Town of Sutton
Herbert A. KIMBALL
At a great war meeting held in July, 1862, at the old Congregational Church in Sutton, Mass., I Herbert A. Kimball, fifteen years of age, enlisted for the War of the Rebellion, 1861- 65. I remember well walking over the back of the pews bare-footed, amid the applause of some and the smiles of others at the absurdity of a boy of my age going to war, I also recall what seemed to me a great crowd of people, the enthusiasm of the speakers, the excitement, drums beating , flags flying, and everybody enthusiastic. With twenty other young men of the town we were enrolled in Company F, 36th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers.
August 6, 1862 we found ourselves in camp at Worcester. Our stay here was very short, for soon orders came for the regiment to report at Washington. Then came hurry and confusion; the issuing of guns and equipments, clothing and blankets, and the presentation of the flag to the regiment by the citizens of Worcester. September 2nd the regiment left the State with 1040 men for Washington.
We encamped near the Capitol until September 9th, and after being assigned to Gen. Burnside’s Command, the 9th Corps, we left Washington for Leesboro. On leaving home every man was loaded down to the limit of his ability to carry, and on this our first march in this southern climate, we began to throw away, and at every halting place thereafter for the next two or three days, both sides of the road were actually littered for miles with the blankets and everything that we could dispense with until we got down to close marching order.
For a few days I found it almost impossible to hold my place in the ranks on account of the heat and the burden we carried, and I was greeted at night when I arrived in camp with the cry of “baby” because with many others I had fallen out; so I made up my mind then that on no account, unless I fell dead in my tracks would I leave the ranks. After that there was no falling out for me.
My first experience of the actual scenes of war was at the Battle of South Mountain, September 14th, my next was at the Battle of Antietam September 17th. This was called the bloodiest Battle of the War.
October 7th, at half past five, we left camp and went over the Blue Ridge Mountains into Pleasant Valley, This march was one of the most severe we had during the war. It was up and up and here one of our boys fell out, as he found it impossible to go farther I encouraged him the best I could and urged him to try and keep up, and to help him I took his gun and carried it into camp with my own. On arriving at camp that night there were only the Captain 1st Sergeant and myself who answered to roll-call. All the rest had been obliged to fall out by the way - and now I had my opportunity for revenge, and could cry “baby” to the stalwarts who came limping in late in the evening.
While in camp here we were ordered to Frederick City to defend it against a raid by rebel cavalry. We arrived about one o’clock in the morning and were marched into the streets, making our beds on the sidewalk. We found it very cold and almost impossible to keep warm. Another night we were ordered to the Point of Rocks in a most terrible rainstorm, making the journey in coal cars, so you can know how clean we were. We marched up a road to a farmhouse, where we halted and had orders to make ourselves comfortable for the night. There was a large corn-field on one side of the road, and a Virginia rail fence. This corn was all cut, stalked and piled in shocks. I can assure you that they disappeared very quickly and formed a thatched roof over the rail fence to make a shelter for the boys.
I thought I would forage around a bit , and out in the yard found a hogshead lying on its side. I thought that would make a much better place to sleep than under the corn stalks by the fence; so I made a dive to go in, and as I did so a Lieutenant made a dive from the other side, and as our heads came together we fell into the hogshead. As we fell in, two pigs fell out with a good deal of commotion. I can tell you that it was a very acceptable shelter for the night.
October 26th we left camp at Pleasant Valley and marched to Berlin, where a pontoon bridge had been thrown across the Potomac. For hours, while the cavalry was crossing, we were obliged to stand in a drenching rain, waiting the crossing of the Infantry which was to follow. Having reached the Virginia shore we continued our march, dragging our weary length through the mud, ankle deep, and such mud as only Virginia can boast. At four o’clock, after marching several miles from the river, we turned into a field which had been sown with winter wheat and on which the wheat was two or three inches high. There in the mud, wet, cold and weary, we were ordered to halt, stack arms and make ourselves comfortable.
In selecting our bed, each man took a furrow which was filled with water, so when we turned over you can perhaps realize what a nice, dry place to sleep in the soldiers had.
That night my Company was ordered on picket at a house about two miles from camp. It was a large farm owned by a rebel who had three sons in the southern army. We were stationed in a barn near the house, and had not been there very long before we decided to do a little foraging to see what we could get to eat. We discovered a flock of twenty geese and one sheep. Arming ourselves with ramrods we surrounded them and as they tried to escape we struck them with the ramrods, breaking their necks. There were plenty of hands ready to pick them, and we certainly had a very downy time of it. A man was detailed to do the cooking, and it was suggested that I should go to the house and borrow a kettle - which I presume farmers here would think was the height of impudence. While foraging a little farther, I found a cache in the garden where they had secreted their vegetables to prevent the soldiers from securing them. I quickly reported my find and the cache was soon emptied; so with the geese and the vegetables, we fared very sumptuously for the two days we remained there.
Not being satisfied with this, some of the boys thought that this old rebel farmer should serve us with a supper. A committee was chosen to see the proprietor, and he agreed to furnish a supper for one dollar apiece for twenty. In the evening we went there and were entertained by the farmer. We sat down to a table which had a tablecloth, napkins, glass and silver, and had a fine supper; which was quite a treat after having had nothing but camp fare since we left home. On leaving the table, one of the twenty was chosen to pay the bill and we all left the house leaving him to settle. He passed the farmer a twenty dollar Confederate note, which of course was absolutely worthless inside the Union lines. The farmer was very angry - everything was blue, and the odor of sulphur seemed to fill the air.
The next morning we made arrangements for breakfast with another farmer nearby, who was a Quaker and a good Union man, we found, and we paid him in good United States currency.
On our march from here to Fredericksburg, it was intensely cold. The water froze and there were three inches of snow on the ground. One day there was no bread; our supply train had been delayed, and for several days the ration for each man was two ears of corn and a small piece of fresh meat. This place will always be known to the survivors of the 36th by the suggestive name of Hungry Hollow.
November 19th we arrived at Fredericksburg on the Rappahanock River. For two days and nights it continued to rain and our camp became one vast mud puddle. December 10th, at night, the Stafford Heights and the left bank of the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg was occupied by 147 pieces of artillery. Five pontoon bridges were laid across the river. We now mustered about 650 guns. The remaining 350 of our comrades were either on special duty, or sick; ten had died.
We forced our way across the river on the night of December 12th, into Fredericksburg; stacked arms in the street; spent the night on the sidewalk and in the deserted houses in the rear of the guns. I was detailed here with a squad of men to set fire to several houses on the banks of the river to prevent, the rebels from occupying them as a shelter for their sharp shooters, it seemed a wicked thing to go into the houses, break up furniture, smash up pianos, set them on fire, and destroy these handsome homes that had been occupied by the people of Fredericksburg; but those were our orders and it was our duty to obey.
After the Battle of Fredericksburg we were ordered to Kentucky. We went from Fredericksburg to Newport News; from there to Baltimore; from Baltimore over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Parkersburg on the Ohio River; from there by steamer to Cincinnati, arriving on the 28th. We crossed the river to Covington. There was some delay in procuring transportation, and as there was a large amount of whiskey near the station some of the man became utterly demoralized. One of this number had complained for some time of severe lameness, and the surgeon, who had been puzzled by his case, after watching him carefully was about to secure his discharge from the service; but now under the exhilaration of the hour, forgetting his lameness the man marched off so smartly that our Colonel informed him the game was up, and providing him with a gun ordered him back to his company.
From Covington we went to Lexington. May 2nd we found ourselves at Middleburg on the Green River.
While encamped here we received word that some rebel officers were secreted at a farmhouse some miles from there, and I was detailed with a squad of men to go out and capture them. We arrived at the house just after dark, and immediately surrounded it. Orders were to be very quiet. In marching up through the orchard to the houses we ran into a drove of hogs. Of course quiet was immediately at a premium, and for a few minutes things were quite exciting; but we finally reached the house and rapped upon the door. Our call was answered by a colored servant, who was at once pushed to one side and we entered. We found a man, his wife and three daughters at home. We at once started our mission and proceeded to search the place. We were unable to find anyone, and thought possibly in the delay caused by the commotion of the swine they had the opportunity to escape. The young ladies had retired, and when we came to their chamber the door was locked; but we demanded admittance and finally were permitted to enter. We found no one. While going through the rooms we left one man in a closet, thinking that after we were gone he might hear some conversation which would lead to the discovery of anyone who might be secreted there; and then we retired from the house. After a little while our commanding officer made the excuse to go back, saying that we had accidentally left one of the men inside. He went up and released him, and the man told us that if we would go into the young ladies' room again we would find the young man in there; so we ordered the young ladies to get up, and under the mattress we found their brother, a rebel officer, secreted. They were very much exercised over the matter and very indignant but we took him prisoner to camp with us.
From Middleburg we went to Columbia, and from there to Jamestown on the Cumberland River. We arrived there at four o'clock in the morning; we had hardly stacked arms when a sharp skirmish fire was heard at our right and a squad of rebel cavalry came into view. Our men were quickly in line of battles, but the rebels wheeled and made good their escape.
June 4th, at noon, to the surprise of all we received orders to proceed at once to Lebanon, 60 miles away. Although we had little or no rest for a week, we made the 60 miles in 48 consecutive hours, including halts and sleep, arriving at Lebanon at noon June 6th. This long journey was accomplished in heavy marching order under a scorching sun and in dust which was almost insufferable.
We found our destination was Vicksburg, Miss. From Lebanon we went to Louisville; from there to Cairo, Ill. At Cairo we took the steamer Meteor, 760 officers and men, and steamed down the river to Vicksburg. Arriving at Vicksburg we went up the Yazoo River and landed at Haynes Bluff in the rear of the city, June 17th.
My first impression on landing was far from favorable, and was never changed except for the worse. In many places the soil was so dry and parch-ed with the heat that it seemed to have cracked open like a blistered skin beneath the tropical rays of the sun. The wind blew hot from every point of the compass, bringing clouds of dust along with it. Gnats and flies made night hideous and drove sleep from the weary; venomous snakes and other reptiles infested the woods and thickets; lizards soon became no novelty, even the resort of keeping them out of ones boots by wearing them day and night would not prevent their crawling down one’s back occasionally, causing a sensation like an animated icicle.
While lying in my tent one night asleep, with a rubber blanket over me I awoke with a sensation that something was lying upon me, and to my horror found that a rattlesnake had crawled up between my comrade and myself on top of the blanket, enjoying a night's rest with us. I suppose the rubber saved us from being bitten, and we rid ourselves of his company as soon as possible.
While in Mississippi, I was detailed for two months as Private Orderly for Major General John G. Parke, and after being equipped, found myself stationed at the General’s headquarters. While with him it was my daily duty to carry messages to and from General Grant's headquarters. Seeing him every day, he came to know me personally, and whenever he met me would call me by name. One night on the Black River, after a long, tedious day and night, going through one of the most terrible thunder storms I ever experienced , we camped at 12 o’clock at night at a farmhouse. I at once made my bed on the floor and went to sleep, but had not been asleep many minutes when I was called by the General and asked if I would carry dispatches to Maj. Gen. Sherman, who was supposed to be twenty miles away. I would have to go through the enemies country to find him. I replied that if those were the orders, I would obey. I was given papers which were secreted in my hat and boots (the latter having false soles) and with a sword by my side, a pistol in my belt, and also one in each boot, I started on my lonely expedition. The General had maps showing the country I was to go through, and showed me landmarks that would direct me on my way.
I made my way as rapidly as Possible through the night. One time I heard voices down in the woods, and once heard shots fired but did not know wether it was friend or foe. My horse seemed to know that we were on a dangerous mission, and when I heard these noises I feared he would whinny; but he never made a sound. I lost my way once, retraced my steps back to my last landmark and started on again, just at the break of day I could see that I was coming to some great camp, evidenced by the coloring in the sky caused by the camp fires. Then I could hear the hum of noises caused by a large gathering of horses and mules and everything else that goes to make up a great army.
I did not know whether it was rebel or Union; still I felt it must be a Union camp. I realized that I was near my journey's end one way or the other, so taking my reins in one hand and with my revolver in the other I went along very cautiously expecting every moment to hear the picket, challenge, but I made up my mind that if it was a rebel, it would be either the rebel picket or myself who would have to die before I would be captured.
All of a sudden the challenge came, “Halt! Who comes there?” I replied “Friend with the countersign,” and the answer came back “Dismount one! Advance and give the countersign.” I had no disposition to get off my horse until I knew positively whether it was a Yank or Rebel, but it struck me at once that it was not a rebel voice. It did not have the southern twang. I kept my horse on the jump with my spurs, trying to get as near to the guard as possible to discover whether he was a rebel or Union soldier before I should dismount. I got near enough so that, as the light struck his belt buckle, I saw it was marked U. S. You can imagine my relief and joy to find that it was a Yankee. I was directly shown to Gen. Sherman’s headquarters where I delivered my messages. He looked at me in wonder and amazement, and asked if I had brought those alone, and how old I was. I told him and he expressed his surprise that Gen. Parke selected so young a boy for such a task.
I was treated very handsomely by the General; served with a nice breakfast and remained with him until further orders. But immediately the camp was aroused; the troops fell in and at 8 o’clock were on the march. At noon, as we were on our way to where two roads came together, the two armies met and I reported back to Gen. Parke.
At the surrender of Vicksburg, Gen. Grant invited Gen. Parke to go into the city with him to see the surrender of 31,600 prisoners, 177 cannon, 60,000 muskets and a large “Amount of ammunition.” Being with Gen. Parke, I had the privilege of riding into Vicksburg with Gen. Grant’s retinue at the surrender, and saw the proceedings at that time.
After the surrender we went on to Jackson, Miss. One night the General, wishing to inspect the pickets to see how well the soldiers did their duty, called me about one o'clock. We mounted our horses and started for the picket line. It was very dark, there was a shower threatening; it was thundering and light-ning very vividly, and it was so dark that it was impossible to tell just where we were going. We did not really know whether we were inside or outside of our line some of the time. All of s sudden we received the challenge “Halt! Who comes there!” At the same instant there was a flash of lightening. The General had his revolver in his hand, ready for emergency, and seeing by the flash of lightning that it was a rebel, shot him instantly. We wheeled and dashed back to our lines as quickly as possible, with a shower of bullets flying over our heads.
On this march the heat was so intense and the dust so deep that many of the men fell out, and some died in their tracks. As we were riding along it would be impossible for one to distinguish the man in front of him, so thick was the dust.
During the battle at Jackson, Miss., several of our men were killed or wounded. We had at this time 25 officers and 343 men present for duty. When you consider that two months before we had left Kentucky for Mississippi with 750 men, it was rather depressing to find so many missing,
At this time we were ordered to return to Kentucky, arriving August 12, 1863. The night we arrived in Kentucky I was stricken down with yellow fever and was carried to the hospital. I was unconscious and knew nothing of my surroundings. After I recovered I was told that I was placed in an isolation ward where there were 28 men; and when I became conscious of what was going on about me 25 of the 28 were dead and buried. On account of this fever I lost every spear of my hair, so you can see what a sacrifice I made for my country.
The only amusing thing about this was that I never knew it until the first day I was convalescent. I walked down to the brook which ran just at the foot of the slope, and as I stooped over and looked into the water, not having my hat on, I saw that shining bald head. I can truly say I just sat down and had a real goods old-fashioned cry all to myself.
September 11th, the regiment broke camp again with orders to go to East Tennessee, I was ordered to report at the hospital, as the surgeon said I was not able to go on with the regiment; but not liking the idea of being left behind, I simply took my knapsack and equipments, and after the regiment had gone I followed on after them by myself for several days, taking my own time, until I felt able to join the regiment and go on with them.
We went through Cumberland Gap, September 20th. The march was relieved of much of its tediousness by the grandeur of the scenery. As the regiment moved from one height to another of the ranges of hills, the scene in every direction was magnificent, and when at length the Gap was reached, there was a universal expression of admiration.
Standing in the Gap is a large square white stone of the native limestone, which marks the corner boundaries of three states; and at this point the view is grand.
A long march of 22 miles was made on the 22nd, and during the day we forded the Clinch and Holston Rivers. This was a very interesting sight, especially to those who got safely over and looked back to see some luckless wader loose his footing and take an involuntary bath.
You perhaps would have no idea what this march meant to the soldiers, as on this day we cross-ed three streams getting our shoes filled each time, so that we were obliged to stop and empty out the water, then start on again through the dust. By the time we got dry, there was the same operation to go through with again. On account of this wet and dry treatment, we found our pants plastered on us, and as they dried they became stiff and hard, and appeared like leather.
That night we camped at Morristown, Tenn., on the line of the Virginia and East Tennessee Railroad.
October 10th we went into the Battle of Blue Springs, Gen. Burnside being in command. About half past three in the afternoon, he ordered Gen. Ferero to advance. After moving a short distance to get the shelter of a wood, the right of the brigade struck the rebel line and received a heavy fire, from which the 79th New York sustained some loss. The brigade then changed front forward, which brought the 36th out into an open field, when the enemy open-ed a sharp fire of musketry from behind a fence that bordered this strip of wood. But no sooner did the regiment front their position than it dashed forward and in less time than it takes to tell, it drove back the rebel force, killing some and capturing 15 men of a Georgia regiment. Their entire line broke, fled through the woods over the hill, and took shelter behind their artillery, which now opened fire at short range. We followed the retreating army until ordered to halt.
At such a moment the example of the officers is indispensable and it was while in front of the colors, calling upon the regiment to keep a steady line that Lieut. Col. Goodell fell severely wounded by a piece of shell. The command then devolved upon Major Draper.
The regiment lay quietly and cooly under the fire of the rebel guns until dark, and did not suffer much loss. I saw three men that afternoon with their heads blown completely from their bodies, one of them, as it went, whirled through the air over our heads. Gen. Burnside congratulated the regiment and brigade upon the manner in which it carried the wood and unmasked the rebel batteries.
October 28th we went into permanent camp for the winter at Lenoir station, about 23 miles southwest of Knoxville. Our permanent camp was of very short duration however, as on the morning of the 14th of November we were ordered to be ready to march at daybreak. “Pack up! Pack up!” passed from lip to lip.
It was found that Bragg's army was coming up from Chattanooga, and we were ordered to head them off. This force, under Longstreet, was close upon us, Knoxville was Longstreet's objective, it was the key of East Tennessee, Grant had telegraphed Bumside, “If you can hold Longstreet in check until Sherman comes up, and by skirmishing and falling back can avoid serious loss to yourself, I will be able to force the enemy back from here.”
At dark we were in front of the enemies’ position, having marched nearly 14 miles. Our line was formed in the woods, running across each side of the road. It had been raining for two days, and we remained here in the rain until ten o’clock, when we heard the rebels coming up through the woods in front of us, we were all ready for them, lying flat on the ground, every man alert with the officers in the rear telling us to keep steady and not to fire until we could see the whites of their eyes.
We waited until they were almost up against us, when we arose and fired a volley into their faces. The object of their advance had been to find out where we were, and they found out in this way. During this excitement two of the boys were sound asleep, and when the volley came, with a shriek and a yell they woke up, and with one bound disappeared, after they were really awake, they returned to their places again.
I lost my cap here, and was unable to find it. I suppose it was caught by the twigs of the trees in some way. I put on a bright red sleeping cap that my mother had sent me and wore that, not wishing to go bare-headed.
We remained here till morning, then withdrew and went back through Lenoir Station towards Knoxville. About the station, nearly 100 wagons were drawn up and as the mules were needed in order to move the artillery, the spokes it the wheels were cut and the stores and baggage in the wagons destroyed. The enemy at once discovered this movement, but lingering about the burning baggage and stores they did not press us until we were within about two miles of Campbell's Station.
We were marched on to a field here in the shape of a triangle, where we laid down behind the fence to await the coming of the enemy. We could see them moving along up in the woods on each flank, and we kept firing at them. Right in front of me was a little stump about the size of my wrist, and as we lay flat on the ground I would rest my rifle on this stump and take aim. While in this position, a bullet struck the stump and split it. Captain Ames, at my sides remarked, “If you don't want to be a dead Kimball, you had better take off that red cap.” Not wishing to go bare-headed this cold November day I kept it on. We kept this position until the rebels were on three sides of the field, when we were ordered to retreat, as our object was to get into the fortifications at Knoxville. We had lost several wounded and killed, but fell back in good order and started on our march for Knoxville. It was a dark, cold night. We had been without sleep practically for three nights, and as the men marched along it was very difficult keeping our places. The man in front of me had a white tent cloth over his shoulders to keep him warm, and I had that for my guide, and followed that a good deal of the time, half asleep. Suddenly I realized that I was among strange men, and upon calling some of them by name I found that I had fallen asleep and had gradually drifted back until I was almost at the rear of' the line and in great danger of being captured by the rebels. During my sleep some strange soldier stepped in front of me, and as he had a piece of white tent cloth over his shoulders I had not noticed the difference.
Then followed at once the siege of Knoxville, which I cannot begin to describe except to say that we occupied the fortifications. The enemy surrounded us, and for several weeks we were out off completely from the surrounding country, and also cut off from rations. Our daily rations for a long time was one loaf of bread for four men and a small portion of raw pork. One week we received in addition to this a spoonful of flour each day.
Fort Sanders was the key to the whole position and our company was stationed next to the fort on the left. Sunday morning, November 29th the enemy attacked with eleven thousand men. This was mostly directed against Fort Sanders. Then followed the rattle of musketry, the roar of cannon and the bursting of shells. As we were outside the fort several of us young fellows ran around into the fort, which contained about one thousand men and one battery of artillery. During the engagement the men would pass back their guns and we would load them up for them. In several cases where the guns were broken, the men grabbed axes, and as the rebels came up in front on to the parapet they were knocked down. I saw one man split open the heads of three rebels, and one of our drummer boys grabbed a rebel by his pants and took him prisoner.
We had chopped down trees and stretched wires in every direction in front of the fort, so when the rebels charged they were thrown into great confusion. Their loss was something like 1200 men, our loss was very slight, but we won and the siege was ended.
One night while on picket, the General called for a volunteer to go out in front of the lines and get as near as possible to the rebel works to see if he could got any information in regard to their movements. I responded, and crawled on my stomach through the woods and brush directly down to the enemies' rifle pit. I could look over into their works, could see the men and hear their conversation, but did not get any information. Two rebels came out over their works within fifty feet of where I lay. One relieved a picket stationed near where I was, but I had not seen or heard him until then. I waited some time, then made my way back to the lines and reported to the General, who had waited all that time for me.
Our lines at that time were very near together, but in the night a vidette was always stationed between the lines to give the alarm in case of a sudden attack. One afternoon everything seemed very quiet. All at once scattering shots were heard coming down the line from both sides when a lively porker was seen running the gauntlet for his life. One of my company shot it, and I ran out and dragged him into our rifle pit. We cut him up and passed it along to the boys. Pork steak was soon served. We placed the hams on top of the pit and jokingly asked the rebels if they did not want some. From ten to eleven that night it was my turn at the vidette post. At eleven I was relieved. Just as I stepped back into my place on the picket-line, the rebels made a charge, taking the vidette prisoner and driving our line back a little way. When we rallied and drove them back to their old place, the hams were gone - and they got part of the pig after all.
The rebels retired and we were then ordered to report to Anapolis, Maryland. On the 5th and 6th
of May, we went into the Battle of the Wilderness. This I consider one of the most terrific battles of the war. It was fought in the woods, the rebels had their earthworks thrown up and fought behind them. During the 6th of May, we charged six times up against the rebel works and were driven back. On one of these charges, one of the enemies, a soldier of the South Carolina Rifles, lying behind a log, was taking deliberate aim at Major Draper, who was stand-ing exposed to his fire, and was in the act of firing when I sprang forward, struck up his musket with my own, and the ball passed through the Majors hat, knocking it from his head. Soon after this Major Draper received a wound from a rebel sharp-shooter.
In one of these charges as the line was beginning to drag and fall back, one of the boys sprang forward with his gun uplifted in the air and shouted “Come on! What are you going back for? They can’t any more than kill you.” This brave act aroused the enthusiasm of the men, so they turned back, and at the same time someone up the line struck into the patriotic song “Rally Round the flag, Boys, We’ll Rally Once Again.” This was caught up and ran down the line, everybody singing with a will. With a grand “Hurrah” and a rush over the works we went and drove the rebels from their position.
During the fight I was struck in the face by a bullet and while the wound was very painful and I was told to go back to the hospital I did not, but remained with the regiment. The next morning I count-ed 180 dead bodies at this spot without stirring from my tracks.
On the 12th day of May, at the Battle of Spotsylvania, another terrible battle took place in which we were engaged. In going into this fight we
had to go down a little hill, across a brook which was lined on both sides with great, high blackberry bushes bearing tremendously sharp thorns. It was all we could do to get through them, but we broke our way through and plunged into the brook, making our way across and up the hill to where the rebel earthworks were. There was a cart path through the woods, with a Virginia rail fence on each side; the rebels being stationed on one side and we on the other. We lost here a large number of our officers and men. I was shot in the left check with a bullet wedging into and splitting the bones, the point entering the antrum under the eye. I was ordered to the field hospital in the rear. In going back from the regiment to the hospital, one bullet cut my belt in two; one cut the dipper off my haversack, and another went through “the tail
of me coat”. But I managed to get over the hill and out of range alive, for which I was very thankful. I was helped back to the hospital and examined, but there were so many that were worse than I, that I had nothing done for it at the time.
The next day we were ordered to Fredericksburg, the ambulance carrying all those who were not able to walk, and the others who could walk were obliged to follow along after. It was eleven miles. The last mile and a half I was so faint and weak that I actually crawled on my hands and knees into the city. I found a deserted house, made my way in and laid down on the floor for the night. The next day a comrade who was on his way to the regiment found a place here to stop over night, and I was very grateful for his care of me at that time.
It was four days before my wound was dressed; then I found that the bullet was lodged in my head where I have carried it as a souvenir ever since. I was sent to the Columbia College Hospital at Washington. While there I had for a nurse a Miss Philie Heald, a Quakeress from Wilmington, Delaware. She was a very plain looking woman, but as good an gold. She treated me like an angel. One very beautiful morning she fixed me up nice and clean, saying she had a surprise for me. I tried to find out what it was, but she would not tell me. She left me, and after a little she returned. With her was Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States. I was indeed surprised and confused, but only for a short time for he sat by my bedside and asked me all about myself in such a way that in a moment I had no fear of him, and we chatted away as pleasantly as could be. To show how interested and sympathetic he was, he took a bead collar the nurse had taught me to make and which I was going to send home to my mother. He wanted to know about it, and at another time inquired how I was getting along with it. To tell the truth, Lincoln’s homely appearance did not at first impress me very favorably, I had heard of him as “Old Abe the rail splitter.” He seemed to me so uncouth and awkward. He did not conform to my boyish idea of what a President should be; while old Gen. Scott, with his gold epaulets, sash and sword, made a magnificent presence. Afterward I saw Lincoln two or three times a week, as he never failed to come and talk with me when he came to the hospital. I soon forgot his awkward appearance, and came to think of him as a very attractive and indeed lovable person. Mrs. Lincoln also came through the hospital several times, the servant with her carrying a big basket of oranges which she distributed among us. The last time I saw Lincoln I will speak of later.
From the hospital I came home to Sutton for a furlough of 60 days, returning to the regiment the 19th of August with my face still in bandages. The very next day we went into the battle of Weldon Railroad.
September 30th I went into the battle of Pegram Farm. Our Brigade was surrounded and a large part of them taken prisoners; but quite a number of us gathered around our colors with Major Draper in command. Giving me his sword to carry, he took the flag in one hand and his revolver in the other, and shouted “Come on and follow me, boys.”
This fight was like the Irishman's story of Donny Brook Fair. “Every man for himself and the Devil for us all.” We were Rebel and Union soldiers, Infantry and Cavalry, all mixed up together. It was fast and furious and the man that struck first and hardest was the best fellow. It was the only time during the war where our regiment came into hand to hand combat with the enemy. Swords, bayonets and revolvers did their deadly work, and many a good man bit the dust. We broke through the lines and made our way out. When we got out, the roll was called. There were just 52 who answered. Our colors were the only ones not captured in the brigade that day.
One Sergeant was shot through the face, the bullet went through his head, carrying many of his teeth with it. Another one of our men was hit in the cheek, which caused a very sore place. We could not understand what caused the soreness, as there did not seem to be any bullet there. One day he said he wished I would open the wound and see if I could find the cause of the trouble. I took my penknife and opened the wound. Upon pressing it a little, out popped one of those teeth that had been lost by the other man. This was my first experience in dentistry. You can imagine how relieved that man was to have a tooth extracted.
While on picket one day at this point, our line made an exact right angle. My post was at the extreme point, with a big farm house exactly at our left. Early one morning the rebels, being hungry, made a break for our line from the rear of this house. We who were on the right side of the house did not detect them until we saw our men disappear. We at once concluded that discretion was the better part of valor, and started in the same direction. For once in my life I found it impossible to run, so, seeing an old rifle pit, I plunged into it head first - and the rebels passed on over me thinking I had been shot. The four men with me were taken prisoners. Two were later exchanged, and two died in prison.
Of course the main line, hearing the rumpus, advanced at once and drove them back. Then I dug out and walked in all right.
A few days after this I was in charge of the picket line again, with a Lieutenant in command. It was supposed that the 5th Corps connected with
ours on the right, but upon reconnoitering in that direction I found that they were not within a long distance of us. Becoming uneasy about that Gap, at midnight I made a trip out that way again and found that the rebels were making their way through the Gap, with the evident intention, to my mind, of coming in our rear and capturing our picket line. I at once went back to report, but could not find the Lieutenant and so had to act for myself. I at once withdrew our line back across the field to the previous line that had been occupied by the rebels. I found this action taken none too soon, for at once we saw the rebels marching along in front of us. At the proper time I ordered a charge and drove them back to their old positions, capturing some prisoners in the melee. Of course the firing brought general officers on the field, who wanted to know what the trouble was. I was complimented very highly for the action I had taken. The officer who had been in command was courtmartialed and dismissed from the service.
A few nights later I was ordered to take our company to the picket line and form a new line from the troops on our right and to connect with the troops on our left. It was a bitter rainy night, and the territory I was to cover was through a heavy growth of underbrush. I started on the right, left a man there, then marched to the left, leaving a man about every twelve feet until they were all deployed. Then I went back the length of the line, giving each man his instructions as I went along. When I came to the third man I found him missing. Upon calling him I re-ceived no answer, and neither man to his right or left could account for his absence. It was a great mystery, as he was a pugnacious Scotchman, a good soldier and, we know, true blue; so it was impossible for us to account for his absence. We afterwards found that I had left him exactly opposite a rebel picket post of three men, who blanketed him, picked him up bodily and carried him away. He died later at Andersonville prison.
Sometime previous to this I had been promoted to Corporal. October 2nd as we were in line of battle we were greatly annoyed by a sharp-shooter, evi-dently posted in a tree, and by the raking fire of a battery also screened by trees. Accordingly Col. Draper detailed a soldier of my company, who was a good shot, to relieve us from this annoyance if possible. He crept out some distance from the picket line, found cover and waited for indications. He had not long to wait, for soon the crack of a rifle was heard and from a tree in the edge of the woods, back of the enemies' picket line, arose a telltale puff of smoke. He took careful aim and, to his delight, saw a gray clad Johnny come tumbling heels over heels out of the tree. The rebel pickets told us later that the man was a Lieutenant of sharp-shooters.
Our line was in front of a large corn field with the enemy supposed to be either in it or on the other side. Col. Draper, wishing to find out just where they were, called for a volunteer to go with him into the cornfield and discover their location. I was serving on the color-guard that day, but stepped out in front of the regiment and went with him into the field. It was my fortune to discover the rebels first. I gave a warning cry to the Colonel. We crouched down and darted back. The volley that followed went over our heads, so we escaped without injury; but my comrades have always felt that it was the second time I had saved Col. Draper's life. That afternoon while the regiment was in line, I was called to the front and Col. Draper announced to the regiment that I was promoted to Sergeant for meritorious action while on the battle field. I also was Acting Sergeant Major of the regiment for five months, was recommended by Col. Draper for a commission as Lieutenant to Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts, who declined to give me the appointment on account of my age, I being only 17 years old.
April 3, 1865, soon after daylight, orders were received to break camp and be ready to march at a moment's notice. We were then at Fort Rice in
front of Petersburg. Haversacks were filled, and everything was prepared for immediate advance. Never were marching orders more cheerfully obeyed. The day for which we had toiled, fought and prayed for so long had dawned upon us, and few indeed of that garrison resisted the impulse to ascribe all the glory to the God of Battles. Soon after sunrise the regiment partook of it’s last breakfast in the bomb-proofs of Fort Rice, which had been its home for four months. At nine o’clock orders were received to move in the direction of Petersburgh, and in a short time
the command moved over breastworks across the picket line, through the enemies defences which had been the scene of the sanguinary battle of the day before, and marched to Cemetery Hill, where a halt was ordered.
While resting here a cavalcade approached. It was the escort of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States. As the men recognized Lincoln their enthusiasm could not be restrained and amid the thundering cheers which he graciously acknowledged, the President rode away toward the city, where he received a grand ovation. Soon after this he fell a martyr to the Cause of Liberty. When it was known that he had been shot, the sad intelligence cast a shadow of gloom over the entire Nation, but nowhere was the sorrow more profound than among the soldiers of the army of the Potomac.
It is more than a century since Abraham Lincoln was born in a miserable cabin in the backwoods of Kentucky. The story of his life illustrated the magnificent possibilities which this land and age offer to the humblest boy, as well as reveals the grandeur of his character.
He was in turn a farmhand, a rail splitter, a storekeeper, a postmaster, a surveyor, a lawyer, a member of Congress, and was finally chosen to the most exalted position in the world by the voice of the people, to be President of this great Nation.
In his position as President, Lincoln exhibited qualities of character, political wisdom, diplomatic skills, and statesmanlike ability which enabled him to pilot the ship of state through the most momentous crisis through which it has ever passed.
To illustrate what a permanent hold some of his utterances have taken on the minds and hearts of the people, take the closing sentences of his first inaugural, “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mysterious chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living hearthstone all over this broad land will yet smell the chords of the Union when again touched as surely as they will be by the better angels of her nature.”
His second inaugural, in loftiness of moral sentiment, in simplicity and eloquence, has few equals in the English tongue.
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting place among ourselves and with all nations.”
To the soldier, how sweet and yet how sad are the memories of a day like this. In fancy we hear again the roll of the drum, the call of the bugle. The parting kiss is given; the farewell benediction spoken. Again we are in camp; on the dreamy march; in the battle front. The forms of comrades we loved rise before us, and we recall the day they fell, dropping out to die by the roadside, on the field, in the hospital, in the prison pen, or at home in the loving embrace of friends.
These brave fellows,
On fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with silent round,
The bivouac of the dead.
A united country gives thanks to God, while it murmurs sweet remembrance of the heroes. Shall we, who enjoy the benefits of peace and prosperity purchased by the blood of her martyrs grow forgetful of them and their sacrifices? The American youth has the noblest citizenship on earth, purchased by freemen. Our republic is our pride. Proud are we of a country which recognizes the rights of manhood with which our Creator has endowed His children. Proud are we of our freedom, which sees in every man a brother. All men, black and white, foreign and native born, stand beneath a flag whose folds shelter and protect them alike. A country like this men could die for in a country like this is worthy of every true mans best love. In all the devotion of our manhood then, we hail our common flag and salute her.
Flag of the free! Flag we love! Flag we suffered for! Flag we would die for!
Sutton Historical Society Webpage
Bookmark this site so you can reference it any time you need Sutton MA info in the future!
Join us on Google+