Friday, April 29, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
September 27th, 1862
It affords me gratification to be able to report my safe arrival at this post after so long & tedious a march. A detailed account of the march will be forwarded with the monthly report for this month. It may be interesting if not useful in the future, as part of the history of your regiment’s operations, judging from the immense preparations the enemy is making through the western waters generally, & particularly at St. Louis, to wrest away the river from our control. Your regiment if retained for its defence will have an arduous task to perform. If its batteries are kept well manned & horsed, it will by its efficient service, do honor to the State & prove a formidable barrier to the enemy’s progress on land or water. In this connection I must say that the action of the Government, or rather its inaction, in not keeping our companies full enough to man the guns with which we were mustered in, is rather inexplicable. If there were no men in the country to spare, except such as are honorably & nobly employed in the provisional infantry, then the question might be barely addressable whether they were not already in as useful a sphere to the Government as they would be in our batteries, but when we see parts of Mississippi & Louisiana actually overrun with ill disciplined & worse armed guerrillas & partisan rangers riding the best horses & drinking the worst whiskey in the country, often without leaders of any merit or daring & generally far away from any land forces of the army. I am at a loss to discover any policy in it & am forced to conclude, out of respect to the wisdom & patriotism of the Secretary of War, that he only needs his attention called to the matter in a proper way to grant us all we desire. There are a great many such bands in this vicinity. Many of them have nothing but shot guns & they confessedly are mostly worthless. They have fine horses & keep them in fine order doing nothing. I understand one of these companies will be disbanded as conscripts. As they will nearly all desire to join my company & sell their horses to the Government, I will try & have them assigned to me to man my other two guns. If I succeed in this, I would desire to know whether you could furnish me two rifled pieces instead of the 6 pounders I left at Phillip’s foundry. From the lights now before me it is probable I will be retained in this part of the state during the winter & in that case two good rifled pieces would be more valuable in preventing the navigation of the river than any other kind of gun. Capt. Feimer [?] with his battery is at this post. He has been allowed to recruit to nearly two hundred men. I was forced to leave my tents at Natchez coming down. The wet weather had been so continuous that it made the roads very bad & my four mule teams were insufficient to pull the baggage. I have not yet been able to get them, but expect them soon. Capt. Hickle expected to be able soon to furnish each company an additional wagon with six mules & also an additional pair of mules for every wagon now having but four. It is plain from the nature of this low region & the wet weather of winter that double the amount of transportation required for summer would be necessary for winter. I would like very much to know what progress the Captain is making in supplying this want. My men have no shoes. He will not furnish them nor give the men their pay that they may purchase out of that pittance. I dislike Col. to find fault, but I also dislike to be censored by penniless soldiers for inattention to their wants. I have had thirteen horses condemned. The trip was severe upon them. Towards the last it rained every day & the roads were the worst I ever saw. I lost one man on the trip, Milton Smith. He was inferior to none as a soldier & an exemplary man in all his private relations of life. All the other men, horses & material were brought through safe. I will have to go to Jackson, Miss. for material, &c & will be there about the 4th Oct. If you would answer me at that point as to the rifled pieces it would be a favor. No prospect of an attack on New Orleans soon. We have a splendid hospital at Jackson, La. Please remember me kindly to my friends.
Your friend & obt. Servant,
[to] Col. Wm. T. Withers
Monday, April 25, 2011
If you want to know how a hero feels in the trenches get behind a tree not quite big enough to cover you, and let two or three persons, who would just as lieve hit you as not, throw stones at you. Like every thing else in the way of fighting it is frankly uncomfortable, and nothing makes one put up with it but a sense of right and duty and honor. This is not the poetical view of battle, as you find it in Charles O'Malley and Guy Livingstone; but the author of Charles was never under fire, and the creator of Guy is reported to have run like an assistant-company-cook at
Before describing minutely how it went in the trenches let me explain rapidly how I came there. Having beaten Mouton at
Look at a wave rushing up a sloping beach against a line of rocks, and you will see the history of an assaulting column directed against fortifications. At a distance the billow seems irresistible; near at hand the under-current has deprived it of half its force; at last merely a little spray dashes upon the final impediment. Just so slaughter, misdirection, dispersion, and skulking enfeeble the column until only hundreds out of thousands reach the point of hand-to-hand fighting. On reflection it is a wonder that any assault succeeds. The attacking force must do what is very difficult in the open field; it must advance without firing against a line which is firing at it; it must do this in spite of difficulties of ground which inevitably break up its organization; and after long-continued slaughter it must scale defenses fringed with bayonets. We were expected that day to charge a mile in face of cannon and musketry, and then to carry earth-works defended by men of our own race. It was right to try the experiment, but it is not surprising that it failed.
My regiment was not pushed across that valley of death where lay the acres of abatis, but was ordered to an isolated position on the left, with instructions to throw out skirmishers and silence artillery. It halted on a knoll shaded by grand magnolias, six or seven hundred yards from the fortifications, and in face of three barbette pieces. Our skirmishers had been sent to the front during our movement to this point, and had already driven the cannoneers from their guns. During the rest of the day we had a quiet and pleasant bout of sharp-shooting. The reserve sprawled at ease under the magnolias, rarely disturbed by bullets bearing wounds and death. Once or twice in an hour a victim sent forth his shriek and was borne away to the surgeon, who had established his field-hospital in a secure neighboring gully. But in the main we could smoke our pipes and discuss the chances of the combat with a fair sense of enjoyment. Meantime the men of the skirmishing companies spread out over a front of nearly half a mile, and, sheltered behind stumps and fallen trees, popped away at the gunners whenever they tried to reload the barbette pieces, at the tents inside of the earthworks, and at every visible creature of the garrison.
At last an unpleasant moment, not unlike that in which you take your seat in a dentists chair, came to the author of this history. When the Colonel said, "Captain, take out your company and relieve Company G", I felt that heavy heart within me which man is almost always conscious of as he deliberately approaches the confines of visible death. With a smile of simulated gayety I turned to my men and shouted, "Fall in!" Five minutes thereafter, the ice of suspense broken, the blood heated with advancing and fighting, that gayety became real. Skirmishing is not nearly so trying as charging or line-fighting. In the first place, you generally have cover; in the second, if you are shot at you can also shoot. Now to fire at a person who is firing at you is somehow wonderfully consolatory and sustaining; more than that, it is exciting, and produces in you the savage but nevertheless natural and unaffected joy of battle. I was presently shouting with enthusiasm, cheering my men with jokes and laughter, jumping over fallen trees instead of crawling under them, and running about regardless of exposure. Then the close whistle of bullets, or their loud whack as they buried themselves in the stumps near me, would drive me temporarily to shelter. Such is skirmishing when it goes nicely, or, in other words, when the enemy is not too numerous. As to being slaughtered and driven back and scared to death, you can not make it pleasant under any circumstances.
There was a moment when it seemed as if Port Hudson was taken. A white flag showed over the rampart, and on every hand the firing died away, while a large body of men, apparently a regiment, filed through a sally-port, stacked arms outside of the entrenchments, and sat down behind the stacks. To those of our skirmishers who had become intermingled with them and asked what their movement meant the Butternuts replied, sullenly, “We suppose that we have surrendered”. Had we had on the spot an officer promptly intelligent enough to order this force to move into the valley the fate of the place would have been decided; for the abandoned works could have been occupied by own skirmish line, which had already reached the ditch, and the example of surrender would doubtless have been quickly followed by other regiments. Company A of the 12th was at the right point, but under the command of a sergeant, its only officer, Captain Brennan, having been just taken to the rear wounded. And thus this propitious moment, this chance which might have saved a long investment and thousands of men, slipped by unimproved. While both armies stood gaping, down came a mounted Confederate officer, supposed to be General Gardner, placed the surrendering colonel under arrest, and sent the surrendered regiment inside the entrenchments. In an instant cannonade and musketry flamed forth with renewed fury, and we recommenced the siege, which was now to last six weeks instead of a single day.
It was not till after the surrender that I learned the inside history of this singular incident. It seems, according to the rebel officers, that the colonel of a New York regiment pushed his way up to an apron which projected from the main works and fought desperately for a while, but finally found himself in a bad box, most of the men who followed him having been disabled and the remainder driven to cover behind logs and stumps. Unable to combat longer he would have been glad to get away, but could not without exposing himself to almost certain death. In this extremity he hoisted a white handkerchief on a stick, and came to a parley with that part of the garrison immediately opposed to him. The rebel colonel in front of us saw this symbol of distress, but, deceived by the distance and the lay of the ground, supposed that it was raised by his comrades of the apron, and being a regular-minded gentleman, disposed to do what was proper, immediately got out his own handkerchief. My informants added that he was still under arrest, and would be tried by court-martial as soon as exchanged. They also stated that the New Yorker eventually escaped from them unhurt.
About two hours after this blundering interlude came the charge of the 12th
I have already intimated that skirmishing is not dangerous. Two men mortally and two severely wounded constituted my whole loss in something like three hours fighting out of a company of forty-one muskets. Four hours after I was relieved the wide-spread, straggling, wavering combat died into silence and night. The day had been a defeat:
With my rubber-blanket for a bed, and my blouse thrown over me for a coverlet, I slept at the foot of a huge magnolia scarred by bullets. The next day there was an armistice, demanded by Banks to bury the dead. In the afternoon we received orders to leave our position in charge of the 24th
Our basin was crammed with the blue uniforms and bright rifles of the three regiments. The men of the 91st sat on their knapsacks, ready to move to another position on the conclusion of the armistice. Prepared to open fire at the same instant, four companies of the 12th, relieving four of the 8th
A little after sunset, just as dusk was stealing into our wood, a signal-gun solemnly terminated the truce. In an instant a sheet of red flashes lit up the dimness, followed by crashes of musketry and the yells of combatants. Then came the roar of artillery, the crackling of shells, and the whistling of grape. We could hear the humming, shrieking, and hissing of the projectiles as they passed over our heads; we could feel the shuddering of the trees against which we leaned, as they were struck; we were conscious of a falling of severed leaves and branches. The order was passed along to lie down, and down we dropped, wherever we might be. As yet none of us knew our exact position with regard to that of the enemy; and, astounded by the unexpectedness and violence of the explosion, we supposed that the rebels had attacked. Gazing steadily at the spitting stream of flashes above me, I expected every moment to be called on to fight with the bayonet. All this, it must be remembered, was in darkness; for the
Presently an order reached me to move my company forward. Now for close-quarters, I thought, with a gravity becoming the moment, and picked my way toward the firing over the bodies of prostrate men. But I was halted at the foot of the bank, and directed to remain there as a reserve. Meantime we had begun to find out that nobody was getting hit, that the missiles were all unquestionably passing over our heads, and that the affair was only terrible considered as a racket. Presently Colonel Thomas of the 8th
“Captain, said he, I don’t want this sort of thing at all. I only want the men to fire as sharp-shooters. This blazing away and yelling like madmen is all nonsense. I wish you would step up there and stop it.”
So I stepped up there and stopped it. Thus terminated one of the most dreadful-looking skirmishes that I ever witnessed. It was sublime, until I discovered that nobody was hurt, and that probably nobody would be hurt if it should last all night. We were sheltered behind fifty feet of solid earth, and the rebels were equally safe on the other side of the ravine. In justice to our men I must observe that they wasted their breath and ammunition under the instructions of a passing staff-officer of division, to pitch in lively as soon as the armistice terminated.
Now came forty days and nights in the wilderness of death. Before we left that diminutive gully fifty or sixty men of the regiment had stained it with their blood, and several of the trees, which filled it with shade, had been cut asunder by cannon-shot, While others were dying under the scars of innumerable bullets. The nuisance of trench duty does not consist in the overwhelming amount of danger at any particular moment, but in the fact that danger is perpetually present. The spring is always bent; the nerves never have a chance to recuperate; the elasticity of courage is slowly worn out. Every morning I was awakened by the popping of rifles and the whistling of balls; hardly a day passed that I did not hear the loud exclamations of the wounded, or see corpses borne to the rear; and the gamut of my good-night lullaby varied all the way from Minie rifles to sixty-eight ponders.
In one respect our gully was detestable. Well covered in front, it was open at one end, and this end was exposed to the enemy. I often wished that I could turn the wretched hole around. From a distance of nearly half a mile the rebel sharp-shooters drew a bead on us with a precision which deserved the highest commendation of their officers, but which made us curse the day they were born. One incident proves, I think, that they were able to hit an object farther off than they could distinguish its nature. A rubber blanket, hung over the stump of a sapling five feet high, which stood in the centre of our bivouac, was pierced by a bullet from this quarter. A minute later a second bullet passed directly over the object and lodged in a tree behind it. I ordered the blanket to be taken down, and then the firing ceased. Evidently the invisible marksman, eight hundred yards away, had mistaken it for a Yankee. Several men were hit upon this same hillock, or immediately in rear of it; and I for one never crossed it without wondering whether I should get safely to the other side.
Another fatal spot was an exposed corner in the narrow terrace which our men had made in the bank, as a standing-place whence to fire over the knoll.
"Don’t go there, Captain", a soldier said to me, when I first approached the place. "That’s Dead Man’s Corner. Five men have been killed there already."
I understood that Hubbard and Rodonowski of Weitzel's staff both received their death-shots at Dead Mans Corner, on the 27th of May. Early on my first day in the gully, just as I had risen, smirched and damp, from my bed on the brick-colored earth, a still breathing corpse was brought down from this spot of sacrifice. A brave, handsome boy of our Company D, gay and smiling with the excitement of fighting, disdaining to cover himself, was reloading his rifle when a ball traversed his head, leaving two ghastly orifices through which the blood and brains exuded, mingling with his auburn curls. He uttered strong, loud gaspings; it seemed possible, listening to them, that he might yet live; but his eyes were fast closed and his ruddy cheek paling; in a few minutes he was dead. We lost eight or ten men during that first day, partly from not knowing these dangerous localities, and partly from excess of zeal. Our fellows attempted to advance the position, leaped the knoll without orders, and took to the trees on the outer slope, and were only driven back after sharp fighting.
Served me right. I'd no business there, said a suddenly enlightened Irishman, as he came in with a hole through his shoulder. As the siege drew on, and we found that there was plenty of danger without running after it, we all became more or less illuminated by this philosophy. It is a remark as old as sieges, that trench duty has a tendency to unfit men for close fighting. The habit of taking cover becomes stronger than the habit of moving in unison; and, moreover, the health is enfeebled by confinement, and the nervous system shaken by incessant peril.
The garrison gave us full as good as we sent. Several of our men were shot in the face through the port-holes as they were taking aim. One of these unfortunates, I remember, drew his rifle back, set the butt on the ground, leaned the muzzle against the parapet, turned around, and fell lifeless. He had fired at the moment he was hit, and two or three eye-witnesses asserted that his bullet shivered the edge of the opposite port-hole, so that in all probability he and his antagonist died together. It must be understood that these openings were but just large enough to protrude the barrel of a musket and take sight along it.
During our relief days we were quite as much shot at, without the comforting excitement of shooting. There was but one spot in the hollow, and that only a few yards square, where bullets never struck; and by some awkward providence it rarely fell to the lot of my company, no matter when we came off duty. I used to look with envy and longing at this nasty but wholesome patch of gutter. It was a land of peace, a city of refuge, 30 feet long by 10 feet broad. Turning my back on its charmed tranquillity, where the dying never gasped and the wounded never groaned, I spread my rubber blanket in the mud or the sun according to the weather, lighted my pipe, and wondered when my bullet would come. It must be stated that, excepting the canopy of the heavens, there was not a tent in the regiment. I do admit, however, on recollection, that for two weeks or more I enjoyed the shelter of a white bed coverlet, abstracted by my colored henchman George from I know not whose shanty or palace, and which, being spread cunningly, kept off much sun and some rain. But on the 14th of June, while I was engaged in the storming party, certain vagrants from another regiment caused this improvised shelter-tent to disappear. Little by little we built in the treeless portions of the gully huts of branches just high enough to admit us in a sitting posture. Over these we threw our rubber blankets during the showers, and tried to imagine that we were thereby the drier. Being about to occupy the bivouac of Company F, which was going up to the parapet to relieve my company, I said to the commandant, Lieutenant Clark, What a palace you have left me! It looks nice, replied
As I was sitting at dinner beside this same domicile a large tree, fifteen feet in rear of it, flew asunder under the blow of a cannon-shot, the top plunging harmlessly across the bivouac of Company K, and scaring the first sergeant out of a sound sleep, while a splinter weighing ten pounds hissed over my head and fell between the feet of one of my own sergeants, Charles Collins. A minute afterward Collins was struck by a fatal bullet; which came from very nearly the opposite direction of the cannon-shot. So much for the advantages of the shanty which Lieutenant Clark had put up, after due thought as to selecting a safe location. Our brigade commander met with similar tribulations in his search after a quiet residence. A large and comfortable-looking arbor of boughs had just been erected for him, when screech came a 12-pounder ball, and down came a great oak, smashing the dwelling into uninhabitability.
To escape this all-searching fire one of our officers dug for himself a gopher-hole in a little bank, and was much laughed at for his pains when a bullet went slap into it shortly after he had finished it. He was absent at the moment; but I came very near suffering in his place, for I was just then surveying and envying his housekeeping arrangements. Two soldiers who were standing at the mouth of the hole had a still narrower escape, the shot passing between their heads not six inches from either. When the owner returned and heard my jolly story he looked slightly disgusted, but nevertheless refused to sell out, and crawled in upon his blanket with a smile of desperate resignation.
About one evening, when profound peace had fallen from night upon Port Hudson and all its surroundings, we were startled from our slumbers by a tremendous explosion, succeeded a few seconds afterward by another. Mighty vibrations seemed to spread outward through the atmosphere, as ripples circle over the surface of water from the plunge of a stone. In a moment our gully swarmed with men muttering and questioning in astonishment. Running up the steep bank of the rampart I beheld a meteor of war. Out of the black line of forest which crowned the hostile bluff came a fiery spark, flying straight toward us in silent swiftness. Then followed a sonorous, majestic basso-profondo pu----m which made night tremble. As the spark rose above us, as we turned our eyes upward to see it, it burst with a broad glare and was gone. Now came another report, a crashing pa----m, sharper, angrier than the first, but also grand, vibrating, stunning. This was a 68-pounder. The first explosion was that of the gun, and the second that of the projectile. In either case the flash was visible some seconds before the detonation became audible; and that brief interval, during which we awaited possible death, was a suspense of superhuman grandeur. Six shots to our left; six directly over us; six to our right; then silence. Night after night for a week or more we were bombarded in this magnificent fashion. At first it was trying; but we soon found that the gunners could not depress the piece sufficiently to hit us, and after that we did not care a hard-tack for their 68-pounder except as a spectacle. It did some little damage to our second line, we understood; but that was rather an agreeable piece of information than otherwise. Men in the front are always disposed to chuckle when their comrades in the rear get a share of the slaughtering.
Once we were pounded a little by our own artillery. On the last day of June the regiment was mustered for pay in the gully, the companies being brought one by one before the commanding officer (Lieutenant-Colonel Peck), and the whole ceremony made as simple as possible in order not to attract the attention of the enemy. The last company had been reached; the men stood in line silent and statue-like with supported arms; the Colonel was at the front with muster-roll in his hand, and Lieutenant commanding by his side. As each man’s name was called he answered "Here"; came to a shoulder, and then an order. The roll was half finished when suddenly there was a whisk, whisk in the air, and a spent 12-pounder shot passed over the muskets and dropped twenty feet in rear. A slight dip, a kind of courtesy, wavered through the line of arms; then they returned to their military level, while a grin glanced along the war-worn faces. The Colonel turned his head, gave one stare of calm surprise, and resumed his reading. Whisk, whisk once more; another shot whispered in the track of the first; but this time the men were prepared, and the arms were steady; this time, too, the projectile flew higher, and fell in the bivouac of the next regiment. Deliberately and calmly the roll was called to the end. The company shouldered arms, faced to the right, ported arms, broke ranks, and went to its quarters.
No more shots; but still we were uneasy, for this fire came direct into the open mouth of our gully; and if it should be resumed with spirit our position would be hard to hold. The next day we learned that one of our own batteries, a mile and a half distant, had been our assailant. Aiming at a projecting angle of the rebel works, it had elevated too high and sent its missiles clean over the mark into our quarters. Oddly enough the only person injured was the regimental coward of the 114th
Meantime the rebels were as much worried by constant exposure to fire as ourselves. Not only did our artillery search every corner of the fortress, but our bullets sowed it, and even went clean over it into the
Here I am reminded of an adventure of Andrew Bartram, a private of my company. Far to the left of our gully, and nearly in front of the position which we had occupied on the 27th of May, the siege-works had been pushed so near the rampart that the fatigue party, of which this man was one, could hear the voices of the defenders in conversation. Naturally curious and adventurous, he determined to risk his skin for the sake of obtaining a close look at his antagonists; and, taking advantage of the quiet of night and a fine moonlight, he left the covered way, scaled a slope, and found himself at the base of the earth-work. here, as the reader may suppose, he paused, lay low and considered. The men inside would certainly shoot him if they saw him; and the men outside might also make a mark of him, supposing him to be a rebel. The result was that he resumed his hazardous journey, climbed the sloping mound on his hands and knees and cautiously peeped over it. There they were, immediately under his nose and almost within reach of his hand, a score or so of men in dirty gray or butternut, some lounging and others apparently sleeping. The scene was remarkable, but not altogether delightful, and he was soon satisfied with it. Sliding quietly down the face of the mound he made a run of it, reached the covered way unseen, hurried to the nearest battery and reported the position of the rebels. A couple of shells were pitched nicely into the spot indicated; and the shrieks which answered bore witness that they had done their pitiless duty. For this feat Bartram was made lieutenant in a negro regiment.
Such are some of my experiences and observations in the matter of duty in the trenches. The thoughtful among my readers, those who care less for objective incidents than for their effect upon the human soul, will ask me if I liked the business. With a courage which entitles me to honorable mention at the headquarters of the veracities, I reply that I did not like it, except in some expansive moments when this or that stirring success filled me with excitement. Certain military authors who never heard a bullet whistle have written copiously for the marines, to the general effect that fighting is delightful. It is not; it is just tolerable; you can put up with it; but you can’t honestly praise it. Bating a few flashes of elation which come in moments of triumph or in the height of a breathless charge, when the air is all a yell and the earth is all a flame, it is much like being in a rich cholera district in the height of the season.
Profoundly, infinitely true, true of every species and of every individual, is the copy-book maxim, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature”. The man who does not dread to die or be mutilated is a lunatic. The man who, dreading these things, still faces them for the sake of duty and honor is a hero.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The regiment being once more united, went into camp at the upper end of Ship Island, which uninviting locality lays, like a long, low, sand-bank, along the coast of Mississippi, separating the waters of Mississippi Sound from those of the Gulf Forts Jackson and St. Philip having fallen before the irresistible valor of the navy, under the gallant Farragut, it remained for the army to follow up and complete the victory, by the occupation of New Orleans. The larger part of General Butler's forces were conveyed from Ship Island, up the Mississippi river; the remainder were to approach the city by way of Lake Ponchartrain. The Eighth New Hampshire were of this latter force, and four companies of the regiment were the first to seize and occupy Forts Wood and Pike, by which the entrance to the Lake was defended,—the rebels retreating precipitately, on the approach of the expedition.
The summer of 1862, was spent at Camp Parapet, Louisiana, where, although decimated by disease and death occasioned by the malarious locality, and often called to arms by threatened attacks, no severer duty was performed than is usual in the routine of camp life. In October, 1862, the regiment formed a part of General Weitzel's expedition, the object of which was the expulsion of the rebels from, and the occupation of the district of Lafourche — one of the most productive and wealthy parts of Louisiana. The troops were conveyed up the Mississippi on river steamers, landing at Donaldsonville at the head of Bayou Lafourche. From this point, the Union troops moved down the Bayou the 8th with a squadron of cavalry and two pieces of artillery marching on the right bank of the stream, the remainder of the troops upon the left. With the exception of a night skirmish between the pickets of the Eighth and a scouting party of rebel cavalry, no opposition was met with, until, a little beyond the village of Labadieville, the enemy were discovered in force under General Morton, advantageously posted on both sides of the Bayou, sheltered by a hedge and ditch. Companies E and F of the Eighth, were deployed as skirmishers to ascertain the position of the enemy. Soon the sharp crack of their rifles told that they had discovered them, and that the action had commenced. Almost at the first fire, the gallant Captain Warren fell, the first sacrifice of the regiment upon the altar of liberty and Union. The position of the rebels being ascertained, Gen. Weitzel threw re-inforcements across the Bayou, and the line advanced upon the enemy, the Eighth in the van. A short but sharp EIGHTH REGIMENT. 739
conflict ensued, ending in a charge which scattered the rebels in confusion, many being killed and wounded, about three hundred taken prisoners, and one piece of artillery and a large number of small arms captured. Being in the advance, and the first to charge the enemy's batteries, the Eighth suffered more severely than all the other regiments engaged, losing sixteen killed and forty-six wounded—among the former being the brave Captain Kelliher, who fell at the head of his men in the charge. The colors were riddled with bullets and the staff shot off about four inches above the hand of the color sergeant, who, nevertheless, seized the remnant and bore it forward amid the enthusiastic shouts of the men. No further opposition was encountered, the enemy having evacuated the Lafourche country and crossed over Berwick Day into Attakapas.
After a day's rest at Thibodeaux, the Eighth were sent with two squadrons of cavalry and a section of artillery, the whole being under the command of Colonel Fearing, to take possession of the New Orleans and Opelousas Railway. By a circuitous and tiresome march, through cypress swamps, heavily wooded and festooned with the sombre drapery of moss that characterizes Southern forests, the expedition reached Tigerville, Louisiana, capturing an immense quantity of sugar, that the rebels had been obliged to abandon upon the advance of our forces. On reconnoiteriug the railroad, it was found that a bridge, some one hundred and twenty feet long, across Bayou Bœuf, had been destroyed, while a mile of the track was covered with the ruins of engines and cars, burned to prevent their falling into our hands. Yankee skill and ingenuity were called into requisition, a detail was made from the regiment, the bridge rebuilt, the track relaid, an engine put in running order, and in one week trains were passing over the road, bringing stores and ammunition from New Orleans, ninety-three miles distant. During the winter of 1862-3, Lieut-Col. Lull was detached as Provost Judge of the Parish of Lafourche, with company B, as provost guard. In the spring of 1863, the regiment took part in General Banks' demonstration against Port Hudson at the termination of which, the troops were rapidly conveyed to Brashear City, and the campaign through Central Louisiana, which terminated in the investment's and capture of Port Hudson, commenced.
The enemy, under Gen. Dick Taylor, were first encountered in force, at Camp Bisland, on Bayou Tcehe, intrenched behind breastworks, mounting a number of heavy guns, and aided by an iron-clad gun-boat on the Bayou, and on the 12th and 15th of April, 1863, the battle of " Camp Bisland" was fought, resulting in the precipitate retreat of the rebels, a large number of whom were killed and wounded,—the capture of ten pieces of artillery, two colors, and two thousand prisoners, and the destruction of the gunboat and three transports. In this engagement, the regiment was advanced within two hundred yards of the works, sheltered by a shallow ditch from the ceaseless storm of ball, grape, and shell, that filled the air, not only from the enemy's works in front, but from our batteries in the rear. So close was the fire, that the búllete constantly struck the bayonets that projected above the edge of the ditch, and the lance that ornamented the flag-staff was carried away by a fragment of shell. While lying in the ditch, an order was given to storm the works—the regiment rose as one man, with an enthusiastic cheer, and prepared to face the storm of lead and iron that would have annihilated the gallant band before they could have reached the ditch of the fort, yet no one flinched and the attempt would have been made, had not the order been countermanded. The loss of the regi-" ment in this engagement, was only two killed and nine wounded —their close proximity to the enemy, and the friendly shelter of the ditch, saving them from the effects of the terrible fire. During the toilsome march of two hundred and thirty miles to Alexandria, Louisiana, the regiment was frequently ordered to the front when a show of resistance was made, but no opposition was encountered save slight cavalry skirmishes. Much suffering was experienced from heat, dust, and want of water, but the regiment bore these hardships so cheerfully, as to excite frequent encomiums from the commanding general.
In the flank movement, by which General Banks transferred his forces from Red River to the east bank of Mississippi, preparatory to the attack on Port Hudson the regiment was among the first to arrive at and invest that celebrated strong hold. The lines of investment being completed, reaching in a semi-circle, from the river above to the river below the place, on the 27th of May, 1863, a general advance was ordered, for the purpose of driving the enemy within his inner works. The regiment under command of the lamented Lieut-Col. Lull, (Colonel Fearing being in command of the second brigade, third division, nineteenth army corps.) were assigned a position on the right centre, in the second line of battle. The night previous to the attack, the regiment bivouacked in the woods, within rifle-shot to the concealed, hut watchful enemy, and as morning dawned, a hasty breakfast of hard-bread and coffee was eaten, ammunition was distributed, and all prepared for the '• imminent deadly fray." The order was given to advance—the regiment had not moved a hundred rods from their bivouac, before they were hotly engaged with the enemy, who, from behind trees, stumps, and log-breastworks, poured a deadly fire into the advancing lines; while, from their batteries beyond, showers of grape and huge shell were sent crashing through the woods, prostrating large trees like the passage of a whirlwind.
The first line of battle was broken and scattered, when the second brigade, to which the Eighth belonged was ordered to charge, and with a wild yell, the line swept forward, over the bodies of the fallen, driving the rebels in confusion from their outer works, through the tangled abattis, and broken ground in front of the fort, almost annihilating the Tenth Arkansas rebel regiment, who occupied the position. The slaughter was terrific, much of the fighting being hand to hand. Lieut-Col. Lull, while waving his sword and shouting " forward Eighth New Hampshire! steady men! steady!" fell mortally wounded by a minie ball, the color-sergeant was wounded, and one after another of the colorguard killed or disabled, until the only remaining corporal grasped the flag, splashed with the blood and brains of its defenders, and planted it on the exterior slope of the enemy's works, where, riddled by grape and canister, it remained until night ended the strife. Many of the men followed so closely upon the flying foe, as to get into the ditch of the works, unable either to advance or retreat, yet by their sharp fire, rendering it instantly fatal to any rebel, to raise his head above the parapet. During the remainder of the day, the enemy's artillery was silenced by the sharpshooters of the Eighth New Hampshire, and Fourth Wisconsin—the cannoniers would repeatedly endeavor to approach their pieces, but as often were driven back, or fell dead or wounded, by the hail of bullets that was poured upon them from every stump, log or bush, that concealed a Union soldier. The loss of the regiment on this bloody day, was one hundred and twenty-four killed and wounded. During the siege, the regiment was almost constantly in the rifle-pits, and daily additions were made to the lists oi killed and wounded.
On the 14th of June, 1863, another grand assault was ordered, and, as often before, the Eighth were placed in the front, being detailed in the storming party. The assault commenced at daybreak, under cover of a terrific cannonade from nearly three hundred pieces of artillery. The storming column was formed behind a hedge, about eight hundred yards from the works, and separated from them by an uneven open field. Across this the storniere advanced, witli the well-known "charging yell," until within about eighty yards of the works, when sheets of flame ran round the parapet, cannon on the front poured in their storm of canister, yet, though the dead and wounded fell thick on every hand, they advanced at " double-quick" until the rebels, thinking the day lost, began to break and retire from the works. Cheered by the hope of victory, part of the regiment scaled the parapet, and, had the supports came up, the place would have been ours; but the supports—mostly new troops, nine months' men—wavered, halted, and fell back, seeing which, the rebels returned to the breastworks, cut down or captured all who had entered, and, secure behind their defences, poured a murderous fire upon the remnant of the band of stormers who remained upon the field. Some escaped by crawling upon their hands and knees into ravines at the rear, while numerous instances occurred of men who had fallen badly wounded, being shot again and again,until the cessation of their movements told that death had ended their agonies. After the assault, the rebels, with fiendish cruelty, would neither succor the wounded, nor allow relief from our side to approach the field, firing on the stretcher-bearers, and refusing to receive a flag of truce until fifty hours after the battle, by which time the fierce heat of the summer sun and agonizing thirst had brought a death of torture to many, who, could they have been reached and cared for, would have ultimately recovered. The loss of the regiment in this charge was one hundred and thirty killed and wounded. On the capitulation of ,the place, the Eighth was one of six regiments, selected on account of their meritorious conduct during the siege, to receive the surrender. Accordingly on the 9th of July, 1863, the rebel army laid down their arms, in the presence of the victors, who, as the glorious "Stars and Stripes" rose over Port Hudson, forgetting the toil, hardships, and bloodshed by which the victory had been won, added their exultant shouts to the thunder of the cannon that proclaimed that the last obstacle to the navigation of the Mississippi was removed.
The next operation in which the regiment bore a part, was the expedition to Sabine Pass, Texas. Embarking on a transport steamer, Sept. 2d, 1863, the regiment joined the expeditionary fleet, and, after a voyage of two days, arrived off Sabine City, the point of attack, and on the following day had the mortification of seeing the gunboats repulsed, two of them falling into the hands of the enemy. After the return of this expedition, the regiment took part in a campaign in the interior of Louisiana, marching as far as Opelousas. In December, 1863, the regiment was ordered to Franklin, La., to be changed into cavalry, under the designation of "the Second New Hampshire Cavalry." While at this place, the regiment was mounted and armed with sabres, carbines and revolvers, and were constantly drilled in the evolutions of the cavalry tactics. On the 4th of January, 1864, a large proportion of the men ree'nlisted as veteran volunteers, under the provisions of General Orders 191 War Department, series of 1863, and soon after were'ordered toNew Orleans, and quartered in one of the large cotton presses of that city, where, after two months' drill, such proficiency had been attained in the use of the arms, management of the horses, and the cavalry tactics, as to merit the encomiums of many experienced cavalry officers. At the commencement of the Red River campaign, the regiment, with the rest of the cavalry division, about fifteen thousand strong, marched from New Orleans, through the interior of Louisiana, followed by the infantry, without encountering the enemy in force, to Alexandria, La., a distance of three hundred and eighty miles, where a junction was effected with Gen. A. J. Smith's ti-оорз, who had ascended the Red River. During that part of the route which lay within the Federal lines, the good order and discipline maintained were especially noticeable. Fences were untouched; hen-roosts and barn-yards—great temptations to hungry soldiers —remained intact, and the citizens made no complaints of being molested, either in their persons or property. From Alexandria, the cavalry pushed the enemy's rear-guard very closely, a skirmish taking place near Natchitoches, in which the rebels were driven, the Eighth (or as they were then called, the Second New Hampshire (Cavalry,) charging through the streets of the town, killing and capturing a number of the enemy. While waiting at Natchitoches for the infantry to come up, the regiment went on a reconnoissance, pushing the enemy's генг-guard back on to the main body, and ascertaining their numbers and position. When the forward movement recommenced, the regiment was constantly at the front, and participated in numerous skirmishes with the enemy. At the disastrous battle of Sabine Cross Roads, April 8th, 1864, the regiment fired nearly the first shot, coming unexpectedly upon the enemy, and charging alone and unsupported upon three or four regiments of the enemy's cavalry, who broke and fled, unmasking two divisions of infantry, who immediately opened fire. Apparently bewildered by the very audacity of the attack, the enemy allowed the regiment to retire with little loss, when they might have fallen an easy prey to superior numbers. In the action that followed, a part of the regiment were dismounted and deployed as skirmishers in front of the infantry, and were nearly all captured by the enemy, Capt. D. W. King, whose horse was shot under him in the charge, and forty-seven enlisted men being taken prisoners, and carried off into wretched captivity in the famous "stockade," or prison pen, at Tyler, Texas. After the disastrous defeat that followed, the regiment formed line seven times, and, by their fire, covered the retreat of the broken and retreating infantry. When, after the battle of Pleasant Hill, Gen. Banks returned to Grand Ecorc, the regiment suffered much from hunger, the train, with all the commissary stores of the brigade, having been captured. At Grand Ecorc, long lines of rifle-pits and acres of abatis were constructed by the men of the Eighth, of their own accord, which, on being surveyed by the chief engineer of* Gen. Banks' staff, met his approval and were adopted as part of the system of defences. On the march from Grand Ecore to Alexandria, the regiment participated in the battle of Cane River, in which the rebels were driven from the fords and a crossing effected in the face of the enemy. From this point to Alexandria, the regiment was the rear-guard of the whole army nearly all the time, and, from darkness, daily skirmishing with the enemy, holding them in check to allow the large wagon trains to proceed unmolested. While at Alexandria, the regiment, with the rest of the brigade to which it was attached, made two reconnoissances across Red River, in one instance bivouacking during the night almost within hearing distance of a rebel camp of several thousand men. On these scouts, a number of the enemy were killed or captured and much valuable information obtained, with a loss on our side of оЫу two or three wounded. The march from Alexandria to Morganzia, La., on the Mississippi river, was the hardest and most exhausting, both to men and horses, ever experienced by the regiment. Skirmishing continually through the daytime, and marching on at night to overtake the army, the men had no sleep, save what could be snatched during the short halts on the road, when, dismounting, each man would loop his bridle-rein over his arm, and lay down in the road beside his horse, to rest until the bugle-note called him "to horse " to commence again the toilsome march. In one of the innumerable skirmishes that occupied each day of the march, Lieut. Cobbs of Company B, was captured by the enemy, dismounted and disarmed, but before he could be taken to the rear, the regiment charged the rebels with the intention of capturing him. Seeing that he was about to fall into our hands, he was inhumanly murdered in cold blood, a rebel officer shooting him with his own pistol. His body fell into our hands, and was buried on the banks of Red River, by Ыз companions-in-arms, and a rude head-board carved with his name, rank, and regiment, and the emblems of the Masonic fraternity, of which he was a member, was erected to mark the spot. At Yellow Bayou, La., May 17th, 1864, the brigade, of which the regiment was a part, was surrounded by Polignac's and Taylor's divisions of the rebel army, numbering some six thousand men. The 'enemy's lines encircled the brigade in the form of a horse-shoe, while at the opening and between the brigade and the rest of the Union army, (which was six miles distant), a battery was planted that played directly upon the rear. Subjected to a cross fire from almost every side, the loss in the regiment and brigade was heavy, but the little band of horsemen retired stubbornly, presenting a bold front to the enemy, and actually cut its way out of the encircling lines of rebel infantry, within canister range of the enemy's artillery.
On the 18th of May, the enemy made a fierce assault upon our picket lines at Bayou de Glace, where the army had halted to bridge the Atchafalaya river. Gen. A. J. Smith's divisions of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth army corps, with the brigade of cavalry to which the Eighth belonged, were sent back to teach the rebels that they could not disturb us with impunity. The regiment was placed on the left flank in a thick growth of live oak and cypress timber, which, however, had no underbrush to impede the movements of cavalry. As the infantry advanced, the regiment charged the enemy, who were concealed behind the trees and under a heavy fire, broke and scattered two lines of battle, and forced back a third, punishing the enemy so severely that they did not again make their appearance during the remainder of the campaign. In this engagement, two hundred and fifty prisoners and two pieces of artillery were captured from the enemy. The loss of the regiment in the campaign was ninety-six killed, wounded and missing. While at Morganzia the regiment was ordered to New Orleans to proceed on veteran furlough. The reè'nlisted portion accordingly were sent north via the Mississippi river, starting upon the 11th, and arriving in Concord, N. H., on the 23d of July, where they met a warm reception at the hands of the State authorities, and were entertained at the expense of the State until the men were furloughed. After spending thirty days at home among their friends and relatives, from whom they had been separated for nearly three years, the veterans started for New Orleans on the 29th of August, and on their arrival at Camp Parapet, La., joined their comrades who had been left behind, and soon after were ordered to Natchez, Miss., where the regiment is now (December 15th, 1864), stationed.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Saturday, April 16, 2011
On Board the Arago
[Skipped November 15 – December 9, no relation to
Off the coast of
December n, 1862.
At daylight Company B was called on deck and made to form in a three-sided square, the open side towards the rail. Poor Haight was then brought up in a rough box, which was set across the rail, the most of it projecting over the water, the end towards us being fastened down by a rope fastened to an iron on the deck. The chaplain made a prayer, and just as the sun rose out of the water the rope was slipped off, and the box plunged down into the water. I should have said that the engines were stopped and except for the chaplain's words the utmost silence prevailed. I shall never forget this, my first sight of a burial at sea. It has all been so sudden, and so unexpected. He was only sick a few days. Never complained no matter what came, but always was foremost in any fun that can be got out of a life like this. It was at his father's house I took tea when home on my five-day furlough, and I am glad I could give his mother such a good account of him. It is hard for us to understand why Lieutenant Sterling's body can be kept for shipment home, while that of Haight could not.
Yet in the
10 a. m. We have stopped at a sandy island, which they say is
Went on up the river until hard ground appeared. Passed two forts,
We have anchored opposite a large brick building with a few small wood buildings near it.