previous next

Chapter 34: battle of Bristoe Station. In camp at Warrenton. Movement to the Rapidan.

The corps lay in position behind the embankment until after dark, expecting an attack from the enemy who were supposed to be in force near, but earnestly hoping that they should keep away, being satisfied with the day's work and longing for night to come.

Although the men in the ranks did not know the real extent of the danger, they could see by the constant hurrying about of staff officers, trying to strengthen the weak points along the line, and the anxious uneasy manner of the general officers, that something serious was about to happen.

At nine o'clock in the evening, the order came to march, a staff officer bringing the command to each regimental commander, with the injunction that no word of command was to be given above a whisper, and each man was to keep his hand on his canteen and dipper to keep them from rattling. The command to march, with the cautionary instructions, was passed down the line in whispers, and the men stole silently away, along the front of the enemy, whose many camp fires were plainly visible and whose voices could be heard on every passing breeze; the groans of the wounded rebels lying between the lines were occasionally heard, no word was spoken above a whisper, and few at that; the noises usually incident to the moving of large bodies of troops could not be heard, only the ceaseless and almost inaudible shuffling of many feet as the regiments followed each other to and across Broad Run, after which crossing they felt that they were out of a trap and marched in a more natural manner until about 4 o'clock in the morning, [273] when they bivouacked near Blackburn's Ford on the Bull Run Creek.

A temporary halt was made at Blackburn's Ford and then the march was resumed for a short distance toward Centreville where the regiment occupied some deserted earthworks on the position occupied by the Union troops in the first Bull Run Battle. Lee, having been foiled in the object of his grand march, began his retreat toward the Rapidan, and on October 19th, the regiment again started South toward the position it had abandoned seven days before. The march was very slow, to keep pace with the reparation of the railroad which had been destroyed by the enemy. The men had traversed the roads so often that they began to seem like old acquaintances.

The first night was spent in a bivouac at Bristoe Station. On the following day the line moved to Gainesville, then to Greenwich and then to Auburn, no rebels being encountered. This march was over some of the worst roads in Virginia. During the day the men forded five streams, three of them knee deep, and for a portion of the day they did not get an opportunity to remove the water from their boots.

The battlefield of John Pope and of the first Bull Run was passed over and many relics of Pope's battle were seen in the numerous skulls lying grinning above the ground and portions of skeletons protruding from shallow graves. There were no means of telling those of friends from those of foes, as it was only occasionally that there was seen a slab, with a name upon it, imperfectly and hastily scrawled, to tell whose bones were thus left to bleach in a strange land.

These were sad reminders of the havoc of war but they were passed without a sentimental thought, although each man knew that the advent of another autumn might find his bones whitening on some field far from home. They took no thought, however, of future possibilities, borrowed no trouble and contentedly trudged along.

During the 21st and 22nd of October the regiment remained at Auburn, and here the mails were received, the first for over a fortnight.

On October 23 the regiment was moved to near the railroad, [274] about half way between Warrenton and Warrenton Junction. Two weeks were spent here. The camp was pitched on a high hill, somewhat resembling Bolivar Heights and overlooking the railroad. It was very cold here and the men kept huddled up in the tents, wrapped in blankets, but could not keep warm. Many recruits were received and here was witnessed the scene of ‘drumming out of the service’ two deserters. There was a road in front of the camps, over which the procession passed in making the tour of the camps. This procession was made up as follows: first came the commander of the squad, then drummers and fifers playing the ‘Rogue's March,’ then came a file of soldiers with muskets reversed and bayonets fixed, followed by the two prisoners with their right hips bared, on which were branded the letter ‘D’, signifying deserter, then a file of soldiers at charge bayonets, all being followed by a small crowd of soldiers. The small boy, usually seen following an arrested man on the way to the station house, or in numerous attendance at street fights in large towns and cities, was not present.

On the 7th of November, camp was broken at daylight and the regiment marched through Warrenton Junction, Bealton and Morrisville, halting at night at Kelley's Ford on the Rappahannock. On the following morning it marched across the river. The enemy had evidently contemplated staying all winter on this line as many comfortable huts were passed and in many other ways they were seen to have been well provided for. In several of the huts, which were built entirely of logs, half barrels filled with persimmons, in a state of fermentation, were found. These were presumably to make beer of, but the few who tasted it did not care for more.

Companies C and E were employed as skirmishers and moved carefully on until the deserted camp of the rebels was found, about a mile from the river. There again were evidences of their intention to winter in that position, many substantial log houses having been built and more were in the state of construction. When the regiment came up the skirmishers rejoined it and the march was continued for three or four miles when the skirmishers were again sent out and advanced into [275] the woods, where they halted and remained all night as pickets, the regiment going into camp at the edge of the woods.

One day was spent at this point and then a march of five miles was made to Berry Hill, near Cole's Hill, within a mile or two of Brandy Station, where camp was established. Between the camps and the hill was a creek, along which was posted the picket line. A signal post was established on top of the hill and it was in communication with the cavalry outposts at Stephenburg.

Here some ingenious ‘Yank’ invented a new kind of food which was quite popular with the boys for a time. It was prepared by pounding hard bread to a flour—made by placing two or three crackers in a haversack bag, placing it on a log or rock and pounding it with a stick,—the flour thus obtained was mixed with sweetened water into a stiff dough, then made into round cakes and fried. They were given the name of ‘McClellan Cakes.’

November 16, 1863. General inspection with knapsacks, haversacks, etc.

November 18, 1863. On division and corps drill and review.

November 21, 1863. Rained all day. Laid abed nearly all the time, as we have nothing but shelter tents with both ends open and it is cold and uncomfortable.

On the 24th, the camp was broken, but as it rained so heavily the regiment became stuck in the mud after a march of half a mile and was compelled to return to camp. The next start was made on the 26th, when the movement to the Rapidan began,--the last movement of an eventful year. The regiment marched to Germania Ford on the Rapidan and, after some delay, crossed without opposition. Here were found extensive earthworks which the rebels had evacuated. After resting for a short time, the tramp was resumed to near Flat Run church about three miles from the river and bivouac was made for the night.

On the 27th (Thanksgiving Day) march was resumed by the brigade at sunrise and continued until 10 A. M., when firing was heard at the front and a halt was made. Soon, however, the line moved forward again, with the Nineteenth on the righ [276] of the brigade, and part of the time passing through the woods on the right of the road. The firing in front increased. Soon the open ground was reached near Robertson's Tavern, which was entered on the double quick.

Occasional shells passed over and a line of battle was formed on the crest of a ridge to support a battery there. It was greeted with minie balls which continued to come for some hours, more or less thickly. They did little harm, however, being aimed too high, but the experience was a trying one upon the nerves. Companies K and E, Lieutenants Thompson and Hall commanding, were advanced as skirmishers for the brigade front. The two companies, loaded with knapsacks, etc. went in on the double quick. Many of the men were nearly exhausted but they drove the enemy across a field and into a wood, in the edge of which they made a stand. The two companies of skirmishers then took a position under the brow of a hill and lay down, all the while keeping up a brisk fire. The enemy made many attempts to break through the line, but were repulsed every time. Just before dark they opened a brisk fire upon the skirmishers, who held their ground.

The Orderly Sergeant, Thomas P. Manning, was killed, and one man was wounded.

At dark the line of skirmishers was advanced nearly to the wood and received but three shots, which injured no one. At half past 9 they were relieved, having been out ten hours. When these two companies, K and E, were advanced in the morning, the rest of the regiment was ordered to the right to support the skirmish line of the 72nd Pennsylvania Volunteers whose whole field force was deployed. Companies H and G were here deployed to close a gap in the above mentioned line, connecting with it on both flanks; the balance of the regiment being in reserve, where it remained all night. Sometime after dark Companies K and E rejoined the regiment. This was the last engagement of the year for the Nineteenth Massachusetts, as this command was not engaged during the brief manoeuvres which followed.

Sergeant Thomas P. Manning, of Co. K, was killed in the engagement and he was one of the bravest and truest soldiers [277] in the regiment. He was a gentleman and one whose attainments and services fitted him for high place. None of the men whom the Nineteenth had lost were more sincerely mourned, or, when living, respected and obeyed more thoroughly than he. Each private felt that he had lost a true and honest friend; each officer that he had lost a brave and loyal brother in arms.

The regiment lay at Robertson's Tavern through the night, and on the afternoon of the 28th, the Corps having been relieved by the Fifth, started on what was called ‘Warren's Flank March.’ The men of the Nineteenth were advanced as skirmishers, but few of the enemy were found, they having retreated to their works. A few shells were sent over to them, which they kindly returned, and finally the line came up with them strongly posted on a range of hills, and heavy firing began. The Nineteenth Massachusetts was relieved at 4 o'clock.

Little distance was covered that night and on the 29th (Sunday) a hard march was begun at daylight. The Second Corps exchanged positions with the Fifth Corps, moving to the left. Good Hope church, on the Orange Plank Road was reached at noon. Here a short stop was made and then the regiment moved out by the Orange Plank Road, firing being kept up between the skirmishers. The Nineteenth was sent out in the afternoon to support the skirmishers. A branch of Mine Run was reached in the evening and here the men bivouacked.

The enemy's watch fires were plainly visible but a short distance away, across Mine Run Creek. It was bitterly cold and heavy overcoats were hardly sufficient protection for the pickets against the high wind which came in icy blasts across the plains. A number of pickets in the Corps froze to death upon their posts during the night. The mercury was below the freezing point and thin ice formed in the creek. The water in the canteens was solidly frozen. The men were completely tired out, having had very little sleep for several nights.

At midnight the pickets were called in and the Division crossed Mine Run and formed in line of battle behind a low ridge. On the right of the Second Corps were the Third and Fifth Corps and on the left were the Sixth Corps. The movement [278] was made very quietly in the darkness, and each regiment was hardly conscious of the presence of the other, as the line was continued to the right and left. Permission was given for the men to lie down but nothing could be unpacked and no fires whatever were allowed, not even the lighting of a match or a pipe and no loud talk or laughter could be indulged in. This state of affairs was anything but pleasant on such a cold night, and, to make matters worse, the information was given out that at 8 o'clock on the following morning the men of the Second Corps were to make an assault on the rebel works.

For some reason the men had been siezed with the belief that the undertaking was to be one of unusual danger and many pinned their names to their clothing to aid in the identification in case of death. The assault formed the main topic of conversation during the remainder of the night, most of which was passed in trotting up and down in the rear of the line in a vain effort to keep warm. The men did not fear death so much, but the thought of receiving a bad wound and being left to suffer in the cold and perhaps to die upon the field was not pleasant and if they looked upon the undertaking with apprehensions and misgivings, they were certainly justified in them. The feeling that there was to be some awful slaughter in the morning was very strong among the men, so strong in fact, that many called to the little drummer boys and gave to them last messages for home and confided to them trinkets they desired should be sent to the family at home in case of their being killed, as they expected to be.

As the hour of eight approached, a man here and there, along the line, would crawl to the top of the ridge, peep over and take a look at the works ‘which in a single night had been made almost if not quite impregnable to a direct assault.’

Shortly before eight o'clock, the Third Brigade was addressed by General Webb. ‘We are ordered to charge the enemy's works,’ he said, ‘and we must do it. Try not to break, for it will be worse if you do. I shall go in with you and the other officers will go also, and we hope we shall succeed.’

In front of the Second Division, fourteen guns looked angrily down upon the level plain over which its men would [279] have to pass from a formidable redoubt surrounded by an extensive abatis, and,—so it was rumored,—a wire fence also. There was a long line of earthworks and the rebel flags were flying as if inviting attack. There were rifle pits in front, with plenty of fires behind them and the Johnnies were seen to be moving about as they pleased.

At eight o'clock, General Warren, the Corps commander, who was to conduct the assault, passed through the lines, and, walking to the top of the ridge, carefully scanned the works with his field glass. All eyes were turned upon him for he was very much liked and the men had perfect confidence in his ability to lead them and they felt that if there was much doubt about the movement being a success, it would be abandoned. Presently he returned, mounted his horse and rode away. The report immediately spread that the general disapproved of the attempt to storm the works. It was clear to him that nearly all of the men who should be wounded in such weather would die, most of them upon the field, from the freezing of their wounds. General Meade, in company with General Warren, re-examined the ground in front and at half past 8 the men were informed that the proposed assault had been abandoned. General Warren, ordered to assault at 4 A. M. had taken the responsibility of delay until he could represent to General Meade the enormous strength of Lee's works in front, the impossibility of carrying them with any force at his disposal, and the terrible loss which must ensue.

The Nineteenth Massachusetts moved a little farther into the woods and it was but a very few minutes before fires were built and the men were enjoying steaming cups of coffee and bacon broiled in the grateful heat made by the burning rails and brush-wood. During the day the top of the ridge was visited by hundreds of men and all were astonished at the amount of labor which had been done by the rebels upon their works.

‘December 1st, 1863. Very cold this morning. Water in canteen froze near the fire. Ordered to pack up and move at a moment's notice.’

As a result of the decision of General Warren, at ten o'clock on the night of December 1st, the regiment, in heavy marching [280] order, faced by the rear flank and started in line across the stream,—one of the forks of which, further down, forms the Mine Run,—into and through the woods beyond. Upon emerging from these woods, the column took up the line of march by the flank over the Orange Plank Road to the Rapidan which was crossed at Culpepper Mine Ford at daylight on the morning of the 2nd and the march was continued until the old camp at Stevensburg was reached, at about 4 P. M., the men having been on the march for eighteen hours without a halt of sufficient length to enable them to cook coffee. As they had started soon after a good meal, however, there was not so much suffering on account of the lack of food as for the lack of sleep, little of which having been had for three days and nights, since they had crossed to the south of the river.

During the larger part of the night, the march was anything but steady, on account of the wagon trains ahead. The men would rush along, sometimes almost at a double-quick, for a mile or so, stumbling over the uneven planks which, being worn or loose, were continually flying up at one end and catching some poor fellow's toes, sending him sprawling in a heap of dust, his knapsack, filled with winter clothing, greatly accelerating his fall. Suddenly the column would come to a halt and every man would drop in the road, just where he stopped and in a second or two be fast asleep. In five or ten minutes, the word ‘Forward’ would be heard, rousing up every man. Chilled through, they would stumble on again until, warmed up by the rough exercise and the heavy loads, the perspiration would start out. Then would come another halt and the men would take another chill. Thus it was, all through that long night,—sometimes reeking with perspiration, and again shivering with the cold. In some places the woods were on fire and the smoke added to the general discomfiture.

Through this campaign the men were in heavy marching order, the weather being so cold that everything that could be carried was needed. In one of the companies was a short, fat German who carried a tremendous load for a man of his stature. He was not satisfied with carrying one man's allowance, but gathered up everything he could find and hitched them on to his knapsack [281] by contrivances of his own invention. He made a comical appearance, waddling along on his crooked legs, under his big load. Just as the regiment started across the creek at Mine Run, he made a jump and just reached the opposite bank when his overloaded knapsack overbalanced him and he went backwards into the cold water. He kicked and clawed around, but his load held him down; he was like a turtle on his back; he could not turn over or get up, and squealed out: ‘Help! Help! Mein Gott!’

Two of the boys got hold of his arms and yanked him out and he soon looked like Santa Claus, with his knapsack encrusted with ice.

The enemy followed the column closely, gobbling up many stragglers. The rear guard had barely time to cross before the bridge was taken up.

December 3, 1863. I am about used up today. My shoulders and legs are lame and my feet very sore. Never since I enlisted have I been so discouraged as I am today. Here we are marching from one end of Virginia to the other, wearing ourselves out and yet nothing seems to be accomplished by it. I am willing to march and fight, but this everlasting advancing and retreating I am sick of. My God! Hasten the end of this accursed war, then we can once more enjoy the privileges and comforts of home and “never, never march again.” Received some rations today and not one moment sooner than needed.

December 5, 1864. Still in camp. Have had nothing but hard tack and beef for some time and miss our salt pork very much.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Amos A. Warren (5)
John Pope (2)
Meade (2)
Thomas P. Manning (2)
Henry Lee (2)
Yank (1)
Alexander S. Webb (1)
John B. Thompson (1)
Sergeant (1)
Benjamin F. Hall (1)
Gott (1)
Santa Claus (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: