Affair at Des Sair [Desert] Station — John E. McCarthy

At your request I give you a detailed account of the engagement at Des Sair [Desert] Station, La., Dec. 10th., 1862, in which a detachment of Companies K and H of the 31st. Mass. Vol., under Lieut. Bond were attacked by the enemy composed of the 10th Arkansas Reg. under command of Col. McCloud. We left Camp at Bonnet Carre, on the Mississippi River, on the morning of the 10th. Arrived at Des Sair [Desert] about 3 p.m. After posting pickets, and while the cook was preparing food (bean soup) in the R. R. Station, the picket reported the enemy in sight. We then formed in line, and waited for the attack, which soon came in the form of a volley of musketry, wounding one man, (Daniel O’Brien). The order then came to lie down, load, and rise to the knee and fire; this, no doubt, saved many lives, as the enemy was in ambush in the swamps on either side of the railroad, while we were on the open railroad with no protection. We held them in check some thirty minutes and finding them to outnumber us, two-to-one, was forced to retreat with a loss on our side of 15 men [sic]: 2 killed, 4 wounded, and 7 prisoners. The enemy’s loss was reported at 6 killed and 9 wounded.

During the engagement, I was severely wounded, receiving a gunshot wound in the left side, breaking two ribs. I here wish to show the affection and brotherly feeling which at all times existed in the old 31st, especially in Company K. While wounded and lying on the field, perfectly helpless, private Emil Drach came to my assistance, and at a time when the fight was the hottest and the air alive with bullets, took me to the R. R. Station, and placed me carefully on the floor. By this time our boys were on the retreat with the enemy in hot pursuit. I requested Drach to remain in the building, as it was then surrounded, and any attempt to escape was sure death. Poor Boy! After grasping my hand Good-bye, and promising to write to my dear parents of what had happened, he passed out of the door, and when ordered by the enemy to surrender, he refused and was shot dead, not ten feet from where I lay.

Several of the enemy soon entered; I asked for a drink of water, but with an oath they refused, saying that if I did not die before morning they would put me out of misery. I lay there that night bleeding and suffering all I believe mortal man could endure, and with all my pleadings [was] refused each time with an oath and a threat to run me through with a bayonet. The following morning, they took Serg’t Louis Wade, who was also wounded, and myself in blankets a short distance, when a rebel surgeon asked where we were going; they replied that they were going to send us to the prison hospital at Jackson, Miss. The surgeon examined our wounds and ordered us back to the R. R. Station saying, “Those men are going to die.” They, then and there, left us to our fate, when the citizens of the village, although rebel sympathizers, gave us drink and nourishment and placed us on board of a small vessel on Lake Pontchartrain, which after an eight hour sail, landed us at the Marine Hospital, New Orleans, where Sergt. Wade soon after died. After my fifty-two hours of suffering, I had the ball extracted from near the spine. After remaining in hospital nearly six months, I was discharged June 19th., 1863.

To correct a previous statement, I would say, I was born Nov. 9th, 1845, enlisted Jan. 15th, 1862, age 16y, 2m, 6d, was discharged for wounds received in action June 19th, 1865, was granted a pension Oct. 1865, being then under 18 years of age. Actual length of service, 17 mos, & 4 days. — John E. McCarthy

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