Some Experiences of the Civil War
by L. W. Cushing
by John Cushing - Wilson's great-great-nephew.
The dead at Gettysburg
This memoir of one old soldier's Civil War was originally published as a series of articles in the Ulysses newspaper in 1913. Leavitt Wilson Cushing was 74 when he undertook to share these memories via the articles in the newspaper. They tell the tale of the capture of his unit, Co G of the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, his escape, and his journey home to Pennsylvania. At the end of the tale, he undertakes to document the service of CO G throughout the war.
When Wilson was mustered out on June 7, 1865, he returned home to farm in the Ulysses area. In 1874, he married Susan E. (Bassett) Douglass, the widow of a fellow soldier who died in Southern captivity. The two built a life and raised a family on their farm. Wilson served his community as a school director elected in 1890. He died on July 7, 1918, and was buried in the Ulysses cemetery. Susan died in 1930 and was buried next to Wilson.
On June 21, 1864, the 2d Army Corps was moved to the left of the army operating south of Richmond and Petersburg and took up a position some distance south of Petersburg, built some breastworks and lay there through the night. The next day in the forenoon the Fourth Brigade of the First Division and how many more I do not know were ordered to fall in and were soon moved or marched out into the woods in front of where we were. We marched down an old wood road a hundred rods or more, the filed to the left into the woods and brush and formed in line of battle. After standing there some time and receiving no further orders the soldiers sat or lay down on the ground. We supposed the officers were trying to establish or form a line of battle. There were no regiments joining us the 53d PA, either on our right or left that I knew of. While lying there the enemy, it would seem, had come out into the woods to learn our position in order to meet attack from us or make one. It would appear they marched through where our line was not connected and got in our rear or nearly so, and when they discovered our position opened fire on us. We sprang to our guns were ordered to about face and marched back to the right of where we came in in order to pass the Rebs and reach the line we left.
The brush and small timber were so thick it was impossible to keep in line, and were soon entirely broken up, and every man got back the best way he could. When we got back to the breastworks we found them occupied by some of our troops, and as our ranks were so entirely broken up we did not try to reform our line there, but went farther to the rear. As I came over the works and started on, an officer of the men in the works called to the men to stop and form a line on their left. I thought the enemy would not be able to drive us out of these breastworks and I went back and took a position on the left of the men that were there.
At this time the firing was quite heavy a little farther up the line and kept coming nearer us, and soon we heard someone coming in front of us but could see no one as the bushes were so thick. Some said they thought they were our men coming in and not to fire. I did not think they were, but to be sure I went out in front of the line until I could see them quite plain and found they were dressed in grey and what we called Rebs, came back and told them they were "Rebs" and not our men. The bushes were so thick we could not see more than four or five rods, but when they came near enough so we could see the bushes move as they made their way through them, opened fire on them. They stopped a half-minute or less, and then began to yell and came on. I had not fired more than twice and got my gun loaded when I noticed a big Reb about sixty feet away at my left. He stood behind a clump of tall bushes as large as my wrist. I sighted my gun for him which he noticed and jumped about to avoid my getting a good aim, but I fired, did not have time to note the effect, for just then a few bayonets were pushed over the works near my head and as many more were behind, with the order to surrender. They had gone around our left and come up behind us while we were engaged with those in front. We were ordered to put down our guns, and were taken back through the woods nearly a half mile where there was a large farm with a fine house around which were quite a number of officers on horseback. Our guards took us "prisoners," of which there were a dozen or more in our squad, near them and reported to one of them, then took us off to the right through their works and marched us towards Petersburg, we were several miles south of it. I think the firing had ceased entirely before this.
After the prisoners were all brought in and got together there were some 1500 in all. I wish to say right here that this whole affair seems to have been a stupid blunder on the part of some of our officers. There should have been a heavy line of Skirmishers sent out in advance of us to have given the alarm of the enemies' approach, and held them in check till we could have got in position to meet their attack. Perhaps some of the officers were drunk, for I remember the previous evening the soldiers had a ration of whisky given to them, and as many in Co. G, did not drink the stuff, those that did drink had enough to get very drunk, and a few were left behind on that account when we went into the woods. It was very seldom that whisky was given the soldiers, at least in our brigade or regiment. Sometimes those of us who did not drink would take it and throw it away to keep those that were very fond of it from getting too much for their good. It was kept in the commissary department, and officers could buy it any time they wished, and when in camp would sometimes give a private an order for a canteen. Then some of them would have a gay old time, but to return to the subject. . .
We marched to Petersburg that night and camped, the next day marched to Richmond about 25 miles and were put in Libby Prison. We were obliged to go in single file before a man who searched our pockets, clothing and haversacks for money, watches, or anything of value; were obliged to strip off our clothing for them to examine. We were told if we had any money and would give it to them we would be given credit for it, and when exchanged it would be returned to us. We did not place much confidence in their promises and some in devious ways hid their money so it was not found, but they secured quite an amount of money from the men, and I'll warrant none of them ever saw it again. I had a little of what we called script, 5, 10, 25 or 50 cents paper money, which they did not care for. They had quite a long table or bench on which the contents of our haversacks were emptied and sorted over. All the coffee we had in little sacks they took and threw in a pile in the corner of the room near the end of the table around which we passed when they were through with us. I had nearly a pint in my sack, and as they threw it on the pile it rolled under the edge of the table, and the next one that passed along gave it a kick, that sent it to the other side where I was still standing. So I had my coffee again.
The building was a large brick warehouse three stories high. Were kept there some three days. It being warm weather we had no blankets, and I can't say now whether we had our shelter tents, and gum blankets. If we had anything that would be of any service to their men they took it. Our food or rations consisted of corn bread baked in large tins about 1½ inch in thickness, cut in squares about four inches and nearly a pint of beans and soup together; this for one day. Many of the boys would eat it all at one time and have no more till the next day. I always divided mine, eating half in the forenoon and the balance at night. There were only 7 men that belonged to the 53d Regiment, myself the only one from Co. G, one from Co. K, Corporal Hays, 2 or 3 of Co., E, and others. Some I knew quite well others only by sight. We were taken from Libby onto Bell Island in the James River had tents for shelter, the men of 53d were in one tent together. For all we were prisoners and not very well fed, I remember one night we got to singing some old hymns and camp-meeting pieces. One of them the others sang was new to me, the chorus was "If you belong to Gideon's band." We made so much noise the guard called to us to make less noise in there. Being soldiers we quickly obeyed.
We were kept prisoners on Bell Island three days, then were put aboard the cars and started for Lynchburg [VA], where we arrived about 4 P.M. Three days' rations were issued to us consisting of seven brown crackers about 4 inches square and a little more than ½ inch thick and a few ounces of bacon. These were to last till we got to Danville [VA] where we were able to take the cars for Andersonville, GA. I began to watch for opportunities to escape. As soon as we left Richmond, the car windows were up and the doors open with a few guards at each door and a few on top of the car. I thought when it came dark would let myself down out of a window drop down on the ground and lie still till the train passed by; but someone tried it before it was fairly dark and ran for the woods near by. The guards saw them and ordered them to halt, but did not fire. (The guards were boys and old men, too young and too old for active service.) As soon as this happened they closed all windows. I see by this incident we must have been on the cars all night and part of next day. The road was very rough and there were many stops.
After drawing rations were marched up through Lynchburg (the city is built on a side hill) and about five miles out in the country and camped in a meadow by a small creek where I could see no chance to hide or get away. In the morning took up our march again for Danville, some 70 miles away. There was a chance through the day, by running some risk of being shot, by skipping into the woods by the side of the road when the guards, who marched on each side of us, left quite an open space between them, and it was said two boys did get out in that way. Just at night we crossed the Staunton River went into camp on the south side. There was a strip of brush and small trees along the river and a steep bank up to the cleared field. The guards were placed along this bank and down the river above and below us, with some on the spirate of the river. Had told the boys I was acquainted with, I should get away if I saw a chance.
After dark I began to look around to find a place to hide. There was quite a pile of flood wood near by. I found a hole on one side, where by backing in managed to push the brush and dirt away so I got entirely inside. There was a small log bedded in the sand, and one lay above it, could just crowd myself through by lying flat. After getting it fixed as good as I could, went and lay down with the rest of the boys; did not sleep much; was awake about 3 o'clock in the morning; went to the river and got my cup full of water and set it inside of my hole, then crawled in backward, put out my hand and pulled all the brush and leaves I could reach to stop up the hole near my head. Soon after light guards called prisoners up to get their breakfast and be ready to march in. Gathering wood to make a fire they got on the pile over me and one of them broke through and stood on me. He did not know it and I said nothing. I heard my comrades talking about me and wondering where I was. It seems strange now that I did not tell them all about it; but did not want the responsibility of looking after anyone but myself.
About 6 o'clock or sooner the guards told the men to move out and get ready to march. One of them passed along within a few feet of me, but was not looking so low for men and did not see me. My position was not very comfortable, and after the men were all gone I twisted around some to relieve my aching body. When the men broke in the brush over me the dirt and sand rattled down in my neck, so took a red handkerchief and put over my head and neck. After an hour or more two boys about 10 years old, one colored, came down in where the men camped, looking around to see what they might find, probably. They came toward me. I drew my hand up toward my body. They saw the motion threw up their hands exclaiming "What have I found." I heard a guard say to the one in command that there were three or four men sick. He told him to take them up to the house and leave a guard with them. The thought flashed through my head they would run and tell there was a man down there and they would be after me. So the boy had no more than got the words out of his mouth than I said, "Nothing that will hurt you," and began to work myself out.
When out and on my feet the boys were out of sight. I took my sack that held my few things and started down the river near the edge of the water where there were no brush to hinder, hardly think the grass grew under my feet. On my way I passed under a small tree that had blown over. The butt lay on the stub 8 feet from the ground. Glancing up under the top I saw two comrades lying up under it. I scarcely halted, but said to them-"I got discovered and had to dig out." My thought was, if anyone tried to catch me, they would have a better chance to escape.
I ran down one-half mile then turned into a little hollow into the woods to the top of the hill. Being out of breath and seeing no signs of being followed sat down to rest and think. Had expected when I hid that morning to lie there all day or till dark. Soon made up my mind to take a northwest course and try and get into West Virginia. I knew from the study of geography that if I could get over the Blue Ridge Mountains on to the streams that run in the Ohio River I would be all right. Proceeded to cut a good heavy walking stick, thinking at the same time it might come handy as a weapon of defense if there would be an occasion for it.
Will give a list of my outfit. The inside of my haversack, a stout factory cloth sack about 12 inches wide and 14 inches deep, the little sack of coffee, a handful of salt tied in a rag, a few ounces of meat, my quart cup, four or five crackers a few sheets of letter paper, and old pocket knife.
It was a fine summer morning. Took my course northwest by the sun, and started traveling only in the woods or old fields back from the houses or roads. Soon crossed the road (the other boys went south) went on my way. Nothing of interest happened that day. When night came lay in the woods and slept till day light. This was the 2d day of July 1864, at night. The next morning was not feeling very well, but soon started on my way. Came out into a field and saw a small river in front of me. Was favored in finding a small boat near by in which I pushed across with a pole, (part missing). Went on, crossed a large farm and took a road that went into the wood and up a little valley.
After going about a mile saw a log house across the brook in a small clearing. As I had no matches or any way to start a fire thought I would sit down till the folks came out and see if it looked safe to make a call. In a short time smoke came out of the chimney, then a woman opened the door. In a short time several children came out the largest about 12 years old. After waiting longer and seeing no man appear, went over to the house, knocked at the door. I said good morning, and asked if I could get something to eat or breakfast. She said I could, such as they had. Told her had just come from Lee's Army and was heading home. She said her husband had been in the army. Was at home, but did not stay around the house. He had come without leave or deserted. He had been up in Pennsylvania, probably at Gettysburg and had told her how better it appeared than in the South - nice houses, farms and barns, seemed so much better in every respect. She said when he first went into the army he drew some pay and sent her; then he did not get any pay, and the town officials helped her to provide for her family, then they failed to help. There were six children. That was why he came home. Said she made some of the folks mad at her by saying she didn't care much if the yanks did beat the South if the war would stop. Concluded she was not one of the radical Secesh women we had read about, and told her I was a Union Soldier taken prisoner; got away and wanted to go through Western Virginia to our lines. She said well, I would give one soldier something to eat as soon as another.
Our breakfast consisted of corn bread baked in a kettle with heavy iron lid covered with hot coals and ashes, and new potatoes boiled, with little if anything else but salt to eat with them. I asked if she could give me a few matches. She said she had none, but would give me a piece of punk they started a fire with if it went out when they covered up coals in the fireplace. She gave me a piece about one inch square and ½ inch thick. There were plenty of white flint stones. Found one that was much like an Indian Arrow, sharp on each edge. With that and my old knife and the dryest of rotten wood could start a fire. She gave me a piece of bread to take with me. I gave her a few sheets of letter paper. Her name was Susan Leffrage.
After breakfast I went on my way traveling over hills and through valleys. Sometimes following old log roads when they went the way I wished to go. In following a footpath along a brook I very unexpectedly met two ladies, to whom I bowed and said good morning. I began to find some ripe dewberries which I was glad to pick and eat. I cannot keep track of the days from now on, but will give the incidents in order they happened as near as possible. The first man I spoke with was a slave. I met him in the wood as I crossed a road, talked with him some. He said the colored folks would befriend me if they could (unless it was one sat a good deal on by his master). He advised me if I made any arrangements to meet any one to bring me food not to be just in the place named but a little way off to see if any one else came. As I seldom saw a man in the roads or fields I began to be more bold and traveled in the roads.
One day I passed a gristmill. It was not running; the door was open and no one in sight. I went in and looked around, found some ground feed, put some in my sack to make a pudding of. I was following a small stream up into the mountains. I was in the road and met an old man with a gun; did not stop to talk with him. I soon came to the end of this road at the mouth of a deep gulf the little stream came down, but found a footpath that went up the hill through the woods quite steep and nearly a mile to the top of it, came out to a large farm. It appeared to be the top or summit of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I saw a man in a hay field and concluded to go and talk with him. He looked like an invalid, I told him I had been in the army. He said the report was there were hundreds of Confederate soldiers passing through that section that lived in that mountain country, deserters from the Rebel army. In this section I saw a sign to the Natural Bridge, one to Blue Sulphur Springs and one to White Sulphur Springs.
One day I passed three log cabins in the edge of the woods. I went to the door of one and looked in, there were two of the largest colored women I ever saw. I asked if they could give me something to eat. They said they had nothing in the house to eat. When I came out of the woods I saw a large farm and a number of slaves harvesting wheat, with an old man as overseer. About this time I came across the trail where some of the army of West Virginia that had tried to capture Lynchburg had gone back. Thinking if this trail were followed it would take me where I wished to go I concluded to follow it, but as I did not dare follow the main road I soon got off the trail. When I arrived at the mouth of the stream, after dark, where I supposed it emptied into a larger one, I waded across, went a little farther and lay down for the night.
In the morning I started and after walking some time came to a small farm with a log house. Being out of provisions thought best to try and get something to eat. After watching a while and seeing no one but a woman and a girl I went to the house and asked for breakfast, saying I had been in the army and was going home. She said I could have breakfast with them. I soon learned her sympathies were with the Southern army, and thought best not to disagree with her. She asked me where I lived and I told her in Greene County, in West Virginia, which seem to satisfy her. I can't say today whether anyone could find such a county to the state or not. After breakfast I thanked her and departed. It was a dark cloudy day, but thought I started out right. Following up a small valley into the hills and woods (no road) came out on top of the hill into settled country after dark and went into an old log barn to sleep. When I went out in the morning the sun was just rising. Saw I was off my course, facing directly east instead of west. I turned around and started northwest again.
A day or two after came to the army trail again, going down a creek; crossed it and started up a road toward the Hills beyond. This was early Sunday morning. Soon came to a house and barn on the right of the road. There was a board fence between me and the barn and through the crack I saw a man going to the barn. Passing the house saw on it a sign "McCartney House". Had gone about 20 rods when I was startled by a man bellowing "Hold on there Mr., hold on, I say"! Looking back over my shoulder I saw a man standing in the road in front of the house. I kept right on my way, and he called the same way again. Did not stop but looked back to see what he would do. He was going to the house on a run, I knew for a gun. There was a creek on the left of the road with a bank some 30 feet high, then a field. I turned and went up that into the field, crossed it till I came where it sloped the other way. I stopped and looked back toward the road and saw him come up where I turned off. He had his gun and was looking for me. A few steps took me out of his sight, and I went on into the woods. Had gone but a short distance when I met two large dogs. They came bounding toward me growling and looking very fierce. I picked up a good sized limb of a tree and started for them. They retreated at once. I first thought they were sent out by the man that was looking for me, but concluded they had been out on a hunt alone, often heard hounds baying in the woods.
I went on over the mountain and came down into another valley, had heard guns fired several time in the direction I was going when I came out to the field, saw two men nearly one-fourth of a mile away coming towards me. I kept along the woods till came to a fence that ran across the field with brushes along it that would hide me from them. Went down into the valley and found a road going up it, and a small creek. It was near night and had not had much to eat that day. So went to picking black raspberries that grew along the bushes along the creek. Had worked along some 20 rods when I heard someone talking but so indistinctly could not tell where they were, but thought someone was in the road above me on the left. I then peeped out of the bushes into the field on my right and cast my eyes up the stream and saw two young fellows had just stepped into the field about 12 rods above me. Did not know whether they saw me but stepped back quickly. As I did so the gravely bank gave way, letting me slide to the bottom. Was quite sure they could hear the noise so went back towards the road stepped behind some brush to see what they would do.
They went up the hill till they could look out and down into the bushes and stopped. Soon the larger one, who had on the Rebel uniform called out "Come out of there, come out of there I say. You might as well come out, you will be surrounded and captured anyway." About the same time heard voices above me in the road and thought to myself perhaps I am getting into a tight place. It was but a few steps to the road and the mountain came close to the road covered with bushes higher than my head. Made up my mind to get out of there quickly and started as soon as the boys saw me. The soldier called out "Halt there, halt there, I tell you".
As there was no halting done, he said to the other, "Run to the house and get a gun quick"! I went up the hill on more than a double-quick. Getting up the hill some twenty-five rods, stopped behind some bushes to get breath, and looked back through the bushes. Just then the boy came out with the gun and asked "Where is he?" the other fellow said "He has got out of sight up there in the bushes." After a little I went on my way.
When I got up on the hill where I could look over the fields and see the log house, I discovered it was the one that I passed by the Sunday before, when starting to find and follow the army trail. I had been seen by the boys, perhaps by someone when I passed the log house and took the same path the young men were in when they halted me; and the man I met in the woods, and no doubt Mr. McCartney went over there early in the day and had all the men out with their guns to capture me; that was why the guns were fired. To let each other know they were going home. When I came out into the fields it was nearly dark and soon lay down for the night.
In the morning took my course by the sun. Think it was that night just at dark I came to a railroad and went down the track; soon passed a house near the track. Two hounds came out towards me making a terrible bugleing with their mouths. Heard a man come to the door. He saw me walking down the track, called the dogs away, and went back into the house. After going less than a mile passed a little hut near the road, but saw nor heard no one. After a little I heard something that sounded like some one saying "halt" so faintly was not sure whether it was a voice or not, but soon heard it again, then turned to the right and went down a bank. As I came near the bottom ran into a lot of old sheet iron which made a big racket, when some one called "halt, halt there!" As I did not stop, and he could not see me he said "Well run then". Thought best to go up on the mountain and wait till morning and see what the situation was.
As soon as awake in the morning went out and looked over the valley. Saw there was quite a long bridge there and a few soldiers to guard it. The stream, a small one, ran close to the foot of the hill, which was steep; went down to the stream some ways above. As I stepped down to the water, and looked down the stream, saw two soldiers fishing. They did not see me. There was a field of oats between the creek and railroad. Went into them and down to the stream below; stepped down and looked to see if the way was clear. There were two others fishing one above, one below; crept back into the bushes and waited. After an hour or more they all went down towards the bridge out of sight. I hurried across and went on.
Toward night came in sight of a village: found a young colored man cultivating corn and talked with him. He said he was coming back the next day, but not very early; said he would bring me something to eat. I stayed there till the middle of the forenoon; he did not come and I went on. Must have crossed the railroad below this village (Salem) about this time. Went into an old log barn after dark to sleep; in the morning found a hen's nest with some ten eggs in it; took them with me and cooked some of them for my breakfast; sometimes went through potato fields dug some and put in my sack; when back in the woods where the fire or smoke would not be seen cooked them in my quart cup and ate with a little salt. Besides this I often got up to a cow and got quart of milk or more to drink and with the berries did not suffer with hunger.
The next morning passed a house some distance from the road; a young woman came to the door and saw me. Heard her say "there goes a Yankee." In an instant a man came to the door and looked out at me but said nothing. A little farther on the road turned to the left into the woods, then to the right where I saw a man coming on horseback. I jumped into the brush, ran far enough to be out of sight and stopped. He rode up near me, looked around and went on. The same forenoon I came down into a valley with a small stream of water. As I crossed the stream and looked up the road to the right where I wished to go, saw two young men coming towards me; concluded the best way was to show no fear, met them, said good morning, and went on. (It is past 45 years since this happened. It is a hard matter to recall all to mind and connect it properly.)
The next that comes to mind is traveling along a road and coming in sight of some houses turned into the fields and started down a hill to cross a small run or brook that came out of a deep gorge in the hills to my right. There was a woods beyond and I was going into them. When about 12 rods from the brook looked over the bushes growing along the creek and saw a man standing in the road looking at me. I was going directly toward him; did not hesitate an instant as to what to do, kept right on toward him till I came to the bushes that hid me from him, then turned and went up the creek till I came to a fence down the hill; went up to the other side, recrossed the road into the woods on the other side. After going down into a deep gully and climbing to the top of a high knob could see over the country to my left. About one-fourth of a mile away was a river, some buildings, and quite a number of soldiers. The situation was such I had to cross the road again and get into the woods on the other side. (I thought at one time there were coal or iron mines near by.)
After getting across the road and fields went part way up the mountain into the thick woods, made a fire and boiled some potatoes. For some reason my fire smoked more than usual and was seen by some women that lived at the foot of the hill. They called "put out that fire" a few times, but it was built on a large flat rock and I went on with my dinner. As I finished eating heard them coming near. One said "I wonder who under the sun built that fire?" I spread the brands around a little and left. It was such bad traveling through the woods, I waited till night and went down the road some way above where there were woods on both sides and started up the river.
After going nearly a mile noticed the road was turning to the right more than I wished to go. As I had noticed a boat where I first came to the river, I turned and went back; coming to the boat unwound the chain by which it was fastened to a small sapling, laid it down carefully, took the pole and gave a push or two out into the stream, when I heard voices on the other side very low and indistinct. I pushed the boat back, fastened it, and went up the stream a little and sat down waiting further developments. It was not long before someone on the other side began yelling "hello" and was answered from my side by some one below towards a house [section not readable] came down the river. The other one asked if he had been to the boat and said "I heard the chain rattle, there ought to be someone on that side", which sounded very much as through they were watching for someone they were not likely to get after hearing what I had. Went up the River a short distance, took some rails, laid two in the edge of the water, laid two others across them, tied the corners with bark peeled off some saplings, laid a few more rails across them. Sat down on them with feet in the water and pushed across using my hand for oars. The water was very still, no current, and I got over it nicely.
After two or three days passed with nothing of interest transpiring.
Came to what I thought was the highest part of the Allegany Mountains.
Remember crossing three mountains parallel to each other. The road up
the first one had trees felled across it, as through troops had passed
over it and did it to protect their rear or keep their pursuers back.
About his time I began to find large ripe blackberries for food. After
this came into a more open country and came to a little valley with
the water running to the northwest and felt sure had come to the head
streams that emptied into the Ohio River. Seeing a boy about fifteen
years old a little distance from the road mowing, asked him the name
of the stream that ran down the valley. He said Indian Creek.
Asked him what it emptied into. Said he thought the New River.
Said it was fifteen miles to the river. Said if I wanted to could go
across and it was only ten miles. Said go down to a field that was in
sight, take a footpath up through that and when I got to the farms beyond
they would tell me the way. Just before turning off looked up a road
coming down a little brook, saw a young man on horseback wearing the
grey uniform. He came down to the road stopped and watched me get over
the fence and start up the hill, then went the other way. When I came
into the country beyond found quite a level ridge with some good farms.
Came to quite a tract of hardwood land. When I got through that, came
to the edge of the hill, where I could see the river and look down the
valley and could also see quite a river coming from my right which I
learned afterward was the Greenbrier. The water was low, I crossed
it by jumping from one rock to another that stuck up above the water.
It was about sundown, I went a little farther, came in sight of a house
and an old barn nearer by not used at all, the grass being very tall
around it and not a track around it. Went in.
About six o'clock at night I came into a field of corn, the path went along the edge of the field. A few rods from the path an old man that had been cultivating the corn sat on his plough beam. I was going along without noticing him, but he called, "Hello, friend, what's your hurry?" I halted a little and replied, "O, the world is moving along all the time and I have to do the same. He said, "You needn't be afraid of me, I'm an old man, I won't hurt you. I would like to talk with you." He was 75 years old, I judged. Thought there was not much danger, so turned and went out where he was. He looked up at me and said, "Well, you are quite a stout looking fellow, you could do some fighting, I think." I replied, "I may not feel as much like it as I look, perhaps." "Well!" he said. "What's the news from the armies?" I answered that I had heard nothing for three weeks or more; had come from Lee's army and was on my way home. He then told me the reports that were circulating around there that the Confederates had got control of the Mississippi River, that Missouri had joined the Confederacy, and they were meeting with success all around. I said, "I don't believe it." He replied, "Neither do I." Then I said the Union armies were steadily forcing the Confederates back, and in time they would have to surrender. After some more talk I concluded he was not in sympathy with the South, and said, "Well, Uncle, you said you were an old man and would not hurt me, and I am going to take you at your word. I am a Union soldier, was taken prisoner near Petersburg about four weeks ago, escaped from the guards near Lynchburg and am trying to get into the Union lines in Western Virginia. " He said, "You passed the last Rebel house just above here and are only thirty miles to Fayetteville, where there is a camping of your men," which was very welcome news to me.
Soon the old gentleman said he would like to have me go home with him; I said I would be pleased to do so, as I was tired, footsore, and hungry. He unhitched his horse and started for home. Had gone but a few steps when he turned and said, "Now I don't want to be betrayed." My reply was, "Neither do I, I am just as much afraid of it as you are." He went on. There was only a footpath up a ravine to the top of the mountain where the land was quite level. He said when the war began he had a large farm some ways from there with plenty of cattle and hogs and a lot of hams and bacon; that both armies ran over his place, took his stock, burned the fences, and was left destitute and was working the place on shares. There were only his wife and a grandson, 7 years old. He had two or three sons. They would not go into the Rebel army and moved to Illinois. They had families. He was quite a smart man, had been justice of the peace a good many years. His name was John Gwin. He told me of a number of Union men that had been waylaid by bushwhackers, they called them, and shot. He said when Lincoln was elected he advised his neighbors not to be too hasty in condemning him, but wait and see what he would do.
It was Friday night I went home with him. He urged me to stay Saturday and Sunday. He and his wife seemed very much pleased to visit with a Northern Union man. The people were generally very poor. It appeared many had only the bare necessaries of life. The man had a cow or two, some salt pork, but nothing but corn bread. Sunday morning after breakfast he said there would be people coming along there going to meeting down on the creek and he would not like them to know there was a Union soldier at his house. There were those that would burn his house if they knew it. He had quite a library, and he said, "Take some books you would like to read and go out into the woods where you will not be seen. Take the boy along so he will know where to find you, and stay till I send for you to come in." About 4 o'clock the boy came to have me come to the house. Found a neighbor of his there and was told there was talk down at the meeting that a Company of Confederates were going to Fayetteville to attack the men there. He thought it would be better for me to go down ahead of them and have the soldiers prepared for them.
The man that was there was going my way and would show me the way to the river some distance below. The man left when we came to the river and I took the same old path down to the river. It was dark before I came to any house and I found it slow traveling; had to feel my way along with my feet to keep in the path, finally came out on the flat to a house where Mr. Gwin said I would be welcome. There was no light to be seen, but I went around to the front door and knocked. There was quite a scurrying inside, some suppressed laughter for a minute or two, then the door was opened by a girl. I asked if I could stay over night, explained the situation, and was admitted. She said I would have to sleep on the floor. I told her that would be no hardship, as I was used to sleeping on the ground. The man and wife were away. Some of the neighbor girls had come to stay with those that lived there. I had not been to supper, so they stirred up some corn meal and baked it for me. There was nothing to eat with it that I remember of but some green apple sauce without any sweetening. They spread a blanket on the floor and I slept soundly.
As soon as light in the morning I got up and went quietly out and on my way. After walking a few miles came to a small house. Feeling the need of something to eat I went to the door that stood open and asked if I could get breakfast with them. They said I could, such as they had. They were young folk with a small babe. They were seated at the table, which was a wide board laid on wooden pins put into the logs. The meal consisted of warm corn bread, no butter, milk, or meat. Hunger is said to be a good sauce. My experience confirms it. I came to a house in the forenoon where there were several young men. They had been shooting at a mark, one of them said. When he saw my head come in sight put his gun in position to use it if I were an enemy. When he saw my blue clothes he knew there was no danger. They rowed me across the river where there was a road that went to Fayetteville. A little before night came to the picket but had no trouble in getting into camp, reported to the Captain in command. A week or so before this my shoes had come apart and I had fastened the soles using a piece of the lining for strings and tied the other pieces on to protect my feet from sharp stones. Expect I looked the tramp that I was-clothes ragged and dirty, weighed 125 pounds, usual weight 150 pounds or more. I drew a new pair of shoes and what clothing was needed.
There was a soldier there from Ohio sick with fever. His father had come to see him and was going to take him home. After a few days they started down the river with him in what they called a Baton, a boat some 8 feet wide and 15 feet long, with four soldiers to row it when there was not current enough to carry it along. I took turns with the others in rowing. Just at night, came to a small town where the water was deep enough to allow small steamers to come there, and one arrived that night. Took the boat the next morning for Charleston. Arriving there in the afternoon reported to the officer in command, and was sent across the river where there were barracks and a convalescent camp. In a week there were nearly a hundred men well enough to join their regiments. A boat was sent with them to Galipolis on the Ohio River. There they were to take the cars for Wheeling and on to Washington where their comrades were.
There were two comrades that lived some twenty-five miles from there. They thought it a good time to stop a few days and visit their home and friends. Therefore, when the train left for Wheeling we had not got back from our walk out in the country so were left behind. The next day went with the boys up to their home and stayed with them over night. I thought under the circumstances I was entitled to a furlough, and would improve the opportunity to visit my folks before going to the front. Knowing there were patrols in the cities and I was liable to be arrested, changed my blue clothes with one of the boys for an old citizen's suit, and started across the state on foot. About the second night came to a railroad running east and west. Stayed with a miller that night. It was very warm and not being used to sleeping in a bed, had to get up and go out doors and sleep on the ground.
There was a train due the next morning about 9 o'clock; concluded to try and get a ride. When the train stopped I stepped up and took a seat. When the conductor came along for the ticket told him I had no money, (part missing) Emporium some fourteen miles down the railroad. About halfway came to a gravel train just ready to go down and got a ride the rest of the way. Stayed at the Cook Hotel that night free of charge. In the morning started for Coudersport where I was well acquainted and had relatives. Had gone some five miles when the stage for Coudersport overtook me. As I looked up I saw in the stage and old acquaintance, a citizen of Ulysses, my native place. He recognized me at once, called me by name and asked why I did not ride. Told him I hadn't money enough to pay for a ride. "Well!" he says, "get in here, you're not going to walk over there. I'll see to the fare." I accepted the invitation and arrived at Coudersport late in the day.
I went to my Uncle's, Lucas Cushing. There was some kind of a social at John ----on's that evening, and they insisted I must go with them, ??? pair of ??? in place of my army shoes and pants made of homemade butternut colored cloth and a little old alpaca coat. Nevertheless, spent a very pleasant evening. Learned the next morning that neighbor Burton Lewis with a team and I could ride home with him which I did, arriving the 8th day of August, lacking fourteen days of two months from the day I was taken prisoner south of Petersburg Virginia.
Some having expressed a desire to know if I went back to the army again
and some of my later service, I have concluded to write some of my experience
from the beginning:
The first day of November broke camp and marched into Virginia, up the Loudon Valley to Fredericksburg or Falmouth on the Rappahannock River. When we came in sight of the town they fired a few solid shot at us, but our battery sent a few shots at them that sent them flying in haste. We occupied a brick storehouse. We were there when Gen. Burnside made his first move to capture Fredericksburg and got stuck in the mud. I was on guard at that time; it rained hard all night. I had a little fire to stand by. The boys that were on the march came straggling along all night, thoroughly drenched and covered with mud. I was glad to stand back and give them the use of the fire. We stayed in the village until the eleventh of December when another move was made to drive the enemy out of their fortifications back of the city.
We marched down in front of the city some distance from the river and lay there while the Pontoon bridges were being laid. At the same time our batteries were shelling the city because the Rebels were shooting our men while laying the Pontoons. We crossed the bridge as soon as it was half done and went into the fight in the afternoon, moving through the upper part of the city in line of battle till we came to a board fence some ten rods from the enemy, who were behind a stone wall and were halted there under their fire. We could keep them down by firing at them when they put their heads above the wall to shoot. Many of our men were killed and wounded at their first fire. We all lay down flat on the ground. After awhile the firing nearly ceased. During this time one ball grazed my wrist and another passed across my shoulder, cutting several holes in my clothing. The firing had ceased, the men had gone back under cover of some buildings. I ran back to where they were.
That night we went back down to the city near the river. We found the loss to our company was four killed and several wounded. We recrossed the river the next day. It grew very cold. That night brother Jay and myself worked all night caring for the wounded and drying their wet socks and making coffee.
The Regiment returned to their quarters in Falmouth and remained there until the last day of December then marched out in the country to a pine grove to build winter quarters. It was night when we got there, spread our rubber blankets on the ground and lay down. It stormed in the night. We pulled our blankets over our heads and lay still. We knew our covering was getting heavy, but were surprised in the morning to find some eight inches of snow over us. We built our winter cabins, twelve feet long and six feet wide, with four shelter tents drawn over a ridge pole and fastened to the logs on either side, the gable ends closed with the same material. Poles were placed across the back end wide enough for two to lie on, one near the bottom and one near the top, covered with small pine boughs. A doorway was cut in the front, two feet wide and four feet high. In the left corner was an opening for a fireplace built by driving two rows of posts in the ground eight inches apart filled in with clay mortar. On top was built of small sticks well plastered with mud. This fireplace lasted all winter. The camp was laid out in streets with cabins on both sides. Here we lived until spring, cutting and drawing wood and doing picket duty along the river. I was on picket one night, snow four inches deep and so cold could hardly keep warm walking on my beat. Would pull my cape over my head, lie down a minute or two, then up and at it again, when the relief came would go back where the reserve was and lie around the fire in the dirt and ashes until time to go on picket again.
About the first of May Gen. Hooker being in command of the army began against the enemy that brought on the Battle of the Wilderness (Chancellorsville). Company G, and some others of the Regiment were placed on a skirmish or picket line in the woods that seemed to me to be on the extreme left of the army and were not in the battle, but could hear the Rebel yell when they made their charges on our lines which they did three times. At no time in my experience did I hear such volleys of musketry as then. As our men fired at them as they made their charges our line gave away in one place and we were forced to fall back and reform. The battle was not renewed and we went back to our old camp and stayed till the fourteenth of June when we broke camp and were rear guard of the army on the north. It was a very warm day, we marched fast, and before noon I was overcome with the heat and sick. The Brigade halted a little, found some water and bathed my head and face. I drank some coffee, and felt some better. When we started again some of the boys carried my load and I made out to keep along but did not march in the ranks.
Toward night Captain [Arch] Jones had me ride his horse and was with them when they camped for the night. Some men in our regiment had sun stroke and were carried in the ambulances. We did not march the next day, and the day after I was able to take my place in the ranks, marched to the Bull Run Battlefield. Were there a day or two to keep the enemy from coming through Thoroughfare Gap and getting in our rear, then followed on, crossed the Potomac river through Frederick City, starting from there in the morning and about eleven o'clock at night camped near Gettysburg, making the longest day's march of my experience, and the hardest. Nearly all the boys had lain down by the side of the road before we camped. Think there were but five men in the company when we stacked our guns. Jason and George Stevens, George Shutt, my brother, and myself. The others ??? in the morning.
Marched to the battlefield the next day near Little Round Top, formed in line of battle, and stayed there until 3 o'clock then advanced through a piece of woods till we came to a wheat field. When we came to where we could look down into a ravine the enemy began firing. They were down behind the bank of a small brook. We began firing and advanced as fast as possible. Some of them ran up the hill which was behind them; the others held their position till we were so close to them they did not dare to try to get away and were taken prisoners. We advanced to the top of the hill beyond and stopped. There appeared to be another line in the edge of a field. After firing there a short time our line on our right was being driven back. Were in danger of being flanked and were ordered to fall back. Some of us did not hear the order and stayed till a new line of Rebs came in sight a few rods from us on our left. We made a hasty retreat.
I had crossed the creek and had gone a few rods back when a ball hit my right leg about half way from the knee to the ankle, passing through, coming out above on the front side. I did not stop till it began to hurt very much I then sat down behind a rock, cut my boot leg open and got it off, tied a handkerchief around it, and tried to walk again but could not endure the pain. I tried to use my gun for a crutch. It was too long to work very well. I then got down on my hands and knees and crawled along till some of the ambulance men met me and helped me back and took me a mile, perhaps, to a field hospital. Three others of Co. G were brought in; John Wykoff, Joseph K., Almond Cheesbrough; the two last died from loss of blood.
After a few days I was taken to Philadelphia to a hospital on Broad and Cherry Streets. Was there till the last of December when I was given a thirty day' furlough home. The Regiment was home at that time getting recruits. When I returned the hospital where I had been staying was closed and I went to Chestnut Hill, probably the largest one in the state. My leg healed and sound and I could have gone to the front, but they set me whitewashing the inside of the buildings. I afterwards worked in the kitchen where the cooking was done for the physicians, some fifteen or more; they had a man cook.
The last of April I felt I ought to go back to the Regiment, and asked the doctor to send me and I joined the Regiment a few days later on the Rapidan river. We left camp in a few days and started on a Wilderness campaign. The first battle was on the 5th and continued the 6th. Here we seemed to be placed on the left of the battlefield forming a heavy skirmish line in the woods. We could hear the enemy on the other side of the woods give their commands and move to our right where the firing was very heavy. While staying there some Rebel scouts crawled up behind a large oak tree and fired at us, killing James Blackman.
Every man sprang behind a tree after firing a few times. We told some of the boys on our right to fire behind the tree from their side near the ground and we would fire in from our side. We did so and saw three men run from the tree, and were not molested again. In a day or two the army was on the march. The night of the 11th we moved some distance after dark and lay down on the ground and were ordered to keep very still. At early dawn officers came waking the men, charging them to be very quiet. When we got our line formed, we were told we were to take the enemies works go still and not fire a gun till ordered to and the command given to go forward.
We passed through a strip of woods into a large field. When near a fence on the farther side the Reb-pickets fired a few shots and ran. This excited some of our men and a few shots were fired. We then started on the double-quick and were on their breastworks before they were hardly awake. We took the whole line for some distance prisoners 3,000 or more, some of our men went on so far into the woods they were taken prisoners. I followed down the line as far as it was safe and hearing firing on the right went back to where we came over their works. The Company and Regiment were badly scattered and I did not find them until the next day. The Army soon began moving south again and in a few days were at Cold Harbor. Here we made an attack on the enemy's lines, but found them so strongly fortified we fell back.
That night we built breastworks so close to the Rebels it was not safe for one on either side to expose them to view. The Army rested here a few days, then moved across the James River and on towards Petersburg and passed it. The 16th of June the Army, or part of it to which we belonged, made an advance toward the Rebel lines. I do not think it was intended to be a general attack. We did not know their position and our Brigade, or part of it, rushed down into a hollow in front of a small fort where we thought we would be under cover of higher ground and lay down, but we had passed an angle in their works from which they could fire directly at us. They knowing we had fallen into a trap, did not fire on us, but after a while called to us to come in as prisoners or they would fire on us. An officer a few rods to the left of where I lay put up a white handkerchief to which another protested very strongly - said he would report him for surrendering when he ought not to. They rose up and went into the fort.
While they were going in quite a number of us ran back to our lines. As soon as we got up on higher ground they fired grape and canister at us from a fort farther down their line. In our advance we had two killed in Co. G., a man named Weeks and George Vincent, of Hector township. George Davidson wounded in the arm. George Shutt shot through the right lung, if I remember rightly. The doctors thought he was past help and paid no attention to him till he told them he would report them to their superiors, then they dressed his wounds.
The next was the 22d of June where I was taken prisoner, of which I
have written, and I will begin where I left off my story, having arrived
home in August. It will be proper to state here that after living on
berries and milk so long without scarcely any solid food, after getting
into camp in Western Virginia and going back to camp fare of hard tack,
pork and beans, I soon had serious stomach and bowel trouble which I
did not get over till winter.
I went to Baltimore on the cars, from there to City Point on a boat arriving there the next day, then by rail to Petersburg, from there on foot to Hatcher's Run where the Regiment was in camp, glad to be back with the boys once more. We were to camp there till the last of March, when the army began moving for the spring campaign, and as usual it began to rain. In a day or two we were in front of the enemy south of Petersburg. We found them in line of battle in the woods in front of their works and made an attack on them, but their line extended to the right of ours giving them a chance to flank us and we fell back a short distance, reformed our lines, and renewed the attack driving them back over behind their breastworks. This was our last engagement, Rountic Creek, with one of our Company killed-Alonzo Wagoner - and some wounded.
The next forenoon while we were lying in a field waiting for orders an officer came up the road from our left riding his horse at full speed shouting "Get ready, boys, get ready, the works are abandoned!" We were soon on the march through their deserted works. By a flank movement by the 4th Brigade their rear guard posted on a hill were partly captured. I think we followed Lee's fleeing army two days or more from early in the morning till near midnight. The road was strewn with camp utensils they had thrown away, among them a lot of cast iron baking pans in which they cooked their corn bread. In the afternoon of April 7th, we moved in line of battle. Just at night captured a wagon train. The teamsters drove it down in a little valley and were going up the other side on the run. We staid there that night to guard the wagons. They contained some of the officers' clothing, silverware, with some whisky, if I remember rightly. One of the comrades got a nice suit of grey clothes and some silverware. He gave me a silver fork and a soup dipper. I was not inclined to foraging. Many times the boys would get something they wanted to keep, carry it for some days, then throw it away.
The next day we marched on after the enemy. In the afternoon we passed the long bridge over the Appomattox River, over which I rode a prisoner. The next morning after marching awhile were halted, stacked arms, and lay down. (It may seem strange our always lying down when we stopped, but, if you remember, we carried 40 or 50 pounds on our shoulders with the straps drawn under our arms you will see reasons for it.) After awhile moved on into a field filled with other troops, stacked our guns and broke ranks. In the afternoon there was a report that Gen. Lee had surrendered, and later it was announced officially. There was a general hurrah, shouting, throwing of caps, and universal rejoicing. Can a person that has not endured for two or three years the discomforts of camp life, the struggle of march, the strife of battle, realize the sense of relief, the joy, and all that would come to one under such conditions? I hardly think they can.
We marched back to Burk Station, waiting a week or more probably for Gen. Johnson to surrender to Gen. Sherman in North Carolina. We were there when the news came that President Lincoln was assassinated. We could hardly believe it at first, but soon learned it was true. It cast a gloom over the army, as over the whole country. Soon after we started for Richmond on our homeward march. In a few days we came to Manchester on the south side of the James River and camped for the night. We illuminated our camp that night by lighting pieces of wax candles and placing them in the trees all through camp, making a very pretty sight.
The next move we marched in review past the Capitol, where the Generals and city officials were. It was a very warm day or seemed so to the soldiers. The officers let their horses walk fast. Many of the boys were overcome with the heat and lay down on the sides of the street, and some died from the effects of it. As soon as we got outside the city we camped for the night, and the next day started for Washington. One night we were caught in a violent thunderstorm. We had sent our blankets and extra clothing by boat from Richmond and had only shelter tents and a gum blanket. We stood in the road till the storm was over, then went a little farther into a large field and camped. Wood was scarce but we gathered what we cold find; built a fire, stood around in the mud and water, made our coffee, and ate our hardtack, then began to fix a place to lie down, We went in the woods and got cedar boughs to lie on, put up our little tents. (If three lay together it gave two pieces to put over the ridgepole and one to put across one end. It turned cold in the evening with a cold wind from the north, and with our wet clothing, wet brush, we passed the most uncomfortable night of my experience in the army. You could hear the boys groaning and teeth chattering all night. Farnum Lyon, one that bunked with me, got up in the morning with one arm paralyzed and he did not get the use of it for months.
The next day we continued our march, arriving at Arlington Heights the day after, across the river from Washington where we camped for some time. Sherman's army marched through the city in review; it was a grand sight, and might make one think what a German officer is reported as saying was true: "They'd whip the devil." Soon after the Potomac army marched the same way. Being in the ranks myself cannot say whether we made as good an appearance or not. Soon after those that enlisted in '62, myself included, were sent to Harrisburg to be discharged at Camp Curtain. We received our discharge papers the 7th day of June, 1865, and started for home with only five others of the eighteen that went with me in '62. I was sick but one day during that time.
If the Comrades that read this paper find some things that are different from their recollections or knowledge it will not be very strange. But I have written to the best of my knowledge and memory of the events as they happened.
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