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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If it wasn't for the men and boys that wrote about the horrors of the battles we would never know exactly what happened to them so we can remember their courage!