Recollections of George U. Young, Co. K (continued)
[Editor’s note: Young utilizes “sic” in his narrative, typically for facetious emphasis. Our use of “sic” can be distinguished from his because ours appears only in brackets: [sic].]
Next day everything being quiet within sound of the Camp, we took turns in tramping off into the swamp, two at a time, in search of anything that would help to furnish us with a good dinner, as we had nothing in the way of rations left but hardtack and coffee and a little Salt Moss [?]. We found more than plenty of such things as we didn’t want, Aligators, young Snakes, and a species of the turtle called by the Southern people, Gopher. We went through the swamp and around into the Open and found ourselves in a patch of corn that was cultivated by one of those families that were known in those times as “White Trash”. These families generally had a log house and a small patch of land away back in the rear of the Plantations, and — as their place was always hard to get at from the River — consequently, of very little value financially. They were allowed by common consent to stay there as long as they didn’t interfere with the Niggers. After having filled our Haversacks with roastin’ ears, we made our way to the house — not without some misgivings, however, for we couldn’t tell what kind of company we should find there. The first signs, or sounds rather, of life that greeted us came from one of those animals that were owned in vast numbers, both by the Colored Brother and the Poor Whites as well — the Yaller Dogs. They barked at our heels, keeping out of the way of our kicks at the same time, and followed us or ran before us until we got to the house.
Here we found the family, the Mother and two girls and three or four boys between the ages or nine and three years. The Mother was perhaps forty-five years old, and the girls perhaps nine and sixteen years old respectively. As soon as we got in sight of the latter who was working with a hoe in a little patch of garden near the front of the house, she dropped the hoe as if she had been shot and running for the front door like some wild animal that was being hunted to death. She yelled out, “Ma – Ma – the Yanks have arriv, durnd if they ain’t right here.”
By this time, the young lady, and we too, had got into the house and found all the younger members of the family about scared to death, while the Mother, who was as pale as death, said, “Gentlemen, what do you want?” At the same time, she motioned with her small and delicate hand (all Southern ladies have small and beautiful hands) towards a couple of old rickety chairs, the bottoms of which were covered with some kind of dried skin, but stood looking at us as though she thought our object could be nothing short of robbery and insult and perhaps murder itself.
I knew from our experience in New Orleans (or thought I did) how we were looked upon by Southern women, and so was prepared for any amount of abuse and scorn. However, I pulled off my cap and said, “Madam, an answer to your question can be given in a very few words. We want, if you have them to spare, a few chickens, two or three dozen eggs, and a few of your tomatoes that we see growing in the patch in front of the house, all of which if we do get we are willing to pay for with good money. At the same time, we wish you to understand that you are to give them, if you give them at all, of your own free will. When we saw your house in the distance we thought perhaps it might be some place that had been deserted; had we known it was occupied with a Mother and her five children without any male protector, we never should have intruded upon the premises.”
“Be you ‘uns shore enough Yanks?” was the first question she put to us, still standing.
“Yes, Madam,” I answered. “We belong to the Yankee Army.”
“Be yer nothing but common Yank Soldiers?”
“Only Private Soldiers, I assure you.”
“Wa’al,” she said, “if it don’t beat all natur, I never in my life hearn Old Summers, or Old Baxter, or any of the folks up at the Parish (the little settlements on the Mississippi River were called Parishes) talk so easy to poor folks before. Fanny, put the skillet on the fire at once. We’ll make ’em a nice corn bread anyhow. Si, go see how many eggs you can scare up. Jinny, get a fresh pail o’ water and bring the Yanks a drink. ‘Yell, well, who-ud ever. Is all the Yanks like you ‘uns?”
“Some of the Soldiers in our Army,” I said, “as well as in yours, are no doubt rough fellows, but I hope and believe, seeing that they are all Americans, that the women and children will be respected and protected as long as circumstances will permit.”
“Jess so, Jess so,” she said, “Wa’ll, to be sure.”
I now reminded her that we only could stay a few minutes, as we should have to get back to camp, and asked her what she had to sell us for food.
“Well,” she said, “you kin have what eggs thar is, after you’ve had your dinner, and you kin have as much truck as you can carry, but I don’t want to part with any of my chickens, and we’ve only got two hogs, and I want to save those for the fall so as to have some meat in the house next winter for the children.”
“Ma — the corn pone is nice done, and the sweet potatoes is cooked and Pete has brung some lettuce and some green peppers from the patch,” we heard the girl say from the shed that was attached from the rear of the house, and upon looking around we found that that was the kitchen and dining room (when they didn’t have company).
“All right,” the Mother said, “bring the table in here — and now you ‘uns ‘ell have such is we have.” The woman’s kindness, although there was no polish about it, touched me in a tender spot. I could hardly keep the tears of gratitude back for there was a frankness and sincerity about her invitation such as I never expected to get and such also, as it seemed to me, that was far above the circumstances of life in which she was placed. Although neither of us had even mentioned the men folks of the family, and as she was dressed in light colored calicoes, it was pretty evident that her husband was living. Here she was, this Southern woman, knowing, or supposing us to be the bitter enemies of her Country, the cause in part of robbing her of her husband perhaps, or even her sons and her husband both, yet she was treating us as kind (in her rough way) as if she had been the Mother of both of us. I felt it a pleasure as well as my duty to thank her before partaking of what she had provided for us.
This being done, I said, “Madam, it would be quite a treat to us if you would allow the boys and girls to take dinner with us. I don’t like to ask you, yourself, but we should consider it a great privilege to be allowed to take dinner with you as well as with all your family.
“Wa’al,” she said, “if you don’t beat all. I’m afraid,” she added, “you’ll think we don’t know how to behave at table, for the boys never would behave at table when their Pa was to home, but we want to be kind to ye, an’ if it ‘el please ye we’ll all sit down together.”
“Hev ye all washed yer hands?” she asked the young folks as they began to get around the chairs and stools anxiously waiting to begin.
“Yes ’em,” they answered.
“Well then sit up everybody,” she said.
Such a dinner — nice hot cornbread, fried eggs and bacon, boiled and baked sweet potatoes, buttermilk that the Lady up at the big house had given one of the little folks (never dreaming who was going to drink the biggest part of it) with such “truck” as they could get out of the patch, and something that the poor people were drinking that they facetiously called coughee. I noticed the young ladies and the biggest of the children bending over their plates, and my presence of mind came just in time to make me do the same, while the Mother of the family bowed her head, shut her eyes and said, “Lord, we are all thy Children, Yanks and Rebs alike, we thank thee because thou carest for us all alike. We thank thee for this victuals that we are now about to enjoy. Bless it to all of us. Bless the two Yanks that is at our table today. Bless all the rebel soldiers and all the Yankee soldiers. Bless Father who cannot be with us. Bless all these dear Children. Bless me. Help us all to love thee and to serve thee as long as we live for Christ’s sake. Amen.”
It was no use when she said, “Now, Yanks, pars yer plates.” I could not keep the tears from the sight of this kind person any longer, and my Chum, who by the way was a Roman Catholic, crossed himself from top to bottom and from bottom to top, and said, “May God bless everybody that’s living this day, and so he may.” And so with kind talk first to the lady and to the young folks, we tried to make ourselves agreeable until like everything that is good, the dinner came to an end. And after telling the woman our names and all about Boston and Cambridge and our mothers and sisters, brothers and fathers, and having received permission to write to her, and a promise on her part that she would answer our letters if we did, we bade her goodbye — having our bags full of eggs and all the greens we could carry. They all followed us to the edge of the swamp, then she said come again if you are sent to the Rail Road to do Guard duty.
“I shall never forget you,” I said, “and I want to take your hand and the hands of all the young folks, but I hope to see you again. If I don’t, I will surely write (I will try at the proper time to copy this Lady’s letter, if I have not lost it) so now bless you all.”
We turned our faces and our footsteps towards Camp, and I heard the woman say to her daughters, “Wa’al now, if that don’t beat all — I wish yer Dad could ha bin here — Them is the best Yanks I ever see, but if they can’t behave I wouldn’t say it.
“Yes,” we heard the girl say, “durned if they kain’t.”
“Kind folks, good folks, I hope we shall see them again,” I said to my comrade as we pushed our way through the woods, and I thought to myself if all the Rebels are as kind and as good as this gentle-hearted woman, how can we justify ourselves in their sight? What excuse can we make to them for robbing them of their husbands, sons and brothers, and for taking away their only means of making a living? For that is about the only view such people as this take of the war that is now waging between the North and the South.
It was nearly dark when we got back to the shanty and it took us a long time to tell the Boys all the news. Not all of it for there were some things that had transpired that I thought ‘twould be wrong to even mention to such a company. I know now as I look back, it was a sad mistake on my part. For had I told my Comrades how this pure-minded but ignorant woman had prayed with us and for us while we sat at her table, it might have sown some seeds that would afterwards have sprung up into Eternal Life. Opportunities of this kind do not occur but once in the Life of any of us, and if that one is thrown away we shall be likely to remember it with sadness as long as we live.
We had a good supper and sat around until it got quite dark and after seeing that our Telegraph wires were all right, the four of us that were off duty turned in, and the other three were soon asleep. I lay awake for a long while going over again in my mind the events of the day, but finally dozed off into a kind of a broken sleep. About four o’clock in the morning, I think it must have been, the tin dipper over my head began to jingle and rattle like something possessed. At the same time, the air seemed to be alive with shouts and laughter. I got on my blouse as quick as possible, as did the other boys (we always slept with our trousers on while we were at the Rail Road) and out we jumped to find out what was the matter and the sight that met our eyes was one long to be remembered. There must have been nearly a hundred darkies of all ages, sizes and colours. They had run away from some Plantation up the river and were on their way to New Orleans. The news had spread among them that the Lincum Soldiers had freed all the slaves (the coloured people at that time never called us Yankees, they thought there was something mean about that name that we didn’t deserve). They had been coming down the Rail Road in the dark and had just reached the place where the wires were stretched across the track, and as we got out, some were picking themselves up, while the ones in the rear were falling down over them. Some of them were jumping about on one leg, having barked their shins, as they expressed it.
Then we could hear, as we went up the track a piece: “Ah! Lor, Ah! Oh! Oh, ho! Look out whar you’s falling, you careless nigger, you.”
“Bless my soul. Dear, Dear.”
Or else some mother trying to pacify her little ones that had been hurt by the fall. Most of them, however, took the thing as a big joke and laughed over it until we thought they would never stop long enough to speak to us. When they did one of the old Hands asked, “Say, Boss, who is you all anyways?”
“We are all right, Uncle,” I said. “We’re Yankee Soldiers.”
“Well t’ank de Lawd, but what’s all dis yar notionin wid dese yar tellemgraph wires? Why if twant de mose wonderfullest fixin we eber seed! Oh! Oh! We t’ought we was all done gone and fell into de han’s ob de Rebels, Shuah nough. But Bless de Lawd, we ain’t hurted a bit — leestwise we grown folks ain’t — and we’s powerful glad to see you all. ‘Deed we is.”
After they had told us where they had done come from and the adventures they had met with on the way, and had had a right smart rest, we started them on, telling them as well as we could what to do when they got to the next camp and assuring them of kind treatment from our Comrades whom they would meet when they get there. When they were out of sight and the sound of their voices, we began to pack up, this being our last day out there. It wasn’t very long before the Relief came, and after we had exchanged news and explained to the boys the use and reasons for our telegraph wires, we said good-bye, and after a march of a few miles through the woods and swamps, we found ourselves once more at home. Here we spent many days and weeks, each one only a repetition of the other, and I shall only mention one more incident that occurred here at this time, although I may later on.
The Judge Ross money (that’s what we called it) had not been all spent yet, and besides we had received one payment from the Government, and as a result whiskey in large or small quantities was brought into Camp every day. I had been out to the Levee on Guard for twenty-four hours (that was away up the river on the levee, bear in mind, so we used to go with a squad of men sufficient to have three reliefs, and so only had four hours on actual duty at the time). Well, we had just got back into Camp when we saw a great crowd of men very near to the Officer’s Quarters, and one of the men — who it seemed had been on guard recently, for he had on his belt and cartridge box and he held his gun in his hand with the bayonet fixed — was crazy drunk. One of the non-commissioned officers it seemed had ordered him under arrest, but he swore that he would shoot the first man that dared to touch him, and as everybody knew that his musket was loaded, and what a man will sometimes do when he is crazed by rot-gutt whiskey, it looked as if there was going to be trouble. The Sergeant left him there and went to Capt. Allen for instructions. He at once called Lieut. [William H.] Jones and gave him orders to take the man at once, dead or alive, and place him under arrest. Some of the men who thought they had influence with the man that was drunk, used every endeavor to persuade him to give up his gun. It was all to no purpose; he defied everybody, and at last the Lieut. stepped in front of him with a loaded revolver in his hand and said John, I want you to give up your gun, you are acting very foolish. He swore he wouldn’t give it up, and he would shoot the first man that tried to take it away from him. The Lieut. never took his eyes off him, but he said loud enough for us all to hear, “Boys, I am only obeying the orders of my superior officer.” The last word was hardly out of his mouth when the drunken man fell. We had heard a report; the smoke was curling around the mouth of the pistol. The first blood had been shed, and let me here say that in my estimation, no man throughout the whole war stood in a more dangerous position than did this officer as he stood before this drunken man with a loaded musket in his hand. It had only been the work of a minute, but the poor fellow, sober now, was lying flat on his back with a palour as of death spreading over his face, caused partly from fright and partly from pain. The Lieut. stooped over him and took his hand, spoke kindly to him and gave him a drink of water, while the men were bringing a hastily constructed stretcher; he was then carried as tenderly as possible to his bunk, and we learned as soon as an examination could be made, that he had been shot very near the ribs (on the left side, I think), kind nursing and good treatment soon brought him around and after some weeks, he was able to do some light duties pertaining to Camp life.
Our good times seemed now to be drawing near the end, for rumors had already reached Camp that in a few days we should have to pack up. So a good many of the fellows spent what time we had left in taking everything they could lay their hands on; others, in writing letters or fixing up their clothes, while others again were continually predicting all the evils or all the blessings that would befall us when we got once more on the march. I have no Knowledge of anything that occurred at either Fort [St.] Phillip, Fort Jackson or Fort Pike while we were here, but I know it will be ably presented by one who knows how.
But the Boat is at the Levee. The word, “Fall in,” is passing from mouth to mouth, and all too soon we found ourselves steaming away to New Orleans, where we had been ordered to join the Regiment. We met with no incidents worth mentioning on our way down the River. One of the fellows, however, set fire with his pipe to a bail of cotton, that for some unexplained reason had been left on the forward deck. This was accidental, of course, but it caused as much terror for a few minutes among the coloured deck hands as if it had been done on purpose. The way they got around that deck stepping on one another’s feet (not a very difficult feat by the way) was as good as a Circus. If the Mississippi River had been on fire they couldn’t have made much more noise. The Captain and Pilot took things in hand and between them, and after much swearing and very little work, the fire was put out, and not long after the Boat landed us a little below Carrollton, a little town about four miles from the City. (This town is now one of the wards of the City having been annexed some years ago.) We fell in promptly and at night found ourselves once more in our old Camp and received a hearty welcome from the other companies, who some days before had come up from the Forts.
Gen. Banks now having taken command of all the troops in New Orleans preparations, were being made for a campaign that was soon to commence. We were crowded on to the River Boats and taken up the Mississippi into what was called the Teche Parish. Here or somewhere near here, we commenced a long series of marches of about four hundred miles in length, but I can think of nothing worth writing about until we reached Port Brizland [Bisland]. Here, for the first time, we saw the Rebel soldiers and the Union soldiers in deadly conflict. As we approached the first line of breastworks, we heard all too soon the rattle of musketry, with now and again the booming of artillery. Some of the Companies of our Regiment had been ordered out as skirmishers, while what was left had been ordered by column into line — forward — march. We had not got very far when our Regimental flag was seen to fall to the ground. Sergeant Wade, a most noble soldier and a dear good man, who had been carrying it, stooped over a little as if he was about to pick up something, then he clasped his hands around the lower part of his stomach and with a groan from his lips and a smile on his face, he fell on the flag that he had been faithful to even unto death. Let his name be held in reverence by every man of the 31st Regiment, for he was a most faithful comrade while living, and he left to all of us a noble example in his death. And aside from this fact, he was also the first man out of the whole Brigade that was called upon to give up his life for his Country, and I think I may be pardoned for saying that it was a great honour to the Regiment to have one man like this (even if she had no more) to offer as a representative of the old Bay State.
While we nave been talking, the Sergeant has been sent to the rear and we have received once more the order to push forward and to keep close as possible to the skirmish line. Our Regiment was not the first to get up to the first line of breastworks, I remember, for as we got nearer we met Companies and Regiments coming to the rear, having fired away all their ammunition. And besides, we passed the wounded that were either limping along or being carried to the rear. I saw in passing one poor fellow with a most ghastly cut in his face, which the men who were leading him told me had been done by the thrust of a bayonet. Every soldier well knows how we felt as the Minnie balls and buckshot dropped around our feet or passed over our heads. We kept moving on, however, until we got within sight — and sound, also — of the first line of breastworks, so called. This was nothing more than a rudely constructed Virginia fence with branches of trees pulled along the inside, and the crevices filled up with dirt and sods of grass together with such litter as is generally found lying around a camp. As we drew near, the firing became so heavy for awhile that we were ordered to lie down; in this way, no doubt, many of us escaped being shot, for the Rebels were getting desperate, as it was evident they would have to give way pretty soon. This they wouldn’t do without a struggle, for I could see them on their side of the fence, and some of our men on the other, clubbing each other with the butts of their muskets, or using the bayonets, if they could get a chance. Bayonets or butt ends of muskets, however, couldn’t keep our boys back long, for soon after, the Fort was taken, although I think the greatest part of the forces that were there made their escape. At any rate we had won our first battle, and so after a night’s rest we pushed on with our faces turned towards Port Hudson.
As we passed around the Fort and by the breastworks, we saw lots of dead soldiers both Union and Confederate, lying just where a few hours ago they had been just as full of life and hope as we were now. One old man with a butternut coat and straw hat was lying there sleeping the sleep of death; he had in one hand one of of his boots that was all ragged and full of holes. It would seem that he had taken it off to shake out the sand or gravel that had been hurting his poor old feet, and had been struck with a piece of shell while in the act of stooping down. One of the boys spread his coat over him as well as possible, but he had to come back into the ranks before he had time to do any more, so we pushed on, one or two of the fellows trying to get off a joke now and again, but I for one could not enjoy any joking just then. I felt too sad and too scared to, if I tell the truth.
As we went on we exchanged our overcoats or haversacks for better ones, as there were plenty that had been thrown aside in the hurry of the Battle, and some picked up extra shelter-tents, or rubber blankets. But before we had marched many days, we were glad to throw them away again, for some days we marched from fifteen to twenty miles and when night came we were tired enough. I have forgotten how many days we were on the road, but soon enough for the most of us we found ourselves in the vicinity of Port Hudson.
Our Regiment had been rear Guard for some time, and when we halted for the night, we found hard work to get wood to make a fire, for the fences had been destroyed along the whole route. Complaints had been brought to the Commanding General from so-called Union men living in the vicinity, so many times that he had determined now to stop it, and now an order had been issued to all the troops that the top rail only of the fences were to be taken hereafter. This order was good enough in itself and the General seemed to think that he had done his duty in issuing it, but after the construction that was put upon it by the troops, it turned out to be one of the most absurd that was ever sent forth to a lot of Soldiers on the march. For we often found to our sorrow if we happened to be the last Regiment coming into Camp, that the first Regiment had taken the top rail, then the next Regiment would take what they found to be the top rail, the next and next would do the same, until the bottom rail became literally the top rail, and so that would go with the others to make Camp fires for the boys, and the General’s order (sic) had not been disobeyed. For the first few days after arriving, we did nothing but lie around Camp, doing Guard duty when it came to our turn, and going, a few at a time, to help the cook get water, or else going off to fill up the canteens, each man that went carrying as many as he could carry.
Having got so far, I find it very difficult to pick up all the incidents of the campaign, having nothing but my memory to guide me, but I know the mistakes I shall make as well as the wrong time or place at which anything may be stated to have occurred will be properly corrected by the Historian of the Regiment. Knowing this to be so, I will do the best that I can.
While I have been making this digression, word has come to us that Gen’l Andy Johnson with twelve thousand Confederate troops has arrived in our rear, and is threatening an attack upon our Commissary wagons which are scattered along the roadside in our rear, and which at this especial time would be a prize more valuable than the same number in regiments of Union soldiers taken prisoners. Every day or two we were marched off, first in one direction then in another, having at one time a little brush with the enemy, making them run or being made to run by them. And another time having five or six regiments on each side engaged for several hours at one time. While we were engaged in these little pastimes matters of a graver nature have been taking place at the Front. Preparations had been made, and the time agreed upon, for an assault upon the whole line of works, and the 31st Mass. had been detailed to play a most conspicuous part. On the evening before which it was to take place, we were instructed, every man, how to play, (not the right word I think), how to act his part. There had been gathered or made for the occasion, I don’t know which, some two thousand bags — each capable of holding and packed with about fifty pounds of cotton. These were tied together by the mouth and we were ordered that as soon as the words “Fall in” were given in the morning, we should each one take two and put them over our shoulder so that one would protect us in front and the other behind, taking our guns in our hands. In this way, we were to march up to the Moat in front of the first line of breastworks, to throw them in as far as possible and to pay strict attention to whatever orders should be issued at that time, for the General couldn’t calculate to a certainty (as we soon found out) whether we should be able to go ahead or have to fall back. Having received these orders and instructions, as I said, the night before, we were told to lie down and get what rest and sleep we could, but to be all ready at the first call to fall in as quiet as possible. It wasn’t very easy to sleep as yet, for we had not got accustomed (as we did later) to the snapping sound of the Rebel’s muskets as they kept popping and sending out their one ball and three buck-shot each. However the morning came and with it the orders to fall in every man with his two bags and musket and bayonet, those that hadn’t slept as well as those that had. As we had no time to get any coffee we were marched past the Quartermaster’s tent and each man was given a half pint cup about half full of whiskey, and as many of the boys couldn’t drink any or very little, they gave their share to some man that was only too glad to get it and their own too. I remember I took a good drink out of my cup and I thought I should never live to carry my bags very far for my breath seemed to be gone clear out of my body. I jumped around for a few minutes like a person that had gone crazy. I couldn’t speak or make any outcry whatever — all I could do was point to my throat. I didn’t even realize for the minute that I had water in my canteen hanging at my side. One of the fellows came to my relief, and having given me a drink of water and slapping me on the back a few times, I gave a great cough, then the water began to run from my eyes and nose, and as I didn’t want to be taken for a green-horn in such matters, I said to the fellows that had gathered around me — it must have gone down the wrong way. Well you are going the right way now, the Captain answered, who had overheard my remark, and so get right into your place at once.
Before we start on I must say a few words about the Regiment which was to precede us on our march. The [BLANK] , I think, Mass. Vols., nine months men who had arrived some few days ago from Baton Rouge, a place they would be likely to remember very distinctly from what occurred a few weeks after. This Regiment had been detailed to go ahead of our Regiment, and to deploy as skirmishers, and they were to take, each man, two hand grenades. They were ordered to advance as far as possible to the edge of the moat and then throw them into the enemy’s lines. If this order had been faithfully carried out it must have caused consternation as well as loss of life to the enemy, but when they got close enough they found the buck-shot whistling about their ears to such an extent that they got awfully scared, and no one will be inclined to blame them for that. At the same time, we cannot overlook the fact that they acted very foolishly and some of them very cowardly, for some of them dropped their grenades and made for the rear as fast as they could run. A few threw them over, with such little force however that they didn’t explode, so the Johnnies threw them back again — not doing a great deal of harm it is true, but scaring the fellows that were running away almost to death. One man passed me running for his very life. He was holding his hand over that part of his body that a soldier is supposed never to allow the enemy even so much as look at, and he was yelling at the top of his voice, “I’m shot. I’m shot.” “If you ain’t, you ought to be,” was all the sympathy he got from our men as he passed out of our sight to the rear.
We kept moving along a little, then halting, then moving again, when all of a sudden there burst forth from our right flank and not a great distance off, the most awful sights and sounds imaginable. Volley after volley of shot, shell, grape, canister, and musket balls, all coming at once and by the thousands, so staggered us that we didn’t know what to do, and had it not been for the coolness of our officers, who shouted out — “every man lie down” — we should have been killed almost to a man. We lay flat down on the ground and put our cotton bags in front of us as a shelter from the bullets that went whistling by almost every minute, thinking that the storm would soon be over, but we soon learned that we were destined to remain there all day, for some disaster that we knew nothing of then had taken place at other points along the line. We didn’t mind it much for the first hour or two, but when the sun got up and we got the full force of it down on our heads with no protection whatever, it began, to say the least, to get uncomfortable. And besides, we soon got out of water, and to live all day in that condition without water was altogether impossible. We knew there was a small stream or bayou off in our left rear, but how to get it there was the rub, for no one dared for a moment to lift his head above his cotton bag. If he did, he was sure to be shot at by some of the rebel sharpshooters that were watching for just such an opportunity. It was finally decided by our Captain that we should begin on the left of the line, and that four men should take each two canteens (it wouldn’t have been fair to make them take more than this number as they had to run the gauntlet of the enemy’s fire all the way to the creek and back) and if they got back successfully, then the next four and so on during the day as necessity required. Several trips were made successfully I believe during the forenoon, but it resulted at last in one of the most dreadful deaths that could possibly come to a soldier engaged in legitimate warfare. Lying next to me on the right was a poor little German named [Charles] Knackfuss that had enlisted in New Orleans. He used to make us laugh at his broken English, and often when in conversation with him, he used to tell me all about his folks and what a good time he intended to have when he got back to “Yarminy”; he had been telling us only that morning about his Fadder and Modder and how well off they were on the little farm on the banks of the river Wasser. It had now got to be his turn, his name having been called with some others. The canteens were passed along from hand to hand, and he had them all strung together ready for a run. We cautioned him not to jump up until he was ready to run and then to run as fast as he could (some of the fellows who always wanted to be funny said, Run as fast as the Devil will let you). Anyhow the poor fellow put his head up over his cotton bag to see if the way was clear, and no sooner had he done so than I heard the yip of a bullet and at the same moment I saw poor Knackfuss put his hand up to his head. He held it there for a minute and then fell down alongside of me — a most horrible sight. The ball had struck him in the forehead and knocked the top of his head off, or nearly so, for he put both his hands up again and seemed to make a grab for the wounded place, and when he took them away they were filled with flesh — blood, and I believe, a part of his brains that came from the gaping hole that the bullet had made. We that were near enough to him did what we could to soothe his agony. We plucked up hands-full of stunted grass and having made it wet with water that at that time was worth more than its weight in gold, we put it on his head, then having cut off the tail of his blouse we threw that over him and had to lie there and hear him groan and see him die. Besides this, the sun was pouring down on our own heads most terrible. We had now no water to drink and we were more than ever afraid to stand up to see what was going on, so we had to lay and suffer and fret (and swear, some of tie fellows did) until darkness came to our relief. Then, most gladly, we obeyed the orders to fall in, but to make no noise or to speak even in whispers. When everything seemed favourable, the word was passed along — forward, march — and in less than an hour we were once more in the rear and for the time being, safe. And so ended our first assault upon Fort Hudson or Port Hudson, as I believe it was then called.
After this we lay comparatively quiet for several weeks only shifting our quarters from time to time as circumstances arose. After this, we were detailed with many others for the work of digging trenches, and the thoughts of those days makes my flesh almost creep after all these years, for aside from the hard work of using picks and shovels, which to many of us was bad enough, the condition of the place was something terrible. Day after day and week after week, gangs of men had been going there working, eating, sleeping, and in other ways complying with the just demands of nature until now everything and everybody seemed to be covered with filth and alive with vermin. At all hours of the day officers and men alike would be seen with their shirts or drawers or perhaps both off ridding themselves of those most troublesome pests (I may as well say it, it was lice), they would throw them into the sand where they would be taken up by the man who should come next, he in his turn would in like manner pass them along with their increased numbers, and so on and on, until I believe about every man in the camp was literally alive. Add to this the scarcity of proper food and the miserable water, and then wonder if you can that there were so many taken to the rear side. It is more of a wonder that we were not all so taken or that some vile disease didn’t break out among us and kill us all. But though sickness, filth and want now had its sway, yet must we live to want another day.
Perhaps this is a fitting place to speak a good word for our own Company Cook (Co. K) James Powers. He gave us many a good mess of baked beans, and brought them to us at no little risk of his life. There may be some men in the Regiment that didn’t get any, so I will say a few words as to how they were cooked. The beans were first of all put into a Camp Kettle (a large round iron pot holding about two buckets full) and after being covered with water, were allowed to remain five or six hours to soak. Then a hole was dug in the ground about twice the size of the kettle, the bottom was then covered with burning coals (from a wood fire, of course) the kettle was put in, then the sides and top were packed with more burnt coals. The top of the hole was covered with a piece of old iron, then a little fire kept burning on top of that. In this way our Cook prepared us some of the very best baked beans that I have ever tasted, but at that time we thought them better than all the other food that we could get and as we knew they were prepared under many difficulties and at a good deal of risk besides, we were very thankful, and I think our Cook was deserving of all the praise that we gave him.
Now I will pass on to other scenes that will have something more serious about it than eating and drinking, for by this time the enemy’s forts were being bombarded from all points. And it seemed at every hour and minute of the day and night, and quite as often and from as many points, we were being shelled, and quite as often sending shells in return, but we had got so accustomed to it that we no longer ducked our heads when a shell passed over, neither did the roar of the cannon or the yip of the musket ball keep us awake o’ nights.
It was never safe in those days to keep away from Camp very long, and there was more danger after all in Camp than there was anywhere else. As an illustration of this fact, I will just relate an incident that took place not very far from our Camp. It was one night or evening, rather at supper time, there was a Regiment from New York camped down the road not a very great distance from us, and as I had a brother in the 15th New York Engineers that I had never as yet heard from since I had left home, I used every chance that I could get to go around among the New York Regiments trying, if I could, to find out where his Regiment was. This was what took me on my journey this night. As I drew near to their street (for be it known that even at Port Hudson we had our Camps or Company Quarters called after some street at Home) I saw right under the foot of an immense Cottonwood tree a large Camp fire, and hanging over it on the iron dogs were the Camp Kettles, some filled with meat, others with coffee (so-called) and one filled with large white beans. The men had a short while ago come in from the trenches, and they all looked, and no doubt were, tired and hungry as well. They were all sitting and lying around the fire resting and telling yarns — happy as they could possibly be under the circumstances. I was yet some distance from the fire when I saw a shell plowing its way overhead in the direction of where the men were sitting. I stood right still for I was too much scared to move, but the shell kept on its Hellish way until it was right over the fire when it struck the tree and fell right into the fire bursting into hundreds of pieces, killing only two men for a wonder, but I think there were eighteen wounded, and some of them were badly wounded too. Men from Regiments that were near by came at once to the rescue. The dead were covered over with their blankets; the poor fellows that were able to bear it were carried off to the hospital tent, and I made my [way] back as fast as I could to my Quarters, wishing in my inmost soul that I were once more back in Boston. But after a night’s sleep I didn’t seem to care anything about it, and some of the fellows that I told about it seemed to think it was quite a joke.
A few days after this our Regiment together with other Regiments of the Brigade were ordered to the right of the Line, and to get there we had to march all one night. We got along very well for an hour or two, but as we got farther away from the main body of troops, the then familiar sound of near musketry and distant cannon came booming and cracking to our ears. The ground in many places was very uneven and in places covered with stumps of trees that had no doubt been cut down for firewood before the Union troops had arrived on the ground. What tumbles we did have that night to be sure and how scared we did get once in awhile when we could see through the trees by the help of the distant Camp fires, bodies of soldiers marching about, not knowing whether we should encounter in the darkness friend or foe. But we kept on for awhile and when we had reached what seemed to be a little forest and a great swamp combined, and when it was very dark from the number of great trees that were around us on every side, we heard a tremendous firing of muskets, several volleys in quick succession, several yells, then cheers, then all was still. It seemed like the quietness of death for a few minutes, but when those few minutes were over, we saw a long blue line, and before we had time to hear any orders (if any had been given), we found ourselves all mixed up with the men who had met us from the other direction. Orders to Halt were at once given, the other Regiment halted at the time we did, and our officers and theirs met for consultation. Ours thought no doubt (and the men thought the same) that the enemy were in force not a long way off. In a little while we learned what had been the cause of all the trouble– it seems that two regiments, one from Connecticut and one from New York, had met each other in the darkness, and each one taking the other for the enemy had fired first a few shots and then several volleys before they found out that both Regiments belonged to the Union Army. This news served to make [us] more cautious and at the same time made our position more dangerous, for when we saw, as we did quite often, squads of men dodging behind the trees, or saw the flash of a musket in the distance, we were afraid to fire lest we should kill some of our own boys that were out protecting their own Camps.
By this time the army had made slow but sure advances towards the front, and now the news was brought to us that we should without delay join the Division to which we belonged, as a general advance was to be made along the whole line. So we got back as soon as possible and held ourselves in readiness to move at the first tap of the drum. Not many days after, the orders came, and for a whole night and a part of next day we kept on advancing and retreating, skirmishing at one time, moving by Companies another time, and so on until we had driven the enemy inside of the last line of his Fortifications. Here we rested again until the 3rd of July, when the news reached us that Vicksburg had surrendered. This caused general rejoicing throughout the Camp. Next morning at daylight flags of truce were seen flying from the tops of the ramparts around the Rebel General’s Headquarters. We were told every man to remain in Camp, and in no case to discharge our guns unless explicit orders were given to do so. All kinds of rumors were now circulated by the boys. Some predicted one thing and some another, but we hardly expected the good news that was to be brought to us before we should eat our supper that night, but the news did come for Port Hudson had surrendered.
Before leaving Port Hudson I will speak of one incident that took place there, for although it was perhaps not much thought of at the time, it created very unpleasant feelings amongst our men towards other Regiments later on. Some days before the final assault took place, one of the nine months regiments’ (from Mass.) term of service had expired, and on this account they refused to do any more duty, but demanded that they should be sent Home. When the news was carried to the General commanding, he ordered two regiments from another Brigade to march at once with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets to their Quarters to put them under arrest. They were then brought disarmed to Headquarters where in the presence of several Regiments they received a most scathing denunciation for what he called their cowardly behavior. He then asked them if they were willing to resume their duties until after the surrender, but they believing they were in the right, and perhaps they had been told so by their officers, refused to do so. They were then sent under guard to Baton Rouge and placed as prisoners in the Penitentiary there to await orders from the War Department. Some days after, as we entered the City [Baton Rouge], we saw them looking out of the Prison windows. They were laughing and joking and having a good time generally, and we believed at the time (and I have no reason to doubt it now) that they were making fun of our tired and shabby appearance as we marched past them. Our men eased their own minds somewhat by calling them the most vile names of which “coward” seemed to be the most pleasant. Soon after, they were sent home having received their discharge, and when they arrived in Boston, they were received with unbounded demonstrations of enthusiasm, and each man being counted a hero in himself was presented with a minature [sic] American Flag — quite different, I have been told, was that given to our Regiment when they returned after serving faithfully for three years and four months. I didn’t go home with the Regiment myself, but I got my information from men who did.
Having said so much, I go back to Baton Rouge where I find our Regiment encamped on a nice grass plot, near by and facing the Penitentiary, which building was guarded by some companies of Colored Soldiers. Here again some of Co. K men began to show their rascality, for though not an eyewitness, I was told afterward that the lead pipes that ran from the gutters to the conductors and from the conductors to the ground were stolen and sold or pawned for whiskey, notwithstanding the fact that the colored soldiers were stationed all around on the outside of the walls.
After staying here for some time, we went again to New Orleans if I remember aright, and after re-enlisting were granted a furlough to go home. Many of the men didn’t re-enlist and of course they had no furlough granted them and they staid [sic] around New Orleans doing various kinds of duties until we should return. One day, I went on board one of the Mississippi river boats in company with a detachment that was going home. We were to go as far as Cairo, Ill. by the boat and there take cars for Boston, and we expected, when we went on board, to be at Cairo in two days and three nights. But we didn’t get to our journey’s end until the fifth day out, for we met with several adventures on the way that caused a lot of delay besides putting us to a good deal of trouble. Things went along all right until the second evening out, as near as I can remember, about 6 o’clock on this evening we were going around one of those sharp bends in the river, where the opposite shore was near enough to throw a stone across; we were all sitting or standing around in groups listening to or telling yarns, when all of a sudden we heard the well known yip of the Rebel shotgun, and then came like a shower of hailstones, a volley of buckshot right in amongst us. I don’t know how it came about but I believe there was not a man hit amongst us, although we had some awful narrow escapes. As soon as the officers in command took in the situation, orders were at once given to back the steamer so as to get out of range long enough for a consultation to be had. Now we had all given up our arms in New Orleans before coming on board, but it so happened that we had some cases of muskets and bayonets on board that we were taking to Cairo, from whence they were to be sent, I think, to Gen. Smith, who was at that time somewhere farther up the river.
We were ordered to fall in, every man that was able to carry a gun. We were then formed into two companies, and having fixed bayonets were told to be ready to land in five minutes. The boat was then started ahead and steered directly for the point where the shots had come from, and as soon as she touched the land we jumped ashore and fell in. Right behind us and stretching away for perhaps half a mile was a grove of timber and scrub brush, and we caught sight of perhaps thirty or forty Confederate Soldiers all mounted, but hanging around as though they were waiting for someone or else waiting for orders. We were in hopes that they had not seen us land, so we started off on a double quick with the intention of trying to cut them off before they could get away from the River front. We got as quickly as possible around the edge of the timber, but only in time to see them already in the distance making ready for a run. Before they did run, however, they fired a good many shots at us which we couldn’t answer, as we had no ammunition, but as we had carried our point, which was really to scare them off, we started back for the boat. And having all got safe aboard, we hauled as near as possible to the opposite shore and started once more up the River, thinking ourselves lucky to have got off so safely from what seemed at first sight to be a very dangerous position.
But we soon found out we were not out of the wilderness yet, for we had not been on our way more than half an hour when all of a sudden we heard the snapping boom of a field piece and heard and saw a host of small-size shot falling around our heads. The Pilot turned the boat’s head for the middle of the river and ordered all lights out (for by this time it was getting quite dark) and put all steam on and steered again up river so as to get us out of the narrow bend before anything more serious should happen. We were just getting into the wider channel when we received another volley of small shot which resulted, I believe in one man being shot. This man was lying in one of the berths above deck, sick, and was, I think, on his way home on sick furlough. I have forgotten the circumstances now, but I believe he died later on from the effects of the shot; his name however I cannot recall to mind now.
Incidents of this kind, more or less unpleasant, if not dangerous, occurred several times in going up the River, but we got through them all one after another and finally got to Cairo, and after the usual amount of delay and vexation of spirit, we found ourselves on board one of the emigrant trains bound for Boston. Before we started, however, a good many of the men managed to fill up their canteens with something a good deal stronger than water, which soon showed its effects, and when the first night came sleep was almost out of the question. As many as could put their blankets down on the floor of the car; the others made an apology for a bed by putting two or more seats together and putting their blankets on them and lay down trying to get some rest if they couldn’t get any sleep. We were all glad, however, when the sun peeped into the car next morning for it wasn’t any too warm all night in the car, and when we came to a little station where we were told we should probably have to remain some three-quarters of an hour while the engine took in wood and water, we began to look around to see what the chances were for breakfast, and also for replenishing the canteens. We didn’t have long to wait before several women and children came along with good things to sell, so we soon had a good breakfast of chicken, fresh pork, corn bread, sweet potatoes, gingerbread, squash pies, boiled eggs, coffee, milk, etc.
The people besides being very patriotic were very kind, and no man was allowed to go without breakfast if he didn’t happen to have any money, as I think there were one or two cases. We left the station feeling quite happy for this was the first hearty welcome we had received, and now there was waving of handkerchiefs and good-byes seen and heard along the line showing us very plainly that we had left behind us all the unpleasant and sad scenes connected with the War. As we passed one of the little stations, we saw standing in front of a small but neat farmhouse a sight that called forth innumerable cheers from our men — a little girl some five or six years old waving a large American flag, on one side of her was her mother dressed in mourning (the significance of which we knew pretty well) and waving her white pocket handkerchief; on the other side of the little girl was a boy looking two or three years older, dressed in soldier’s clothes having a wooden gun which he was holding as well as he could in the position of Present Arms. Behind them all and sitting on a tree that looked as if it had just been hauled up from the timber, was a grey-haired old sire waving his straw hat with both hands, and we could very well imagine him to be saying – God bless all of you. After we had passed them a lot of the fellows voted to drink their health, which I believe they did in corn whiskey, procured I don’t know how or where, but I guess at the last place where we stopped for breakfast. This duty being done, I presume a good many of the men never thought of it after, but it is a picture that often comes up before my memory after all the years that have passed since that time.
We went along all right after this until some time in the afternoon when we found ourselves approaching one of those long and steep grades that the Western States were noted for at that time; the train began to slack up from its ordinary speed which I think was about fifteen miles an hour down to ten, then six, and before we got half way up, to about two miles an hour. We were now passing beautiful farms, and orchards of immense length; some of the apple trees were just loaded and we decided to have some. We get permission from our officers to get out of the cars and walk alongside, and guards were sent ahead of the train on the double quick with orders not to allow a man to get over any of the fences, so they got over themselves and threw the apples over just as fast as we could pick them up. In this way we filled our haversacks and our pockets. Then we would run again and while the train was coming up we would have a good time generally.
After a couple of hours, we all went aboard again and after having our supper began to smoke, play cards, and tell stories to pass away the time until bed time. All at once, we heard the old engine puffing and blowing, the bell ringing, the train men swearing, while some of our own men were laughing, and everybody seemed to be talking at once. The Corporal that had charge of the rear door of our car, opened it to see what was the matter, and then we found out what the trouble was. We had just got to the top of another short, but very steep grade, and some person had watched an opportunity when the two cars jolted together to pull out the connecting pin that kept the officer’s car and ours together. No sooner was this done than the car with all the officers began to stop, then back down hill, and when we looked out, there they were about half a mile back (having stopped the car with the brakes as well as having got to the bottom of the hill), waving our flag, and yelling for the engineer to come back and hitch on their car. We went back and got their car coupled on to the train, and as inquiries as to the person who did the mischief were to no purpose, it was passed over as a joke and we went on our way again.
Night had now come on again and we had to solve the problem once more how we could get a night’s rest and sleep in our penned up quarters, for it was impossible for us to lie down in the car all at once. I think I mentioned it before that the seats in the emigrant cars that ran west from Chicago at this time were nothing more than a two inch plank about ten inches wide running from side to side fastened to legs about two feet from the floor, with a space of perhaps two feet between each one, and so arranged as to Leave a space through the middle of the car just enough for one person to walk in comfortably. Now this was the last night that we expected to spend in this car for we were told that we would reach Chicago the next night, and that then we should be provided with better accommodations after we got there. On the strength of this supposition, the fellows tore up enough of the seats to give us all room to spread our blankets on the floor of the car, which we did and so made out a pretty good night. This was well enough while night lasted, but in the morning when we woke and wanted to fix the seats again we found ourselves in trouble, for during the night some of the fellows had thrown them out of the doors and windows, and they were now miles behind on the tracks, and now when we got tired of standing or walking around the car we had to sit down on the floor of the car and take our chances (which were at all times favourable) of getting walked on or spit on every few minutes. On arriving at Chicago, we got into a first class car and went on to Boston where we arrived in due time, and when I commence again our furlough will have expired and the Regiment will be on its way back to New Orleans, where I will try to follow them.
From Baton Rouge the Regiment went down to Carrolton about eight or nine miles above New Orleans and at that time one of the suburbs of the City, but since made by annexation one of its outlying wards. Here a majority of the men having reenlisted the Regiment was promised it should be transferred to the Cavalry branch of the service, and so we turned in our infantry accoutrements and were supplied with horses, receiving at the same time orders to drill every day for the present in riding. This was only fun to the boys that came from the hill country farms, for nearly all of them had learned to ride before they left home. The big trouble with them was they all had a habit when riding of making a noise very much like the cackling of a rooster. This was done every time they wanted their horses to start, or to go faster after they had already started — although it sounded all right when they were behind the plough, or driving the old market wagon, it was considered out of place and very un-dragoonlike, and orders were given that it must be stopped right away. But all this was but a trifle when compared to the troubles that surrounded Co. K. Many of their fellows had never been on a horse’s back in their lives — that is, not since when they were little boys when they rode on wooden rocking-horses in their own happy homes. But whatever they learned about riding then (if they learned anything) was forgotten by this time, and they were just as much out of place on the back of a horse as the horse would have been if he could have been put on their backs. Especially was this true for the first few days, and when we had to take our horses down to the river to water, at these times we were only allowed a halter, and when we were made to trot our horses, as was the case quite often, it was quite funny to see what tricks the fellows would resort to to keep from falling off. Many was the good tumble we had, and how sore we did get to be sure, but we often had more trouble than fun when we got down to the river. Some of the horses would rush in and threaten destruction to themselves and their riders as well. Others wouldn’t go near the water at all; it didn’t matter how much they were coaxed or how much they were beaten, and many times from experience did we realize the truthfulness of the man who wrote — one man may lead the horse down to the brink; ten thousand soldiers cannot make him drink.
But we got used to our horses after awhile, or perhaps they got used to us, for after awhile we were able to ride pretty well, and then we had to take our first lessons in the use of the sabre. We got along very well at this as long as we were kept a long distance from each other, as Videtts would always be likely to be. But as soon as we were brought near to each other our lives were in danger, for the man behind was just as likely to give you a back-handed cut, as the one in front. Notwithstanding all the ups and downs that beset us here, we enjoyed ourselves pretty well, at the same time it must be borne in mind that we were not idle. What with drills, first mounted, then dismounted, guard duty, dress parades, inspections, and police duty, so-called (though only doing the work of a scavenger and a vagabond, and why a menial [task] should in military parlance be dignified by the name of “Police duty” is something that I have never yet found out, for it is a duty that I never did without a feeling of degradation and shame). However we did it because it was necessary and because we knew without it cleanliness in the Camp could not be preserved.
Gen. Banks was by this time busily engaged in getting the Army organized and in readiness for a campaign into the Red River country, as it was called. The troops were assembling in New Orleans, and we received orders to report there without delay. Having arrived there, we found the City literally alive with soldiers and we were put into Quarters in one of the Cotton Press yards, where we were kept busy for some time in drilling and getting ourselves in readiness for the work already planned out, not knowing then what that work was to be. We went across the River to Algiers as our first move, and having remained there a few weeks, and the Army being now in shape, we commenced our march up the river, and very different marching we found it from what we had been doing as Infantry, and if we got tired it was a different kind of tired to what we used to feel in those days. After several days we reached Alexandria and here the enemy began to show himself in force, but we pushed on until within a few miles of Mansfield and here we had to halt, our advance lines met the Rebels and skirmishing, which soon brought on a general battle, began at once. We were hurried to the front as soon as possible and when we got as near as it was safe to get, we were dismounted and sent out as skirmishers, taking possession for this purpose of a strip of woods to the left of the line. The Rebels by this time had got their army into fighting trim and soon the sounds of artillery and the crack of the rifle told us there was work to be done. At one time it seemed as if the woods were literally alive with Rebels, for they came charging our lines, whole brigades at once, and time and again that day did we advance, only to get driven back, and then advance again, and when night came we were almost in the same position as we had been in the morning. But next day the fighting was to begin again and we were to be in readiness to join with the Brigade. My recollections of what took place this day is very poor, I can only remember that it was a day of advance and retreat, whipping the Rebels at one point and getting whipped ourselves at another, until night came leaving both Armies in possession of the Field, but with pretty strong evidence at hand that our farther advance into the Enemy’s Country was for the present not to be attempted, so we soon after commenced our retreat.
As our Brigade had the honour (sic) of being the advance brigade while marching to the front, so by a curious piece of Military Legerdemain we were to have the honour of being the rear Brigade on the retreat, and from the time we started until we reached our to be destination we hardly had time to get off of our houses’ backs. When it is remembered that the Rebels had an army of twelve thousand men and sixty pieces of cannon besides what was enough to make up a small army of jayhawkers, Independent scouts, and guerillas, and a host of villains that were ready to rob or murder any man or small detachment of men that could be cut off from the main army, it will at a glance be seen that we should be kept busy. And such was the case, for we had to detail every day two regiments to guard the Flanks, and one Regiment took their turn every day to act as rear guard. From this Regiment two or more companies were detailed as skirmishers to keep in the rear of the rear guard and, as the advance skirmishers of the enemy and ours in the rear kept in sight of each other — and within musket-shot distance — this was perhaps one of the most perilous positions that we were placed in during the whole campaign. For it was much more likely and much more easy to get shot when we were each kept face-to-face with an individual opponent, than it was when fighting as companies or as brigades. At the same time, we had many things in our favor, for we had a larger degree of liberty and were allowed to a certain extent to use our own discretion.
All things being considered however, we got along pretty well, although once in a while the enemy would outmanoeuvre us by getting seven or eight thousand men and perhaps some twenty-five or thirty pieces of artillery around in our front, and usually upon some very high ground this would be almost certain to bring on a general engagement often attended by very serious results on both sides. One day, I remember, as we were approaching a roadway that ran between two very high hills we saw off to our left and almost within hailing distance, a part of the Rebel army, perhaps five or six thousand, marching in the same direction with us and evidently intending to cut us off before we could get to the pass. As we had to pay a good deal of attention to the army in our rear, which at this time was particularly busy, especially with their light artillery, we were not able to get along as fast as they did. So when we did get down into the narrow road, which was about sundown, we found they had planted their guns on the top of the hills to guard the pass. They opened fire on our advance at once. A general halt was called and our infantry formed in line of battle. Several Batteries were posted in the woods on both sides of our Army and then the fighting began. We in the rear could see our men as they charged up the hills in the face of that fearful storm, driven back several times ’tis true, but only to charge with renewed vigour and wresting [from] the Rebels with the point of the bayonet several of their guns that were loaded with grape and cannister, these were at once turned on the Rebels as they began to give way. This prevented them from having time to stop and get into position again. Our infantry column had in the meantime advanced near enough to give support to those already engaged, and it wasn’t long before the last Rebel (that could get away) was seen scampering away to the right and left and taking to the swamp. We had nothing to gain by following them and besides night was coming on, therefore as soon as we got through the Pass and out into the open country, we halted for the night.
Before I pass on from this place however, I must mention a scene that took place while the battle was in progress. Away to our left the Rebel Cavalry that had been harassing our Flank since we commenced the retreat from Mansfield, had been called to the Front to help stop our advance. Near the place where they had been when the fighting commenced was a row of negro cabins and a little farther to the left a two-story building that at one time no doubt was the planter’s house. From these cabins, but more especially from the big house, there came every once in a while a musket shot. As we got busy driving the enemy from the hills in front, we didn’t have much time to look after them, but as soon as we got the Rebels started on the run a small detachment (which I accompanied) were ordered to drive from that place the Rebels that we should find lurking there. As we drew near they let us have it hot and heavy, but we kept steadily on and at the same time got a squad of our men around, in their rear, the result of which was that we captured a part of their numbers and brought them inside of our lines. (These men were of that class known as jay-hawkers which I spoke about when we started on our campaign.) The balance escaped into the timber and from there no doubt to the swamps where it was not safe to follow them. We had hardly got back to our own lines, however, when we saw smoke coming from the house, then from the cabins, followed in a few minutes by large sheets of flame, showing to us plain enough that all the buildings had been purposely set on fire, and it didn’t take long for them to burn to the ground. Whether the Rebels set the fire or our men, I never knew. We had the blame, I know, but as there was very little said on the subject, we were willing to take that.
Having had a few hours rest, we pushed on again for another day with nothing unusual taking place until late in the afternoon, when as we drew near to a large Plantation, which I think belonged to Governor Moore, the enemy made another stand. This meant more trouble to us in the rear, for the troops that we were trying to keep back seemed determined to make us go ahead, and the ones in our front seemed just as determined that we shouldn’t. The skirmishers in the rear were driven in for a while and the rear Brigade drawn up into line of Battle. The Rebels charged us, but were driven back, and then our boys with drawn sabres tried their hands with much better success, for we soon had them back at a respectable distance excepting such as were lurking among the buildings of the Plantation.
The line of march had been resumed and we took up our places again as rear guard when we saw what seemed to be perhaps about a dozen men well-mounted galloping for the left of our Skirmish Line. Capt. Morse with five or six men went out to meet them. They made at once for the negro quarters, which having reached they poured forth volley after volley of musketry. At this time it looked as if we should lose our men, but most nobly did they do their duty and after a long and persistent fight the rebels yielded, several of them surrendering themselves as Prisoners of War. Our men then got into the Big House to see if there were any soldiers hid away there. They didn’t find any I think, but they found all the evidences of abandoned wealth and luxury, some of them brought away little treasures in the shape of a book or some small thing that could be easily carried. Some of the outbuildings had taken fire, perhaps from dry corn fodder that had been left too near the embers of a fire where the Johny’s [sic] had been cooking their cornbread and bacon. Poor fellows, this was all they had to cook, and very often not enough of that. The flames went quickly from one building to another, then on to the Big House, and it wasn’t long before it looked as if the whole country was on fire.
Grand as the sight was, however, we couldn’t stop to admire it for we were pushed along by the army in our rear and often made to go ahead faster than we wanted to. In fact, they were getting so troublesome that our General in command thought it was high time to teach them a lesson. To this end on the afternoon of the next day, a plan was laid which resulted in the capture of a great number of men and several Battle Flags. Along the side of the road was a field of high rank grass and shrubs into which several Regiments of our Infantry were quickly marched while the army was en route. Once there, every man was made to lie down flat and to hide their flags and their muskets as well as themselves as much out of sight as possible. Our rear guard (our own Reg’t) began now purposely to hang back so as to draw on the enemy’s advance. The column at the same time coming to a halt, but not breaking ranks. Our men in ambush had been instructed that just as soon as the Rebel advance guard should be so far ahead that they could fall on them in their rear that they should jump up and charge. As there was now quite a distance between us and the main column, we made the Rebels believe they were driving us and started on a gallop to catch up with them. At this, on they came, first their skirmishers (videtts), then the main body of their advance guard hooting and yelling. We turned again to do battle with them at the same time our army started, on the advance, thus increasing our distance from each other. This was just what they wanted and this they thought was their chance to gobble up the whole lot of us; they made a bold flank movement and got two or three hundred of their men in our rear in the hope of cutting us off in our retreat. But never were men more deceived, for the Union Flags in the field were seen to rise out of the ground as by magic. The boys that had been hid there jumped to their feet and charged out into the road and now the Johny’s [sic] were themselves cut off, for at this moment we faced about and at the same time sent men to guard both flanks closing in on them. They soon saw the game was up, for after a struggle, which was but momentary, they nearly all surrendered. A few managed to break through our lines, but after chasing them for a short distance we were obliged to let them go. Our Prisoners were disarmed and taken to Division Headquarters, and as night was close at hand the column was halted and the command was given in place rest.
Next morning very early we again pushed on towards our destination which was I think Placquemine [sic: Plaquemine]. Many stirring scenes took place before we got there, but they have nearly all passed out of my memory now. Some of my comrades who are much better able than I am will tell what took place along this end of the route, and during our stay on the Mississippi before we went home.
After our furlough is over and we get back south again I will try to relate a few of the incidents that took place from the time we landed in Pensacola up to the time of our discharge in Mobile, and one or two that took place very soon after, as several of the men who were discharged there were more or less interested, and it will give a glimpse of the condition of things after our boys had all gone home. That is, after all who had not been discharged went home. I was one of the few that tried my luck in Mobile.