Military Resource Center
The Otsego Republican.
Petersburg.AURORA, Neb., July 31, 1895.
After the Union Army got straightened up from the hard blows received at Cold Harbor, the dead buried, the wounded sent North for treatment, needed supplies on hand and everything ready for another demonstration, as a feint Gen. Warren, with the 5th corps, took one of the direct roads toward Richmond, while the remaining corps started as fast as they could march for the James River, crossed it just below City Point, and one would think they expected to go right into the city of Petersburg.
And what do you suppose they ran against? A long line of redans, rifle pits, trenches and earthworks, filled with THE SAME REBEL TROOPS that they had met in the Wilderness, at Spotsylvania, North Anna and Cold Harbor. There was Longstreet's corps and Hill's corps, the Georgia Legion, Mahone's Virginians, Ransom with his North Carolinians, Elliott's South Carolinaians, the Mississippians, the Alabamaians and the Texans. Every last one of them right there and ready for business, with the exception of Gen. Jubal Early, who had been sent North to threaten Washington soon after the repulse of our troops in the early part of June. There is no denying the fact that
ROBERT E. LEE
was an able general, and no Union commander ever got any advantage over him by flank movements, strategy or grand tactics. His army was the
HEAD AND FRONT
of the great rebellion. He, like Grant, had undoubted confidence in his own ability, and all he asked for was that his army be supplied with ammunition and rations, and he would meet anyone that could be sent against him, without fear of the result.
This condition of affairs in front of Petersburg made Grant hesitate. He was not anxious for a repetition of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania or Cold Harbor. But he knew
NO SUCH WORD AS FAIL.
There was his objective point, the rebel army, right before him, but too strongly entrenched to warrant an attack, and what now was to be done? The surroundings were such that a siege could not well be attempted, but he knew right where he was and concluded to stay by him, and I trust the following words will pretty near express the situation for the following ten months, viz:
WATCHING AND WAITING.
But Gen. Grant had one consolation all this time that Lee did not, viz:
A general, second only to Grant himself, was with a large army piercing the vitals of the Confederacy. William Tecumseh Sherman was on his way toward Atlanta, severing railroads, wiping out supplies that were being gathered up for the support of the Army of Northern Virginia, and carrying destruction and despair to the very centre of rebeldom. Grant could well afford to watch and wait, for even then the march to the sea and thence northward through the Carolinas had been discussed by the two as a possibility. But the Army of the Potomac could not be idle, and long lines of earth works vieing in strength with those of the rebels were built for miles and miles.
THE SIXTH CORPS
helped work on these entrenchments until Gen. Early with his rebel corps, which started for Maryland when Grant left Cold Harbor, got within about two days' march of Washington City, scaring Secretary Stanton and, in fact, all the loyal people in the City half to death, for the rebel general was levying a heavy tribute on every city through which be passed. Grant, not daring to wait longer, sent the 6th and 18th corps by boat to drive the rebels away from the capital. They reached there
JUST IN TIME
To save the city, for Gen. Early was reconnoitering in front of Fort Stephens, preparatory to ordering an advance, when the red cross of the, 1st division was flung out over the parapets, and Gen. Early changing his mind, at once began pulling back toward old Virginia.
When I tell you that Fort Stephens was only a short distance out of Washington on the Seventh Street road you will not wonder at the people getting scared. But before going with the old 2d brigade to Washington, a faint idea will be given of
LIFE IN THE TRENCHES
in front of Petersburg, as the writer was there all summer long, with the exception of eight weeks of absence while recovering from the wound, the particulars of receiving which were given in a previous article.
Work, Work, Work,
a good part of the time building forts, digging rifle pits, making breastworks and covered ways, bomb proofs, slashings, abattis and everything else that could be thought of to make a line of works that could be held by a very few troops at any time when it was deemed advisible to mass all the available forces at some particular point. The old 2d brigade had done some excellent work in this before they left Fort Sedgwick on the Jerusalem plank road, one of the best forts along the line, was built by them. Some very severe fighting took place afterward at this point, and so hot was this part of the line all the time that long before spring came, the earthwork went by the name of
The "Onesters" did some very fine work near this fort in the way of breastworks. July 10th my regiment occupied their camp vacated the night before when they started for Washington. I can today recall the pleasant memories of the old regiment that came to me on that occasion as evidences of the 121st N. Y. Vols. were seen along the line.
The surface water was not very good to use, and they had dug several wells in which nice, good water was found in plentiful amount. The soil was sandy and water was reached at from six to eight feet. These wells were appreciated by us, but not enjoyed long as we were pushed farther west and commenced work in the entrenchments near the
One fort we tried to build extra nice. -- The location, the size and the number of embrazuers were given and the colored boys went to work with a vim. A revetment of strong timber, plenty of which grew handy by, was first built, then a deep wide ditch, the dirt from which was used to make the walls of the fort, bastions with embrazures so that the artillery could sweep the field in every direction and then an abattis of tangled brush works in front. We felt proud of the work until one day an engineer from army headquarters was riding down the line inspecting the works. He looked over the fort, and of course we expected a compliment, but in place of a compliment his first remark was as follows:
"Colonel, you made one great mistake in this fortification."
"Well, what is it?"
"You should have embrazures that enfilade the rear of your breastworks on either side of the fort."
"But the enemy we expect in front they will never get over these works," was the reply.
"Perhaps not; but the correct theory is to be prepared for all contingencies, and you will have to change the rear wall so as to give embrazures in rear of the breastworks."
"That ended the discussion, and the rear wall was torn down and rebuilt. This is not the only time in my army experience that I felt the need of a military education. And, by the way, this recalls to mind the fact that it was not my fault that I did not go to the West Point Military Academy in 1857, Major General S. S. Burnside, commanding the 5th division of New York State militia, endorsed my application, but our member of Congress at that time was not from Otsego County, and he selected a young man from his own county, Mr. Henry B. Noble. Mr. Noble graduated and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 8th regular infantry in 1861, while I remained just a clerk in a country store until August, 1862, when I was made a 2d lieutenant in the 121st N.Y. Vols.
When the war closed, Henry B. Noble was at brevet captain in command of a company, while I was a general in command of a brigade. While always regretting the failure of my application for a cadetship at West Point, sometimes I think it may have been all for the best.
While writing about work in the trenches I shall have to relate a little incident in which
COL. ANDREW DAVIDSON,
now Deputy Secretary of State, had a little experience outside of the ordinary run of affairs. He was adjutant of the 30th U.S.C. Troops. The duties of an adjutant are many and varied. He must be familiar with the condition of the regiment at all times, issue orders by command of the Colonel, conduct the correspondence make all needed reports, form the line at dress parade, attend to guard mounting, make all details, &c., &c. In fact, he is the executive officer of the regiment.
An order from division headquarters came one day for a captain and fifty men to work on fortifications at such a place and to report for duty at seven o'clock the next morning. Now, an adjutant can give orders verbally or make them in writing, signing "By command of the Colonel," and send them by the Sergeant Major or, the orderly who is always on duty at headquarters. This time Adjutant Davidson gave his order for the detail in person to Captain B-- something as follows: "Captain, a detail of fifty men will report for duty at division headquarters tomorrow morning at seven o'clock. You will take command of the detail."
Not by a d--d sight! I came here to fight, not to work in the trenches,'' said the Captain. The adjutant was a lieutenant in rank, and as the Captain was his superior officer, language appropriate for the occasion could not be safely used, so he only said: "It's your turn for duty, Captain, and I shall have to report this to the Colonel."
"Report as quick as you please," was the reply.
Oh, but didn't the fire just flash from the adjutant's eyes when be came to my tent! It brought to my mind a remark that Col. Upton made about those eyes when Davidson was sergeant major of the 121st N. Y. Vols. He made his report in language strictly military, and I sent for the Captain and asked for an explanation which he very frankly gave. He didn't think that such work was in the line of duty nor did he intend to go with the detail.
"Captain," said I, as he concluded his remarks, "your language would warrant an arrest, but officers are scarce and everyone is needed. If you report for duty in the morning this offense, which borders very closely on insubordination, will be overlooked, but if you still persist in refusing to obey, charges will be preferred, a court martial convened and before Saturday night you will be on your way home, without any shoulder straps." The Captain went with the detail.
in time of war is something not be trifled with. The hardest lesson that volunteers had to learn was to obey orders without talking back, especially when the officers and privates had grown up together in the same community, and accustomed to discussing and arguing with each other all questions that might arise. Col. Upton , used to criticize quite freely the familiarity between the officers and privates in our regiment, and insist that it must be stopped. Occasionally an officer fell right in with Upton's ideas of discipline, and it made but little difference how trifling the offense, a severe punishment was meted out to the unfortunate victim. After a long days' march to carry a can or a knapsack loaded with weights for a couple of hours, to be tied up overhead by the thumbs so that the toes would just touch the ground, to be made a spread eagle of on a wheel, to stand on a barrel without any head in it for half a day. There were many such punishments that an officer could inflict of his own accord, without the offender having a chance to say a single word in his own defense.
It is no wonder that occasionally the hardship of an unjust punishment would be remembered, and in some succeeding battle a so-called accidental shot would wound or perchance kill the officer against whom the memories were treasured up.
One lieutenant from Herkimer County resigned because Upton insisted that he should draw the lines a little closer with his command.
Captain Kidder had a very happy method of keeping his company in good discipline, and yet always treating them in a way that they could not complain of as being harsh, cruel or not warranted. Only once do I remember his asking the Colonel for advice and then he did not follow it. Each man was entitled to a single piece of tent six feet square, with button holes on one side and buttons on the other, so two of them fastened together and placed over a pole resting on two crotches stuck in the ground would make a shelter for two men. Now if they had a third piece to button on one end, three sides would be closed and the tent would be more comfortable. Once on the march, one of Co. I got an extra piece of tent somewhere. A convalescent from the hospital joined the company and he had none. The Captain wanted the extra piece, and the owner would not give it up. He didn't get it from the Quartermaster, and claimed it as private property.
COL. UPTON WAS ASKED
what should be done under the circumstances. His reply was right to the point and as follows: "All pieces of tent are government property, and no person is entitled to but one piece. You must disabuse this young man of the idea that the extra piece is his private property."
"But what shall I do if he won't give it up?" asked the Captain.
"Tie him up by the thumbs," said the Colonel.
That was a punishment that would make a man wilt in a few hours if properly administered. But Captain Kidder was too humane to do an act of that kind, and, if I remember correctly, the matter was adjusted by giving the party who had the tent some little perquisite which made everything satisfactory. I was a lieutenant in the company at the time and did not approve of the tying-up business any more than the Captain did.
Col. Upton became so used to this arbitrary discipline, which appeared so essential in the army in the field, that in 1871, while in command of the cadets at West Point, he undertook to settle a very grave question that arose among the cadets, on his own idea of the fitness of things, regardless of the regulations that Congress had made for the institutions. The result was a Congressional committee of investigation gave him a very severe censure, and he learned the lesson well that in time of peace the civil law is superior to military authority.
Henry Ward Beecher once said that a person should not tell all he knows, and St. Paul I believe suggested this same idea. No doubt an occasional comrade may think the writer sometimes tells what might as well have been left unwritten to which a cordial assent is given byDELEVAN BATES.
ADDENDA. - The last paragraph might well be applied to Mark Twain's late criticism of Fenimore Cooper. Long after "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" are discarded on account of the enticing but pernicious examples given to our boys, the "Pathfinder" will be found in every library holding its proud place as an American classic. D. B.
The Otsego Republican.
Victuals and Drink.AURORA, Neb., Aug. 22, 1895.
Four million of men, (both sides) ninetenths of whom had never cooked a meal in their lives, not even fried a slice of pork or made a cup of coffee, for four long years in a business that required the best of health, with brawn and brain ready both night and day for hard labor, loss of sleep, unaccustomed exposure, long miles of weary travel and incessant vigilance, all in addition to the intense mental strain of the battlefield. How were their meals prepared? What did they have to eat and
WHO DID THE COOKING?
On the march it was an individual affair, each man carrying ordinarily his three days' rations in a haversack, with a knife, a spoon, a tin plate, a tin cup and a light skillet and also a canteen of water over his shoulder. The ration for a day was a pound of hard bread, which consisted of eight or nine large crackers, made with no shortening, just flour and water mixed with a little bit of salt, twelve ounces salt pork, a spoonful of ground coffee and a little sugar. The coffee and sugar were sometimes put together in a small sack, as this was the easiest way to carry these rations. When meal time came, hundreds of little fires would be built over which the cup of coffee would be made and the slice of pork fried or broiled. Sometimes two or more comrades would use the same fire and perhaps cook their rations and eat together. Thus it was morning, noon and night with the enlisted men. The company officers were about the same, with the addition of a cook, but regimental and brigade headquarters generally had transportation, so they could fare a little better, carrying more provisions and some cooking utensils, and they also had a servant to do the cooking and take care of the mess chest. But some one will ask:
WHERE WERE THE BEANS?
At camp fires the old soldiers always sing about the army bean.
"Beans for breakfast, beans for dinner,
Beans for supper. Beans! Beans!! Beans!!!"
That song is like a good many camp fire stories - exaggerated. In camp we sometimes did have beans issued, but never while on the march, unless by mistake, for our camp kettles were with the train, and without them the beans could not be cooked. Once in a while fresh beef would be issued during an active campaign, but the main reliance was hard tack and what the boys would persist in calling "sowbelly," although we used to get as fine pickled pork as could be asked for, most of the time.
There was a great difference in the way the boys took to the cooking, some always having good coffee, meat done to a turn and perhaps fried crackers as a side dish, while others met with misfortunes innumerable; coffee not fit to drink and perhaps spilled before it was done, meat either raw or burned to a crisp, and nothing attractive about a single dish that they could make. Such ones were always happier when we were in camp long enough for the company cooks to make the coffee and cook the meat in bulk. This latter was the condition of affairs
IN FRONT OF PETERSBURG,
where the last reminisences, which were in regard to building entrenchments and army discipline, left the army of the Potomac excepting the 6th corps, which had been ordered to Washington to meet Gen. Early. A large bakery at City Point turned out, it is said, a hundred thousand loaves of soft broad each day through the summer of 1864 and the following winter. Large herds of cattle on the Blackwater Creek in the rear of the army furnished rations of fresh beef two or three times a week. Beans, rice, dessicated vegetables and other luxuries were stored in large quantities at the wharves on the James River. Sutlers' stores were in abundance for all who could afford to purchase them. Sanitary supplies for the hospitals and also reading material from the Christian Commission made life as enjoyable as a soldier had any right to expect or to ask for.
Fortunately it was very dry all summer, otherwise as the ground was low we would have been much annoyed by the surface water, and, in place of digging wells, this water would have been used, and sickness as a result would have followed.
A single remark about the beans may come in well here to show what figure they cut in the army. On the march they were nowhere, but in camp perhaps a peck was dealt out once a week for every hundred men. Each company had several iron camp kettles holding from four to six gallons each in which the beans were boiled with several pieces of pickled pork. The hour for meals was always announced by either, the bugle or drum, when the company would fall in line, and, marching past the tent of the cooks, each man would receive his allotted share of beans and his cup of coffee which had been prepared in another kettle.
Cooks were generally detailed two at once to serve for a certain time, but some men were better cooks than others, and such ones were often kept on steady detail and excused from other duties. Baked beans which, of course, were far superior to boiled ones, were rarely seen as no conveniences were had in camp for that style of cooking.
This brings to mind that the southern people knew nothing about baked beans in those days. In July, 1863, after the battle of Gettysburg I was completely worn out from the long, wearisome marches, fell by the wayside, and with others was sent to Alexandria to recuperate. After treatment for ten days in the Mansion House, hospital rooms were obtained with a Mr. Masset during the convalescing period. A Massachusetts captain, boarding at the same place, one day asked the lady in charge of the dining room "why we could not have some baked beans?" She knew nothing about such a dish, but with the captain's assistance she would try the experiment. The Captain fortunately knew all about
BOSTON BAKED BEANS,
and gave us a delicious dish which was repeated at regular intervals while we remained in the city.
To-day Mrs. Lana A. Bates, wife of the writer, has the reputation of serving the best baked beans that can be obtained in the city of Aurora, and a large share of the credit I claim is due to what was learned from the Massachusetts Captain in the city of Alexandria in the summer of 1863; but, strange to say, she does not agree with me.
By the way, when in Alexandria I visited the Marshall House where the brave
was shot in cold blood by the reckless rebel, Thomas Jackson, whose life at once paid for the cowardly deed. Some say Ellsworth was rash in pulling down the rebel flag with his own hand. His regiment was the Eleventh New York, the first "Fire Zouaves." Composed of a set of reckless dare-devils, their colonel never hesitated to take the lead, and held his influence over them by deeds of daring as reckless as any that the boldest of his followers cared to do. It is said that they were wicked too, and as an army Chaplain gave to the 11th New York the first exhortation, when dwelling on the merits of our Savior, the refrain was taken up of "Bully for Jesus," and echoed and re-echoed through the camp until the horrified evangelist fled from his army life, never to return.
As an offset to this story it will be well to mention how easy the Western troops took to the means of grace.
A GENEROUS RIVALRY
in a certain brigade between a Buckeye and a Hoosier regiment culminated as follows in the early part of 1864. The Buckeye regiment had lost heavily in battle and the Chaplain, who believed strongly in immersion, had prevailed on perhaps a dozen of the survivors to seal their recent conversion by the rite of baptism. When the Colonel of the Indiana regiment heard of this event he sent for his adjutant and gave this order: "Mr. Adjutant, detail twenty men at once from Company A to report to the Chaplain for baptism. The 199th Ohio may lose more men than we do, but when it comes to the means of grace they will find old Indiana at the front every time."
But to return to victuals and drink. -- The camp kettles were awful nice to cook the rice in as well as the
by which name the pickled beef dealt out occasionally in place of pork, was commonly known. There was also for a time a combination of all kinds of garden truck dried and pressed together issued, which was called
A pound of this put in a camp kettle with water would swell up and fill the kettle to overflowing with a very palatable dish for some, while others could not bear to more than taste it. This experiment did not prove a success, and was discontinued with us long before the war closed. July 4th, 1864,
were issued to the whole army, and while other commands may have had them at other times, the colored division only had them on this one date. The dinner at the headquarters of the 30th U. S. C. T. on that occasion will always be remembered by the writer on account of those delicious pickles, rendered doubly appetizing as none had been tasted before since leaving home. This is apparently a small item for memory to hang to so tenaciously, but cucumbers in any form had always been a favorite dish of mine, and for years to be without even seeing one, made this enjoyment one never to be forgotten.
The drink was always
COFFEE, COFFEE, COFFEE.
The fragrant cup of Mocha that cheers but does not inebriate. This was the soldier's greatest solace. Let the march be ever so long or dreary. Let the winds blow a hurricane and the merciless rain descend or the chilling sleet benumb the limbs of the weary footman, when the bivouac was reached, whether it was early or late, the cup of coffee was the first refreshment thought of. More than all else combined to revive the weary, to ease the pangs of hunger and satisfy the feverish thirst that follows the long march without good water to drink, to give tone to the system so as to withstand the exposures of the march and the bivouac in tempestuous weather, was the good strong cup of coffee with a little sugar alone as the only trimming. Condensed milk could be purchased, but rarely was, as it came high and added but little to the value of the coffee. And we always had good coffee. The pork might be a little rusty and the hard bread full of weevil, but the coffee was all right. To break the hard tack in a cup of coffee made a palatable dish and especially when the crackers were wormy, which was occasionally their condition, did the boys prefer them in this way. No doubt the health of the army was increased at least twenty-five per cent. by the liberal ration of coffee which was issued regularly whether the troops were in camp or on the march. Occasionally a pond of stagnant water would be the only available supply and when made into coffee we had a palatable beverage, and not particularly unhealthy.
I have been often asked if we did not have
A WHISKY RATION.
Only twice do I remember seeing a ration of whisky issued to the troops during three years and four months service. These were on occasions of an all night's job of hard work in rain and mud. Once in January, 1863, when Burnside was stuck in the mud, the mules could not haul the unweildy pontoons and the men took hold, fifty to a boat, and through mud above their ankles, for hours they labored like beasts of burden, and each was given a drink of whisky, I presume as a reward, for the cup of coffee would have been of twice the value as a stimulant to prepare for the renewed effort. The Onesters will remember this occasion well, for of all the mud any of us ever saw, this excelled the deepest. But whisky was always kept in a plentiful amount in the Commissary Department for hospital purposes, and could be purchased by any commissioned officer.
There were but few officers that habitually used intoxicants, although division and corps headquarters generally had one member of the staff who could mix a cocktail if the occasion demanded, and the necessary ingredients were always easily obtained. Out of the thirty-five original officers of the 121st N. Y. Vols., only two names can be recalled by me who loved the flowing bowl, and in my regiment, the 30th U. S. C. Troops, but one could be classed as a devotee of Bacchus. A custom in the regular army made it necessary for each regimental commander to be prepared to welcome visitors with ambrozial nectar or something akin to it, from which perhaps came the idea that intoxicants were freely used in the army during the rebellion, especially by the officers.
might have used whisky as a basis for the full column articles they were expected to furnish each day for northern papers, when incidents were scarce and the imagination had to be relied upon to originate the tales they told. It is said that Gen. Ben Butler once cut down the amount of whisky that could be sold to a single individual to half a pint per day. A day or two later the General noticed that the New York dailies only had a single paragraph to describe some important movement that should have filled half a column. The correspondent, who had the freedom of the headquarters, was asked for an explanation. "General Butler, if you expect me to keep your army to the front on half a pint of whisky a day, you are off your base. It can't be done." The whisky ration was at once increased. That there may be truth enough in this remark to explain some apparent favoritism in the correspondence of those days is merely a suggestion ofDELEVAN BATES.
The Otsego Republican.
Petersburg.AURORA, Neb., Oct. 1, 1895.
The 1st division, sixth corps left Petersburg July 9th, 1864, and did not return until in the early part of December, after they had, under Sheridan, fought the rebels in the Shenandoah Valley and broken up their army beyond all hopes of a reorganization. I have told about the long line of entrenchments that the Army of the Potomac built in front of the rebel lines at Petersburg, and of the plentiful supply of rations that we had during the ten months of investment, and this article will tell about the fighting from the time the "Onesters" left until their return.
Comrades will remember that it took Gen. Grant just two days with a loss of ten thousand men to find that
IT DID NOT PAY
to charge the rebel works in our front - But the long lines of railroad that came in from the South could be severed, and the supplies lessened with which Lee's army was fed. The 2d and 6th corps made the first attempt on the Weldon road the 21st of June, but the rebel Gen. Hill was too much for them, capturing several thousand of our men and demoralizing Kautz and Wilson's cavalry that were making a raid in the same direction. A few weeks later another move was made on the same road, which also met with a decisive repulse. Then came the battle of the mine in which.
THE COLORED TROOPS
took a conspicuous part. Perhaps it would be interesting for some to read of the colored soldier in battle as an individual. In a former article I told about the colored division, the brigade and the regiment, and now I will tell about
CORPORAL SAMUEL HALL.
Among the bravest of the colored boys in the 30th U.S.C.T. was Corporal Samuel Hall of Company "D." He was intelligent, well built, apt in drill, neat in personal appearance and prompt to obey all orders received. When the regiment was organized he was appointed corporal and soon after selected as one of the color guard, a small band of select non-commissioned officers to whose hands the flag is given. Their position is in the center of the regiment, and always marks the point of hardest fighting and around "Old Glory," as the stars and stripes were called, is where the rally is made whenever the line of battle is broken. Corporal Hall fully appreciated the responsibilities of the color guard, always fell in next to the color sergeant who bore the flag, and his highest ambition was some day to wear the chevrons of a sergeant and to be the standard bearer of his regiment. His ambition was gratified, but it was on the battlefield where his regiment was baptized in blood, and his devotion to the stares and stripes was sealed in death.
We met Mahone's Virginians in conflict, hand to hand. Of all the troops in the army of General Lee, none excelled those we met that day. The regimental colors were in the thickest of the fray, and the stalwart negroes of the color guard laid many a rebel low. Not a man of them wavered; but the desperate valor of the Virginians, doubly intensified by hatred for the colored foe they had met, pushed us back and our color sergeant was knocked senseless by the butt of a rebel gun. Corporal Hall shot the rebel dead and grasped the flag before it touched the ground. With a proud hurrah he waved the standard and urged his comrades to rally by his side. A bullet passed through his strong right arm, but with his left arm alone the flag was upheld. Another bullet strikes the other arm and passing onward through the body, a lifeless corpse is all that remains of the brave corporal. Such is glory on the battlefield. The highest ideal is reached and death grasps you in his relentless embrace.
CAPTURED A REBEL FLAG
that day for which we never received credit, but history gave it to the 43d regiment. The facts about this flag are given by Corporal Jacob McAfee in the National Tribune of May 16th, 1895. I saw the flag before I was shot, and the regiment that received the credit of the capture had not at that time reached the point where the fight was going on, and, as McAfee tells it, one of the 30th U.S.C.T. grasped it from the rebel color bearer, and not realizing the value of the capture, before he left the field, handed it to an officer of the 43d, who afterward claimed the trophy as his own. I knew that my regiment captured this flag, but as I was dangerously wounded and did not return to duty until after all the reports of the battle had been sent in, could not rectify the error, and it would probably never have been mentioned had not the unsolicited testimony of Corporal McAfee, bearing directly upon this flag, appeared in the National Tribune.
MANY, MANY, ERRORS
in regard to events of the war of the rebellion have found their way into histories that have already been written, some parties receiving too much credit, while others have not received the amount justly their due. When the
CENTURY WAR HISTORY
was published it was strongly endorsed as true in every particular, having been written by those who participated in the events described. The four beautiful volumes were purchased, and what do you think? On glancing at the index the following words appeared: "Delevan Bates, Bvt Brig. Gen.," followed by an ominous "K." Killed, is what the letter stood for. I saw at once the history was not infallible. - Second, on page 567, vol. 4: Battle of the Mine, is a letter from Brevet Brig. Gen. H. Seymour Hall, who at that battle was a Lieut. Col. in command of the 48d U.S.C. Troops. The letter claimed that the 43d regiment led the advance of the colored division in that fearful charge. The letter is published in what is considered reliable history, and yet the testimony of at least twenty reliable witnesses, who were present and took part in the battle, can be obtained today who will say that the statement of Gen. Hall is false. One of these living witnesses is no other than the senior editor of the OTSEGO REPUBLICAN, who, side by side with his Colonel, was among the first to enter the rebel lines and each of us received a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry.
Several years ago I wrote to Gen. Hall in regard to this letter, and he, perhaps believing in the old maxim that "a lie adhered to is as good as the truth," said "he was correct and would convince me some day that it was so," since which time I have heard nothing from him. When the proof is received the readers of the REPUBLICAN shall enjoy the privilege of perusing the same. This is the same H. Seymour Hall whose name appears upon the roster of the 121st New York Vols. He came to our regiment as a captain from the 27th N.Y.Vols. when that regiment was mustered out in 1863, and went into the colored service as a Lieut. Colonel at a later date. He was on staff duty much of the time before his appointment in the 43d. - A gentleman in every sense of the word and a brave and fearless soldier, it has always been a mystery to me as to the reason why he should make such a misstatement as long as there were so many living witnesses that could refute it. I have letters from officers who were in his own regiment, acknowledging that they followed the 30th regiment in the advance referred to.
The next event of interest that memory recalls is
THE REBEL CAVALRY
made a raid on our rear where the large herds of cattle were kept until needed for rations, Wade Hampton, he that has made quite a political record since the war, was the leader, and he was a good one. Phil. Sheridan was up in the Shenandoah Valley or Gen. Hampton would not have dared make such a raid. As it was he cut out about two thousand head of cattle and took them safely inside the rebel lines, giving Lee's army one good square meal of beef.
In October a general advance was made toward the
SOUTH SIDE ROAD,
in which I had command of a brigade for the first time in battle. The night before the fight, Gen. Parke, who was in command of the 9th corps, called all of the brigade commanders together, and explained the movement that was to be made. - We were to move west early in the morning, cross the Boydton road and form a line of battle, each brigade commander keeping connection with the troops on his right. In our front would be heavy woods filled with underbrush which it would be difficult to march and in which the rebel pickets would be found.. When we struck the rebels we were to go in with a vim, following the pickets through the woods to their breastworks which, if possible, must be carried. But little sleep came to me that night. It was the morrow that filled my thoughts and kept me awake. In command of a regiment I had done fairly well, but with three regiments to look after and in such a place it was a great wonder to me what the result would be. The morning came, the advance was made and the line was formed,
NOW FOR THE FIGHT.
It was an awful place to commence business as a brigade commander, a dense wilderness where each man had to pick his way through, and not knowing ,what moment he would be in range of a rebel sharpshooter. The man on horseback had it much more difficult, as oftimes he must grope his way around the fallen trees, over which those on foot could climb. But the regimental commanders had been carefully instructed to keep the men well in hand and the company formation intact until the rebel pickets were reached, and then let every soldier give a yell, pick his way as best he could and follow the enemy into the entrenchments if possible. - The entrenchments were in an open field beyond the woods. If the entrenchments were carried the troops would rally there, if we were repulsed the rally would be made in the woods just out of range of the enemy's guns.
The line of battle started, advanced perhaps three hundred yards when bang! bang ! bang ! we had found the picket line. Several wounded men were seen making for the rear, among them a Lieutenant Colonel who had more valor than discretion, and had got too far in the advance. And then came a yell and a grand rush for the front. The rebel pickets were closely followed and several of them were killed. The edge of the woods was reached and there were the rebel breastworks a hundred yards further on. Remembering the instructions, the officers who first emerged from the woods, rallied the men who were nearest, regardless of company or regimental lines and made
A DESPERATE CHARGE
on the earthworks. But there were the same veteran troops that we had met so many times before, and repulsed with a heavy loss for so slight a battle, we fell back to a sheltered position, reformed the regiments and returned to the place from whence we started. Seventeen hundred and fifty-eight were the total casualties that day, and instead of a battle it was merely called a reconnoisance in force. But the experience was of great value toDELEVAN BATES.
© 1998-2003 by John G. Saint, Ted & Carole Miller