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Chapter 17: to South Mountain and Antietam.

The troops were not in good health or spirits, but a few days in Maryland would do much for them.

Rumors were soon afloat that Lee was in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Lee had received the thanks of the Confederate Congress for his brilliant achievements and with his trusted Lieutenant Generals, Jackson and Longstreet, crossed the Potomac near the scene of the battle of Ball's Bluff, threatening both Washington and Baltimore. He marched into Frederick City, Md. and issued his proclamation to the citizens of Maryland on Sept. 7.

Meanwhile the command of the Union Army, including both the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Virginia, from which Pope had just been relieved, passed quietly again into the hands of McClellan. He at once took the field again to re-organize the forces, and started in pursuit of Lee. The restoration of McClellan contributed a healthy enthusiasm and on Sept. 7 the Army moved in three columns, the right wing under Burnside, the centre under Sumner and the left under Franklin.

Col. Hinks having been relieved of the command of the Brigade by the return of Gen. Dana, took command of the Nineteenth Massachusetts as it started on the march which brought it finally to South Mountain and Antietam.

The weather was warm, the regiment had no tents and the rations were not good, still they were on Maryland soil. When the regiment reached Rockville, Sept. 8, they spent one night there and many of the officers visited the Massachusetts regiments of Pope's Army. It was a revelation to hear their brothers of Pope's Army talk politics at such a time.

The march was resumed in the morning and continued [127] slowly forward. Millbury was reached on Sept. 9, Clarksburg on the 10th and Urbana on the 12th. Fences suffered somewhat during the march, being used for cooking purposes only, the weather being so warm that no other fires were needed. Sometimes on picket, sometimes on the march, the column gradually neared Frederick City.

Here and there traces of the rebels were found and, on the whole, they did not seem to have left a very good impression on the soil or in the hearts of the Marylanders. Once in a while a fellow in a grey coat was discovered, worn, sick and dispirited by the fatigue and exposure he had suffered, but there were not many of them, as their discipline was severe and they were forced to go as long as it was possible for them to move.

The regiment marched through Frederick City on Sept. 12, two days after the Confederates had left it, and camped on the outskirts. Here the command was brought into ‘close column by division,’ and a rigid order against foraging was read. Lee's proclamation of a few days before had been couched in terms which he thought would cause the citizens of Maryland to rally about the Confederate flag and it was probably thought wise to restrain any undue trespass by the Union forces.

Lieut. Reynolds had brought with him from the Peninsula a colored boy named Henry Johnson who had acquired a reputation for keeping the officers of the Lieutenant's mess well supplied with the necessities of life. While the Adjutant was reading this order prohibiting foraging, Henry was seen coming toward the regiment, showing his ivory and ‘toting’ an earthen pot of butter under each arm, fresh from a neighboring dairy or spring house. The effort to beckon him out of the way was comical but strategic. The officers managed to make good use of the butter. It was too much of a luxury to part with, orders or no orders.

On the morning of the 14th camp was broken and the march resumed, but only the commanders knew what the objective point was. There were rumors that it was Harper's Ferry, the Potomac river, and other places. At first the road lay along the level ‘Pleasant Valley’ and was very smooth and delightful in the fresh autumn air. After a march of a [128] couple of miles, orders were issued to retrace the steps as the regiment was on the wrong road. This order did not please the men, but soon the command began to ascend a steep and high hill. For a good part of the way up the road was well shaded by large trees, making it cool and refreshing when the sun became high. There were frequent openings between the trees which presented charming pictures of the beautiful valley below.

The regiment moved at a very quick pace, considering the steepness of the ascent. Song and joke no longer enlivened the march.

The army of McClellan was moving in three columns,— one in the road and the others across country on each side of the road. It was the custom to have a column take the road on one day and the field the next, so that once in three days each column had the easier route along the highway. The order of march was ‘Route Step’ which simply meant ‘go as you please,’ keeping up the general formation but relaxing tension and carrying the musket in the easiest position. If a fellow kicked up too much of a dust in this way, however, he had to ‘settle’ with those immediately behind him. When the bugle sounded ‘Attention’ from the head of the column, every gun was brought to the ‘Carry,’ the formation was regulated and everyone within sound of the bugle listened, wondering what was up.

It was customary to march forty minutes and rest twenty in each hour and the order ‘Halt’ was never misunderstood. In an instant the men sought the nearest tree on either side of the road and, lying flat on their backs, to which their knapsacks were strapped, dropped off to sleep. At times the artillery or cavalry, discovering the road clear, would ‘heave ahead,’ clattering over the ground to make a ‘lap,’ arousing the sleepers, burying them in dust and worrying their own poor horses who were equally as tired. At such times there was much good natured chaffing between the infantry and the mounted troops.

Little by little, the trees seemed smaller and further apart and evidently the top of the hill was not far away. Suddenly the sound of distant cannon broke the stillness. Another followed almost immediately and was re-echoed again and again. [129] ‘Cannon, evidently shotted: then we shall see the enemy soon.’ The tread of the tired soldiers became firm and elastic, their eyes flashed and they closed up. The road became a broad avenue toward the enemy. The heat was forgotten. Again a report, and they fancied they could hear the shriek of the shell as it hurtled through the air.

At last the summit was reached. A beautiful valley lay peacefully at the foot,—a splendid picture. Here and there a farmhouse and other buildings dotted the landscape. The hill where the regiment stood seemed to extend to the right around the valley and encircle it entirely, except for a little opening on the left. To the right were undulating plains, with groves and farms and ripening grain in large yellow patches, waving in the soft breeze. To the left was the South Mountain, five or six miles distant, across the valley and on its declivity bodies of men could be discerned and little puffs of smoke showed the artillery's position as the troops shifted and fought for possession of the pass. The men could see the explosion of shells off to the right, over the woods which evidently sheltered the opposing force, whether Union or Rebel, they did not know.

Just a moment's halt for breath was given and then the descent was begun, at a much faster pace than that at which the ascent had been made. Although it seemed but a step across the valley it was in reality several miles by the winding road. Before the regiment reached the foot of the hill, it was turned abruptly to the right and advanced toward the Rebel position. Now and then the sound of musketry was heard and the artillery still kept up the firing, making good music to march by. At last, ‘Halt’ was ordered, in a wheat field in full view of the battle, and the men expected to be allowed to pass the night where they were, but the sun was just setting when another order came to ‘Fall in’ and the march was resumed. Across a little brook and to he other side of the valley was but a short march and the regiment soon halted in the vicinity of the troops who had been fighting that day and on the very spot where the batteries had been seen in the afternoon. The body of Gen. Reno had been carried by them on the road and here they learned that Gen. Burnside had carried the heights. It was [130] this conflict that the men had witnessed as they reached the summit of the hill.

On the following morning, Sept. 15, the regiment was ordered up the road where Burnside's troops had charged the day before. The hill was very steep. When the summit was reached a halt of some duration was made. The view of ‘Pleasant Valley’ from this point was very beautiful and when ‘JackAdams began a song, the whole regiment added its chorus of voices. Meanwhile several of the generals held a consultation in what had been an old hotel and in which, on the previous day, the Rebel headquarters had been established.

Many of the Rebel dead were lying about, stiff and stark, in their dirty-white uniforms. Cartridge boxes, cartridges, broken bayonets and knapsacks, cooking utensils and clothing strewed the ground, much of the latter having been taken from the merchants of Frederick City and other towns through which the Confederate Army had passed. Soon the regiment was on the march after the retreating ‘Rebs,’ toward Boonesboro. All along the road were found evidences of their hasty departure. Most of their wounded had been removed and when Boonesboro was reached the little church there was found to be filled with them, and they were being tenderly cared for by the ladies of the place. Boonesboro seemed to be Union in sentiment. Everyone was at the door or window to see the troops pass and all the pails and other articles that would hold water were placed at their service. The inhabitants had not been pleased by even their very brief acquaintances with the ‘Johnnies.’

This was the only town in which the inhabitants evinced any desire to receive the Union troops cordially.

‘On to Keedysville’ was the order, and in the afternoon of Sept. 16, this little place on Antietam Creek was reached.

During this march the column was pressed over to the side of the road to give a cavalry force the right of way in pursuit of the retreating rebel column. Each trooper had, in addition to his carbine and sabre, his haversack with his own ration, also his canteen, and a ration of forage, in the shape of a bundle of hay, for his horse. As they went clattering and banging [131] along, the ration of forage bobbed first to one side of the horse and then to the other.

All this was fun for the infantry and the usual badinage broke out.

‘Say—give us that for a pillow.’

‘See here, I want to set a hen.’

‘Well, set her and be d—.’

‘Why don't you set on it?’

‘Why don't you keep a pig?’

‘Say—Your tail's on fire.’

“Well, yours ain't. Why don't you go ahead? What are you afraid of?”

‘Where are you goina with that kite bobbina?’

‘Come on and see.’

This is but a sample of the good natured jollying that was carried on.

When the column finally halted, the regiment rested on the side of the hill along the Sharpsburg road, as well as it could during the rest of the day, watched the artillery duel and the constant arrival of troops, and drew rations of food and ammunition. The enemy seemed to know that the men were there and sent leaden messengers over the hill every few minutes to find them, but although these made a great deal of noise, they did no harm to the Nineteenth.

There was a sharp skirmish between Hooker's left and the enemy during the afternoon, but without result except that Hooker established his lines to attack the enemy in the morning. Gen. Mansfield's Corps was sent across Antietam Creek during the night to join him.

On the night of Sept. 16, 1862, while the destiny of a nation remained undecided, and while the fate of a multitude of soldiers was obviously pending, it is not strange that the minds of the combatants were imbued with unusual solemnity. Lossing remarks that ‘the night of the 16th was passed by both armies with the expectation of a heavy battle in the morning. Few officers found relief from anxiety, for it was believed by many that it might be the turning point of the war.’

Capt. George W. Bachelder and Second Lieut. Edgar M. [132] Newcomb of Company C were fast friends and as they were about to turn in for night, on this eve of the battle of Antietam, Bachelder asked his junior officer, as he sat reading his Bible, to read a chapter aloud. Surprised at the captain's request, he happily complied and was asked to continue until several chapters had been read. Then, under the same blanket, they lay down to rest, but not to sleep, for Capt. Bachelder, as if forewarned of the fate which was to be his within a few hours, talked as he never had before to Newcomb in regard to the affairs of the company; telling him, among other things, of certain money, ‘The Company Fund,’ which he had from time to time sent home to his father in Lynn for safe keeping, advising him in regard to matters pertaining to the company and making in general such arrangements as one would make if taking leave of them forever. Then they slept,—Capt. Bachelder his last on earth, for he was killed in the battle of the following day; Newcomb being spared, but to answer the final summons in the next battle,—Fredericksburg.

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