Friday, April 8, 2011

The Circulars, Part II

    In August last year, I wrote a bit about the beginnings of the 13th Regiment Association Circulars, an annual publication issued to members of the regiment, published between the years 1888 - 1922.  There are over 1,000 pages of printed materials; a great resource on the '13th Mass.'  I'd like to continue that narrative and describe the growth of content that took place between 1895 and 1910.

     After 1895 some former soldiers became regular contributors to the Circulars.   Charles Bingham of Co. C, and Clarence Bell, of Co. D, both submitted original poems, relating to some aspect of service in the 13th during the war.  The poems were read at the re-union dinners and later published in the next year's Circular as part of the description of festivities.  The poems are very long, but here's an example of a shorter one from 1895, by Charles Bingham.

(Portrait of an unknown soldier in the gray uniform of the 4th Battalion.)


[These lines were suggested by the uniforms worn in 1861 by a military organization of Boston, known as the "Fourth Battalion of Rifles, M.V.M.," and to which they are appropriately dedicated.]

Tis a subject somewhat mouldy -
"Blue and Gray;"
But I'll give a newer version,
As I hope, for your diversion,
Though you question my assertion,
As you may.

In the days of sixty-one
We wore Gray.
We were youthful then, and slender,
And our hearts were young and tender,
And we "mashed" the female gender
Every day.

We were "dandy jim" militia
In those days;
With our uniforms so nobby,
And battalion drill our hobby,
Our behavior wasn't "snobby" -
More's the praise !

But we wore another shade
In sixty-two;
Then in uniforms so "stunning,"
With our rifles, went "a-gunning,"
And we didn't look so "cunning"
In the Blue.

Again in sixty-three we wore 
The Gray ;
And our dormant ire arouses,
For in our shirts and trousers
And in our "canvas houses"
Thick they lay !

This brought another change
To the Blue;
But now 'twas only mental,
Though the cause was accidental,
We were rather sentimental
On review.

But no more shall we appear
In war's array.
Let our children tell the story
How we fought and bled for glory,
While we now, with heads so hoary,
Wear the Gray !

     The poems appear regularly through 1901.  During this period Bingham also penned "How We Joined the Army, The Story of a Raw Recruit."  This was the story of his journey to the front in August, 1862 as one of the early batches of recruits to join the regiment in the field just after the battle of Cedar Mountain.  Clarence Bell, along with his poems, wrote two noteworthy pieces, "Some Camp Followers of the 13th," and "A Hot Time in Winchester."  These were humorous remembrances of some of the former slaves, "contraband," that attached themselves to the unit as servants for the officers and enlisted men, and silly anecdotes from the advance to Winchester in March, 1862.
     Association Secretary, and author of the Regimental History, Charles Davis, always filled things out with items of interest to the membership.  In 1896 & 1897 he printed corrections to the regimental roster. The next year he reported on the participation of the regiment's delegation at the dedication of the Massachusetts Monument at Antietam.  He told his own war story anonymously in Circular #12, "An Episode of the Civil War."  This was re-told  with added detail years later, when Davis felt less embarrassed writing about himself.  (The more detailed story, "From Manassas to Boston," is on the '2nd Bull Run' page of my website.)  In Circular 14 Davis wrote "Drafting for Recruits."  He presents a look into how the draft was conducted in 1863 & 1864, at the Third Massachusetts District where he was chief clerk.  Davis's contributions continued through the entire run of the Circulars.

     In 1902, (Circular #15) George Jepson of Co. A, became a regular contributor of articles for the next 9 years.  His articles were written for the newspapers and re-printed in the Circulars.  They are generally over-long treatments on major campaigns or key players of the war.  His subjects include, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Generals Hooker, Reynolds, Grant and Lee, and President Lincoln. The reader's reward for plowing through Jepson's ponderous prose, is getting to the priceless gems of personal reminiscences, trivial as he called them, yet fascinating for their association with great events.

     Jepson played chess with Ely Parker of General Grant's staff in 1864.  While standing sentinel at a New Year's Bash, he blurted out that he wished to shake hands with the President, as Mr. Lincoln and General Wadsworth crossed the thresh-hold.   He tells the story of '13th Mass' Color Bearer Roland Morris, who was shot dead at Gettysburg.  He tells how Lt. J. A. Howe saved the colors from capture in that same fight.  And, he describes vividly, Private N. M. Putnam's ordeal with the company wash-basin while skirmishing at Fredericksburg.  Jepson's articles are always a good reference for personal anecdotes and character sketches from the annals of the 13th.  Between Jepson and Davis the Circulars flourished between 1902 - 1911.  Others were inspired to try their hand at authorship and some of the most gripping tales from the regiment were published in this span.  These include George Henry Hill's "Reminiscences from the Sands of Time," Major Elliot Clark Pierce's humorous "Midnight Ride," and John S. Fay's, "Libby Prison."

     Hill tells of his capture at the Wilderness and internment at Andersonville. He and two comrades escaped from a Rebel train en-route to another prison.  Pierce's article relates how he imagined himself as Paul Revere, while on a midnight ride between Sharpsburg and Sandy Hook, Md. to deliver some routine dispatches to General N. P.  Banks, very early in the war.  Fay writes of his loss of two limbs when struck by a rebel shell that killed two others. He and Surgeon Allston Whitney were eventually captured at their field hospital and sent to Libby Prison in  Richmond.

     The great material would keep coming in future years, but I'll write more on that later.  For now, I leave you with Private Nathaniel M. Putnam at Fredericksburg,  as told by his Company A comrade, George Jepson.

     "The rebel sharp-shooters had ensconced themselves among the limbs of the opposite trees, and were popping away at us and picking off the officers in the line of battle behind.  Our own rifles were hot with constant firing, and every tree that sheltered a "Johnny" was made the billet of many a bullet. What execution our shooting did, as a whole, it was hard to tell.  We now and then saw a rebel slide down from his cover and limp away ; but it was at  least equally effective, if not more so, that that of the enemy, for as we lay at the regulation distance of five paces apart the intervening ground was literally peppered with hostile lead, but up to a certain period not one of us had received a scratch.

     My immediate neighbor on the left was N. M. Putnam. (pictured) "Put," as he was familiarly called, was the model of a soldier ; one of those men of sturdy New England build, morally and physically, always ready for any duty, and who could never acquire, apparently the first principles of the art of shirking, whether it was that of the most disagreeable police duty or the more dangerous one of keeping his file in the face of bursting shell and a storm of leaden hail ; presenting, moreover, the rare example of an old soldier who never drank a drop of intoxicating liquor, never smoked or chewed tobacco, was absolutely insensible to the fascinations of poker, loo, or seven-up, and was never known to indulge in even the mildest and most innocuous cuss word.

     It happened, on this of all days, to be "Put's" turn to carry the mess wash-basin, a new and glittering affair recently bought of the sutler.

     We all had our knapsacks on, and as we lay on our bellies - firing in that position, turning sideways to load - it might have been thought that such an object, slung on the back of a knapsack, would afford a first-class mark for a Southern rifleman.

     We noticed, indeed, but without divining the cause, that the shots were coming a little thicker and faster about the particular spot where we lay, until a "Bucktail" - one of the famous Pennsylvania regiment, so named because they had adopted the device of wearing a buck's tail on their caps - who was next to us on the right, sang out: 

     "Tell that cuss to take that damn tin pan off'm his back !"

     I passed the warning to "Put" just at the moment when there came the sharp pish of a bullet, accompanied by a slight tintinnabulation - I am sure that must be the right word for it - and "Put" hastily tore off the basin.  Such a comical look of stupefied consternation came over his face as he held up the bright object and exhibited a jagged hole completely through it, that we who beheld it fairly yelled with laughter.  The next instant, with a frantic gesture, "Put" threw the thing from him, and it rolled with many a grotesque gyration down the slope almost to the rebel lines.  That was close shooting, and we Northern veterans have good reason not to deny the abilities of "our friends the enemy" in that line. We all remember the characteristic story of the Northern traveler who witnessed the Kentucky lad shoot a squirrel dead with his pea-bore rifle and who began to blubber on examining his prize.  "What's the matter, my boy"  Why do you cry?"  "Pap will give me a lickin' 'cause I didn't shoot the varmint through the head!"

     But now a sudden commotion in the rear, and the sound of our bugle to fall back, told that our long, harassing, and nerve-wearing duty was finished."

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