Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Battle of Cedar Mountain - They trailed Arms


The 155th anniversary of the Battle of Cedar Mountain is August 9th 2017.  I've always wanted to re-build / update the page on my website for this action, as I have much more material now than I did when I posted that page several years ago; but like many other things I've wanted to add to the site, I just haven't got around to it yet.  The reason is I want to keep pressing ahead with the regiment's history, rather than return to periods  I've already covered, at least in some detail.

This is a long introduction.

So, appropriately, to mark the anniversary of the battle, I'm posting this article about the 13th Mass at Cedar Mountain; one of the favorite ones I've come across since building the page for my website.

Pictured is the ridge the 13th Mass marched behind as told in this story.  Federal artillery was posted on the hill, center, right.  Click to view larger.

July 3, 1891.


Quick Wit Saved Many Lives at Gettysburg. (should read 'Cedar Mountain' – B.F.)

Boys of the Old 13th Massachusetts Slid in Under the Moonlight.

Gen. Samuel H. Leonard – “Killed, Wounded, Missing,” Tells Story.

“It is a singular experience in one man’s life.” Said the veteran, with a smile at Young’s on Wednesday. “But just 28 years ago today I was reported here in Boston, ‘Killed, wounded, missing,’ all three in one. The telegraph did it, I suppose. Nobody else could. I was then at Gettysburg.”

Those who remember those fateful three days 28 years ago will well understand the grimness of the veteran’s remark. He spoke of the first Gettysburg day. I myself vividly call to mind the circumstances attending the reception of President Lincoln’s dispatch assuring the country, in his guarded phraseology, that from what he had heard from the front, all had gone well with our arms.

I was a boy then, and stood in front of the Parker house when that dispatch was read. There was no cheering among the crowd of anxious men, but everybody, as I remember, went to their Fourth of July dinner with a better appetite than they had for about two years.

“But,” I asked the general, “how about that episode at Cedar mountain, where the 13th Massachusetts was reported as ‘all correct’ - with none killed, wounded or missing, and for which your commanding general, Hartsuff, called you to account. I have for years desired that you should explain to the public your conduct on that occasion.”

“Oh, well, there is so much that has been written, and I suppose will still be written about the war, that what I have to say won’t count.”

“But I want to know the true facts, and this is a good time to tell them.”

Re-enactors on the Battlefield, August 5, 2017.

The veteran then considered a moment and at last said:

“This is the anniversary of my death, my wounds and – am I missing? (Then he smiled.) That being so I will tell you.

“At Cedar Mountain I was in command of the 13th Massachusetts regiment. The boys were all in good trim and ready to fight. We were in the rear of the 12th Massachusetts (Fletcher Webster’s). There was heavy firing on our front, and I noticed that the aim of the rebels was almost too accurate.

“Right on a knoll directly in our front was where Capt. N. B. Shurtleff, Jr., of the 12th Massachusetts, after telling the boys of his company to lie low and keep quiet, raised himself on his arm to see whether they obeyed orders, when a bullet pierced his heart and he died then and there. He was one of the noblest smartest, and best of all the Boston boys who went to the war.”

It wasn’t a tear, but I really saw a gleam in the general’s eye as he said this. It was almost a tear.

“But what about your part in it, general?”

“Well, I saw the moonlight glistening on a lot of other guns and bayonets to my right and left, which gave the very mark the enemy were firing at. I didn’t know then, as I remember of Shurtleff’s death, but taking in the situation, I instinctively gave the order of command, “Trail arms!” and not a glistening bayonet of the old 13th did the enemy see that night. We did trail arms. My command went quietly to the front and occupied the ground assigned, and not a bullet struck one of my men.”

“I have read that your were called before your next superior officer, Gen. Hartsuff, who was at first dissatisfied with your report the next morning, which was “all present for duty; no casualties.”

“Yes, I was.”

“Will you please tell me about that?”

The general stroked his beard for a moment and then slowly said:

“Hartsuff was not only one of the best men, but one of the best officers I ever knew. I think he had reason to believe me when I told him the truth, but still when he got my first report he was, well, not non-plussed, but incredulous.

Confederate artillery was posted on the bare hill above the trucks pictured.

“When the order came direct, ‘The general commanding your brigade desires a correct report from Col. Leonard of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment.’ I didn’t feel hurt, because I felt secure and knew that I had not only done right, but had saved my men’s lives and perhaps my own.

“My answer simply was, “’Col. Leonard’s report is correct as first given.’”

“That settled it, of course general?”

“Well, no that didn’t settle it. I was ordered to headquarters to report personally to my brigade-commander, just as soon as the aide could go and come.”

“I went, and Gen. Hartsuff, generally cheerful and confiding, asked me somewhat severely, ‘How does it happen, colonel, that while at the very front last night, while all the regimental commanders in this brigade reported, ‘Killed, wounded and missing,’ you report your own command intact?’

“That is so, general.’ I responded.

“But how did it happen?’

“I then quietly said, as near as I remember, with the moon shining on the glistening guns and bayonets to give a mark for the rebs to shoot at, I simply shouted to my boys, ‘Trail arms!’ and they all trailed.

“Gen. Hartsuff, at that, took a step backward, turned round, and with a smile of satisfaction I shall never forget, simply said, ‘Col. Leonard, you did d--- well! I’ve no fault to find!’”

The writer of this is no stranger to the boys of the 13th Massachusetts Regiment. Right from that very battlefield, and almost among the dead and the dying, an old chum, a private in Company D, wrote this to him, just after the battle (the next day); “We got out of it nicely last night. I think if they had seen our bayonets they would have hit us hard, and perhaps I wouldn’t be writing to you now.”

I have always remembered the words of that private soldier, in the days gone by one of my intimate friends. I have always remembered that little circumstance which saved, probably his own and many other lives in that hard battle.

Capt. Shurtleff, who was so unfortunately killed in Col. Leonard’s front, was one of the brainiest young men who went to the war from Boston. Although only 24 at the time of his death he was already an orator, and had in him not only the making of an ordinary man, but, as I remember his speech to Faneuil Hall just before he went to his death, the qualities of a statesman.

He belongs with Shaw and Lowell and Putnam and Winthrop. Let his name, too, be remembered.

I violate no confidence when I state that for at least 10 years the request has stood from me to Gen. Samuel H. Leonard that I should be permitted to write for publication this little item in his military experience.

And he only consented when I found him missing thus: “Twenty-eight years ago today I was reported killed, wounded and missing.”

He is still one of the youngest of our veterans.