Company E, 39th Massachusetts Infantry, in the Civil War.—(Ii.)
October 19, 1863.
We marched at 8 a. m. for Haymarket
on the Manassas Railroad, and arrived at 3 p. m. At 4 p. m. on the next day we set out again, passing through Thoroughfare Gap, in the Bull Run Ridge
making camp at 10 p. m. We remained in this neighborhood until the twenty-fourth, when we marched to Kettle Run
, where we found the railroad badly used up. As we had orders to guard a bridge over the Run
, we stayed here till November 5.
All this while the enemy were very near, and both sides were manoeuvring to get the better position.
At 4 p. m. that day we started for Catlett's Station, and arrived there at 8.30 p. m. November 7 found us at sunset, after a march of seventeen miles, at Morrisville
The next day we had an all day's march, sixteen or seventeen miles, and halted at night four miles from the railroad station.
November 9, at 5 p. m., we marched for Licking Run
, about fifteen miles away, and reached there late at night, in the midst of a snowstorm.
About an inch of snow was on the ground.
The men were pretty well demoralized and, to put it mildly, there was considerable grumbling.
My commission as second lieutenant, Company H.
signed by Governor Andrew
, and dated October 20, reached me the next day.
I stopped grumbling.
We marched from 7.30 a. m. to 11 p. m., arriving at Rappahannock Station.
(The orders for all this marching and counter-marching were issued by General Meade
to the corps commanders.)
We remained here until November 26, when we crossed the Rappahannock
at 8 a. m. By 6.30 p. m. we had crossed the Rapidan
, also, thus traversing the peninsula between the two rivers on our way eastward towards Richmond
That night we camped on the heights, a mile from the last-named river.
We marched at 6.30 a. m. on the Richmond
side, and reached Robertson's Tavern at midnight. The enemy
were just in front of us. The next morning, after a short march, we came close up to them at Mile Run
and drove in their pickets.
(The whole Army of the Potomac, spread out as they were, must have extended over many miles.) Companies E and C were deployed to skirmish and cover the front of our brigade.
The First Corps (ours) was in the centre; the Second and Sixth were on our right, the Third and Fifth to our left.
Our regiment formed part of the front line, second division, of the corps.
Our division lay in position all day; cannonading lasted till dark, but there was no infantry engagement.
In the morning we marched a mile to the right, and lay in line of battle all day.
We returned to our position of the twentyninth (centre), and remained until 4 p. m., when our army began to retreat to the Rapidan
The enemy had the better position.
While here we were only a few miles from the battlefields of Chancelloirsville and of the Wilderness
which was yet to be. General Warren
, the saviour of Gettysburg
and chief engineer of the Army of the Potomac at that time, but now in command of the Second Army Corps, had explained to General Meade
the true state of affairs, and this caused the withdrawal of our troops.
On our retreat we reached Germania Ford on the south bank, and bivouacked at 10 p. m. The First Corps covered the crossing of the Fifth and Sixth Corps the next morning (December 2), and our regiment was the last to cross.
That night we bivouacked at Stevensburg
We went into camp at Kelley's Ford, on the south side of the Rapidan
, where we occupied log houses which General Lee
's army had built for winter quarters.
They had been driven from these November 7 by our Third Corps.
Here we remained till December 24.
The huts were far from being clean and wholesome.
We marched to a point on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, about four miles above Culpeper
, where we bivouacked two days, and then marched at night still farther on to a point beyond the cavalry reserves, and formed the extreme outpost of the army, near Mitchell's Station
Here we suffered much from severe storms—snow and rain—until quarters
January 1, 1864, the boys were hard at work erecting houses seven feet by fifteen feet, which were to accommodate eight men each.
Each regiment thus took its turn while in this camp, which was until April 26, 1864. One regiment of our brigade would be under arms during the twenty-four hours of the day, with guns stacked, watching for the enemy.
This camp was at the foot of Cedar Mountain
, four miles from the Rapidan
, and five miles in advance of our main army.
We occupied a post of great danger, as well as of honor.
The camp was one of the finest in the army.
We remained here all winter, and during the time the Confederates
went around our rear twice and felt of our army, hut never molested us. Two incidents of that winter stand out in memory.
The first occurred January 5, when seven Rebel soldiers, in wretched plight, found their way into our camp and surrendered.
It is needless to say they were received hospitably and were allowed to fill up from Uncle Sam's rations.
The other event, in marked contrast with this one, was a visit of inspection from General U. S. Grant
Camp was broken up April 26, when we marched about a mile and set up our shelter tents.
Here we remained until May 3.
We were now having fine weather.
At 12 o'clock that night we were ordered to pack up, and at 3 a. m., May 4, marched back to Stevensburg
, where we joined our corps, the Fifth.
(The First Corps had been consolidated with the Fifth some time before this.) At noon of that day we crossed the Rapidan
, and halted about five miles south of the river, after a hard march of twenty miles. We bivouacked at a spot from which the countless fires of our whole army could be seen, a most impressive sight.
This was in ‘The Wilderness.’
Thursday, May 5.
We turned out at 3 p. m. and marched at 6, about two miles, and halted with the enemy's full force in our front.
The Battle of the Wilderness
was opened by the First and Third Divisions of our corps at 10 a. m. General Warren
was in command of the corps, General Griffin
of the First Division, and General Crawford
of the Third. Colonel Peter Lyle
commanded our brigade.
They drove the enemy for a while, but were finally forced back.
Our division, the Second,
together with the Fourth, took their places and repulsed the enemy, who fell back through an opening in the woods and made a stand among the trees, about a quarter of a mile from our line.
The whole Thirty-ninth Regiment was in this engagement, Colonel P. Stearns Davis
in command, Captain Fred R. Kinsley
over Company E, and Captain C. N. Hunt
over Company H, Dorchester
The other companies of this regiment were Company K, Woburn
, under Captain W. C. Kinsley
; Company C, Medford; B, of Roxbury
; D, of Quincy
; I, of Natick
; F, of Taunton
; A, of Peabody
; G, of Scituate
That night the field between the two armies was strewn with dead and wounded men, mangled horses, and broken cannon.
Our regimental loss was twenty, killed and wounded.
Company E, being on the right, was not in the thick of the fight, and lost none.
Company H lost six, two killed and four wounded.
We lay in this position all that afternoon and during the night which followed.
At 4 p. m. we attempted to make a charge, but were repulsed, with a heavy loss to the division.
The regiment on our left, the Ninetieth Pennsylvania, on account of the opening in the woods, was exposed to the enemy's view and encountered the concentrated fire of their battery.
This regiment had 400 men in line; they came out with 150.
They met this heavy loss while going only as many yards.
While we were in the woods the Confederate batteries raked the trees right down upon us. ‘That night was the worst I ever experienced in the service,’ says our diarist.
As soon as night came on, the wounded men in front began to cry pitifully for water and for help.
A truce was arranged, and men from both sides went out to collect their dead and wounded comrades.
But from some misunderstanding the truce lasted only about a half-hour.
Firing commenced again on our right (Sixth Corps), which was kept up all through the night.
(Our corps stood between the Second and the Sixth). The Cavalry was on our flanks and rear.
Our position was near Mine Run
, in a thick growth of trees, most of them pines.
The next morning the Sixth Corps was relieved by the First Division of our corps.
There was hard fighting all along the
About 11 a. m. we were ordered to the rear.
It seems that the Ninth Corps, which had moved forward into some woods about this time, had broken, and we were sent back to support them.
We marched three miles—weather extremely hot—and built some breastworks there.
This was at the left of our position of the day before.
A fearful fight went on that afternoon from 4 to 6 o'clock. Fortunately no one in Company E was injured.
That night I was detailed on skirmish line.
For forty-eight hours there was not much rest for some of us, but the line snatched a little sleep at intervals.
Humorous incidents were not lacking during the eventful and strenuous days of this campaign, and the following is mentioned merely in illustration: Our line lay along a plank road, and we had breastworks ten feet away and parallel to the road.
About midnight, while the boys were endeavoring to get a little sleep, a great racket was heard not far away, and some in their alarm thought the whole Rebel army was upon us. It proved to be a stampede among our own cattle, and they came bellowing down the space between the planks and the works, and over the prostrate forms of our men. The choice language of the startled sleepers, when they came to understand the situation, added not a little to the tumult.
Quiet reigned for a short time only, for from 4 to 6 o'clock the enemy tried in good earnest to get possession of the road, and made three, four, yes, five charges in front of us. A Rebel prisoner, apparently wounded and just able to crawl about, on hearing the shouts of his compatriots so near, and dreading to fall into their hands, much to the amusement of our soldiers, jumped up a well man and ran like a deer towards our rear.