Under Gen. Sigel - March to Beverly, via Webster - March back to Webster - The Story of the Camp on the Rebel Farm - The March up the Valley - Two of Company C Captured - The Battle of New Market - Gen. Sigel's Letter - Corpl. De Bee's Scout - An Incident - Comrades Miller and W. C. Mahan as Prisoners - their Stories.
(317) March 12th, Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel arrived here and took command of the department. During this month the arrangement was made for the raid against Lynchburg, Gen. Sigel to command the force in person, to be moved it was first intended from Webster, near Grafton on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad but as finally decided from Martinsburg up the Valley. He carefully inspected the troops here intended to go on the expedition. In his inspection which was minute and almost individual in character, he passed closely along the lines of men, looking sharply into their eyes, apparently to see if there was fight there.
(318) On a Sabbath day shortly after Sigel's arrival here. A few weeks later McNeil's and Woodson's men parade, he and his staff rode up to the camp and quietly took position behind the Colonel, and witnessed the efficiency with which the men executed the orders given them; and when the parade was over Gen. Sigel rode tip to the Colonel and complimented the regiment on its high attainment in drill, stating that he had no idea that there was so well drilled a regiment in that department.
(319) Lieut. Col. Northcott, having recently rejoined the regiment, from being a prisoner in Libby prison, on the, occasion of a dress parade on the 27th, gave us a short speech. Gen. Sigel was also up to the camp at the time and spoke briefly to the regiment. Officers and men were all pleased to see the Lieutenant Colonel once more with the regiment; and he no doubt, was no less glad to exchange life in a Rebel prison for his accustomed duties with the boys.
(320) Adjt. Gen. Pierpoint, our former Major between whom and the Twelfth, there had always been a strong, mutual attachment came from Wheeling on April 2nd, to pay the regiment a visit and greet his late comrades again.
(321) The next day, the 3rd, the regiment was ordered to proceed to Webster, W. Va., by the way of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, where a force was concentrating to start on the expedition against Lynchburg, by the way of Beverly to Staunton, Va., at which place it was to form a junction with Gen. Crook's forces, moving from the Kanawha Valley. Gen. Sigel ordered the Twelfth to start in the advance with 250 head of cattle in their charge for the soldiers to subsist upon. The regiment succeeded in getting the cattle through to Beverly 42 miles from Webster. This the first opportunity the members of the regiment had of playing the part of "cow boys" they performed the task with the zeal of novices and had a jolly time of it. We found the Tenth and Eleventh West Virginia and the Twenty-eighth Ohio infantry at Beverly.
(322) By the time the Twelfth had arrived at this place with the cattle, Sigel was convinced that it would be impossible to get his artillery through on this route; and he changed the plan of moving against the enemy, to marching up the Valley. We stayed here two nights and one day, when the regiment was ordered to return immediately to Webster with the cattle. We, on the return, reached Philippi, the 11th. Four companies C, E, G and I, remained here a few days under the command of Maj. Brown. The rest of the regiment went to Webster with the cattle, in the morning. This was a hard and worse than useless march of 84 miles from Webster to Beverly and back. The weather was very rainy and we had to march through deep mud well mixed, by the driving of 250 head of cattle over the road. The boys talked sarcastically about it, saying that they did not understand it, but that they supposed this movement was strategy.
(323) On our return in passing through Belington, a small town between Beverly and Philippi, a lieutenant, who was in command of the post there asked Col. Curtis where he intended to camp that night. The Colonel informed him that in coming out he had noticed a farm that was supplied with a long high fence of new rails; and that was the point he intended to make as it would give the boys an opportunity of conveniently getting good fuel to keep up ample fires. The Lieutenant replied, "That is the very place you should go into camp. You can't punish them half enough, they are the meanest d----d Rebels in the state. They assisted a gang of Rebel soldiers in capturing a large train of wagons loaded with commissary and quartermaster stores, on their way to Beverly taking all the goods and horses, and burning the wagons."
(324) The regiment proceeded to the point designated and went, into camp along the line of fence. One of the young men of the family came to us while arrangements were making for camping. He looked as though he had just left Mosby's gang of guerrillas. The Colonel approached him and inquired if he could procure some straw for the men to sleep on, stating that the ground was damp and cold, and he would like to make them as comfortable as possible since they had no tents or shelter of any kind. He replied: "No, we have nothing of the kind on the farm. Everything has been taken from us, and we have been compelled to cut the limbs from the trees to browse our cattle on to keep them from starving." Of course, the young man expected that this statement would be accepted as the truth.
(325) However, the Colonel concluded knowing the capacity of the Twelfth boys to make themselves comfortable, that they could be trusted to take care of themselves; and that there was not much likelihood that they would sleep on the bare ground that night. This conclusion was justified about one hour after the camp was located. At that time a line of men could be seen with great bundles of straw coming into camp.
(326) Before this the Colonel had walked to the house to get quarters for himself and Surgeon Bryon. He procured a room from the old lady. She appeared to be boss of the ranch. He inquired of her if she would sell him some meat, as he had been informed by the cook of his mess, that the supplies of meat was about exhausted. She replied: "No, we have not a bit of meat for our own family."
(327) About 8 o'clock at night there was a racket out at the chicken roost. The chickens were fluttering and squalling as though the owls had attacked them. The old lady's daughter ran out to learn what had caused the disturbance, and returned very shortly saying: "Mam, them Yankees are stealing all our chickens." The boss of the ranch ordered the Colonel to go out and stop the men from stealing her chickens. He, very obediently complied with the orders, and returned pretty soon reporting that he failed to see anyone about the chicken roost and took his seat. About an hour afterwards, the same racket of fluttering and squalling was repeated. The girl ran out again, and after making a general inspection of the chicken roost ran back and exclaimed: "Mam, them infernal soldiers have stole every chicken we have but old speck." And then the old sharp-nosed thin visaged Boss, with a tongue apparently loose at both ends, rattled her slang at the Colonel at a terrible rate, calling him and his men all kinds of vile names. But her troubles did not end here.
(328) The next morning just at day break the Boss Tushed into his bed room, and seizing him by the shoulders and shaking him shouted: "Get up, your men have stolen all my meat." He replied: "Why, Madam, you told me you had no meat about your house." "Yes," said she, "but I had, and your men have undermined my smoke house and took all I had." He informed her that she had done wrong in telling him a falsehood in saying that she had no meat. She should have asked for a guard to protect it. She then demanded that a guard be sent to search the regiment to see if it could be found. This was done, and the guard returned in due time, reporting that he had thoroughly searched the camp and no meat could be found. He may have made a correct report; nevertheless, when the Colonel joined his mess for dinner that day, he found a very fine roast of ham prepared for the meal. But he could not learn where it came from.
(329) While the four companies before named were at Philippi, there was a considerable amount of government revenue stamps stolen. It seemed conclusive that some soldier had done the deed; and Maj. Brown had a careful and earnest search made of every man of the four companies, but the stamps were not found. The officers and men generally of the detachment were indignantly that any one of the Twelfth had committed such a crime, feeling that it brought dishonor upon the whole command. They would have been pleased if the guilty one should have been found and properly punished. Many months afterward, it is said, it became pretty generally known who had done the deed.
(330) The detachment, on the 2Oth, marched to Webster, joining there the rest of the regiment, and the next day in accordance with orders the regiment marched to Grafton, taking the cars there to go by the way of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to Martinsburg, arriving there the 22nd, in the evening, and camped near the First Virginia infantry camp. We remained at Martinsburg several days, and there were inspections and a general review of all the troops here. In the meantime there was organizd in the second brigade, consisting of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, the Fifty-fourth Pennsylvania, the First Virginia, and Twelfth West Virginia under command of the gallant Col. Joseph Thoburn.
(331) We had now got started on a season of hard campaigning which was the run into the late fall. We were about to start up what had hitherto been in the main and what was to continue to be for a time, with some bright exceptions, the Valley of defeat and humiliation; but which was in the end to be the Valley of glorious victory for the arms of the Union.
(332) The 28th, the command received orders from Gen. Sigel, commander, to be ready to march at 8 o'clock in the morning with five days' rations in our haversacks. We set out on the march in the morning at the appointed time on the Winchester pike, and marched to Bunker Hill, ten miles distant, and remained there till May 1st, when we marched through and to a point about two miles beyond Winchester. All along the pike from Martinsburg to Winchester on the march between the two towns, could be seen the graves of soldiers of the one or the other side who had fallen as victims of the cruel, bloody, wicked war. There was perhaps not a mile of the whole route over which we passed along which there could not be seen a soldier's grave; and at Winchester there were thousands buried. Everywhere could be seen the destructiveness and paralyzing effects of the war. Fences were torn down, farms were stripped of live stock, high grass was growing up to the edge of the towns, and it seemed as if the country was deserted by its inhabitants. Everything and the condition of things generally were object lessons teaching of the baleful effects of war.
(333) On this day we passed through the historic and memorable old town of Winchester and camped about two miles beyond the town. The next day we had brigade drill under the supervision of Gen. Sigel. We remained here about a week during which time the organization of the army was completed. Our stay here afforded the boys of the Twelfth an opportunity to walk over the old battle ground of the Winchester battle fought on our side under Gen. Milroy. The boys examined the scene of the battle with considerable eager curious interest.
(334) While we were at this point, there were extra precautions taken against a surprise. Strong picket forces were kept out, five companies being sent out on some of the roads, at least, and orders were given to keep one-third of the men up at night all the time, showing that Gen. Sigel was a vigilant careful commander. This alertness and these precautions indicated that we were drawing near the enemy, and gave a hint of coming clash of arms, which indeed was not far in the future.
(335) The command on the 9th, moved up the Valley, our brigade in advance under Col. Thoburn. We marched 13 miles on this day and camped in the evening at Cedar Creek. The bridge across this creek had been destroyed, and it had to be rebuilt before the command could proceed farther. The bridge being rebuilt, we resumed our march on the 1lth, passing through Stratsburg, and camped one mile short of reaching Woodstock, the distance marched being 14 miles.
(336) It perhaps should have been noted that when the command reached Fisher's Hill after leaving Cedar Creek, it was halted and the men were ordered to load. Those who had been under fire before, felt the gravity of the outlook, and it was noticeable that more than one brave man looked very serious as he tore the paper from his cartridge.
(337) We remained at our camp near Woodstock one day with nothing unusual occurring, when on the next day our regiment with two pieces of artillery was ordered tip the Valley about seven miles, one mile south of Edinburgh, as an advance picket. Some Rebel cavalry were seen here at a distance. Company S, was deployed across the road leading south with orders to allow no one to pass. Soon two young ladies, in passing from home to town discovered the pickets, a member of the company relates, and turned to run. They were captured after an exciting chase and sent to town, and ordered to remain there till the next morning. There was a pouring rain that night and the soldiers got a taste of the beauties of soldier life, getting thoroughly soaked with rain. Some tried to sleep; others preferred to stand or sit around roaring fires. In some cases those who tried to sleep found the water collecting in pools around their bodies.
(338) It was at this place and time or near it, it is believed, that an incident occurred which shows, as far as it goes, that a soldier would better obey orders. The writer of this was for the night, assigned to Company C, to go with it on picket, there being only one commissioned officer of the company present at the time. All was quiet at the picket post in the night and in the morning John W. Crow and another soldier asked Capt. Bartlett of the company, if they might go to a house several hundred yards distant to get some bread. He said that they might go, but told them to not go any farther. It was a spider-and-the-fly-case - they did not come back again. At all events we did not see them for several months afterward, when they came back as exchanged prisoners. They then told that when they went to the house mentioned, the mistress said that she had no bread, but she thought they could get it at a house a little farther off, probably knowing what would happen if they went there. They went and were captured. No doubt they often deeply regretted their disobedience of orders.
(339) The Twelfth was relieved from picket in the morning by the One Hundred and Twenty-third Ohio and the Eighteenth Connecticut, and we returned to our camp near Edinburgh, the rain still falling. On our way we met the First Virginia and the Thirty fourth Massachusetts going up the pike. It began to look as though things were approaching a crisis. In the morning at 2 o'clock May 15th, Companys A, B, F, and I, were ordered back to Edinburg to take the place of the regiments that had relieved us the morning before, in order that they might go to reinforce the First Virginia and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts which had met some of the enemy, and had had considerable fighting with them the evening and night of the 14th.
(340) About 8 o'clock A. M. the rest of the force came up and we rejoining our regiment, all pushed on to Mount Jackson about 14 miles from our camp at Woodstock.
(341) At Mount Jackson we went into camp, but were ordered to move out in less than thirty minutes. The four regiments in advance having engaged the Rebels at New Market six miles farther up, we marched in the direction of the fighting.
(342) The morning had been clear, but soon after crossing the Shenandoah at Mount Jackson it began raining. Cannonading could be distinctly heard in our front, telling of serious work going on there and presaging a share of it for us, the regiments moving to the assistance of our comrades. We crossed the North Branch of the Shenandoah about one mile from Mount Jackson. The marching after leaving this place had been rapid and laborious through rain and mud, but soon we were ordered to double quick which we kept up for a few miles, till at about 2 o'clock P. M. we reached the field of battle, and were hastily formed in line of battle under the fire of the enemy, their balls at this time, however, passing harmlessly over us.
(343) Our entire brigade under Col. Thoburn was formed on the right of the pike, the two regiments which had been with Col. Moore at the front having returned to their own brigade, Thoburn's. Col. Moor with two regiments of his brigade, the Eighteenth Connecticut, the One Hundred and Twenty-third Ohio infantry with a small body of cavalry was left something in advance. The two other regiments of his brigade were a considerable distance in the rear with the wagon train.
(344) The Twelfth as best can be gathered from a M. S. by Col. Curtis, was first formed in line at some considerable distance in rear of the three other regiments of our brigade; but this was scarcely more than done "when we were withdrawn" as Col. Curtis says, and formed close in the rear, say within 60 yards of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, and the First Virginia, except two companies. A and B, which were sent to the right to support Carlan's battery.
(345) The eight companies had scarcely thus formed in line when we heard in our front for the first time the much mentioned Rebel yell. Gen. Breckinridge in command of the Rebel force had moved to the attack with about 5,000 men, and overlapping Moor had soon driven him to the rear. With scarcely a halt he moved on to the attack of Thoburn's brigade, the main line, but was repulsed by a gallant charge made here.
(346) Just where the Rebels raised the yell in making their charge, Gen. Sigel rode tip to the eight companies of the Twelfth and ordered it into column by division to resist the charge; but when the charge was repulsed, we were put into line again, and ordered to lie down. The Twelfth had a bad position. We were placed where we could do no good and yet where we suffered seriously, a more trying position on a soldier than where he has a chance to return the fire. There are no data at hand showing the loss of the regiments but the compiler's own company lost in killed and wounded seven men in this engagement.
(347) The battle was short, sharp, the losses heavy on each side and for a while the result doubtful. It was quite generally said by our men after the battle that at one time just before our line gave way, the Rebel line was breaking. The Rebel account goes to sustain this statement. Col. J. Stoddard Johnston of Breckinridge's staff says, according to Pond's "The Shenandoah in 1864, that" when his (Breckenridge's) line had reached within two hundred yards of the enemy, the position was very critical, and for a time it seemed doubtful as to which would be the first to give way." It is thus seen how near we were to gaining a victory. Had Moor's two regiments been drawn back and formed in line with the rest of the infantry and not left where they could do little or no good; and if Sigel had formed his infantry in our line as the enemy were, according to the authority mentioned, it is no violent presumption to say that the victory would probably have been with our troops.
(348) The doubtful struggle was finally decided by our line giving way in some confusion and Sigel ordered a retreat. We fell back slowly. Imboden's official report confirms this, saying: "Sigel's entire line retired slowly." The enemy did not press us much; for if we had suffered severely they had also. The Lexington cadet battalion of 250 lost more than one-fourth their number in killed and wounded. That on fight seemed to do them; they were not present at the battle of Piedmont, three weeks later, though it was nearer home. In fact, they were never heard of in battle again. It is remembered that a Harrisburg newspaper obtained as we went up to the Valley, two weeks after the battle of New Market, under Hunter, lamented the heavy loss of the Cadets in that battle; and urged that they should not be put into another engagement, saying that the young men or boys should be saved for the next war.
(349) Then we had retreated as far as Rude's Hill, a mile or two, we met the two regiments, the One Hundred and Sixteenth, and the Twenty-eighth Ohio infantry that had been in the rear and were not in the engagement; and they covered the retreat from this point to Mount Jackson, where we crossed the river, halted and formed in line of battle. The Rebels came close enough to throw a few shells but not close enough to be within musket shot. After dark we resumed the retreat and continued it, with stops for rests and meals, until we arrived at Cedar Creek the next day, the 16th, when our retreat came to an end.
(350) There is nothing so successful as success; but it seems that there is no excuse taken for failure in war, neither by those in or out of authority. Col. Curtis records that the boys of the Twelfth in going up the Valley were constantly singing "We Fights Mit Sigel" but on the retreat their song was changed to "We Fights no more mit Sigel." One of the things that the officers and men of the Twelfth were displeased with and which they criticised severely was the fact that we were so placed in that battle that we could not fire on the enemy without firing into our own men, and yet so close to the front line that we suffered severely from the enemies fire.
(351) It will be seen, however, from the following letter from Gen. Sigel which tells why the battle was fought just when and where it was, and other details which the survivors of the Twelfth will read no doubt with eager interest, that he disclaims responsibility for the regiment's final bad position on the field of battle. And it is inferred from Col. Curtis M. S. before mentioned wherein he speaks of our being "withdrawn" from our first position and placed in our final one, that he supposed this was done by competent authority. It appears that no one knows who was responsible for the blunder. Sigel's letter is given nearly in full:
(352) New York, August 19th, 1891.
Lieut. Wm. Hewitt, Linton, Ohio.
The advance of my forces up the Shenandoah Valley was made for the purpose of assisting Gen. Crook's movement from the Kanawha Valley, by inducing Breckinridge, who commanded in southwest Virginia, to detach a part of his forces against me. To attain this object we advanced as far as Woodstock. From this place Col. Moor was sent forward on a reconnoitering expedition in the direction of Mount Jackson to ascertain the movements of the enemy, as from the telegraphic dispatches captured at Woodstock, we found that Breckinridge was moving down the Shenandoah Valley against us.
(353) In the evening and during the night of the 14th of May, it was ascertained that Col. Moor had passed Mount Jackson and had met a part of Breckinridge's forces; I, therefore, moved forward to Mount Jackson, to be nearer him (Moor) and for the reason that I intended to await Breckinridge's attack at that place. We arrived at Mount Jackson on the morning of the 15th, and found that Moor had gone as far as New Market, even miles from Mount Jackson; that Breckenridge was near him, and had made an attack on him during the night of the 14th, which was repulsed.
(354) Made aware of the exposed position of the little force of Moor, I immediately sent orders for him to return to Mount Jackson, and to Gen. Stahl to move forward with the main force of our cavalry to cover the retreat of Moor, and retard the movement of the enemy. But this movement was executed so slowly and the distance from Mount Jackson to New Market was comparatively so great, that I resolved to move forward with my whole force, after having waited over an hour for an answer to my orders sent to Moor and Sullivan.
(355) While the troops were in motion I rode forward myself, accompanied by an aid, as far as Rude's Hill; and on my way was met by Capt. Alexander, who had been sent by Col. Moor and he reported that his (Moor's) troops were in an excellent position and that I should come to their assistance. Under these circumstances, I sent back to our troops to hasten their march towards New Market; while I went forward to meet those of Moor and Stahl. I arrived near New Market about noon, and before the enemy began his attack.
(356) It now became clear to me that all the troops could not reach the position close to New Market; I therefore ordered Col. Moor to evacuate his position slowly, covered by cavalry, and to fall back into a new position, which was selected about three-quarters of a mile north of New Market right and left of the turn pike leading to Mount Jackson. During this time I sent two officers, Captains McEstee and T. G. Putnam back to Gen. Sullivan who was in command of the infantry division, with orders to bring forward all his troops without delay, and at the moment when Col. Moor was approaching the new line from his position in advance, it was reported to me by Capt. R. G. Pendergast, commander of my escort, whom I also had sent back to hurry the troops up that all the infantry and artillery of Gen. Sullivan had arrived (the head of the column being in sight) and that they were waiting for orders.
(357) Supposing this report to be correct, I formed the line of battle, Col. Thoburn's brigade and two batteries on the right, while Col. Moor was ordered to form on the left of Thoburn. The Twelfth West Virginia, and Dupont's battery took position behind the right of Thoburn's brigade as a reserve, and two companies of the Twelfth West Virginia were posted behind the batteries on the right for their support, Von Kleiser's battery was in the center of the line, Ewing's on the left, and the cavalry behind the extreme left and some behind the center. My own position during the battle was in the line between the batteries on the right, and the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts (Col. Wells) as on the right the principal attack of the enemy was directed. With me was an orderly, a young man of 17 years who held bravely out during the whole fight. My staff officers were some distance behind the line, near Dr. Rice's house.
(358) The battle which now followed has been described in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War," and therefore, I need not go into details. I simply desired to show that I was neither surprised, nor did I accept the engagement without good reason and full deliberation. But in accepting it on the place and ground it was fought, I was neither surprised, nor did I accept the engagement without good reason and full deliberation. But in accepting it on the place and ground it was fought, I was misled by the report of Capt. Pendegrast in whom I trusted, as he was an efficient and brave officer. He reported two regiments the One Hundred and Sixteenth and the Twenty-eighth Ohio present and awaiting orders, while we found them, after the battle, at Rude's Hill, one and a half miles back from our line. I am ignorant up to this day of what was the unfortunate cause which kept them back, as I was relieved soon after the battle, and had no opportunity of investigating the matter.
(359) There were some other disadvantages against us in this battle, but after all, our troops fought bravely and so did those of the enemy. We lost 93 in killed and 552 in wounded, the enemy 42 and 522 respectively.
(360) After the battle we retreated to Rude's Hill, formed line and remained about half an hour, whence we withdrew to Mount Jackson, which was done slowly and in perfect order. We remained there for two hours, during which time as Lieut. Col. Lincoln says in his "Life with the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment," the men ate their supper, the injured were looked up, their wounds examined and dressed and the slightly wounded placed in ambulances for transportation. Those more severely wounded were disposed of in the hospital buildings of Mount Jackson, and left under charge of Asst. Surgeon Allen of the Thirty-fourth. These arrangements completed at about 9 P. M., the column was again put in motion, the Thirty-fourth bringing up the rear.
(361) It will be seen from these statements that we did not "flee in disorder" from our position at Rude's Hill to Mount Jackson and Cedar Creek, nor lose or burn any wagons, nor "forsake" our sick and wounded, as was publicly proclaimed at the time, nor did the enemy capture any muskets except those of our killed and severely wounded, left on the field.
(362) We were beaten but not disheartened. We went back to Cedar Creek, because all our ambulances were filled with the wounded whom we could not transport without a strong force of protection, and for the purpose of disengaging ourselves of a train of 200 wagons destined for Gen. Crook. We reached Edinburg at 7 o'clock in the morning and Strasburg at 5 in the evening of the 16th.
(363) On the 17th an ambulance was sent to Mount Jackson by flag of truce loaded with supplies for our wounded. On the 18th, a detachment of infantry, cavalry and artillery, under Col. Wells of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, was sent to Strasburg and the cavalry advanced to Fisher's Hill, the pickets of the enemy retiring before them. On the same day reinforcement were approaching from Harpers Ferry, and I sent a telegram to Gen. Crook on the Kanawha to prepare for an advance. On the 20th, Gen. Hunter arrived and on the 21st, I was relieved from the command of the department and by the request of Gen. Hunter took command of Reserve Division, with headquarters at Harpers Ferry.
(364) As to the Twelfth, West Virginia, it consisted of good and brave officers and men. It was very well drilled in the manual of arms; but as was natural, considering the little time they had practiced it, deficient in battalion drill; so that it was difficult for me at the commencement of the battle to bring them from line into column and vice versa. This created considerable trouble at the beginning of the fight when they left their position in reserve, came forward and fired over the heads of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts. I do not believe that Col. Curtis gave them the order to do so. * * * But such things happen sometimes with inexperienced troops, and I am very glad to know that the regiment, under its same brave commander, fully redeemed its honor by its gallant conduct in the battle of Piedmont and on other occasions.
(365) Our whole campaign and especially the battle of New Market, were a wholesome lesson for them and prepared them to become what they afterward were.
(366) I think I have now given you the most important facts and features of the case; and assure you that I shall always remember with kindness and gratitude the services of the Twelfth West Virginia.
Very Truly Yours, F. SIGEL,
Late Maj. Gen. of Vols.
(367) According to Pond before cited, General W. S. Lincoln, of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts infantry shows that the aggregate of Breckinridge's infantry the day after the battle was 4,047. We therefore must have had about 4,500 infantry in the battle as according to Rebel authority (See Pond) they had no reserves. It would appear therefore that we were out numbered, we having only five regiments of infantry so disposed and handled as to be effective; while the enemy had three brigades and the Cadet battalion of infantry. Our infantry and artillery had to stand the brunt of the battle and it is no disparagement to them under the circumstances that they were worsted in the engagement.
(368) Whatever may be said of Sigel's generalship regarding the battle of New Market, it must be said that he acted bravely, was right in the thick of the fight all the time and after the battle began did the best he could to save the day. And in view of the heavy losses sustained on each side in the battle, and our slow and orderly retreat to Cedar Creek, the following message sent to Grant by Hallick: "Sigel is in full retreat on Strasburg. He will do nothing but run; never did anything else," is markedly untrue and undeserved, and so far as it seems to imply that Sigel was cowardly, is grossly unjust, as his entire command at New Market would testify.
(369) A day or two after Sigel's command had fallen back to Cedar Creek. He called on the Twelfth to furnish a squad of volunteer scouts to go up the Valley and learn what the strength of the enemy in our front was. Corporal De Bee, of the regiment and six or eight men volunteered to go. They went to Sigel's headquarters for instructions. He told them to go into a house and put on citizens cloths and go right into the enemy's camp and learn their strength. The boys answer "Yes," as if to say that the understood and would do so; but at the same time there was an unexpressed conclusion that they were not anxious to wear citizens cloths on that trip and they would forego that pleasure.
(370) The scouts started out on that expedition traveling nearly all of that day, along on North Mountain, it is believed. After they had traveled a while, three or four of the squad concluded that they would turn back, which they did, but the rest of the boys being more plucky kept on, and in the evening they came in sight of the Rebel camp. In the morning the boys found such a position as from which they could view the entire camp of the enemy, and they carefully counted the number of tents they had, and then started an the return to Cedar Creek, arriving there sometime during the day. When they reached our pickets they (the latter) not being of the Twelfth and not knowing the scouts, sent them into camp under guard. The scouts reported to Sigel that they had found the Rebel camp, giving its locality and said that they counted the number of tents in it, telling the number, Sigel complimented Corporal De Bee and his comrades for what they had done saying that they had given him more information than he had got from all the cavalry that had been out scouting.
(371) Here is a humorous incident of the battle of New Market that was current among the boys afterward. As well as can be recalled it was told thus: Col. Wells of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts was a strict disciplinarian, but in defiance of this fact the boys of his regiment would sometimes fire off their guns in camp. In such cases he was want to say "Orderly, orderly go and ascertain who fired that gun and report him to me immediately."
(372) This order of the Colonel's having been repeated in the same stereotyped language at different times impressed itself upon the minds of the boys of the Thirty-fourth and became a matter of remark and jest among them. Well at the battle of New Market when the battle was opening and the first gun or so was fired, some fellow that regiment with characteristic American humor, who was bound to have his joke if it was to be his last on earth yelled out, "Orderly, orderly, go and ascertain who fired that gun and report him to me immediately."
(373) Comrade Jas. N. Miller, of Company A, taken prisoner at the battle of New Market tells of an incident of the battle, and his prison experience as follows:
(374) The first man killed in Company A, if I remember rightly, was John A. Christman. He was a recruit, who came to us at Harpers Ferry, in the winter of 1863-64. He was a light hearted fellow, somewhat reckless, who carried a fiddle often playing and singing. At the battle of New Market as we were going into the fight, Christman and I were in file together. The battle had begun and the cannons were booming. He said to me in his jovial way, "Hickory" - that was the nickname the boys gave me because I was "tough" physically - "I hope I will be killed to day.' I said to him as calmly as I could for my heart was up in my throat like a great lump. "Christman, you oughtn't to talk that way." "Well," he replied, "I don't care."
(375) We lay down along side of a battery which was firing and I saw Gen. Sigel on his horse giving orders to "fire percussion!" The fortune of war threw Christman in the front rank and he being a large man, and I a slender boy, I crouched down behind him. The Rebels were charging upon us, and about the first ball that came near us struck Christman in the breast; and he died without a sound. After the fight in which I was captured, I helped to carry his body off the field and into a little stable or some kind of an out building, and I supposed it was buried by the Rebels.
(376) After the death of Christman and before we got a chance to return the fire of the Rebels our company was ordered to the right of the line to prevent a flank movement. This threw us over a hill into a woods, and we did not notice that the main line was being driven back until it was quite a distance away. Then when we discovered this we "skedaddled" as fast as our legs would carry us.
(377) Becoming exhausted I fell behind. Seeing three fellows in blue cloths in a field to the right, I supposed they were some of our boys, and got over a fence next to them. They aimed their guns at me and yelled out to surrender. I first thought I would jump back over the fence and try to escape, but I saw it was no use, and held up my hand. They had on homespun cloths of blueish color. One of them, a sergeant of a Georgia regiment, took me to the rear, and treated me very kindly allowing me to pick up a haversack and a blanket, and this latter probably saved my life.
(378) I reached Andersonville the 29th of May, and endured with others the oft-told horrors of that place. It took the scurvey and the diarrhoea but on the 10th of September I managed to "flank out," in company with Sergeant Rodgers and Col. Cooke of the Eighteenth Pennsylvania cavalry, who had known me at Waynesburg in their state. Instead of being exchanged I was sent with others to Florence, Ala. Here there was no prison ready for us, and by getting some of the pure air of that place and also some vegetables I got better of the scurvey. Sergeant Rodgers ran the guards here and got away, and I would have gone with him, but my leg was bent nearly double with the scurvy, so that I knew that I would hinder him and we would both be captured.
(379) On the 8th of December, I was paroled with a thousand of the sick and sent to Charleston Harbor, S. C., and transferred to our lines. I never was exchanged, so I suppose I am still a prisoner of the Southern Confederacy.
(380) The hardest thing in all my prison life was to feel that as a soldier I was practically useless except to aid in keeping some Rebel soldiers out of the field. While our regiment was winning its first victory at Piedmont and enduring the terrible march from Lynchburg and helping the peerless Sheridan to send Jubal Early "whirling" up the Valley, I was lying in the sands at Andersonville and Florence, missing all the glorious record of the regiment. But it was the fate of war. So far as the chances of death were concerned, however, the percent of mortality was greater in prison than in the field.
(381) I could write many pages of incidents in prison life but one must suffice. At Florence there was some clothing sent through the lines to us by our Sanitary Commission. It was given out to the most needy, and there wasn't much choice. I tore my only shirt (which I hadn't washed for three months) up into strips so that it barely hung together, in order that I might get a new one. The first day of the distribution I gave it to one of my companions - I think it was Freeman Youkin - and he went tip to where the clothing was being distributed, and came back with a new shirt which he got on the strength of his (my) old one. The next day my detachment was called and when the distributing officers reached me he asked me if that was my only shirt. I replied that it was. "Well," he said, "you had better get a needle and thread and sew it up, for you can't get another new shirt on the strength of that one." So I got left.
(382) Private W. C. Mahan of Company I, tells the story of his being taken prisoner and his prison life as follows:
(383) At the battle of New Market Private Wm. Thompson of my company was badly wounded, his leg being broken by a musket ball. Another man of the company and I started to carry him off the field. We were told that we would find the ambulances at a certain place, but we failed to find them; and having to carry the wounded man we feel behind, and were captured. At night, we the able prisoners, were allowed to go under guard out over the field to hunt up our wounded. A Captain of the Thirty-fourth Massachusetts, who was himself wounded, found his brother on the field wounded. I recall to mind that I saw the Rebel Gen. Breckinridge talking to this Captain. Some of our wounded were put into an old house that night and our unwounded carried water to them.
(384) We, the prisoners, were taken via Staunton to Lynchburg. We were kept at this latter place for a few days. Here one day two of our men got to talking about somebody with whose conduct on the way here, I believe they were displeased, using some pretty severe terms about him. The guard who was nearest them, a quite young fellow, thinking or pretending to think that they were talking about him though they were neither talking to, nor about him, shot one of the men, killing him. It seemed as though this young Rebel thought that he had done a great thing in killing a Union soldier, for he, insisting on doing so, followed the box with the corps, to the grave. Some of the other Rebels condemned the conduct of this young fellow as being barbarous and brutal.
(385) We were taken from here to Andersonville by rail. We got along very slowly, being detained on the way by the enemy's use of the road in carrying their own soldiers and etc. We were perhaps a week or ten days on the way. At one time, we were two days without food. During one of our delays on the route the Rebel women brought food for their own men, but none for us. They had a little darkey boy with them, who waved a Rebel flag at us. Both he, and the women seemed to enjoy the demonstration very much, he grinning and they laughing as he waved.
(386) The prison camp at Andersonville was enclosed by a stockade about 16 feet high of heavy timbers set on end, and so closely fitted together that you could scarcely see between them. Inside of this was the "dead line," 40 feet distant perhaps. It was marked by a row of posts and stringers of timber extending along on top of them from post to post. On top of the stockade of intervals there were sentry boxes placed, in which the sentries or guards stood. Outside this stockade, at a suitable distance there was another stockade, commanding the first with loop holes in it through which to fire at the prisoners, in case they should try to scale the inner one.
(387) The prisoners were formed into companies of 90 men each. Three of these companies were formed into a division, and the companies were subdivided in squads of 30 each. At first I believe it was not the case that they were thus formed; but the necessity of having a divide of the scant rations, approaching somewhere near fairness, demanded some sort of organization among the prisoners.
(388) It was necessary for a prisoner to know to what company and the number of the squad to which he belonged in order that he might get his rations, or even get out to be exchanged. When a lot of prisoners was to be sent out of camp to be exchanged or supposedly so, if a prisoner were not present to answer his name, someone else would answer for him and get out, and the prisoner named would be left. Getting out in this way was called "flanking out."
(389) Whenever a lot of prisoners arrived they would right away be organized as above, each division company and squad having a chief chosen. When the rations were to be divided the chief of a division would divide them into three lots, one lot for each of his companies. He would then have the chiefs of the latter turn their backs to the ration; when he would ask each. "Will you take this lot?" and they would choose without seeing which lot was indicated. The companies and squads divided in the same way, the latter dividing among the individuals. The squad chiefs were frequently changed, because they would often inform a friend before hand which ration to choose.
(390) We got raw rations (corn meal) and cooked week about. The flies here were very bad, and when the Rebel cooks would make up a batch of dough and lay it down, the flies would gather thickly on it, then they would slap another batch on the first to kill the flies. In this way our bread got full of flies and looked like bread with currants or raisins in it. The same wagons that were used to haul our dead were used to haul our bread.
(391) The trading instinct was not altogether devoid of exercise here. Enterprising soldiers would trade bread for meal and get more meal than made the bread. Sometimes a soldier would be heard asking "Who will trade a bone for meat?" Those who wanted bones claimed that by breaking, boiling and making soup of them they got more nourishment from them than they could get from the meat. Some of our men would even make bargains with a sentry, although, of course, it was not allowed. They would give him money to buy something which he would perhaps do and give it to the prisoner furnishing the money, the next time he, the guard was on duty. Sweet potatoes got in this way would sell for 25 cents each.
(392) There was a stream of water which ran through the camp, and as a matter of course it got very dirty, there being so many thousands of men in the camp. The prisoners would therefore sometimes reach under the dead line where the stream crossed it for water. One would reach under one foot, another two, someone else a little farther in order that they might get less filthy water. Perhaps the sentry on duty nearest the stream would permit this crossing of the dead line; but when another came on duty there he might fire upon the prisoner over the dead line without a word of warning. Many were killed in that way.
(393) Everybody knows something of the many deaths daily occurring in prison here. Our men used to be anxious to get to carry the dead out of camp, in order that they might thus get some fire wood. This privilege was permitted for awhile, but when the Yankees began to play the trick of carrying out late in the evening a comrade assuming death, and the Rebels would go out in the morning to bury him and find him gone, this privilege was stopped, commandant Wirtz declaring that he would have to get to putting ball-and-chains on the d---d dead Yankees, as some of them would run off after they were dead. Another scheme of, the prisoners in order to draw the rations of a dead comrade, and thus add to the aggregate, of the scanty supply of their squads, was to not report his death. The Rebels learning of this practice of the prisoners in order to prevent it, resorted to frequent counting of them.
(394) One of the prisoners with whom I became acquainted was a member of the Ringgold cavalry, which was from Washington County, Pennsylvania. He was of a jovial disposition and was called "Happy Jack." He used to stand at the gate where the dead were taken out, count their numbers for a day - the great mortality seems to have suggested this idea - and from the total he would calculate when his chances for being taken out a corpse would come.
(395) For a time there was much stealing in camp, incited no doubt largely by the dire necessities of the men; but after awhile we got police appointed to stop the stealing, which they did, and to attend to other matters. For instance the "Hundred Days Men" seemed to not endure the hardships here so well as the old soldiers. They would mope and set around they died relatively much faster than the old soldiers. When the police would see one of those dispirited fellows they would fasten on his back a wooden contrivance that they called a "spread-eagle" to keep him from sitting down, and they would make him move about for his health.
(396) We were kept somewhat informed as to the progress of the war by the arrival from time to time of some of our men who had been recently made prisoners.
(397) There is no tragedy so dark but it has its relieving features. And one of the comic ways the prisoners had of beguiling the time was this: One of them would run his hand into his shirt bosom and say inquiringly to another. "Grey back or no grey back?" As if he were playing "Odd-or-even." The addressed would perhaps answer "No grey back," when the propser of the guess would likely say, "You have missed it," pulling out one.
(398) After being kept here for some months, though I did not get so like a skeleton as some, my flesh became in so unhealthy a state from having the scurvy, that when I would press my finger on it, the print would remain for a long time as if my flesh were putty. I got to be one of the very sick.
(399) At the end of my imprisonment here of about four months, the sickest of the prisoners, or a part of them, were taken out to be exchanged. I came very nearly not getting out that time, for my name was close to the end of the list of names called. We were taken first to Millin, Ga., and we stayed here a few days, the sicker part of us on one side of the camp, and the others on the other side. The prisoners would while here sit around fires all night, and in the morning many of them would be found dead where they had sat.
(400) Once while here I went after some water. I was so weak that I had to use a cane. Coming back I fell and spilled the water. I was too weak to go for more, was discouraged, felt like giving up, and do not know what I should have done if an artillerymen of a Wheeling battery had not brought me the water. He and I parted promising to write to each others friends when we should get home. A part of us myself included, were taken to Savannah where we were exchanged, changing our clothes here.
(401) We were taken from here to Annapolis where we again changed clothing. Once more we were in God's country! At Annapolis we were restricted for a few days as to the amount of food we got. On day at my meal I did not want my meat and a comrade nearby eyed it eagerly. At last he inquired, "Are you going to eat that meat?" I told him that I was not when he snapped it up quickly.
(402) When I got to Annapolis one of the first men I saw was "Happy Jack." He was much changed by his hardships but I knew him by his black curly hair. His buoyant spirits had brought him through.
(403) I got home after the frosts of the fall of the year had come. I wrote according to promise to the Wheeling artilleryman's friends. His sister answered my letter that he was killed on board of a government steamer on his way home up the Mississippi by its explosion.
(404) Thus ends my story of prison life at Andersonville. No attempt is made to give anything like an adequate account of it - that could not be done - but rather I have tried mainly after 27 years have passed to recall some of the matters concerning it, that I do not remember to have read about in any account that I have seen.