OSWEGO IN THE REBELLION
The One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment-Siege of Petersburg-Battles of Weldon Railroad, Peeble's Farm, Hatcher's Run, Hicksford, and Dabney's Mills.
NOW commenced the most arduous and trying service of the war, taxing the temper of the men to the utmost endurance. The Union army, to make any headway, was compelled to hold on to every foot of ground gained, with a death-grip. The front of the line occupied by the One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment was in an open field, about two hundred yards from the enemy's breastworks, which it was expected to build up and defend. No one could expose any part of his person without being hit by the enemy's sharpshooters. Several of the men were shot through the head during the first two or three days. Nothing- could be done at first in the daytime, and the men worked with a will in the night for self-preservation. The sun came down broiling hot in the day, and the men were without shelter, save what could be got by planting boughs, obtained from the neighboring woods in the night. The rear descended to a small stream, then dry ; then ascended an incline, fully exposed to the rebel sharpshooters, consequently no reliefs or communications could be got from the rear, without great risk, in the daytime. Moreover, on the right the Ninth corps occupied a salient angle on a hill within one hundred and twenty-five yards of the enemy's lines. There was constant skirmishing going on in front of that corps the balls, passing over the Ninth corps on the right flank, descended into the depression in the rear of the regiment. Many men were killed and wounded when cooking their food or washing their clothes: there seemed to be no place of safety, no matter how well, apparently, it was sheltered. In a few days, by constant labor through the nights, strong bomb-proofs were built and covered ways constructed, which afforded complete shelter for the men behind the works, and a safe access to the rear. By this time the men were worn out by constant vigils and exposure to the inclement heat. Nearly every man was sick with diarrhoea. There were only one hundred and fifty men fit for duty. The enemy soon procured cohorn mortars, and silently dropped down shells in the midst of the men when they supposed they were safe. That was a game that two could play at. Mortars were procured on our side, and both parties amused each other by an exchange of compliments, which often had tragic endings. Occasionally, when a fine opportunity offered, when more than usual the enemy were off their guard, a shell would be thrown into their midst, and playing havoc by a-timely explosion (scoring one for our side), would raise a shout froth our men which would pass all along the line. For a while this game of ball afforded recreation for both parties, but at length a truce was made against picket-firing and sharpshooting for amusement, except by the Ninth corps, which kept up a constant fire upon the enemy, for the purpose of concealing from them the mining of a rebel fort in its front.
The lines, about one mile to the left, approached still nearer to each other, and the picket-lines were only a few paces apart. The fort erected at the left extremity of the line at this time commanded, by its position on a hill, the enemy's line. Desperate efforts were made by the enemy to drive our forces from it, but without avail.
They called it " Fort Hell," by which name it was afterwards designated. At 4.40 A.M. July 30, the mine in front of the Ninth corps was exploded, blowing up a rebel fort with several hundred men; at the same time the artillery opened all along the line. The Fifth corps took a very small part in this engagement. It kept down the enemy's fire in its immediate front, and awaited orders to join in the assault afterwards.
The assault was to have been made by the colored troops, but a short time before the time set for the springing, of the mine the plan of attack was changed, creating some confusion from want of time for preparation and training the men by the commanders who were to lead the assault. The explosion had made a crater one hundred and fifty feet in length by sixty in width, and twenty-five to thirty feet in depth. The sides were of loose sand, from which projected hug blocks of clay, making a formidable barrier to the advance of the attacking column, Some delay was caused by removing the abatis and clearing away obstacles for the advance of the troops, giving the 'enemy time to recover from the momentary panic caused by the explosion. The troops as they rushed into the opening fall into confusion, and became mixed up, losing their organization. The enemy rallied, and poured in upon them a destructive fire from both flanks, and from the crest of the hill in front beyond. Bat a few troops were able to pass through the critter and deploy so as to protect the flanks.
The enemy were protected by covered ways, and were enabled to advance upon them without molestation from the fire from our old works on either side. The attacking column became wedged in the crater, confused and helpless, unable to advance or retreat. In the mean time the enemy had planted artillery at several points, and gained the range of the crater, and poured a terrible fire upon the helpless miss. Most of the man in the crater were killed and wounded or captured. Thus ended the attempt to capture Petersburg by breaching the works, by springing a mine, and attacking them in the confusion and panic following wing it. Great expectations were based upon its success, and corresponding depression followed its failure. August 18, the Fifth corps moved to the left, taking a circuitous route, and captured the Weldon railroad, at the Yellow House. The Second corps had been sent over to the north side of the James to make a feint.
The enemy had weakened this is point to oppose the Second corps. Two or three attempts had been made previously to capture this road, and they all had come to grief. It was the principal source for supplying the rebel army, and had been defended with great pertinacity. The corps massed in an open field on the side of the road. A rebel battery opened at a distance, and plowed up an adjoining field with solid shot ; no one was hurt. About six A.M. the enemy had discovered the joke, and returned. The corps formed in line of battle, and advanced to meet them. A sharp fight ensued. Captain Huginin was severely wounded. The loss in killed and wounded was considerable, mostly in the Second division. In the evening there came up a drenching rain and flooded the country, it being very flat. The rain continued at intervals throughout the next day. In capturing the road there had been an interval left of about four miles, occupied by a line of pickets.
The country was mostly grown up to a dense thicket of second growth of yellow pine. In the afternoon of the 19th the Fifth corps advanced a strong skirmish-line towards Petersburg, before connecting the line on the right, leaving the gap unclosed. Rebel General Mahone, the bete noir of the Fifth corps, marched through the gap with a large force, in the rear of the skirmish-line, and captured nearly the entire force nearly three thousand men-without firing a shot. They were all armed with Spencer rifles. One brigade, commanded by Colonel Wheelock, faced about, and fought its way back. The enemy came upon the Federal line of battle without warning. The centre of the line, being surprised, gave way, and fled in confusion. The disaster for a time seemed irreparable. The Second brigade, Colonel Hofmann commanding, occupied the extreme left of the line in an open field, and was cut off. It was ordered to fall back. The officer on Colonel Hofmann's staff had to pass over a long space swept by the enemy's bullets to give the order. He reached the regiment on the right, and gave the order, and told the colonel of the regiment to pass it down the line, and then returned. The order was not promulgated to the other regiments. The regiment that received the order fell back, leaving the remainder of the brigade on the field. General Warren, seeing from a distance the three regiments of the brigade, supposing them to be the enemy, ordered a battery to open upon them. The brigade was successfully repelling the enemy when the battery sent a shower of shells into its midst. They were receiving a fire from friend and foe, and were for a while obliged to dodge from one side of the breastworks to the other for protection. The mistake was soon discovered, and the captain of the battery was ordered to desist firing. The brigade held to its position, and repulsed the enemy in its front. About this time the Fifth corps was reinforced by a division of the Ninth corps under General Wilcox, and the enemy were driven back.
The possession of the railroad was maintained in consequence of the failure of the staff officer to give the order to the whole brigade to retire, and the determined bravery of a the brigade in holding to its position when receiving a fire from the front and rear. Lieutenant- Colonel Harney was slightly wounded by a fragment of one of our shells. Several of the men of the One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment were killed and wounded by the shells from our battery. General Warren, fearing another attack from the enemy, in order to drive him from the railroad, as the road was almost a vital necessity to them, immediately commenced to rearrange and strengthen his lines. He was a very able engineer officer. He superintended the construction of the works in person, at times using the spade to encourage the men. The corps worked day and night to prepare for another attack. August 21 the enemy made another attack. They expected, from the knowledge gained of our position in the previous attack, to win an easy victory, but in the mean time the position of' the works had been materially altered and strengthened. They were easily repulsed, this time with terrible slaughter, and with slight loss to the Fifth corps. The attack fell almost wholly on the First division.
An incident occurred during this battle illustrating the reckless daring of some of our officers. The attack in front had been terribly repulsed, and all fighting had ceased, when a rebel brigade emerged from some woods on the left flank and rear of the First division, within short range of our troops. They had arrived on the field too late. Captain Daily, on General Cutler's staff, took in the situation, and rode alone down in the midst of them, snatched away the brigade colors from the color-bearer, and demanded a surrender of the brigade. General Haywood, the rebel commander, being dismounted at the time, walked up to Captain Daily and shot him through the lung. As Captain Daily fell from the saddle, General Haywood leaped into it, and ordered his brigade to face about and retreat. Up to this time there had been no firing from either side. The division, seeing Captain Daily with the colors, supposed the brigade had surrendered.
When General Haywood shot Captain Daily the division opened upon them a destructive fire. One?half of the brigade was killed or wounded. Captain Daily was found behind a stump, where be had crept for shelter from our bullets. His horse was found wounded. General Haywood had got off wounded. A Charleston paper soon after contained an account of a personal encounter of General Haywood with a Yankee officer in this battle, in which General Haywood by his prowess had slain the officer and come off victorious.
The dead and wounded of the enemy lay thick before our breastworks; many battle-flags and other trophies were picked up on the field. Our hospitals were filled with their wounded, many of them riddled with bullets, showing the destructiveness of our fire. The men were greatly elated and inspirited over this easy victory. The conditions of the fight had been reversed. Since the battle of the Wilderness the enemy had acted on the defensive, and had fought mostly behind breastworks, and had our army to a great advantage.
In the Wisconsin brigade there were several wild Indians from the plains; many of them could not speak English. They served an excellent purpose as irregular troops, as scouts and skirmishers. The nature of the country afforded an excellent field for their mode of warfare. With characteristic cunning, they would creep upon the enemy's picket- or skirmish-line, like a snake, or ascend trees, and conceal themselves among the branches. In one of the engagements many of them were wounded, and taken to hospital. They silently, with frightened looks, watched the surgeons as they placed the wounded on the operating-table, made them insensible with chloroform, and probed and examined their wounds or cut off their limbs.
When it came to their turn to be examined, they were seized with a great fear lest they should be dismembered of their limbs. Their untutored minds could not be persuaded that it was for their good, and the surgeons meant them no harm. They looked upon it all as a species of torture. Many of them who were seriously wounded had to be left to nature, unaided, to cure their wounds.
One time Lieutenant-Colonel Harney had command of the skirmish-line when a rebel was captured. Lieutenant-Colonel Harney gave him in charge of one of these Indians, and instructed him to take the prisoner to the rear, and deliver him to the provost-guard. In a very short time the Indian returned to the front. Lieutenant-Colonel Harney asked him what be had done with his prisoner, and was horrified at hearing the reply, " Oh, me shoot him." He had taken him a short distance in the thicket and shot him. He could not understand why so much pains should be taken with a prisoner, after incurring so much trouble and danger in capturing him.
In a few days alter the battle the lines were strongly fortified, and extended beyond the Weldon railroad. The siege of Petersburg was slowly progressing, every foot of ground gained was so strengthened as to be defended with a small force. In September, another feint was made across the James river, and the Fifth corps made an attack on the enemy's line, half a mile to the left, capturing by surprise two strong forts newly built. Towards nightfall the enemy returned. The Second brigade, under Colonel Hofmann, was marched about half a mile in front, through a belt of timber, and encamped for the night. At early dawn the next morning the enemy discovered the exposed position of the brigade, and opened an enfilading fire upon it. Before the brigade could get under arms, and gain a defensive position it was thrown into disorder, notwithstanding the coolness of Colonel Hofmann, whose voice rang clear and distinct above the din of the bursting shells and the roar of musketry. The brigade retired in some disorder behind the forts captured on the day previous. The remainder of the corps was waiting to receive them, and the enemy were quickly repulsed. The brigade was sent forward for a decoy to draw the enemy into the works, a foolish and needless sacrifice of men. This was called the battle of Peeble's Farm. Again several weeks were spent in fortifying and extending the lines, gradually closing in upon the enemy. About the middle of October, another gee-saw movement was made. Three corps, the 'Second, Fifth, and Ninth, advanced three miles to the left, to get possession of the South Side railroad, the last line of communication leading to Petersburg, excepting the railroad connecting Petersburg with Richmond. The Fifth and Ninth corps marched to the right and formed on Hatcher's run, the Ninth corps to the right, the Fifth corps to the left of the run. The Second corps took a detour to the left and was to join the Fifth corps on its left. The Second corps met with considerable opposition from the enemy in endeavoring to get into position, and did not succeed in forming a junction with the Fifth corps, there being an interval of nearly a mile between them. The country was grown up to a dense thicket, the surface was uneven, and as difficult to manoeuvre an army in as the Wilderness.
The maps which were used by our generals as guides were imperfect and. misleading. Hatcher's ran is a very tortuous stream. General Warren was ordered to keep his right on the stream. The two corps, Fifth and Ninth, formed into line of battle, without waiting for the Second corps to come up and join the Fifth corps on the left. The One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment was detailed to act as flankers on the left, to guard the Fifth corps against surprise. The duty of flankers is to march by the flank, or in column, within sight of the main army, to guard it against surprise. The thicket was so dense that objects but a short distance off could not be seen. The direction of the line of battle of the Fifth corps was soon deflected to the right, in order to follow the turning of the stream, The One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment soon lost sight of the main line, and continued its march in a straight course into the gap between the Second and Fifth corps, diverging more and more from the line of battle as it marched; it soon become lost. After a while a staff-officer, after a long search, came with an order to Lieutenant-Colonel Harney, directing him to advance with the regiment and find the right of the Second corps, and picket the interspace between the two corps. Lieutenant-Colonel Harney, ever cautious to guard against surprise or sudden disaster, rode in front with an orderly, to examine the ground; when the regiment came up halted it until he examined farther on. The regiment kept on in this way until the left of the Fifth corps was found. Lieutenant-Colonel Harney then rode off to find the right of the Second corps. Soon after, a deafening roar of musketry was heard from the direction towards which he had but a few minutes before disappeared.
The enemy soon poured into the gap. They attacked the Second corps in front and on the flank at the same time, overwhelming it and forcing it back. The One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment made a hasty retreat and got off without loss, save the great one of losing Lieutenant-Colonel Harney. He was not again seen by the regiment until it was on its return from Appomattox Court-House after General Lee surrendered. He had saved the regiment from capture, and probably from a great loss in killed and wounded, by his timely caution. It was not known during many months whether he was killed or captured, and his loss was mourned by the regiment more than all of its previous misfortunes. The whole army fell back when the Second corps was forced to retire, and encamped near Hatcher's Run. Early the next morning it resumed its retreat and returned to its old quarters in the intrenched camp.
Many incidents occurred of an amusing nature during the stay in the dense woods. Rebel General Mahone, the bugbear of the Fifth corps, found, as was his wont, the weak point in our line, and it was his division which came into the gap. In the attack on the Second corps his troops became much broken up into squads, which became lost in the woods. They wandered aimlessly around, and often met similar squads of our own troops lost in the same manner. They would demand of each other a surrender, a brief parley would be bad, and it was decided that the weaker in numbers should surrender to the stronger, upon the democratic principle that the stronger should rule. At length they would run upon another squad, there would be another counting of noses, and perhaps a reconsideration of the former vote, the stronger always carrying the day. But in the retreat the gap was closed by the two corps uniting, and all the lost squads of the enemy were captured and brought out as prisoners. There were between seven and eight hundred of them. No new move was made until December.
It was discovered that the enemy had established a line of communications connecting the Weldon railroad, about twenty miles below or south of our lines, with the same railroad within the enemy's lines, near Petersburg, by the Boynton plank-road. The fifth corps was ordered on a raid down to the North Carolina line, to destroy the Weldon railroad and break up the communication. The corps crossed the Nottoway river, about twenty miles south of Petersburg, and there cut loose from all communications. The weather was very warm for the season. It seemed very much like getting out on a pleasure excursion. The rights of property with the inhabitants were scrupulously respected. The first day the troops marched till late in the night. The moon shone with unusual splendor; there was not a fleck of a cloud to be seen. The weather was so warm and the air so balmy that the officers did not have their tents put up, but laid them on the ground to sleep on. Late in the night there came a sudden down-pour; the officers awoke with the rushing of waters under them, which nearly floated them off. The next day, about noon, there came a dash of the enemy's cavalry, throwing the head of the column into temporary confusion. The division was then commanded by General Crawford, and had the advance.
The troops were as soon as possible deployed across the road and in adjoining fields to repel the cavalry, on account of the suddenness of the attack. There were conflicting orders, and the enemy's cavalry got off without much loss. As soon as they saw that they were charging upon a line of infantry they turned and fled. General Warren, hasty and passionate, upbraided some of his officers for allowing them to escape. The Federal cavalry were supposed to be in advance. The inhabitants in the country had stored in their cellars plenty of cider-brandy, or apple-jack. Our cavalry had on the road stopped at the houses and partaken freely of the fiery beverage, and were nearly all lying intoxicated along the road.
Towards evening the Weldon railroad was reached; then commenced its destruction. A brigade was marched along the side of the railroad track and halted. A break was made in the track at one end of the brigade. The track was then pried up at that end with ties, and turned nearly over bodily. After once started, the process of lifting one side of the track from the bed and turning it over became a very easy matter. Miles of track, with its ties attached intact, were, in a very short time, turned over from the bed, leaving the ties on top of the rails. It was then an easy matter to wrench the ties from the rails and pile them up into heaps and set fire to them. The rails were placed across the burning piles of ties, which soon became heated in the middle, and the weight of the ends bent them in the shape of a bow. A rail of railroad iron, when once subjected to this process, can never again be restored. By the evening of the next day nearly twenty-five miles of the Weldon railroad was completely destroyed.
At Hicksford, on the Meherrin river, the enemy confronted the Fifth corps with a superior force. A sharp skirmish was had at that place, and the corps set out on its return, the object of the expedition having been accomplished. In the night of the commencement of the retreat there came up a sleety storm ; in the morning the branches of the trees were crusted over with ice. Then set in a cold, drizzling rain. The enemy pursued, and their cavalry annoyed the rear exceedingly. The Federal cavalry, that should have protected the retreat, were demoralized and fled, mixing in with the infantry along the column General Crawford, ambitious for the post of honor, had the rear division, and the Second brigade was perpetually pestered by sudden eruptions of the enemy's cavalry from by-paths or openings in the woods. They were easily driven off, but kept the men in a state of irritation and alarm.
Whenever there was a good defensive position the army halted and awaited attack from the enemy; but the enemy was wary, and was not to be induced to attack when the advantage of position was in our favor; they contented the selves by throwing a few shells after us, which did us no harm. In the evening of the second day of the retreat, weary from a long and toilsome march through deep mud, and drenched by a cold, drizzling rain, the men were inspirited by an opportunity to get even with the enemy's cavalry, which had been annoying and pestering the rear throughout the day.
A trap was set for them. General Wheelock's brigade had the rear. Passing a ravine and through a deep cut in the hill opposite, which the rains had washed out, and left high banks on each side of the road, overgrown with dense thicket, the general arranged his plan. Placing a regiment on each side, on the brows of the cut, he instructed them that when the enemy were in the cut, to close in upon them and capture them without firing upon them if they could. After arranging the men out of sight of the enemy, be instructed the pioneers to pretend to be busy in tearing up the bridge across the stream, and when the enemy came in sight to retreat hastily through the cut, and entice them into the trap.
The enemy's cavalry came and made a dash at the pioneers, who hastily retreated. When the enemy's cavalry dashed into the cut, both regiments rose up and poured, a volley into them, killed and wounded many of them, and captured the remainder. The men could not be restrained from firing, they were so much incensed and irritated by the annoyance they had suffered all that day. In their eagerness, some of them overshot the mark, and wounded two or three of their own men on the opposite banks, by their own fire. The enemy pursued no farther. The next day the corps recrossed the Nottoway river and encamped on the north bank of the stream, in the woods; the weather had become very cold and the wind blew a gale; the wood was saturated by recent rains, and there the men remained through the night, shivering over the smoky, smoldering fires. The next day the cold increased in severity. The men were exhausted by previous hardships and benumbed with cold. Many a poor soldier had fallen by the way and had to be urged on by the provost guard, occasionally at the point of the bayonet, to prevent his falling behind and being captured by the enemy. At the Nottoway, going down, the corps had cut loose from all communications. On its return it met a friendly force sent down to meet it, but there was no occasion, as the corps had got safely back. It had accomplished its object with a slight loss; but its hardships were great, more from the inclement weather than from the encounters with the enemy. On the way down rights of property of the inhabitants were scrupulously respected. On the way back, every house, barn, church, and corn-crib was burned.
The retreat of the army could be traced for miles by the smoke rising from the burning buildings. Families of helpless women and children were turned out in the cold at the commencement of winter. The able-bodied male population was all in the rebel army. The writer went into a house that seemed to be deserted at first by its inmates. It was filled with Union soldiers, who were ransacking the house. The brave General Wheelock was there, endeavoring to restrain them, but without much avail. Passing into a back room, there was found a poor woman with four or five small children cowering around her, cling-ing to her skirts; she with mute appeal looked imploringly for protection. The soldiers were driven out of the house, but upon looking back after the march was resumed, the flames were seen bursting out of the house. The occasion for this vandalism was that on the way down several of the Union men gave out on the way, or 'had straggled; on their way back they were found dead, stripped naked, and horribly mutilated.
Upon the return the regiment went into winter encampment, and but little was done, save strengthening the lines, until February 6, 1865.
The following promotions took place during the last year of the war:
Coey was promoted to the lieutenant-colonel, November 15, 1864; Alexander
Penfield was promoted to the majority, November 15, 1864.
During the fall and winter of 1864-65, General Grant, with grim humor, often greeted the enemy with shotted salutes upon the receipt of the news of important victories, such as the battle of Cedar Creek, the capture of Fort Fisher, and General Sherman's successes in the south. The time chosen was generally about dusk, when all was quiet along the lines. Suddenly the heavens were lighted up by the discharge of hundreds of cannon, and the course of the projectiles could be traced, followed by the explosion of shells as they descended into the enemy's lines. The enemy would spitefully return the salute by the time ours was over. The enemy were not long in discovering its object. Their papers complained bitterly, giving General Grant all sorts of hard names for what they pretended to consider his " brutal humor." It had a very demoralizing effect upon the enemy, as they soon learned that each salute was occasioned by some fresh disaster to their cause.
There were signs of demoralization and breaking up of the Confederacy, deserters were constantly coming in from their lines; but our ranks had been largely filled with mercenaries, or bounty-jumpers, who availed themselves of every opportunity to escape, and often, in battle, would lie down and submit to capture without resistance. To these General Lee issued a proclamation offering them safe-conduct by blockade-runners , or through distant parts of the lines, home.
The Fifth corps broke camp February 5, and marched to near Dinwiddie Court?House, and encamped for the night. About dark a heavy cannonading was heard in the rear, and the order came for the corps to get into marching The corps was marched back a short distance, and halted in an open field; the wind was blowing a gale, and the weather cold. The men were told that they might lie down and get some sleep. It remained there a few hours, and then resumed the march ; at sunrise the corps was halted at the crossing of Hatcher's Run. The Second corps was busy throwing up breastworks. The corps remained until about four P.M.; then it was formed into line of battle, and advanced upon the enemy. The Second brigade was commanded by General Morrow, formerly colonel of the Twenty-fourth Michigan Regiment. The Second brigade drove the enemy, and gained a position in advance of the line. It held it against several assaults of the enemy until out of ammunition. The regiment had protected itself by placing in front an abatis of tree?tops and limbs. When out of ammunition, General Morrow still strove to maintain the place, hoping relief would come soon. The enemy had come up and were removing the abatis before a retreat was ordered. The brigade was driven back, and lost all it had gained.
The loss of the regiment in this battle was great. Lieutenant-Colonel Coey, commanding the regiment, was shot through the face, and it was supposed he had received a mortal wound. Lieutenant Wybourn was shot through the ankle, and had his leg amputated; Lieutenant Bristol was killed; Lieutenant Berry was captured; Captain Joseph Dempsey was wounded in the arm; General Morrow was shot in the side.
The Fifth corps was driven back to the breastworks that night. Scant provision had been made to shelter the wounded in case of a battle ; but few of the hospital tents had been brought up, and what there were were filled with wounded, and many wounded were placed outside in the open air; fires were built around them to keep them from freezing.
In the night came on a sleety storm, covering everything with ice. About two A.M. February 7 the wounded were all got into the ambulances and sent to City Point. That day was a cold rainy day. There was constant skirmishing with the enemy, at times amounting to a real battle. The regiment occupied a swamp, and had no shelter. The men who were wounded soon became stiffened with cold, and by the time they reached the hospital were pulseless. The fighting continued through the night of the 7th. The morning of the 8th broke clear and cold. The men, when they left camp on the 5th, were not allowed to cumber themselves with more than one blanket apiece. Their sufferings from exposure were great. On the 8th they were allowed to return to the old camp and get their tents and blankets. This battle enabled the army to extend its lines two miles, which were strengthened with strong defensive works. The regiment again went into winter quarters near the place where it had fought so persistently and bravely.
It erected new huts and had a season of rest. In the morning of March 25, before daylight, a terrible roar of artillery was heard towards the right. The Fifth corps was immediately got under arms and marched towards the scene of conflict. By the time it got on the ground the battle was over. The enemy had captured Fort Steadman by surprising the picket-line in its front. Deserters from the enemy were in the habit of coming in in the night, Squads of men, first announcing themselves as deserters to lull suspicion, dashed upon the pickets and overpowered them. Immediately five thousand of the enemy rushed on the fort and surprised it. The fort was garrisoned by a raw Pennsylvania regiment. The men were soundly sleeping in their huts or tents. The enemy woke them up with the points of their bayonets, though in a playful manner. The Pennsylvanians had full haversacks and knapsacks. The enemy, half starved, made a raid upon the larder, and searched the haversacks and knapsacks for food. All control over them by their officers was lost; no threats or entreaty availed to restore order out of their demoralized condition. Daylight found them still in the fort, which was commanded by a Federal fort on each side. They were to advance on the military railroad, capture it, and cut off all of our army on the left. But the enemy thought, if he thought anything, that he could fight better on a full stomach, and tarried too long to fill it. The two forts poured into them a destructive fire of shot and shell, and they were all captured. The enemy assaulted our lines in front of the Second corps. The Second brigade suffered severely. All that day there was mischief in the air, and the Second division of the Fifth corps was moved about from point to point to be in readiness to take part in it.
In the afternoon the division was reviewed by President Lincoln. During the review heavy firing commenced in front, and the division marched from the review direct to the scene of action, but by the time it got there all was quiet again ; then it returned to its camp.
The following were killed or died in hospitals from June 19, 1864, to the end of the war:
John S. Kippen, corporal, Co. B, February 6, battle of Hatcher's Run;
OSWEGO IN THE REBELLION.
The One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment-Battles of Gravelly Run, Five Forks, and Appomattox Court-House.
IN the morning of March 29 the Fifth corps broke camp to set out on the last campaign of the war. It was joined with General Sheridan's command, under the direction of General Sheridan. General Sheridan had, with a large cavalry force, set out farther to the left to make a long detour, to get around the enemy's right. During the first day, near sunset, the Fifth corps came upon the enemy and had a sharp engagement. The One Hundred and Forty seventh Regiment, at Hatcher's Run, on the 6th of February, had lost its field and staff officers, and the command was given to Colonel Daily, of Weldon Railroad renown. Colonel Laycock commanded the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania. They were two kindred spirits. These two regiments were ordered to charge and take the Boynton plank-road, which was on a ridge in their front. Each colonel seized the colors of his respective regiment and led the charge in person. It was a rivalry between the two which should plant the colors on the ridge first. The charge was made with a great flourish and noise, the men fully entering into the spirit of the rivalry. The enemy fired a volley into the two regiments and fled precipitately.
During the night it commenced to rain; the rain continued steadily till the 31st of March. The soil is of quicksand and clay, and moistens up to a great depth. The entire transportation of the army was stuck fast. The roads had to be corduroyed; in some places the first layer of logs sank out of sight, and a second layer had to be put on top of the first before the trains could be moved. The Fifth corps was groping its way through dense thickets and swamps, endeavoring to get possession of the White Oak road and join its left to Sheridan's cavalry. In the morning of the 31st the enemy massed a large force on the left of the Fifth corps when it was groping its way bewildered in the swamps and woods. They made a furious attack, sweeping down the line, doubling up brigade after brigade, until two divisions of the corps were disorganized and the woods filled with retreating soldiers, with all semblance of organization lost. The left had been driven in two miles, to a swale, where was posted the Wisconsin brigade in reserve. This brigade checked the pursuit of the enemy. It met the enemy in a hand-to-hand encounter. One of the enemy attempted to seize the colors of a Wisconsin regiment from the hands of a stalwart standard-bearer.
The standard-bearer seized a musket and brained him on the spot. He was afterwards rewarded by a medal by the State of Wisconsin for his gallantry. After the enemy was repulsed he turned around and attacked General Sheridan. General Sheridan was driven back three or four miles near Dinwiddie Court-House, but be retreated in good order, and finally held the enemy at bay. The loss of the regiment in this encounter was very severe. Colonel Daily received a painful wound in the hand.
BATTLE OF FIVE FORKS.
When General Sheridan had drawn the enemy back, and was holding him at bay, be sent an order to General Warren to march the Fifth corps up to the rear of the enemy and cut off his retreat, and capture the whole force ; but the Fifth corps was so much scattered that it could not be got together in time. On the night of the 31st two divisions of the Fifth corps advanced to join General Sheridan, but the entire corps did not get up and into position until about four P.M. By that time the enemy had partially fallen back. The corps was formed so as to swing around and intercept the enemy's retreat, and capture five thousand of them. The cavalry and Fifth corps pursued the enemy over their works to Southerland station on the South Side railroad; there they tried to rally and make a stand, but were soon driven from their position. The enemy were broken and demoralized. The pursuit was continued along in the night, and many of their trains were captured. The pursuit was so close that the enemy were not enabled to cross the Appomattox to join General Lee. After the battle of Five Forks was over, General Sheridan relieved General Warren from his command on the field. The pursuit was continued, giving the enemy no rest, night nor day, until April 4, when the army arrived at Jetersville, five or six miles from Buck's Station. Sheridan's cavalry and the Fifth corps were now across the track of General Lee's army, intercepting its retreat into North Carolina. During the night of April 1 a terrible cannonading was heard towards Petersburg. On the morning of the 2d an assault was made on the enemy's works all along the line. General Lee had weakened the force in the defenses to strengthen his right to oppose General Sheridan and the Fifth corps. The works were soon carried. The principal resistance was met in one fort garrisoned with two hundred and fifty rebels. It was captured with a loss of five hundred men in killed and wounded. Only about thirty of the enemy escaped. The force which General Lee depended upon for the salvation of his army was broken and scattered by General Sheridan's cavalry and the Fifth corps. General Lee collected the remnants of his army, and in the night of the 2d evacuated Richmond, burning the bridges behind him, and blowing up the magazines on the whole line of his defenses. Anarchy and destruction ran riot during the evacuation and the final breaking up of the Confederacy. The business part of Richmond, consisting of magnificent warehouses, was laid in ashes. The Confederate archives were partly burned and partly scattered about the streets. The inhabitants were kept in a constant state of consternation and alarm, fearing alike the uncontrolled license of their own rabble and the entrance of the Federal army. Many of them gathered up hastily what they could of their valuables, and fled with their retreating army. It was to them like the breaking of doom. By the time that General Lee had arrived at Amelia Court-House, on the Danville railroad, General Sheridan's cavalry and the Fifth corps were across his track, intercepting further retreat, at Jetersville, about four miles in his front. General Sheridan expected an attack from the desperate enemy before the remainder of the Federal army could come up in their rear. His scouts, dressed in rebel uniform, were scouring the whole country, misleading their bagage-trains, which were endeavoring to get off on by-roads. Some of them were led into our lines by these pretended friends and captured ; others were pounced upon by Sheridan's cavalry, which seemed to them omnipresent, and burned. One train, two or three miles distant, was surprised by the Twenty-fourth Regiment New York Cavalry, with some other cavalry troops, and was pillaged and burned. The rebel cavalry, under General Lee, came upon them, and a desperate fight ensued, in which Lieutenant-Colonel Richards, of Parish, was killed. The smoke arising from the burning train, and the explosions from the powder and ordnance-wagons, could be distinctly seen at Jetersville. General Sheridan remained at Jetersville, awaiting attack, until the remainder of the Union army began to press General Lee in the rear. April 6, General Lee commenced his retreat towards Lynchburg. Then a hot pursuit commenced. The Fifth corps, under the command of General Griffin, pursued on the right flank, its column keeping pace with the fleeing rebel army. The Second corps pursued in the immediate rear, and crowded so closely upon the enemy's heels that he was forced at times to deploy the rear-guard into line of battle to keep it back. In the mean time the flanking columns made it necessary for them to keep moving on to prevent being wholly surrounded, and having their retreat cut off. General Gordon's division was nearly all destroyed or captured. April 6 the enemy, with its shattered forces, succeeded in crossing High bridge, and partially destroyed it. General Ewell's corps made a stand across Sailor's creek, near Farmville. The enemy occupied a strong position, protected in front by a swale and the creek. In attacking this position, two or three Pennsylvania regiments, endeavoring to cross the swale, were nearly annihilated. At length General Custer's cavalry gained a position in the enemy's rear. In a magnificent charge, it came sweeping down upon them, and captured nearly the whole corps, with General Ewell. This is commonly called the battle of Farmville. Our losses were very great, principally confined to the Pennsylvania regiments. The pursuit continued through the 8th, and until the morning of the 9th, when the Fifth corps, after marching continuously through the 8th, and in the night, till two A.M. of the 9th, cut off further retreat of the enemy at Appomattox Court-House. Early in the morning of the 9th heavy firing was heard in our front. The Fifth corps immediately got under arms and advanced. It soon came upon the enemy driving the cavalry before them; a brief fight ensued, and a rebel brigade was cut off and captured. It was the last effort of General Lee's army to escape. It was completely hemmed in on three sides by our forces; on the other side was an impenetrable swamp. As the Fifth corps advanced to a high ridge, the whole rebel army came into view, exposing their weak position. They were encamped across a valley on the side of the opposite ridge. Overtures for surrender had already been made, and a conference of the opposing generals was in progress. There was a truce to all further fighting. The elation of the army can better be imagined than described. All the toils and the dangers of the weary and famished soldiers were over. The demonstration of their joy was expressed in one hearty and prolonged cheer, extending throughout the lines, and then subsided into perfect stillness. They respected the bravery of the fallen foe, who had met them in many a terrible battle?field, and now lay helpless at their feet, There was not the disposition to gibe and jeer them which was common after their discomfitures in other engagements on the pursuit. The enemy were cowed and humiliated, and showed none of the arrogance universal with them before in any of their misfortunes. Their spirit was completely broken.
The hardships of the pursuit had been terribly severe upon our men. They had to follow in the wake of the retreating enemy, over roads trampled into a thick mud of the consistence of a mortar?bed. The roads were lined with dead mules, given out on the way, festering in the hot sun, giving out a stench that was intolerable. The supply-trains were far in the rear, and during days the famished soldiers would pick up the corn left by the feeding mules to stay their famished stomachs. Nothing but the elation of victory, and a sure prospect of destroying or capturing the rebel army, could have kept them up on the pursuit. There was much less straggling than usual in our rear in this pursuit. In the evening of the 8th, General Sheridan, in the advance of the enemy, captured a rebel supply-train of provisions coming from Lynchburg for the relief of the rebel army. This was like manna sent from heaven to our famished soldiers, and starvation or surrender to the starving rebels. It was the last straw that broke the camel's back.
One great feature in this campaign, and which greatly contributed to its final success, was the daring and ubiquityof General Sheridan's scouts.
They were dressed in the rebel uniform, with long Shanghai gray coats. They presented a unique appearance. They were constantly coming and going through the lines, and sometimes ran great risk of being shot by our pickets as rebels. They were gay, bold riders, and delighted in their duties. There was a spice of adventure in that sort of service which made it peculiarly attractive to them. Out of many hundreds of them, the writer was told that only two had got caught, but they were given a short shrift, and immediately hung up. They claimed it was the least dangerous of all the branches of the service. They had the complete style and reckless abandon of the Confederate cavalier, and the peculiar accent of the Southerner. As the regiment was passing two or three hundred of captured rebels, near Southerland station, the men, as usual, commenced bantering them: "Ah, Johnny! you have got enough of it, have you ? Pretty hot work now, and poor feed, and about time to quit. Getting tired of it. Eh, Johnny ?" One of them thinking that it was an imputation upon their courage and constancy to the rebel cause, replied, "By golly! you wouldn't have got us if it wasn't for one of your fellers dressed in our clothes. He misled us when we were lost, and trying to find our way into our lines. He told us that he was sent to find us, and show us where to go, but led us right into your lines, and we were captured. We'll fix him if we ever catch him again."
That same night a rebel wagon-train was captured by one of these scouts, who told the conductor of the train that he was ordered to show him where lie was to park his train for the night. He led the train into our lines, and it was captured.
These scouts were everywhere in the rebel army. They pointed out the places where some rebel cannon were buried, with tablets put up, with some names inscribed on them, representing them to be soldiers' graves. They had assisted the enemy to bury them. The pursuit had been so close that the rebel army had become demoralized, and nearly scattered, leaving a remnant only at the capture. The country was filled with rebel soldiers wandering aimlessly about.
Out of about forty-five thousand at Amelia Court-House only twenty-two thousand had reached Appomattox Court House, and of that number only eleven thousand had muskets.
OSWEGO IN THE REBELLION.
Return of the One Hundred and Forty-seventh Regiment to the Defenses at Washington, and its final Muster-Out.
THE First division remained two days to rest and receive supplies. It then returned to Burk's Station. The condition of the roads beggars description. Bridges were destroyed, and the baggage-trains had great difficulty in crossing the streams.
At Farmville the news came of the assassination of President Lincoln. The inhabitants were in great fear lest the soldiers would wreak vengeance upon them. They hastened to express their horror for the deed, and showed regret and sympathy for the great loss to the country. They said they feared Andrew Johnson much more than they did President Lincoln, whom they had begun to look upon as their friend. They feared their liberated slaves, who were roaming about the country, and clamored for protection from our army, but they feared more their disbanded and straggling defenders, released from all restraint and discipline. Their great anxiety was to know " what was going to be done with them," as they were now conquered.
They were amazed and delighted with the generous terms of surrender granted by General Grant. After the surrender, General Crawford, with his staff, rode into the rebel camp to call on his former old army friends, who had been fighting for the Confederacy. General Longstreet told him that he had fought to the last ditch, and expected no terms but an unconditional surrender, and that he should be hung, for treason. The most of them greeted the general very cordially, but occasionally there was one whose rebel spirit was still strong within him, and would answer his salutation with a scowl, and turn his back upon him. From Burksville the regiment returned by short marches to Manchester, opposite to Richmond, passing through Petersburg on its way. The men gave themselves up to joy and frolic on the way, and discipline was very much relaxed. The poor liberated contraband contributed more than his share to the amusement of the troops. Tossing him up in blankets, and blowing him up by mined crackerboxes, when be came into the camp for food, were the daily sport of the men, but they always rewarded him well afterwards for the entertainment.
The regiment remained at Manchester two or three days, and visited the stronghold of the Confederacy, the objective point of three immense armies, and to capture which had cost the country hundreds of thousands of men and an incredible amount of treasure. Libby prison, Castle Thunder, and Belle Isle were objects of interest and places of historical celebrity.
The notorious Dick Turner, shut up in the dungeon-cell under Libby, and fed on bread and water until his complexion became bleached and eyes watery, had frequent calls from some of his old acquaintances, whose relative conditions were now reversed. He was very cautious in coming to the door of his cell when called for by his former victims; some of them had endeavored to retaliate upon him part of the punishment be had inflicted upon them. In the month of May the regiment marched from Richmond to the southern defenses of Washington. On its way from Appomattox Court-House it was joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Harney, Colonel Miller, and Adjutant Lyman, who had been liberated from the rebel prisons by the march of General Sherman from Savannah north; also by Lieutenant-Colonel Coey, who had partially recovered from the frightful wound received at Dabney's Mills ; and Captain Wybourn, who lost a leg at the same place. The regiment was then mustered out of the United States service, June 7, 1865, and started on its way for the north a day or two after. At Baltimore it was assigned two or three box-cars, fitted up with seats constructed out of rough boards loosely put together, affording insufficient room and no possibility of reclining for sleep in the night, on their long journey home. The ears were excessively dirty, having been used formerly for a miscellaneous kind of transportation. The men became indignant at their treatment by the railroad company, which was receiving sufficient compensation from the government to afford them first-class passage. They were to go by Harrisburg and Elmira. A demand was made by Colonel Miller for better cars, on the be superintendent of the road, which was refused; he then demanded more cars, so that the men could ride more comfortably; that also was refused. The men could no longer be restrained. They forcibly took possession of two more cars and attached them to the train. A riot was with difficulty prevented. There were one or two other regiments in the same predicament.
The regiment was two days and nights going from Baltimore to Elmira. It was switched off on a side-track for the passage of every passenger and freight train that come along, as if it contained cattle or swine instead of the brave defenders of the country, who had bravely fought in a hundred battles.
The railroad company had been pampered throughout the war by the government. It unfortunately was managed by corrupt politicians and lobbyists, who did not scruple to profit by the misfortunes of the country and the blood of its brave defenders. When the regiment arrived at Elmira it was warmly greeted by the citizens of the place, and the irritation caused by its treatment at the hands of the Pennsylvania road soon subsided. The. Erie railroad, contrary to the practice of the Pennsylvania road, fitted out an elegant special train to take the regiment to Ithaca. The weary men reposed on the luxurious seats of the cars, an enjoyment no one could fully appreciate who had not passed through weary marshes and bivouacs in rain and mud, often disturbed by the enemy's cannon, during nearly three years. At Ithaca it was transferred to an elegant boat on Seneca lake, and enjoyed a luxurious ride upon its clear waters, bordered with abrupt banks, crowned with trees which were reflected in the pellucid depths of the lake. It was a beautiful clear day. The surrounding country, diversified with woodland and growing field, with farm-houses nestled in embowering shades, presented a picture of peace and happiness that the men had been a long time strangers to. Arriving at Geneva, the regiment was again met by a deputation of grateful citizens, who had made elaborate preparations for its reception.
A special train was soon got in readiness to take the regiment on another stage on its journey home. It arrived in Syracuse in the night, its place of rendezvous. It then went into encampment, and remained several days awaiting its final muster-out and disbandment as a regimental organization. July 7, the regiment was mustered out of the State service, and returned to Oswego. It was there greeted with firing of cannon and other demonstrations of joy. An elaborate collation was in readiness at one of the public balls of the city, graced with a profusion of beautiful flowers. The fair daughters served the bronzed and " battle-scarred veterans" the delicacies of the groaning tables, who with modest demeanor accepted the proffered service with unfeigned embarrassment. They were much more accustomed to storming batteries than meeting the glances of the fair sex. Out of the eight hundred and thirty-seven enlisted men who had left Oswego September 27, 1862, only one hundred and forty-seven had returned; several of them were crippled or maimed for life. Its ranks had been filled several times during the war. The recruits, what were left of them at the time of the, muster-out of the regiment in Washington, were transferred to other regiments. There were on the muster-rolls of the regiment nearly two thousand three hundred men.
Mrs. Spencer possessed the true missionary spirit, with superabundant energy for its constant employment. The war furnished an excellent field for its exercise. She set out with the One Hundred and Forty -seventh Regiment New York Volunteers, as matron and nurse in the hospital department. She persuaded her husband, R. H. Spencer, to enlist in the ranks. He was mostly occupied with her as hospital attendant. They remained with the regiment, in the defenses of Washington, until it was ordered to the front, at Falmouth. They were left behind to care for the sick who were left in the hospitals in Washington. January 12, 1863, they joined the regiment at Belle Plain. The sick at that time were suffering very much from the want of delicacies of diet and comforts of bedding, which could not be obtained from the purveyor's stores at Aquia Creek. The frequency of desertions, and smuggling contraband stores into the army, had necessitated stringent regulations in all communications to and from the front. Mrs. Spencer gathered a large amount of stores from the Sanitary and Christian Commissions.
It was necessary to apply to Colonel Rucker, the head of the transportation bureau in Washington, for transportation. He was a terror to the inexperienced regimental quartermasters. Bluff and rude in manner by nature, the want of knowledge of the official forms and red tape in transaction, the business of the department by regimental quartermasters, and the many blunders and impositions practiced upon him, often drove him into a paroxysm of passion.
Mrs. Spencer applied to him for transportation for her stores to Aquia. Creek. She was very curtly told she could not have it; nothing daunted, she then called on the secretary of war, and made known her mission. The secretary of war gave her an order on Colonel Rucker to give her transportation on the next boat going to Aquia Creek. She gave Colonel Rucker the order, and asked him if that was satisfactory. He gruffly said, " Yes ; take the boat and run it !"
Her appearance with the needed supplies was like the advent of a ministering angel to the sick, languishing in the hospitals.
She accompanied the troops on the Gettysburg campaign, carrying with her, on her horse, her bedding, cooking utensils, and a supply of clothing, besides supplies for the sick. She often assisted the men, when exhausted on the weary marches, by carrying for them their coats and blankets, which they would have otherwise abandoned on the way, and then suffered from the want of them in the twilight dews, chilly nights, and drenching rains. Nearly the entire hospital department and medical staff of the First corps was captured in the first day's battle of Gettysburg, and there was great lack of medical officers and hospital attendants to care for the wounded during the following two day's battle. Amidst great confusion, and not wholly free from danger from hostile shells, Mrs. Spencer, assisted by her husband, ,got over the fire her camp kettles, and took from her haversacks, hanging to her saddle-bow, coffee and canned extract of beef, and was soon ministering to the wants of the wounded, by giving to them fragrant coffee and delicious soup. She was always cool and brave in time of danger, and never shrank from going to the relief of the wounded when her services were the most needed. In the trenches before Petersburg, when no one could go to the front without incurring imminent risk from the enemy's sharpshooters and stray bullets, she frequently conveyed to the weary, famishing men delicacies, of which they were sadly in need. After the terrible battles of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania, the wounded were conveyed in ambulances and lumbering baggage-wagons, over rough roads, many weary miles, by Fredericksburg to Belle Plain ; there they were put upon hospital transports and taken to Washington.
At Belle Plain, the wounded, weary, famished, and tortured by festering wounds, were greeted by their old friend, Mrs. Spencer, who had, as usual, come to their relief in time of their greatest need. It had been raining several days. She spent several days, standing ankle-deep in the tenacious Virginia mud, making coffee and soup, till thousands were served. Thousands were removed from the ambulances and baggage-wagons and placed upon the hillsides, without shelter from the pouring rain. They were made cheerful by her ministering care, and forgot their own sufferings in their anxiety for her own comfort, and danger in taking cold. As the Army of the Potomac advanced towards Richmond new communications were opened, by Port Royal, White House, and City Point. She, at each successive point, repeated her ministering care to the wounded and afflicted. The remainder of her deeds of heroism and mercy are duly recorded in " Woman's Work in the Civil War." *(Note: above photograph of Mrs. Spencer was found in this book.- Click on photo for larger image.)
The following members of the regiment died in rebel prisons during the war:
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Copyright © 1999, 2001 Thomas Michael McKenna