The precision with which the order to take the new position was executed, the determined valor of the men, the seizing and bearing off a stand of the enemy's colors, and finally the manner in which the regiment was retired from the field, afforded a fine exhibition of military discipline and soldierly bearing. In this battle, the infantry especially engaged the enemy at the greatest disadvantage. The troops were hurried upon the field, having already marched all day at a rapid pace for miles, under a broiling sun; and before reaching the scene of conflict, they were shorn of half their strength from heat and exhaustion. As I rode along from regiment to regiment, and saw the numerous cases of sun-stroke and the scores and hundreds of men, many of them known to me as good and true soldiers, falling out by the way, utterly powerless to move forward, it was a sad, a fearful reflection that this condition of so many would ensure defeat and terrible disaster. The cavalry had been for hours hotly engaged with the enemy, who was in strong force and occupied a well-chosen position. Although they had behaved nobly, they were now in urgent need of support, and hence the order despatched to commandants of regiments five miles in the rear, to “hurry up;” and on that memorable day — a hot summer's day in a Southern clime — they did “hurry up.” Our troops did all that troops could do under the circumstances — fought bravely, desperately, but were compelled to give way — to fall back. And it was now obvious that no preparation had been made in anticipation of a possible defeat. Two hundred and fifty wagons had been permitted to crowd far to the front, greatly endangering their own safety in case of a repulse, blocking up the road against the running of ambulances, and interfering with any necessary movement of the troops to the rear. Most of the commands, on falling back, intermingled with the great number of those who had been unable to reach the field, and being greatly disorganized, all turned their faces to the rear, and joined in a common retreat. And now began the difficult task of wheeling around the teams and wagons. You have heard teamsters yell at their mules, crack their whips, and sometimes-swear, haven't you? Well, they did all these things on this occasion, and whatever else teamsters properly may do. At all events, Bedlam let loose could hardly excel in the noise and commotion you would have witnessed had you been there, in their efforts to get out of range of the enemy's guns. Stretcher-bearers and ambulances could now reach the gory field no more, and although comparatively few of the fallen had been brought off, there now remained no alternative; the dead and wounded alike must be abandoned to the victors. Our hospital being under fire, the enemy having flanked us, our suffering men were taken to a new location three fourths of a mile further back, and again laid upon the green grass, while the Surgeon bestowed such attention as it was possible to do under the circumstances. In less than thirty minutes, however, we found ourselves under the necessity of moving again. And so, lifting the poor mangled fellows into the ambulances once more, the drivers were directed to fall into the retreating column, and follow on until further orders. All efforts to form a new line of battle that day were unavailing, except for a few minutes, once or twice. The army was now rapidly retreating — marching to the rear — I should say, changing front, and with rapid strides seeking to go the furthest possible in the shortest space of time. Every body seemed to be in a hurry. The road was not wide enough — it was filled up to overflowing from fence to fence, with wagons, ambulances, artillery, horsemen, and footmen — everybody trying to get ahead of everybody else, as though everbody else were in their way. Then, there were two columns of cavalry to the left, moving parallel to the road, their files not very well dressed, to be sure, but still making good time. The infantry, poor fellows, seemed light of foot, by the way they plodded along on either side of the road, dodging through the brush, over logs and gulleys, constituting a dense body of flankers to the column that filled the road. But there was a sad deficiency of arms among them, having left their guns at Guntown. This rapidly-moving army of living creatures, consisting of men, horses, negroes, mules, wagons and artillery, would every few minutes receive a fresh impetus from the shot and shell of the enemy, as they came crashing and screeching over our heads and bursting among us. Good heavens! what a spectacle! Five thousand infantry, three thousand five hundred cavalry, four batteries, two hundred and fifty wagons, and all the appurtenances thereunto belonging — every man, horse and wagon bent on getting to some distant place before anybody else did! But O, the roads They had been well-nigh impassable in places when we were advancing toward the enemy, and now, while advancing from him, and just as night was throwing her dark mantle around us, these horrid roads must be travelled over again. No stopping to repair them now. O, no! our errand was too pressing for that. Well, perceiving no advantage in staying behind, but a strong probability of some disadvantage, and being well mounted, I proposed to my ever faithful “John” that we go forward. He quickly responded that “he would stick by me if I would by him,” and with this understanding we pushed on — travelled all night, amid such darkness, some of the time, as only dwells in these benighted regions of the Prince of Darkness. We arrived at Ripley, thirty miles distant from the battle-field, soon after daylight. Not doubting but we had pretty much led the van, you can imagine my surprise on finding there a brigade of cavalry, as well as many of the artillery and infantry. They might truly be called
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Table of Contents:
Doc . 16 . operations in Tennessee .
Doc . 19 . the siege of Suffolk, Virginia .
Doc . 36 . General Rousseau 's expedition.
Doc . 59 . battles of Spottsylvania , Va: battle of Sunday , May 8 , 1864 .
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