Whether you believe in spirits or not it sometimes seems that the soldiers of the 13th Mass periodically look in on me.
The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center [AHEC] in Carlisle, Pennsylvania has in its collection of ‘13th Mass’ materials ‘Charles Roundy’s hand-written manuscript “Recollections of the Civil War.” Roundy (Company F) illustrated his stories with charming color illustrations throughout this one of a kind book. Ten years ago a friend provided me with black and white photocopies of the manuscript made on a visit to Carlisle. The copies have too much contrast and don’t do justice to the color illustrations, but it’s still a great resource to have.
Several memorable scenes from the history of the regiment are vividly described, with a personal flair that captures the emotions of the time. These include, “How I enlisted,” “The 4th Battalion of Rifles of Boston,” “We Leave Fort Independence for the Front,” “The John Brown Bell,” and one of the funniest camp stories I’ve read, “A Secret for 16 Years.” The secret for 16 years, was a secret for another 8 years with me, for alas, my copy of the manuscript was missing a page - the one with the end to this story. Not until I was determined to include it on my website, did I contact Carlisle to see if anyone could provide me with the missing page. They sent the missing page, and they included color scans of some of the prominent illustrations for use on my website!
Roundy’s writing is round-a-bout. It’s folksy, plain spoken, and very entertaining! “I kept as mum as a Hippopotamus,” he writes in one instance, and at another “This is a longer preliminary than I meant to make when I began this, and ‘tis like the story of the city boy telling his chum about a snake he saw while on a visit to the country. “he said the snake was all tail but his head.” My story thus far seems to be all head and but little tail.”
The larger part of his “Retrospection,” is commentary on military leadership and his participation in General John Pope’s summer campaign of 1862. “Pope’s retreat” comes up time and again in the manuscript. General Pope’s blundering, no doubt, left a lasting impression on Charles Roundy. In June of this year I began building the web page for 13thmass.org that describes Pope’s Retreat, but I didn’t plan to use Roundy’s recollections.
I know his manuscript confuses some dates, (which I can verify from other sources), and his musings can ramble. I discredited its value and found it too confusing to follow. My planned web page ended with a brief account of the 2nd battle of Bull Run on August 30th 1862. But I think Charles Roundy, Co., F, wherever he is, had other ideas.
My web page grew as I familiarized myself with the campaign. Several stories were added, along with maps and descriptions of complicated military maneuvers. At the last minute I decided to remove the account of the battle of 2nd Bull Run and save it for later. The page would end with accounts of the engagement at Thoroughfare Gap on August 28, 1862.
In mid November, after six months of reading, research, study, writing and editing my new page, “Pope’s Retreat,” was ready to post on-line. I had some technical tasks to finish - format the table of contents, check links, and add links to the site map page, but the content was finally finished - and Charles Roundy’s retrospection wasn’t included. The week I planned to post the page I received this message:
“Good Day, I've recently become interested in my boyfriend's family tree which contains members of the Roundy family. I'm fairly certain that Charles Roundy mentioned numerous times on your website is a direct ancestor.
I'd be interested in finding out if any of Charles' writings are either in print or if they are on display somewhere?”
I received a similar request from another person a couple of days earlier.
I’ve had a copy of Roundy’s manuscript for 10 years. Some of Roundy’s stories have been posted on my website for the past 2 ½ years. In all this time I have never had an inquiry about the man or his writings. But the very week I was planning to post my new web page on Pope’s Retreat, after 6 months of research and writing, I received, not one, but two inquiries, for the Charles Roundy Manuscript.
Two visitors to my website wanted to know more about Charles and his writings. This piqued my curiosity, so I pulled out the manuscript, which I hadn’t read in a while, and revisited his accounts of Pope’s Campaign.
By now, I was very familiar with the events of that two week period in 1862, when General John Pope retreated from the line of the Rapidan River to the line of the Rappahannock River, and then, to Bull Run. Suddenly Roundy’s descriptions made sense to me. I understood what he was describing. I realized its value was in the summary of the campaign rather than as an introduction to the campaign, which is why I had discredited it as a source. His account was a perfect ‘wrap-up’ of events; so I added it.
It could just be a coincidence. Or, was Roundy reaching out across the great divide to give me a nudge or two, to look his way?
I still think the march he describes and attributes to August the 26th is more likely the withdrawal of August 18th, but why argue with him at this point? After all, he was there, and it doesn’t make his account any less interesting or insightful.
For my readers I end this post with Roundy’s account of General George Lucas Hartsuff’s encounter with company F cook, George Atkinson. You can find more of his stories at my website, including "A Secret for Sixteen Years." Site Map - 13thmass.org Click on the link and scroll down the page to soldiers letters, and look for Roundy.
General Hartsuff and the Baked Beans
We had a fine camp – and when General Hartsuff arrived to take command of the Brigade it happened on a Sunday morning that he strolled down the Company Street of Company F. Just then the air was filled with the fragrance of Yankee Baked Beans. For our Cook – Atkinson – surnamed “Greasy Cook” was taking them up from the trench where they had been baking all night, and they did smell good.
The General following his nose and the smell, found a man very busy lifting great Kettles from the trench where they had lain buried up in live coals, and wishing to make himself agreeable he remarked, “Well – but those beans do smell good” – “ Wonder if I could get a taste of them?”
Atkinson, without looking up replied “not by a damned sight, I am not feeding every damned tramp that comes along.”
This tickled the General immensely, and he slid away quickly to the Captains tent and doubling up with laughter he told the story.
Pretty soon the Lieutenant came out and spoke to Atkinson saying, “he felt sorry to lose Atkinson, sorry too that he had done it – sorry for his family – sorry that he was going away and hoped it would be a lesson all his life” etc.
Atkinson straightened up and said “What in thunder are you talking about? – I’m not going away – wish I was.”
“Not going away says Morse – well I guess you are, and you are to be sent to the Dry Tortugas* for insulting the General.”
“What in thunder – I haven’t insulted any General”
“Yes you have, you insulted General Hartsuff.”
“General Hartsuff – I never saw General Hartsuff in my life.”
“Never mind – when he asked you for a taste of your beans you told him that you was’nt feeding every damned tramp that came along did’nt you say so?”
“Yes. – My God – yes, was that General Hartsuff? What shall I do,” and down he flopped.
After enjoying the situation awhile the Lieut. Spoke “Come, Atkinson, better be getting ready, the Dry Tortugas is an awful place, but -”
“Say – Lieutenant, I did’nt intend to insult the General; and the boys bother me so! Is’nt there some way that I can get out of this scrape?”
“Well, I don’t know, – but I would suggest that you take your cleanest – prettiest plate and fill it with beans and some pork – some brown bread, if you have it – wash your face and hands – and go up to the Captains tent and make an humble apology to General Hartsuff and present him the plate of beans – who knows? It may keep you from the Tortugas.”
Pleased enough – Atkinson set about it, and a more humble man never lived as he begged the General’s pardon, telling of his trials and troubles, etc.
The General accepted the gift and enjoyed the joke like the good man we afterward found him to be – he shook hands with Atkinson – dispelled the Tortugas fear, and Atkinson went back to his work; - but often spoke of how near he came to a trip to Florida Keys.
*Dry Tortugas, a dreary desolate Convict Station among the Florida Keys.