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 Many a noble officer, reading such a letter with a poor fellow of his command, at night fall, has realized how inadequate and powerless was the best sympathy and advice and comfort he could give, and when at next morning's roll call, that man failed to answer to his name, has felt far more of pity than of condemnation. Soldiers would not prevent the departure of a comrade who was known to have received such a letter. Officers of court martials, compelled by sense of duty to order the execution as a deserter of a man absent without leave under such circumstances, have confessed to me, with awful emphasis, that they shuddered, as if accessories before the fact to murder. Nay more—when a man stood upright under such a strain, and, thereafter, his life a living death, yet steadfast trod its hateful round of camp and march and battle, it was even a relief to his commanding officer, when the foeman's merciful bullet let the agonized spirit out of the miserable body, to see his arms fly up wildly, and to catch, as it were, his death cry— ‘Thank God! this hell is past.’ During the winter of 1864-1864, two or three of General Alexander's field officers, First Corps Artillery, A. N. V., were sent to Chaffin's Bluff, for the purpose of toning up the garrison there, which had been demoralized by the disaster at Fort Harrison, the capture of their commanding officer and other untoward incidents. The morale of the men had decidedly improved before the final crash came, but that was enough to try the mettle even of the best troops in the highest condition. The men of the fleet and of the James river defenses were ordered to leave the river about midnight of the 2d of April, exploding magazines and ironclads, and joining the Army of Northern Virginia on its retreat. The troops at Chaffin's, having been long in garrison, and rightly deeming this the beginning of the end, were greatly shaken by the orders, and the sublime terrors of that fearful night certainly did nothing to steady them. The explosions began just as we got across the river. When the magazines at Chaffin's and Drury's Bluffs went off, the solid earth shuddered convulsively; but, as the iron-clads—one after another—exploded, it seemed as if the very dome of heaven would be shattered down upon us. Earth and air and the black sky glared in the lurid light. Columns and towers and pinnacles of flame shot upward to an amazing height, from which, on all sides, the ignited shell flew on arcs of fire and burst as if bombarding heaven. I distinctly remember feeling that, after this, I could never more be startled—no, not by the catastrophes of the last Great Day.
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