The Last Campaign of the Twenty-Second Regiment, N.G., S.N.Y is a Webnovel produced by George W. Wingate.
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We experienced some trouble on the way, and marched and countermarched a good deal, losing three hours’ time and our tempers, in consequence of our General having forgotten that, in going through a strange country, he couldn’t get on well without providing himself with a guide; and it was not till after dark that we got across the Antietam at Scotland’s Bridge.
Once across, however, a pleasant moonlight march over a first-rate road, soon brought us to the border, and when our officers announced, “That house marks the line, boys!” it was with no small gratification that we shook off the dust from our feet, singing with great empressment the Union version of “Maryland–My Maryland,” together with a number of parodies not very complimentary to the “men we left behind us.”
A few miles from the line, we camped by division. Many, in reading of a camp by division, imagine a most picturesque scene, of long lines of snowy tents being pitched, while trees are felled for firewood, and all sorts of poetic things take place. Nothing of the kind occurs. On arriving at the selected spot (generally a large field), the regiments file in one after another, taking their places in the order in which they marched, and break to the rear so as to form column by companies. The orders are given: “Halt! Stack arms! _Go for rails!!_” And every man simultaneously drops his traps where he stands, and makes a bee-line for the tall worm fences, which are vanishing in every direction, as if by magic. One of these rails must be contributed to the company fire, and happy is he who in addition to procuring his quota, can secure a couple more for himself! Serenely reposing on their sharp edges, covered by his rubber blanket, he defies at once the rain above and the mud below; or, more ambitious grown, the spoils of four are combined, and a shelter, a la rebel, is speedily constructed, which is roofed with two rubber blankets, and the proprietors lying underneath on the other two, are at once the admiration and envy of their comrades. The company rails being obtained, are split, a fire started, and supper cooked (if there is anything to cook), and the men, after smoking the pipe of peace, lie down, some around the fire, and the rest where they halted in the first instance, and in two minutes are fast asleep; blessing the memory of the discoverer of tobacco, and the man who invented sleep.
At the first streak of daylight all are awake; a hurried breakfast is made, or not (generally not), ablutions are likewise dispensed with; the “a.s.sembly” sounds; rubbers and overcoats are hastily rolled and slung by those who are lucky enough to have them; a few hurried orders are pa.s.sed along the line; the troops fall in and march off; and in half-an-hour the trampled ground, the ashes of numerous fires, and the ruined fences, alone tell that ten thousand men have camped there for the night.
For some time we had been pressing hard upon the heels of Lee’s retreating army, and at every step new signs of the rapidity of his movements were to be seen. He moved in three columns, the cavalry and artillery taking the road, and the infantry the fields on each side, through which their trampling had cut a path as wide as a city street, destroying the crops they encountered, in a way fit to bring tears into a farmer’s eyes; and throughout the whole route, numbers of wounded men were found, left in the houses by the roadside, and deserters without end were encountered, while broken wagons, abandoned ammunition, canteens, &c., &c., were strewed on every side. Yet, notwithstanding these appearances of demoralization, it was evident, from the accounts of the country people, that, though much dispirited by their late defeat, the rebel army was far from being the mere mob that it was believed by some to be.
It is true that the mountains were full of stragglers, and our cavalry were constantly pa.s.sing us with crowds of prisoners in their charge; yet the main army had a good deal of fight left in it still, and when it turned on its pursuers, as it frequently did, like a stag at bay, it was not to be despised.
From the formation of the ground, in that section of country, the retreating army derived a great advantage over their pursuers, and were constantly enabled to take positions too strong to be attacked with less than the whole Union army, and where a mere show of strength would check our advance; and then before Meade could concentrate his forces, Lee would be off. At Funkstown in particular, with the simplest materials, a steep slope, fronted by the Antietam, had been converted by the rebels into a second Fredericksburgh. This was all that saved them, for General Meade pressed the pursuit fast and furious.
On the morning of Sunday, the 14th of July, we found ourselves at Cavetown, almost used up. We had had no breakfast; and, from a variety of causes, the march had been one of the most wearisome we had yet experienced. The morning was sultry and exhausting beyond expression; the atmosphere heavy, with that peculiar feeling which precedes a thunder-storm–and, in addition, our shoes were so nearly worn out that the sharp stones, which covered and almost paved a most abominable wheat-field, through which we had pa.s.sed on the route, had disabled many whose feet were just recovering from the blisters of previous marches.
As soon as we had halted, the division formed line of battle, on the rise of a little hill fronting Hagerstown (to act as supports to General Kilpatrick, who had gone forward that morning to attack it), and we then lay down to rest, first sending details in all directions to forage for a meal.
While idling around, bemoaning the condition of our feet, and discussing the chances of capturing Hagerstown, the sultry promise of the morning was amply redeemed by one of the most tremendous thunder-storms ever seen; the rain fell in torrents (but this was a matter of course, and excited no remark), and the thunder pealed and the lightning flashed all around us–too near to some. Five men of the Fifty-sixth Brooklyn were struck, one of whom died instantly, and the others were badly hurt. A gun belonging to the Thirty-seventh was shattered to pieces by the electric fluid; and several men in the different regiments were reminded by slight shocks that the farther they kept from the stacks of arms the better.
During the afternoon our ears and eyes were gladdened, the one by intelligence that Hagerstown had been taken after a sharp fight, the other by the sight of our dinner (or breakfast) coming up the road, in the shape of an astonished ox, who, when he threw up his head in response to the cheers which greeted his entre, was shot, skinned, and boiling, before he fairly knew what he was wanted for; and finally, the arrival and distribution of a case of shoes to those who were actually barefoot, put us all in the seventh heaven of delight. We also found some tobacco! To be sure it was poor stuff, apparently a villanous compound of seaweed and tea; but only those who have known what it is to see their stock of the precious weed vanish day by day, with no available means of replenishing it, can imagine our feelings on finding a supply, after we had been reduced to less than a quarter of a pound to a company.
At about twelve o’clock the next day, the column camped by division, some three miles from General Meade’s headquarters, about the same distance from Boonesboro’, and within sight of the immense train of the reserve artillery, at a place where the old bivouacs of the Army of the Potomac filled the air with the nauseating smells invariably incident to deserted camps. In this delightful spot we waited for the battle which was to be brought on.
All were in high spirits;–it was universally supposed that the rains had made the Potomac unfordable, “and that Lee was a goner this time sure;”
but as hour after hour pa.s.sed without a sound of the heavy cannonading which marks “the battle’s opening roar,” and rumor after rumor filled the air, the talk, as time lengthened, grew less and less hopeful, and finally during the afternoon we learned definitely that “the play was played out.”
Lee was gone, boots and baggage, and our hopes of taking a hand in the contest which would probably have decided the war, were gone with him.
Perhaps it was all for the best. If Lee gave battle, it would be on selected ground, against weary troops, where every man in the rebel army knew he was fighting with no hope of escape, and would consequently resist to the utmost; under these circ.u.mstances, the contest, if not doubtful, would unquestionably have been b.l.o.o.d.y beyond all precedent; and many desolated homes, and empty places in the armories of the Empire City, would have mourned for those who would return no more.
We were now in the midst of the Army of the Potomac, and it is difficult for those inexperienced in such matters to form the least conception of the vast bulk of men and material which contribute to form that organization; yet, huge as it was, no confusion was visible, and everything went like clockwork, even during the difficulties of that hurried pursuit.
We only wished that the same could be said of us, but so far was this from being the case, that it was remarked by a regular officer that there was more dest.i.tution and suffering among our little division than among the whole Army of the Potomac, and no one acquainted with the facts can deny the correctness of the a.s.sertion.
It is impossible to express what a relief it was when we once became incorporated with this army; for to enter it, was coming once more from the scarcity and make-shifts of the backwoods, into the light of civilization. We found ourselves again among newspapers, and sutlers–people who could change a two-dollar bill and had things to sell; where greenbacks yet served as a medium of exchange, and provision trains were not more than two days behind time; and in our exultation, we even began to entertain vague hopes that, in the progress of events, our letters might be possibly forthcoming. It was now more than two weeks since a word of news had been heard, either from home or abroad; and we naturally were exceedingly anxious for a little information about matters and things in general. Our ignorance was painful on almost every subject.
Vicksburg, we knew, had been captured, but this was all; and even the battle of Gettysburg, fought right under our noses, and a common topic of conversation, was to us “a tale untold.”
On the 15th of July, our time was up, the rebels gone, and there being nothing more that we could do, General Meade told us “he was much obliged and we could go.” So, bidding General Smith a cordial good-by, we took up our line of march for Frederick City, _and home_; first, however, going a long way in the wrong direction, and having to countermarch back. This was nothing new, however, for, whether it was owing to ill luck, bad guides, indefinite orders, or stupidity, something of the kind took place at every movement that was ordered. The brigade never turned down a side-road, or took an unusual direction, without a general grumble arising–“Wrong road, of course! see if we don’t have to go back in a few minutes,”–and we generally did. In truth, we went back so often, that we began to hate the very word “countermarch.”
It is presumed that those in authority had been informed by telegraph respecting the riots in New York; but the first that the subordinates knew about the matter was, on obtaining, on the march, that memorable Herald, describing how the “military fired on the _people_.” If any of the editors of that veracious journal had happened to be in our vicinity about that period, it is more than probable that they would have been furnished with a practical ill.u.s.tration of their text, for a more angry set of men than the first division N. Y. S. M., never was seen.
It was sufficiently galling to know, that while we were away enduring all sorts of hardships to expel the rebels from Northern soil, an infamous set of copperheads had undertaken a counter-revolution in our very homes; and the additional reflection of the opportunity it would give our Pennsylvania friends to depreciate our state, lent the account an additional sting. That day was the first, and we hope the only time in our lives, that any one was heard to say that he felt ashamed to think that he was born in the city of New York.
As may well be imagined, this intelligence, and the pleasing uncertainty existing in our minds respecting the welfare of our friends and homes, considerably accelerated our desire to get home again; and we pushed vigorously down the Fredericksburgh pike, breathing prayers, the reverse of benevolent, for the welfare of the rioters–until we could attend to them in person. Under any other circ.u.mstances it would have been a beautiful march; although oppressively hot in the early part of the day, the weather afterward was all that could be desired. The road was wide, smooth–tremendously hard, to be sure, for feet, as sore and badly shod as ours, and in its windings through the pa.s.ses of the South Mountain, traversing a few more hills than were strictly agreeable–yet more beautiful scenery than it presents to the eye of the traveler can rarely be found.
That country is all historic ground. Those white boards on the right, “covering many a rood,” marked the last resting-places of the thousands of unknown heroes who sealed their patriotism with their blood in the battle of South Mountain; and all along the stone fences and among the trees on the left, the frequent bullet-marks tell how hot the conflict raged a year ago; for every foot of land for twenty miles around has been a battle-ground for the contending forces.
About sun-down we arrived at Frederick City, a bustling little place, full of soldiers, and with a large sprinkling of the fair s.e.x, who, contrary to the experience of last year, loyally applauded the pa.s.sing troops. Many would cla.s.s it as a “one-horse town,” but to us it appeared a little paradise. It was a place where you could buy things, and although our predecessors turned up their aristocratic noses at the food there procurable, _our_ only grievance was that we could not get any of it.
Expecting to start directly for home, the division, without halting, continued its march through the city to within a quarter of a mile of the railroad depot, which, for some unknown reason, is situated about three miles from the city, but, as usual, we were doomed to disappointment; whether the cars were ready or not, I cannot say; but, after a long consultation among the officers, it was settled that we could go no further, and at about eight o’clock we went into camp; having completed a march of over twenty-five miles since breakfast, with little or no straggling. This, we consider, is doing pretty well for militia.
The next day we “loafed,” resting under the trees and devouring the stock in trade of the sutlers who had come down to see us, restlessly waiting all day under orders to be ready to start at a moment’s notice.
At about six P. M., the Thirty-seventh and Eleventh struck camp and marched off for the cars, amid the cheering of the whole division; but no orders came for us, and after waiting till half-past nine P. M., we went to sleep. At exactly eleven o’clock an orderly dashed up: “The regiment was to take the cars forthwith.” The word pa.s.sed from mouth to mouth like lightning, and in less than no time the men were awakened, formed, and marching off “for home.”
We had to go precisely a quarter of a mile and get into the cars which had been standing all day on the track; and how long can any outsider, unacquainted with military manoeuvres, imagine it took to get us on board? Not an hour, nor half an hour, but _five hours and a half_, by the watch, elapsed from the time we started till we got into those cars; and as it was raining in torrents all the while, it is not difficult to imagine the benedictions that were freely bestowed on every one supposed to be concerned in the matter. When we had gone about a hundred yards from camp the order came to “halt.” After a little time we were told to “rest.”
Seeing no signs of a movement, and a heavy rain having come up, the boys unrolled their rubber blankets, and the cooler hands wrapped themselves up and lay down to sleep in the middle of the road, while the others took it out in swearing. In about an hour “Fall in!” was heard. We woke up, shook ourselves, and marched another hundred yards, where the same scene was repeated. Marching off the third time, we turned away from the main road and struck along the field to the depot, thinking we were off this time, _sure_. Vain thought! When we got on the bank, overlooking the railroad track, not a car was to be seen, and there we stood in the midst of a drenching rain, on a slippery clay slope where it was impossible to sit down, tired and sleepy as men could well be, for nearly two hours before the cars, after a little eternity of backing and switching, were p.r.o.nounced ready for us. The moment the cars were reached every one threw himself on the floor, and, in spite of wet clothes, dirty floors, and leaky roofs, knew nothing more till daylight dawned on us entering Baltimore.
With the mention of the word _Baltimore_, the word _breakfast_ is intimately a.s.sociated in our minds.
Oh! that first good civilized breakfast, with forks and chairs, and the other appliances of civilized life–the pen fails in the endeavor to do justice to that repast!
Yet in spite of the threats that were made of the quant.i.ties that would be eaten; and although it was near one o’clock before we sat down, we were disgusted to find our systems so disorganized by a habit of taking breakfast late in the afternoon, and omitting the other meals altogether, that half the things that were ordered could not be disposed of; in fact, it was at least three days after our return to the bosom of our families, before we could manage three regular meals a day, without feeling uncomfortable; but this sensation soon wore off, and when it did, ample amends were made by all, for past abstinence.
From Baltimore to New York was a short and uneventful journey, and on the 18th day of July we found ourselves swinging up Broadway, glad to be home once more, but sorry enough to think that we were denied the pleasure of a shot at the rioters in general, and our worthy ex-mayor in particular. And although a long and aggravating tour of duty at home was still before us, here ended our eventful campaign.
It has been a favorite argument against the militia organizations, to decry them as Broadway troops, good for playing soldier, but who would be found wanting if subjected to the stern realities of a soldier’s life.
This test has now been made, and the New York militia can proudly point to their record.
Marching one hundred and seventy miles in less than three weeks, in the most inclement weather, through mountain pa.s.ses and over abominable roads, on ten days’ rations, without a change of clothing, in expectation of an attack at any moment (our regiment alone forming line of battle over nineteen times), they point with pride to the thanks tendered to them by General Meade in his official report, and claim that they have done all that could be expected of them–if not more; and although smarting under the usage they received from those they went to protect, they stand ready, if an occasion of similar emergency should again arise, to meet again the same hardships, and undergo the same labors; but the next time we hope to be directed by generals who know _a little_ about the details of their business, and will not have to learn at our expense.
It is an elementary maxim that soldiers will not serve with any credit under a man they do not respect; and when they find their leaders ignorant of the first rules of military life, obliged to ask information from subordinates, and constantly sneered at as ignoramuses by those who _do_ know what they are about, they speedily become discontented and suspicious, and in that condition are worse than useless.
Our Colonel and other officers had learned their duty in previous campaigns; and by the manner in which they handled their men, and the care with which they regarded their welfare, earned at once the grat.i.tude and respect of their command. And this remark is also true of such men as Colonel Roome of the Thirty-seventh, and Colonel Maidhoff of the Eleventh.
But what would have happened to the militia generally, and to our brigade in particular, if it had not been for their regimental officers, it is difficult to foresee. When we think of what did take place, and what might have taken place, the New York militia fervently pray,
“From long marches, wet weather, short commons, and militia generals, good Lord deliver us.”
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