Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reminiscences From the Sands of Time - Part 4, final.

      Corporal George Hill's narrative continues.  The story is taken up when George and his comrades have been re-captured after  roaming the Carolina countryside in search of freedom.  (George Hill pictured- photo courtesy of Carol Robbins & Alan Arnold).

 "Reminiscences From the Sands of Time" by George H. Hill, 13th Mass. Company B.

      The glory of capturing yankee soldiers was too much for them to sacrifice, and we were marched to the ferry and put across by the saddest-faced darkey I ever saw. I think his disappointment was almost as heartfelt as our own.  Taken to a plantation we were locked into a kind of a woodshed and left to our meditation.  I leave to your imagination the feeling of disappointment which tortured us.  It beggars description.  We were well fed and, barring the scornful looks of the "women folks," well treated while here.  We were guarded by the men who captured us, each in turn parading in front of the door, until next day when we were taken out and started off, we knew not where.  We begged not to be returned to Florence, feeling that any other place was preferable to being again confined with the dregs of Andersonville.  The first night, after a journey of about twenty miles, we slept in a jail, in a small village called Albermarle, and such terror did a yankee possess to the women of this quiet place that we were put into a stone cell, entrance to which was so small that we were obliged to crawl through on our hands and knees.  We were fairly treated and decently fed, and next morning again on the road. We now learned our destination was Salisbury, N.C., which place we reached at about four o'clock in the afternoon, and were, after eighteen days of liberty, again inside the prison walls.  We were the first Federal soldiers to enter Salisbury prison.  When we left it, five months later, over twelve thousand had been buried from its confine, and thrice that number had entered through its gateway.
Sitting on the ground with those men - they were good-natured old men and evidently pitied us - we tried to convince them that we could do no further damage to their cause and agreed not to take up arms again (knowing our time had expired some months before"); but all in vain.

     Salisbury prison differed from Andersonville in that it was not remote from a settlement, but on the contrary was directly in the village or town.  It had originally been a hospital, and consisted of an enclosure of about one and a half acres, with a stone paved yard between the buildings, which formed a square and were six in number - one large brick building, two stories, used at this time as quarters for deserters and others under sentence from the rebel army, a wooden structure used as a hospital, and four small brick buildings, which may have been used as storehouses.  Beyond, or back of these, was an open space, and all of this was surrounded by a high board fence.  A platform extended entirely around on the outside of this fence built high enough for the guard to look over and into the yard as they walked to and fro.  We were not allowed to enter either of these buildings, but finding a hole leading underneath the hospital (which set on posts about eighteen inches above the ground) we crawled in and made our home on the dry earth, delighted to find this shelter after our experience at Andersonville.  We received rations twice each day, consisting of half a loaf of white bread - the first we had tasted since our original capture - and a good-sized piece of bacon, and congratulated ourselves that we were, although prisoners again, better off than we would have been had we gone to Florence.

     A few days passed, and then prisoners taken from our army - now in front of Petersburg - began to arrive in squads of fifty to a hundred or more.  Daily the number increased, and although at first the fresh and vigorous condition of the men so recently captured presented a striking contrast to the half-starved associates we had left at Andersonville, the exposure and lack of opportunity for cleanliness soon robbed them of all this, and another crowded den of misery was added to the inhuman record.

     Our retreat under the hospital was quickly filled, and filled so full that we lay at night "spoon fashion," so close together that it was not possible to turn without first getting general consent of the entire line, as all must turn together, and it was no uncommon thing to hear some one cursing over an apparently obstinate fellow who would not move, and at last hear the exclamation, "This man is dead,"  "Well, turn him over," would be the reply, and so accustomed had we become to death that no further note would be made of it until morning, when he would be dragged out and taken to the dead house (one of the small buildings had been devoted to this purpose), and after being stripped of his clothes left until the old wagon drove in for its daily load.  It was cold weather now, rations had been cut down one-half, and but for the extra clothing gotten from the dead we would none of us have lived.  No man was buried with clothes on, or with shoes or stockings, in Salisbury.  The needs of the living were too great to admit of sentiment, and we were only too glad to "walk in dead men's shoes."  We had water to drink, drawn from two wells, one of which we dug ourselves, but none to waste, so a bath, even of hands or face, was a rarity.  One day when we were, as usual, lounging away the time under the house, Klingingsmith, who had gone out by the gate to see what he could hear of news
from some prisoners coming in, came rushing out of breath to the entrance and shouted "Hill, Rice, Trounsell, come out here - come out!"  Thinking the war was ended, or at least Sheridan had captured Salisbury, we scrambled out and there stood Billie Crossett.

     Words cannot describe that meeting; we hugged him, we kissed him, we danced around him, we shook him, we hugged him again, while he, poor baby that he was, cried and laughed with joy at meeting us again.  We gave him all we had to eat and took him into our cave, and that night the "spoons" were closer than ever, for room had to be made for Billie.  We had enough to talk about for the next week, telling him our experiences since we left him, nearly two months before, on the edge of that terrible swamp, and listening to him as he recounted how he waited a day longer than we asked (so as to be certain sure not to endanger us) before he made a move; then of his visit to one of the cabins at ten o'clock at night, his kind reception by an old negro woman, who took the shoes and stockings from off her feet and gave them to him to wear, how she kept him hid for nearly two weeks, bringing others to see and talk with him, nursing his wounded feet and feeding him with the fat of the land, until, becoming impatient to follow us - whom he imagined safely inside the federal lines - he insisted upon moving on; how then one of them walked with him two nights on the way and left him then only because a longer absence would excite suspicion and invite pursuit, how he traveled all alone, with no one to speak to all the long nights, and hid all alone all the longer day, until his nerves gave out, and he felt he must speak to some one or he would be insane; actually trembling at every rustling leaf, and in imagination feeling the grasp of his pursuers at every step, he sees a light ahead, and reaching a house, he staggers to the door and knocks, the door opens and there stands an officer in rebel uniform.  Who cares, in such a state of mind?  Not he, and he tells his story.  The motley suit he wears, furnished by his colored friends, his youthful face, so uncommon in the Federal ranks - so common in the rebel army - discredits his claim to being an escaped union soldier and he is held as a deserter from one of the regiments at Raleigh, is taken there and to a dozen different camps to be identified.  At last, convinced that he is what he claims to be, he is sent, with a lot of newly captured prisoners, to Salisbury, and while standing in line to be counted, thinking all the time how hard it was that he could not have kept on with us to freedom, his hand is grasped by Klingingsmith, and he hears his name spoken in a voice he knows so well.  All this, and more, he tells us, and always ends with tears as he repeats how lonesome he had felt in his travels, and how happy it had made him to be with us again. Once more united, we began to plan another escape.

     We started tunnel after tunnel, one of which was thirty feet long, three feet below the surface, but the difficulty of disposing of the loose earth taken out brought discovery and defeat.  A concerted attempt made one night to break down the fence and overpower the guard resulted in the death of eight, and wounding of twenty of the most daring spirits among us, and the more rigid oversight of the enclosure.  Thereafter, any man moving around after dark was shot at without warning, and the most trivial excuse was sufficient to excuse a wound from the rifle of one of the youthful sentinels who now promenaded the platform, twenty feet apart.

     This ended hope of escape, and we settled down to wait for death, or release by victory of our comrades at the front.  So passed the winter of 1864.  The mortality became fearful.  Twice each day the big truck wagon backed up to the dead house and drove away with its load of naked bodies, six or eight deep, with legs and arms hanging over its sides and end, to be buried in a trench out-side.  No word from home had we received.  Tons of letters, I have since learned, were sent through our lines, but scarcely a dozen to my knowledge ever reached the prison to cheer those poor fellows starving for news of loved ones so far away.

     One bright spot there was.  Regularly there entered, each day, this pen of misery an old gray-haired, tender-hearted man of God, a catholic priest, whose kind sympathy and hopeful words of encouragement saved many a man from despondency and death.  I am not a catholic, but the memory of that holy Father, as he moved in and out among the sick and dying in Salisbury prison, speaking words of hope and comfort, regardless whether to Jew or Gentile, has left an impression on my mind that the lapse of time cannot efface.

     The triumph of the republican party, and the re-election of Lincoln in November, thus demonstrating the determination of the North to submit to no compromise, was the death-blow of the rebel cause, and the continued victories of our armies, both east and west, news of which came to us through incoming prisoners, encouraged us that the end was near and so we held on to hope that our release was not far distant.

     About the middle of January rumors of an exchange of prisoners began to circulate around the yard, and on the twenty-fifth of that month the first squad - of which we formed a part -was marched through the gate and put on cars (which were on the track just outside) and started for Wilmington.  It was proposed to exchange at Fort Fisher, which place had been captured by General Terry.  Our former experience made us suspicious that again this was but a ruse to change our location, and when at Raleigh we were taken from the cars and marched to a grove of trees, and a guard stationed around us, we felt certain that we had been fooled again.  Train after train arrived, and each in turn dumped its load of disappointed prisoners and backed away.  No explanation could we get, but a sort of gloom appeared to settle down upon the rebels guarding us and we knew something was wrong with them, at least.  That night watching our opportunity when the guard was down the line, Klingingsmith and I slipped across and deliberately walked into the town.

     It was about ten o'clock and the streets were nearly deserted.  We had read occasionally a copy of the "Raleigh Standard," which found its way into the prison, and knew that the editor, Mr. Holden, was as near a union man as he dared to show.  We were desperate, and determined to find out, if possible, what was to be done with us.  Hailing a passing negro we inquired where Holden lived, and soon we stood at the door and boldly rang the bell.  The door was opened by a negro girl, and as the light fell upon us she started back, exclaiming:  "For de good Lord's sake, what you yankees doing way up here?"  We asked for Mr. Holden, and she called, "Massa Holden, here be two yankee prisoners done be got away!" and at once a nice-looking, middle-aged man appeared. He asked us in, and when we had explained our motive in coming to him he (without in any way committing himself) informed us that the city of Wilmington had been occupied by federal troops, which necessitated a change of plans as to point of exchange and, on that account, we were stopped at Raleigh to wait for orders; advised us to return to our comrades as the surest way to reach our lines, wished us a safe journey to our homes and friends and then - evidently to dispel suspicion of his loyalty - sent us guarded by a negro, to whom he gave a revolver and instruction to shoot us if we attempted to escape, back to camp.  We entered where we had left, the sentinel evidently preferring to make no report lest his carelessness in allowing us to get out might get him into trouble.  The news we brought (we were careful not to report whom we had talked with) was received with delight by our comrades who, missing us, had concluded we were off again for good.

     Two days later we again boarded the train and about noon stopped in the open country about three miles away from Wilmington.  "We were ordered off the train and, as we looked ahead, we saw the engine was just at a fence which crossed the track, and on one side stood a group of rebel soldiers and on the other side an equal number of "officers in blue," and just beyond on a small knoll we could see a squad of cavalry, one of whom held a staff from which waved an American flag.  We moved slowly along, helping those too weak to walk, and as we passed through the line of rebel officers were counted and checked, and then by the Federals, each one receiving from the latter, as he passed, a grip of the hand and a word of encouragement.  I can only imagine how others felt.  I know how I felt myself.  My legs trembled; I could scarcely stand; every drop of blood seemed centered in my heart, and as I passed those rebel officers I could hear the thump, thump, thump, and I held my breath in abject fright lest something in my action should give offence and they should hold me back again.  Slowly the prisoners moved along, and at last I was inside the union line.  Not daring to look behind, I raised my eyes to the flag and staggered on.  Thinking of no one; caring for no one; only wondering if it was true, walking as if in a dream, almost on air, towards the flag; until at last, standing beneath its folds, the blood began to flow again, and again I felt myself a man.  Turning now, the pent-up feelings of a soldier's life seemed to come to me as of old, and memories of cruelty and wrong struggled for relief. Sheltered by the emblem of my country's power I almost shrieked in triumph, and then, with failing strength, burst into tears.

Just then an officer stepped beside me, grasped my hand and threw his arm around my waist, exclaiming, "My God, George Hill, is this possible?" And looking up I saw Bill Blanchard, a private soldier of my own company in the old 13th  when I was captured, but now a captain of the 27th U.S. Infantry Colored Troops, and serving as officer of the guard.  (Bill Blanchard,  pictured)  Insisting I should go with him, despite my filth and rags, he took me to his tent, furnished me what he called "a lunch," but what seemed to me a feast; sent to the quartermaster's and "drew" a complete outfit - hat, shoes, stockings, and underwear - and took from his own trunk trousers and coat;  went with me to a small stream near by and assisted me in ridding myself of the remnants of clothes I wore, and also of the five months' accumulation of confederate soil I carried on my person, and then, arrayed in garments clean, which seemed to me richer than those we read of as being worn by King Solomon, I went with him to the headquarters of his regiment and was royally entertained.  Amidst all this a feeling of guilt at apparent desertion of my comrades oppressed me and at last I insisted upon following them to Wilmington.  An ambulance was ordered and I rode into the city, found the boys quartered in one of the deserted stores and wondering what had become of "The Captain."  They had all they could eat, but were yet in rags, as no extra clothing was to be found with an advancing army — my own good fortune being an exception — but what of that?  A happier lot of men you never saw. But little remains to be told.  Obtaining a sheet of paper and envelope I wrote to my father, announcing my release, and the arrival of that letter was the first they had heard from me since I was reported "missing in action," ten months before.  It came to them at home like a message from the dead, for they had given up hope that, even if a prisoner, I could have survived the exposure and suffering of which they had heard so much.  The joy at home is best imagined; again my powers of description fail. 

      As soon as transports could be provided we were sent north, to parole camp, at Annapolis, and (my regiment having been mustered out six months previous, expiration of term three years) I was, after a week or two doctoring, furnished transportation and ordered to Boston; was honorably discharged from the service of the United States March 26, 1865, and left for my home in Maine.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Reminiscences From The Sands of Time, Part 3

     When we last left George and his comrades they had just escaped from a train taking them to Florence Prison in Florence, S.C.  They rolled under the train station platform when the guard wasn't looking and waited anxiously for a chance to escape.

"Reminiscences From the Sands of Time" by George H. Hill, 13th Mass. Company B.

[Part 3]

      I have stood in the battle front when shot and shell were flying around me and men were falling dead on all sides; have been in that most trying place to a soldier's courage, "the reserve;" have stood on picket, knowing the liability of being pounced upon and shot or strangled, have advanced with the skirmish line in the face of a blazing line of battle and charged in solid column the breastworks of a hidden foe; but never did I experience the feeling of abject helplessness, of mortal terror, of absolute fright, as when that last car passed the platform and left us, subject to discovery by some small boy or girl as they played hide-and-seek around that depot.  The fright which the presence of five live yankees would have given that little village meant death to all of us, and we knew it; we dared not speak, we hardly dared to breathe, and when a large sized hog (hogs run wild in that southern village) came rooting at our heads, we dared not drive it off, lest its sudden exit would attract attention to our hiding place.

     Slowly the twilight gave way to night, the lounging crowd dispersed, and we gained courage to crawl together and plan "what next."  Gradually we worked our way to the end of the building, and then, first Rice, followed in turn by Klingingsmith, Trounsell, and Crossett, passed out into the bright moonlight, across the road, through a gateway, and then by a path over a hill to a clump of trees just outside the settlement, where it was agreed all would wait for me, whom it had been decided was to act as captain of our little squad.  The anxiety of superintending the timing of each start, and watching the progress across the village, had so worked upon me that when my time to go arrived I trembled in every nerve and muscle, and as I started across the road my heart stopped beating.  It seemed to me that every bush concealed a foe, and every rustling leaf was shouting "halt."  At last I reached the grove, and after a long breath of relief, we all together rushed like frightened sheep across a plain, over a fence, and into a large field of growing corn.  Here hunger got the best of our frightened rush, and finding the corn just in the milk, we threw ourselves upon the ground and ate and ate, until the crowing of the cocks and the reddening of the horizon warned us of the coming of the day, and the necessity of finding a safer hiding place.

     We had now regained our senses and were able intelligently to study our surroundings.  A swampy grove, about half a mile away, seemed to offer security and we hurried on and before sunrise were safely sheltered by its dense tanglewood, and all lay down to much needed sleep.  Secure in our hiding place, we minded not the dampness or rough underbrush on which we lay, but slept refreshingly until almost night again.  We were roused at last by un-quenching thirst, and the realization that no food at all was even worse than Andersonville rations - Digging a hole in the damp ground, we waited until it filled with water from the swampy surface, and, laying on our stomachs, drank our fill, each in turn waiting for a new supply, and ate the tender leaves of growing shrubs around us.  We could hear the bells ringing in the village we had left, and concluded it was curfew bed-time, and shortly thereafter we left our friendly cover, and, searching the heavens, found our "pillar of fire," the north star, whose bright light showed to us the direction we must take to reach the promised land of safety. Before starting out, we had perfected a plan of action which consisted of an Indian file movement across the country, regardless of roads or paths - North, North, was all we knew.

     The details of our tramp for the first week of our journey, which began each day at dark and ended at dawn, is uneventful; we avoided all habitations, living on raw corn and sweet potatoes, and hiding during the day in dense woods or dismal swamps.  Growing somewhat bolder as we became accustomed to our surroundings, we decided to test the loyalty of the negro, and so drew lots to see what one would risk a visit to some cabin and endeavor to find out where we were and what direction to take to reach our lines, and, not less important, get something to eat. The lot fell to Klingingsmith, and after pledging that in case of betrayal he would insist that he was alone (thus giving us a chance to get away) he left us just as the lights were showing through the windows of what we knew were negro cabins, and with anxious hearts we waited his return.  Minutes were hours, for it seemed to us he would never come back, and we had about decided to move off when we heard a low whistle (the signal agreed upon), and he soon appeared, accompanied by four negro slaves, two men and two girls, loaded down with food such as we had not seen since we left our homes, - ham, cold chicken, cold lamb, hominy, bread, cake, and cheese, and a large pitcher of milk.  Great Scott!  How we ate, while these angels with black skins rolled their white eyes and showed their whiter teeth, in ecstacy of joy that they could do something for "Lincoln's" soldiers.

     When we had eaten all we could hold we gathered up the fragments and stored them as best we could among our clothes, hardly daring to believe we would ever get more, shook hands with our faithful servants, and left them waving their hats and aprons in silent encouragement as we disappeared over the hill in the direction pointed out by them as sure to bring us to the "Yankee lines."

     After this we never hesitated to make our wants known to man or woman with a black skin, and never was our confidence betrayed.  If the negro has no other claim upon the people of this country in his struggle for right and justice, if, in his ignorance, he sometimes falls short of your idea of what he should be, remember his loyalty and faithful service in the war of the rebellion, but most of all, his big-hearted goodness to all union prisoners within his reach.  My own experience, in this respect, is precisely that of every soldier who had occasion to ask help of the negro slave, or to put himself into his hands for safety. LET US NOT FORGET IT!

     From the information we got from the negroes we now more systematically traveled, using the turnpike roads, which were generally deserted after dark except by an occasional horseman, upon whose approach the one in the lead would quickly dodge outside the road, which signal was noted by each follower in turn, and so the rider rode peacefully along, little thinking he had passed live yankees on his way.

     One dark night, Billie Crossett and myself were walking together in the rear (leaving a distance between us and our file leader too long for sight) when directly in our front came quietly walking along a large white horse and on his back a man.  Instinctively we threw ourselves out of the road and flat upon our faces, but not before both horse and rider (who proved to be a negro, evidently returning from a visit to a neighboring plantation) had caught a glimpse of us.  The horse rose upon his haunches and snorted with fright, and his rider, in the well-known accent of his race, and evidently in equal terror, in a voice low at first but increasing in violence at every word, urged on his trembling steed with, "Go long - go long- go long dar- go long, you damn fool," and like a streak of lightning away went horse and rider, leaving us nearly as frightened, but unable to repress a laugh as we imagined Sambo relating to his family or friends at home that he had seen a "spook."  It was a lesson to us, however, to be more cautious, and thereafter we kept proper distance while on the road.

     One day, while waiting in a thick woods for night to come, we were seen by two white boys, who started off on the run.  Fortunately, we also saw them, and knew we must move quick and get away from that locality.  We struck off towards lower ground and were soon up to our knees in a wooded swamp through which we struggled two miles or more.  We were none too quick, for, from the howling of dogs, we knew the dreaded blood-hounds were on our track, and afterwards learned that the boys we saw were sons of a well-known slave hunter who kept a kennel of these savage brutes. These hounds cannot scent through swamps, and we were saved from this danger. But, oh, how we suffered!  No shoes, remember, and at each step roots and stumps raking the skin from off our feet.  At last we reached the end of swampy land and came out into solid ground again and lay down completely fagged.

     Poor Billie Crossett, the baby of our party, scarcely nineteen years old, was a complete wreck.  His feet were raw, he could not stand.  We stayed with him one night and two days, hoping he would be able to go on, and then offered to find a safer hiding place and wait again; but heroically he claimed remembrance of the agreement we had made the night of our escape, that "in case either one should become disabled, or a hindrance, the others should leave him and push on to freedom," and insisted we should do so.  We worked him along, as near as we dared, to a large plantation, and left him, with instructions to remain in hiding until the next night, giving us a chance to get a good distance away in case our plan failed, and then to get into communication with our friends, the negroes, whose cabins appeared well separated from the mansion house of the estate.  It was like leaving one's heart behind, but we did it, and walked the saddest night's walk I ever knew.  We shall meet Billie again before I finish.  By the advice of “an old darkey” who knew the country well we had decided to change our course more to the West, thus reaching, if possible, the territory of Western North Carolina, where we knew roving bands of our troops often penetrated; or, better yet, that hot-bed of union sentiment, East Tennessee.  We crossed a railroad which runs between Charlotte and Concord, N.C., camping one day so near the latter place that we plainly heard the rebel bugle call for "reveille" and "retreat," as we lay concealed, and at last found ourselves stopped by a rushing river, whose swift current made it impossible for us to ford or swim. Again our negro proved his worth.  We learned that some two miles below a ferry was run by a black man, and we were assured that he was loyal.  We reached this ferry about midnight, too late to cross, and secreted ourselves in a thick woods on the river bank.

     Next morning-again by lot-one of our number cautiously approached the grist mill which was operated by the man who owned the ferry, and managed to interview the negro, whose advice was that we wait until night again, when he would put us across and find a trusty guide to pilot us on our way.  Delighted at such prospect, I returned to my comrades and found them busy skinning a small pig which they had captured during my absence.  Fresh meat was a rarity, and we were hungry, so building a small fire of dry sticks, which we thought would cause but little smoke (by the way, we were furnished with some matches by the negro girls we first met), we were soon eating broiled or roasted pork in fancied security.

     No festive board, laden with Delmonico's choicest viands, ever gave half the satisfaction that this half-cooked baby pig, eaten without salt or savor, did to those four half-starved mortals in their hiding place near the banks of the Pee Dee river. But it was a costly meat:  the smoke of our little fire was observed from the higher ground on the opposite side of the river by a posse of men who were in search of a slave who had run away after a severe flogging.  Thinking they had discovered his hiding place, they crossed the river, and, closing quietly around him, as they supposed, were surprised to find, instead, four union soldiers, whose first intimation of their approach was the words, "Surrender, or we fire!"  We were captured again, and our dreams of home were shattered.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

May 8, 1864 - 13th Mass.

May 8th was a tough day for the regiment.  With only 2 1/2 months left to serve, they had their heaviest casualties of the campaign on this day.

     I will start this story with Charles E. Davis, Jr.'s narrative from the regimental history, "Three Years in the Army."

     Following that will be Sam Webster's more personal account of the days events. [Sam Webster, Co. D, pictured. Photo courtesy of Tim Sewell.]

     Last, excerpts from a letter Color Sgt. David Sloss wrote in 1910 in remembrance of the events of this day.

From "Three Years in the Army"

Saturday May 7.
     We remained in the earthworks until 4 P.M., when we were withdrawn to a hill looking down upon the junction of the Orange pike and the plank-road.  Rations of fresh meat were issued, large fires were built, and coffee cooked.

May 7, 1864, 3 P.M.


At 8.30 P.M., Major-General Warren, commanding Fifth Corps, will move to Spottsylvania Court House, by way of Brock Road and Todd’s Tavern.

 By command of

     In obedience to this order, at 9 P.M. we started for Spottsylvania Court House, and marched all night.  As we passed along in the rear of the rifle-pits, we noticed the tired soldiers fast asleep on the ground, oblivious to the steady tramp of soldiers who were marching within a few yards of them.  We wished we were in the same blissful state.  Finally the extreme left of the line was reached when we entered a narrow, crooked road in the woods which were dark as a pocket.  Silently and stealthily the trail was followed in single file, and with great care, as the path became obscured.  We were now in the heart of the Wilderness.  Instructions were whispered along from the head of the line to “Jump the run;”  “look out for the log,” etc., with cautionary orders not to lose connection with each other, nor to get out of the path. In this way we noiselessly marched until nearly daylight, when a halt was made, and the men, tired out, threw themselves on the ground for rest or sleep.  We had overtaken the cavalry which was in advance, and now waited for daylight, having marched only twelve miles, owing to the difficulties we encountered on the way.  We were now within four miles of Spottsylvania Court House.

Sunday, May 8. 
        When daylight afforded us an opportunity of seeing each others faces, it was impossible to refrain our laughter at the comical appearance we presented. The woods where we halted had been burned over by the fire which had been raging for twenty-four hours previously, making a bed of black ashes which stuck to our perspiring faces, so that, on waking, we looked more like drivers of charcoal wagons than soldiers.

       Some were hastily cooking their coffee while others were engaged in removing the black from their faces, when we were hurried forward, our division being in the advance.  It was now learned that both armies were hastening to Spottsylvania Court House.  Our present position was near Todd’s Tavern, north-east from the town.  The cavalry under General Sheridan opened the fight and were soon relieved by our (General Robinson’s) Division.  As we passed out of the woods we charged the wooded hill in front, occupied by rebel dismounted cavalry, who retreated as we advanced, making a stand on another wooded hill half a mile beyond. Here they kept up a brisk fire, aided by artillery.  Another charge was ordered, and up the hill we double-quicked, driving the enemy from the crest across an open plain.  We were told by General Warren that we should find nothing but dismounted cavalry, but instead, we found Longstreets’s corps. [Major-General G. K. Warren, pictured] A section of a battery was discovered to the south and east of us that had been used to retard our advance.  The “Johnnies” were busy getting it away, so we directed our fire toward the group of men and horses, hoping to capture it.  A company of cavalry now rode out from the woods on the flank and hailed the battery.  We supposed it to be Union cavalry demanding its surrender, and consequently reserved our fire. We soon discovered our error as we saw them running off the battery with drag ropes, whereupon we resumed our firing, but were unable to prevent their securing the gun.
Little time was granted us for rest.

       Soon we received an order from General Robinson to advance on the double-quick over the plain. [Brigadier-General John C. Robinson, pictured.]   It was obeyed as well as it was possible for men to obey after two previous charges following an all-night march.  There wasn’t any double-quick in us.  Though nearly played out, we slowly advanced, while the rebel skirmishers fell back to the crest of Laurel Hill.  The firing from the rebel line behind earthworks on the hill now became general, and although the men of our division (the Second) were exhausted, yet we mustered strength enough to make another charge on this division of rebel infantry.  As we advanced, the firing became more effective.  The foot of the hill was gained.  As the Thirteenth was picking its way through the abatis and under-brush, shouting was heard in our rear.  On looking back, we saw a whole brigade of rebels in line of battle, swinging round from the rebel right flank.  A general retreat was taking place among our troops in the rear, so we followed suit by taking a circuitous route to avoid the rebel line which was preparing to capture us.  Upon reaching the hill from which we advanced we halted and made a stand.  Our loss so far was one officer killed and one wounded, and fourteen men wounded and twelve missing – probably captured.  The staff of the national colors was shattered by a solid shot.  During the repulse, General Warren took the flag with its shattered staff to rally a Maryland brigade, a picture of which appeared in “Harper’s Weekly” for 1864, page 372.

Pictured below is the image artist Alfred Waud sketched of General Warren rallying the Maryland Troops with the National Flag of the 13th Mass. as it appeared in the magazine.   Image is from

A halt of a few minutes now took place, while we returned the fire from still another hill on the Alsop farm.

     At night we were moved out in front of the earthworks and laid on our arms.

     During the day the heat was intense.

     General Robinson, our division commander, lost a leg in the fight to-day.  He was a real loss to the Army of the Potomac, as he ranked very high, being considered one of the bravest as well as one of the most efficient officers in the army.  

[NOTE:  General Robinson made a special request that  Hospital attendant Chandler Robbins, of the 13th Mass., Company K,  remain with him while he recovered from his wounds. - From information found in Robbins Pension files. - B.F.]

Diary of Sam Webster
From the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

     Spottsylvania – Halted this morning about daybreak.  Laid down on the ground in the woods, which had burnt over, and was still smoking in places, and went to sleep with a piece of hard tack in my hand and a piece in my mouth. Turned out in a few minutes and, relieving the cavalry, pitched into the rebels; we suppose, about 3 or 4 miles from Spottsylvnia C.H.   They were driven back to “Laurel Hill” in  three charges, - very long ones, apparently ½ to 1 mile each – and where our division “stuck” the army did also.  Gen. J. C. Robinson, commanding the division, wounded. Alden, Thompson, and others also.  Thompson was hit in the back (small of it) by a spent ball, as the line fell back from the last rebel position.  In advancing, as the regiment came out into an open field, the centre was between two gate posts.  As it was necessary to move to the left they “left oblique’d” – a rebel battery playing upon them meanwhile, and down the road along which others were coming. 
As a shell passed Walker, who carried the National Color, he said to Joe Keating who was with him, “That fellow means me.”  The next shell cut the staff at the lower fastening of the silk, caught the upper part of his knapsack and carried it some rods, spilling its contents along its route, and knocking its owner some feet. I helped dress his shoulder which was awfully bruised.  The boys had driven the rebs from the two guns, but seeing a Company of cavalry come out of the woods, who hailed them, thought it all right, and withheld their fire at 150 yards, and Stuart saved his guns.  Just after that in passing the woods Capt. Whitcomb was killed.  Loss 1 officer and 1 man killed, 1 officer wounded and taken prisoner, 4 men wounded and 12 missing.  After repulse lay in edge of the woods.  2nd Corps came up in P.M. over same road as 5th.  [Dennis G. Walker, Company A, pictured, whose knapsack was struck by a piece of shell and was hurled several feet from the impact.  Walker survived the war.  I  don't have a picture of Keating.  Photo courtesy of Mr. Tim Sewell.]

[Note: Davy Sloss carried the State Flag, Keating picked up the National Colors when Walker was hit. – B.F.]

Excerpt of a Letter from David Sloss

David Sloss who carried the State Colors for the Regiment recalled more of the story of the flag and General G. K. Warren in a letter to comrade William R. Warner, dated July 21, 1910.  The letter resides in the collection of Colonel Leonard's papers at the Gilder Lehrman Collection in New York. [GLC3343]   Post war image of David Sloss taken by Gettysburg Photographer Tipton,  at the dedication of the 13th Mass. Monument, Sept., 1885.

In part of the letter Sloss writes Warner:

     "We then went about a mile further when we saw a Battery on the edge of a wood we could see them getting out of their blankets.    The 39th Mass., Col Davis were ahead of us when we started to charge but did not go fast enough for me so the two Regts were close together when a shell came down through the center of the two Regts Killing a Lieut of the 39th and hitting D G Walker who had the American Colors and breaking the staff.  (I had the State Color) 
[Pictured is a scan of the sketch of the incident as artist Alfred Waud drew it.]
Keating picked up the flag and tied it with a canteen strap.  We went on about a mile further chasing the Battery but they got away.  One of our Lieuts was Killed in the woods.*   We advanced until we came upon McLaws whole division behind a low earthwork.  We fired here until we saw from this flank fire,  then we broke and run perhaps a  [?]  When we saw Warren and Staff trying to rally the runners I got behind a big tree and told the boys to stand as we could stand as long as Warren could. 

     Robinson had been shot falling back his head on his breast and back to a tree.  Warren pointed to him saying “there is the only soldier in your Division you are all a pack of damned cowards.”  Every thing was flying  past us when Warren seized the top of the National Color over Keating’s sholder and it parted he waved it about 15 minutes in the Maryland Brigade that had some formation but they soon got by.   Keating went up and asked Warren for it but he would not give it to him.  I ordered the Guard to go and get it and he gave it to them.  He saw their [sp] was going to be trouble and their [sp] was enough around there at this time."

*Lt. Charles Whitcomb was killed.

The Roster in the book “Three Years in the Army” by Charles E. Davis, Jr. lists the following soldiers killed or died of wounds received this day.  I have added the appropriate number of years to the soldiers age at enlistment to come up with an approximate age at time of death.  – I did not have time to check the list against the Massachusetts Adjt. Genls. Roster. – B.F

Pictured at right is Rolla Nichols.  The only one of the killed whom I currently have an image.

Selah B. Alden died of his wounds. (to the head) Corporal, Company D, about age 31.
William Sanders. Recruit of July 1863, age about 32, Company E.
John Schnell.  Private, Company E, age about 30.
Charles A. Williams. Private,  recruit of July, 1863, Company E, age about 24.
Rolla Nicholas. [Or Nichols]  Private, Company F, died of wounds June 2nd 1864, age about 26.
Thomas E. Bancroft. Private, Company G, missing after May 8, supposed to have been killed. Age about 25.
Charles E. Colburn. Company H, private, age about 21.
Charles W. Whitcomb. Company I, 2nd Lieutenant, age about 25.
Charles W. Mosher. Company I, Corporal, age about 21.
John P. Peebles. Company I, Corporal,  age about 27.
William P. Farqueson. Company I, private,  age about 21.
Charles F. Rice,  Company K, private, was a recruit of ’62, age about 21.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reminiscence From the Sands of Time; Part 2

     When we left off George H. Hill and his comrades had just landed at Andersonville Prison in Georgia, a few days after the Battle of the Wilderness.  In this part of his narrative he describes his 5 month incarceration there.  Keep in mind, George's 3 year term of enlistment expired July 16, 1864.  If he had managed to stay with his regiment,  he would have gone home then.

[Part Two]

    Would to God remembrance of this hell, controlled and rejoiced in by that fiend incarnate, Capt. Henry Wirz, this blot upon humanity, could be erased from our nation's history.  To describe the sufferings of its inmates from exposure, starvation and neglect requires greater power than mine.  To exaggerate its terrors is an impossibility.  No one not actually a prisoner in this "Chamber of Horrors" can form a conception of its reality.

     The sergeant having charge of squad No. 1 (prisoners were divided into squads of one hundred each), John McElroy, has published in book form a description of life inside the stockade at Andersonville.  I pronounce it the most vivid and truthful of any attempt I have ever seen.  He knew of what he wrote.  Twelve thousand half-clothed skeletons crowded around us, and besieged us with questions of news from home.  Except from prisoners entering from time to time, nothing was known inside those walls of union success, while discouraging reports of real or imaginary victories of the rebel army were freely circulated.  "Where is Grant?" "Where is Sherman ?"  "Has Charleston been taken?"  "Is there any chance of parole or exchange?"  And a thousand other questions, all of which we answered, and all of which we, in turn, asked again and again of each new lot that followed us into this crater of misery and death.  Counted off into squads - for the purpose of drawing rations - we were directed to assemble each morning at the call of the bugle, and then left to ourselves to find, if possible, an unoccupied spot large enough to lie down upon.
     Next morning rations were issued for the day - a piece of corn bread about four inches square, and a small slice of bacon.  Twice each week we had in addition half a pint of bean soup, cooked as farmers cook it for their hogs (pods and all).  The last part of my stay here, when the number had increased so there were twenty thousand or more, the ration consisted of corn bread alone, and the size was reduced at least one-half.

     No shelter but the sky - no bed but the earth - no cover from the hot sun by day and the heavy dew by night - exposed alike to rain and sun, there we remained, hoping against hope, revived and encouraged one day by news brought by prisoners of union success, and discouraged the next by the boastful bragging of the rebel guard.  Seeing one after another whose acquaintance we had formed sink and die; ourselves reduced to living skeletons; many to idiotic imbeciles; kept alive only by the one hope that the war would end. And let me say here - among that dying throng not one word of copperhead disloyalty; not one wish for that end to come in any way but with victory and honor to the nation and the flag.  Twelve thousand nine hundred men died in Andersonville.
     Think of it, nearly thirty percent of all who entered that prison, gate were buried (most of them in unknown graves) in the cemetery just outside the stockade, while of those that lived at least fifty percent were walking skeletons of what we call men.

     It was here, when it seemed to me we were deserted both by God and by the government we loved so well, and when we had almost abandoned hope, I heard for the first time that song (sung by new prisoners from Sherman's army) to which I never listen, even after so many years, without a thrill of joy left over from that memorable night:

"Tramp, tramp, tramp the boys are marching,
Cheer up, comrades, they will come,
And beneath the starry flag we shall breathe the air again
Of the Freeland in, our own beloved home!"

     If George F. Root could have seen the joy which came to that throng of helpless, almost hopeless beings, as they crowded around and listened to what seemed to them an inspired message, and could have heard their shouts for repetition, over and over again, he would have felt gratified that at least one of his compositions had received its reward of merit, and that he had made good use of his God-given talent to do good to his fellow-men.

     At last Atlanta fell, and victorious Sherman started to rescue the prisoners at Macon and at Andersonville. This necessitated a change of location, and to more safely make this move the report was given out that we were to be sent North for exchange.  So many such rumors had come to us which had proved groundless that until the first lot actually left we took but little stock in this one; but when once convinced there came a struggle - every prisoner anxious to get away, and under such circumstances it is not strange that selfishness predominated to an extent that it became almost a fight for life to get counted into a squad to leave.

     Accompanied by Fuller - between whom and myself had ripened a friendship born from mutual suffering - I left Andersonville with the fourth lot of five hundred, and after five months in hell was once more out into the world again. Sixty men in each lot, we were put on board a train of freight cars and started, as we believed, for home.  At Macon we stopped for wood and water. Rations of corn bread and bacon were issued to us, which we were told must last us three days.

     While stopping here we overheard a conversation between one of our guards and a soldier on the depot platform which dispelled our dream of home - we were simply being moved to Florence, N.C., where another stockade had been built, and no exchange was contemplated.  Turning to Fuller, I declared I would never enter another stockade alive, and together we began to plan our escape from the train, preferring, if necessary, to die by bullet rather than the slower death of starvation or disease which we knew awaited us by further imprisonment.

     Fortune favored us. At a Junction we changed cars, and noticing one car with rickety flooring, we managed to get in line to count into that particular car.  Once inside, we persuaded a young soldier of the 32d Mass., Billie Crossett, to lie down over a large hole, and covering him with our jackets, we insisted he was too weak to stand when our car was inspected by the officer in charge to see if it was properly filled and guarded.

     After the train started we began to perfect our plans, taking into our confidence three more of our fellow-prisoners, Jim Trounsell, Henry Klingingsmith, and John Rice, all members of the 11th Penn., the Bucktail Regiment - We planned to wait until night and then at the first stop after dark to quietly drop down through the hole, lie flat on the road-bed, and take chances of the train passing safely over us.  We kept the rest in the car ignorant, even of the hole itself, lest too many would attempt the escape, thereby causing commotion and detection.  It seemed as if night would never come, but about sunset we stopped at a small station in South Carolina, called Sumpter, and our car being at the platform, which was crowded with old men, women, and children (at that time every man able to carry a musket was in the rebel army) we overheard the guard on top of the car ask, "How far to Florence?"  "Ten miles" was the reply, and our hearts fell, for we knew this was the last stop.  It was now or never, and I crawled through the hole, followed by Rice, Crossett, Trounsell and Klingingsmith, and watching our chance when the guard was busy talking to the girls, we slid out between the wheels, under the depot platform, and lay down as close as possible to the building in single file.  (For some reason Fuller did not follow, and I never heard of him again.)  The train moved on, and there we were.

To Be Continued...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Reminiscence of George Henry Hill at the Battle of the Wilderness

George Hill's Reminiscence has long been one of my favorite stories from the 13th Mass. Association Circulars.  As it is the 150th Anniversary of these events, I offer you his story.  It is very long, so I will divide it into separate posts - don't worry, I'll put up part two in a day or so.


     The winter of 1863 was passed by the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment at Mitchell's Station, Va., where it occupied the position of extreme outpost of the army of the Potomac, in connection with the cavalry, to form a picket guard.  The duty was arduous and often exciting.  With the vanguard of the army in the memorable campaign which under Grant led up to the glorious victory at Appomatox, we crossed the Rapidan river at Germanna Ford on the fourth day of May, 1864, and became engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness.

     It is not my purpose to describe the part taken by the Thirteenth Massachusetts Regiment in this battle, or to record acts of heroism of its members, or chronicle its fatalities.

     Abler hands have written its history and no word of mine can add interest thereto, or give further detail of organized action.

     Every soldier has an individual history, and thinking possibly a simple story of my experience, after leaving the regiment on that memorable fifth day of May, will be of interest to my comrades, I will, as briefly as possible, tell where I was while the regiment was following Grant to victory.

     At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, during a lull in the battle, which had been raging fiercely all day with apparently small results for either side, our regiment was moved by the left flank some half mile and faced to the front.  It was apparent that no skirmish or picket line was between us and the rebel force.  Colonel Hovey, then in command of the regiment, called for volunteers to go forward and ascertain, if possible, the proximity of the enemy.  From a number responding to this call, four were detailed to advance cautiously, each taking distance to cover the regimental front, and report back to him.

     As one of this four I had an independent command (myself) and I know nothing of the action or report of the others constituting the detail and have forgotten their names.

     After advancing some six or eight hundred yards I heard voices and distinguished that it was rebel skirmishers in search of wounded comrades.  Returning I reported to Colonel Hovey, who detailed a company of the regiment to deploy and cover our front and ordered me to go forward again and bring definite information as to the position of the rebel line of battle.  Retracing my steps I passed the place of my former halt and seeing or hearing nothing continued my advance some eighth of a mile, when to my surprise I saw, coming towards me, a man in the uniform of a Federal soldier, unarmed.  This proved to be Sergeant Fuller, of the Ninth New York Regiment, who had been hunting for his captain's sword which was lost during the engagement earlier in the day.  Surprised that he had found no rebels in front, I insisted that he should go back with me, and together we cautiously advanced until within hearing distance of the rebel skirmish line.

     Listening for some time to their conversation, we learned that they were as ignorant of the whereabouts of our line as we of theirs, and that they, like us, were waiting to be attacked, and then, on our hands and knees, we crawled out of harm's way (as we supposed) toward our line.  The wilderness!  Who that was ever there needs reminder of the dense foliage and undergrowth through which we struggled - impenetrable at times except by little narrow paths made by feet smaller than those of man.  Feeling secure that we had left our enemy behind and would find only friends in front, we boldly followed one of those little paths, until, turning an abrupt angle, we came face to face with four full-fledged "Johnny Rebs," whose leveled muskets touched our bodies.

     The far-famed Coon of Davy Crockett never “came down” with better grace than did we as we heard the words "surrender, or we fire."

"Tis easy in the battle's wrath
To lead the charge when foemen run,
But in the rifle's deadly path
With empty cartridge box and gun,
To stand, a firm, unyielding wall
Of bodies brave enough to bleed,
This-this- is heroes' work indeed!"

     True to the letter; but under these circumstances we were not "heroes" and not "brave enough to bleed," and so, inwardly cursing our luck and blaming ourselves for over-confidence, we marched back, inside the rebel picket line, which we had such a short time previous left, thinking we were candidates for honorable mention in the Congress of the United States.  It was always a matter of dispute between Fuller and myself which was to blame for our capture - he claiming that but for me he would have safely returned to his regiment, and I, that I would never have gone so far beyond our line but for him.

     No special attention was paid to us, beyond a few questions by General Longstreet as to what part of our army was in his front, etc., and we were coralled with a large lot of prisoners, previously taken, just back of their field hospital, and were kept awake much of the night by the cries and groans of their wounded, under the agony of surgical operation.  Next morning occurred an incident which demonstrates the difference, so marked all through my prison life, between soldiers at the front, whose generosity was so often shown on both sides, and the "hospital beat" and home guard contingent wherever found.

     While standing near the guard line, talking with a fellow-prisoner, I was accosted by one of the above described hospital attendants thus:  "Yank, I reckon I want that hat," and before I could reply my hat was snatched from my head and from that time until my release, ten months later, I was bareheaded.

     From the action of our guard it was evident that no victory had been gained for the rebel side, and we were shortly taken to the rear of their line, some ten miles, put on board a train of cars, which evidently had just brought some of their own troops to the front, and taken, through Lynchburg, to Danville, Va.  Here we were quartered in a large brick building, evidently a tobacco warehouse, and where we first tasted "home guard" bravery and valor.  The sight of a prisoner at a window was sure to bring a shot from one of these brave heroes, and a howl of cheers if any evidence of success attended the exploit.  One or two prisoners were hit, none seriously, but we kept away from the windows. During this time we were fairly well fed and, except occasionally, had no cause to complain of harsh treatment.

     We remained in this place three days, and then by rail, in box freight cars, - we started south.  No stop was made, except to change cars at some station, the name of which I have forgotten (if I ever knew), until we reached Andersonville, Ga.  Leaving the cars we were drawn up in line and systematically searched.  So faithful was this search that even our mouths were examined, lest some article of jewelry or coin, or greenback, should be secreted beyond their ken.  Some, whose shoes were good, were forced to exchange with the guards for theirs, which were nearly worthless, and often even this consideration was denied, and shoes, hats, and coats were taken, leaving the owner nearly naked.  At last the large gate was opened and marching past the guard, into a large open space containing sixteen acres, the walls formed by pine logs set end ways into the ground and standing twenty feet high, so close together as to leave no crack between, a sight burst upon my eyes, equaled only by the pictures drawn by old time theologists of the place of torture allotted to the damned.