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Chapter 5:

June 24 to July 31, 1863.

After leaving Poolsville we marched until 10 o'clock P. M., when, having travelled about six miles, we halted for the night, going into park on a little knoll near the roadside. This spot will be remembered by comrades of the Company for the sickening stench, filling the night air, from some animal carcasses rotting near by. We unharnessed and stretched the picket-rope across the caissons, a plan usually adopted in temporary camps. To this the horses were hitched, between caissons, soon to be fed and groomed; then, spreading the tarpaulins on the ground, and arranging our blankets upon them, we ‘turned in,’ and slept soundly till the shrill bugle notes broke our slumbers at half-past 2 in the morning. About 4 o'clock the infantry filed off into the road. We soon followed, and when the sun rose hot and scorching, and we saw them toiling along under their load of musket, knapsack, cartridge-box, [89]


[90] [91] haversack, and canteen, we considered ourselves—required to bear only the two latter articles—especially fortunate in belonging to artillery.

At 8 o'clock we stopped for breakfast, munching our hard-tack and drinking our coffee with the relish which a march is wont to confer. During the day we crossed the Monocacy River, passing through Licksville, a small settlement on its left bank. In the afternoon some one blundered and sent the brigade off two miles on the wrong road. In attempting to make up for this loss the troops became scattered for miles along the road, and two or three of our horses dropped in their traces. At night, however, all came together again, and, thoroughly weary, we went into camp at a place called Petersville. As a drizzling rain had set in we pitched our tarpaulins for the first time with the aid of rails. This day we marched little, if any, less than twenty miles. We recall the fact that our spirits were not a little cheered by the abundance of cherries along the line of march, to which we helped ourselves with our accustomed liberality, and this, too, with little compunction, as they generally grew by the roadside and seemed to be county property.

Morning of Friday, June 26, broke wet and dripping, but we early resumed our march, and toiling on over a rocky road traversed by bullies rushing with water, at 9 o'clock entered the mountain region and the magnificent scenery of Harper's Ferry. Passing on through the dirty, desolate little settlements of Knoxville, Weverton and Sandy Hook, and following the narrow road in its winding, with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on one side and the perpendicular rocks of Maryland Heights on the other, we came at last opposite the historic town of Harper's Ferry. Set as it is in one of the angles formed [92] by the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and nestling at the foot of grand old mountains, its houses rising one above another on the bank of the former river, in time of peace it must have seemed a gem of beauty; but now, with the once splendid bridge of the Baltimore and Ohio Road, which crosses the river at this place, half destroyed, the long armory buildings a row of blackened ruins by the river side, and the whole place deserted and desolate, it seemed singled out as a victim for the blighting hand of War.

But we moved on. A long, winding ascent, often rugged and in places quite steep, finally brought us to the high ground known as Maryland Heights, situated opposite the Ferry. Here we found about eight thousand troops, representing eleven different States, encamped, under the command of Maj. Gen. William H. French, a native of Maryland, who served with distinction in the Mexican War.1 A part of the troops were located in our immediate neighborhood, a part on commanding ground to the north, while yet others occupied the lofty ridge of the Heights that rose above us several hundred feet towards the south, which, though often enveloped in clouds, was strongly fortified and well provided with troops.

Along the crest of these mountains, which are the continuation of the Blue Ridge into Maryland, Kershaw's and Barksdale's brigades, of Stonewall Jackson's command, marched the year before and captured the place, having forced their way through what was thought to be an impassable forest. The bones of the Rebels slain in the attack on the outer [93] work were plainly visible, protruding from the shallow graves in which they had been hastily buried by friend or foe.

The morning after we reached the Heights, the clouds, which had been discharging their watery contents upon us with unpleasant constancy since our arrival, broke away, and promised fair weather and a burning sun. We could see along the lofty ridge huge guns pointing off over the plains, and the white army wagons slowly toiling up its rugged sides; in the afternoon, however, dense clouds rolled over the mountain and drenched everybody and everything with showers of tropical intensity. So, for every one of five days spent in that locality, we were alternately cheered by transient sunshine in the morning, and saturated by copious showers in the afternoon.

On the 29th, the Twenty-Third Maine, whose term of service had expired, went home rejoicing. It had not seen any fighting. It was made up of stalwart men, and was quite well drilled in the manual of arms, better, perhaps, than any other at Poolsville. On the same date, one of ‘Scott's Nine Hundred,’ shot while picketing on Bolivar Heights, was brought into camp, and a Dutch lieutenant and nineteen men were captured. This, of course, was a sensation for us. It made war seem more of a reality than hitherto. Thirty Rebel prisoners were also brought in this day. One forenoon2 Gen. Hooker came riding up the Heights on his white horse.3 [94] This was our first and last sight of that gallant soldier while the war lasted, as he was relieved on the 28th, and saw his next active service in command of the Eleventh and Twelfth corps, when they were sent to Sherman's army. [95]

Rumors now began to prevail that the Heights and Harper's Ferry were to be evacuated, and soon the order came to be ready to move, June 30, at six in the morning. We were ready at the time appointed, but vainly waited hour after hour for further orders. The heavy artillerymen were busily employed in removing siege guns down the mountain to the canal, where they were loaded on canal boats to be sent to Washington; also in removing quartermasters' stores, preparing to destroy ammunition, etc.; so that we knew the evacuation was certainly determined upon. During our wait the usual showers visited us at short intervals, and we huddled as best we could under the tarpaulins hastily stretched over the guns and caissons. In the height of one of these, several explosions occurring in rapid succession led us to suppose the work of destruction had begun. We afterwards learned that they were the result of carelessness. Some one with more zeal than discretion struck a percussion shell with an axe, intending to destroy it. He accomplished his object, but not in accordance with his expectations. The shell exploded, communicating fire to a small magazine near by, and this in turn exploded, all of which resulted in killing eleven and wounding sixteen men. They were members of the Fourteenth Massachusetts and One Hundred and Fifty-first New York heavy artillery.

Shortly after 3 o'clock orders finally came to start, and down we went over rocks and through streams of water, retracing our course hither, until, having traversed some six or seven miles, we went into camp for the night, about a mile distant from our former stopping-place, near Petersville. It was with no feelings of regret that we turned our backs on Maryland Heights, for it rained when we approached [96] them, it rained as we ascended them, rained every day we remained, rained a second deluge when we left; and had not the writer satisfied himself to the contrary during a visit to the place in July, 1869, when he spent a delightfully clear and cool night upon the summit with William Endicott, he would be ready to affirm that it has rained there ever since.

The night of June 30th was one of the dreariest in our whole career. We were new to the rough experience of campaigning in all weathers, and various circumstances conspired to cast a gloom over our prospects. With the arrival of darkness, the rain commenced to fall again with fresh violence, and our tarpaulins, pitched on the wet ground of a side hill, proved a poor protection. Although themselves tolerably impenetrable to water, they did not prevent the rain from driving in at the open ends, or miniature mill-streams from coursing down the slope beneath us. In the midst of this discomfort we were called into line to learn that we were to join the Army of the Potomac, that Gen. Hooker had been relieved and Gen. Meade appointed in his stead. We knew that the Rebel army in unknown numbers was sweeping through Maryland, and that, as a fierce battle was more or less imminent, a change of leaders at this important juncture might dampen the ardor of the Union army and make it a less confident opponent of its old-time antagonist. In this dark period of its history we were to join that army and cast in our lot with it for victory or defeat, for life or death.4 [97]

When at last we were at liberty to return to our quarters we lay down, and, all things considered, slept well till morning, at which time we turned out steaming, to continue our march. As we moved out of the charmed circle of Maryland Heights, the clouds broke away and the sun came forth intensely hot and scorching. Many of the infantry gave way under it. Some were sunstruck, and we now longed for the clouds as anxiously as before we had looked for the sun. Passing through a settlement called Middle Creek, and the pretty little village of Jefferson, at which we tarried awhile at noon, we arrived about sundown at the city of Frederick, since made famous by Whittier's ‘Barbara Frietchie.’ The city lay in a section of country whose beauty was truly charming; and, indeed, the whole of Pleasant Valley,—that being the name of the stretch of territory over which we had just passed,—with its fresh green fields, and dwellings betokening an air of unusual thrift and comfort, having the Blue Ridge as a background, presented a picture of rural loveliness still distinct on the tablets of memory. On every side waved fields of grain and other crops just yielding to the reaper. The people seemed kind and loyal, and the general appearance of industry reminded us vividly of our own New England.

July 2d was a general drying-day, for the frequent rains of the preceding days had not only completely soaked the clothing we wore, but had also penetrated [98] the contents of our shoddy knapsacks, so that shirts, blouses, jackets, and blankets were to be seen stretched upon every available fence or carriage to dry. We learned here that the Army of the Potomac had been passing through Frederick for two days, but instead of pressing on to overtake it, we were sent at 3 o'clock P. M., with the Tenth Vermont Regiment and a company of cavalry, three miles from the city to Frederick Junction, a station on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, from which a short branch extended to the city.

Our business here was to guard the railroad bridge across the Monocacy.5 A block house erected for the same purpose stood near by. The spot was rather attractive as a whole, and the prospect of ample opportunity to wash and bathe in the river was quite gratifying.

On the morning of July 3d, before we had turned out, a faint rumbling of cannon was perceptible to the ear. It was the incipient muttering of the third day's battle at Gettysburg. Often during the day did we kneel to the ground, and the quick throbbing sounds heard at irregular intervals told us the two great armies had indeed met, forty miles away, and were engaged in deadly struggle for the mastery. [99] This day the rest of Gen. Morris's brigade, to which we were attached, came to the Junction and camped near us. The morning of the Fourth dawned, with the contest still undecided. Our anxiety for the result, however, as the day wore on, was in part overcome by an intense desire for food. Our hard-tack was crawling with weevils, and the meat cooked some days before had become equally animated with maggots. Our next resort was to the pork-barrel, and a slice of raw pork, sandwiched between hardtack from which the tenants had been expelled by fire, formed our Fourth of July dinner. This day news came that Lee was retreating, and at 6 o'clock in the. afternoon we received orders to march; but before we had gone over half the distance to Frederick, the order was countermanded, and we returned to the Junction about 9 o'clock. The next day was the Sabbath, and the wildest of reports were brought by engineers on passing trains. We believed only what we pleased of these, but the great fact that the Rebel army had been defeated and was in full retreat could no longer be doubted. Numerous trains came along from Washington, laden with fresh troops, and with horses, forage, and rations for the army, and we felt that the most energetic efforts were being made to crush the enemy before he could recross the Potomac. In the midst of this excitement came news of Vicksburg's surrender, and it seemed as if the war was about to close and that the Battery was not likely to get its full share of the glory. It was but the temporary lifting of the clouds before they again shut down under another dark night of bloodshed and disaster in which we were destined to be swept to the front of the tempest.

Several trains, loaded with Rebel prisoners taken [100] in the battle, passed along at intervals. Many of these men were quite talkative and discussed the situation very freely and pleasantly; while others, who evidently took matters less philosophically, were sullen, and either said nothing when addressed or growled in monosyllables. We gave them only kind words, however.

On the morning of the 5th, Gen. French caused a spy, bearing the name of Richardson, to be hung at Frederick, and for example's sake allowed his body to remain hanging to the tree all day.

The Eighth, Forty-sixth and Fifty-first Massachusetts, and the Seventh New York regiments arrived at the Junction on the 6th, and two sections of the Battery (the right and centre) were sent up to the city to do provost duty, with strict orders for all ragged and patched pantaloons to be doffed, and nothing but the best worn. Scales and boots were to be brightly polished and kept so. All of which was done. But when the old soldiers of Potomac's ZZZa rivar passed the men as they stood on duty, and such expressions as ‘Bandbox Battery’ and other derogatory remarks on their gay appearance reached the ear, the blood of would-be veterans was roused, and scales, which had always played a conspicuous part on parade occasions, vanished, never to appear

Willard Y. Gross

[101] again. Just one pair in the whole Company is known to have survived this indignant uprising, and any comrade wishing to renew his acquaintance with that article of ornament is referred to our respected past artificer, Willard Y. Gross.

On the 8th of July marching orders came, and the left section, having been relieved by the Twelfth New York Battery, which had just arrived from Camp Barry, rejoined the rest of the Company in Frederick at 2 P. M. Here we found the Army of the Potomac still passing. The troops from Harper's Ferry were to join the Third Corps,—the celebrated fighting troops of Gen. Sickles, who, having lost a leg at Gettysburg, had left his command and was succeeded by Gen. French. We soon found ourselves in the midst of the great army, cheek by jowl with the men who fought under McDowell, and McClellan, and Pope, and Burnside, and Hooker, as principals, and under the more immediate direction of such leaders as Sumner and Franklin, Keyes and Kearny, Heintzelman and McCall, Sedgwick, Reno, and Banks in the earlier days of the war, and now were fresh from the gory fields of Gettysburg, where Reynolds, of precious memory, and Buford, and Hancock, and Sickles had immortalized themselves; and we rejoiced at our good fortune in being thus associated.

When we left Frederick, Capt. Sleeper was placed in charge of the entire supply train of the Third Corps. The long lines of ammunition and forage wagons stretching with their white coverings as far as the eye could reach on every road, pressing noisily on in seeming confusion, yet really moving harmoniously under a definite system without any collision; the long, dark-blue columns of infantry, their bayonets glistening in the sun, winding down [102] across Middletown Valley and up the opposite slope in advance of the trains; and the bodies of troops temporarily bivouacking by the roadside waiting to take their proper place in column, or perhaps lunching upon hard-tack and coffee after a forced march, combined to give us our first distinct impressions of a large army in motion.

We were rapidly moving towards the South Mountain range, and continually met ambulances loaded with the wounded from recent cavalry skirmishes in the mountain passes. As we moved up out of the valley towards the mountains, and cast our eyes back over the course we had traversed, a charming scene was presented to the view. The whole expanse of Middletown Valley lay before us, its fields ripe for the harvest, mottled with dark groves of fruit and shade trees from which peeped white buildings belonging to large estates. In the midst stood the modest little hamlet of Middletown and the glittering city of Frederick; while over all was poured a flood of mellow light from the sun just sinking behind the mountains.

Among many of the older troops we found the love of McClellan still strong and deep. How was it that, after successive failure and defeat, after having lost the confidence both of the government and the people, this man succeeded in implanting such imperishable sentiments of love and devotion in his soldiers? They declared he had never been whipped, that they had driven the Rebels in every fight on the Peninsula, and if the General could have had his own way, Richmond would have been ours long since. Nor could we make the absurdity of their views, as they appeared to us, at all plain to them by any argument or appeal to facts. Their devotion seemed something inexplicable, and we attributed [103] it to the tact of the man and the favoring circumstances attaching to him as their first commander.

We camped for the night on the slope of the mountain, near a brick house occupied as headquarters by Brig. Gen. Morris, on a portion of South Mountain battlefield. Here we lay quietly until 9 P. M. of the next day (Thursday, July 9), while the Sixth Corps and a numerous body of cavalry filed past.

Having freighted our haversacks with three days rations, we, too, moved on as part and parcel of the Army of the Potomac, considering ourselves now fully identified with it, and justly proud, too, of our connection. The fear of being sent into the Department of the Gulf was no longer a bugbear to us. Our fondest hopes were realized. The future was yet to show whether we should reflect credit or disgrace upon our distinguished associates.

It was quite dark when we entered Turner's Gap. The road was terribly rough and rugged, which made our night march toilsome in the extreme; but we labored on until after midnight, when, having got through the Gap, we turned into a field on the right of the road, and bivouacked for the rest of the night. With the first streak of dawn the shrill bugle summoned us again into readiness for moving. Shortly after there came sounds of cannonading in our front, which made our pulses beat quick with expectation of battle, but we remained quiet; and when, about 10 o'clock, the column finally moved on, the firing had died away. The road was encumbered with wagon trains belonging to troops in the advance, and the weather was quite warm, so that we marched no more than five or six miles during the day. We passed through the little village of Kediesville about 6 o'clock, and camped just beyond, [104] on a portion of the Antietam battlefield. But the harnesses were hardly off the horses before orders were received to be ready to march at once. Hungry and tired as we were, it was hard to think of moving on before taking the expected rest and refreshment on the fresh green knoll where we were in position. Nevertheless we were soon ready and awaiting orders, which did not come, as so often happened. About midnight, as we lay scattered upon the ground asleep, orders came to unharness, and we passed the rest of the night in comparative quiet, disturbed only by the columns of passing infantry that went on and camped near Boonesboroa, where we joined them the next morning (July 11). Boonesboroa bore marks of a cavalry brush that occurred there the day before. Here we fell in with the Ninth Massachusetts Battery,—our first interview with it since it left Camp Barry. It had been severely handled at Gettysburg, its first fight, losing twenty-nine men in killed, wounded, and prisoners. This day we remember as the one on which we were weaned from the Company cooks, and received our rations uncooked, for each man to prepare to his own taste.

Continuing our march leisurely from Boonesboroa, crossing Beaver and Antietam creeks, we arrived, at midnight, at Sampsonville, or Roxbury Mills, in or near Williamsport.

The next day was the Sabbath, but all was bustle and excitement. A great battle seemed imminent. Orderlies were galloping rapidly from point to point, and everything was in readiness to move at a moment's notice. The army was in excellent spirits, and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. The soldiers felt that they had Lee where he could not escape. His army was beaten, demoralized, panicstricken. [105] ‘Our forces,’ it was said, ‘had it surrounded in a horse-shoe, and across the opening stretched the swollen, impassable Potomac.’ We never afterwards saw men so eager to be led to battle.6 They would have fought with the utmost zeal, for they felt that one more decisive blow would end the war, at least in Virginia; but matters lingered mysteriously.

About noon, we, with other batteries, were ordered into position a mile beyond Antietam Bridge. Rumors of fighting at Hagerstown reached us, but still no sound of battle. The afternoon passed with several hard showers, and at night we unharnessed. Monday came and went with no active operations, and Tuesday morning brought no change. Soon it began to be rumored that Lee had escaped across the river. The report sounded painfully ominous. We would not believe it. Again, and yet again, it came with greater definiteness and a persistence which marked it true. Disheartened and indignant, we advanced at noon, passing several lines of rude breastworks thrown up during the past forty-eight hours, and camped for the night near St. James College, a Catholic institution, which we found deserted and ravaged, having evidently been occupied by the Rebel army.

Wednesday morning the army took up its retrograde line of march. We now knew definitely that Lee had been permitted to escape across the river, and it was proposed to intercept his return to Richmond by keeping continually on his flank, and heading [106] him off at every pass. But how changed the spirits of the army! Hope and enthusiasm, so conspicuously prevalent during the past three days, had given place to disgust and indifference. The men had been robbed of their prey, as it seemed to them, and now, instead of enjoying the laurels they had been confidently expecting as victors, they were to return into Virginia, to renew their weary marches over its dusty plaius and through its miry roads, to combat the foe anew in his chosen strongholds. It could not be expected that they would be otherwise than dissatisfied; but they had been so thoroughly schooled in disappointment that they did not carry their disgust beyond the point of giving it very frequent and emphatic expression: nor was this feeling limited to the rank and file, but was shared also by the officers. It is not within the province of this unpretentious work to discuss the wisdom or mistakes of the movements immediately subsequent to Gettysburg, nor is it necessary. The seal of disapproval has been set upon them by the verdict of history. It is an easy matter after an act is performed to show wherein it might have been bettered; but an ounce of such philosophy before a battle is worth a ton afterwards. We shall always believe, however, that Gen. Meade did what seemed best to him at the time and under the circumstances.7

It may be permitted the writer to make, as his contribution to the fund of post proclium wisdom, a [107] statement made to him by an ex-Confederate8 connected with Lee's supply train, that the Rebel army was all but destitute of ammunition at Williamsport and had sent its train back to Staunton for a supply, which did not reach them on its return until after they had recrossed the Potomac. The same authority further stated that his army was utterly demoralized and without organization, and that the Rebels supposed our army refrained from attacking because in substantially the same condition.

Our line of march takes us through a place called Wilmington and across a part of Antietam battlefield. On our left, a narrow strip of green extending back over the hill, half a mile in length, marks the limits of a trench in which it is said there are three thousand bodies buried. Other patches of green, less in extent, indicate still further the resting-places of the slain in this great battle.9 On the hill at our right stands the ‘Chapel,’10 whose battered walls, together with the many scarred trees near it, attest the severity of the conflict, and the efficacy of the shooting done, we are told, by the First [108] Massachusetts and other batteries, to dislodge the enemy from this position. The scattered bones of horses that still lay bleaching were the only other witnesses left by the farmers to bear testimony to the indecisive contest of ten months previous. We make these observations while passing, for the army does not halt, but moves on, arriving soon after at the town of Sharpsburg, through which we pass and camp for the night about three miles beyond. This town, by whose name the Rebels designate the battle of Antietam, because their line was established near and in it, also gave evidence of warlike treatment. It was a low, filthy settlement, showing need of the healing arts of Peace, rather than the destroying tendencies of War.

Resuming our march Thursday morning by way of Pleasant Valley, we passed through the villages of Rohrersville and Brownsville, camping near the latter until 5 o'clock P. M. the next day. Here, for some reason we never understood, but for which we were afterwards more or less grateful, we were ordered to turn in our knapsacks and do up our effects in rolls or ‘bundles.’ Although but about six miles from Harper's Ferry, we did not reach its vicinity until midnight. It was raining there still, just as when we left. We lay along the railroad, passing the dreary hours as comfortably as we could, and at 5 o'clock in the gray of morning crossed the turbid waters of the Potomac by pontoon, and entered the Ferry. The town was entirely deserted by its inhabitants, and the empty houses and glaring signboards seemed to stare at us as if ghosts of departed happiness and business prosperity. No faces peered from the lonely windows; no smoke curled from the cold chimneys; the shelves of the stores displayed no piles of tempting goods; no vehicles save those [109] of the army waked the echoes of its quiet streets: everything stood as it had been left, the life of the place having been suddenly paralyzed by the touch of a monster—the monster War.

Passing on by another bridge which spanned the Shenandoah, and winding round by a narrow road under the cliffs of Bolivar Heights, we entered Loudon Valley and began our experience in war-swept Virginia. It was a beautiful country which we had entered. The route lay through forests of oak, against which the woodman's axe appeared never to have been lifted, and then emerged in the midst of fertile fields waving with wheat and other grains. On our right stretched the Blue Ridge, like a sheltering wall against the rude blasts of winter, and the country seemed fitted to be a garden of plenty. The inhabitants were evidently not in harmony with the natural beauty around them. The poor in their miserable hovels, and with scanty gardens, were contented if they could maintain a bare existence and keep starvation from the door. The estates of the wealthier, while having some show of comfort and plenty, wore a neglected and decaying appearance, partly because war had stifled all thrift and enterprise, and partly owing to the deadening influences of slavery.

During our first day in Virginia we marched about eleven miles, and the next day seven more, camping near an insignificant settlement, known as Woodsgrove, amidst a profusion of blackberries. From this place Sergt. Allard and privates Alden, Abbott and F. A. Chase were sent, mounted, back to Berlin on the Maryland side of the Potomac, with requisitions for a supply of mules to take the place of the horses on our baggage wagons. While returning they were captured by guerrillas and taken [110] to Belle Isle, Virginia. A detailed account of their experience will be found in the Appendix.

Monday morning, the 20th, we continued our line of march, passing through Snickersville, near Snicker's Gap, Bloomfield, and Paris, all small villages, and camped at Upperville near Ashby's Gap, where we remained until the afternoon of the 22d, leaving at 5 o'clock, the right and centre sections advancing about six miles and camping at Piedmont. The left section having been detailed as rear guard to the supply train, was on the road all night in that capacity, and the next morning made a rapid march of twelve miles to rejoin the Battery. We overtook it at mid-day pushing on into Manassas Gap. We met a body of cavalry and flying artillery coming out of the gap. They had been holding it until the army arrived. We were immediately ordered into position on one of a series of eminences known as Wapping Heights, commanding the road through the Pass. It was thought Lee intended to get possession of these heights, and a battle was momentarily expected.11 But no sooner were our guns in position than, wearied with the march of the last twenty hours, many of the men fell down beside them and slept soundly. At sundown we began to [111] cast about for something to eat, rations being in arrears as well as forage. A neighboring cornfield furnished a meal of green stalks for the horses, and from the remains of a cow that had been slaughtered by some of the infantry who had preceded us, several of the Company gleaned meat enough for supper. Others, making a raid on a neighboring barn-yard, secured a calf and a sheep, which were promptly offered up as victims to the needs of the present hour.

In the morning several rapid volleys of musketry were heard, and we expected soon to be engaged, but the sounds at length died away. The dark masses of infantry that were encamped on the hills around began to file down into the road and retrace their steps. Then we knew that the Rebels had gone. Of course the sanguine circulated rumors that there was but one gap left by which they could escape to Richmond, and that, our forces could reach first; but we put little confidence in them, and, as it proved, these were the last sounds of battle heard in this campaign. We soon followed the infantry, and having arrived at Piedmont, where we encamped for the night, found the welcome supply trains awaiting us.

Another day's march took us through the settlements of Oak Hill and Salem. The latter stood on the flattest piece of territory we had yet seen in Virginia. It had been quite a flourishing village in its day, but now, left in charge of its old men and a few faithful blacks, it was fast going to decay. We bivouacked for the night nearly three miles beyond the town, and on the morrow (Sunday) completed [112] the remaining distance of six miles to Warrenton, arriving there about 11 o'clock A. M., parking just outside the town. Our halt here was brief, however, for soon an order came for us to go on picket at a post three miles beyond the town, which we did, having a support of four or five thousand infantry accompany us.

Warrenton is the capital town of Fauquier County, and in 1860 was recorded as having a free population of 605. As we were marched around instead of through the town, much to the disgust of our Yankee curiosity, we could take no note of its interior. What we could see of its suburbs, however, was in its favor. A visit to the place in 1879, under more favorable circumstances, enables us to give some description of it. It is a ‘city set on a hill,’ and, therefore, can be seen for a long distance. Its present population is said to number 2,000. It has but one business street, perhaps one-fourth of a mile in length, which was innocent of all attempts at grading, being lowest in the centre and the receptacle of more or less rubbish. There are wretched attempts at sidewalks in spots, and horse-blocks, or their equivalent, are found in front of many of the stores and dwellings. Most of the buildings on this main street are unpretentious structures, many of them the typical Southern store, one story high, with pitched roof, and a piazza in front seemingly for the shelter of the loungers that are always to be found under it. Three or four churches, a courthouse, and a small jail behind the latter, of a somewhat rickety appearance, seeming hardly strong enough to hold securely the highly civilized type of criminal found in the Middle and Eastern States, comprise the public buildings. The court-house has been called ‘handsome’ in its day, but on what [113] ground it would be somewhat difficult, at present, to tell. Although a two-storied building, it is quite low-studded, and a part of its outer wall finished in plaster presents evidence that the ‘scaling down’ process, of late so popular in some parts of the quondam Confederacy, is becoming general in its application. The Circuit Court was in session while we were here, engaged in trying a negro for the murder of a white man at Manassas Junction some weeks before. A large crowd, composed of both colors, was assembled in and about the court-house, but as good-natured and free from excitement as could be found anywhere in the North under similar conditions. The prisoner certainly seemed to be having a fair trial.

The suburbs are by far the most attractive and creditable part of the town. There are a number of very fine residences on the four or five roads that centre in this place. Many of them have been built since the war. Spacious and ornamental grounds surround them, showing the existence of a refined taste and the means of gratifying it, and proving rather conclusively that not every Rebel exhausted his resources in the interests of the Confederacy,— for Warrenton was a stanch Rebel stronghold during the war, and, as we were informed, still deserves that reputation.

A private conversation with some of the colored men, however, assured us that they exercise their suffrages entirely untrammelled. As we journeyed on beyond the town we met horsemen at short intervals, isolated or in pairs, Virginia gentlemen of the old school going to ‘Circuit.’ This is one of the ‘field days’ of the county, when almost every man within a radius of twenty miles may be found at county headquarters; and from the number of saddled [114] horses picketed along the streets and in vacant lots, one might easily imagine either Kilpatrick's or Stuart's troopers in possession, were it a time of war. Approaching the town later in the day, on our homeward journey, we met several of these same gentry, also wending their way homeward, many of whom maintained a very unstable equilibrium in the saddle. In brief, during Circuit, liquors flow with the utmost freedom, each gentleman of the F. F. V.'s drinking with every one of his acquaintances whom lie meets, if his capacity is equal to it. But we must not linger longer in this representative and interesting town of the Old Dominion.

One feature of our march through Virginia thus far was the untold abundance of blackberries with which we were almost constantly regaled. In some sections they literally lined the roads and overran the fields. It was possible for a soldier to seat himself in their midst, and without once changing his location, to fill his stomach, or his coffee dipper, or both. It is to be further noted that the fruit was unusually sweet and delicious, putting our northern products into the shade in this particular. To what extent it was instrumental in toning up the health and spirits of the army cannot be estimated, but that it was

Otis N. Harrington Orderly Sergeant

eminently beneficial, and warded off a vast amount of summer disease, is beyond all question. [115]

We remained at our post on picket for five days. From this camp, First Sergeant Otis N. Harrington, who had been ailing for some time with chronic diarrhoea, was sent to Washington, the 29th, but did not live to reach there, dying on the journey July 30th. He left his saddle when the army crossed into Virginia, saying at the time that the last hope of recovery had left him. The rigors of the campaign to this point had so aggravated his disease that his courage had deserted him, and his strength nearly so, when we crossed at Harper's Ferry. From this time the hardships lie underwent multiplied, so that when at last it was permitted to send him to the hospital he had not sufficient vitality left to reach there. He was an efficient officer and a good soldier, and was much respected by the entire Company, which deeply lamented his death. Sergt. George H. Putnam was promoted to fill the vacancy on the 8th of August.

John C. Frost also left us the same date, and was discharged from the service for disability the following September.

Before we left this camp, a large mail, which had been accumulating at Washington for three weeks, arrived, and opened to us once more the outer world from which we had been so completely excluded.

July 31, we moved forward and took post at Sulphur Springs.

Morning reports.


June 26. Battery arrived at Maryland Heights at 10 o'clock A. M.

June 27. Gen. French took command of this post to-day. [116]

June 28. Private Charles Slack reported to quarters.

June 29. Private Charles Slack reported for duty. Privates Frank M. Estee and Warburton reported to quarters.

June 30. Privates Estee and Warburton reported for duty. Started from Maryland Heights for Frederick City.

July 1. Arrived at Frederick City at 6 o'clock P. M.

July 2. Started from Frederick City at 4 P. M. and arrived at Monocacy Junction 6 P. M.

July 3. Private John T. Goodwin reported for duty.

July 4. Privates Clark (?) and Orcutt (?) reported to quarters.

July 5. Privates Orcutt (?) and Nowell reported to quarters.

July 7. Privates Clark (?), Orcutt (?) and Nowell returned to duty. Two sections of this Battery returned to Frederick City.

July 8. The sections at Frederick Junction joined the Battery. The Battery started for South Mountain to join the Third Army Corps at 2 o'clock.

July 9. On the march Alvah F. Southworth and S. G. Richardson appointed teamsters vice Abbott and Chase reduced.

July 10. Camped on Antietam battleground.

July 12. Quartermaster Serg't S. A. Alden and Corp'l W. W. Starkweather reduced to the ranks. Private W. G. Rollins appointed Q. M. Sergt. in place of Alden reduced to the ranks. Private B. C. Clark appointed corporal in place of Starkweather.

July 13. Two horses shot. Disease glanders. Three horses abandoned as worthless and worn out.

July 18. Crossed the Potomac river from Maryland to Virginia. [117]

July 19. Serg't Allard and privates Alden, Chase and Abbott sent to Berlin for horses and mules with four horses mounted.

July 25. Three horses abandoned as worthless and worn out.

July 27. First Sergeant Otis N. Harrington and private John C. Frost reported sick to quarters. Captain J. Henry Sleeper absent sick at Warrenton on surgeon's certificate.

July 28. One horse abandoned as worthless and worn out.

July 29. First Sergeant Otis N. Harrington and private John C. Frost sent to Gen'l Hospital, Washington, D. C. One horse died, disease inflammation of the bladder.

Privates Northey, Ellsworth, Ramsdell, Ham, Chase, Peach, Innis, Clark (?), Bickford, Ring, Newton, Parks, Pierce (?) reported to quarters.

1 Since writing the above, General French has deceased, dying in Washington, in May, 1881, of apoplexy. He had but recently been placed on the retired list.

2 St June 26th.


All doubt as to the enemy's purposes being now dispelled, Gen. Hooker crossed the Potomac near Edwards Ferry, and advanced to Frederick, himself visiting by the way Halrper's Ferry. He found there, or rather on Maryland Heights, Gen. French with 11,000 men, whom he very naturally desired to add to his army in the momentous battle now pending. . . . Hooker had already drawn from the garrison at Washington all that Halleck would spare-leaving but 11,000 effectives under Heintzelman, which was none too much. But having crossed the Potomac, he had very properly inquired by telegraph of Halleck, ‘Is there any reason why Maryland Heights should not be abandoned after the public stores and property are removed?’ and been answered: ‘Maryland Heights have always been regarded as an important point to be held by us, and much expense and labor incurred in fortifying them. I cannot approve of their abandonment except in case of absolute necessity.’ Hooker at once rejoined:

I have received your telegram in regard to Harper's Ferry. I find 10,000 men here in condition to take the field. Here, they are of no earthly account. They cannot defend a ford of the river; and so far as Harper's Ferry is concerned, there is nothing of it. As for the fortifications, the work of the troops, they remain when the troops are withdrawn. No enemy will ever take possession of them for them. This is my opinion. All the public property could have been secured to-night, and the troops marched to where they could have been of some service. Now they are but a bait for the rebels should they return. I beg that this may be presented to the Secretary of War and his Excellency the President.

Joseph Hooker, Major-General.
In regard to this grave matter of indifference, Hooker was clearly in the right; not clearly so in sending this despatch immediately afterward:

Sandy Hook, June 27, 1863.
Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck, General-in-Chief
My original instructions require me to cover Harper's Ferry and Washington. I have now imposed upon me, in addition, an enemy in my front of more than my numbers. I beg to be understood, respectfully but firmly, that I am unable to comply with this condition with the means at my disposal, and earnestly request that I may at once be relieved from the position I occupy.

Joseph Hooker, Major-General./signed>

The next day brought Col. Hardie to Hooker's headquarters at Frederick, with instructions relieving Hooker, and devolving the command on Gen. Meade, who was therewith advised that he might do as he pleased with the Harper's Ferry men. . . . Such a change of commanders, for no more urgent reasons, on the very brink of a great battle, has few parallels in history. Whatever his faults, Hooker was loved and trusted by his soldiers, who knew less of Meade, and had less faith in him. Had that army been polled, it would have voted to fight the impending battle under Hooker without the aid of French's 11,000 men, rather than under Meade with that reinforcement.

American Conflict, Vol. II.

4 Had Hooker been permitted to take French's troops from Maryland Heights, there is good reason for believing that we should have become a permanent part and parcel of the Twelfth Corps, as the following extract from Swinton's Army of the Potomac will show. After speaking of the moves open to Hooker from Frederick, where he had concentrated, he says:

There is yet evidence that he purposed making at least a strong demonstration on Lee's line of communications. With this view he threw out his left well westward to Middletown, and ordered the Twelfth Corps, under General Slocum, to march to Harper's Ferry. Here Slocum was to be joined by the garrison of that post, eleven thousand strong, under General French, and the united force was to menace the Confederate rear by a movement towards Chambersburg.


Nor is Meade justly blamable for not pushing forward at once on the heels of his beaten foes. . . . . His real and grave error dated several days back of this. He had, on assuming command, been authorized to do as he judged best with French's force on Maryland Heights, and Couch's in Central Pennsylvania. Had he, on deciding to fight Lee as soon as circumstances favored, ordered both these to join him at the earliest moment, he would now have been consciously master of the situation, and might have blocked Lee's return to Virginia. But he gave no such order to Couch; and having at Butterheld's urgent suggestion withdrawn French's 11,000 men from Maryland Heights, he left 7,000 of them standing idle at Frederick, sending the residue as train guards to Washington, and actually apologized to Halleck, on meeting him, for having moved them at all! Had Gettysburg been lost for want of these 11,000 men, his would have been a fearful responsibility.

American Conflict, Vol. II.


Question. What was the condition of our army after the fight was over?

Answer. I have never seen the army so confident of success, in most admirable spirits, and so anxious for a fight.

Testimony of Maj. Gen. David B. Birney before the Committee on the Conduct of the War.


But neither Lee's army nor his troubles were yet over. The heavy rains following the battle had swelled the Potomac to an unfordable state; while Gen. French, who with 7,000 veterans had been left idle at Frederick during the great events in Pennsylvania, had, without orders, sent a cavalry force to Falling Waters and Williamsport, which captured the weak guard left by Lee to hold his bridge, which they forthwith destroyed. Lee's hold on the Maryland bank was therefore compulsory, while he collected material, and repaired or renewed his bridge. Ere this was accomplished, Meade's army was before him, strengthened by French's division and by part of Couch's militia, which had reported at Gettysburg and joined the army at Boonesboroa. The 12th having been spent in getting our troops into position, Gen. Meade called a council of his corps commanders to consider the expediency of attacking next morning. The council sat long and debated earnestly. Gens. Howard, Pleasanton, and Wadsworth (in place of Reynolds, killed), urged and voted to attack; but Gens. Sedgwick, Slocum, Sykes, French, and Hays (in place of Hancock, wounded at Gettysburg), opposed it. Gen. Meade having heard all, stated that his judgment favored an attack—that he came there to fight, and could see no good reason for not fighting. Still, he could not take the responsibility of ordering an assault against the advice of a majority of his corps commanders—four of them ranking officers of the army next himself. . . . At all events, he did not take it; so our army stood idle throughout the following day, and in the night Lee withdrew across the Potomac. American Conflict, Vol. II.

8 In April, 1879.

9 All these have since been exhumed and buried in the National Cemetery.

10 Known in history as the ‘Dunker Church.’


Gen. Meade crossed the Potomac . . . on the 18th, . . . moving to Warrenton. This movement being in advance of Lee, who halted for some days near Bunker Hill and made a feint of recrossing the Potomac, Meade was enabled to seize all the passes through the Blue Ridge north of the Rappahannock, barring the enemy's egress from the Shenandoah save by a tedious flank march.

Meade, misled by his scouts, had expected to fight a battle in Manassas Gap—or rather on the west side of it—where our cavalry under Buford found the enemy in force; when the 3d Corps was sent in haste from Ashby's Gap to Buford's support, and its 1st division, Gen. Hobart Ward, pushed through the Gap, and the Excelsior brigade, Gen. F. B. Spinola, made three heroic charges up as many steep and difficult ridges dislodging and driving the enemy with mutual loss,—Gen. Spinola being twice wounded. . . .

Next morning, our soldiers pushed forward to Front Royal, but encountered no enemy. Unknown to us, the Excelsiors had been fighting a brigade of Ewell's men who were holding the Gap, while Rhodes' division, forming the rear guard of Lee's army, marched past up the valley, and had, of course, followed on its footsteps during the night. No enemy remained to fight; but two days were lost by Meade getting into and out of the Gap; during which Lee moved rapidly southward, passing around our right flank, and appearing in our front when our army again looked across the Rappahannock.

American conflict, Vol. 2.

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