Sunday, December 21, 2008

George D. Sidman: the heroics of a Civil War drummer boy

In June of 1862 George D. Sidman was a 16 year old drummer boy with the 16th Michigan Infantry, Company C. In the midst of an assault at Gaines Mills, Virginia, Sidman volunteered to carry the regimental flag and rallied his comrades in the face of grave danger until he was wounded in the hip. For his distinguished bravery, Sidman was awarded the Medal of Honor.

In recounting sidman's heroics on that day, Captain Ziba Graham stated:

"Well do I remember that December day in 1862, as we stood en masse on Stafford Heights, overlooking Fredericksburg, all ready to cross the Rappahannock, when the first brigade colors for our brigade were brought upon the field. I can see now the eagerness with which this comrade Sidman, a mere boy, with scarce the down of young manhood upon his chin, sprang forward from the ranks and begged of me the permission to carry those colors. It was granted. Colonel Stockton in command, admiring his pluck but deprecating his youth, finally gave his consent. Sidman brought them out of that hell of fire, many holes shot in them, himself wounded. On his breast to-day he wears the medal of honor, a patent of nobility for bravery far above riches and above price."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Battle of Gettysburg: A surgeon speaks of the hospitality of the citizens of Gettysburg

Part 4 in a series of posts regarding the behavior of the citizens of Gettysburg before, during, and after the great battle. In this post, we hear from Captain Louis C. Duncan, Medical Corps, U.S. Army. In the September, 1913 issue of "The Military Surgeon", Duncan writes:

"Allow me here to remark that the stories published, charging the people of the town with a want of hospitality toward the soldiers, are basely false. In those days of suffering I gathered bread from house to house, and the last loaf and half loaf was always cheerfully given."

"During the battle of the first day, when shells were shrieking and bursting around the hospitals, even the women were found in the midst of the wounded men as they were carried in from the field; and from that time on all through the terrible days, and afterwards down to the close, in every hospital, at all times, with a devotion that never flagged, or counted any sacrifice too great, our noble women were found, like angels of mercy, binding up wounds and administering food. Ask the many hundreds of wounded men, who filled the warehouses, halls, churches, and so many of the private dwellings, what they think of the hospitality of the people of Gettysburg."

"The Rebels, though disposed to help themselves, were generally civil, and even respectful toward the citizens."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Battle of Petersburg: an officer speaks of the dead

Theodore Lyman served on the staff of Major General Meade as aide-de-camp with a commission as lieutenant-colonel from Governor Andrew of Massachusetts. Lyman followed Meade until the end of the war from September 2, 1863, to April 20, 1865. During this time, he served as headquarters archivist. He also put his life on the line carrying flags of truce through hostile lines at Cold Harbor and Petersburg. His published letters and notebooks establish him as the preeminent recorder of events and personalities within the headquarters of Army of the Potomac.

Lyman was present at the Battle of Petersburg in June, 1864, wherein the Union forces suffered terrible losses. Lyman's June 25, 1864 diary entry speaks of these losses. In this entry, he writes:

"I recollect sitting on the high bank of the Rapid Ann [sic], at Germanna Ford, and watching the 5th and 6th Corps as they marched up from the pontoon bridges; and I remember thinking how strange it would be if each man who was destined to fall in the campaign had some large badge on! There would have been Generals Sedgwick, Wadsworth, and Rice, and what crowds of subordinate officers and of privates, all marching gaily along, unconscious, happily, of their fate.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: John Burns strikes again?

In an earlier post we discussed John Burns, the "citizen soldier" who at the Battle of Gettysburg picked up his musket in defense of his hearth and home. Now, hidden amongst the pages of A.P. Smith's History of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York Volunteers we find this reference:

"As the regiments were pushing forward, before the fighting commenced, a gray-haired man, sixty years of age, rushed across the fields, gun in hand, and attempted to reach the front; but being unable to overtake the Seventy-sixth New York, he fell in with the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania, and fought with that Regiment all day. Had all the residents of Gettysburg been equally patriotic and courageous, the result of the first day's fighting might have been more disheartening to the South, and rendered the terrible fighting of the next two days unnecessary."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Battle of Gettysburg: the loyal townspeople

Part 3 in a series of posts on the behavior of the townspeople at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In his History of the Seventy-sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, First Lieutenant A.P. Smith (pictured here) speaks very highly of the citizens of Gettysburg. Smith writes:

"The people of Gettysburg, like the bulk of the people of the free States, are heartily loyal. At many of the doors and windows, the ladies, lads and girls stood through that long, hot day, and passed water and food to the Union troops. More... The men of the Seventy-sixth will not soon forget, and I should fail in the performance of my duty, did I not mention the "nameless heroine," who, with a cup in each hand, so busily dealt out water to the thirsty boys, the tears of sympathy streaming down her lovely cheeks, as the wounded soldiers came hobbling by, until, pierced by a rebel ball, she fell dead by the side of her pail ! We regret that we cannot hand down her name to posterity, even in these humble pages. The memory of her deeds and heroic sacrifice shall remain green, though her name is unknown.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hunger on the march from Gettysburg: "I don't think I should have lived without that bread"

Everyday citizens often lined the streets as troops marched through their towns. Many of these citizens willingly opened their homes to the soldiers and offered food and water.


In the November 11, 1883 edition of the New York Times appeared the following entry from a Main soldier's diary. In this diary entry, the fallen soldier describes the kindness and bravery of a Martinsburg, WV woman who offered bread to the hungry despite the dire circumstances. He writes:

"I was taken prisoner July 3 at the Battle of Gettysburg. The smoke of that battle shut in and the grey enveloped us, and when the night came I was a prisoner in the rebel ranks. July 4 they drew us up in line. There were 4,000 of us. At early morning the command was given that the line start for Richmond, Va. -- the heart of rebeldom. We were all tired and thirsty and hungry, many of us were wounded, and it was under the hot summer sky of midsummer. We marched from the field of Gettysburg that day to the borders of the Potomac -- a long and weary march. That night we settled down on the banks of the river. The river ran high, the bridge had been destroyed, and we waited for the arrival of the pontoons and the consequent transportation across. Every one was hungry."

"I was hungrier than I ever was before, though not hungrier than I was subsequently during the war. The word was sent in among us announcing that there was nothing to eat on this side of the river, but that rations would be distributed when we had crossed. We were kept two days on this side of the river before a passage was made. Some of the men, as I well know, didn't get a scrap of food for two days. Most of them, I know, were kept alive through hope, and all of us were promised a plenty of rations across the river. Some of the boys did 'cross the river' before the pontoons came, and numbers died along the shore. The hunger of the men was terrible. I remember well on the afternoon of the second day that a squad of officers with small bags of biscuits came down among us and tossed the biscuits into the air for fun. Hats would go into the air and men would fight each other for the bread like a parcel of wolves. It was one of the most startling sights I remember of the war."

"We got across the Potomac the second day in boats. The day was tremendously hot, and our line of men, as I well know, was very weak, and many of them badly wounded. When the line was drawn up across the river the announcement came to us that there was no supply of food and that no rations could be distributed until the line reached Martinsburg. Martinsburg was 12 miles distant, and so we marched 12 miles further. The people of the town of Martinsburg were loyal people mostly. It was a loyal section and the people had heard of our coming. The fires had been built, and the kitchen ovens had turned out loaves and loaves of bread in anticipation of the march of the Union prisoners through the town."

Just outside the thick cluster of houses the line was drawn together. Guards were laced along both sides of the line, and we were to be prevented from making breaks from the ranks. The line marched through the city. I well remember one house and one woman. I would know her if I should see her to-day anywhere. She lived in a house with a high pair of steps leading down into a front yard with thick trees and a high fence and gate. I saw her come down the steps into the yard. she had her arms full of loaves of bread. She looked the way I always thought Barbara Frietchie must have looked. She beckoned, and a half dozen of us, getting a chance, made a break. We reached the fence and she shoved the bread out over the gate. The rest of the boys couldn't stand it and a dozen more made a break. The guards came along and cracked the muskets. 'Into the ranks or we'll shoot', said they, and then the officer in command shouted, 'Don't shoot them, shoot that damned old woman', and the guard pointed his musket in her face and the crowd fell back. For reply, the woman shoved another loaf of bread out through the gate. 'Eat it boys', said she, 'and may God bless you.' And, Sir, that woman never budged and never winked, and that guard never took down his musket out of shame, and the Union boys gave a cheer for the woman and were driven back into the ranks. I don't think I should have lived without that bread."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: a defense of the behavior of the townspeople

Part 2 in a series of posts on the behavior of the townspeople at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Below, we hear from H. M. M. Richards, a member of the 26th regiment of the Pennsylvania volunteers. Richards disputes the assertions that the citizens of Gettysburg behaved in an unpatriotic manner. He writes:

FOR twenty-three years we have heard it asserted that the people of Gettysburg were lacking in patriotism because they did not spring to arms en masse, and assist in repelling the invaders. I am glad to see in your November issue that a correspondent cites young Weakley, in addition to old John Burns, as another who volunteered in the defense of his home during the battle ; but he prefaces his article with the old assertion.


The purpose of this communication is to state that, upon the first indication of an invasion of Pennsylvania, the Twenty-sixth Regiment, P.V.M., was organized and mustered into the United States service at Harrisburg, under the command of Colonel W. W. Jennings of that city. Company A of this regiment, to which I had the honor of belonging, was composed partly of students from the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg, partly of students from the Pennsylvania College at the same place, and partly of citizens of Gettysburg ; one other company came from Hanover, but a few miles distant. We were the first militia troops to oppose the entrance of the Confederates into the State.

On June 23d we left Harrisburg for Gettysburg, to be used, I believe, as riflemen amongst the hills near Cashtown. A railroad accident prevented this plan from being carried into effect, and us from reaching Gettysburg, until the 26th, by which time General Early had passed that point. In accordance with orders received from Major Granville O. Haller, in command of the post, we were marched out on the Chambersburg pike at ten A. M., June 26th, for a distance of about three and a half miles, accompanied by Major Robert Bell, who commanded a troop of horse, also raised, I understand, in Gettysburg. Having halted, our colonel, accompanied by Major Bell, rode to the brow of an elevation distant several hundred yards, and there saw General Early's troops advancing in force, but a few minutes distant. This officer, knowing of our presence but anticipating a still larger force, says in his official report: "I sent General Gordon with his brigade and White's battalion of cavalry on the pike through Cashtown towards Gettysburg, and moved with the rest of the command to the left through Hilltown to Mummasburg. . . . The object of this movement was for Gordon to amuse and skirmish with the enemy while I should get on his flank and rear so as to capture his whole force." We, a few hundred men at the most, were in the toils : what should be done ? We would gladly have marched to join the Army of the Potomac, under Meade, but where were they? Our colonel, left to his own resources, wisely decided to make an effort to return to Harrisburg, and immediately struck off from the pike, the Confederates capturing many of our rear-guard after a sharp skirmish, and sending their cavalry in pursuit of us. These latter overtook us in the afternoon at Witmer's house, about four and a half miles from Gettysburg by the Carlisle road, where after an engagement they were repulsed with some loss. I have narrated enough for my purpose, and will only add that, after many vicissitudes, we finally reached Harrisburg, having marched fifty-four out of sixty consecutive hours, with a loss of some two hundred men.

I can recall no instance in our civil war where the people of a town rose in a body, or in any numbers, to aid their troops in driving out the enemy. Now, in view of the fact that Gettysburg, small town as it then was, furnished its quota of brave men who were then in the army serving their several terms of enlistment; and that from it and its immediate vicinity were raised promptly two, if not three, companies of men in defense of their State; that one of its oldest as well as one of its youngest citizens took up arms for the same purpose and aided in the battle; that hundreds of the unfortunate men of Reynolds's gallant corps were secreted, sheltered, fed, and aided in every way by the men and women of Gettysburg when they were hurled back through its streets, as I know from personal communication with them — I say, in view of these facts, let us give these people the credit that belongs to them instead of casting continued reflections upon their actions. I can the more justly give my opinion in this matter because I was the only member of our company who did not belong to Gettysburg. I went to Harrisburg to be mustered in with the others because my brother, then a student in the Seminary, was amongst them.

READING, PA. Nov. 2, 1886. H. M. M. Richards.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: General Pickett's final letter before "the charge"

As referenced in an earlier post in this forum, General Pickett wrote his wife-to-be a letter prior to leading his division on the infamous and deadly charge. The text of Pickett's letter to his sweetheart Sallie, excerpted from the 1913 publication The Heart of Soldier, appears below.

Pickett writes:


Can my prettice do patchwork? If she can, she must piece together these penciled scraps of soiled paper and make out of them, not a log-cabin quilt, but a wren's nest, cement it with love and fill it with blue and golden and speckled eggs of faith and hope, to hatch out greater love yet for us.


Well, the long, wearying march from Chambersburg, through dust and heat beyond compare, brought us here yesterday (a few miles from Gettysburg). Though my poor men were almost exhausted by the march in the intense heat, I felt that the exigencies demanded my assuring Marse Robert that we had arrived and that, with a few hours' rest, my men would be equal to anything he might require of them. I sent Walter with my message and rode on myself to Little Round Top to see Old Peter, who, I tell you, dearest, was mighty glad to see me. And now, just think of it, though the old war-horse was watching A. P. Hill's attack upon the center and Hood and McLaws of his own corps, who had struck Sickles, he turned and before referring to the fighting or asking about the march inquired after you, my darling! While we were watching the fight Walter came back with Marse Robert's reply to my message, which was in part: "Tell Pickett I'm glad that he has come, that I can always depend upon him and his men, but that I shall not want him this evening."

We have been on the qui vive, sweetheart, since midnight and as early as three o'clock were on the march. About half past three, Gary's pistol signaled the Yankees' attack upon Culp's Hill, and with its echo a wail of regret went up from my very soul that the other two brigades of my old division had been left behind. Oh, God, if only I had them — a surety for the honor of Virginia, for I can depend upon them, little one. They know your Soldier and would follow him into the very jaws of death — and he will need them, right here, too, before he's through.

At early dawn, darkened by the threatening rain, Armistead, Garnett, Kemper and your Soldier held a heart-to-heart powwow.

All three sent regards to you, and Old Lewis pulled a ring from his little finger and making me take it, said, "Give this little token, George, please, to her of the sunset eyes, with my love, and tell her the 'old man' says since he could not be the lucky dog he's mighty glad that you are."

Dear old Lewis — dear old "Lo," as Magruder always called him, being short for Lothario. Well, my Sally, I'll keep the ring for you, and some day I'll take it to John Tyler and have it made into a breastpin and set around with rubies and diamonds and emeralds. You will be the pearl, the other jewel. Dear old Lewis!

Just as we three separated to go our different ways after silently clasping hands, our fears and prayers voiced in the "Good luck, old man," a summons came from Old Peter, and I immediately rode to the top of the ridge where he and Marse Robert were making a reconnaissance of Meade's position. "Great God!" said Old Peter as I came up. "Look, General Lee, at the insurmountable difficulties between our line and that of the Yankees — the steep hills, the tiers of artillery, the fences, the heavy skirmish line — and then we'll have to fight our infantry against their batteries. Look at the ground we'll have to charge over, nearly a mile of that open ground there under the rain of their canister and shrapnel."

"The enemy is there, General Longstreet, and I am going to strike him," said Marse Robert in his firm, quiet, determined voice.

About 8 o'clock I rode with them along our line of prostrate infantry. They had been told to lie down to prevent attracting attention, and though they had been forbidden to cheer they voluntarily arose and lifted in reverential adoration their caps to our beloved commander as we rode slowly along. Oh, the responsibility for the lives of such men as these! Well, my darling, their fate and that of our beloved Southland will be settled ere your glorious brown eyes rest on these scraps of penciled paper — your Soldier's last letter, perhaps.

Our line of battle faces Cemetery Ridge. Our detachments have been thrown forward to support our artillery which stretches over a mile along the crests of Oak Ridge and Seminary Ridge. The men are lying in the rear, my darling, and the hot July sun pours its scorching rays almost vertically down upon them. The suffering and waiting are almost unbearable.

Well, my sweetheart, at one o'clock the awful silence was broken by a cannon-shot and then another, and then more than a hundred guns shook the hills from crest to base, answered by more than another hundred — the whole world a blazing volcano, the whole of heaven a thunderbolt — then darkness and absolute silence — then the grim and gruesome, low-spoken commands — then the forming of the attacking columns. My brave Virginians are to attack in front. Oh, may God in mercy help me as He never helped before!

I have ridden up to report to Old Peter. I shall give him this letter to mail to you and a package to give you if — Oh, my darling, do you feel the love of my heart, the prayer, as I write that fatal word?

Now, I go; but remember always that I love you with all my heart and soul, with every fiber of my being; that now and forever I am yours — yours, my beloved. It is almost three o'clock. My soul reaches out to yours — my prayers. I'll keep up a skookum tumtum for Virginia and for you, my darling.

Your Soldier

Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Moments before the charge: General Pickett says goodbye to his wife-to-be

A few moments after General James "Old Pete" Longstreet reluctantly gave General Pickett his orders to begin the assault on the Union positions on Cemetery Ridge, General Pickett scribbled the following words on an envelope containing a letter to his wife-to-be, LaSalle "Sallie" Corbell:

"If Old Peter's nod means death then goodbye and God bless you, my little one."

He then presented the envelope to General Longstreet and aksed him to mail it. Pickett later reported that Longstreet had tears streaming down his cheeks as he accepted the letter. [Note: complete text of Pickett's letter is presented in this forum.]

As Sallie Corbell Pickett reports in her book Pickett and his men, Longstreet did indeed see to it that General Pickett's letter was mailed, and included with it some words of his own. Longstreet wrote:


MY DEAR LADY: General Pickett has just intrusted to me the safe conveyance of the inclosed letter. If it should turn out to be his farewell the penciled note on the outside will show you that I could not speak the words which would send so gallant a soldier into the jaws of a useless death. As I watched him, gallant and fearless as any knight of old, riding to certain doom, I said a prayer for his safety and made a vow to the Holy Father that my friendship for him, poor as it is, should be your heritance. We shall meet. I am, dear lady, with great respect, Yours to command,

James Longstreet

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg: behavior of the townspeople

Part 1 in a series of posts on the behavior of the townspeople at the Battle of Gettysburg.

In the July 7, 1863 edition of the New York Times, war correspondent L.L. Crounse wrote a scathing piece regarding the conduct of the people of Gettysburg. Some echoed Crounse's assessment while others disagreed vehemently. Both sides will be represented here in this forum in forthcoming posts. But first, we offer the July 7, 1863 piece by L.L. Crounse. He writes:

....But there is one thing the country cannot have too much of -- sympathy for the fallen -- or cannot give too much -- aid for the wounded, and unstinted praise for the valorous ones, whose steady and unflinching courage have turned the tide of successive disaster into a sweeping and surging victory -- let a nation be truly thankful.

And apropos to this, let me make it a matter of undeniable history that the conduct of the majority of the male citizens of Gettysburg, and the surrounding County of Adams, is such as to stamp them with dishonor and craven-hearted meanness. I do not speak hastily. I write but the unanimous sentiments of the whole army -- an army which now feels that the doors from which they drove a host of robbers, thieves, and cut-throats, were not worthy of being defended. The actions of the people of Gettysburg are so sordidly mean and unpatriotic, as to engender the belief that they were indifferent as to which party was whipped. I will give a few instances.


In the first place the male citizens mostly ran away, and left the women and children to the mercy of their enemies. On their return, instead of lending a helping hand to our wounded, and opening their houses to our famished officers and soldiers, they have only manifested indecent haste to present their bills to the military authorities for payment of losses inflicted by both armies. One man yesterday presented a Captain with a full bill for eighteen rails which his men had burned in cooking their coffee! On the streets the burden of their talk is their losses -- and speculations as to whether the Government can be compelled to pay for this or that. Almost entirely they are uncourteous -- but this is plainly form lack of intelligence and refinement. Their charges, too, were exorbitant -- hotels, $2.50 per day; milk, 10 and 15 cents per quart; bread, $1 and even $1.50 per loaf; twenty cents for a bandage for a wounded soldier! And these are only a few specimens of the sordid meanness and unpatriotic spirit manifested by these people, from whose doors our noble army had driven a hated enemy. I wish it to be understood that the facts I have stated can be fully substantiated by many officers high in rank, as well as by what I personally saw and experienced. This is Adams County -- a neighbor to Copperhead York, which is still nearer to the stupid and stingy Berks.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

General Daniel E. Sickles loses a leg at the Battle of Gettysburg

Gens. Sickles, Carr & Graham. Taken near Trostle's barn, Gettysburg Battlefield - on spot where General Sickles lost his leg, July 2nd, 1863

Colorful, enigmatic, and controversial Union General Daniel E. Sickles suffered the misfortune of being struck by a cannonball at the Battle of Gettysburg. As a result of this injury, his right leg was amputated, thus ending his combat career. In typical Sickles fashion, he faced his handicap with extraordinary bravery and calm. Whitelaw Ried describes this calm in his Cincinnati Gazette column of July 4. Reid writes:

On a stretcher, borne by a couple of stout privates lay General Sickles -- but yesterday leading his corps with all the enthusiasm and dash for which he has been distinguished -- to-day [sic] with his right leg amputated, More...and lying there, grim and stoical, with his cap pulled over his eyes, his hands calmly folded across his breast, and a cigar in his mouth! For a man who had just lost a leg, and whose life was yet in imminent jeopardy, it was cool indeed. He was being taken to the nearest railroad line<, to be carried to some city where he could get most careful attendance...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Definition of gallantry: the 26th North Carolina at the Battle of Gettysburg

The 26th North Carolina suffered incredible casualities at the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1, the first day of battle, the 26th marched 800+ soldiers into battle and lost 588. After regrouping on July 2, the remaining members of the 26th participated in Pickett's Charge on July 3. Again, the 26th suffered heavy losses; an additional 120 men were killed, wounded, or captured, but they fought on and succeeded in planting their flag in the Federal works.

Below, William Cheek (Private, Company E, 26th North Carolina) recounts the death of Colonel Henry King Burgwyn on July, 1863. Cheek states:

It was in the first day's fight at Gettysburg. Our regiment had been formed in line of battle and advanced a considerable distance towards the Federal lines. Our colors were very prominent in the center. Time after time they were shot down by the hot fire of infantry and artillery, and in all they fell fifteen times, sometimes the staff being broken and sometimes a color- bearer being shot down.


The color-sergeant was killed quite early in the advance and then a private of F company took the flag. He was shot once, but rose and went on, saying, 'Come on, boys !' and as the words left his lips was again shot down, when the flag was taken by Captain McCreary, who was killed a moment or two later. Then Colonel Burgwyn himself took the colors and as we were advancing over the brow of a little hill and he was a few feet in advance of the center of the regiment, he was shot as he partly turned to give an order, a bullet passing through his abdomen. He fell backwards, the regiment continuing its advance, Lieutenant- Colonel John R. Lane taking command and at the same time taking the flag from Colonel Burgwyn. In a moment, it seemed, he was shot, and then Captain W. S. Brewer, of my company, took the flag and carried it through the remainder of the advance, Major John Jones having then assumed command of the regiment. Our regiment was recalled and retired. I was knocked down by the explosion of a shell, which injured my eyesight somewhat, but soon rose and as myself and some comrades went back, I saw Colonel Burgwyn being carried off the field by two soldiers, named Ellington and Staton, who were using one of their blankets for that purpose.

Colonel Burgwyn asked me, whom he recognized as being a member of his command, to help carry him off the field, and I at once gave my aid. We carried him some distance towards the place where our line of battle had been formed, and as we were thus moving him a lieutenant of some South Carolina regiment came up and took hold of the blanket to help us. Colonel Burgwyn did not seem to suffer much, but asked the lieutenant to pour some water on his wound. He was put down upon the ground while the water was poured from canteens upon him. His coat was taken off and I stooped to take his watch, which was held around his neck by a silk cord. As I did so the South Carolina lieutenant seized the watch, broke the cord, put the watch in his pocket and started off with it. I demanded the watch, telling the officer that he should not thus take away the watch of my colonel and that I would kill him as sure as powder would burn, with these words cocking my rifle and taking aim at him.

I made him come back and give up the watch, at the same time telling him he was nothing but a thief, and then ordering him to leave, which he did. In a few moments, Colonel Burgwyn said to me that he would never forget me, and I shall never forget the look he gave me as he spoke these words. We then picked him up again and carried him very close to the place where we had been formed in line of battle. Captain Young, of General Pettigrew's staff, came up and expressed much sympathy with Colonel Burgwyn. The latter said that he was very grateful for the sympathy, and added, 'The Lord's will be done. We have gained the greatest victory in the war. I have no regret at my approaching death. I fell in the defense of my country.'

About that time a shell exploded very near us and took off the entire top of the hat of Captain Brewer, who had joined our party. I left and went to search for one of our litters, in order to place Colonel Burgwyn upon it, so as to carry him more comfortably and conveniently. I found the litter with some difficulty, and as the bearers and myself came up to the spot where Colonel Burgwyn was lying on the ground, we found that he was dying. I sat down and took his hand in my lap. He had very little to say, but I remember that his last words were that he was entirely satisfied with everything, and 'The Lord's will be done.' Thus he died, very quietly and resignedly. I never saw a braver man than he. He was always cool under fire and knew exactly what to do, and his men were devoted to him.

He was the youngest colonel I ever saw in all my experience as a soldier. If he had lived he would have been given high rank, I feel sure.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 4 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

October 4, 1865

What a mockery this trial is, they say they are anxious that I should have justice done to me, and then a witness is put on the stand to give testimony they give everything to try to break him down, if they cannot do it they try to assail his private character, when they had their witnesses up, they not alone were allowed to state everything I said, everything I done, but even what they heard others say that I had said so and so, done such and such things, and now when I wish to prove by my witnesses what I also said and done, it is said it is inadmissible, I just as well might be put on the stand myself, as if I had said these things now and not a year ago, when I had no idea that I should be held to account hereafter. But so the world goes and all I can say is oh God give me the strength to bear with my patience and humility what Thou seest fit to put on me. Be thou my judge.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Civil War drummer boys did more than just play the drums

A mention of the Civil War drummer boy often evokes images of a young lad banging out a rhythm as his regiment marches into battle. But the Civil War drummer boys did much more than just play the drums. In camp they were often used as orderlies for commanding officers. And in battle they helped to care for the wounded. Below, David Auld, drummer for the 43rd Ohio Volunteers, recounts his experiences helping the wounded at the Battle of Corinth. Auld writes:

While watching these battle lines so grand to look upon, but so terrible to think of when you remember the frightful waste of human lives they caused, the call came; "Bring the stretchers, a man hurt." Myself and Demas took the stretchers to look for the man, he was pointed out to us and proved to be Bradford (our older brother) who had been struck by a shell in the left shoulder while lying on the ground in line waiting for the first assault just opening. More...By his side lay James W. Conger, whose clothing was stained by his blood. We were little more than children and the shock to us can be better imagined than described. Demas and myself lifted him to the stretcher just as Col. Kirby Smith and Adjutant Heyl were shot from their horses a few steps away We carried him to the shallow ditch by the railroad a few rods to the rear, where the temporary field hospital was located, as it offered a slight protection to the wounded from the deadly hail of bullets that fell about them coming from all directions except the rear We then placed him in an ambulance still alive and conscious. We bid him goodbye and never saw him again. He only lived a short time and occupies an unknown grave.

Is this Hell? A prisoner describes his first view of the infamous Andersonville prison

In his description of life in the Confederate prisons, Robert H. Kellogg, Sergeant-Major of the 16th Connecticut Volunteers, recounts his arrival at the infamous Andersonville prison. In his description, he notes that he and his comrades had heard of the horrors of Andersonville, but thought that these stories were circulated in an effort to frighten them. Kellogg writes:

As we entered the place a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect; — stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin.


At nine o'clock we were able to chronicle our arrival at Andersonville, or rather at the station, for there is no village, and the prison is nearly a mile out from this. This place, so notorious in the history of the war, is situated in Sumter Co., about sixty-five miles southwest from Macon, and fifty from the Alabama State line. We were counted as we left the cars, and then marched a short distance from the depot, where we remained all night, surrounded by a line of fires and a heavy guard. Here we heard terrible stories of small-pox being prevalent in the prison, and also about the "dead line" which was death to any one who should step over it, but even then we thought they might be trying to frighten us.

We were aroused from our slumbers the next morning at an early hour, and called to submit to the orders of a bustling officer, dressed in Captain's uniform, who did his work with a great deal of swearing and threatening, dividing us into messes of ninety men each, each mess to be in charge of a sergeant, who should call the roll every morning, draw the rations, and receive an extra one himself for his trouble. Three "nineties" constituted a detachment, which was also in charge of a sergeant. Thus classed, and our names taken, we were marched off to the prison. As we came near it, we found it to consist of twelve or fifteen acres of ground, enclosed by a high stockade of hewed pine logs, closely guarded by numerous sentinels, who stood in elevated boxes overlooking the camp.

As we entered the place a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect; — stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness, "Can this be hell ?" "God protect us!" and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place.

In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.

Along the edge of the swamp, from one side of the camp to the other, ran a little shallow brook, three or four feet wide, and this, with a few small springs, were to furnish our water for the season. Whatever we may have thought of the dangers of the past ; of the uncertainties which encircled us prior to our captivity, when we were exposed to the assaults of the enemy, we now felt that almost infinitely better would it be, to dwell in the midst of alarms, than reign in such a horrible place.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Newspaper coverage: Charles Carleton Coffin "predicts" the Battle of Gettysburg

As described in an earlier post, war correspondents often played an important military role by providing timely information to battlefield commanders. A fine example of the insightful observations of the war correspondents can be found in the writings of Charles Carleton Coffin, correspondent for the Boston Journal. In his June 29 column (five days before the battle), Carleton writes:

If Lee advances with nearly all his forces into Pennsylvania, there must be a collision of the two armies not many miles west of Gettysburg, probably among the rolling hills near the State line, on the head waters of the Monocacy... I believe that Washington Baltimore will not be harmed. I expect to see Adams, Franklin, Cumberland, and York counties run over somewhat by the rebels, and i also expect to see Lee utterly defeated in his plans. His army may not be annihilated. Hooker may not achieve a great, decisive victory. But I fully believe that Lee will gain nothing by this move.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Congressional Medal of Honor: J. Monoe "Roe" Reisinger recevies his for actions at the Battle of Gettysburg

1522 Congressional medals of honor have been awarded to soldiers who served in the American Civil War. One of the recipients, Roe Reisinger (aka J. Monroe Reisinger) received his award in 1907. The joint resolution authorizing the award reads as follows:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That the Secretary of War be, and is hereby authorized and directed to award the Congressional medal of honor to Roe Reisinger, alias J. Monroe Reisinger, late corporal, Company H, One hundred and fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, for specially brave and meritorious conduct in the face of the enemy at the battle of Gettysburg July first, eighteen hundred and sixty-three.

Approved January 25, 1907

Further evidence of Roe Reisinger's valor can be found in Lieutenant-Colonel Henry S. Huidekoper's official report of his Regiment at the battle of Gettysburg [Excerpted from: War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies, series I, volume XXVII, part 1]. In his report, Huidekoper writes:

I cannot praise too highly the conduct of both officers and men. It was all that could have been desired. Among the many brave, I would especially commend for coolness and courage Major Chamberlain, Adjutant Ashurst, Lieutenants Sears, Chancellor (who lost his leg and has since died), Bell, Kilgore, Color-bearer [John] Pieffer, Sergeant [Duffy B.] Torbett, and Corporal’ [Roe] Reisinger.

[Note: Huidekoper's full report follows below.]


Report of Lieut. Got. Henry S. Huidekoper, One hundred and fiftieth Pennsylvania Infantry.

SIR: Report of the action of the One hundred and fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers at Gettysburg, Pa., on July 1:

On the morning of July 1, the One hundred and fiftieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers left camp near Emmitsburg, and about noon arrived on the battle-field at Gettysburg. Rapidly throwing off their knapsacks, the regiment moved up on the ground between the Iron Brigade and the other regiments of Colonel Stone’s brigade, which reached to the Chambersburg road. After lying under shelling for an hour, the command of the regiment fell to me, Colonel Wister taking command of the brigade. Almost immediately, by order of Colonel Wister, a change of front forward on first company was made with regularity and promptness, and in that new position, protected by a fence, our men awaited the charge of a rebel regiment which was attempting to flank the One hundred and forty-third and One hundred and forty-ninth Regiments, which had gallantly repulsed an attack in their front. At the distance of 50 yards, a volley was poured into the rebels, which staggered them so completely that a second one was fired before an attempt was made to advance or retreat. At this juncture, Colonel Wister ordered the regiment to charge, and led it in person. The rebels were utterly routed, and the colors of the One hundred and forty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers, which had been lost, were recaptured and restored to that regiment.

The One hundred and fiftieth then fell back to the position from which it had advanced. The firing of the enemy, who was approaching in front of the corps, now became fearful, and the regiment changed front to rear to meet this new attack. The movement was made in perfect order, and then bravely did the men move to the front, following the color-sergeant, who rushed to place his standard on the small rise of ground in advance. Four companies again changed front to resist the flank attack, while the remainder of the regiment fought one entire brigade, which was prevented from advancing by a high fence. The severe loss attending fighting at such odds soon compelled our men to give way, but a battery coming up on our left, another stand was necessary, and again was the regiment moved forward until the battery had wheeled around and moved to the rear. At this moment a wound compelled me to relinquish the command to Captain Widdis, Major Chamberlain having been severely wounded some time before.

I cannot praise too highly the conduct of both officers and men. It was all that could have been desired. Among the many brave, I would especially commend for coolness and courage Major Chamberlain, Adjutant Ashurst, Lieutenants Sears, Chancellor (who lost his leg and has since died), Bell, Kilgore, Color-bearer [John] Pieffer, Sergeant [Duffy B.] Torbett, and Corporal [Roe] Reisinger.

The regiment numbered, including 17 officers, before the battle nearly 400 at roll-call; in the evening but 2 officers, 1 of those wounded, and 84 men were present. As far as I can learn, the number killed was about 60; the rest were wounded or captured.

I am, your obedient servant,


Lieut. Col. One hundred and fiftieth Pennsylvania Vols.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Newspaper coverage of the Civial War: journalists report on the Battle of Gettysburgh

During the American Civil War, Whitelaw Reid was a war correspondent for the Cincinnati Gazette. In his coverage of the Battle of Gettysburg, he relates the following story wherein he encounters fellow journalist L.L. Crounse while enroute to Taneytown, Maryland to meet the newly installed commander of the Army of the Potomac, General George Meade. Reid writes:

In a plain little wall-tent, just like the rest, pen in hand, seated on a camp-stool and bending over a map, is the new " General Commanding" for the army of the Potomac. More... Tall, slender, not ungainly, but certainly not handsome or graceful, thin-faced, with grizzled beard and moustache, a broad and high but retreating forehead, from each corner of which the slightly- ciirling hair recedes, as if giving premonition of baldness — apparently between forty-five and fifty years of age — altogether a man who impresses you rather as a thoughtful student than as a dashing soldier — so General Meade looks in his tent.

"I tell you, I think a great deal of that fine fellow Meade," I chanced to hear the President say, a few days after Chancellorsville. Here was the result of that good opinion. There is every reason to hope that the events of the next few days will justify it.

A horseman gallops up and hastily dismounts. It is a familiar face — L. L. Crounse, the well- known chief correspondent of the New York Times, with the army of the Potomac. As we exchange hurried salutations, he tells us that he has just returned from a little post-village in Southern Pennsylvania, ten or fifteen miles away ; that a fight, of what magnitude he cannot say, is now going on near Gettysburg, between the First corps and some unknown force of the enemy ; that Major-General Reynolds is already killed, and that there are rumors of more bad news.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

John Burns: citizen soldier at the Battle of Gettysburg

One of the more remarkable stories to come out of the first day of Battle at Gettysburg is the tale of John Burns, a 70 year old who heard the firing, grabbed his rifle, and asked permission to join the fight.

Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Chamberlin of the 150th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, was present as Burns approached the Union soldiers. He writes:

An incident which occurred about mid-day did much to create good feeling and stimulate the courage of the regiment. While watching and waiting, the attention of some of the men was called to an individual of rather bony frame and more than average stature who approached from the direction of the town, moving with a deliberate step, carrying in his right hand a rifle at a "trail". At any time his figure would have been noticeable, but it was doubly so at that moment, both on account of his age, which evidently neared threescore-and-ten, and the peculiarity of his dress. The latter consisted of dark trousers and waistcoat, a blue "swallow-tail" coat with brass buttons, and a high black silk hat, from which most of the original sheen had long departed, of a shape to be found only in the fashion-plates of a remote past. Presumably on account of the heat, no neckwear of any kind relieved the bluish tint of his clean-shaven face and chin. As his course brought him opposite the rear of the left battalion, he first met Major Chamberlin and asked, "Can I fight with your regiment?" The major answered affirmatively, but, seeing Colonel Wister approaching, added, "Here is our colonel; speak to him".

"Well, old man, what do you want?" demanded Colonel Wister.

"I want a chance to fight with your regiment."

"You do? Can you shoot?"

"Oh, yes;" and a smile crept over the old man's face which seemed to say, "If you knew that you had before you a soldier of the war of 1812, who fought with Scott at Lundy's Lane, you would not ask such a question".

"I see you have a gun, but where is your ammunition?"

For answer, he slapped his disengaged hand on his trousers pockets, which were bulging out with cartridges.

"Certainly you can fight with us", said the colonel, "and I wish there were many more like you".

He then advised him to go into the woods on the left, to the line of the Iron Brigade, where he would be more sheltered from sun and bullets, with an equal chance of doing good execution. With apparent reluctance, as if he preferred the open field, he moved towards the woods, and history has written the name of John Burns - for it was he - in the roll of the nation's heroes, and his deeds of that day are inseparably linked with the glories of Gettysburg!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Civil War color bearer: the toughest job you'll ever love, but it will probably get you killed

Carrying a regiment's colors into battle was considered an honor and a privilege. It was also a very dangerous job and would likely get a man maimed or killed. Thus, it required a great deal of courage.

Below is a portion of text excerpted from: My Story of the War: a Woman's Narrative of Four Years Personal Experience as Nurse in the Union Army... It is an excellent example of the grim outlook for the regimental color bearer.

"The fatality that attended the color-bearers, officers, and men of this regiment at the battle of Gettysburg was very great. It had in its ranks on the morning of this memorable fight four hundred and ninety-six officers and men. It lost in killed and wounded three hundred and sixteen. The 24th was a part of the Iron Brigade, which was the first infantry engaged at Gettysburg. It carried into this battle only a state flag, which was presented to the regiment by the citizens of Detroit. This was carried by Color-Bearer Abel G. Peck, a tall, straight, handsome man, and as brave a soldier as ever gave up his life for his country. More...He was instantly killed almost at the beginning of the famous charge of the Iron Brigade. The flag was then seized by Private Thomas B. Ballou, who was desperately wounded immediately after, and died a few weeks later. The flag was then carried by Private August Ernst, who was instantly killed. Corporal Andrew Wagner then took the colors and carried them until shot through the breast, from the effects of which he died about a year after the close of the war.

When Corporal Wagner fell, Colonel Henry A. Morrill took the flag, and gallantly attempted to rally the few survivors of the regiment. But Private William Kelly insisted on carrying it, saying to Colonel Morrill, " You shall not carry the flag while I am alive." The gallant fellow held it aloft and almost instantly fell, shot through the heart. Private L. Spaulding then took the flag from the hands of Kelly, and carried it until he was himself badly wounded. Colonel Morrill again seized the flag, and was soon after shot in the head and carried from the field.

After the fall of Colonel Morrill, the flag was carried by a soldier whose name has never been ascertained. He was seen by Captain Edwards — who was now in command of the regiment — lying upon the ground badly wounded, grasping the flag in his hands. Captain Edwards took the flag from him and carried it himself until the few men left of the regiment fell back and reached Culp's Hill. Captain Edwards is the only man who is known to have carried the flag that day, who was not killed or wounded.

This grand old flag is no longer in existence. It was so riddled and torn with shot and shell that scarcely a square foot of it remained intact. The staff was shot and broken in pieces also. The men had great affection for the old flag, and after the battle of Gettysburg they agreed to cut it up and distribute the pieces to the survivors. This was done, and to-day in many a Michigan household a small piece of faded blue silk is cherished as one of the sacred mementoes of the war.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The attempted poisoning of Henry Wirz by his wife: fact or fiction?

One of the more peculiar stories to come out of the trial and execution of Henry Wirz is the one in which Wirz's wife tries to assist him in committing suicide by providing him with strychnine. Following Wirz's execution, the story appeared in the New York Times on November 11, 1865. It was subsequently deemed a total fabrication by Wirz's attorney and wife.

[Excerpted from "History of the United States Secret Service" by General L.C. Baker]

...I shall never forget the first meeting between Wirz and his wife. She exhibited the most stoical indifference, and simply said, "How are you, Wirz?" Instead of embracing him, as would naturally have been expected under the circumstances, she sat down in a chair in front of him, and looked at the doomed man a moment, and then gave utterance to the most vindictive words against the Government, in which he joined. More...Instead of talking of their family affairs, the unfortunate position in which Wirz was placed, and the probability of his execution, she took occasion to denounce Colonel Chipman, Judge-Advocate of the commission before whom Wirz was being tried, and the witnesses as perjurers, and in the most threatening manner defied the Government to carry the findings of the commission into execution. This interview finally closed in their making an appointment for another.

The conduct of Wirz and his wife was to my mind very suspicious. I did not conceive that such indifference was natural under the circumstances, and determined to watch their next interview very closely. It came in due time, and was very similar to the first one. Mrs. Wirz sat in front of her husband, and I took a position where I could casually observe the movements of each. Mrs. Wirz took from her hand a glove, inside of which I noticed she had a small package ; what it was I could not tell. The interview was short, as both were conscious that I was observing every movement. At the third interview the same thing was repeated. As we all rose to go to the door leading to the hall, Wirz walking first, Mrs. Wirz next, and myself at the rear, she for the first time approached him, when they embraced and put their lips up to kiss each other. I watched the motion, and perceived that she was conveying something from her mouth to his. I sprang forward in an instant, caught him by the throat, and threw him on the floor. He raised a pill from his throat, brought it within his teeth, crushed it and spit out. I picked it up and found it to be a small round piece of strychnine inclosed in a piece of oiled silk. Upon this discovery I informed Mrs. Wirz that she could have no more interviews with her husband. She was compelled, therefore, to leave him to his fate. My next step was to inform the Assistant Secretary of War and Judge Holt of the singular occurrence. I also showed to the former the strychnine pill. On the day of the prisoner's execution, I related the poison scene to a reporter of a New York paper. It was given to the public by him. The copperhead press imme diately opened their artillery of abuse, making me the target of bitterest attack. The whole statement was pronounced a fabrication, while it was verified entirely by Louis Skade, the counsel of Wirz, and by Mrs. Wirz.

The Battle of Gettysburg: we could have whipped you

Lorenzo L. Crounse, chief correspondent for the New York Times during part of the Civil War, was present at the Battle of Gettysburg. His July 8 column, "Further Details of the Great Battles of Friday", contains the following interesting conversation between a captured Confederate colonel and a Federal captain:

A peculiar fact concerning our position is contained in the expression of surprise which the rebel officers uttered when they crossed our lines as prisoners of war. One of the Colonels said, as he looked at our thin line, "Where are the men who fought us"? "Here", said a Captain. "My God!" exclaimed the Colonel, "if only we had another line we could have whipped you;" and then, still gazing about him in astonishment, he continued, with great emphasis, "By God, we could have whipped you as it was!" This is a positive fact, and illustrates how the noble Army of the Potomac can yet fight after all the imputations of demoralization and inefficiency which have been heaped upon it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pickett's Charge: a thing of beauty???

Below, a member of the 107th New York Volunteers (Lieutenant Colonel William F. Fox) describes what he saw as General Pickett's division emerged from the tree line and began their infamous charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. In his description, he uses the word "beautiful" to describe the charge -- how ironic that something that resulted in so much loss of life could at the same time be "beautiful".

[Excerpted from Final Report on the Battlefield of Gettysburg]

"It was a beautiful sight to see these long lines of men with bayonets fixed and glistening. From right to left a wave-like motion ran along the moving columns as they tramped down the sloping hillside into the valley. But let us turn to the sterner aspects of this scene. More... All our batteries now open on the advancing Confederates; their ranks are ploughed with shot and shell; great breaches are made in their columns, but they close up touching toward the centre. We are getting even with them for the reception they gave us at Fredericksburg.

The path of this charge is strewn with the fallen, the centre of contact is piled with Rebel dead, and now what remains of the 14,000 men who started out, either yields or runs back towards the ridge whence they came. The struggle has been terrible; the victory is complete.

The position of the Fifty-seventh was so far to the left that the charging column did not come up to it, except those who dropped their guns and came in as prisoners of war. Our view of the whole charge and repulse was superb. We felt sure that such an attack could not succeed, though it was not as light a matter as our confidence made it. All manner of fun and laughter and ridiculous speeches went the rounds. " Come on, Johnnie, we long to embrace you," " They must be hungry for lead," " As they drop on our bayonets we will help them to the rear," " See them skedaddle," — indeed anything that could be thought of to heighten the occasion was contributed.

Our losses in this battle were: 4 men killed, 2 officers and 26 men wounded, and 2 men missing, making a total of 34, Captain Mott and Lieutenant Hall were among the wounded."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 5 of 5)

[Part 5 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

Early on in the Civil War, Union and Confederate officials set up a system for the exchange of prisoners of war. This system eventually broke down. Some have suggested this breakdown resulted in the deplorable conditions at Andersonville, and ultimately, the prosecution and execution of Henry Wirz.

Excerpted below, from the Official Records, is a communication from U.S. Grant regarding his opposition to the exchange of prisoners.

City Point, VA., August 18, 1864. Major-General BUTLER, Commanding, &c.:

I am satisfied that the object of your interview had the proper sauc- tion and therefore meets with my entire approval. I have seen from Southern papers that a system of retaliation is going on in the South which they keep from us and which we should stop in some way. On the subject of exchange, however, I differ from General Hitchcock. It is hard on our men held in Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles. Every man we hold, when released on parole or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once either directly or indirectly. If we com- mence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated. If we hold those caught they amount to no more than dead men. At this particular time to release all rebel prisoners North would iusure Sherman’s defeat and would compromise our safety here.

Lieutenant- General.

Friday, May 9, 2008

March towards Gettysburg: the importance of the fife and drum corps

A soldier comments on the importance of the fife and drum corps while on march towards Gettysburg. Excerpted from: Leaves from the Battlefield of Gettysburg: a Series of Letters From a Field Hospital.

Letter from a young Officer of the 118th Reg. P. V. written on the Battle-field.

July 2, 1863. Thursday noon.

"We started at 5 1/2 o'clock P. M., to make a march of some fifteen miles. The men being chafed and footsore, the march was painfully made. The Colonel kept the drums and fifes beating and playing continually, which was the only thing that kept the men up. It is singular how inspiring music is to a used-up soldier."

Read the full entry below

More... I wrote you last from bivouac near Myersville, Md., on the 30th, which letter as yet I have been unable to mail. At 10 A. M. on the 1st of July we left bivouac near Myersville and marched towards the Pennsylvania line. As soon as we had passed the line, the colors were unfurled and the drums were beaten, and three times three cheers were given for the Keystone State. The men seemed imbued with new spirits. In fact everybody seemed in a good humor; all were determined to give the rebels a rough shake for their impudence. We took the road leading toward Hanover. At every assemblage of houses we passed by on the road, the drums were beaten, and the regular step was kept. When within half a mile of Hanover, we halted and stacked arms, and preparations were made to remain all night. We had just got comfortably fixed, when orders were received to push forward to Gettysburg. This order was anything but agreeable to us; all hands were completely tired out by continued marching. We started at 5 1/2 o'clock P. M., to make a march of some fifteen miles. The men being chafed and footsore, the march was painfully made. The Colonel kept the drums and fifes beating and playing continually, which was the only thing that kept the men up. It is singular how inspiring music is to a used-up soldier. We passed through the towns of Cherrysburg and Brushtown, and halted at 12 1/2 o'clock P. M., about five miles from Gettysburg, and turned in, with orders to move at five o'clock in the morning. At 4 1/2 o'clock this morning, we were routed up and marched to within three miles of Gettysburg. We then struck a road leading to the Baltimore turnpike. We could hear heavy firing toward Gettysburg. We were formed several times in line of battle on the right of the road, and then moved to the left and formed in line of battle, and ordered to rest, from which rest I write you. We are at present on the second line of battle, the First and Twelfth Corps being in the first. The rebels are in possession of Gettysburg at present, and our pickets are on the outskirts.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

War is Hell: memories of a Civil War drummer boy

William Tecumseh Sherman once said, "war is hell". Below, a Civil War drummer boy shares his experiences regarding war and hell.

[Excerpted from: Drum Taps in Dixie: Memories of a Civil War Drummer Boy, 1861 - 1865.]

To fully appreciate Gen. Sherman's definition of war, one needs to be at a field hospital on the outskirts of some great battlefield where the ghastly surroundings of death and suffering are more terrible than on the battlefield itself.

The day after our retreat from Bull Run our regiment was ordered to proceed by train to Fairfax station, where all the wounded were sent for transportation to Washington. More...We rode on the top of freight cars, every man with a loaded musket ready to shoot any of Mosby's men who might try to wreck the train. The cars were filled with cots, stretchers, blankets and other supplies for the wounded.

The night was a dark and rainy one, and as we jumped off the cars at the station, which was located in some dense woods, we saw the horrors of war spread out on every side. Acres of ground were covered with bleeding, mangled soldiers, who but a short time before had stood amid the storm of shot and shell, now just as bravely enduring suffering.

The surgeons and their assistants at the amputating tables with coats off and shirt sleeves rolled up, their hands red with blood, worked swiftly to save life, for it is the "first aid" to the wounded that counts. The spectacular effect was heightened by piles of blazing pitch pine knots, torches and lanterns suspended from the limbs of trees, which imparted a strange wierdness to the scene. All night long the interminable trains of ambulances and wagons from the battlefield came bringing their loads of sufferers with the smoke of battle upon them. Many were so exhausted that it was necessary to give them stimulants before they could be lifted from the wagons.

The United States Sanitary and Christian commissions were represented by a large number of workers. Women of culture and refinement, from some of the best families in the land, were cutting off the blood-drenched clothing, bathing and bandaging shattered limbs, giving nourishment to the fainting, speaking comforting words and listening to the messages of the dying; and all this going on within the sound of rattling musketry and booming cannon, for it was the night of the fight at Chantilly, when Gen. Jackson attempted to flank Pope's army and reached a point not far from Fairfax court house.

Our regiment stood in line in a wheat field, just outside of the woods, a good part of the night with the rain falling in torrents and heaven's artillery vicing with that of the forces engaged. A drummer boy of our company who had lost his drum at Manassas, was carrying a musket that night and stood in the ranks with his father who was a sergeant in the same command. I need hardly say that the events of that night are graven as with an iron pen on his memory.

The authorities at Washington were fearful of risking any more fighting so near the capital and Gen. Pope was ordered to withdraw his army within the defenses of Washington and the wounded were hurried away from Fairfax station in every kind of conveyance, even hacks and carriages being sent out from Washington. Our regiment remained until the last wounded man had been sent forward and then set fire to the immense quantities of supplies stored there, to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy. Our casualties in the second Bull Run affair were comparatively small, we being engaged only in the first encounter at Manassas Junction, which was merely preliminary to the great battle. Gen. Stuart's cavalry did, however, manage to take as prisoners about two hundred of the regiment.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 4 of 5)

[Part 4 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

Excerpted from Major General Butler's report to the "Committee on the Conduct of the War" is the following passage regarding the exchange of prisoners.

"I have felt it my duty to give an account with this particular carefulness of my participation in the business of exchanges of prisoners, the orders under which I acted, and the negotiations attempted, that was done, so that all may become a matter of history. The great importance of the questions; the fearful responsibility for the many thousands of lives which, by the refusal of exchange, were sacrificed by the most cruel forms of death---from cold, starvation, and pestilence of the prison pens of Raleigh and Andersonville---being more than all the British soldiers killed in the wars of Napoleon; the anxiety of fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, wives; to know the exigency which caused this terrible and, perhaps, as it may have seemed to them, useless and unnecessary destruction of those dear to them by horrible deaths-each and all have compelled me to this exposition, so that it may be seen that those lives were spent as a part of the system of attack upon the rebellion, devised by the wisdom of the general in chief of the armies, ;to destroy it by depletion, depending upon our superior numbers to win the victory at last. The loyal mourners will doubtless derive solace from this fact, and appreciate all the more highly the genius which conceived the plan ind the success won at so great a cost."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The last words of Henry Wirz: a letter to his lawyer, Louis Scahde

Note: This passage originally appeared in Page, J.M. (1908). The True Story of Andersonville Prison: a Defense of Major Henry Wirz. New York, Neale Publishing Company.

On the morning of November 10, 1865, a few hours before he mounted the scaffold, Major Wirz penned the following pathetic letter to his faithful friend and counsel:

Old Capitol Prison

Washington, D.C., november 10, 1865

Dear Mr. Louis Schade,

It is the last time I address myself to you. What I have said often and often I repeat -- accept my thanks, my sincere, heartful thanks, for all you have done for me. May God reward you. I cannot.

I still have something more to ask of you, and I am confident you will not refuse to receive my dying request. Please help my poor family, my dear wife and children. War, cruelest, has swept everything from me, and to-day my wife and children are beggars!

My life is demanded as an atonement. I am willing to give it, and I hope that after a while i will be judged differently from what I am now. If any one thought to come to the relief of my family, it is the people of the South, for whose sake i have sacrificed all. I know you will excuse me for troubling you again.

Farewell, dear sir. May God bless you.

Yours Thankfully,
H. Wirz

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 5 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 5 of 7: Henry Wirz diary entry of October 5, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

October 5, 1865

When I left the court-room to-day I heard a lady remark, I wish I could shoot out his eyes, meaning me. Foolish woman, the time will soon come, when my earthly eyes are shut up, are you in such a hurry. But it is very natural that people do think and pass such remarks. for weeks and weeks they have heard men testify to cruelties done by me, and now a very slim chance have I to contradict these statements. It seems to me as if Gen. Wallace had a personal spite against me or my counsel, or he would not act the way he does. If he has one against me, I pity him that he does not have more magnanimity of soul, than to crush me now in such an unheard of arbitrary way, if he has a spite against my counsel, it is a cowardly act to do as he does, for in the end I am the sufferer and not my counsel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 3 of 5)

[Part 3 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

The following letter is from the Rev. Father F. E. Boyle, of Washington:

WASHINGTON, D. C., October 10, 1880


"DEAR SIR : . . . I know that, on the evening before the day of the execution of Major Wirz, a man visited me, on the part of a Cabinet officer, to inform me that Major Wirz would be pardoned if he would implicate Jefferson Davis in the cruelties of Andersonville. No names were given by this messenger, and, upon my refusal to take any action in the matter, he went to Mr. Louis Schade, counsel for Major Wirz, with the same purpose and with a like result.

When I visited Major Wirz the next morning, he told me that the same proposal had been made to him, and had been rejected with scorn. The Major was very indignant, and said that, while he was innocent of the cruel charges for which he was about to suffer death, he would not purchase his liberty by perjury and a crime, such as was made the condition of his freedom. I attended the Major to the scaffold, and he died in the peace of God, and praying for his enemies. I know he was indeed innocent of all the cruel charges on which his life was sworn away, and I was edified by the Christian spirit in which he submitted to his persecuters."

Yours very truly,


Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 2 of 5)

[Part 2 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

The following is an extract from a letter of Captain C. B. Winder to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, dated Eastern Shore of Virginia, January 9, 1867:

"The door of the room which I occupied while in confinement at the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, was immediately opposite Captain Wirz's door — both of which were occasionally open. About two days before Captain Wirz's execution, I saw three or four men pass into his room, and, upon their coming out, Captain Wirz told me that they had given him assurances that his life would be spared and his liberty given to him if he (Wirz) could give any testimony that would reflect upon Mr. Davis or implicate him directly or indirectly with the condition and treatment of prisoners of war, as charged by the United States authorities; that he indignantly spurned these propositions, and assured them that, never having been acquainted with Mr. Davis, either officially, personally, or socially, it was utterly impossible that he should know anything against him, and that the offer of his life, dear as the boon might be, could not purchase him to treason and treachery to the South and his friend."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Captain Henry Wirz: ruthless villain of Andersonville, or innocent pawn? (part 1 of 5)

[Part 1 of 5 in a series of documents that suggest Wirz's innocence]

On April 4,1867, Mr. Louis Schade, of Washington, and the attorney for Wirz on the trial, in compliance with the request of Wirz so to do, as soon as the times should be propitious, published a vindication of his character. The following is an extract from this publication:

"On the night previous to the execution of the prisoner, some parties came to the confessor of Wirz (Rev. Father Boyle) and also to me. One of them informed me that a high Cabinet officer wished to assure Wirz that, if he would implicate Jefferson Davis with the atrocities committed at Andersonville, his sentence should be commuted. He (the messenger, whoever he was) requested me to inform Wirz of this. In presence of Father Boyle, I told him next morning what had happened. The Captain simply and quietly replied : 'Mr. Schade, you know that I have always told you that I do not know anything about Jefferson Davis. He had no connection with me as to what was done at Andersonville. If I knew anything of him, I would not become a traitor against him or anybody else to save my life.' Thus ended the attempt to suborn Captain Wirz against Jefferson Davis."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 3 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 3 of 7:Henry Wirz diary entry of October 3, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

Oct. 3, 1865

What a mockery is this trial. I feel at times as if I ought to speak out loud and tell them, why do you worry yourself and me too; why not end the farce at once, take me and hang me, be done with it. A few days I asked to arrange my defence; it was refused on the ground that I had ample time. Ample time indeed. May the day be far distant for Gen. Wallace when he may plead with grim death for a day, and receive answer No! I just received a note from my wife, saying she has tried in every way to see me, but impossible. She says she is going to her brother in Kentucky, and hopes to be able to do more for me there than in remaining here. Poor deluded woman, what do you expect to accomplish, what can you do for me, but pray? Oh, what a consolation it is to a person in a situation like mine, that there is in the wide, wide world at least one being that will pray for me. Yes, pray; but pray for thyself; the road thou hast to travel is a hard one. when thou findest out that when you pressed my hand two weeks ago, when thy lips touched mine it was in all probability the last time, then does thou need all the comfort prayer can give. May Ggod bless you and take care of the dear, dear children. I must end -- everything swims before my eyes. God, oh God, have mercy on me.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Words from the condemned -- part 2 of 7: the diary of Henry Wirz

Selections from the diary Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate prison called Andersonville, made in the days leading up to his November, 1865 execution. Originally appeared in the Boston Advertiser; reprinted in the November 15, 1856 edition of the New York Times on page 1, column 1.

Part 2 of 7: Henry Wirz diary entry of October 2, 1865. [See all entries in this series]

Oct. 2, 1865

Again a day has passed, I am tired and worn out, whichever way I turn my eyes every thing looks gloomy and dark, can it be possible that knowing what I do know, that I shall fall a victim. But why do I doubt, what right have i to grumble as if it was a thing unheard of in history that men suffered the death of a felon, as innocent of the crimes alleged as I am, and if I dare to make a comparison between our Saviour and myself, did not he also suffer death. True, he died as an atonement for a sinful world, true he died willingly, he had a holy mission to fulfil, but I? Why shall I die? I can only say because it's God's will. Oh God, our Heavenly Father, give me the grace, give me the power to bear the cross which thou seest fit to lay on me. Have I not sinned against Thee, and neglected thy holy commandments. If I suffer now innocently, can I dare say, I never offended Thee, therefore be calm, my poor heart. give thyself in His hands and say Abba, Father!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Daniel Skelly: a boy's experiences during the battle of Gettysburg

[Note: Daniel Skelly was a Gettysburg teenager in 1863, employed as a clerk at a Gettysburg dry goods company. His experiences during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg were exciting and unique. After retirement, Skelly wrote about his experiences as a young boy in a town filled with the sights and sounds of a war which, up to this point, had been very far away. He saw and met several famous people during the three days of battle, spoke with Confederate soldiers camped on the streets outside of his home, and afterward helped aid the wounded that filled the homes and churches in town. Published in 1932, A Boy's Experiences During The Battle of Gettysburg, is one of the more outstanding civilian accounts of the battle, from the perspective of an old gentleman who witnessed the true nature of war with its devastation and heartache, for the first time in his home town.]

"The month of June, 1863, was an exciting one for the people of Gettysburg and vicinity. Rumors of the invasion of Pennsylvania by the Confederate army were rife and toward the latter part of the month there was the daily sight of people from along the border of Maryland passing through the town with horses and cattle, to places of safety.More... Most of the merchants of the town shipped their goods to Philadelphia for safety, as was their habit all through the war upon rumors of the Confederates crossing the Potomac. The merchandising firm in whose employ I had been for a number of years (Fahnestock Brothers) kept a car chartered and whenever these rumors reached us, day or night, we packed up the goods and sent it to Philadelphia and went out of business for the time being, until matters became settled again along the border, when the stock was brought back and we resumed our routine.

"I was absent from Gettysburg… from the beginning of June until the latter part of the month. I reached Hanover, Pa., on the afternoon of (June 26), expecting to get a train for home from there the same evening. But about 5 o'clock the last train out of Gettysburg, until after the battle, reached Hanover filled with people getting away from the Confederates. They included revenue officers and clerks, in fact all persons who had any office under the government.

"Early's Division had occupied Gettysburg that day and made demands upon the town which were not complied with. Consequently I was obliged to remain in Hanover all night. On the morning of June 27 White's Confederate cavalry passed through Hanover and remained long enough to get some packages from the express office, one of which was for my firm and which I saw them open. It contained gloves. They appropriated them. They also captured a jeweler with his stock loaded in a wagon, who was a little late in getting started out of town, and appropriated his stock also. On the afternoon of this day, Thaddeus Slentz, Edward Craver and myself secured a hand-car and started for Gettysburg on the Gettysburg and Hanover railroad, but when we reached New Oxford we found the bridge over the Conewago Creek had been burned. So we were obliged to abandon the car and walk the remaining ten miles to Gettysburg, reaching there about 5 P.M.

"The 28th and 29th were exciting days in Gettysburg for we knew the Confederate army, or a part of it at least, was within a few miles of our town and at night we could see from the house-tops the campfires in the mountains eight miles west of us. We expected it to march into our town at any moment and we had no information as to the whereabouts of the Army of the Potomac. We little dreamed of the momentous events which were soon to happen right in our midst.

"On June 30th two brigades of General Buford's division of cavalry reached our town, coming in from the south and I well remember how secure this made us feel. We thought surely now we were safe and the Confederate army would never reach Gettysburg. On the afternoon of this day about 4 o'clock, I stood on the Cobean corner on Chambersburg Street… while General Buford sat on his horse in the street in front of me, entirely alone, facing to the west in profound thought. I remember this incident very distinctly for it made a deep impression on (me). It was the only time I ever saw the general and his calm demeanor and soldierly appearance, as well as the fact that his uniform was different from any general's I had ever seen. He wore a sort of hunting coat of blouse effect. On the night of the 30th, the people of Gettysburg settled down in their homes with a sense of security they had not enjoyed for days and with little thought of what the morrow had in store for them.

"On the morning of July 1, about 8 o'clock, in company of my old friend Samuel W. Anderson… I walked out the Mummasburg Road north of the town just a short distance beyond the college building, where lay encamped in the fields, Col. Deven's Brigade of Buford's Division… which with Gamble's Brigade of the same division had come into our town on the previous day. While we stood at Col. Deven's tent an order was handed him… directing him to move his brigade west of the town, as the Confederates were then advancing on the town by the Chambersburg Pike. My companion and I went directly across the fields to Seminary Ridge, then known as the Railroad Woods by reason of the 'Old Tape-worm Railroad' being cut through it. Anderson went toward the Theological Seminary buildings expecting to get (to) the cupola of the building. I remained on Seminary Ridge just where the old… railroad cut through it. The ridge was full of men and boys from town, all eager to witness a brush with the Confederates and not dreaming of the terrible conflict that was to occur on that day and not having the slightest conception of the proximity of the two armies.

"I climbed up a good-sized oak tree so as to have a good view of the ridge west and northwest of us, where the two brigades of cavalry were then being placed. We could then hear distinctly the skirmish fire in the vicinity of Marsh Creek, about three miles from our position and could tell that it was approaching nearer and nearer as our skirmishers fell back slowly toward the town contesting every inch of ground. We could see clearly on the ridge … the formation of the line of battle of Buford's Cavalry, which had dismounted, some of the men taking charge of the horses and the others forming a line of battle, acting as infantry. Nearer and nearer came the skirmish line as it fell back before the advancing Confederates, until at last the line on the ridge beyond became engaged. Soon the artillery opened fire and shot and shell began to fly over our heads, one of them passing dangerously near the top of the tree I was on. There was a general stampede toward town and I quickly slipped down from my perch and joined the retreat to the rear of our gallant men and boys. I started for town (and) crossed… over a field to the Chambersburg Pike on the east side of Miss Carrie Shead's School and when about the middle of the field a cannon ball struck the earth about fifteen or twenty feet from me, scattering the ground somewhat about me and quickening my pace considerably.

"When I reached the pike, there galloped past me a general and his staff, who upon reaching the top of the ridge, turned into the lane toward the Seminary building. This I have always believed was General Reynolds coming onto the field and going to the Seminary where he had an interview with General Buford… before going out where the battle was in progress. The time was about 9 o'clock or near it, and our infantry had not come up yet. I was not long in reaching town and found the streets full of men, women and children, all under great excitement. Being anxious to see more of the battle, I concluded I would go up upon the observatory on the store building of the Fahnestock Brothers, situated on the northwest corner of Baltimore and West Middle Streets, and just across the street from the court house. The observatory was on the back of the building fronting on West Middle Street and… had a good view of the field where the battle was then being fought.

"In company with Mrs. E.G. Fahnestock, wife of Col. Fahnestock, Isaac L. Johns and Augustus Bentley, I went up through the store to the observatory… (that) had a railing and benches around it and was about eight feet or more square. We had been up there quite a little time when I observed a general and his staff coming down Baltimore Street from the south of the town. Upon reaching the court house, they halted and made an attempt to get up into the belfry to make observations, but they were unable to accomplish this. I went down into the street and going over to the court house told them that if they wished they could go up on the observatory of the store building. The general dismounted and with two of his aides went with me up onto the observatory. Upon reaching the house-top, the general, with his field glasses, made a careful survey of the field west and northwest of the town; also the number of roads radiating like the spokes of a wheel from the town.

In the midst of it a scout came riding up West Middle Street at a full gallop, halted below us (and) called up, asking if General Howard (Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac) were there. General Howard answering in person, the scout called to him that General Reynolds had been killed and that he should come onto the field immediately. This scout was George Guinn, a member of Cole's Maryland Cavalry, and was from our county. I knew him well and recognized him at once. Upon receiving this message the General, his staff officers and myself went down into the third story ware-room, when General Howard stopped and gave orders to one of his aides to ride back and meet his corps, which was then on the march from Emmitsburg, Md., ten miles from Gettysburg, and direct General (Adolph von) Steinwehr, upon reaching the field to occupy Cemetery Hill and fortify it. General Howard, as he came into Gettysburg, had noticed the prominence of this hill, and riding up to the cemetery was impressed with its commanding position. To his other aide he gave some directions regarding the bringing up of his corps. One thing which he said that I remember, was that the bands should be placed at the head of the columns and play lively airs as they advanced. General Howard was perfectly calm and self-possessed and I remember this made a lasting impression on me. And his orders became so fixed on my mind that I have never forgotten them.

"As we passed down through the house, we met Mrs. Samuel Fahnestock, then an old lady, who was very much agitated. The General stopped and spoke a few kindly words to her, which relieved her anxiety considerably. He then rode out to the front. After some little time had elapsed we heard a commotion down in the street (West Middle) and upon looking down saw a column of Confederate prisoners under guard of the Boys in Blue, being conducted to the rear. It proved to be the Confederate General Archer and several hundred of his brigade who had been captured by the Iron Brigade. We remained on the house-top until near noon, when it became a little dangerous to stay longer and we went downstairs again. But shortly after 12 o'clock another officer came along and asked to be taken up where General Howard had made his observations. He was a captain and belonged to the Eleventh Corps (and) remained only a short time. I learned after the battle that this officer's name was Frederick Otto Baron Von Fritche, and that he had written a book entitled "A Gallant Captain of the Civil War", in which he made mention of my taking him up on the roof and giving him some information in regard to the field and the battle then going on.

"After he had gone I walked down to our Centre Square and there met my mother carrying two buckets of water, looking for one of the improvised hospitals, to give it to the wounded. It was a striking irony of war that at that time two of my brothers, members of Company F, 87th Pennsylvania regiment, should be prisoners of war, having been captured at Winchester, Va., in an engagement while the Confederate army was on its way to Gettysburg. One of them was mortally wounded and in a southern hospital but a kind Providence withheld this from us until after the battle here. We went down Carlisle Street to the McCurdy warehouse, just below the railroad, where the wounded were being brought in… No provision had yet been made for their care in the town and they were laid on the floor. We remained there quite a while giving them water and doing what we could for their relief.

"I stood on the Cobean corner of Chambersburg Street as Schimmelfenning's Division of the Eleventh (Corps) passed through town on its way to the front. The day was hot and sultry and they were marching "quick time", all seeming eager to get to the front. All along Washington Street the people of the town were out with buckets of water and the soldiers would stop for a moment for a drink and then hurriedly catch up to their place in the line. They appeared to be straining every effort to reach the scene of conflict, and yet not an hour elapsed before the slightly wounded were limping back and those badly wounded were being brought back in ambulances to the improvised hospitals in the town. The hospitals were located in warehouses, churches, the court house and in various private homes. Many others were left dead on the field they were so heroically eager to reach such a short time before.

"As the afternoon wore away the churches and warehouses on Chambersburg, Carlisle, and York Streets nearest the line of battle, were filled with wounded. Then the court house, as well as the Catholic, Presbyterian and Reformed churches and the school house in High Street received the injured soldiers, until those places had reached their capacity, when private homes were utilized, citizens volunteering to take them in and care for them. In company… with Miss Julia Culp, a neighbor (who) had a brother in the Confederate Army who was killed on Culp's Hill and a brother in the Union Army, who survived the war, I went into the court house with buckets of water and passed from one to another of the wounded relieving them as best we could under the circumstances. Some of them were so frightfully wounded that a lady could not go near them. These I gave water to, while she cared for those who were not so severely wounded. Quite a number of our townspeople were there doing everything they could in the relief work as the wounded were carried in.

"When our forces were being driven back through the town in the afternoon, I went home feeling that everything was lost and throughout my life I have never felt more despondent. One of the regiments of the Iron Brigade in falling back through town about 4 o'clock in the afternoon passed our house on West Middle Street. As they turned into (the) street from Washington Street, one of the lieutenants was wounded in the foot but kept up with his regiment until he reached our house. He was unable to go any further. He came into the yard. Separating the Bowen house next door and ours, there was an areaway used by both of our families and at the Bowen house was an old-fashioned cellar door standing open, He took off his sword and pistol and sword belt… hobbled down (the steps) and hid them in the cellar(,) then came up to get his sword, when the Confederates came into the yard and made him a prisoner, taking his sword away from him. My mother, standing in our kitchen doorway, seeing he was wounded, asked the Confederates to allow him to come into our house and she would care for him. They allowed him to come and then continued in pursuit of our retreating forces. My mother took him into one of the inner rooms and kept him there without the Confederates finding out. After the battle he was taken to one of the hospitals. In a week or more he was convalescent and came to see is on his way to join his regiment. He sent me over to the Bowen cellar to get his accoutrements and presented them to me, saying that when he got to Washington he would get a new outfit. We never heard from him afterwards.

"When I went out in front of the house about 7 o'clock in the evening, the Confederate line of battle had been formed on East and West Middle Streets, Rodes Division of Ewell's Corps lying right in front of our house. We were now in the hands of the enemy and in passing, I want to pay a tribute to these veterans of the Confederate Army. They were under perfect discipline. They were in and about our yard and used our kitchen stove by permission of my mother... gentlemanly and courteous to us at all times, and I never heard an instance to the contrary in Gettysburg. We settled down quietly this night. There was no noise or confusion among the Confederate soldiers sleeping on the pavement below our windows and we all enjoyed a good night's rest after the feverish anxiety of the first day's battle."

"Day dawned on the second of July bright and clear, and we did not know what to do or expect; whether to remain quietly in our homes, or go out in the town as usual and mingle with our people. But we were soon assured that if we kept within certain restrictions we could go about the town. It was hot and sultry and the lines of battle were quiet with the exception of an occasional exchange of shots between pickets or sharpshooters. Some time during the morning in front of my home on West Middle Street… I was in conversation with one of the Confederate soldiers, whose regiment lay along the street in line of battle, when he asked me if I had ever seen General Lee. I replied that I had not. 'Well,' he said, 'here he comes up the street on horseback.'

"The general rode quietly by unattended and without any apparent recognition from the Confederate soldiers along the street. (H)e reached Baltimore Street, about a square away at the court house, (and) turned into it going up to High Street. I was later informed… that he had gone to the jail, presumably for conference, but with whom has only been surmise(d). The afternoon… I spent in the yard back of the Fahnestock store on West Middle Street. There was a high board fence the length of the lot, extending to an alley at the end. There were two large gates opening to the street along which the Confederate line ran. A Confederate major of one of the regiments was my companion. I do not remember his name or the regiment to which he belonged, but he told me he was originally from Pittsburgh, going south years before the war. Our conversation was about the war and the causes leading up to it and the result thus far on both sides. He was a fair minded man and reasonable in his opinions, there being no rancor or bitterness evident in any of observations on the progress of the conflict. About 4 o'clock an interruption was caused in our conversation by a terrible cannonading off to the southwest of town and we separated, he joining his regiment in the street and I going to my father's house near the Fahnestock store. Our town being in the hands of the Confederates and cut off from all communications with the outside world, we knew nothing about our army and were completely in the dark as to how it was located and how much of it had arrived on the field. The Confederates maintained a clam-like silence on all matters concerning the battle, hence we did not know the significance of this tremendous cannonading until after the battle was over… But for the present it sent everyone to the cellars as a matter of protection. Mr. Harvey D. Wattles lived close to my father's and under his house was a large dry cellar. During the cannonading the neighbors congregated in it as a place of safety. My mother and the rest of the family were there during the afternoon and I was there at intervals while the period of uncertainty caused by this artillery fire existed. An incident that occurred in this house… will give some idea of what families were exposed to while the fighting was in progress. A neighbor had come into the house to take refuge and had brought with her a band-box containing a bonnet. When the cannonading began, she went to the cellar, placing the box on the chair upon which she had been sitting. When she came from the cellar she found the box where she had left it, but a minie ball had passed through the box and the bonnet.

"About dusk, Will McCreary and I were sent on some errand down on Chambersburg Street and as we were crossing from Arnold's corner to the present Eckert corner, we were halted by two Confederate soldiers who had a lady in their charge. She was on horseback and proved to be the wife of General (Francis) Barlow who had come into the Confederate lines under a flag of truce looking for her husband, who had been severely wounded on July 1, and as she was informed, had been brought into the town. She informed us he was with a family 'named McCreary' on Chambersburg Street. We directed her to Smith McCreary's residence (though) she did not find the general there… for he had been taken from the field to the farmhouse of Josiah Benner on the Harrisburg Road just where the covered bridge crossed the creek. The night of the second I slept in a room above the Fahnestock store with a number of other boys. Not making any light we would remain quietly at the window trying to catch the conversation of the Confederate soldiers who were lying on the pavement below the window. We were eager to catch something that would give us some clue to our army and how they were fairing in the battle…, but did not learn much from them. We finally went to bed and settled down into a sound sleep as boys do who have few cares and sound health.

"At intervals during the night I was awakened and could hear the rattle of musketry fire off to the southeast of town, and it did not seem very far away. When we got up in the morning of the third of July this firing was a lively as during the night, with the addition of some artillery fire and continued until about 11 o'clock in the morning. About that hour I was down at my father's house and quite a number of Confederate soldiers came into the yard to the old 'draw well'. They were all begrimed with powder and were 'washing up'. Their remarks about a hill they were butting up against were neither moral nor complimentary. Of course we were in the dark as to the cause of their discomfiture. The balance of the morning passed quietly and until about 1:30 P.M. there seemed to be a lull in the activities on the field. At least it seemed so to us, confined to the limits of the town. About 1:30 however, pandemonium broke loose along the lines of battle and for one hour there was a din of cannonading, unprecedented on the continent. And then an ominous calm ensued. What did it mean? We did not know. Nor could we surmise. But I ventured out cautiously from our retreat which was our place of safety during the cannonading, and walked up to the Fahnestock corner. However I could learn nothing then about the conflict.

"The alleys and street leading up toward the cemetery were barricaded and the Confederate soldiers behind them in line of battle, were prepared to defend (against) any attack from Cemetery Hill. There was a long calm, perhaps an hour, when again the artillery opened up from Cemetery Hill, all along the line of battle to the Round Tops and the rattle of musketry then all over the line except for intervals when great cheers went up from the mighty hosts of the Boys in Blue. But there were no rebel yells such as we heard from time to time during the three days' battles. This demonstration occurred, we learned later, when Pickett's charge failed. But we were to remain ignorant of what the great conflict of the day would bring to us, who were still in the hands of the enemy. On this night, I went to bed restless and was unable to sleep soundly. About midnight I was awakened by a commotion down in the street. Getting up I went to the window and saw Confederate officers passing through the lines of Confederate soldiers bivouacked on the pavement below, telling them to get up quietly and fall back. Very soon the whole line disappeared but we had to remain quietly in our homes for we did not know what it meant.

"About 4 A.M., there was another commotion in the street, this time on Baltimore, the Fahnestock building being at the corner of West Middle and Baltimore Streets. It seemed to be a noisy demonstration. Going hurriedly to the window I looked out. Ye gods! What a welcome sight for the imprisoned people of Gettysburg! The Boys in Blue marching down the street, fife and drum corps playing, the glorious Stars and Stripes fluttering at the head of the lines. They picked up the Confederate soldiers who had been left behind in the retreat and were marching them to the rear at double-quick. It was raining right briskly at this time. I got into my clothes hurriedly and went down o the front door but did not venture out. As the morning advanced, however, we went about the town mingling with our people, comparing notes and finding out how all had fared during the days we were in the hands of the enemy.

"We soon learned that part of the town was still not free from 'Our friends- the enemy'. They had thrown up formidable breastworks extending from the Railroad Woods clear out along the ridge to Emmitsburg Road and beyond it and they were occupied by Confederate soldiers to protect the retreat of their army. As my father's house was on West Middle Street, which extends in a direct line out to Haupt's Hill, which was along the embattled ridge, we were exposed during the whole day to sharpshooters' fire. The Confederates had built little works of stone and ground, just large enough to cover their heads and protect their bodies, extending down the hill in the direction of town. And they lay behind them all day with guns loaded ready to bang away at any suspicious object in the street. Sometime during the morning, several of our officers rode down the street and when about half the length of the square from Baltimore and Washington Street, one of them was hit in the fleshy part of his army by a bullet, evidently causing a very painful wound, for he yelled at the top of his voice.

"On this morning, the 5th, my friend 'Gus' Bentley met me on the street and told me that down at the Hollinger warehouse where he was employed they had a lot of tobacco. 'We hid it away before the Rebs came into town,' he continued, 'and they did not find it. We can buy it and take it out and sell it to the soldiers.' Like all boys of those days we had little spending money but we concluded we would try and raise the cash in some way. I went to my mother and consulted her about it and she loaned me ten dollars. Gus also got ten, all of which we invested in the tobacco. It was in large plugs- Congress tobacco, a well known brand at that time. With an old-fashioned tobacco cutter we cut it up into ten cent pieces and each of us took a basket full and started out Baltimore Street to the cemetery, the nearest line of battle. Reaching the Citizens Cemetery we found a battery of artillery posted there… The soldiers stopped us and would not let us pass, their orders being not to let anyone out of the town. We went back into the town as far as the Presbyterian church and went up High Street to the jail, where we turned into a path leading down to the old Rock Creek 'swimmin' hole'. On the first ridge we saw the first dead Confederate soldiers lying right on the path, two of them side by side, and they were buried there afterward until the Confederate bodies were taken up years later and shipped to Richmond for burial. We kept to the path down to the spring (,) then turned over towards Culp's Hill, ascending it at one of its steepest points. There were all kinds of debris of the battle scattered over the hill, but no dead or wounded soldiers, they having already been removed.

"The breastworks were formidable looking, about three feet or more high, built of trees that had been cut down by the soldiers for the purpose of throwing up these fortifications. A shallow trench was dug in front of the works and the ground thrown up on it. The soldiers helped us over the breastworks with our baskets and in a short time they were empty and our pockets filled with ten-cent pieces. The soldiers told us to go home and get some more tobacco, that they would buy all we could bring out. We made a number of trips, selling out each time, and after disposing of all our supply, and paying back our borrowed capital, we each had more money than we ever had before in our lives.

"On Monday, July 6, I made my first trip over our line of battle out to the Round Tops. Fences were all destroyed and the country all open so that we could drive or walk across country instead of having to take the Emmitsburg or Taneytown Roads. The whole countryside was covered with ruins of the battle. Shot and shell, guns, pieces of shells and bullets were strewn about the fields in every direction and everything that the carnage of battle could produce was evident. Ziegler's Grove showed the effects of the Confederate artillery fire. Good-sized trees were knocked off and splintered in every imaginable way. The bodies of horses that had been killed were lying about.

The sight around Meade's headquarters along the Taneytown Road was terrible, indicating the exposed position it occupied, subject to every shot and shell that came over the ridge above it. Around the house and yard and below it lay at least 12 or 15 dead horses, shot down no doubt while aides and orderlies were delivering orders and messages to headquarters. A short distance below the house there was a stone fence dividing a field. Across this was hanging a horse which had been killed evidently just as he was jumping the fence, for its front legs were on one side and the hind legs on the other. In the road a short distance away was another horse which had been shot down while drawing an ambulance. In the front room of the house was a bed, the covers of it thrown back; and its condition indicated that a wounded soldier had occupied it. I was told that General Butterfield, Meade's chief of staff, who had been wounded, had been placed upon it before being taken to a hospital.

"The Trostle house was entirely deserted. In their kitchen the dinner table was still set with all the dishes from the meal, and fragments of food remained, indicating that the family had gotten up from their meal and made a hurried getaway. On the Codori farm there were still some dead Confederates who had not been buried. They were lying on their backs, their faces toward the heavens, and burned as black as coal from exposure to the hot sun. One of the saddest sights of the day's visit on the field I witnessed near the Devil's Den, on the low ground in that vicinity. There were twenty-six Confederate officers, ranking from a colonel to lieutenants, laid side by side in a row for burial. At the head of each was a board giving their names, ranks and commands to which they belonged. A short distance away was another group of thirteen arranged in the same way. They had evidently been prepared for burial by their Confederate companions before they had fallen back, so that their identity would be preserved, and they would receive a respectable burial. Among the hundreds of graves on the battlefield there was but one whose headboard had the Masonic emblems on it. I saw it for the first time this day and often stopped to look at it afterward. It was close to the southern end of the Codori barn along the Emmitsburg Road (and) was the grave of a Confederate colonel. (Skelly was later informed that this was the grave of Colonel Joseph Wasden, 22nd Georgia Infantry, killed on July 2.)

"This, my first sight of a great battlefield, with all its carnage, ruin, suffering and death- and witnessed the day after the conflict- made a deep and lasting impression on my young mind, stamping war on my memory as too horrible to even think about.

"During the several days our town was in the hands of the enemy, our wounded who had been brought in while the first day's battle was in progress and placed in churches, schools, and in many private homes, were well cared for. The people of the town responded wonderfully in this emergency service. Mothers and daughters acted as nurses in the hospitals nearest their residences, and also provided all kinds of food and delicacies for the wounded. In the days following the battle, the firm of Fahnestock Brothers received numerous inquires about wounded soldiers who were scattered over the field in the hospitals hastily set up at points most conveniently located to take care of the casualties. With Mrs. E.G. Fahnestock, I frequently rode back and forth among these stations, either in buggy or on horseback, looking for wounded men about whom information was sought. Sometimes it was difficult to locate them. We made other trips to the hospitals in the college and seminary buildings also. Frequently on these trips were included supplies of delicacies for the men. So it was that the people of Gettysburg assisted in every way in solving the problems that arose incident to the great battle. The months following the conflict found many extra burdens placed on the town, but there was a willing response on the part of its citizens on all occasions and the confusion that might be expected as an aftermath of such a staggering calamity was reduced to a minimum."

Daniel Skelly

Gettysburg, Penna., 1932.