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Chapter 16: the march down the Peninsula.

On the 16th of August the order to ‘pack up’ was received and the baggage was sent down the river to Fortress Monroe. The train of the Third Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps was placed in charge of Lieut. John P. Reynolds, Jr., and Lieut. John G. B. Adams of the Nineteenth Massachusetts regiment. At five o'clock in the afternoon, the regiment fell in, ready for the march, but the final orders did not arrive until nine o'clock the following morning. The regiment bivouacked on the parade ground during the night and the march for Yorktown was begun at 9.00 A. M. The troops went by one route and the wagon trains by another. These trains extended a distance of 40 miles in a single line.

The march down the Peninsula, as a whole, was not hard, although the dust was so thick that the men could not see five paces in front of them. The road was lined with dead horses and the weather was very hot, although pleasant. The country through which the march lay was beautiful and during much of the time the river James was in sight. After marching a few miles on August 17, a halt was made for the night. On the next day eighteen miles were covered and at nine in the evening the regiment came in sight of the Chickahominy. The river, which had given them so much trouble on the onward march to Richmond was now flowing peacefully on, looking, in the bright moonlight, like a silver ribbon. Its banks were the camping ground of the regiment for the night and on the following morning, soon after sunrise, the men crossed on a pontoon bridge at Banet's Ferry, near its mouth. On the opposite shore a halt of a few hours was made and some of the men took advantage of the delay to go ‘swimming.’ March was resumed and in the afternoon the regiment went into camp by the side of a mill pond. [117]

Unlike the previous march, up the peninsula, when private property was rigidly respected, now every pig, hen or animal that could be carried or could be found useful was taken along. Cornfields were stripped and orchards were cleaned out.

On the following day at noon the regiment passed through Williamsburg, a city which, in times of peace, was said to contain about 6,000 inhabitants. Passing William and Mary College and the rebel fortifications and the battlefield of the 5th of May, the line was kept moving until the Warwick river was reached, when it went into camp for the night. The march on the following day brought them, at 4 o'clock, to near the York river, about a mile above Yorktown where camp was made.

The first thing after breaking ranks was a rush for the river and in a few minutes there were thousands of men enjoying a bath in the cool waters and fishing for oysters at the same time. It was a glorious treat to wash off the accumulation of dust, and it made a great change in the complexions of the men. Going into the water with faces like dirty Mongolians, they came out Caucasians. Oysters and quahaugs were plentiful and the men enjoyed a rich supper of them, with side dishes of roast corn, shell beans and sweet potatoes.

While the men were enjoying their bath and gathering the shell fish, they were ordered to at once return to their companies and form for dress parade. This order was an astonishing one, as dress parade during a long march had never been heard of. There were many mental objections, but, tired as they were after the hard march, the men started to clean up as so to make a respectable appearance, as they knew from past experience that they would have a good audience to witness their exemplification of the manual of arms.

At the dress parade there was, indeed, a large audience and such a one as the men had not looked for. It seemed as if the officers of the entire Corps were present, and half the men. Gen. Dana, commander of the Third Brigade, Gen. Gorman of the First and Gen. Burns of the Second, with Gen. Sedgwick, the Division Commander, and their staffs were there. ‘Something's Up,’ said one of the Nineteenth and all felt that they were expected to [118] do their best. Perfectly willing to ‘show off’ before such an audience, they spanked their muskets around in excellent style and received an approving cheer when their involuntary exhibition was concluded. Later, the men were told that they had been pitted against the First Minnesota, the generals of the First and Third Brigades having made a bet of $100 on their favorite regiments.

It was expected that transports would be taken at this point for Washington or some other point and the men turned in that night expecting a good rest, but there is nothing in this uncertain world more uncertain than a soldier's life, and this night proved to be no exception, for at 11 o'clock the regiment was routed out, rationed, and started at daybreak for Hampton. The day was extremely hot, the march steady and rapid; not much like the one made in the preceeding May over the same road, which instead of being of mud ankle deep was now dry and dusty.

On the following day, August 22, Newport News was reached at 11 o'clock. The last few miles of the journey had been marched through rain, which fell in torrents and the men were thoroughly soaked through, but in a few hours the sun came out and dried them off. Here, again, they feasted on shell fish.

During Saturday and Sunday the regiment lay in camp and from its position the masts of the sunken ‘Cumberland’ could be seen in the roadstead.

At this point Lieut. Hume, of Company K, who had returned from Richmond as an exchanged prisoner, made his appearance at the regimental camp and received a hearty greeting. Col. Hinks first assigned him into Company B, but as he desired to be with his comrades of Company K it was made possible by placing Second Lieut. Newcomb, who had been given his (Hume's) position, in Company C. Newcomb found there in Capt. Bachelder, Harvard 1859, a kindred spirit and many were the good times they had in the evenings together during the brief time before Antietam.

Col. Hinks was here placed again in command of the Brigade and Lieut. Col. Devereux took command of the regiment. [119]

The roster shows that First Lieut. James H. Rice of Company F, Capt. Charles U. Devereux, of Company H and Second Lieut. Fred F. Crofts, of Company I, were absent in Massachusetts, suffering from wounds, and Major Wass had not yet returned.

First Lieut. Oliver F. Briggs was the acting regimental quartermaster. Two promotions had occurred during the month of August: First Sergt. William R. Driver, of Company H being advanced to Second Lieutenant and First Sergt. Thomas Claffey, of Company G, to the same rank.

The men of Company K were saddened by the information that privates Thomas Grieve, Jacob Grau, Frank Hunter and John Hogan,—reported ‘Missing in Action’—June 25 and July 1, were languishing in Libby Prison.

The embarkation of the army from the Peninsula took place from three points, simultaneously,—Yorktown, Fortress Monroe and Newport News. Every conceivable thing that would float was brought into requisition,—steamers, transports, ferry boats, tugs, schooners, barges, flatboats and scows. The waters at each of these points were black with them. The ten thousand sick and wounded had first to be provided for, and this necessitated much correspondence between Halleck and McClellan. The former worried at what he was pleased to consider delay, on account of Pope's movement at the head of the newly formed Army of Virginia which needed the co-operation of McClellan's army, and the latter insisted that no earthly power could do better with the inadequate transportation at this command, which he requested should be increased.

The Second Army Corps of Sumner was the last to leave the Peninsula. The rest of two days had done much toward recuperating the men, and on Monday morning, August 25, the Third Brigade embarked on the transport Atlantic and were taken to Aquia Creek, stopping a few hours at Fortress Monroe, where the men had an opportunity to inspect the big guns. The trip on the transport was a lively one. There were 100 officers in the cabin and 2000 men wherever they could find place to stand. The three days rations which the men were supposed to have, gave out, and the hard tack and pork was stored at the [120] bottom of the brigade wagon. The men were clamorous fo food and resorted to all sorts of expedients to get it.

One soldier, looking through the skylight of the cook's galley, saw a pan of biscuit resting temptingly beneath. He procured a musket, fixed the bayonet and, reaching down, punched it through the pan and drew it up, biscuits and all, and had a ‘square meal.’ Others watched the waiter when he started for the officers' quarters with their dinner and took it away from him. This made the Captain of the boat very angry and some effort was then made to feed the hungry soldiers. Some hard bread and a barrel of sugar was served out and, so hungry were they, that many made themselves ill by eating too much.

Beside the Nineteenth Massachusetts there was on board the Forty-Second and Fifty-Ninth New York regiments.

On August 27, Aquia Creek was reached and at 4 P. M. the regiment landed at Alexandria, hungry and dejected, and in ill humor with everything and everybody. This was not diminished any when the men were laughed at by a new Massachusetts regiment which was just going to the front. Many of the new ones were heard to complain because they had received no butter since they left home and the men of the Nineteenth cheerfully told them they would find ‘stacks’ of it at the front. The regiment marched three miles outside of the city and halted in an open field just in time to experience the full force of a southern shower.

At Alexandria the much needed clothes were issued and also rations of soft instead of hard tack, the first soft bread the men had seen since leaving Washington in the early spring. On the next day, Aug. 28, at 5 P. M. they were ordered to start for Chain Bridge, 17 miles distant, to occupy the forts at that point. Halting at one o'clock in the morning, the regiment bivouacked until 5 o'clock and was then marched to the vicinity of the bridge and halted near Fort Ethan Allen, which the men had an opportunity to inspect. Dana's Brigade, Col. Hinks commanding, was ordered at noon of that day, however, to march to Tenallytown, ten miles distant. Men fell by the way from fatigue and hunger, for since leaving Harrison's Landing [121] they had received only one ration other than coffee and hard bread. Their strength, enfeebled by Peninsula experience, was more sorely taxed than ever before.

The following letter gives an idea of the condition of the organization at this time,—just one year from the day the regiment left Massachusetts:

Headquarters, 19TH Regt. Mass. Vols. Camp near Alexandria, Va., August 29TH, 1862.
To His Excellency, John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts,

The condition of this regiment requires three hundred and thirty-two (332) men to fill it to the standard. I respectfully request that number of men may be forwarded as speedily as possible.

Very respectfully,

A. F. Devereux, Lieut. Col. Commanding.

On the bottom of this letter was written the following:

Headquarters near Muddy Branch, Md. September 7TH, 1862.
The above mentioned number of recruits are required to fill our regiment to ‘maximum on paper,’ but six hundred recruits will be required to fill it to the maximum in the field, as we have a large number absent (wounded, sick, etc.,) who will never rejoin us.

E. W. Hinks, Colonel, 19th Mass. Vols.

Fresh from the trials of the Chickahominy and the Seven Days Retreat, the men of the Nineteenth were a rough looking lot. The contrast between them and the neatly dressed, spick and span ‘three-months’ men in garrison at Tenallytown was [122] great. As the Nineteenth stopped at this town, one of the ninetyday men asked ‘Who's that fellow?’ pointing to Lieut. James G. C. Dodge, of Company F, who stood near, arrayed in a soldier's blouse. ‘That,’ said the man addressed, ‘is our lieutenant.’

‘The Devil! Well, he'd be a rough customer to meet in the woods alone.’ (Those who knew Lieut. Dodge's 5 feet 3 inches best will appreciate this remark most.)

The command had just reached Tenallytown when orders were received to join Dana's Brigade at Centreville immediately and assist Gen. Pope. This meant another long march, but the men were in such an exhausted condition they were allowed to sleep until 2 o'clock in the morning, when they were aroused and the tramp began. Rain soon began to fall and the acquaintance with Virginia mud was renewed. Aqueduct Bridge, over the Potomac at Georgetown, was crossed at daybreak and at 3 P. M. a halt was made in a field with the rain still falling heavily.

In consequence of reports to the effect that guerillas had attacked a train which the regiment had passed an hour or so before, Col. Hinks posted the men in line of battle across the road, faced to the rear and waited for the enemy to appear. As none came, he resumed the march for Fairfax Court House, arriving there on the next morning at daybreak, the men having by that time marched 63 miles in 64 consecutive hours, 24 of which had been in drenching rain.

The regiment was left at Fairfax Court House, an extremely exposed point, to avert a threatened attack from the enemy's cavalry, while the rest of the brigade hurried on to Germantown, where they arrived just in time to participate in the fight at Chantilly, which took place during a terrible thunderstorm. But it was too late. In the dire moment they came upon a lost field. Although finally defeated, the troops were able to maintain their position until after dark and then orders were given for the march of the entire army back to the fortifications of Washington.

On Monday, Sept. 1, the Union Army, falling back to Washington, entered Fairfax Court House. Porter's, Sigels' [123] and Sumner's corps marched to Chain Bridge by the Flint Hill and the Vienna roads. Without time even to make coffee, the Nineteenth Massachusetts was ordered out and deployed as skirmishers to the right of the town, as it was expected that the rebel cavalry would attack the flank. They remained there until the entire army had passed. Then the Nineteenth Massachusetts and the First Minnesota regiments were selected as the rear guard for Porter's, Sigel's and Sumner's Corps and were placed under the command of Gen. Oliver O. Howard. Col. Hinks, who was in command of the rest of Dana's Brigade, was chosen with his command as the rear guard of the other column. The two regiments started at five o'clock in the afternoon to bring up the rear of their column. There were a number of ambulances and wagons on the road with a squadron of cavalry in their rear. The regiments had been instructed to follow the column just inside the woods and the Nineteenth was just entering them when a shell came whistling over their heads. The horses in the wagons ahead were frightened and attempted to run. The cavalry horses took the cue and in an instant the mounted force started. Their officers, however, were cool and prevented a panic among the ambulances. As it was, these started off as though bound for Washington with sealed despatches, but were soon stopped.

The shell fire was continued and the regiment had to march several times its length directly in the line of fire, but the men moved as steadily as if on dress parade. The officers suffered most, as their darkey servants could not stand the noise of the shells and, heavily laden as they were, with knapsacks, blankets, etc., could not easily run, so they unloaded as fast as possible and the field was strewn with articles, while the darkies hastened to the woods. Once sheltered, the regiment waited a few minutes for the trains to move off and then followed at a fair pace. Lieut. Col. Devereux had received a shell wound on the left knee, but kept to the saddle. Fortunately no men were lost, although several were hit and Gen. Howard mentioned in his report that ‘the coolness and perfect quietness and absence of any hurry or confusion was most gratifying to see.’

As the enemy's cavalry continued their pursuit, the two [124] regiments forming the rear guard were halted and placed at right angles to the road, and Tompkin's Rhode Island battery was placed directly in the road with the muzzles of the pieces, loaded with canister, covering its ascent. The enemy, after waiting some time, evidently concluded, because of the absolute silence, that the retreat had been continued. A regiment of cavalry was marched down the road, undoubtedly with the expectation of finding the troops in full retreat and consequently unable to form and get into line. The battery fired twice at them and many saddles were emptied. Pursuit from that time on was given up.

After resting for some time, in order to be sure that no one was pursuing, General Howard, with his orderlies, rode back, leaving orders for the two regiments to find their way until they made the junction with the Corps. With the First Minnesota in front and the Nineteenth Massachusetts in the rear, the march was taken up and there was no incident until they reached the rest of the corps. The First Minnesota, in advance, reached them first and were recognized as part of the rear guard. It is the general belief, since the war, that they were thought to be the whole of the rear guard.

The Nineteenth Massachusetts was coming slowly, feeling safe from attack in the rear. It caught up with the main column and marched naturally along.

What occurred has never been fully explained and probably never will be. Lieut. Col. Devereux, in direct command of the regiment at that time says:

‘The regiment in the rear of the Second Corps imagined that the rear guard had passed and when the Nineteenth came up it was mistaken for a pursuing force, on which they opened fire immediately. We lost 11 of our men and Assistant Surgeon John E. Hill, of Charlestown was fatally wounded, dying a few days later. The Nineteenth, of course, were taken entirely by surprise and made no return fire. They were under perfect control.’

There were many stories as to how this unfortunate incident occurred. Gen. Howard states that it is his belief that a horse stepped upon a musket, discharging it, and thus causing [125] a panic among horses and men. During the excitement, the horse of Capt. Russell, of Company D, fell under him and he was somewhat bruised.

On the day after reaching the fortifications around the Capitol, the Nineteenth was ordered into one of them and there was great joy at the expectation that for the first time in their experience they were to have a ‘soft job.’ Up to that time the regiment had never known anything but the camp, the field, the march and the battle. About half of the men had gone inside the fort when orders were received directing the brigade to join the army. The regiment was obliged instantly to countermarch and so, for just once in its entire service, it was inside a fort for a period, counting the coming in and going out, of probably ten minutes. They had never known shelter before and did not again.

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