An Attack Expected - March to Maryland Heights - Incidents - Brigaded with the Thirty-fourth Mass. - A Move up the Valley - Incidents - The Return - Incidents - Followed by Early-Threatened Attack at Harper's Ferry - Moved to Cumberland, Md. - Comrade Haney's Story - Gens. Kelly and Crook Captured.
(271) During our stay at Martinsburg up to October 18th, there was little, if anything, of importance in a military way took place. We spent our time in doing picket duty, drilling and etc. On that day however, Imboden attacked the Ninth Maryland Infantry at Charleston, killing the Adjutant and capturing a considerable part of the command.
(272) An attack was somewhat looked for at this point in this same day and Col. Pierce in command here, made every preparation to meet it, but none was made. In the evening our regiment and a battery were ordered to Harpers Ferry. We marched to Shepherdstown, about half way, and encamped for the night. We bivouacked on the streets of the town. A little incident occurred here showing the beauties of soldier life. One of the boys in lying down for the night, placed the strap of his haversack under his head, so that if anyone should try to steal his haversack, he would likely know it. In the night he was awakened by a jerk of something from under his head, and he found that his haversack was gone. It was a very dark night, and an object could be seen scarcely any distance; but he heard something rattling on the pavement. He followed this sound, and found that a hog was making an attempt to confiscate his rations, the rattling being made by the tin cup fastened to the haversack. By a vigorous charge on the enemy the rations were recovered and the soldier went back to renew his nap. It needs hardly be said that if there were any hogs in America that were d---d hogs, that was one of them.
(273) Shepherdstown, situated on the bank of the Potomac was at that time a dull, sleepy old town, the quietude of which was quite suggestive of the proverbial saying, "All quiet on the Potomac." This saying was applicable to the place at that particular time; though no doubt, it had been often awakened before, and was afterward, from its wonted drowsiness by "the cannons' opening roar" being only three or four miles from the Antietam battle ground, the center of a region of battle fields, and itself the scene of one or more fights.
(274) We continued our march in the morning through rain and mud, and arrived at Harpers Ferry at 3 o'clock P. M. We crossed the Potomac here on the railroad bridge and camped on Maryland Heights, which are close to the Potomac, not leaving but little more room than enough between its base and the river, for the canal and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad (which latter in going east crosses into Maryland from West Virginia at this point) to pass.
(275) Just opposite these heights nearby, looking south on London Heights. The Shenandoah river on the southeast side of the valley skirts these latter heights and forms a junction with the Potomac at Harpers Perry. The Potomac then flows on east through the defile between the two heights. The Maryland Heights command, in a military sense, Harpers Ferry, which lies between the two rivers at their junction. From these heights is a fine view up the Valley for many miles. At this time there was a company of Massachusetts heavy artillery stationed on them. They had a siege gun planted there, throwing a hundred pound shell, pointing in the direction of Harpers Ferry, which was capable of shelling an enemy coming down the valley, and approaching the town anywhere within three miles of it.
(276) These Massachusetts boys were true to the traditions and preferences of their section in thinking that a dish of baked beans was the very cream of good things. The following little incident illustrates this fact. It shows that they looked forward to the stated time when they should have their favorite dish with joyous anticipation: One day one of the Twelfth boys overheard one of the artillery boys talking to a comrade. The talk had been of no especial interest to him, the one talking, when suddenly a thought seemed to strike him, which aroused him to considerable enthusiasm. He said: "Let me see - this is Wednesday, tomorrow is Thursday, and the next day Friday, when, by gahge! we are going to have baked beans."
(277) Gen. Sullivan commanded the troops here. We were brigaded with the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts. This regiment was under very strict regimental discipline. Each officers tent when in camp, had a sentinel placed in front of it; and no private soldier was allowed to enter his tent without first getting permission. No intercourse was held between the officers and privates, only on business. They had not seen any service only guarding the railroad. They were finally equipped with arms and etc. and neatly uniformed; and the style displayed, soon convinced the boys of the Twelfth, according to Col. Curtis, then major, that they, the Thirty-fourth, considered them, the Twelfth boys, a lot of rude mountaineers that were not their equals. But an opportunity was soon given to test that matter, so far as fast marching and roughing it generally were concerned, to their entire satisfaction.
(278) No disparagement of the Thirty-fourth, is intended by the foregoing remarks. The men of that command were brave soldiers, and their colonel, Col. Wells, was a brave capable and careful officer. There was probably little or no difference in bravery between the Eastern and Western soldiers. Gen. Sheridan thought, after seeing both European and American armies in action, that while the latter were no braver than the former, they, the American soldiers were the most intelligent, resourceful and efficient soldiers in the world. And because the Western soldier was more used to the handling of arms, and for the reason that the hardships and varied experience of frontier life had produced in him a ready adaptability to necessities, he was perhaps a little more distinctively American in the quick resourcefulness, in the rough and rugged requirements of war, than was her more delicately reared Eastern brother.
(279) No doubt those Massachusetts boys thought their colonel was too rigid in maintaining the exclusiveness he did on the part of his officers. Gen. Grant says of Gen. Buell: "He was a strict disciplinarian and perhaps did not distinguish sufficiently between the volunteer, who enlisted for the war and the soldier who serves in time of peace." This seems to have been the trouble with Col. Wells. "One system," says Grant, "embraced men who risked life for principal, and other men of social standing competence, or wealth and independence of character. The other includes, as a rule, only men who could not do as well in any other occupation."
(280) The Twelfth remained on the Heights, with the exception of a movement up and down the Valley, for about two and a half months, doing picket duty and working on fortifications there. At least this was the work of part of the regiment. However, on November 5th, we marched across the river to Harpers Ferry to hold the camp of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts one day and night while that regiment was on a scout to Charleston and back. We moved onto the Heights again the next morning, the Thirty-fourth having returned to their camp.
(281) Gen. Sullivan having been ordered to make a demonstration against Staunton, Maj. Curtis received orders on the night of the 9th to have the Twelfth furnished with three days' cooked rations, and forty rounds of ammunition to the man, and be ready by dawn on the next day to march up the Valley to make the demonstration.
(282) This movement was apparently made with a view to drawing troops from Richmond to protect Staunton, and as a diversion in favor of Gen. Stoneman, who started December 6th, from Knoxville, Tenn., with three mounted brigades, led by Burbridge and Gillem, and moved along the Virginia and East Tennessee railroad to Marion, Va., where Gillem struck the Rebel Gen. Vaughn, the Sixteenth chasing him 30 miles into Wytheville; capturing 200 men, eight guns and a large train; then moved on along the railroad as far as Max Meadows, Va. Our force and that of Stoneman would thus, in our movements tend toward each other. On this expedition Stoneman captured in all 500 prisoners, destroyed the lead works 15 miles east of Wytheville, destroyed on his way back to Knoxville the valuable and costly saltworks at Saltville, Va., and made other material captures, and destructions, including destruction to some extent of the railroad.
(283) At the appointed time the Tenth, our regiment marched from the Heights across to Harpers Ferry, where we joined the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts with four pieces of Indiana battery under command of Capt. Minor. The force moved early in the morning of this day under command of Col. Wells, he being the senior officer in the command. The route was through Charleston at which place we were joined by the First New York, the Fifth Maine, the Twenty-First Pennsylvania, and Cole's Maryland Battalion, which reinforcements were all cavalry. In addition to this, there were added to the artillery strength at this place, two 12-pound brass pieces.
(284) A rather short march was made that day, as the Thirty-fourth had started with heavy knapsacks of clothing, blankets, and etc., to keep them comfortable, as the command had neither tents nor shelter of any kind to protect the men.
(285) Camp was made that night between Charleston and Berryville. The next morning the advance was given to the Twelfth. They started off whistling "Yankee Doodle" and keeping step to the music at a lively gait. Berryville was passed through, and coming to the Opequon Creek beyond, Col. Wells ordered the command to halt until a temporary bridge should be made. The boys, of the Twelfth, who had frequently had such obstacles to overcome, soon set the Thirty-fourth boys an example of how to get on the other side of a creek, by plunging into this one and wading across. Col. Wells exclaimed to Major Curtis, "What kind of men have you? They don't seem to care for water or anything else." The Major replied: "They are used to that kind of work."
(286) The Twelfth boys marched on rapidly, in order to give the Massachusetts regiment a lesson in marching and about 12 o'clock the wagon master came galloping tip to the front and requested Col. Wells to slacken up the speed, as the men of the Thirty-fourth were all giving out, emptying their knapsacks of blankets and extra clothing, and climbing into the wagons and artillery carriages to ride. The order was given to proceed on a slower march, which was done.
(287) This plan of rather slow marching pursued by Col. Wells going as he did at the outset at the rate of about sixteen mile's a day, is to be commended. It showed him to be considerate and careful of his men. Men ought not to be marched from twenty to thirty miles per day, unless there were some special urgency for so doing. But it often happened that the various commands to which our regiment belonged, would march considerably over twenty miles a day, when no apparent reason existed for so doing. Those responsible for this had marching being mounted did not seem to realize what a heavy drain it was on the energy of the men to carry about thirty pounds, including arms equipments and etc., all day on a hard march, or to appreciate how heavy this weight would become before the end of a day's long march.
(288) Surgeon P. H. Patton, in charge of the Soldiers' Home at Dayton, O., in a recent interview said that most of the inmates there were afflicted with heart trouble; and he attributed this fact to over exertion during the war. Assuming this to be true, it is believed that much if not most of this heart trouble is attributable to unnecessarily hard marching.
(289) On this second day's march - the command passed through Winchester from which place the regiment, being in Gen. Milroy's army, was routed in the preceding June, by Lee's army and camped two miles from town. While here some of the Twelfth boys took the opportunity of looking over the battle field, and saw where some of their comrades had fallen and been buried, with only a little earth thrown upon them. The third day the command marched to Strasburg and remained there four days.
(290) Some of the comrades tell of a trick one of the Twelfth boys played on a citizen at this town, during this stay here. He, the soldier, some how had got hold of a watch chain made of imitation gold dollars. The chain was formed by lining these dollars together. He separated them by removing the links. No doubt with a view to catching a victim, this soldier one day was carelessly toying with his gold dollars in the presence of a citizen, when the eye of the latter caught a sight of the seeming coin. The citizen immediately asked the soldier what he would take for it. The latter played the indifferent dodge - seemed like be did not care whether he sold his coin or not; but finally said that as he would spend his money anyhow, be would exchange it dollar for dollar, for "greenbacks." The citizen promptly handed over the required treasury notes, putting the bogus coin in his pocket with the remark that he would "salt that down." Very probably he would discover later that it was the man instead of the money that was "salted."
(291) Cheating tricks, such as this are not to be approved of course; but a faithful though imperfect record demands that incidents of this character as well as those of a more creditable kind, should be given.
(292) On the night of the 16th, while still at Strasburg, it began raining. In the morning, the command marched to near Woodstock, the rain still falling. In the evening the rain turned to sleet. Camp was made in the woods where part of the timber was pines or cedars and in the night some of the men, who had put up their gum blankets to partially protect themselves from the falling sleet, had to move their quarters on account of the sleet breaking the limbs of the trees above their heads, making it unsafe to stay where they were. Of course, this disagreeable weather was very trying on the endurance and patience of the men. Having relation to this trying severity of the weather this story is told. There was a soldier in the Twelfth, who was familiarly known as "Kid." He, it seemed got very much disgusted with the bad weather, prevailing at this time; and by reason of his patience and endurance being sorely tried, he began to curse the war in general; and wound up with saying in a mainly jocular and slightly serious manner, that so far as he was concerned the Johnny's might have their Confederacy.
(293) The next day, however, the sun came out bright and the day was comparatively beautifully; and some of the boys remembering what "Kid" had said the day before reminded him of it saying, "Kid, how do you feel about it today? Are you willing today to give the Johnnys their Confederacy?" "No." said "Kid," "I'll be damned if I am; I'll try them a hustle for it first." "Kid" was a good soldier. He faithfully performed his duty to the end of the war. He was in at the final "hustle" at Petersburg and Appomattox, and saw the flag of treason go down before the flag of our country, to be hoisted no more forever, it is hoped.
(294) On the 18th, the command continued its march going short distances each day until the afternoon of the 20th, when Harrisonburg, about 100 miles from Harpers Perry was reached. At the bridge across the North Fork of the Shenandoah, which was crossed the day before, the 19th, forty men of the First New York cavalry were left to guard it. In the evening of the day Harrisonburg was reached, the command was formed in line of battle, on account of a report that the Rebels were coming; but no attack was made. However, Gen. Early, with a division, a force many times that of ours was near and the object of the expedition (the drawing of the Rebels' attention and the withdrawing of troops toward us from Richmond, to enable our troops in other fields to successfully accomplish their purposes) having been gained, the command after dark that night started to retrace its steps down the Valley, reaching New Market by 4 o'clock next morning, distance 18 miles.
(295) Here is an incident which it may be thought should have a place here: On our return down the Valley, perhaps at New Market, a woman stuck her head out of a house and shouted, "You're running again are you?" It appears that the boys received this taunt good-naturedly no doubt thinking that it was a pretty good joke. The average American is proveriably good-natured; and can often enjoy a sarcasm or joke at his own expense. Perhaps there never was a man before in which there was less of hereditary clannish or personal hate involved than in this. This was true especially of the Northern soldier. This lack of personal enmity was often shown by the good-natured sociable chats the soldiers of the two armies would have when they would get together, those of the one side being prisoners, for instance.
(296) So the boys in the case of the above incident showed no sign of cherished hate or any ill natured personal resentment toward the Rebel woman for her taunt. Sharp thrusts like this coming from Rebels, were sometimes met, however, with more than counter balancing thrusts. For instance, one time while our regiment was at Winchester the winter previous, a rather large guard having gone out some three or four miles with some wagons to get fire wood, a woman sarcastically said to the boys, "It takes a good many Yankees to get a little wood." "Yes," replied some one, "it does, but it would take a whole army of Rebels to get wood tip North."
(297) After remaining five hours at New Market the march was resumed and continued till evening, when the force camped. Just after dark the rear guard was fired on from across the Shenandoah by some bushwhackers, causing the troops to be ordered into line, but it was soon learned that there was nothing serious. There was no further disturbance during the night. The next day on the way down the Valley, 400 Rebel cavalry charged on our rear guard at Woodstock; but some well directed shots from a section of artillery sent them back flying. Camp was made that night at Strasburg.
(298) Starting from here the next morning the command reached (in two days) Harpers Ferry, the 24th, a distance of 48 miles. The command on its retreat averaged about 25 miles per day. This was hard marching, but there was reason for it. Col. Curtis says that Gen. Early was in close pursuit; as far as Winchester and that it needed no rear guard to keep up the stragglers.
(299) Col. Wells managed this expedition skillfully, choosing a good position every night for his camp. Besides making an effective diversion in favor of Gen. Stoneman operating along the Virginia and Tennessee railroad, the command captured 68 prisoners. This march up and down the Valley in severe winter weather, was very hard on the men, they having to sleep on the ground, without tents or shelter of any kind, but they stood it fairly well.
(300) Early remained at Winchester till the 31st, when he advanced upon Harpers Ferry threatening an attack upon that place. Our regiment by daylight that morning crossed over to Harpers Ferry. Maj. Curtis having received orders the night before to move his command from Maryland Heights to that place early in the morning. We marched to the camp of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, which was stationed on that side of the river, where we remained all day. There was no attack however. It rained all of this day. At night we camped with the Thirty-fourth.
(301) On the morning of January lst, 1864, which will be remembered by all old soldiers as the cold New Year's day, the mercury being 23 degrees below zero at Harpers Ferry. Maj. Curtis was ordered in connection with the other troops at this place to form the Twelfth in line of battle on Bolivar Heights, just back of Harpers Ferry, to protect it from the assault expected to be made by Early. The regiment was placed on the top of the Heights. It being so very cold, it was impossible for the men to stand in line without freezing; and they were allowed to stack arms, break ranks, build fires and stand around them, or run backward and forward to keep from freezing.
(302) The entire day was spent in this position and night coming on without the enemy's appearing, the command was withdrawn to within our works. The Twelfth returned to the camp of the Thirty-fourth, some of our companies quartering in vacant houses, in which flies were built making it decidedly more pleasant than standing in line in the bitter cold air. When early in the morning, information was received that Early had concluded that it was too cold to fight, and had withdrawn his army from our front and gone back up the Valley, our regiment returned to its quarters on Maryland Heights. It was so cold that New Year's night that, it was so reported, six of the First New York cavalry's teamsters were frozen to death. This same night a part of the Sixth corps passed by Harpers Ferry on the railroad on its way from the Army of the Potomac to Martinsburg, and through the day (the second) a brigade of the same corps got off the cars here and went out to Halltown, some four miles distant. No doubt, Early's movement down the Valley had caused these troops to be sent to his department.
(303) On the 4th, Maj. Curtis received orders to proceed immediately with the Twelfth by the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to Cumberland, Md., and report to Gen. B. F. Kelly, who was in command there. He, Kelley, fearing that Early would make a movement against Cumberland, had requested that the Twelfth be sent to him to assist in defending the place in that contingency. Six companies got off on the route during the afternoon of that day, and arrived at Cumberland in the early part of the night. The other four companies did not get started from Harpers Ferry till 10 o'clock that night, being delayed in getting their baggage from camp. They had only one car to the company, (freight car) and they were so crowded that there was scarcely room for the men to sit. They reached Cumberland at 10 o'clock the next day. The regiment was furnished with very comfortable quarters, such as it had not had before during its service. One-half the companies was quartered in what was known as the old Shriver Mill, and the other half in a large hospital. There being plenty of room here in this latter building, the boys had free swing to work off their surplus energy, and some of them for. a day or so after being quartered in it, spent part of their time trying their skill in dancing.
(304) Major Curtis, on our arrival here received an order from Gen. Kelley to have the Twelfth furnished with four days' cooked rations, forty rounds of ammunition, lie upon their arms and be ready to move at a moment's warning. The order was complied with and the boys expected every minute to hear the bugle call to fall in; but none came and no further orders were received from Gen. Kelley to prepare for battle. Early having concluded, no doubt, the weather being so very cold to go back to his winter quarters, and wait until it moderated before engaging in further field operations.
(305) The Twelfth remained here doing guard and picket duty during the months of January, February and March. On January 23rd, we received two months pay, and the same day the officers of the regiment met and by a formal vote recommended the appointment of Major Curtis as colonel of the Twelfth, and on the 26th, he received his commission as Colonel, to rank as such from this latter date, vice J. B. Klunk, who had resigned, Lieut. Col. Northcott still being a prisoner of war. Capt. R. H. Brown of Company I, on February 6th, was commissioned Major of the regiment, in accordance with the recommendation of the officers of it.
(306) Many of the boys still cherish tender recollections of the old mill and the hospital we were camped in at Cumberland and the good times we had at that place. Many agreeable acquaintances were formed here by the boys, which in some instances ripened into enduring friendship. The gay Lieutenant away from scenes of strife turned his attention to more peaceful and congenial pursuits, while some of the boys were not slow to imitate and emulate his example, in endeavoring to reduce the Confederacy to submission by arts long known and long practiced - those by which the hearts of the fair Rebels were attempted to be captured.
(307) Paper collars soft bread, soft drinks, some not so soft, soft interviews and a large correspondence were some of the luxuries enjoyed at this place. Occasionally some enterprising member of the Twelfth fired with zeal, or something else, would interview the provost guard and inspect the interior of the old depot, used as a guard house; which diversion taken with the picnics had with the canal boatmen, served to vary the monotony incident to soldier life.
(308) At this point may be given a story told by J. H. Haney of Company K. about a trick played by some of the boys of his company upon a landlord of this city during our encampment there. The story as well as is remembered is about as follows: Some of the boys of the aforesaid company, persuading themselves that the water of the place did not agree with them, or that their needed a stimulus in order that they might be able with some relish to partake of their usual ration of salt pork and hard tack, concluded that they would go early one morning to a hotel near the railroad station, kept by a man named Kelly, and try the virtue of his tangle foot. When the boys got to the hotel the landlord was still in bed. One of them suggested that they be patient and not wake him. In the meantime this same soldier reconnoitered to the rear of the building and discovered a string of mackerel there on a porch. He came back and told what he had seen, suggesting to a comrade that the fish might be made available for the drinks. He acted immediately on the suggestion and went and got them intending to try the experiment.
(309) It was not long till the landlord was out of bed. The boys walked into the bar-room with the fish saving that they had had for some time mackerel issued to them, and that they had got very tired of them; and wanted to know if the landlord would not treat the crowd for the string they had brought. The landlord, being a clever Irishman promptly said that he would, setting out the bottle, and throwing the string of fish out on the porch. They took their dose of corrective when looking out of the door, they saw another boy, with whom the water did not agree directing his steps toward the hotel.
(310) One of the boys in the bar-room went out and met him, telling him of the marckerel on the porch, and wanted to know what was to hinder their being traded for the drinks. That was hint enough. It was not long until the first were in possession of the new comer, and pretty soon he walked into the bar-room with them. The rest of the boys assumed an air of surprise, and said, "Hello! you are here are you? and got fish too?" Yes their mess had more of them than they wanted and he thought that be would see if the landlord would trade him a drink of "red-eye" for this string. The landlord obligingly agreed to do so; and the drinks the second time were gotten for the same fish, the landlord again throwing them out on the porch without discovering the trick.
(311) This trick was played successfully three different times that morning when the boys concluded that they would go to camp. They started but had not got far when the landlord called out "Hello! boys." They thought, "Now we are in for it - now we will get a blessing!" But the landlord saw the humorous side of the matter, and so he said, "Come back boys. Any man that is darned fool enough to buy his own fish three times ought to stand treat." So they went back and got the fourth drink as the result of their fish deals.
(312) Coming as the story does from Hen Haney, it is not by any means to be regarded as a "fish story." He avers that the boys who took in "the landlord were not bummers, but rather genteel fellows who did what they did in spirit of fun rather than otherwise that they all had been, since the war, well doing and prosperous men. After the paymaster paid them, they went back and paid the landlord for the drinks; and he being a jolly Irishman looked upon the Company K boys, after that as being 'the broths of boys.' "
(313) While the regiment was at Harpers Perry some officers and sergeants were detailed and sent to their respective sections of country to recruit. A number of the recruits obtained, came to us while we were at Cumberland. The older soldiers in some cases called these recruits in a jesting way "conscripts." Though the recruits, as a rule had not seen any service, the time was not far off when they were to see plenty of it, and all distinction between themselves and the soldiers longer in the service should be lost. Gen. Grant was soon to be placed in command of the armies of the United States; and instead of the lack of unity or co-operation and persistency of effort, that hitherto had characterized the operations of our armies, there was destined to be, as far as possible, a co-operation of movement and a vigorous, persistent "hammering away" on the part of all our forces. The fighting of the present year was to be bloodier than ever, especially in Virginia. While heretofore, for instance, one or two considerable engagements were as many as took place in the Valley during a year, the present year was to witness six or eight hard battles there. And the Twelfth had in store for it four or five times as much fighting during the coming fifteen months, as it had it in all its previous service.
(314) Going back a little, on January 27th, Gen. Milroy arrived in the city putting up at the Revere House, and the next day the Twelfth was marched to his place of stopping when he made us a short speech.
(315) In the forepart of February, Col. Curtis received orders to take the regiment and go into camp on a hill west of the city, which was done, and while remaining here having very light picket and guard duty to perform, and working on fortifications, the Colonel found time to thoroughly drill the regiment in battalion drill, the manual of arms and dress parade. It became very efficient in drill and in the manual of arms.
(316) February 2nd, the Rebels made a dash in on the railroad and burned a bridge seven miles east of here. A few weeks later McNeil's and Woodson's men under the command of Jesse McNeil dashed into Cumberland at night and captured and brought off Generals Crook and Kelly, and Capt. Thayer Melvin, Gen. Kelley's adjutant general. This was a very daring feat.