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Chapter 1:

The name of the literature of the great Civil War is Legion. During the two decades since our muster out as volunteers, a steady stream of chronicles, some general in their character, others distinctively reciting the story of particular commands, has flowed from the press. Yet there will be ever room for one more version of the story of the deeds of the Army of the Potomac, until the tale has been told from the point of view of every regimental and battery organization of that army, by some surviving comrade who may be inspired to perform the labor of love by the recollections of the past and the realization of the value of its lessons to the generations that have succeeded the men of that eventful period from 1861 to 1865. We feel, therefore, that no apology is necessary for this plain narrative of the army life of the First Massachusetts Light Battery, which involves a study of the career of the glorious old Sixth Corps of which our company was an element. In the minds and hearts of our surviving [18] comrades we believe the incidents which we recall in our narrative are indelibly impressed.

Still o'er these scenes their memory wakes,
And fondly broods with miser care;
Time but the impression deeper makes,
As streams their channels deeper wear.

To the general reader we trust they will be invested with interest, as contributions to some of the grandest pages of the history of our first century.


In the summer of 1861, the old Boston Light Artillery had returned to Massachusetts, its three months term of enlistment, under the 75,000 call, having expired. Josiah Porter of Cambridge, an experienced officer of the old battery of the Massachusetts militia, was commissioned captain of a company of light artillery, to be recruited in Boston and its vicinity, the nucleus of the company to be perhaps those of the old command who should volunteer, and its officers selected from the practised numbers of that efficient corps.

This, in brief, was the origin of the first battery of light artillery recruited in Massachusetts in response to the 500,000 call.

The little recruiting office, then situated on Hanover Street, where the majority of the original number comprising this command signed the enlistment papers, has long since been removed; but the old armory building in Cooper Street still remains, where one hundred of our number, having been found physically qualified, were, on the 28th of August, 1861, mustered into the volunteer service of the United States, for the period of three years or during the war. Receiving at this place our fatigue uniforms, knapsacks, and blankets, we proceeded that afternoon to Camp Cameron, North Cambridge. This was on a farm extending from the old Lexington pike, which crosses Winter Hill, and thence over the ridge in Somerville to Arlington, south to North Avenue in Cambridge, or to the old pike that leads from Harvard Square in Old Cambridge to Arlington, and there unites with the road from Somerville. The southern half of the farm in Cambridge was a plateau of perhaps ten acres, extending back from the Cambridge road, and falling off quite abruptly to a meadow through which [19] ran a little brook, a branch of the Alewife. On the northern border of this plateau, extending, with intervals between them, clear across the plain, were barracks. About midway in the range of buildings, and between the two middle barracks in the range, a road passed from the Cambridge road, north, dividing the plain in two, and crossing the little brook and the sloping field beyond, which was in Somerville. The barracks at the east of this bridle-road were occupied by the boys of the First Light Battery, and those on the west were, early during our stay in this camp, used by the men of the Twenty-sixth, of which the old Sixth, that went through Baltimore on the 19th of April, was the nucleus. Between the barracks and the Cambridge road was the drill ground, and a fine one it was.

Near the south bank of the little brook, and to the east of the bridle-road, was the commissary and quartermaster's department building, and to its left and rear, if you were looking south, were our stables. North of the brook and well up the slope to the west of the bridle-road, were the headquarters of the battery.

Recruiting for the company continued both in town and at the camp, until the complement for light artillery was obtained.

Drilling on the light six-pounders, and in field battery manoeuvres—our maximum number of men having been obtained—we remained at this place until October 3, when, at sunrise, we bade farewell to a camp where none but pleasant recollections lingered, and took up our line of march for the field of actual conflict. Having been for five weeks under the instruction of skilled and experienced officers, in the bright new uniforms of the red artillery furnished us by the state, we had then the appearance of soldiers.

All along the line of march,—through classic Cambridge, the streets of this dear old city, passing in review before the lamented Gov. Andrew at the State House, until arriving at the Old Colony depot,—from doorway, window, and balcony, and from every side, such an ovation was given us by the outpouring of the people as to make a pleasing and lasting impression on every heart. At the depot, a special train having been provided, our horses, guns, and caissons were quickly placed on board, husbands separated themselves with saddened hearts from their wives and children, sons from fathers or mothers, brothers from brothers [20] or sisters, and some from sweethearts,—nearly all leaving quiet and happy New England homes behind,—lingering adieus were said, and the First Massachusetts Light Battery, composed of five officers and one hundred and fifty-two men, was on its journey to the scene of action in Virginia.

Many of those brave hearts had said their last farewell. They were destined to see their loved ones no more,—no more to share the comforts and blessings from which they had separated.

Taking steamer at Fall River and reaching New York the following morning, we camped on the Battery near Castle Garden; remaining there until the afternoon, we marched to Washington Square, thence down Broadway, enthusiastic greetings being extended to us. In the evening of this day we embarked upon a steamer for South Amboy, New Jersey; reaching that place, proceeded across the state to Philadelphia via Camden.

In these days the patriotic ladies of Philadelphia maintained a refreshment room near the station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, for Union volunteers who were passing to the front through the Quaker city, and here, ministered to by some of these motherly dames, we breakfasted on the 5th of October. There was opportunity, of which some comrades availed themselves, to write home.

There was a musical tribute rendered by a chorus of our comrades while waiting for the train, in appreciation of the attentions of the ladies; then adieus, and departure for Washington; through Wilmington before noon, and on to the bank of the Susquehanna. There, awaiting our train, was the huge railroad ferry-boat, the Constitution, the bridge from Port Deposit to Havre de Grace having been burned; this was said to be the vessel that conveyed Gen. Butler and his command to Annapolis when he took possession of that city in the previous spring. It was a a novel sight, the transportation of a train of freight and passenger cars with locomotive over the ferry. Late in the afternoon we arrived at the Baltimore station of this road, and thence marched across the city to the station from which we were to proceed to Washington.

In the evening we found ourselves ensconced in freight cars, and entered upon our forty-mile ride to the capital. It must for some reason have been very slow, inasmuch as it was past [21] sunrise when we debarked from the train, and marched to the Soldier's Rest, then near the Capitol. Having partaken of some refreshment, we proceeded to the freight depot, and, our battery and teams being unloaded, we harnessed and marched up the slope of Capitol Hill, out northeast of the Capitol, toward Anacosta Creek above the bend, and made a camp with other companies of reserve artillery, which were here receiving instruction, while awaiting assignment to some division of the great army, which was then being organized. There were also several thousand cavalry encamped hard by; and, during the week of our sojourn, there was a grand review of the mounted troops, ten thousand, we should judge, our battery among them. We embraced an opportunity one day before our departure from this place, to run out to Bladensburg, four miles or more away, to see the boys of the First and Eleventh Massachusetts, Hooker's brigade then lying along the range of the northern fortifications of the Capitol, which we believe they had helped construct. These bronzed pioneers of the quota of our old Bay State were just coming in from drill, when we arrived, and experienced a lively surprise, no doubt, as we met their glance in passing. When they broke ranks there was a hearty handshaking and welcome.

It was on the 12th of October, we believe, that we marched to the arsenal, and exchanged four of our guns, two rifle six-pounders, and two smooth bores of the same caliber, for Parrotts, retaining the two howitzers of the left section. Two days later, we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, thence Fourteenth Street, over Long Bridge, across the Potomac, and for the first time this command was upon the soil of Virginia—a soil upon which the grand old Army of the Potomac, then organizing, was destined to suffer defeats or gain victories; to endure every conceivable hardship and danger; to prove itself, in the loss of about 150,000 of its rank and file, and in every emergency, worthy as the defender of the capital of the nation; to endure the unjust criticisms, the deep injuries, the cruel taunts of those in our rear who knew little or nothing of what they were talking or writing; to fight a desperate and stubborn foe, the very flower of the Confederate army, under command of their ablest generals, on over five hundred fields in that one state; and destined, when those surviving should become bronzed into veterans of hundreds of [22] fields, when their hearts, regarding hardships and dangers, should become hardened like the oak, and their nerves had become like nerves of steel,—at last to conquer.

We had been assigned to Gen. Franklin's division, which was then lying about four miles northwest of Alexandria, on the borders of Fairfax County, the division headquarters being at Fairfax Seminary, the New Jersey brigade then commanded by Gen. Kearney, and the First New York Cavalry, lying upon the slope of Seminary Hill, south of the Leesburg pike, a brigade commanded by Gen. Newton located along the pike north of the seminary, and a brigade commanded by Gen. Slocum lying northeast of Newton's brigade, and north of the pike, the camp of its nearest regiment, the Sixteenth New York Volunteers, being perhaps thirty rods from the road. These troops, with four batteries of light artillery, constituted this division in October, 1861.

When we arrived, there was a battery of New Jersey volunteers commanded by Capt. Hexamer in the vicinity of division headquarters, a battery in the immediate vicinity of Newton's brigade, a battery of regulars, D, Second U. S. Artillery, lying near the pike, and opposite, Slocum's brigade. This battery was located upon a plain, which the road from Alexandria reaches shortly after it crosses the run which makes its way from Arlington Heights southeasterly to Alexandria. The First Massachusetts Battery encamped in a piece of woods on the east side of this run and at the left of Slocum's brigade. In this camp, which was named Revere, we remained until winter. Our drill-ground was on the plain beyond Newton's brigade, on the north side of the pike,—of this field we shall have occasion to speak later. The inspection of the artillery by the chief of artillery of the army, and the review of the division, were made upon the high plateau west of the seminary.

Much time was given daily to drill, in the manual of the piece, field manoeuvres, and sabre exercise. And while in this camp, the company went occasionally to target practice below Alexandria, upon the Potomac meadows; there also we were quartered when we participated in the first grand review of the army by Geo. B. McClellan. From this camp details frequently, during the fall, were sent with wagons to the vicinity of Mt. Vernon for forage.

We remember that the troops at this time lying farthest to the [23] left and front on this side of the Potomac, and on the line of these foraging expeditions, were the three brigades of Heintzelman's division, commanded respectively by Generals Sedgwick, Jameson, and Richardson. Thanksgiving was observed here in genuine New England style; an oven had previously been constructed by one of our masonic comrades,—for we had representatives of every useful and honorable craft,—and the cooks drew out of it at dinner time a turkey nicely browned, dumplings, pudding, and sundries indispensable to a correct Thanksgiving menu. Nor were the necessary pre-prandial exercises omitted. Lieut. Sawin, the reader par excellence of our official corps, recited to the officers and men, Gov. Andrew's Thanksgiving proclamation for the year A. D. 1861; and we venture to affirm that each comrade bestowed a benediction upon the old Bay State, ere he swallowed a mouthful of the cheer provided.

Civilian visitors, official and non-official, were occasionally seen on this ground; among the former we remember the chairman of the House Committee on the Conduct of the War, of the Thirty-seventh Congress, a Massachusetts man.


At morning roll-call one day in November we were informed that the division would be marshalled upon the long field north of Seminary Hill, at the right of the Leesburg turnpike, to witness a military execution; the position of each regiment of infantry, the cavalry, and each of the four batteries, was defined, the route of the general and staff, the ambulance and coffin, the wagon in which sat the condemned with the priest, and the firing party. At two o'clock, as at a parade, we were drawn up in line upon the field, the artillery men forming the shortest of the three sides of a rectangle, or its eastern end, infantry forming the northern of the two long parallel sides, infantry and cavalry, the southern; presently Gen. Franklin and staff passed our front, within the rectangle moving around the front of the southern side; then came the mounted guard of the prisoner's own regiment, the Lincoln cavalry, followed by the firing party, also of his own regiment, and, on foot, twelve men with carbines, one of which was loaded with blank cartridges; then the ambulance bearing the coffin; and lastly, a wagon conveying the priest and the condemned man, whose face was the incarnation of misery and [24] helplessness; its abject, woe-begone expression was, if possible, heightened by his sallow complexion, light hair and eyebrows.

As this dismal procession passed the left of the artillery brigade, its commander read the charge, specification, finding, and sentence of the court martial: Wm. Johnson of the First New York Volunteer Cavalry had left his post on cavalry picket in Fairfax County, Virginia; had attempted to pass within the Confederate lines; and had communicated to a supposed Confederate officer, accompanied by his staff, information which was calculated to facilitate an attack upon our outposts.

If he were to be believed, he enlisted having such diabolical purpose in contemplation. ‘Sentenced to be shot to death by musketry.’ ‘For simple desertion the punishment is death; coupled with such treachery there can be no mercy.’ In the solemn stillness of the scene, you could hear this last refrain pronounced to command after command for one third of the length of the line. At length the wagon reached the spot, near the open end of the rectangle, where the execution was to take place. Johnson descended, supported by his chaplain; the firing party took its position, the general and staff being without the line and near the head. The condemned man, standing beside his coffin, said, ‘May God keep you, boys, from all such sin.’ Then the signal was given, a simultaneous discharge of twelve carbines followed, and Johnson was seen to fall beside his coffin. One by one the regiments and the batteries passed the fatal spot where he lay stark and stiff. A large black spot above and to the right of his right eye, made his ashen face seem paler by contrast. This was the first instance of the application of the death penalty for desertion in the Army of the Potomac. The Confederate officer whom Johnson interviewed was Col. Taylor of New Jersey, who was scouting in that section, being clad appropriately for the occasion.


In December we moved over the run, across the Leesburg pike, and established our camp beside and west of the camp of D, Second U. S. Artillery. Substantial wooden sheds were built around a rectilinear plot, three sides of it; at the east end was one range of the sheds of the regulars. These were for the horses; within this enclosure, to which there was an entrance on [25] the northern and southern sides, were the company and headquarters; each detachment had a bell tent, which might shelter fifteen men; this was provided with a little box stove, which the boys took turns in supplying with wood.

The park was without the enclosure on the north side, and our sentry walking his beat therein, when he reached the eastern limits, would be but a few feet from the sentry in the park of Company D. Water for the two batteries, and we believe for the Sixteenth New York, was obtained from a well on the north side of the pike, on the farm of one Going, a tpyical North Virginian, long, lank, and sandy, perhaps sixty years old, who dwelt in a small and somewhat dilapidated house hard by; his family consisted of his wife, three stalwart sons,—one of them living with his family in a cot near by, one being up at Manassas Junction in the Confederate ranks,—and a daughter. Owing to the proximity of this family to our camp, we had a prime opportunity to observe and study the characteristics of the grade of population of which these people were representatives, and which formed, we dare affirm, the largest part of the rank and file of the Confederate army in the East.

Reviewing now the results of our observations in those days, and setting over against their defects and deficiencies certain sterling traits that they undoubtedly evinced, we find a very considerable balance in their favor. A few incidents of our meetings and conversation with them may not be uninteresting.

Sometimes, while eating in their kitchen the sweet potato pie which these women seemed to be adepts in making and by means of which they turned a penny, we would be questioned by the mother as to our homes in the North, how we lived,—why we left them. ‘Poor little boys,’ the old dame would say; ‘you should go home to your mothers.’ Then she would bring from a bureau in the adjacent bedroom a daguerrotype of a bright looking youth clad in Confederate gray, show it to us, and weep.

The daughter was a strapping girl of nineteen, a stanchly loyal Virginian from the Confederate standpoint. One day the mother remarked to some of us, that C., of the——th——, was going to be married to an Alexandria girl that evening. ‘She'll be a Union gal then,’ said the old lady. ‘White-washed Union,’ retorted her daughter. ‘Why! why! are n't you a Union gal?’ [26] ‘No, I am secesh to the backbone.’ ‘Oh, pshaw! gal.’ Some comrade here commended the girl's candor, and she, turning to him, asked if he really believed the Confederacy would fail; being assured that he had a strong conviction that it would crumble, she would laugh incredulously. The deportment of these sons and the daughter toward their parents, and the manners and bearing of children in the same walk in life, as exemplified in their intercourse with their parents, as they came under our observation in Dixie, were in the highest degree creditable, alike to parental training and to filial tractability.

As to the men in question, they were, for obvious reasons, less communicative than the girl in regard to their political sentiments. But they were no hypocrites.


During this winter, we were called to mourn the loss of Comrade Carpenter, of Lowell, who was killed while on duty with his team. This was the first diminution that our ranks suffered. Before the army moved, however, Comrades Cook and Preston left us; the former was detailed for hospital service in Alexandria; the latter was discharged on account of disability resulting from protracted illness.


We well remember the crisp, cold New Year's Eve of 1862; the band of the Jersey Blues near the seminary discoursed patriotic and sentimental music, until the last old page turned.

The month of January was passed in the usual routine of winter camp. A few days before the new year opened, Gen. Ord's brigade of McCall's division, lying on the upper Potomac,—being, in fact, the right of that portion of the army which was on the south side,—having advanced to Dranesville, was attacked by a Confederate brigade under Gen. J. E. B. Stuart, who was repulsed with a loss of over two hundred. This was an offset to the unfortunate affair at Ball's Bluff, in the previous October. In February, the army and the nation were deprived by death of the services of Gen. Lander, who commanded the extreme right division of the army in Virginia, in the vicinity of Romney. He was one who had given the highest promise of valuable service to the nation in its time of dire need. He will be remembered with Gen. Shields as one in whom Stonewall Jackson found a foeman worthy of his [27] steel. Early in February, our left section, the two howitzers and their cannoneers, the gunners, sergeants, and chief, had the honor of forming a portion of a reconnoitring party that made an early expedition to Annandale; and on the 10th of March the army was in motion. At this moment, its disposition and composition was as follows: Hooker's division on the extreme left, twenty-two miles below Washington on the east side of the Potomac; Heintzelman's division on the Mt. Vernon road below Alexandria; Sumner's and Franklin's on the right of Heintzelman, near Fairfax Seminary; McDowell's and Keyes's on the right of Franklin; then Porter's, and on his right, McCall's. East of the Blue Ridge there were no Federal troops in Virginia to the west of McCall; but on the Maryland side, in the vicinity of Edward's Ferry, was the division of Gen. Stone. At Harper's Ferry was Gen. Banks, and on his right, the division lately commanded by Lander. The evening of the 10th of March, 862, found our division at Fairfax, C. H., bivouacking east of the village. The advance meanwhile had reached Manassas Junction, to find it evacuated by the Confederates, who, under Gen. Joseph E. Johnson, had retired behind the Rapidan. We tarried three days, we believe, at Fairfax. The army headquarters, we remember, during most of this time, were in a large mansion north of the village.

Then there was a return of our division along the line of march to the border of Alexandria County. It was now that the army corps were organized: Gens. Heintzelman, McDowell, Keyes, Sumner, and Banks,—each commanding one which included the division that had been previously in his charge. Thus, Gen. McDowell was assigned to the First Corps, consisting of his old division, now commanded by Gen. King, and of the divisions of McCall and Franklin. So we became a part of the First Army Corps, which, now that it had been determined to advance upon Richmond by the way of the peninsula between the York and the James, was supposed to be destined to cover the national capital, advance to the Rappahannock and Rapidan, and perhaps in time reach and join McClellan's force, which would then be operating south of the Pamunkey.


On the night of the 5th of April, Franklin's division, then of the First Corps, was in the huts on Centreville Heights; the baked [28] clay of the fireplaces was made to crack with the heat of the rousing fires which the cold, night winds made extremely welcome. The comfortable night's sojourn in this quondam Confederate cantonment was a pleasant episode in our first severe march. The frost was working out of the red clay soil of this region, and the march of artillery was not made with such celerity as in later times in that year, and advancing too, it proved possible of attaining. Yet somehow on the 6th, it cut its way through the mud and the mire to Blackburn's Ford on Bull Run, crossed the tottering temporary bridge which had there been constructed, and drew over the broken land and plain to Manassas Junction.

Those were three days fraught with interest which we spent in the village of log houses at the Junction, examining the abundant evidences of Confederate military architecture, field-works and barracks, and unearthing many a relic of their winter's sojourn at this place.

We remember a quantity of wheat that some one discovered, which, though a trifle garlicky, nevertheless made a palatable mess of pottage, being boiled, and served as rice often is.

The railroad to this station seemed now in running order, for troops, infantry, at least, continued to alight at this point from platform cars that came from the direction of Alexandria, soon after our arrival hither. A storm, a genuine nor'wester, set in on the 8th, in the midst of which we abandoned the quite comfortable cabins at Manassas, and pushed on toward Bristow, the wind and sleet accompanying us and furnishing lively entertainment.

Then, before noon, we had snow for further variety, and it would encrust itself beautifully upon our ponchas, giving us a celestial appearance. But the air nipped ‘shrewdly,’ and you may be sure that it was a cold, damp, numb set of boys that were drawn up on the north side of Broad Run on that evening; besides, we were short of rations, and had no shelter. Yet as some philosophic comrade observed, ‘There is no situation so bad that it might not be worse;’ and our stomachs were toned with a dose of quinine per man, which was administered by a hospital steward who had the most brilliant carmine beak that we ever beheld off the stage. Some one said he was a very clever chap, which a listener allowed might be true; but said he, ‘He never supports that nose on cold [29] water.’ After each one had partaken a taste of this specific preventive of chills and fever, and we had again assembled in line, the officer of the day informed us that three of the tents that had been used by the non-commissioned staff and for a guard house, or perhaps one of them for officers' quarters, had been assigned to us; so, procuring some straw in the vicinity, the hundred and fifty men, more or less, minus the guard which had been detailed, were billeted in these somewhat close quarters; but they lay snug and warm, if somewhat cramped, the various reliefs crawling out of the different masses of humanity as the corporal's lantern was flashed in their faces at different stated times during the night. We melted a goodly patch of snow, here and there, that night, with the bonfires which we kept burning; but one's back would chill, while his legs and chest were perspiring, as he stood beside the blaze.

In the afternoon on the following day we forded Broad Run and were nearing Bristow station, when in obedience to orders we countermarched, returned to the north side of the river, and marched at as good pace as the condition of the fields permitted, toward Manassas. One says, ‘We are going to join McClellan before Yorktown.’ Two days later, we were near Cloud's Mills and approaching Alexandria.



Gen. W. B. Franklin's Division.

Autumn and winter of 1861.


Col. Mcwilliams, 1st New York Volunteers (Lincoln Cavalry).


First Brigade.—Gen. H. W. Slocum, 16th New York, 27th New York, 5th Maine, 96th Pennsylvania.

Second Brigade.—Gen. Jno. Newton, 18th New York, 31st New York, 32d New York, 95th Pennsylvania (Gosline Zouaves).

Third Brigade.—Gen. Philip Kearney, 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th New Jersey Volunteers.


Platt's Battery D, 2d United States, 6 Napoleon Guns.

Porter's A, Massachusetts, 4 10-pd. Parrott Guns; 2 12-pd. Howitzer Guns.

Hexamer's A, New Jersey, 4 1–pd. Parrott Guns; 2 12-pd. Howitzer Guns.

Wilson's F, New York, 4 3-in. Ordnance Guns.

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