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Chapter 6: battles of Fairfax Court house, Flint Hill and Antietam.

My position had changed during the past year from corporal in Company A to second lieutenant in Company I, and it took me some time to get accustomed to the new office. Up to the time I left Company A no man had been punished; but the morning that I reported for duty in Company I Captain Plympton had one man on a barrel and another on knapsack drill, and I thought I had made a mistake in not taking sparring lessons before being promoted.

I found the men of Company I as good-hearted a lot as there was in the regiment, only a little wild. The leader of the company was a young boy; he was about seventeen years old, and a private soldier, yet he was the one who settled all disputes. He was well informed in regard to the movements of the army, and had ideas respecting future campaigns that he was ready to discuss with officers or men. Soon after I joined the company he called on me and made a little speech of welcome, saying that the boys were glad I had been assigned to the company, and assured me they would make it pleasant for me. Such a reception was very gratifying. I was but twenty years of age and doubted my ability to control these men, but I commanded the company for nearly two years, and punished but one man during the [42] time. That boy has since become known and honored by every comrade in Massachusetts. The friendship formed that day for George H. Patch continued until his death, and the memory of that light-hearted, true soldier will be precious to me while life shall last.

Leaving the transports at Alexandria, we first marched to Chain Bridge, then to Tenallytown, Md. No one seemed to know where they wanted us. We went into camp and waited for orders, which, when received, were to march at once for Centreville, to reinforce General Pope. At daybreak, August 30, we crossed the bridge at Georgetown, and reached Fairfax Court House the next morning, having marched sixty-three miles in sixty-four successive hours. It was the hardest march we had made,--twenty-four hours of the time it rained in torrents. The shoes of the men were in bad condition; many marched bare-footed, and it was impossible for them to keep in the ranks. We did not have a hundred men in the ranks when we reached the line of battle.

At Fairfax Court House we found everything in confusion. Pope's army had been defeated at the second Bull Run and were in full retreat. Without time to make coffee we were ordered in, and deployed as skirmishers to the right of the town, as it was expected the rebel cavalry would attack the flank. We remained in this position until the army had passed, when, with the 1st Minnesota, we were selected to cover the retreat. The rebel cavalry came down on us, and we had some sharp fighting as we fell back. At Flint Hill we made a stand. Night had come on and we did not care to be bothered with the rebels any longer. The 1st Minnesota formed a V with two sections of Tompkins's [43] Rhode Island battery at this point, the 19th supporting the battery. On came the rebels, right into the trap we had set. The Minnesota boys opened fire, followed by the battery. The 19th charged with a yell; the rout was complete, as all not killed or wounded turned and fled. We had no time to follow them, as we were quite a distance from the main army. When we rejoined the column our two regiments were mistaken for the enemy, and fired upon by our own ranks. Assistant-Surgeon Hill was killed, Captain Russell disabled by his horse being shot, and several men wounded.

The next day we again crossed the Potomac to Maryland soil. The prospects were not pleasant to contemplate. We had done little but march in retreat the past six months. A line officer has little chance to see what is going on outside his regiment, and his opinion is of little importance, but I believed then, and time has only strengthened my belief, that the leading officers of the Army of the Potomac were perfectly willing General Pope should be whipped. He had taken command of the Army of Virginia with a swell order: “Headquarters in the saddle, spades to the rear, muskets to the front,” and they were glad to see the conceit taken out of him. There is a great deal of human nature shown in the world,--even in army commanders.

We now took up our line of march through Maryland. We were not the only ones who had crossed the Potomac, as the rebels had already crossed and were marching north, and we must head them off if possible. It began to look as though they would capture Washington before we captured Richmond. We marched through Rockville, where we had spent our winters so pleasantly, and met many old acquaintances, [44] but missed several of our gentlemen friends who, we learned, had joined the rebel army.

Some of the ladies, who loved the stars and bars, joked us on our “On to Richmond” movement, and were confident the war would soon end with the south victorious. The events of the past few months had been such that we had slight ground for an argument; but we assured them we were satisfied, and all we wanted was to get General Lee on this side of the river. Our march through Maryland was delightful; the farther we got into the interior the more loyal the people became, and our welcome was cordial.

We arrived at South Mountain while the battle was being fought, but took no part in it. The 16th of September we reached Antietam, and formed in line of battle. On the morning of the 17th, with our brigade in the centre, we advanced in three lines of battle, over walls and fences, through fields, under a terrible fire of artillery. The regiment was growing nervous but did not break. Colonel Hincks halted us, put us through the manual of arms, ending with parade rest. Having become steady, we moved forward to a strip of woods, and came upon the enemy strongly posted. Grape and canister, shot and shell, volleys of musketry greeted us,--and our men fell as grain before the scythe.

One-half of our officers and men were either killed or wounded. Colonel Hincks was the first to fall, again terribly wounded. Capt. George W. Batchelder was killed, and the command of the regiment and companies changed fast, as one after another officer went down. At the time we were so hotly engaged in the front we began to receive a fire from our left and rear, and discovered that we were [45] being flanked, and must change front to rear. This was done by the 19th Massachusetts and 1st Minnesota. We were now under command of Colonel Devereaux, and were ordered to take a position near a stone wall. We fired as we fell back, holding the enemy until we had reformed our lines, when we again went in and continued fighting until dark, when we were ordered to support a battery. We then had time to count the cost of the battle. Colonel Hincks was reported dying, and we mourned the loss of our brave leader. Captain Batchelder was dead. He had been my tent-mate since I had been an officer, and had rendered me valuable assistance. Every one loved him; he was an ideal volunteer soldier. Having graduated at Harvard, he entered the army as an enlisted man in the Salem Zouaves at the first call for men, and had worked hard to bring the regiment to the state of efficiency which it had reached.

I had not seen my brother since we had advanced in line. He was left general guide of the regiment, and his place was on the left. As soon as we halted I went to the company, but he was not there. The following day I searched the hospitals, but could not find him, and on the morning of the 19th, the rebels having left our front, I went where their lines had been and found him, with Jacob Hazen of Company C and George Carleton of Company B, near an old haystack. He had been shot in the right side of the neck, the ball passing out of the left shoulder; it had cut the spinal nerve, and he could not move hand or foot. I saw at once that he could not live and had him placed in an ambulance and carried to our field hospital. It was the saddest duty of my life. We had left home together, and had often talked of a happy reunion around the old fireside [46] when the war should end. Now I must write to my old mother that one of the three who had bade her good-by in ‘61 would never return.

This was war, terrible war! As I was kneeling by his side, hearing his last words, a woman's voice said, “Is he your brother?” I explained to her the fact that I was in command of my company and could not stay with him, but could not bear to have him die alone. With tears streaming down her motherly face she promised me she would not leave him, but would see him buried and would send me word where he was laid,--which promise she faithfully kept. The name of this good woman was Mrs. Mary Lee of Philadelphia, Pa. She had a son in Baxter's Fire Zouaves, who was with her that day. Several years ago, when Post 2, G. A. R., of Philadelphia, was in Boston, I saw that one of the old battle-flags was the Fire Zouaves, and was carried by Sergeant Lee. He proved to be the son I had met that sad day at Antietam; a few months later I visited his mother in Philadelphia, who was working just the same for the soldiers as she had done during the war.

While my brother lay wounded on the field inside the rebel lines an officer of the 8th South Carolina came along, and seeing 19 on his cap asked to what regiment he belonged. Being informed that it was the 19th Massachusetts, he said he had a brother in that regiment named Daniel W. Spofford. My brother told him that his brother was wounded in the battle, and might be on the field. He searched for him but did not find him, as he was able to go to the rear before we changed front. Returning, he had my brother carried to the haystack where I found him, and rendered all the assistance possible. The name of the South Carolina [47] officer was Phineas Spofford. Both brothers survived the war. The Union soldier resides in Georgetown, Mass., the rebel in South Carolina, but he often visits his native State.

I also missed my boy Patch. He was last seen helping a sergeant from the field. He turned up in Libby Prison a few days later. My old company had met with other losses than death. Four men had deserted on the eve of battle. They had taken the canteens of the company to go in search of water. No doubt they are searching yet, as they did not return. Two were non-commissioned officers, and all were intelligent men.

The regiment was now commanded by Capt. H. G. O. Weymouth. Again we crossed the Potomac, and went to camp on Boliver Heights, near Harper's Ferry. We did not lose the battle of Antietam because we held the ground, but made the mistake of remaining inactive while the rebels withdrew to the other side of the river, so we gained nothing.

Soon after the battle we received a large number of recruits,--the best class of men that had joined the regiment. Many of them had waited, hoping that the war would be over, and their services would not be required, but seeing the disasters that had come to the army, resolved to come and help us. Several of them were discharged as commissioned officers, and all rendered very valuable service.

We remained at Harper's Ferry until October 30, when we received marching orders, and the army marched up Loudon valley. The nights were cold, and we suffered severely. While in bivouac near Paris or New Baltimore [48] two feet of snow fell, covering us as we slept. Orders against foraging were very strict. We were not allowed to take hay from the stacks for bedding, or in any way molest private property. The idea of General McClellan seemed to be to carry on the war without hurting any one's feelings, but once in a while we broke over. One night Corporal Phelan and Jack Robinson discovered hens at a neighboring farm-house, and finding the house not guarded took their muskets and went on duty. The people were much pleased to be so well protected. While Phelan entertained the family Jack went on duty outside to protect the hens. Soon a squawking was heard, and Corporal Phelan grasped his musket and rushed to reinforce Jack. They secured three good hens, and forgot to go back to the house, but reported to camp. When they arrived I discovered that they had plunder, and called them before me. With downcast eyes they l told the story of their shame and begged for mercy. As an officer I must do my duty, and they must be punished. I ordered them to cook one of the three hens and deliver it to me. With sad hearts they obeyed the order.

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