Wilderness to Peters-
burg and Eichmond, in which more than
sixty thousand men of the
Army of the Potomac were
placed hors de combat. I also
took part in the final campaign
of 1865.

In these campaigns my com-
mand consisted of a regiment,
the Sixty-first New York, then
of a brigade, and during the
last two campaigns, of the first
Division of the Second Army
Corps ; also, for a short time
during February, 1865, 1 was in
command of the Second Army Corps. The chances of war cast my lot from
the first with this organization, the Second Army Corps, organized and
first commanded by the veteran Major-General Sumner, and afterward
in succession by Major-Generals Couch, Hancock, Sedgwick, French, Hayes,
Mott, Barlow, Caldwell, Humphreys, and for a brief period by myself,
as stated.

It inscribed a greater number of engagements upon its banners
than did any other corps of the army, and I think, more than any
other army-corps in the history of the world. The graves of its fallen
are to be found on every battle-field of the Army of the Potomac from



the date of its organization to Appomattox. The battle-flags it captured
outnumbered its engagements. As the war for the Union was unprec-
edented in the history of the world, so the history of the Second Army
Corps was unprecedented in that war. Its aggregate wounded and
killed in battle exceeded in number that of any other corps. The greatest
aggregate of killed and wounded in any division of the army was in
the First Division of that corps, and the highest aggregate of killed and
wounded in any one regiment of the whole army was in a regiment belong-
ing to the Second Corps. The largest percentage of killed and wounded in
a single engagement in any one regiment was in a regiment belonging to
the Second Corps. The second highest percentage of regimental loss by
death and wounds was also in a regiment of that corps.* As to the suc-
cesses and achievements of that famous corps, they are indicated by the fact
that it captured in a single day as many battle-flags, cannon and prisoners of
the enemy as it lost in the entire four years of war.

Speaking of this corps, Major-General Winfield S. Hancock says in a
letter dated in August, 1864. before Petersburg, Virginia, and addressed to
Lieutenant-General Grant :

" It is perhaps known to you that this corps had never lost a color or a gun previous to
this campaign, though oftener and more desperately engaged than any other corps in this
army, or perhaps in any other in the country. I have not the means of knowing exactly
the number of guns and colors captured, but I saw myself nine in the hands of one
division at Antietam, and the official reports show that thirty-four fell into the hands of
that corps at Gettysburg. Before the opening of this campaign it had at least captured
over half a hundred colors, though at cost of over twenty-five thousand (25,000) casualties.
During this campaign you can judge how well the corps has performed its part. It has
captured more guns and colors than all the rest of the army combined. Its reverses have
not been many, and they began only when the corps had dwindled to a remnant of its
former strength ; after it had lost twenty-five brigade commanders and over one hundred
and twenty-five regimental commanders, and over twenty thousand men."

The Army of the Potomac was probably engaged in as many desperate
battles as any army ever was in the history of the world. The map of the
country between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Appomattox, Virginia, is
red with the crimson spots that indicate its history. That army was
charged with the grave double responsibility of protecting the national
capital, and of capturing the capital of the Confederacy. It was further
charged with the destruction or capture of the Army of Northern Virginia,
commanded by one of the ablest of generals, Robert E. Lee, seconded by

See Regimental losses in the " American Civil War. 1861-1865," by Lt.-Col. Wm. F. Fox, pages 67 and 115.










that thunderbolt of war, " Stonewall " Jackson. All these tasks the Army of
the Potomac accomplished. The number and desperate character of its en-
counters may be illustrated by the history of the single corps of that army
already mentioned. Its personnel were largely volunteers who had been
quick to offer up their lives for the preservation of the Union. Knowing
the value of military discipline they accepted without complaint its
extremest requirements. This explains the matchless fortitude displayed
by that army through the long and trying years of the war, much of the
time suffering under reverses and disasters that would have destroyed the
morale of any army composed of less choice material. And of the same
choice material were the entire national forces composed. While heroic
sacrifices were made by the Army of the Potomac, other armies and fleets
were with similar devotion engaged in the same noble cause.

The Army of the Union was, in fact, " The People in Arms." It mirrored
all the diversified opinions and pursuits of a free and intelligent democracy.
The force that called it together was the same spirit that had made a
"government of the people" possible. Love of adventure may have had
its natural influence in stimulating enlistment, but the ranks were, never-
theless, largely filled with youth, who had no love for war, but who left
their homes and the pursuits of peace that the Nation might not perish.
To the large number of young men is to be attributed much of the hopeful
spirit always manifested by the army in adversity. Though often baffled
by costly and disheartening reverses, though changing commanders often,
especially in the east, it never lost its discipline, its high spirit, and its con-
fidence in final success.

M 8




HE spring of 1865 witnessed the final scenes in this great
drama of war where the stage was a continent, and the whole
world the audience. The "Rock of Chickamauga," General
George H. Thomas, had annihilated the opposing forces on the
ice-covered fields of Nashville, and Sherman's victorious army
had swept from Atlanta to the sea, and was taking the South
Atlantic defenses in reverse by its onward march toward the
North. The success of Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley had
enabled him to return the Sixth Corps, which had been temporarily
detached, to the Army of the Potomac, and to move with his cavalry
corps to the left of the line confronting Petersburg. The line of battle
confronting the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee,
stretched from the north side of the James River, northeast of Richmond,
to the south side of Appomattox near Five Forks, south of Petersburg,
more than thirty miles. The troops on the north side of the James River,
immediately in front of Richmond, were under the command of Major-
General E. 0. C. Ord; the Army of the Potomac under Major-General
George G. Meade, occupied the center, and the cavalry under Sheridan
the extreme left ; all under General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding all
the armies.

It would be impossible to adequately describe the closing scenes of
this historic conflict. There was a general advance ordered along our
entire line, and the extending of the line to the left, with Sheridan's
cavalry reinforced by the Fifth Corps of the Army of the Potomac under
Major-General Warren, resulted in a victory for us in the engagement
at Five Forks, April 1, 1865. The following morning the entire line of


battle assaulted the enemy's works, swept over the fortifications of
Petersburg and Richmond, and the national flag at last floated over the
capital and stronghold of the Confederacy. From that point to Appo-
mattox Court House was almost one continuous battlefield, the pursuers
attacking the retreating enemy wherever overtaken. Anyone who has
witnessed a tornado, or a violent storm at sea or on the great lakes, where

Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 3 of 51)