Detailed Minutiae Of Soldier Life In The Army Of Northern Virginia (Part 5)
BY CARLTON McCARTHY,
Private of Second company Richmond Howitzers, Cutshaw's Battalion.
Paper No. 5. -- Improvised Infantry--To Appomattox Courthouse
Sunday, April 2d, 1865, found Cutshaw's battalion of artillery occupying the earthworks at Fort Clifton, on the Appomattox, about two miles below Petersburg, Virginia. The command was composed of the Second company Richmond Howitzers, Captain Lorraine F. Jones, Garber's battery, Fry's battery and remnants of five other batteries (saved from the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 12, 1864), and had present for duty nearly five hundred men, with a total muster roll, including the men in prison, of one thousand and eighty.
The place -- the old "Clifton House" -- was well fortified, and had the additional protection of the river along the entire front of perhaps a mile. The works extended from the Appomattox on the right to Swift creek on the left. There we re some guns of heavy calibre, mounted and ready for action, and in addition to these some field pieces disposed along the line at suitable points. the enemy had formidable works opposite, but had not used their guns to disturb the quiet routine of the camp. The river bank was picketed by details from the artillery armed as infantry, but without the usual equipments. The guard duty was so heavy that half the men were always on guard.
The huts, built by the troops who had formerly occupied the place, were located, with a view to protection from the enemy's fire under the hills on the sides of the ravines or gullies which divided them, and were underground to the eaves of the roof Consequently, the soil being sandy, there was a constant filtering of sand through the cracks, and in spite of the greatest care the grit found its way into the flour and meal, stuck to the greasy frying pan and even filled the hair of the men as they slept in their bunks.
At this time rations were reduced to the minimum of quantity and quality, being generally worm eaten peas, sour or rancid mess -- pork and unbolted corn meal, relieved occasionally with a small supply of luscious canned beef imported from England, good flour (half rations), a little coffee and sugar, and, once, apple brandy for all hands. Ragged, barefooted and even bareheaded men were so common that they did not excite notice or comment, and did not expect or seem to feel the want of sympathy. And yet there was scarcely a complaint or murmur of dissatisfaction and not the slightest indication of fear or doubt. The spirit of the men was as good as ever and the possibility of immediate disaster -- had not cast its shadow there.
Several incidents occurred during the stay of the battalion at Fort Clifton which will serve to illustrate everyday life on the lines. It occurred to a man picketing the river bank that it would be amusing to take careful aim at the man on the other side doing the same duty for the enemy, fire, laugh to see the fellow jump and dodge, and then try again. He fired, laughed, dropped his musket to reload, and while smiling with satisfaction heard the "thud" of a bullet and felt an agonizing pain in his arm. His musket fell to the ground and he walked back to camp with his arm swinging heavily at his side. The surgeon soon relieved him of it altogether. The poor fellow learned a lesson. The "Yank" had beat him at his own game.
The guard house was a two story framed building about twelve feet square, having two rooms, one above the other. The detail for guard duty was required to stay in the guard house; those who wished to sleep going up stairs, while others just relieved or about to go on duty clustered around the fire in the lower room. One night, when the upper floor was covered with sleeping men, an improvised infantryman who had been relieved from duty walked in, and preparatory to taking his stand at the fire, threw his musket carelessly in the corner. A loud report and angry exclamations immediately followed. The sergeant of the guard, noticing the direction of the ball, hurried up stairs, and to the disgust of the sleepy fellows, ordered all hands to "turn out." Grumbling, growling, stretching and rubbing their eyes, the men got up. Some one inquired, "where's Pryor?" His chum, who had been sleeping by his side, replied "there he is asleep shake him!" His blanket was drawn aside, and with a shake he was commanded to "get up!" But there was no motion, no reply. The ball had passed through his heart, and he had passed without a groan or a sigh from deep sleep to death. The man who was killed and the man who was sleeping by his side, under the same blanket, were members of the Second company Richmond Howitzers. The careless man who made the trouble was also an artilleryman, from one of the other batteries.
Shortly after this accident, after a quiet day, the men retired to their huts and the whole can p was still as a country church yard. The pickets on the river's edge could hear those on the opposite side asking the corporal of the guard the hour and complaining that they had not been promptly relieved. Suddenly a terrific bombardment commenced and the earth fairly trembled. The men, suddenly awakened, heard the roar of the guns, the rush of the shots and the explosion of the shells. To a man only half awake the shells seemed to pass very near and in every direction In a moment all were rushing out of their houses, and soon the hillsides and bluffs were covered with an excited crowd, gazing awestruck on the sight. The firing was away to the right, and there was not the slightest danger. Having realized this fact, the interest was intense. The shells from the opposite lines met and passed in mid air -- their burning fuses forming an arch of fire which paled occasionally as a shell burst, illuminating the heavens with its blaze. The uproar, even at such a distance, was terrible. The officers, fearing that fire would be opened along the whole line, ordered the cannoneers to their posts; men were sent down into the magazine with lanterns to arrange the ammunition for the heavy guns; the lids of the limbers of the field pieces were thrown up; the cannoneers were counted off at their posts; the brush which had been piled before the embrasures was torn away, and with implements in hand all stood at attention till the last shot was fired, -- the heavens were dark again and silence reigned. Soon all hands were as sound asleep as though nothing had occurred.
The next morning an artilleryman came walking leisurely towards the camp, and being recognized as belonging to a battery which was in position on that part of the line where the firing of the last night occurred, was plied with questions as to the loss on our side, who was hurt, &c., &c. Smiling at the anxious faces and eager questions, he replied: "When? Last night? Nobody!" It was astounding, but nevertheless true.
On another occasion some scattering shots were heard up the river, and after awhile a body came floating down the stream. It was hauled on shore and buried in the sand a little above high water mark. It was a poor Confederate who had attempted to desert to the enemy but was shot while swimming for the opposite bank of the river. His grave was the centre of the beat of one of the picket posts on the river bank, and there were few men so indifferent to the presence of the dead as not to prefer some other post.
And so while there had been no fighting there were always incidents to remind the soldier that danger lurked around, and that he could not long avoid his share. The camp was not as joyous as it had been, and all felt that the time was near which would try the courage of the stoutest. The struggles of the troops on the right with overwhelming numbers and reports of adversities, caused a general expectation that the troops lying so idly at the Clifton house would be ordered to the point of danger. They had not long to wait.
Sunday came and went as many a Sunday had. There was nothing unusual apparent, unless, perhaps, the dull and list less attitudes of the men and the monotonous call of those on guard were more oppressive than usual. The sun went down, the hills and valleys and the river were veiled in darkness. Here and there twinkling lights were visible. On the other side of the river could be heard a low rumbling which experienced men said was the movement of artillery and ammunition trains bound to the enemy's left to press the already broken right of the Confederate line.
Some had actually gone to sleep for the night. Others were huddled around the fires in the little huts, and a few sat out on the hillside discussing the probabilities of the near future. A most peaceful scene -- a most peaceful spot. Hymns were sung and prayers were made, though no preacher was there. Memory reverted fondly to the past, to home and friends. The spirit of the soldier soared away to other scenes and left him to sit blankly down, gaze at the stars and feel unspeakable longings for undefined joys, and weep, for very tenderness of heart, at his own sad loneliness.
At 10 P.M. some man, mounted on horseback, rode up to one of the huts and said the battalion had orders to move. It was so dark that his face was scarcely visible. In a few minutes orders were received to destroy what could be destroyed without noise or fire. This was promptly done. Then the companies were formed, the roll w as called and the battalion marched slowly and solemnly away. No one doubted that the command would march at once to the assistance of the troops at or near Five Forks. It was thought that before morning every man would have his musket and his supply of ammunition, and the crack of day would see the battalion rushing into battle in regular infantry style, whooping and yelling like demons. But they got no arms that night. The march was steady till broad day of Monday the 3d of April. Of course the men felt mortified at having to leave the guns, but there was no help for it, as the battery horses which had been sent away to winter had not returned. It was evident that the battalion had bid farewell to artillery and commenced a new career as infantry.
As the night wore on the men learned that the command was not going to any point on the lines. That being determined, no one could guess its destination. Later in the night, probably as day approached, the sky in the direction of Richmond was lit with the red glare of distant conflagration, and at short intervals there were deep, growling explosions as of magazines. The roads were filled with other troops, all hurrying in the same direction. There was no sign of panic or fear, but the very wheels seemed turning with unusual energy. The men wore the look of determination, haste and eagerness. One could feel the energy which surrounded him and animated the men and things which moved so steadily on, on, on ! ! There was no laughing, singing or talking. Nothing but the steady tread of the column and the surly rumbling of the trains.
As morning dawned, the battalion struck the main road leading from Richmond. Refugees told the story of the evacuation and informed the boas from the city that it was in the hands of the enemy and burning, and the chances were that not one house would be left standing. Here it became clearly understood that the whole army was in full retreat. From this point the men began to say, as they marched, that it was easier to march away than it would be to get back, but that they expected and hoped to fight their way back if they had to contest every inch. Some even regretted the celerity of the march, for, they said, "the further we march the more difficult it will be to win our way back." Little did they know of the immense pressure at the rear and the earnest push of the enemy on the flank as he strove to reach and overlap the advance of his hitherto defiant but now retreating foe.
A detail had been left at Fort Clifton with orders to spike the guns, blow up the magazine, destroy everything which could be of value to the enemy, and rejoin the command. The order was obeyed, and every man of the detail resumed his place in the ranks.
From this point to Appomattox, the march was almost continuous, day and night, and it is with the greatest difficulty that a private in the ranks can recall with accuracy the dates and places on the march. Night was day, -- day was night. There was no stated time to sleep, eat or rest, and the events of morning became strangely intermingled with the events of evening. Breakfast, dinner and supper were merged into "something to eat" whenever and wherever it could be had. The incidents of the march, how ever, lose none of their significance on this account, and, so far as possible, they will be given in the order in which they occurred and the day and hour fixed as accurately as they can be by those who witnessed and participated in its dangers and hardships.
Monday the 3d the column was pushed along without ceremony at a rapid pace until night, when a halt was ordered and the battalion laid down in a piece of pine woods to rest. There was some "desultory" eating in this camp, but so little of it that there was no lasting effect. At early dawn of Tuesday the 4th, the men struggled to their feet, and with empty stomachs and brave hearts resumed their places in the ranks, and struggled on with the column as it marched steadily in the direction of Moore's church, in Amelia county, where it arrived in the night. The men laid down under the shelter of a fine grove, and friend divided with friend the little supplies of raw bacon and bread picked up on the day's march. The men were scarcely stretched on the ground and ready for a good nap, when the orderly of the Howitzers commenced bawling, "Detail for guard!! Detail for guard!! Fall in here, fall in!" Then followed the names of the detail. Four men answered to their names, but declared they could not keep awake if placed on guard. Their remonstrance was in vain. They were marched off to picket a road leading to camp, and when they were relieved said they had slept soundly on their posts. No one blamed them.
While it was yet night, all hands were roused from profound sleep, the battalion was formed and away they went, stumbling, bumping against each other, and sleeping as they walked. Whenever the column halted for a moment, as it did frequently during the night, the men dropped heavily to the ground and were instantly asleep. Then the officers would commence: "Forward! column forward!!" Those first on their feet stumbling on over their prostrate comrades, who would in turn be awakened, and again the column was in motion, and nothing heard but the monotonous tread of the weary feet, the ringing and rattling of the trappings of the horses and the never ending cry of "Close up men, close up!!"
Through the long, weary night there was no rest. The alternate halting and hurrying was terribly trying and taxed the endurance of the most determined men to the very utmost; and yet on the morning of Wednesday the 5th, when the battalion reached the neighborhood of "Scott's Shops," every man was in place and ready for duty. From this point, after some ineffectual efforts to get a breakfast, the column pushed on in the direction of Amelia Courthouse, at which point Colonel Cutshaw was ordered to report to General James A. Walker, and the battalion was thereafter a part of Walker's division. The 5th was spent at or near the Courthouse -- how, it is difficult to remember; but the day was marked by several incidents worthy of record.
About two hundred and twenty five muskets (not enough to arm all the men), cartridges and caps were issued to the battalion: simply the muskets and ammunition. Not a cartridge box, cap box, belt or any other convenience ornamented the persons of these newborn infantrymen. They stored their ammunition in their pockets along with their corn, salt, pipes and tobacco.
When application was made for rations, it was found that the last morsel belonging to the division had been issued to the command, and the battalion was again thrown on its own resources, to wit: corn on the cob intended for the horses. Two ears were issued to each man. It was parched in the coals, mixed with salt, stored in the pockets and eaten on the road. Chewing the corn was hard work. It made the jaws ache and the gums and teeth so sore as to cause almost unendurable pain.
After the muskets were issued a line of battle was formed with Cutshaw on the right. For what purpose the line was formed the men could not tell. A short distance from the right of the line there was a grove which concealed an ammunition train which had been sent from Richmond to meet the army. The ammunition had been piled up ready for destruction. An occasional musket ball passed over near enough and often enough to produce a realizing sense of the proximity of the enemy and solemnize the occasion. Towards evening the muskets were stacked, artillery style of course, the men were lying around, chatting and eating raw bacon, and there was general quiet, when suddenly the earth shook with a tremendous explosion and an immense column of smoke rushed up into the air to a great height. For a moment there was the greatest consternation. Whole regiments broke and fled in wild confusion. Cutshaw's men stood up, seized their muskets and stood at attention till it was known that the ammunition had been purposely fired and no enemy was threatening the line. Then, what laughter and hilarity prevailed, for awhile among these famishing men!
Order having been restored, the march was resumed, and moving by way of Amelia springs, the column arrived near Deatonsville about ten o'clock the morning of Thursday the 6th. The march though not a long one, was exceedingly tiresome, as the main roads being crowded, the column moved by plantation roads, which were in wretched condition, and crowded with troops and trains. That the night was spent in the most trying manner, may be best learned from the fact that when morning dawned the column was only six or seven miles from the starting point of the evening before.
This delay was fatal. The whole army -- trains and all -- left Amelia Courthouse in advance of Walker's division, which was left to cover the retreat -- Cutshaw's battalion being the last to leave the Courthouse, thus bringing up the rear of the whole army, and being in constant view of the enemy's hovering cavalry. The movement of the division was regulated to suit the movements of the wagon trains, which should have been destroyed on the spot, and the column allowed to make its best time, as owing to the delay it occasioned the army lost the time it had gained on the enemy in the start, and was overtaken the next day.
At Deatonsville another effort to cook was made, but before the simplest articles of food could be prepared, the order to march was given, and the battalion took the road once more.
A short while after passing Deatonsville, the column was formed in line of battle -- Cutshaw's battalion near the road and in an old field with woods in front and rear. The officers, anticipating an immediate attack, ordered the men to do what they could for their protection. They immediately scattered along the fence on the roadside, and taking down the rails stalked back to their position in line, laid the rails on the ground and returned for another load. This they continued to do until the whole of the fence was removed. Behind this slim defence they silently awaited the advance of the enemy.
Soon it was decided that this was not the place to make a stand. The first detachment of the Second company of Richmond Howitzers, and twenty men each from Garber and Fry, under the command of Lieutenant Henry Jones, were left behind the fence rail work, with orders to resist and retard the advance of the enemy while the column continued its march.
This little band was composed of true spirits -- the best material in the battalion. Right well did they do their duty. Left alone to face the advance of the immense host eagerly pursuing the worn remnant of the invincible army, they waited until the enemy's skirmishers appeared in the field, when, with perfect deliberation, they commenced their fire. Though greatly outnumbered and flanked right and left, they stubbornly held on till the line of battle following the skirmishers broke from the woods and advancing rapidly, poured into them a murderous volley. And yet, so unused were they to running, they moved not till the infantry skirmishers had retired and the word of command was heard. Then stubbornly contesting the ground, they fought their way back through the woods. The gallant Lieutenant Jones fell mortally wounded, having held control of his little band to the moment he fell. His friend K refused to leave him, and they were captured together, but immediately separated by the enemy. P was pierced through and through by a musket ball as he was hurrying through the woods, and fell heavily to the ground. B was severely wounded, but managed to escape. H was killed outright.
The battalion had left this point but a short time, marching in column of fours with the division, and had reached the brow of a gently sloping hill, perfectly open for perhaps a mile, with a broad valley on the left, and beyond it a range of hills partly wooded. In an open space on this range the enemy placed a battery in position, and in anticipation of doing great slaughter from a safe distance, opened a rapid fire on the exposed and helpless column. The shells came hurtling over the valley, exploding in front, rear and overhead, and tearing up the ground in every direction. Ah! how it grieved those artillerymen to stand, musket in hand, and receive that shower of insolence. How they longed for the old friends they had left at Fort Clifton. They knew how those rascals on the other side of the valley were enjoying the sport. They could hear in imagination the shouts of the cannoneers as they saw their shells bursting so prettily, and rammed home another shot.
There was some impediment ahead, and there the column stood, a fair mark for these rascals. There was no help near, and all that could be done was to stand firm and wait orders; but help was coming!
A cloud of dust was approaching from the rear of the column. All eyes were strained to see what it might mean. Presently the artillerymen recognized the well known sound. A battery was coming in full gallop, the drivers lashing their horses, and yelling like madmen. The guns bounded along as though they would outrun the horses, and with rush, roar and rattle they approached the front of the battalion. Some fellow in the Second company Howitzers sung out "Old Henry Carter!!! Hurrah! for the Third company!! Give it to 'em, boys!!" It was indeed the Third company of Howitzers, long separated from the Second, with their gallant captain at their head!
Not a moment was lost. The guns were in battery, and the smoke of the first shot was curling about the heads of the men in the column in marvelously quick time. Friends and comrades in the column called to the men at the guns, and they, as they stepped in and out, responded with cheerful, ringing voices: "Hello Bill!" "How are you Joe?" Bang!! "Pretty" -- Bang!! -- "well, I thank you." Bang!! "Oh! we're giving it to 'em now." Bang!!!
As the battalion moved on, the gallant boys of the Third company finished their work. The disappointed enemy limbered up, slipped into the woods and departed. Cheered by this fortunate meeting with old comrades and with the pleasant odor of the smoke lingering around them, these hitherto bereft and mournful artillerymen pushed on, laughing cheerily at the discomfiture of the enemy, and feeling that though deprived of their guns by the misfortunes of war, there was still left at least one battery worthy to represent the artillery of the army.
As the column marched slowly along, some sharp eyed man discovered three of the enemy's skirmishers in a field away on the left. More for amusement than anything else, it was proposed to fire at them. A group of men gathered on the roadside, a volley was fired, and to the amazement of the marksmen, for the distance was great, one of the skirmishers fell. One of his comrades started on a run to his assistance, and he, too, was stopped. The third man then scampered away as fast as his legs could carry him. The battalion applauded the good shots and marched on.
At Sailor's creek the detachment which had been left at Deatonsville behind the fence rails to watch and retard the approach of the enemy, having slowly retired before their advance, rejoined the command. Indeed, their resistance and retreat was the beginning of and ended in the battle of Sailor's creek.
The line of battle was formed on Locket's hill, which sloped gently down from the line to the creek, about one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards in rear of and running nearly parallel with the line of battle. A road divided the battalion near the centre. The Howitzers were on the left of this road and in the woods; Garber's men were on the right of the Howitzers, on the opposite side of the road, in a field; Fry's men on the extreme left. To cross the road dividing the line was a hazardous experiment, as the enemy, thinking it an important avenue, swept it with musketry.
It was amusing to see the men hauling out of their pockets a mixture of corn, salt, caps and cartridges, and, selecting the material needed, loading. They were getting ready to stand. They did not expect to run, and did not until ordered to do so.
The enemy's skirmishers advanced confidently and in rather free and easy style, but suddenly met a volley which drove them to cover. Again they advanced in better order, and again the improvised infantry forced them back. Then came their line of battle, with overwhelming numbers; but the battalion stubbornly resisted their advance. The men, not accustomed to the orderly manner of infantry, dodged about from tree to tree, and with the deliberation of huntsmen picked off here and there a man. When a shot. "told," the marksman hurrahed! all to himself. There was an evident desire to press forward and drive the advancing foe. Several of the men were so enthusiastic that they had pushed ahead of the line, and several yards in advance they could be seen, loading and firing as deliberately as though practicing at a mark.
Colonel Cutshaw received a wound which so shattered his leg that he had to be lifted from his horse into an ambulance. He was near being captured, but by hurrying away the ambulance at a gallop, he escaped to a house a short distance in the rear, where he fell into the hands of the enemy. The same night he suffered amputation of a leg. Captain Garber was struck, and called for the ambulance corps, but on examination found the ball in his pocket. It had lodged against the rowel of a spur which he found the day before and dropped in his pocket.
At last the enemy appeared in strong force on both flanks, while he pushed hard in front. It was useless to attempt a further stand. The voice of Captain Jones, of the Howitzers, rang out loud and clear: "Boys, take care of yourselves!" Saying this, he planted himself against a pine, and as his men rushed by him, emptied every chamber of his revolver at the enemy, and then reluctantly made his way, in company with several privates, down the hill to the creek.
At the foot of the hill a group of perhaps a dozen men gathered around Lieutenant McRae. He was indignant. He proposed another stand, and his comrades agreed. They stood in the road facing the gentle slope of the hill from which they had been ordered to retire. The enemy's skirmishers were already on the brow of hill, dodging about among the trees and shouting to those behind to hurry up. Their favorite expressions were "Come along, boys, here are the damned Rebel wagons!" "Damn 'em, shoot 'em down!"
In a few moments their line of battle, in beautiful order, stepped out of the woods with colors flying, and for a moment halted. In front of the centre of that portion of the line which was visible - - probably a full regimental front -- marched the colors and color guard. McRae saw his opportunity. He ordered his squad to rise and fire on the colors. His order was promptly obeyed. The color bearer pitched forward and fell, with his colors, heavily to the ground. The guard of two men on either side shared the same fate, or else feigned it. Immediately the line of battle broke into disorder and came swarming down the hill, firing, yelling and cursing as they came. An officer, mounted, rode his horse close to the fence on the roadside, and with the most superb insolence mocked McRae and his squad, already, as he thought, hopelessly intermingled with the enemy. McRae, in his rage, swore back at him, and in the hearing of the man called on a man near him to shoot "that ------ ------", calling him a fearfully hard name. But the private's gun was not in working order, and the fellow escaped -- for the time. Before he reached the woods, whither he was going to hurry up the "boys," a Howitzer let fly at him, and at the shock of the bullet's stroke, he threw his arms up in the air and his horse bore him into the woods a corpse.
A little to the left, where the road crossed the creek, the crack of pistols and the "bang" of muskets was continuous. The enemy had surrounded the wagons and were mercilessly shooting down the unarmed and helpless drivers, some of whom, however, managed to cut the traces, mount and escape.
In order to escape from the right of the line, it was necessary to follow the road, which was along the foot of the hill, some distance to the left. The enemy seeing this, were pushing their men rapidly at a right oblique to gain the road and cut off retreat. Consequently, those who attempted escape in that direction had to run the gauntlet of a constant fusillade from a mass of troops near enough to select individuals, curse them and command them to throw down their arms or be shot.
Most of McRae's squad, in spite of the difficulties surrounding them, gained the creek, plunged in, and began a race for life up the long, open hillside of plowed ground, fired upon at every step by the swarm of men behind, and, before they reached the top, by a battery in close proximity, which poured down a shower of canister.
The race to the top of the long hill was exceedingly trying to men already exhausted by continual marching, hunger, thirst and loss of sleep. They ran, panting for breath, like chased animals, fairly staggering as they went.
On the top of this long hill there was a skirmish line of cavalry posted with orders to stop all men with arms in their hands and form a new line, but the view down the hill to the creek and beyond revealed such a host of the enemy, and the men retiring before them were so few, that the order was disregarded and the fleeing band allowed to pass through.
The men's faces were black with powder. They had bitten cartridges until there was a deep black circle around their mouths. The burnt powder from the ramrods had blackened their hands, and in their efforts to remove the perspiration from their faces they had completed the coloring from the roots of the hair to the chin. Here was no place for rest, however, as the enemy's battery behind the creek on the opposite hills, having gotten the range, was pouring in a lively fire. Soon after passing the brow of the hill, darkness came on. Groups of men from the battalion halted on the roadside, near a framed building of some sort, and commenced shouting, "Fall in Howitzers!!" "This way Garber's men!!" "Fry's battery!!" "Fall in!!" "Cutshaw's battalion fall in here!!" Thus of their own accord trying to recover the organization from its disorder. Quite a number of the battalion got together, and in spite of hunger, thirst, defeat and dreadful weariness, pushed on to the High bridge. So anxious were the men to escape capture and the insinuation of desertion that when threatened with shooting by the rear guard, if they did not move on, they scarcely turned to see who spoke; but the simple announcement "the Yankees are coming!" gave them a little new strength, and again they struggled painfully along, dropping in the road sound asleep, however, at the slightest halt of the column.
At the bridge there was quite a halt, and in the darkness the men commenced calling to each other by name -- the rascally infantry around, still ready for fun -- answering for every name. Brother called brother, comrade called comrade, friend called friend; and there were many happy reunions there that night. Some, alas! of the best and bravest did not answer the cry of anxious friends.
Before the dawn of day the column was again in motion. What strange sensations the men had as they marched slowly across the High bridge. They knew its great height, but the night was so dark that they could not see the abyss on either side. Arrived on the other side, the worn- out soldiers fell to the ground and slept more dead than alive. Some had slept as they marched across the bridge, and declared that they had no distinct recollection of when they left it, or how long they were upon it.
Early on the morning of the 7th, the march was resumed and continued through Farmville, across the bridge and to Cumberland heights, overlooking the town. Here, on the bare hillside, a line of battle was formed, for what purpose the men did not know -- the Howitzers occupying a central place in the line, and standing with their feet in the midst of a number of the graves of soldiers who had perished in the hospitals in the town.
While standing thus in line a detail was sent into the town to hunt up some rations. They found a tierce of bacon surrounded by a ravenous crowd, fighting and quarreling. The man on duty guarding the bacon was quickly overpowered, and the bacon distributed to the crowd. The detail secured a piece and marched back triumphantly to their waiting comrades.
After considerable delay the line broke into column and marched away in the direction of Curdsville. It was on this march that Cutshaw's battalion showed itself proof against the demoralization which was appearing, and received, almost from the lips of the Commander in Chief, a compliment of which any regiment in the army might be proud.
All along the line of march the enemy's cavalry followed close on the flanks of the column, and whenever an opportunity offered swooped down upon the trains. Whenever this occurred the battalion, with the division, was faced towards the advancing cavalry and marched in line to meet them, generally repulsing them with ease. In one of these attacks the cavalry approached so near the column that a dash was made at them, and the infantry returned to the road with General Gregg, of the enemy's cavalry, a prisoner. He was splendidly equipped and greatly admired by the ragged crowd around him. He was or pretended to be greatly surprised at his capture. When the column had reached a point two or three miles beyond Farmville, it was found that the enemy was driving in the force which was protecting the marching column and trains. The troops hurrying back were panic stricken, all efforts to rally them were vain, and the enemy was almost upon the column.
General Gordon ordered General Walker to form his division and drive the enemy back from the road. The division advanced gallantly, and conspicuous in the charge was Cutshaw's battalion. When the line was formed, the battalion occupied rising ground on the right. The line was visible for a considerable distance. In rear of the battalion there was a group of unarmed men under command of Sergeant Ellett, of the Howitzers. In the distribution of muskets at Amelia Courthouse the supply fell short of the demand and this squad had made the trip so far unarmed. Some, too, had been compelled to ground their arms at Sailor's creek. A few yards to the left and rear of the battalion, in the road, was General Lee, surrounded by a number of officers, gazing eagerly about him. An occasional musket ball whistled over, but there was no enemy in sight. In the midst of this quiet a general officer at the left and rear of the battalion, fell from his horse, severely wounded. A messenger was sent from the group in the road to ask the extent of his injury. After a short while the enemy appeared, and the stampeded troops came rushing by. Cutshaw's battalion stood firmly and quietly, as if on parade, waiting orders. General officers galloped about, begging the fleeing men to halt, but in vain. Several of the fugitives, as they passed the battalion, were collared by the disarmed squad, relieved of their muskets and ammunition, and with a kick allowed to proceed to the rear. There was now between the group in the road and the enemy only the battalion of improvised infantry. There they stood, on the crest of the hill, in sharp relief. Not a man moved from his place. Did they know the Great Commander was watching them? Some one said "forward," the cry passed from lip to lip and with cheers the battalion moved rapidly to meet the enemy, while the field was full of the stampeded troops making to the rear. A courier came out with orders to stop the advance, but they heeded him not. Again he came, but on they went. Following the line was the unarmed squad, unable to do more than swell the volume of the wild shouts of their comrades. Following them also was the commissary department, consisting of two men, with a piece of bacon swung on a pole between them, yelling and hurrahing. As the line advanced, the blue jackets sprang up and ran through the broom straw like hares, followed by a shower of balls. Finally an officer -- some say General Gordon, and others an aid of Longstreet's -- rode out to the front of the battalion, ordered a halt, and in the name of General Lee thanked the men for their gallant conduct and complimented them in handsome style. His words were greeted with loud cheers, and the battalion marched back to the road carrying several prisoners and having retaken two pieces of artillery which had been abandoned to the enemy. After the enemy was driven back out of reach of our trains and column of march and the troops were in line of battle, General Lee in person rode up in rear of the division, and addressing himself directly to the men in ranks (a thing very unusual with him), used language to this effect: "That is right men; that is all I want you to do. Just keep those people back awhile. I do not wish you to expose yourselves to unnecessary danger." Mahone's division then coming up, took the place of Walker's, and the march was resumed. The battalion passed on, the men cutting slices from their piece of bacon and eagerly devouring them. As night came on the signs of disaster increased. At several places whole trains were standing in the road abandoned, artillery, chopped down and burning, blocked the way, and wagon loads of ammunition were dumped out in the road and trampled under foot. There were abundant signs of disaster. So many muskets were dropped on the road that Cutshaw's unarmed squad armed itself with abandoned muskets, ammunition and equipments. There was a halt during the night in a piece of stunted woods. The land was low and sobby. In the road passing through the woods stood several batteries, chopped down and deserted. There was a little flour on hand, which had been picked up on the road. An oilcloth was spread, the flour placed on it, water was found, and the dough mixed. Then some clean partition boards were knocked out of a limber chest, the dough was spread on them and held near the fire till partially cooked. Then, with what delight, it was devoured!
At daybreak Saturday the march was resumed and continued almost without interruption during the whole day -- the men, those whose gums and teeth were not already too sore, crunching parched corn and raw bacon as they trudged along. Saturday night the battalion rested near Appomattox Courthouse in a pine woods. Sunday morning, April 9th, after a short march, the column entered the village of Appomattox Courthouse, marching by what seemed to be the main road. Several dead men, dressed in the uniform of United States regular artillery, were lying on the roadside, their faces turned up to the blaze of the sun. One had a ghastly wound in the breast, which must have been made by grape or canister.
On through the village without halting marched the column. "Whitworth" shots went hurtling through the air every few minutes, indicating very clearly that the enemy was ahead of the column and awaiting its arrival. On the outskirts of the village the line of battle was formed. Indeed, there seemed to be two lines -- one slightly in advance of the other. Wagons passed along the line dropping boxes of cartridges, which the men were ordered to knock open and supply themselves with forty rounds each. They filled their breeches' pockets to the brim. The general officers galloped up and down the line, apparently hurrying everything as much as possible. The shots from a battery in advance were continually passing over the line, going in the direction of the village, but without harm to any one. The more experienced men predicted a severe struggle. It was supposed that this was to be an attack with the whole army in mass, for the purpose of breaking through the enemy's line and making one more effort to move on.
Finally the order "forward!" ran along the line, and as it advanced the chiefs of detachments, gunners and commissioned officers marched in rear, keeping up a continual cry of "Close up men, close up!" "Go ahead now, don't lag!" "Keep up!" Thus marching, the line entered a body of woods, proceeded some distance, changed direction to the left, and emerging from the woods, halted in a large open field, beyond which was another body of woods which concealed further view in front.
After some delay, a detail for skirmish duty was ordered. Captain Jones detailed four men, -- Fry and Garber the same number. Lieutenant McRae was placed in command. The infantry detailed skirmishers for their front. All arrangements completed, the men deployed and entered the woods. They had advanced but a short distance, when they encountered a strong line of picket posts. Firing and cheering they rushed on the surprised men, who scampered away, leaving all their little conveniences behind them, and drove them for about a mile. From this point large bodies of the enemy were visible, crowding the hilltops like a blue or black cloud. It was not many minutes before a strong line of dismounted cavalry, followed by mounted men, deployed from this mass to cover the retreat of their fleeing brethren and restore the picket line. They came down the hills and across the fields, firing as they came. On looking around to see what were the chances for making a stand, Lieutenant McRae found that the infantry skirmishers had been withdrawn. The officer who had commanded them could be seen galloping away in the distance. The little squad, knowing they were alone, kept up a brisk fire on the advancing enemy, till he was close up in front and well to the rear of both flanks. On the left, not more than two hundred yards, a column of cavalry, marching by twos, had crossed the line and were still marching, as unconcernedly as possible, to the rear of McRae. Seeing this, McRae ordered his squad to retire, saying at the same time, "But don't let them see you running, boys! "
So they retired, slowly, stubbornly and returning shot for shot with the enemy, who came on at a trot, cheering valiantly, as they pursued four men and a lieutenant. The men dragged the butts of their old muskets behind them, loading as they walked. All loaded, they turned, halted, fired, received a shower of balls in return, and then again moved doggedly to the rear. A little lieutenant of infantry, who had been on the skirmish line, joined the squad. He was armed with a revolver and had his sword by his side. Stopping behind the corner of a corn crib he swore he would not go any further to the rear. The squad moved on and left him standing there, pistol in hand, waiting for the enemy, who were now jumping the fences and coming across the field, running at the top of their speed. What became of this singular man no one knows. He was, as he said, "determined to make a stand." A little further on the squad found a single piece of artillery, manned by a lieutenant and two or three men. They were selecting individuals in the enemy's skirmish line and firing at them with solid shot! Lieutenant McRae laughed at the ridiculous sight, remonstrated with the officer and offered his squad to serve the gun, if there was any canister in the limber chest. The offer was refused, and again the squad moved on. Passing a cow shed about this time, the squad halted to look with horror upon several dead and wounded Confederates who lay there upon the manure pile. They had suffered wounds and death upon this the last day of their country's struggle. Their wounds had received no attention and those living were famished and burning with fever.
Lieutenant McRae, noticing a number of wagons and guns parked in a field near by, surprised at what he considered great carelessness in the immediate presence of the enemy, approached an officer on horseback and said, in his usual impressive manner, "I say there! what does this mean?" The man took his hand and quietly said: "We have surrendered." "I don't believe it, sir!" replied McRae, strutting around as mad as a hornet; "you mustn't talk so, sir! you will demoralize my men!" He was soon convinced, however, by seeing Yankee cavalrymen walking their horses around as composedly as though the Army of Northern Virginia had never existed. To say that McRae was surprised, disgusted, indignant and incredulous is a mild way of expressing his state of mind as he turned to his squad and said: "Well, boys, it must be so, but it's very strange behavior. Let's move on and see about it." As though dreaming, the squad and the disgusted officer moved on.
Learning that the army had gone into camp, the skirmishers went on in the direction of the village and found the battalion in the woods near the main road. Fires were burning and those who had been fortunate enough to find anything eatable were cooking. Federal troops were riding up and down the road and loafing about the camps trying to be familiar. They seemed to think that "How are you, Johnny?" spoken in condescending style, was sufficient introduction.
During the day a line of men came single file over the hill near the camp, each bearing. on his shoulder a box of "hard tack" or crackers. Behind these came a beef, driven by soldiers. The crackers and beef were a present from the Federal troops near, who, knowing the famishing condition of the surrounded army, had contributed their day's rations for its relief. All honor to them. It was a soldierly act which was thoroughly appreciated.
The beef was immediately shot and butchered, and before the animal heat had left the meat, it was impaled in little strips on sticks, bayonets, swords and pocket knives, roasting over the fires.
Though numbers of the enemy visited the camps and plied the men with all sorts of questions, seeming very curious and inquisitive, not an unkind word was said on either side that day. When the skirmishers under McRae entered the camp of the battalion, their enthusiastic descriptions of driving the enemy and being driven in turn failed to produce any effect. Many of the men were sobbing and crying, like children recovering from convulsions of grief after a severe whipping. They were sorely grieved, mortified and humiliated. Of course they had not the slightest conception of the numbers of the enemy who surrounded them.
Other men fairly raved with indignation, and declared their desire to escape or die in the attempt; but not a man was heard to blame General Lee. On the contrary, all expressed the greatest sympathy for him and declared their willingness to submit at once, or fight to the last man, as he ordered. At no period of the war was he held in higher veneration or regarded with more sincere affection, than on that sad and tearful day.
In the afternoon of Tuesday the 11th, the little remnant of the army remaining was massed in a field. General Gordon spoke to them most eloquently, and bid them farewell. General Walker addressed his division, to which Cutshaw's battalion was attached, bidding them farewell. In the course of his remarks he denounced fiercely the men who had thrown down their arms on the march, and called upon the true men before him to go home and tell their wives, mothers, sisters and sweethearts how shamefully these cowards had behaved.
General Henry A. Wise also spoke, sitting on his horse and bending forward over the pommel of his saddle. Referring to the surrender, he said: "I would rather have embraced the tabernacle of death." There were many heaving bosoms and tear stained faces during the speaking. A tall, manly fellow, with his colors pressed to his side, stood near General Gordon, convulsed with grief.
The speaking over, the assembly dispersed and once more the campfires burned brightly. Night brought long needed rest. The heroes of many hard fought battles, the conquerors of human nature's cravings, the brave old army, fell asleep -- securely guarded by the encircling hosts of the enemy. Who will write the history of that march? Who will be able to tell the story? Alas! how many heroes fell!!
The paroles, which were distributed on Tuesday the 11th, were printed on paper about the size of an ordinary bank check, with blank spaces for the date, name of the prisoner, company and regiment, and signature of the commandant of the company or regiment. They were signed by the Confederate officers themselves, and were as much respected by all picket officers, patrols, &c., of the Federal army as though they bore the signature of U.S. Grant. The following is a copy of one of these paroles, recently made from the original:
Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia,
April 10th, 1865
The bearer, Private -------- ------- , of Second company Howitzers, Cutshaw's battalion, a paroled prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia, has permission to go to his home and there remain undisturbed.
L. F. JONES,
Captain Commanding Second Company Howitzers.
The "guidon," or color bearer, of the Howitzers had concealed the battle flag of the company about his person, and before the final separation cut it into pieces of about four by six inches, giving each man present a piece. Many of these scraps of faded silk are still preserved, and will be handed down to future generations. Captain Fry, who commanded after Colonel Cutshaw was wounded, assembled the battalion, thanked the men for their faithfulness, bid them farewell, and read the following:
Headquarters Army Northern Virginia,
Appomattox Courthouse, April 10th, 1865.
GENERAL ORDER No. 9.
After four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources. I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented this result from no distrust of them; but feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that would compensate for the loss that must have attended a continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.
R. E. Lee.
This grand farewell from the man who had in the past personified the glory of his army and now bore its grief in his own great heart, was the signal for tearful partings. Comrades wept as they gazed upon each other, and with choking voices said, farewell! And so, - - they parted. Little groups of two or three or four, without food, without money, but with "the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed," were soon plodding their way homeward.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers. Vol. VI. Richmond, Virginia, November, 1878. No. 5
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