Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
December 18, 1862
My dear Ma
Today a week ago [December 11, 1862] we marched off about half a mile from our present camp expecting to cross the river at once but were halted there. All day we laid in mud about three inches deep and listened to the artillery firing which was kept up incessantly all day. Towards evening we were ordered back to camp and hardly got there and our things off before we were ordered to fall in again and off we started to cross the river but we had not got farther than the place where we had lain all day when the order was countermanded again and back we went to camp. We slept very comfortably and were aroused before daylight to get ready to cross. We had not more than eaten our breakfast before the order came and on we started, this time in earnest. When we arrived at the bridge we found it already to cross. We crossed at the upper bridge, where they had two [pontoons] down. I see by the papers that this is called the lower bridge, but in fact it is the upper one being at the upper end of town. Well we got safely across, though the Rebs fired a few shells at us while crossing and though they fell into the river it was too far up to injure any of us.
As soon as we crossed we were formed in line of battle along the shore and afterwards we marched up into the street to let other troops take our places. We laid in the street about half an hour when we were again moved forward to the gardens behind the house, here we laid nearly all day and the men wandered all over town bringing in tobacco, etc of which they found in abundant supply in the town and as they were out of money and no way to get it, it was very acceptable. They also brought a number of books, some very handsomely bound and works of the best authors. Co. G got a complete set of Waverly novels, very finely bound in muslin. I have one of them. I did not run around much being afraid of the regiment moving. In one very handsomely furnished home a ball struck a piano and knocked it from the corner, in which it was standing to the center of the room and destroying it entirely.
Everything was apparently left in great haste and the men could be seen walking around with every imaginable article of household goods. One man brought into camp a large doll. . . others had lace, shawls, silk dresses and in fact everything. I was told that a man belonging to one of the batteries found a whole set of silver and carried it off. [The looting of Fredericksburg before the battle is a well-known though regrettable episode of the Civil War. It seems as if the men of the 48th ran off with their fair share of plunder].
About four o’clock we were marched down the street nearest the river to about the middle of the town and halted just in front of where a whole block of houses had been burned to the ground, nothing was left of them but the tall chimneys and the smouldering embers. Here we had orders to bivouac for the night and as we could not light any fires the men made their coffee and cooked their evening meal on the burning ruins. Soon after dark one of the chimneys fell down with a loud crash and as the men were lying all around under them at every little there was we all supposed two or three must be badly injured, if not killed, but by good fortune all the men got out but one, who was not seriously injured, he being near the bottom. [One member of Co. B was, indeed, killed by the collapse of a chimney that night].
Soon after this I changed my bed, having made it close to the fire, and not wanting any [chimney] to fall on me, I moved to the other side of the road. It was quite cold, and I laid down to try and go to sleep. I do not know how long I slept, but I got awake feeling very cold, and, hearing a great deal of commotion around I got up and saw a crowd around one of the fires, and on asking what it meant, learned that another chimney had fallen down and hurt another man. I jumped up and went over. The doctor was there and I could tell by his face that he was seriously injured. He was carried off to the hospital but died before morning. It was too cold to go to sleep again so I sat up on a narrow drawer and fell asleep with my head on my hands, but I had hardly got to sleep before the drawer gave way and I fell into the fire and burned my wrist slightly. It did not take me long to get out of it, I tell you. Well, after that there was no more sleep for me that night.
Saturday morning rose as stated in the papers. About 10 o’clock we moved down the street to the lower end of town and laid there until about one o’clock. (The infantry firing commenced about 12), when we were moved out through town towards the firing. When we arrived at the outskirts of the town we were order to remain there in reserve, while the rest of the Brigade went out. We laid down behind a stable for some time, when one of the staff officers reported the rebels going to charge, and then we were ordered to support the men already out. We started off on a double quick across the fields and as soon as the Rebs saw us they commenced pouring in their shells thick and fast, but we kept on and by our going at double quick we escaped a great many of their shells, which otherwise would have fallen directly in our ranks. Gen. Sturgis complimented us very highly on the manner in which we went up and said it was the best line he ever saw go into a fight.
After a run of about a quarter of a mile we reached the place where the infantry was firing. they were posted behind a small hill and were firing over the hill at the Rebs who were behind a stone wall at the bottom of the hill, on the top of which they had their breast works, and near the stone fence ran a small creek between them and us. We were lying down behind the hill for a few minutes waiting for a Regiment to fire all their ammunition before we relieved them. When they were through we went up to the brow and commenced well, we fired away, but could not tell whether we did any damage or not. We were relieved by other troops who had come up while we were firing, and we went back out of the road. There was a regiment coming up soon after we were through firing (163 N.Y.) and as soon as they saw some of us some them fired right into us, taking us I suppose for Rebels, but after a great waving of flags on our part, they ceased firing and came up. They paid pretty dearly for their firing at us, for the Rebs seeing them stop dropped several shells right in their ranks and put them in great confusion. When they fired into us it killed two men, lying right at my feet, but never scratched me.
As soon as it was dark, we were marched back to town to get another supply of ammunition, and on the road we got mixed up with some other regiment and I lost my company. We went back to the place where we were the night before and, had hardly half the regiment but Col. Pleasants soon came up with the remainder. I went in the house that Col. J.K. Sigfried was quartered in and slept very comfortably.
Sunday morning we got up with the expectation of fighting again, and in fact it was rumored that Gen. Burnside had ordered the 9th A.C. to take the fortifications by storm, but we were lying around all day, in suspense afraid to leave for fear the regiment might move.
I slept in the same place that I did the night before, and the family who were living in the cellar came up occasionally and as there were two very pretty, and interesting young ladies who sang remarkably well, we managed to spend a very pleasant evening.
Monday morning came and we all were wondering what Burnside intended to do. We all thought it was folly to attempt to take the position which the Rebels held and we were getting anxious about lying around the town exposed to their artillery firing. The papers say so much about the men eager for the fray, but to tell the truth, you will not come across one man in the whole army who is not heartily tired of the whole thing and would like to see it settled any way at all. I thought I could see from the various movements about town that we were going to evacuate. The ambulance trains were running all day beside men carrying wounded men over the river on litters, old bed ticks, mattresses, chairs and in fact everything they could lay their hands on. This was kept up from morning until dark and I was told that the night before they were working quite as hard. Soon after dark we were marched off down the street the same way we went on Saturday and stopped at the same place. then the Colonel called the company commanders together and told us we were to go up to the outskirts of town and occupy the houses. We were to make loop holes through them large enough for one man to shoot through. From this I thought we were to direct the attention of the Rebs to the front while the remainder of the army went around and attacked them on the flank. but we had hardly got the work done when we were ordered to fall in again and marched back to town and over the same pontoon we crossed on before and marched up to our old camp. Thus ended the five days fight before Fredericksburg. There were some charges made on their fortifications but none got any farther than the creek. I was very glad we did not have to charge as we would have been almost entirely cut up. I believe that the position they hold is impregnable when attacked on the front.
We found our old shanty all knocked to pieces and for the first night we slept in with some of the men. But now we have one of our own again and much better and larger than the first. We have fine large fire places in it and warms it up finely. Lieut. Jackson was detailed to take a party over the river to bury the dead, and he tells us he has seen as much war as he wants to—He saw General Stuart and several other Rebel celebrities.
I commanded Company D and lost two men killed and two wounded. Co. G lost but one man wounded in the arm, not as the rebels could see, when each brigade left town and could have full sweep at them from that time until they got all the way up and under the shelter of the hill. Some regiments coming up you could see the shells bursting directly in their ranks and knocking men in all directions. Our regiment suffered less than most of the others and the reason of it is, I think that we went at it more systematically and did not get excited. Lieut. Jackson had a very narrow escape, a shell bursting directly in front of him and the powder burnt his neck and hands without doing any further injury.
It was quite cold last night but we slept very comfortably in our new house The weather was very mild all the time we were over the river, or the men would have suffered severely. We are getting along very well and are in good spirits, and the only thing we want to see is the war over. I think you will be pleased with this letter and about the only think that kept me at it so long was the thoughts of it pleasing you so much. I have had to stop and rest myself several times during the writing, but I have at last got it through and I am very glad of it.
With much love to all I remain your affectionate son,
Thursday, June 14, 2007
My colleague Mannie at http://www.volunteersinparks.blogspot.com/ has posted an excellent blog on Civil War art, and has inspired this particular post of mine. I do agree with Mannie's assessment that most modern day Civil War art: "All too often. . .seems overly influenced by stills captured of overweight and overwrought reenactors plying their hobby in painstakingly accurate uniforms under ideal lighting conditions." I would add also that there seems to be lot of paintings depicting Martin Sheen dressed as Robert E. Lee, or Steven Lang portraying Stonewall Jackson, and Jeff Daniels as Joshua L. Chamberlain.
I agree also with Mannie that the finest Civil War painting is Veteran in a New Field by Winslow Homer. Simply put: I love this painting. And seeing it on Mannie's blog has once again struck a chord with me. I've long wondered what it must have been like for these veterans to return to their homes after the guns fell silent. It seems that for all the tens of thousands of books written about the war, this aspect of it has remained relatively untouched. So, in the spirit of these soldiers returning home I decided to focus this post on the final days of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry as recorded in the regimental histories.
The 48th Pennsylvania fought its final battle on April 2, 1865, at Petersburg, Virginia, but remained in the field until late July, when the regiment was officially mustered out of service. The veterans of the regiment did participate in the Grand Review through the streets of Washington on May 22, 1865, an event never-to-be-forgotten by the soldiers in the ranks. Joseph Gould recorded that "It was a noble spectacle, as, with the President and Cabinet and the foreign ministers around them, Gen. Grant and other noted generals looked down on these bronzed veterans who had moved at their bidding, and had been the instruments to execute their will, as the hosts of the Rebellion were pressed back, the Republic rescued from destruction." For two days this might army marched," wrote Gould. "Great and touching memories clustered around them, for they marked the final steps of the wondrous path they had trod for four years. Soldiers and officers had become endeared to each other by a common toil, a common danger, and a mutual triumph. They had never failed in the hour of peril. Manly men were they all, who had stood shoulder to shoulder on many hard-fought fields. Not one drooping banner had been disgraced--on the contrary they were covered all over with noble inscriptions, the mere mention of which was a history of gallant deeds. Although the air was tremulous with triumphant music and loud shouts, a sad, mournful feeling filled all hearts as the swiftly marching columns disappeared in the distance, for they were parting forever. But over all swelled emotions of joy, that the Union was saved--the country rescued from ruin, and a happy, united people would, ere long, forget the past, in the enjoyment of peace and prosperity. Gould then finished with an appropriate verse: "And so at last when the fighting was done/And the battle-scarred banners were furled,/The men who had lived by the sword and gun/Must find a new task in the world."
The Grand Review
Organized in the summer months of 1861, the 48th Pennsylvania served for four years and throughout that time saw some of the war's heaviest fighting at such places as 2nd Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg. An estimated 1,860 men served for a time in the ranks, and well over 300 of this number never returned home. On July 17, 1865, the 48th Pennsylvania ceased to exist as the surviving members of the regiment were officially mustered out of service. The men boarded train cars that same day and made their way to Harrisburg where they arrived on July 18. They remained here for four days, "the officers perfecting their final reports, and properly winding up the affairs of the regiment." At last, the soldiers once again boarded the train cars on July 22 and headed for their homes in Schuylkill County. Oliver C. Bosbyshell recorded the sentiments on the veterans while on their way back: "Oh how sweet the word to the brave fellows who had been spared through so many and great dangers! Home, blessed name, so soon to be realized! How the hearts of the men on that train throbbed as each mile carried them nearer and nearer to the sacred place! Many could have hugged the trainmen when 'Reading' was shouted into the cars! And then the welcome towns of Hamburg, Port Clinton, Auburn, and Schuylkill Haven flew by--and then every man on his feet ready to spring to the ground as Pottsville was reached, where great crowds roared, cheered and cried such a hearty welcome, all knew it was HOME!"
It must have seemed as if the entire county had turned out to welcome home the survivors of the 48th Pennsylvania. Grand receptions were held; music and a sea of American flags welcomed the 300 or so veterans of the 48th PA who arrived home that afternoon. Wrote Bosbyshell: "The meetings of the wives and children, with their husbands and fathers, were in many instances touching, in all joyful."
But as the celebrations came to a close, these men, these veterans of so many blood-stained fields, were forced to leave their soldiering days behind and try to return to some sense of normalcy. They were surrounded now not by their comrades in blue on some damp and dreary field, but by their families and loved ones in their warm homes. No reveille sounded early the next morning. No drilling, no Manual of Arms, no marches, no Guard Mounting lay ahead. No hardtack and salt pork for breakfast. No waiting now for the mail and the hopes of letters from loved ones. It must have been indescribable for these men to make the adjustment back to civilian life. And as the days, and in many instances, the hours passed with them now back at home, they all returned to their "New Fields," as Winslow Homer put it. Back to the coal mines, back to the clerk positions, and back to the farms. . .
This is why I love the Homer painting so much. It captures much more than just a man with a scythe.