General T. F. M Coy.
After the battle of Antietam
, the army, being exhausted from the extraordinary fatigues, exposures, and losses of the protracted campaigns of the past summer, took position for rest and reoccupation on the late battle-field, and in the region of country adjacent, north of the Potomac
, the enemy occupying the country south of the river — the river being the general dividing line between the two armies.
' Corps occupied the long picket line on the river.
's Division, of which our brigade was a part, was in this corps.
The brigade commander was rather of a dashing character, an officer of experience and gallantry and had a keen eye for a comfortable position for his headquarters, and would run risks of capture rather than deprive himself of a good and choice spot for this purpose.
In pursuance of this he fixed his headquarters in the little village of Mercersville
, in the most desirable house, and right on the picket line, on the bank of the river, and in a dangerous position, as the river at this point was both narrow and shallow.
The camp of the brigade was a half mile in rear of this line, and in a comparatively safe place.
Ordinarily, for an officer of rank to have his headquarters on or very near the picket line, with the enemy's line in rather close proximity, would not be regarded as safe, or in accordance with strict military rule.
In this case, the river intervening, of course modified it materially in the judgment of the officers.
Yet an enterprising party of the enemy, familiar with the ground as they might have been, could have almost any night dashed into Mercersville
, and carried off the general and his
staff, and the reserve picket would likely have gotten upon the ground in time to have seen them vanish beyond the river.
Only a week or two elapsed when our brigade commander obtained a leave of absence, and an order was issued by the division commander assigning another officer to the command.
This necessitated a removal to the village, and a more familiar acquaintance with the surroundings.
The few weeks of command here looms up as a most unpleasant period in that officer's military experience.
There was nothing at that time interesting in or about the village; indeed, everything almost seemed to be the reverse.
The citizens, however, so far as could be ascertained, claimed to be loyal to the old flag.
Most of the persons visible were very hard-looking cases, and most of them lounged about, or were attracted about, one or two very unattractive taverns, where it was quite certain bad whisky was freely issued, and perhaps more freely used, and that, too, to the detriment of morals, health, and discipline, notwithstanding a “boy in blue” kept watch, day and night, musket in hand, not very far from the spigot.
A few of them, as well as many others from different quarters, had passes from General McClellan
, which was about the only thing that gave them any fair degree of grade, and on this ground were allowed to pass the river, and enter the enemy's lines.
The next most interesting and attractive object to the citizens of the vicinity, was one of the old-fashioned fish-baskets in the middle of the stream, just opposite the village.
Persons could approach this basket along the wing walls that formed the dam from either side of the river; for this reason, it was regarded as affording convenience for any small party of the enemy to enter our lines without the use of a boat, and thus required at our hands special attention.
The commanding officer
was greatly annoyed by persons requesting passes to visit the fish-basket, and was frequently troubled to reconcile the giving of a pass for this purpose with the general order
from army headquarters — not to allow any one to cross the river unless he could show a pass signed by the general-in-chief
The thing was as wisely managed as could be under the peculiar circumstances, having in view the important fact of preserving the fish from getting into the hands of the enemy.
To have allowed this, would have been distressing to the flesh.
The pleasant recollection remains of the fact of the fish always reaching the north bank of the river, and contributing aid and comfort to loyal and patriotic appetites.
This incident is mentioned as being the only thing in the character of a fish-basket that became an object of
solicitude during the war, so far as the writer has any recollection.
Interesting periods, however, can be recalled after this when such an object would have excited the greatest care and attention, for fresh river fish would ever be a welcome and happy change for the tough, changeless army ration of fresh beef, so productive of uneasy sleep, and so worrying upon the soldiers' digestion.
The mention of fresh rations brings to my recollection a communication received about this time from General Reynolds
, who was at this early period of the war as rigid in protecting the beef and mutton of the rebel citizens as McClellan
himself; indeed, in this he was but carrying out the standing orders of the commander-in-chief
The communication was dated Headquarters First Army Corps, October 21st, 1862, and in the general's own handwriting, and for this reason is preserved as a precious memento of our lamented corps commander.
It was in these words:
It is represented that some of your men have crossed the river and have been killing sheep belonging to Mr. Shepherd.
You will take such measures as to prevent this at once.
This letter was signed, “John F. Reynolds
, Brigadier General
, commanding,” and did not come through the regular military channel, the General
not seeming to be a stickler in the observance of red tape.
No copy of the reply to this communication was retained, but a suitable one was promptly made, and, of course, the general commanding the corps was respectfully informed that he had been misinformed as to any of the soldiers of the brigade referred to engaging in any such recreation, as they had not, so early in the war, attained that degree of discipline as to secure subsistence in that way. It might be supposed that in less than a year from this period, when the army had undergone a little necessary demoralization in this direction and secured a little more patriotic wisdom on this interesting point, that these soldiers would have accepted a little subsistence of this kind; and doubtless the general would have thought it of so contraband a character as to have saved himself the writing, and his orderly the time of conveying, dispatches on the subject.
For weeks the army had been resting, and at the same time preparing for a movement against the enemy, and almost daily orders were issued of a preliminary character.
For the week previous to the movement, we were kept in hourly, yea, constant, expectancy for the final marching orders.
While in this excited condition, an orderly dashed up with the following communication from General Reynolds
, dated at his headquarters, October 25th, 1862:
The general commanding desires you will question Mrs. —, wife of who will cross to your headquarters to-day, as to the position and movements of the
enemy, and forward to these headquarters all the information you may gather from her.
The names of these persons are omitted, lest they might suffer even at this late day for their loyalty.
— encountered no difficulty in crossing the river, and presented herself about ten o'clock in the forenoon.
The result of the interview with her will appear in the following reply to the foregoing letter, which was promptly forwarded to the general's headquarters:
I have the honor to report, for the information of Major General Reynolds, commanding the corps, that Mrs. —, named in your communication of this date, has called at these headquarters, and has given me the following information: “I live about four miles and a half from Martinsburg, on the road to Shepherdstown, in the lines of the rebel army.
The rebel infantry all left that neighborhood on Thursday night of this week.
I think the whole rebel army was there.
When they left they moved toward Winchester.
Stuart's cavalry have been left.
The number I do not know.
They have torn up the railroad and everything belonging to the road at Martinsburg, and down toward Kearneyville.
They took up the cross-ties and burnt them, putting the rails on the fire.
They are treating the Union citizens badly, and using and destroying their property.”
This is all of any importance that Mrs. — seemed to know in reference to the movements and conduct of the enemy.
The next day, the whole army was in motion for the designated points on the river, to cross in pursuit of the enemy.
It was reported, at or about the time, that for the reason that McClellan
was tardy in making this movement he was removed, a few days after crossing into Virginia
, from the command of the army, and was succeeded by General Burnside
This may or may not have been the reason.
It is only our purpose to speak of it as an interesting fact that made a deep impression at the time, and one that may be referred to, after a lapse of fourteen years, as an important and interesting crisis in the history of that army, that did the greatest amount of fighting, was the best disciplined, and the greatest army of the rebellion.
It is a well known fact that the removal of McClellan
caused an extraordinary sensation in the army.
There can be no gainsaying the fact that at this time he was the idol chieftain of the Army of the Potomac.
His taking leave, a final leave, of that great and noted army, a few days after, at Warrenton
, was an extraordinary spectacle, and one long to be remembered by those who witnessed it. In any army with less intelligence and less patriotism, demoralization and disintegration might have resulted.
This interesting occasion was an illustration of the oft-asserted fact that American bayonets think
, and that it is not man-worship, but patriotism; not the hero-chieftain, but the noble good cause, the flag of the country
and what that flag represented, that governed the rank and file, and prompted to years of toil and suffering, and to deeds of noble daring.
With the cannon's roar that celebrated this deeply interesting scene, and memorable military pageant of tears and cheers, of floating banners, and proudly marching columns, the period of “hero worship” in the Army of the Potomac passed away forever.
Heroes, it is true, rose and fell after this in quick succession; but stern war, determined, uncompromising war, now more than ever became the moving power, thought and cry of the thinking masses of the loyal people of the land.
The popular irresistible public sentiment was impelling the mighty columns of that great army to close up to the now historic bloody lines of the Rappahannock
and the Rapidan
, and there, and on many bloody battle-fields far beyond, almost regardless of whose hand wielded the sceptre of command, thousands upon thousands gallantly fought, bled, and died to vindicate the flag of the nation, and to preserve the existence and unity of the great and good government transmitted to us by the fathers of the Revolution.
The great cause of the Union
loomed up more and more prominently as the mighty struggle progressed, and at length Appomattox
witnessed its triumph, and to-day more than forty millions of freemen are enjoying its blessed fruits.
As before remarked, our brigade commander had no personal acquaintance with General Reynolds
, not even to the extent of knowing him by sight, if he rode along the lines.
It may, therefore, be worth while to notice the manner his acquaintance was formed, as it may illustrate a pleasant trait in his character.
The army was on the move.
Our corps, and perhaps one or two others, by different roads, concentrated at the little village of Berlin
, two or three miles southeast of Harper's Ferry
, after having greatly suffered from a snow-storm in making a march over South Mountain
was crossed here on pontoons, and from thence the line of march was continued down the Loudon valley
, running parallel with the Valley of the Shenandoah
, in which the rebel army was moving at the time.
While on this movement, in the heart of this beautiful valley, General Ricketts
, commanding our division, being himself a mile or two in the advance, communicated, by a staff officer, an order that when the brigade arrived at a certain angle in the road, upon which it was then moving, that it should leave the road and march in another direction, a diagonal way across the fields.
Before the head of the column reached this point, it was met by a modest looking officer, entirely alone, exhibiting no special insignia of rank, and supposed at the time to be an ordinary staff officer.
the brigade commander in a mild, pleasant way, at the same time joining him and riding in the same direction.
He seemed to have a knowledge that the column had been ordered to leave the road, and said it was a wrong or mistaken order, but did not assume that he had any authority to order otherwise, and kept riding along until the two officers were one or two hundred yards in advance of the troops.
The strange officer's manner was observed to be somewhat peculiar, as he kept watching the head of the column; and it being near the turning off point, and being satisfied that the brigade commander was not going counter to the order of his division commander at his mere suggestion, or request, and being satisfied, doubtless, that he Was not regarded as of much account, decided it would be necessary for him to indicate higher rank and authority.
Turning his head again, and finding that in another minute the head of the brigade would change direction, and leave the road, unless otherwise ordered, he says to the brigade commander: “Direct your orderly to return to the column, and have it continue its advance on the road.”
The quiet, dignified manner in which these words were uttered made an impression that he might be more than what he seemed to be. His full character was not yet understood, and hesitation to comply was manifested.
The orderly having overheard the words, and knowing the officer, had turned his horse and was ready, and anxious, to bear the order to the officer commanding the leading regiment.
As the crisis in this little episode had now come, the modest stranger found it necessary to assert more fully his position and authority.
In a calm and moderate tone, peculiar to him, he said: “General Reynolds
orders that the column shall continue its march in this direction.”
These words opened the eyes of the officer in command.
No sooner said than done.
The orderly was off at full speed, and the order communicated just in proper time.
The officer was not slow in recognizing his superior.
Finding himself in the presence, and in company with his corps commander, he was no little alarmed and embarrassed, and being about to take respectful leave and retire to his proper place, the General
requested him to ride along in company with him, which the officer was pleased to do for some considerable distance, and now looks back upon it as one of the pleasant reminiscences of his early experience in the war, and as his first introduction to an officer who was then eminent, and who afterward became so distinguished.
Two or three days after this pleasant incident, when our brigade was leading the advance, the day being warm, dry, and dusty, we observed some distance forward a party of officers, dismounted, in a
field skirting the road, very busily engaged in efforts to extinguish an extensive fire, raging in the dry grass and fences.
On approaching nearer we found the party to consist of General Reynolds
and his staff.
It was now ascertained that they had, in their desire to prevent unnecessary devastation, voluntarily undertaken to stem the advance of an enemy who, not despising their rank, yet seemed to entertain supreme contempt for their numbers.
It, therefore, became necessary to call in reinforcements.
The brigade promptly furnished them, the fiery enemy was routed, and the march resumed.
In this incident we may infer the kindness of heart and the respect for strict observance of military law by which the general was governed; this being in the infantile period of the war, and when it was conducted under the system of the old regulations, which were soon found not to be well adapted in certain particulars to this peculiar and cruel war. The close of this year seemed to have ended such fastidiousness.
Fences, crops, barns, and houses, railroads, and even towns were afterward swept away by the surging and resistless tide of war, when in the way of an advancing army, or when used as a shield for the enemy, or when necessary to the subsistence and comfort of the army.
In a few weeks, after the occurrence of the incident just mentioned, the bloody battle of Fredericksburg
took place, in which Reynolds
' Corps was a prominent actor, and was the only corps in our whole army that met with any considerable degree of success in that great battle.
That corps, in withdrawing from that sanguinary field, felt like a victor, as it was, indeed, for it charged upon and broke the enemy's lines on their right, and, if prompt support had been rendered, the right flank of Lee
's army would have been turned, his position made untenable, and a great victory for the Army of the Potomac, rather than a bloody repulse, would have been the result.
Twice during the winter, in the way of official duty, we met General Reynolds
in his tent at corps headquarters.
Our duty was to report to him for orders and instructions, and on these occasions the interviews were brief and the words few. He impressed us as being mild and gentlemanly in manner, and an officer of not a very numerous class of old army officers who knew how to treat volunteers in such a way as to secure their respect and confidence.
The next we saw of Reynolds
was at the great review of his corps in April, 1863, at Belle Plain
, by President Lincoln
This was his last review, and but a short time before the battle of Chancellorsville
In this movement, for the first three days, his corps was making
demonstrations against Fredericksburg
Here we saw the general cross the Rappahannock
, on the pontoon bridge, in gallant style, under a heavy fire of shell.
Three days after this he visited our division, then on the right of the army at Chancellorsville
, his corps having arrived upon this battle-ground the evening before, in time to take the place of the Eleventh Corps, then just swept from its position by Stonewall Jackson
's famous flank attack, in which Jackson
himself found a soldier's death, and the Confederacy
lost one of its greatest heroes.
Once again we remember seeing General Reynolds
It was when on the march to the world-renowned battlefield of Gettysburg
He was standing on a little eminence near his headquarters, looking, doubtless, with a just pride at his splendid corps, as it filed past him into camp for the night.
This was the last time our eyes rested upon that noble officer and patriot.
That vision often looms up in the memories of the great rebellion.
A few days thereafter he fell.
A distinguished officer of his staff says:
On the night before the battle, General Reynolds retired to his room about midnight, and rose early, as was his usual practice.
On the march from our headquarters, at the Red Tavern, he was very reticent and uncommunicative to all around him, as was his wont.
He was, in this respect, an entirely different man from any other general officer with whom I served during the war, having very little, if anything, to say to any one, other than to communicate to them such-orders as he desired executed.
He would, while upon the march, ride miles without having any conversation with any one.
Our ride to Gettysburg.formed no exception to this rule.
From this you can see that no conclusion could be arrived at as to what his feelings and presentiments were upon that day. I consider him one of the finest and most thorough soldiers which the civil war brought before the country.
The whole army was shocked at the death of General Reynolds
His corps deeply felt his loss.
This great Commonwealth, of whom he was a native, mourned over his death.
In him the national cause lost a powerful supporter and leader.
The officers of his corps testified their appreciation of his services, and their high regard for him as their commander and comrade, by the erection of a monument to his memory.
With the historian's record of the great battle of Gettysburg
, Major General John F. Reynolds
' bright name and fame will pass down to posterity.
Were a star quenched on high,
For ages would its light,
Still traveling downward from the sky,
Shine on our mortal sight.
So, when a great man dies,
For years beyond our ken,
The light he leaves behind him
Upon the paths of men.