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Chapter 19:

  • Movements in Virginia, and opening of the campaign, April, 1862
  • -- troops begin to move on the Upper Potomac in march -- McClellan prepares to flank Manassas by marching heavy masses up the Shenandoah Valley, and crossing the mountains at Snickersville -- a general retreat is ordered by Johnston -- he retires to Culpeper Court -- House, and makes his line behind the Rappahannock -- ruse of the enemy, and design upon Yorktown -- the approach to Richmond in that direction is not so easy as conjectured by McClellan -- our “lines” at Yorktown -- McClellan's progress is stopped there -- balloon reconnoissance of the enemy -- artillery Assaults on our works -- great distress amongst our troops -- outpost adventures -- ambitious Generals -- attack on Dam no. One -- frightful destruction of life -- horrible Neglect of the wounded by the Federals -- a Texan in search of a pair of boots.

Our batteries along the Potomac below Washington had been so active during winter as to completely blockade the capital, causing much distress and privation among its inhabitants, so that the army itself could not be regularly supplied, and hundreds of horses were dying for want of forage. The only railroad that communicated with Washington was overworked night and day: the Washington and Ohio Canal was broken up, and an immense number of vessels were detained in the Lower Potomac, unable or afraid to run the gauntlet of our batteries scattered up and down the stream. It was in vain that the United States gunboats would sometimes cannonade at long range, and attempt to silence us: when their convoys arrived abreast of some patch of wood, an unknown battery would suddenly open, and sink them with apparent ease. For many weeks no vessels could pass; and down in Hampton Roads a perfect forest of masts was gathered, waiting opportunities to ascend.

Thus, instead of besieging the rebels in Richmond, as had been so often promised; instead of “driving us to the wall,” “breaking the backbone of rebellion,” or “the terrific Anaconda hugging us to death,” etc., all which had been promised [162] a thousand times, McClellan's Grand Army was in uncomfortable winter quarters, and could not be furnished with regular rations, because the rebels had cut off supplies from the river. It was plain, however, that public opinion would force McClellan into action long before the proper time; for until May the roads in Virginia are impassable. Towards the beginning of March heavy masses of troops were reported moving up towards Harper's Ferry, and almost simultaneously our batteries on the Lower Potomac became wonderfully silent. The Federals claimed a “great. success” over them; but the truth was all guns were quietly removed and the batteries abandoned long before the gunboats gave their final shellings. A “great move” was evidently preparing by both parties, but few could guess its object. Banks and others at Harper's Ferry were in great force, and were beginning to move up the Shenandoah slowly and cautiously. General ( “Stonewall” ) Jackson had been detached from Manassas before Christmas, with about three thousand men, which, together with those already in the valley, might make a total of ten thousand, but certainly not more. He was ably seconded by Generals Ewell and Ashby, and no three men in the Confederacy knew the country better. Although their force was small, and that of the enemy large, they unexpectedly appeared and disappeared like phantoms before Banks and Shields, acting like “Jack-o‘--lanterns” to draw them on to destruction.

Our position on the Upper Potomac at Leesburgh was also threatened at not less than four points, namely, westward, from Lovettsville and Harper's Ferry; northward, from Point of Rocks; eastward, from Edwards's Ferry; and our rear from Drainsville. It was thought by some that our movement would be directly westward into the Shenandoah, to Jackson, distant thirty miles; but a heavy force of the enemy was between that point and our present position, and were tightening the lines around us every day. An column had sought the Blue Ridge, and were passing south-westward, evidently intending to flank and get in the rear of Johnston by passing through the mountain “gap” at Snickersville. This, of course Johnston wisely foresaw, and during winter had been quietly transporting his immense stores towards the Rappahannock, [163] removing every cannon that could be spared, and filling the empty embrasures with hollow logs, painted black, which even at a few yards' distance much resembled thirty-two and sixty-four pounders To diminish the number of his troops during the heaviest part of the winter, Johnston had granted thirty days furlough to all of the twelve months volunteers who should enlist for the war. Although the entire army accepted these terms and re-enlisted, only a few thousands were permitted to depart at a time. But although this movement was known to McClellan, he did not know that for every man going home on furlough, a regiment travelled on the same train towards Culpeper Court-House and our lines on the Rappahannock River. In fact, McClellan was quietly maturing plans for the surprise and capture of Centreville and Manassas, when Johnston suddenly gave orders for a general retreat, and all our army began to move rapidly southward.

This retreat was certainly one of the finest things of the war and the brilliancy of its, design and execution presaged a glorious summer campaign. Se perfectly were all things arranged and so quietly performed, that all stores, baggage, sick, materiel, and guns were removed far to the rear before any of us could realize the possibility of retreat; and it was not until our brigade, after several days' march over hills and impassable roads, came upon the main army defiling southward through Fauquier County, that we discovered the movement to be a general and not a partial one. All were in the finest spirits, and the line of march was so perfect and orderly that not a hundred stragglers were seen at any time, and the continual tramp of columns was as regular as if on parade. This great retreat was undoubtedly a master feat of the originator; but the exact schedule of movements, routes, time of junction, transportation, and a thousand other important points were calculated and fulfilled with so much nicety that it fills me with impartial admiration for Lee and Johnston, together with many talented subordinates. Each army corps, in breaking up quarters for the march, effectually destroyed every thing that could not find transportation, so that when the enemy advanced they found naught but smoking ruins and shattered breastworks. [164] With regard to our brigade, Hill had so arranged it, that as we marched out at three A. M., (March fourth,) immense fires burst out in the valley and on the hills from Harper's Ferry to within a few miles of Drainsville, effectually destroying immense stacks of wheat, straw, hay, clover, etc., so that when our force arrived on a neighboring hill, the scene was like a grand illumination, for many miles. The Yankees in Maryland and from Sugar-Loaf Observatory could not understand it at all, and their telegraph lights and rockets were working in all directions: It is true enough that much property was thus destroyed which did not belong to us; but we had previously offered to purchase these large crops; the owners knew we were about to depart, and would not receive Confederate scrip. Besides, they were well-known Unionists, and although not one of then had ever been molested or insulted, to my positive knowledge, we were obliged to destroy all such stores, or they would have fallen into the hands of the enemy. It seemed to be the desire of our generals, as far as practicable, to render the enemy's advance as irksome as possible — to make the once fair fields a barren waste. It did not require much to do this, for all the farmers had fled southward with movables and valuables, and had left their fields untouched since previous harvest. They “did not know who might be the ruling powers when crops grew,” and hence did not sow.

When our whole army had crossed the Rappahannock, it was drawn up in line, and waited a week for the enemy, hoping to entice them into an engagement; but McClellan refused the challenge, and moved down the stream near the seaboard. To contract our left, all fell back across the Rapidan, and increased the strength of the right against all flanking manoeuvres. Large fleets of transports were gathered at the mouth of the Rappahannock, but few knew their object or destination. Lee, however, who was now commander-in-chief, closely watched the Federal movements, and perceived that while making a show of force along the Lower Rappahannock, they would certainly not attack; their object being to transport their force with great celerity to the Yorktown Peninsula, thinking to surprise Magruder at Yorktown, and quietly seize Richmond before any troops could be marched to oppose them. This undoubtedly was [165] McClellan's design; but he proved a novice compared to Lee; for twelve months before, this accomplished soldier had read McClellan's plans so effectually, that when the enemy marched up the Peninsula, their progress was suddenly arrested by a long line of powerful fortifications belting the country, from York River to James River, and completely stopping further invasion. 'Tis true, that McClellan's force was well handled, and fox the most part lay before Yorktown before our troops were there in strength to oppose them. For ten days, indeed, Magruder displayed his ten thousand men and few guns to such advantage that both McClellan and Burnside believed that Lee and Johnston were there before them. The whole army, however, arrived within a few days, and the breastworks frowned with real cannon.

But while both armies are resting along their extensive lines, let me say a few words regarding General Lee and the various fortifications on this peninsula from Yorktown to Richmond.

When the war broke out, Robert E. Lee was a lieutenant-colonel of cavalry in the United States army, but was generally considered to be the first engineer in the service. lie had greatly distinguished himself in Mexico, and shared with Beauregard the highest honors of that campaign. It was Scott's practice never to patronize subordinate talent, although all his renown was achieved by it; so that while he continually thrust himself upon popular favor, and obtained the highest rank possible in the service, he never spoke q word in favor of those to whom he was undoubtedly indebted for his greatness. For all that Scott and the War Office cared, Lee might have lived and died a lieutenant-colonel, while others infinitely inferior to him were promoted for political reasons.

Virginia having seceded from the Union, Lee tendered his services to his native State. His patrimony was situated on Arlington Heights, overlooking Washington, and he knew every inch of the ground and all its capabilities. He had indeed occupied it with a small force, but was ordered to fall back to Fairfax Court-House by the Minister of War. He was the only man capable of filling the seat of Minister of War, and, upon going to Richmond, was installed in that office, and fulfilled its Herculean duties with great talent and despatch. The [166] line of the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers was selected by him as our point of defence; while Beauregard preferred Manassas and Bull Run-much inferior situations, although “accidental” victory crowned our efforts and immortalized the latter place. The defeat of Pegram in Western Virginia by McClellan and Rosecrans, at Rich Mountain, occurred before Manassas, as I have mentioned in another place.

A few weeks after the Yankee rout at Manassas, Lee was sent to Western Virginia, with only a few raw recruits, under Wise and Floyd, to contend against the numerous and well-provided thousands who flocked to the Federal standard from Ohio and other adjacent States, having canal and railroad communication beyond all their necessities. What Lee needed in men he made up by skilful manoeuvres, and by well fortifying different mountain passes and important hills. It was said, be cause he did not fight, that “he was afraid,” that “he was one of the old school,” etc. The truth is, he did not dare to fight, exception very advantageous terms, which Rosecrans was too much of an officer to grant. There was no excuse for the latter not offering or seeking battle, for his force — was large and superabundantly supplied. Lee, however completely foiled him on every occasion; and thus' the time passed, until the fall of heavy snows completely blocked up the roads, and rendered all that mountainous region an inhospitable waste.

As Charleston (South-Carolina) was threatened, Lee left the care of his troops to Floyd, and took command there, putting the coasts and harbors in complete defence, and rendering his work almost impregnable. The extensive works, however, which he had planned for the defence of Richmond and its vicinity, occupied much of his time, and when our winter quarters broke up the army were, for the most part, gratified by the announcement that he had been selected by Government for the post of commander in-chief. Those who knew the true merits of this modest, retiring, but skilful officer, foretold great things of him; nor were the most sanguine expectations disappointed, as subsequent events fully demonstrated. “System” seemed to be suddenly infused into all ranks, and volunteers gradually cooled down into quiet, business-like, stoical regulars. There was less “fuss” and more regularity; so that within a few weeks it was evident some mind was at work which [167] could attend alike to great and little matters. Not that our army was absolutely without order previously, but there now seemed to be more of intellect displayed in the movements, and results were effected with less noise and bluster than formerly.

Of the fortifications at Yorktown and elsewhere on the peninsula, it is desirable to say a few words, otherwise it will be impossible to understand the movements that occurred there. The occupation of Hampton Roads by large fleets, and the menacing appearance of Fortress Monroe, with its immense number of troops and munitions of war, rendered it necessary for some force to watch the peninsula. This duty was assigned to General Magruder, who often ventured to the vicinity of Newport News, (the most southern point of the peninsula,) and greatly annoyed General Butler, who then commanded the fortress. Butler was tempted to open the campaign of 1861 before Scott, by marching upon Magruder in the hope of overwhelming him. Having made his preparations, he found the Confederates posted at the village of Little Bethel, and was soundly thrashed by a much inferior force in less than sixty minutes. Magruder remained master of the peninsula, and scoured the country between Yorktown and Newport News until the close of the year. His pickets were numerous and vigilant, and captured several hundred negroes who had run away from their masters and sought the Yankee lines.

Following the example of Butler, Magruder set the “contrabands” to work on his chain of fortifications, extending from Yorktown (on the York River) south-westwardly along the banks of the shallow Warwick to Mulberry Point, on the James River — a distance of about nine miles. The distance from Yorktown to the head-waters of the Little Warwick was about five miles; the land was low, fiat, and marshy, unprofitable alike to friend or foe; but on the point where the chain of redoubts came to the springs of the Warwick, the western banks of that stream were much higher than the eastern, and the land was partly wooded, partly broken into fields. The Warwick itself was not more than one hundred feet wide at any point, and shallow; and as it was generally dry in summer, Magruder had made a series of dams, which held the waters and converted it into a succession of small lakes. Not [168] only was the river “dammed,” but also the marshy, swampy land which extended from Yorktown to its head. Thus, our position on the right was a “water-front,” and on the left also, for the most part; here, however, as the water was derived from the snows and rains of winter, the depth was generally not more than three feet.

The character of these various works was admirable, and exactly suited to the topography of the immediate district. Yorktown itself, our left, was of immense strength, as was also Mulberry Point, the extremity of our right wing; Lee's Mills was considered the centre of the line. As the enemy would be necessarily obliged to cross or cut the various dams in approaching to attack, these points were protected by batteries of various calibres, enfilading and otherwise. It would be impossible to attempt detailed descriptions of them, for whatever of skill we possessed in science and engineering was there displayed in elaborated earthworks; and sheer madness alone could induce the Federals to attempt the line by assault. McClellan saw at a glance the work before him, and prepared to approach by parallels, and shell us out at discretion, while the majority of his troops were elsewhere employed. It was conjectured that his true plan would be to arrest our attention by vigorous bombardments and a display of force in. front, while he strongly reenforced McDowell at Fredericksburgh, in order to move on Richmond from the north; fleets of gunboats and transports at the same time passing the extremities of our wings on York and James rivers, to throw strong forces on our flanks and rear. This was all seen by every intelligent soldier in the army, and the general expression was: “These immense works are a monument of Magruder's skill and industry, but are of no avail, for the enemy can ascend the rivers on either hand, and then we are emphatically cooped up, to be destroyed at leisure.”

Lee and Johnston saw that our position was untenable, but determined to hold. it until Huger, at Norfolk, should have dismantled his many fortifications, destroyed the naval establishments, and evacuated the seaboard. This was a military necessity. We had no navy, and could not expect to contend with a first-class naval power in arms against us. Norfolk had [169] supplied us with many cannon and stores of all kinds; but while our ports were blockaded, it was sheer madness to incur vast expense in keeping open naval establishments and depots when all our small craft were blocked up in harbors. This' should have been done at first. Ours was a defensive war even upon land; it could not be otherwise on water. It is true that our infant navy achieved great glory in its encounter with the United States vessels, and the names of the Merrimac, Manassas, Arkansas,. Sumter, and Nashville can never be forgotten; and it is doubtful whether any navy in the world did so much with such indifferent resources, While Huger was preparing to evacuate Norfolk, most of our troops were retracing their steps up the peninsula towards Richmond, and not one brigade was unnecessarily detained at Yorktown. General D. H. Hill commanded Yorktown and the left wing; Magruder the right; Longstreet the centre; while Johnston was chief over all. Many episodes and incidents worthy of remembrance daily occurred between the advanced posts of both armies, which served to keep up a bitter feeling between us. McClellan made daily reconnoissances with his large balloon, which remained up occasionally many hours: his apparatus and balloon, however, were always two or three miles from the front. Nevertheless, our rifled guns frequently made rather close shots, and compelled the aeronauts to descend. In some instances our shots cut their gearing.

Determined to discover with. certainty how many guns were in position, and how many embrasures masked, they occasionally moved down to the front and opened a fierce cannonade with field-pieces, and a few rifled twenty-four-pounders. Such tricks were unsuccessful: the most of our guns were parked in the rear and covered, so that at a distance none could tell what they were. A few moments would have sufficed to bring them down to the batteries, but this we never found necessary. About one hundred guns were always ready night and day, frowning through embrasures, with caissons well protected; and in some places we had a few twenty-four, thirty-two, and sixtyfour-pounders ready for the assailants. We never found occasion to use them.

Whenever the enemy approached with this design, and opened [170] fire upon us, the regiments would spring to their arms behind the breastworks and allow the artillery to amuse themselves. While we were sitting down, the enemy's shell fell thick and fast over our heads, and filled the woods in our rear with volumes of sulphurous smoke. Not one man of ours was lost during these frequent visitations, but the enemy sometimes suffered very severely. On one occasion, not less than a dozen twelve-pound howitzers opened on our six-gun battery-our pieces were silent, and not a soul stirred. Two corporals begged permission to have a shot each; directing two twelve-pound rifles at the Yankees, fully a mile and a half distant, their reports were immediately followed by the explosion of several caissons, killing the commandant and thirty men, twenty horses and upsetting four pieces! Our, boys could not restrain their pleasure, and jumping on the breastworks for more than a mile, waved their hats and howled as Mississippians and Louisianians only can howl — a yell with a true Indian ring in it! The remaining pieces of the Yankee battery continued firing with great wildness, rapidity, and fury; still the boys remained on the breastworks, laughing and yelling, and though commanded to come down when shell were chipping the earth near their feet, nothing could induce them to budge until a battery lower down opened on the enemy, and smashed them up with one discharge!

Such experiments were too costly to be repeated, so that any one portion of our lines was seldom visited more than once. The enemy contented themselves with erecting mortar batteries of great strength, so as to effectually shell us out if possible, when the bombardment regularly opened. McClellan's position was certainly an unenviable one, but such was his popularity with the men, that they performed immense labors with axe and spade at his bidding, and seldom grumbled. With a very large army (one hundred and seventy-five thousand men) encamped in low, swampy lands, sickness and disease was very great. As no roads, except a few ordinary ones, existed from Yorktown to any point of his lines, flanks, or rear, it was necessary to fell the forests and make them. Regiments were thus engaged for weeks cutting avenues of communication, while thousands plied the axe and covered the dirt with layers of [171] logs, the interstices of which were then filled with branches, and all covered with a thick coating of tenacious, marly soil. In dry weather, and for the use of light teams, these “corduroyed” roads might well serve; but as this was the month of April, the logs sank lower-and lower, so that heavy wagons, and teams dragging siege-pieces and mortars, moved but slowly, and the various routes were blocked up by division quartermasters and commissaries endeavoring to transport necessary provision to-the front. Such was the scarcity at one time, that every wagon in the service was insufficient to supply the daily necessities of his army, and McClellan's siege operations were delayed. Many deserters came over to us and begged for food.

But, alas! if such was the state of McClellan's forces, what was the condition of our own? Flour and bad bacon, indeed, were for the most part regularly served out in half rations; but as for tea, coffee, sugar, molasses, rice, baker's bread, or crackers, fresh meat, salt, or clothing — these were things unknown to us for many months; the only thing of which we had a superabundance was cartridges! Sugar, rice, and molasses should have been forthcoming; but then we knew that our few railroads in the South were overworked, night and day, in trans. porting troops and materiel, and such was the press of Government business that no civilian, except on army affairs, could ever obtain a “permit” to travel twenty miles on the various railroads. The men fully understood the difficulties of our situation, and never uttered a word of complaint. They fried the abominable bacon for its fat, which they mixed with their flour, and this, with water, was the chief food of all for many weeks.

Such was our poverty, indeed, that many negro servants, hitherto faithful to the fortunes of their masters, deserted during the darkness of night, and reported us as ragged, starving, footsore, and spiritless. Except in the latter respect, their reports were but too true. In lieu of coffee or tea, we gathered holly-leaves or sassafras-roots, to boil down into tea, and felt thankful for this barbarous decoction, although much debility and sickness resulted from using it. All this was so well known to the enemy, that their pickets would taunt ours in coarse language that stirred up our men occasionally to deeds of rashness, such as a surprise of the enemy's outposts about [172] dinner-time! The well-fed-rice-cracker-fresh meatsago-ham-bean-pork-molasses-sugar-eating, and tea-coffee and whisky-drinking Yankees, in fine warm clothes, would often shout to us: “How do git along, you sassafras-drinking sons of--?” “Oh you mouldy, ragged — rebels! what's the price of soap in Dixie?” Taunts might serve their purpose very well when out of danger behind trees, but as soon as any of us “fell in,” and marched out to give appropriate answers, these gentlemen in blue would invariably “skedaddle!”

I have known instances, indeed, of soldiers from the Gulf States having, unknown to the officers, sallied out beyond our extreme outposts during the night, penetrated the enemy's lines, and brought back provisions in abundance, often having slung over their arms from two to four rifles, the property of Federal sentinels who opposed them. I repeat, I have known several instances of this kind where parties of six would go out on such expeditions, and, from experience in Indian warfare, would scatter in the timber, prowl about the enemy's encampments, and return unscratched, with a heavy load of eatables — the chief weight being of coffee and sugar. One or two particular instances I consider worthy of especial mention.

One day while on duty near Dam No. 1, we observed within the enemy's lines a flock of sheep grazing, the distance from us being about two miles. We had been joking on the subject and remarking what fine soup they would make for our hungry men, when I observed a tall ragged Texan intently eyeing them. Lifting his two-feet-and-a-half diameter straw hat from his head, he began to scratch as if in profound meditation. It was towards evening, and he was returning from twenty-four hours picketing in the front. “What's the matter?” I inquired. “Nothina,” he replied; “but I was just a-thinking I should like to have some mutton for supper!-our folks get nothina but cartridges to eat.” Tired as he was, he answered company roll-call, and shortly afterwards passed me, stealing cautiously towards the enemy, hiding behind fallen timber, and having crossed the dam, disappeared.

After a while I heard several shots fired in the direction of the sheep, but, of course, took little notice of it, for firing was continual from morning till night. As “tattoo” was sounding [173] I was about to repair to my own post, when some unaccountable object seemed to be crossing the dam. One of the guards challenged-Hold on, boys, “was the reply;” wait a minute-“I've got him all right;” and before I could recover from astonishment, my friend of the large straw hat appeared clambering up the face of the breastwork, heavily laden with something, and, on close inspection, I found he carried a large sheep and a fat lamb on his back, the legs tied round his neck, a bundle swung around his middle, four rifles hung from his shoulders, and his own trusty Enfield grasped firmly in the right hand, cocked and loaded. “But where did you get the rifles?” I inquired. “Oh Well, the darned fools wouldn't let me get the mutton peaceable, so I had to shoot four of 'em!” This instance is but one of a class, for which I can vouch from personal knowledge.

The enemy had been taught that we were a pusillanimous race, effeminate, lazy, unacclimated, and physically inferior to themselves. Our mode of life at home — the abundance of money, dependence upon slave labor, and inaptitude for every thing save cotton, rice, and sugar-raising-might give countenance to such ideas; and it is equally true that habitual slothfulness had thrown every species of manufacture into their hands. But history should have taught them that the South was ever foremost in fight, and that while Northern troops had never fought South during the Revolution of 1776, Southern armies had traversed all the North, and had left their bones on every battle-field. The same is equally true of the war of 1812, and of the expedition into Mexico, for the impartial student will be surprised at the numbers lost by us compared with the North in those transactions, and at the number of times the Cotton States have shown in the front, in every movement of danger. All this, however, was not considered. When McClellan took command of the enemy in August, 1861, his words were: “There shall be no more defeats, no more retreats; our progress will henceforth be unchecked and glorious.” The press also had been continually chanting anthems over their own superiority and our wretchedness; every picket fight had been magnified into “a great success,” “complete victory,” etc., all printed in alarmingly large capitals, until at last every drummer in McClellan's army considered himself a hero.

Surprised to find us more than a match for them in the every. [174] day encounters at the lines, and annoyed to find that their newspapers sometimes told awkward truths by “accident,” different ambitious generals sought to distinguish themselves at their respective posts, and to do something of which to boast. On one occasion it was designed to march a heavy force into the woods near Lee's Mills, and surprise four of our companies picketed there. Our outposts quietly gave the signal of approach, and as a full brigade turned into a lane in line with our battery, some half dozen second shell were fired very rapidly, and split up the column, cutting the commander and horse completely in two--the fire of our four companies in extended order did the rest, and the New-Englanders broke and fled in great confusion, leaving many dead and wounded behind. They had to retreat within view of our lower batteries, which, as they passed their front, shelled the woods and broke them a second time.

On another occasion, some of our pickets advanced farther than necessary, and captured several field-officers. Expecting retaliation, strict watch was maintained, and on the Sabbath a full regiment appeared to take vengeance on our pickets, but none were seen. The Yankees had not proceeded far, when up rose four companies, and having delivered a slaughtering crossfire, charged with a terrible yell. The enemy broke, and we were never troubled with them afterwards at that point.

Our outposts, however, could not keep quiet, and every chance that was presented was improved to slaughter the enemy, for they held them in profound contempt. The enemy devised a new plan for picketing. They owned a great many dogs, and when on outpost duty, Mr. Yankee would quietly light his pipe and play cards, while the dogs rambled through the woods, and gave the alarm of any approach! The faithfulness of their dogs saved them on many occasions from loss, for the animals would howl and retire from any one unless dressed in blue. As woodsmen, the enemy were complete novices compared to us; but this was as might be expected. There were Maryland regiments; however, in their service who were equal to us, but these were not trusted-McClellan thought, and wisely, that with the first opportunity they would “skedaddle” to the rebels! [175] Our various batteries commanding the dams seemed to give the enemy much uneasiness and annoyance. They erected heavy counter-batteries, but still could not show in force at any point without suffering loss, and so determined to try the experiment of taking one of these defences. Towards Yorktown, the various dams were successively numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., until their approach to Lee's Mills, where the river became sufficiently deep to obviate the erection of more. “Dam no. 1” was consequently situated on land that held but little water, the causeway being about twelve feet broad. The battery which protected it was triangular in form, containing three guns, with a long embankment or rifle-pit connected with it on either side, but situated in very low land. The position of the enemy was much higher, with rising hillocks up and down the face of the swamp, which were, of course, converted into earthworks, and mounted not less than twenty-two guns, commanded by their accomplished artillerist Ayers, (I follow Yankee authorities.) It was impossible for us to use our guns with much effect, since they were always assailed by enfilade.

To obviate this, we were constructing a powerful battery in the rear of the first, the work being chiefly performed by the troops on picket there. While this work was in progress, a North-Carolina regiment was stretched along the right rifle-pit, and four companies of a Louisiana regiment occupied the left. Yankee sharpshooters, posted in trees, had discovered that the three-gun battery was oftentimes comparatively deserted about noon-time, and as the causeway, or dam, was broad, it would not be very difficult to cross the comparatively dry swamp, under cover of their guns, seize the. place, break our chain of defences, and throw over large bodies of troops. Accordingly they gathered a large force silently in the woods, and at the hour of noon made a rush across the causeway, our pickets fighting desperately as they retreated, instead of falling back upon the rifle-pits without delay, after once firing their pieces, conformably to order. As a consequence, the enemy were half-way across the dam and swamp before any alarm was given.

When the assault was known, the North-Carolinians in the right rifle-pit seized their arms, and having fired one volley [176] with destructive effect, unaccountably retired. The Yankees, once in possession of the battery and right rifle-pit, were much in the situation of the man who gained an elephant in a raffle, not knowing what to do with it I Swarming over the works, they fought and overcame the few guards who resisted them, and received heavy reenforcements as fast as possible. The four companies of Louisianians who had gallantly held their pit, were joined by the remainder of the regiment, and rushing into the battery commenced the work of slaughter silently, but with terrible vigor. Having entered the works in two wings, the unfortunate Yankees were thus surrounded, and the first crossfire delivered by the Louisianians cut them down by scores: many more were destroyed with the sabre-bayonet when our men closed in upon them. Those who attempted to jump out of the breastwork were shot down by our Georgians, who now occupied the right pit. Reenforcements crossing the dam were obstructed by the dead, the wounded, and those seeking to return, so that scores fell right and left into the swamp, and were half buried in mud and water. The saddest part is yet to tell. Smith, who commanded the Yankee brigade, seeing his men overcome and slaughtered in the battery, ordered Ayers's twenty-two guns to open fire, in order to cover the retreat, but in doing this, their shells killed as many of their own men as of ours. The Louisianians in the battery and the Georgians in the rifle-pits continued the work of destruction, and of the few that escaped, many sank into the swamp, and could not extricate themselves from the mud.

This affair lasted about half an hour; the enemy numbered near two thousand, While our force did not exceed half that number. The scene of carnage was frightful; several hundreds of the enemy might be seen lying in all directions in the battery, many along the causeway, and more to the right and left of it in the swamp. Our loss was unaccountably small, and never did Louisianians use the bayonet with greater good will, for they had met for the first time “real” Yankees, (Vermont,) who had done more lying and boasting than those of any State in the North-always excepting the arch-hypocrites and negro-worshippers of Massachusetts. Proud as were our men of this [177] affair, all regretted one thing, namely, that the gentlemen in blue had not proved to be Massachusetts men. There was not a regiment in the service but would have willingly marched fifty miles for a fair fight with double the number of them.

Smith, the Federal Commander, kept up the cannonade till long after sundown, but with more destruction to his own wounded than to us; for as we screened ourselves during the fire, it did not cause us the loss of a man. This conduct, if nothing more were added, affords ample justification for the assertions of the enemy that their commander was completely intoxicated during the whole affair, and incapable of conducting it. During the night we endeavored to extricate the wounded from the swamp, but our men were repeatedly fired upon; and even when a flag of truce was sent across next day, begging, in the name of mercy, that we might be permitted to look after their wounded, whose groans and cries were heat rending, this inhuman commander refused to receive it, and our men, being fired upon a second time, retired, and allowed the poor wretches to die from loss of blood or hunger. For two days and nights this barbarous conduct was kept up, and the enemy were allowed to lie festering in the sun, nor was any thing done for them until their own regiments (Third, Fourth, and Sixth Vermont) were withdrawn from the scene. This was done, doubtless, to screen the “real” loss from their own troops. During the night, however, many of our men ventured across the dam, and brought in some of their own dead, and buried many of the enemy's slain, to stay the increasing stench that arose from putrefaction. We also dragged out of the swamp some who had sunk to the armpits in mud and water, but who had sustained themselves by clinging to stumps and roots.

Although my thoughts were far from cheerful when standing in the battery and gazing on this awful scene of slaughter, I could not but smile at the indifference of a tall, hard-fisted, and very ragged Texan, who was cautiously “hunting up a pair of boots and pants.” He was warned not to show his head above the parapet, for the Yankee sharpshooters, armed with rifles of a long range, with telescopic “sights,” were “thick as blackberries” in the woods to the front, and were excellent shots. [178] “Darn the blue-skins, any how; who's scared of the blue-bellies? (that is, Eastern men.) Let all the Yankees go to for all I care. Let 'em shoot, and be d-d! I'm bound to have a pair of boots, any how!” And so saying, he passed over the parapet, down its face, and returned with the body of an enemy, which he had fished out of the water. He first pulled off the boots, which proved to be an excellent pair; then proceeding to rifle the pockets, he found sixty dollars in gold. He was much astonished and delighted at these discoveries; but when he examined the haversack and found it well stored with capital rations, including a canteen full of fine rye whisky, he was electrified with sudden joy, dropped boots, haversack, and money upon the ground, and half-emptied the canteen at a draught. Setting down the can, he smacked his lips, and thus soliloquized: “Well poor devil, he's gone, like a mighty big sight of 'em; but he was a gentleman, and deserved better luck. If he'd been a Massachusetts Yankee, I wouldn't a cared a darn! but these fellows are the right kind. They come along with good boots and pants, lots to eat, money in their pockets, and are no mean judges of whisky. These are the kind of fellows I like to fight!”

It was not from a brutal feeling that our men rifled the dead, but sheer necessity; and although they stripped them of any thing needed, the bodies were invariably interred with decency, and not mutilated, as the Northern press delighted to asseverate on all occasions. Hardened as we were, men would joke under any circumstances — some would even smoke during action; and it was not uncommon to hear one remark, when burying the enemy: “Well, Lincoln, old Scoft, and McClellan promised ‘em farms each in Virginia when all was over-old Virginny is large enough to accommodate 'em all with lots, seven by two!” But this I wish to repeat — there was no brutality displayed on any occasion that came under my notice on any field on which I was present. It is true the prisoners were unmercifully joked occasionally, but I have always seen the wounded treated with the utmost care; and it became a usual expression in the hospitals, when all did not progress well with patients: “If I was only a Yankee, the darned doctors would do more for-me than now.” The dead, on all practicable occasions, were decently [179] buried; and in many cases I have known putrid carcases handled and coffined by our men, and even a board placed at the head of the grave, as at Leesburgh, with the words: “Here lies a Yankee; Co. H, Fifteenth Massachusetts.” I am emphatic about this subject, for many infamous misrepresentations have been widely circulated regarding us by the Northern press.

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