1st Reserve, 30th Regiment, Co. K Regimental History
Henry Minnigh's history of Company K
That the history of the company and its heroes, may be put into tangible form for distribution and preservation, as well as that a book of reference may be put into the hands of the survivors and their families, is our only object.
Company K. First Penn'a Reserves, 30th Regiment, takes no second place among the companies that went out from the County of Adams, through other companies performed good and noble service.
I wish to confine myself mainly, to Three points of interest, in the work assumed:
I. The Organization and work of the Company
II. A brief Record of each member
III. Reminiscences of the Company
Chapter I. Organization of the company
On the 15th day of May, 1861, a bill was passed by both branches of the Penn'a Legislature, received the Governor's signature, and became a law of the commonwealth, authorizing organization of a military corps, to be called the Reserve volunteer corps, to be composed of Thirteen regiments of infantry; one of cavalry and one of Artillery, to be mustered into the State service, and to be liable to be mustered into the service of the United States at any time. (See Bill)
In response to orders issued to local military organizations in the state, the "Adams County Infantry" of Gettysburg accepted the call. The ranks were filled to the maximum number, in a few days, from all parts of the county, and was officered as follows:
We rendezvoused at Gettysburg on Friday June 7, 1861 having been accepted by Gov. Curtain, under the provisions on the bill above recorded.
On Saturday, June 8th, at 7:30 a.m. the command took the train, and proceeded to Camp Wayne, at Westchester, PA, where a camp was organized under charge of Captain H.M. McIntire, as a rendezvous, for a portion of the Reserve corps.
We reached Camp at 6:30 p.m. and entered upon an experience, which few suspected would last for the term of three Years.
An organization was effected by the appointment of non-commissioned officers on Tuesday June 11th as follows:-
W.W. Stewart, 1st Sergeant, and J.J, Duey, Peter H. Henry and H.N. Minnigh, Sergeants, in the order named, also following Corporals - J.D. Sadler, P.I. Houck, Jacob Ressler and D.D. Bailey.
The Record will prove whether these were judicious selections or not.
'After muster into the State service, our progress in drill was so marked, that Col. Roberts, on account of the character of the men and their proficiency, selected us as Company B, of the Regiment, says Captain McPherson in a recent letter, 'an assignment which was overruled by Gen'l McCall, when the regiment reached Washington. The Union guards of Lancaster, which had originally been Co. B was thereby restored and we were made, as at first, Co. K, which position had naturally fallen to us, having been the last company of those forming the First regiment that arrived in camp.'
Well! we have the conciousness today, that as a company we were not inferior to any other command in the regiment and Company K never did and never will ask for unmerited favors.
On June 18, a slashing and cutting affray took place in camp, for on that day a general vaccination of the members of the company was ordered. Probably the Surgeon wanted to get a little practice. He got it.
June 20, the ladies of our native community, sent us a full complement of Havelocks, and a useless appendage they were. Barney D. said, they were "Mighty noice to corrie me tobaccy in." We sent home thanks and threw the "head-bags" away.
Drill! Drill! Drill! was the order of the camp, and we soon became proficient in all company movements, principally under the command of Lieut. Bailey.
Col. Roberts took command of the Regiment and also of the camp, on June 20th, and on the 21st, Captain McPherson visited Gettysburg, returning on the 25th, bringing five recruits for the company, which added to the 69 who had passed the examination previously, increased our numbers to 74.
June 28th, we again received a donation from home, consisting of needle-cases, which were very convenient, but one of the boys said, he wished his sister or somebody else's sister, had come along to do his mending.
On Monday, July 1st, the Regiment was partly uniformed; white duck pants and flannel shirts, furnished by the state, and a fancy grey Jacket, sent from home while Caps and Overcoats, were issued by the government; arms and accoutrements were also distributed.
"The Glorious Fourth" came on, and with it came an invitation to a neighboring grove, where the good people of Westchester furnished us with a No. 1 dinner. After dinner the "shoulder straps" gallanted the girls, while the "low private" soldiers looked on, or perhaps thought of the "Girl I left behind me". Some took a bathe in the Brandywine.
July 5th, an order was issued, requiring all companies to be filled up to the maximum number by recruiting officers, sent out for that purpose. It should have been stated before, that at the original examination, a number of men had been rejected on account of physical defects, even the slightest, as only men of perfect physique were taken to fill the quota.
Sergeants Stewart and Minnigh were detailed accordingly, leaving the camp on the 8th and returning on the 19th with twenty recruits, who were mustered in on that date, increasing our numbers to 94 all told.
While we still lacked seven of the full quota, the very best material, however, composed this command. Men of muscle, nerve and courage, as well as brain, men whom Gov. Curtin could well say, "They are the flower of the state." All volunteers, none forced into service, no bummers, no bounty-jumpers.
Another fact should be stated here; the men in the ranks were not inferior; in physique or social standing to the officers. Hence, the duty performed, and the work done by this command.
Every battle-field on which the Army of the Potomac was engaged, from Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862 to Bethesda Church, June 30, 1864 drank of the noblest blood, the state could afford when these men fell.
Chapter 3: "On to the Front"
Camp Wayne was left behind, on July 21st when the First Regiment with other reserve troops, were ordered to rendezvous at Harrisburg, on their way to the front.
All along the way, from the latter place, the people were in the rage of excitement, owing to the disaster at Bull-run, the previous day, (21st), and when we reached Baltimore, a delegation of the city authorities and police, waited on Col. Roberts, who was in command of all troops moving to the front, and urged him not to attempt a passage through the city. Our commander's characteristic reply was, "Gentlemen! we have not come down here hunting safe places, my men are thoroughly equipped and will march through the city."
On the morning of the 23rd, we advanced through the city, the only peculiarity, noticeable, being the scarcity of Baltimore fire-eaters and plug-uglies.
Having passed through the heart of the city without any disturbance whatever, we camped on Carroll Hill, in the suburbs, and here on the 24th of July, we were mustered into the U.S. Service, for three years or during the war.
July 26 the non-Commissioned officers were increased to 5 sergeants, and 8 Corporals, A.L. Woods being appointed 5th sergeant, and S.A. Young, I.N. Durboraw, I.M. Brandon, and H.W. Caufman, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Corporal, respectively.
On the 28th, we left this camp and marched toward Washington D.C., but at Annapolis Junction we, with three other companies of the regiment went into camp, while the balance of the regiment went to Annapolis.
Lieut. Herron resigned on the 14th , and Captain McPherson on the 24th of August; an election was accordingly held, and resulted in the promotion of W.W. Stewart, to 1st Lieut. and J.D. Sadler, to 2nd Lieut. while Lieut. Bailey was made Captain in the regular line of promotion.
On August 30th, we moved with the regiment, to Camp Tennally, north west of Washington City, and at no great distance from the same.
Here a general promotion of non-commissioned officers took place, and when finished, they stood in the following order on the company rolls.
H.N. Minnigh, Orderly Serg't J.J. Duey, P.H. Henry, A.L.C. Woods and P.L. Houck Sergeants in the order named. S.A. Young, I.N. Durboraw, I.M. Brandon, H.W. Caufman, C.Z. Tawney, George E. Kitzmiller, H. Knox Danner and Jacob Resser, Corporal.
Eight recruits joined the company and were mustered in Sept. 3rd. Beside these only six others ever joined the company, and they came and were mustered in on Sep't 4th 1862.
Spetember 16th, the Penna Reserves, were fully organized as a Division, with Gen'l George A. McCall as Division commander and Gen'l John F. Reynolds in command of the First Brigade to which Brigade our Regiment was attached.
And now followed many weary days consisting of Company, Regimental, and Brigade drill, also, daily details of men, who assisted in building Fort Pennsylvania, erected by the Reserves, an occasional review or "F A L L I N!", which merely meant an exhaustive standing in line for hours together "the devil knows phwat 'fore." Said Barney, none of which was much enjoyed by the boys who were eager to cross the Potomac, whip the Jonies, and then go home. Many amusing things transpired at this camp of which we will speak later on.
Chapter IV. The Work of the Company
With chapter fourth, we enter upon the Second division of our projected plan, viz., "the work of the company"
October 9th we crossed the Potomac River and entered upon the "sacred soil of Virginia" and formed a winter camp at Langley, known as Camp Pierpont.
Here we tried to be comfortable, but the severe exposure with constant camp and picket duty, wrought upon the men who never knew else than to live under the sheltering roofs of comfortable homes "up in the north-land".
November 26. Jesse Shank, of York Springs PA. and Dec. 4, George W. Myers of the same place died, and were sent home for burial. But the winter wore away and weary of the monotonous routine of duty, we waited eagerly for the spring-time and the anticipated forward movement.
March 10, we broke camp and joined in the advance of the Army of the Potomac, under Gen'l G.B. McClellan, and on the evening of the first days march camped at Hunter's Mill, VA.
We stayed here three days, and then moved in the direction of Alexandria, where we arrived, through mud and rain, and went into camp, the advance movement having developed the fact that the confederate army had abandoned Manassas and gone southward.
April 9th we moved forward on the line of the Orange & Alex'a R.R. by way of Manassas and Warrenton Junctions, to Catlett's Station, and finally down the north bank of the Rappahannock river to Falmouth opposite Fredericksburg, where we encamped.
May 26th, we crossed the river and took possession of that city, encamping on the heights, westward.
This, and the former camp at Falmouth, were decidedly the pleasantest camps in our three years service.
On June 8th, the Division was ordered to join McClellan's forces on the peninsula. We accordingly embarked at Bell's Landing on the 9th and after a voyage of 20 hours, disembarked at White-house landing on the Pamukey River. After various marches and counter-marches we finally encamped on June 18th, on the extreme right of the army, near Mechanicsville.
And now came the famous Seven Days Battles, the very thought of which causes an involuntary tremor to pass through the whole being, days of horror and bloodshed, of humiliation and death. We cannot even hope to give an adequate portrayal of these horrors.
Chapter V. Battle of Mechanicsville
The 26th of June, found the command on the Picket line, from which we were hurriedly recalled, only to find out camp had disappeared and our private property gone "where the woodbine twineth" but in time to take our place in the line with other troops, who were ready to meet the confederates, who were reported as advancing in our immediate front. We were ordered by special detail with our Regiment to support Cooper's battery. I need not write up this battle in full detail, for those who were there, remember well the onward rush of the enemy, how two whole divisions under Gen'l Lee (a fact developed more recently) at 3 p.m. threw themselves upon our line only to be hurled back amid great slaughter, how amid the shriek of shell and flashing musketry they still advanced, how our 58 caliber elongated balls now for the first time were sent on missions of death, and with what execution, how Craig Wisotskey fell, and in a few moments expired, one limb being literally torn from his body, when Hamilton and Siplinger were wounded and assisted from the field, how at length the shades of night fell, putting an end to the conflict.
There was no movement of troops in the Union lines, the men stood in their places and poured an uninterrupted fire upon the enemy while the artillery, fifty pieces, rained solid shot, shells, canister and shrapnell, producing great slaughter. The total Union loss in this battle was eighty killed and two hundred wounded, while the rebel loss was three thousand.
We slept on our arms that night, and at the early dawn we were withdrawn, contrary to the wishes of the Reserves who held the ground against five times their number, but we did not know then that Jackson had come from the Shenandoah with 40,000 men, and was in our rear.
The forces north of the Chickahominy took up a new position at Gaines' Mill, sometimes call Gaines' Hill, and by the rebels, Coal Harbor. Gen'l Porter is in command with 40,000 men while Gen'l Lee is coming on with 70,000, he intends to make a grand onset and sweep Porter into the Chickahominy. Three o'clock of the 27th, has come and the attack is made, amid cannonry and the angry flashes of musketry, while the battle cloud becomes thick and heavy. It would take many pages to make a full record of the terrible battle.
At 4 o'clock we were ordered to the support of the Duryea Zouaves, which regiment had been almost annihilated. We checked the enemy and held the line until every cartridge is gone, when we are relieved. Just behind the front line we halted, when a charge by the enemy broke the Union line, and a mass of disorganized troops came rushing back. It was at this juncture Gen'l Porter said, "Col. Roberts, can't you form a line and stop those flying troops?" to which our Colonel responded, "I can Gen'l but send me ammunition to stop the enemy." Steadily as if on dress parade, the regiment faced fleeing friends, halted the disorganized mass, rallied them under its colors, and then with fixed bayonets awaited the onset. But cheers are heard coming from our rear, the tramp of some body of troops hurrying forward, and the famous Irish Brigade push onward with land and steady step, they check the enemy and drive him back, the day is won, and quiet is restored again.
We crossed to the south side of the Chickahominy during the night, and joined the general retreat toward the James river, the Division having charge of all the ammunition and other trains. This consumed out time till the evening of the 29th, when the command is sent out on the road leading from Charles' City to Richmond, west of our line of retreat, this being the most dangerous line of approach from the confederate side. All remember that terrible night while on picket duty, for it was soon discovered that a large force of the enemy were quietly concentrating in our front. At day light we fell back to the line of battle composed of the division of Penn'a Reserves, who were in advance of the other troops, and awaited the onset.
Half-past two o'clock came and then Hill with six brigades of his own and six of Longstreet's command, hurled the whole force upon our front. Brigade after brigade advanced, but recoiled under the direct fire of the batteries, sustained by the infantry.
"Volley after volley streamed across our front and in such quick succession that it seemed impossible for any human being to live under it," writes a Rebel officer. "Use the bayonet only," is the standing order as counter-charges are directed against the enemy, and thus for three hours the battle rages, sustained wholly by McCall's division of less than six thousand men, and Hill has not driven him an inch.
It was then that J. Finley Bailey our brave Captain was last seen, and strange as it may seem, no has ever been found who knew aught of his fate. Lieut. Stewart was wounded while acting adjutant of the regiment, while nine men were wounded and eight taken prisoner. The Irish Brigade again came to the rescue, at about sunset, and under cover of the night, we fell back to the James River at Malvern Hill, in a state of complete exhaustion and despondency.
At the battle of the Malvern Hill, our command took no active part, but were held in reserve, the only time in our recollection that we were held in such a position.
It may be said here, and the statistics proves the fact, that the Penn'a Reserves sustained a loss during the Seven Days Battles, of one-fifth of the total loss, while our strength was only one fifteenth of the total strength, and this fact does not find a parallel, in any campaign or any battle, of any division of the federal army, east or west.
Chapter VI. At Harrison's Landing
But the campaign is ended, and on July 3rd, we go into camp at Harrison's Landing, six miles down the James river.
Here we suffer many hardships on account of inferior rations and unwholesome water, producing malarious and chronic diseases, and this we endured for forty-two days.
A regular promotion of company officers took place here, as follows: - W.W. Stewart to be Captain; J.D. Sadler, 1st Lieut. and H.N. Minnigh, 2nd Lieut. Sadler was in command Stewart being absent wounded.
August the 15th, we took the lead in the evacuation of the Penninsula, and embarked on the steamer Rob't Morrison, for the avowed purpose of joining Pope's army before Washington. We landed at Aquia creek, on the 19th, and proceeding thence by way of Fredericksburg, and at Warrenton junction, we fell in with Pope's forces, hurrying back toward the National capital with the rebel horde at his heel.
We reached Bull Run on the 29th, and found that a portion of the rebel army had beat us in the race, but by a flank movement we passed them, took up a position on the old battle ground, skirmished back and forth one whole day, and waited eagerly the coming of McClellan's Army.
After a brave and obstinate contest, lasting all day on the 30th, in which a victory should have been won, but was lost through the defection and petty jealousies of some leading officers, the Union forces yielded the ground and fell back toward Washington.
On the night of Sep't 1st we picketed on the flank of the army camped at Centreville, then joined in the general retreat and finally went into camp at Upton's hill, near Alexandria.
September 6th we moved across the Long Bridge, through Washington city, to Leesboro, Md., where we went into camp.
[Battle of South Mountain]
The rebel army under Gen'l Lee, has crossed the Potomac near Point of Rocks, and it is his intention to "liberate Maryland, and invade Pennsylvania."
His plan is to hold the gaps across South Mountain, and push his army north through the rich and beautiful Cumberland Valley, "cut his way to Philadelphia, and dictate terms of peace in Independence Square."
On September 14th, the Union army found the enemy well posted on the mountain twelve miles west of Frederick city and four miles from Middletown, and the Union veterans of the Peninsula hurried up to meet him. Reaching the foot of the mountain after a hurried march, we file to the right and then face to the front to begin the ascent of the mountain. Onward, upward we sweep, like a great tidal wave, the foot of the last acclivity is reached, and then with a cheer, we cross the stone wall in our front and with a rush up through the corn field, then a short, desperate, decisive struggle, and the battle of South Mountain is won.
Lieut. J.D. Sadler in command of the company fell while gallantly leading his men in this charge, and at the same moment Jere[miah] Taylor and Peter Miller were killed while Lieut. Minnigh and several men were wounded, leaving the company without a commissioned officer, Captain Stewart still being absent, on account of wounds.
On Sept. 17th , the command was at Antietam, and took its place in the line, though the company only numbered nine or ten men for duty, and were led by Serg't Kitzmiller, and fortunately no casulaties occurred during that terrible struggle.
Chapter VII: Forward Once More
The company has now been in active service one year, and the ranks now are reduced from 94 to a mere guard of 30 present for duty, not one-third of the number is left, while the Penn'a Reserves, by the fatalities of warfare are reduced from the original 15,000 to barely 4,000 for duty.
The command went into camp near Sharpsburg, where Second Lieut. Minnigh was promoted to 1st Lieut. and Serg't Kitzmiller to 2nd Lieut. and Captain Stewart returned to the company from Gen'l Hospital.
Breaking camp once more on October 30th, we recrossed the Potomac at Berlin ferry, going southward, through Lovettsville, Warrenton, Rappahannock station and finally into camp at Fredericksburg.
While there, and before the Fredericksburg campaign opened, Co. K was detailed on special duty at Brooks' station, and on the Aquia creek rail-road, and as a consequence did not participate in the Battle on the 10th of December in which the Penn'a Reserves once more distinguished themselves, making a charge that for dash and daring, has not a parallel in the entire history of the war. Of this charge a distinguished writer says, "They broke through two well entrenched lines of the enemy, and accomplished what was expected of them, but for want of support they were compelled to retire." Their loss in this assault was 176 killed, 1197 wounded and 468 missing, a total loss of 1841, out of a possible 4500 two-fifths of the total loss reported in the battle. The detail of the company with the ambulance corps, did duty on the field.
On February 8th, the whole command was relieved from the front, and transferred to the defenses of the city of Washington, to afford the opportunity, it was said, to recruit our decimated ranks and wasted energies, but as the event proved, in the 1st Regiment at least, to perform more arduous duty then we had done with the main army. Our camp was located on the north bank of the historic Bull-run, and finally at Fairfax court-house. It was here the famous photo of company K was taken, June 4th 1863.
The battle of Chancellorsville, was fought on May 2nd, and when the Army of the Potomac followed on the flank of Lee's forces which were moving northward, we rejoined our old comrades, in pursuit of the enemy.
CHAPTER VIII Gettysburg
Having crossed the Potomac at Edward's ferry, a continuous march on June 28, 29, 30 and July 1 and 2, brought us to Gettysburg, our own native town and home. Before reaching Gettysburg we heard various rumours of the investment in our home by the enemy. One incident may be related here; when approaching the familiar haunts of former days, and some of the company began to recognize well known faces, though themselves unknown, it was amusing to note the surprise of the citizens upon hearing their names deliberately called out by the unknown soldiers. One aged citizen when convinced of identify of his own nephew, said "Vy Chon, for vat de defil you left dem repel soljer gun up heyr, Hey?" John's reply was, "Why! Uncle Sam, it was all planned so I could get home to see my Mammy."
To lay joking aside, it was serious matter to be thus summoned in defense of our homes. We had gone out two years before, to conquer the enemy on his own soil, but we were now returning, after two years of struggle to meet him face to face at our own door. What the feeling was of each member of the company was, under these circumstances, may be better imagined than described, for we had seen enough of the ravages of warfare in the south-land, to cause us to be anxious for the welfare of our loved ones, now exposed in like manner.
As we neared Gettyburg, in a number of instances we passed near the homes of relatives and friends, but with the meerest greeting, the boys kept their places in the ranks. Reaching the summit of the hill east of the town, members of the company, with few exceptions, could see their homes, in the village before them, in the immediate vicinity or in the distance, and all of them within the enemy's lines.
We reached Gettysburg on the morning of July 2nd, coming from the direction of Hanover, and moving to the left went into bivouac near the Baltimore pike, one mile east of Cemetery ridge. Fatigued by the long and weary marches, we soon were oblivious to all surroundings, wrapped in restful slumber, unbroken even by the terrible fighting at Culp's hill and Cemetery Ridge, on our immediate right and front.
About 4 o'clock we were hurriedly called into line, and ordered to sling knapsacks, which command to us always meant, "get ready for quick and devilish work," as "Snap" put it. We were hurried at a double quick to the extreme left, at the Round tops, to reinforce the 3rd Corps, which had met with reverses and was driven by the enemy. Gen. Sykes' Regulars had previously gone to the support of Sickles, but had also yielded the ground. The First Brigade, formed hurriedly in brigade front, as best they could, the nature of the ground compelling the regiments to overlap each other to some extent, on the crest of Little Round Top, facing the wheat field. As we thus formed, we looked down over the field of carnage, and could hear the victorious shouts of the enemy, and when the smoke of battle lifted momentarily, we caught glimpses of fleeing friends and hotly pursuing foes, the general outlook being anything but assuring.
We deliberately waited till the front was cleared of our retreating and vanquished troops, many of whom passed pell-mell through our ranks, then at the word of command, with a ringing cheer, particularly our own, we swept down the face of the hill, meeting the rebels as they came rushing forward, on the face of the hill. (I can only speak for my own regiment). There can be no doubt in any unprejudiced mind, that a few moments delay would have lost to us the position on Little Round Top, the key to the battle-field. The so-called historians of the battle-field, asserts that there were no rebels in our front when we charged forward. Nonsense! the evidence of those who were there, we think, should have more weight than that of of a mere citizen hundreds of miles away from the field of strife.
Well with a quick dash we swept down into the valley, across plum-run swamp, over the valley and up to their stone fence, across this fence and through a narrow strip of woods, (now removed), to the eastern edge of the wheat-field, where, by orders, we halted.
It has been a source of amusement to the "boys" who chased many a rabbit all over these hills, and gathered berries in these valleys, played "hide and seek" among these rocks and boulders, to be told by strangers and pretenders, where we were, on the evening of July 2nd, when the enemy had almost seized this strong-hold at the Round Tops.
The comrades will remember the commander of the battery in our immediate front, who raved and swore, when it seemed as if his guns would be taken.
"Dunder und Blixen, don't let dem repels took my batteries," were his earnest words of appeal, as the enemy hurried up to the position occupied by his battery, and how, the next morning he came over to the stone wall and said, "the Pennsylvania Reserves saved mine pattery, by ____. I gets you fellers all drunk mit beer."
During the night of the 2nd, and all day of the third till Pickets' charge ended, we remained at the stone wall, being compelled all the while to "lay low" on account of rebel sharpshooters in our immediate front.
Picketts charge having failed, Gen. Meade ordered Crawford to clean out the woods in our front, and McCandle's (our) brigade at the word of command, leaped over the wall and deliberately dressed their lines. Skirmishers were deployed to the front, right and left, and the charge was made diagonally over the wheat-field to the southwest, to the woods on the west side, then half-wheeled to the right, then on up through the woods to the crest of the hill, driving the enemy out of the woods in the direction of the Peach-orchard. The rebels at this juncture threatening our left flank to the rear and in this new direction we charged forward again. Down through the low land, then up through the woods east of the Rose house, surprising and capturing many prisoners, over three thousand muskets, and the colors of the Fifteenth Georgia Regiment.
We bivouacked at night in the edge of Rose's woods, and about noon being relieved, we moved back to the stone wall, and then to the rear of Little Round Top, where we went into bivouac, the battle being ended.
A few of the boys of Co. K, now went home, with or without leave, and who will blame them, each one returning in time to join in pursuit of the rebel horde as they fled southward from Gettysburg.
Chapter IX. In pursuit of the rebels
We followed the enemy closely in his retreat, keeping on his flank, and on July 11th, found him entrenched at Williamsport, MD. on the Potomac River.
On the 14th, when an advance was ordered upon these works, they were found abandoned, the enemy having re-crossed the river on the night of the 13th.
We followed on in due time, and soon found ourselves once more, back on the old line of the Rappahanock in Virginia, where after a most wearisome campaign we went into camp.
About the middle of October, the enemy made an attempt to get between the federal forces and Washington City, but Gen. Meade defeated his purposes and Lee went back to his old haunts beyond the Rapidan river.
November 6th, the Mine-run campaign opened, but beside constant skirmishing, nothing of importance was accomplished, and we returned to our old position on December 2nd.
During the balance of the winter of '63, '64, we were encamped at Bristow station, on the Orange and Alexandria railroad, and guarded well a portion of the line of communication.
The Wilderness Campaign
April 29th, we pulled up stakes again and entered upon our last campaign. We broke camp and marched to Warrenton, a distance of thirty miles, and on the next morning continued on in the direction of Culpepper, and rejoined our old comrades of the main army, in the evening of that day.
We all knew that we were on the eve of an important campaign, and one that would in all probability close the war. The soldiers were very enthusiastic, and had the utmost confidence in the two great commanders, who were to lead them.
On the 3rd of May, there was great excitement in camp and all anxiously waited for orders to move. The army had been reinforced, and everything now appeared to be in readiness to commence the campaign that was to end the war.
Directly after midnight, May 4th, the reveille was beat, and was heard echoing and reechoing all along the line of camps, and soon after the great movement against the rebel capitol had begun. Our corps (the Fifth) moved in the direction of Germania ford on the Rapidan river, and having crossed at that point, we marched until four o'clock in the afternoon, when we halted for the night, having marched fully thirty miles. Our camp for the night was in the vicinity of the Wilderness tavern. About sunrise on the 5th we continued the march but had not gone far, when we found the enemy in our front. Preparation was immediately made to give them battle. Our position was the Lacy farm, until ten o'clock when we moved to Parker's Store and formed a line of battle, our regiment and the Bucktails being on the extreme left.
John W. Urban in his "Battlefield and Prison Pen" says, "Captain Wasson of Co. D, was ordered to take his company and move through the woods beyond for the purpose of reconnoitering the enemy's lines." This is an error. The party was made up of a special detail of twenty men, two from each company in the regiment. Captains Minnigh and Wasson were in charge and the actual mission was entirely unknown to Captain Wasson, who was ordered to take charge of the men and assist Captain Minnigh in the duty which had been strictly communicated to him. Wasson, nor any of the men knew what was to be done. Fortunately, I have in my possession the order, delivered to me at Division Head-quarters, on said occasion. This order reads as follows: --
"Captain, you will proceed, at once, to the front bearing slightly to the left, to the Plank-road, and (if possible) find out what troops are moving on it & in which direction they are moving."
It was intimated at the same time, that the mission was of a peculiar character, and that Captain Wasson, would obey my orders.
Comrade Urban's description of our advance, is in the main correct, but when we found the enemy before us, I asked Captain Wasson to withdraw a few paces into the woods through which we had advanced, then and there informing him of the orders placed in my hands. He began at once to put on airs (a habit of his), and positively refused to obey my orders. He advanced the detail out into an open field, when one single shot stampeded the party, and they returned to our line, with the enemy on their heels.
I abandoned the detail hastily, and moving toward the enemy on that road, moving toward the left parallel with the Plank-road, moving toward the extreme right of the position occupied by the Union army, which movement culminated in the attack on the outpost position occupied by the Penn'a reserves, and upon the Sixth Corps later on.
Having accomplished my mission, I had no trouble getting back to our line, and reported to Headquarters, when the advance at the Parker house had been forced back to the main line, and when the Seventh Reserves had been captured. My impression has always been, that if Captain Wasson had heeded my advice, the enemy would not have made the advance on our front at Parker's, and the Seventh Regiment would not have been taken prisoners. I do not fear to speak upon this point, as the question has been considerably agitated, as to what led to the capture referred to.
If Co. D, was sent out on a reconnaissance, as stated by Urban, I am unacquainted with the fact.
Urban also says, that subsequently, "Lieut. Wilder, (we presume he means Weidler) and ten men were sent on a reconnaissance in the same direction, and encountered the enemy, and after being driven back, Companies C and K were sent to dislodge them; but finding the enemy in strong force, fell back in haste to our lines"
It is not our object to contradict this last quotation, but it does seem to us, that this jumble of details from one single regiment, out of a whole division, needs an explanation at least.
A single proof of the correctness of the statement I have here made, is this: Gen'l Crawford was much surprised when I reported to him, all begrimmed with dirt and smoke, having passed through the burning woods on my return to our line. Having reported, he said, " We never expected to see you again, but your service shall be duly reported to the Secretary of War." This may account for the peculiar wording of the Commission as Brevet-Major, now in my possession, which reads as follows: --- "for gallant and meritorious services in the Wilderness campaign, Virginia, May 5, 1864". Here we leave this subject.
Safely back to the Lacy Farm we rested for the night, waiting anxiously for the dawning of another day, that the terrible conflict might be continued.
Early on the morning of the 6th, the rebel forces were concentrated against Hancock on the left, where a terrible battle raged nearly all day. Such a continuous roar of musketry, inasmuch as artillery could not be used, we never heard in all our experience before.
During the heavy fighting on the left, we became engaged with the enemy in our front, driving them back, and in the evening started to the aid of Hancock, but not being needed we returned to our old position.
Under cover of night, Lee rapidly moved a heavy column forward and hurled then on our extreme right. Our division was ordered to the support of Sedgwick, whose communication had been severed from the main army. In the darkness we felt our way cautiously, but our services were not needed, as the Sixth corps had stopped the advance of the enemy, so we returned to our former position.
And now one of the peculiar movements, from the right to the flank commenced, preserving all the while an unbroken front.
We moved slowly during the night of the 6th, but as the new day dawned we moved faster, and by nine or ten o'clock it was a double-quick. It was said to have been a race between Grant and Lee for position at Spottsylvania Court House, and Lee won the race, securing the position, having had the inside track.
Chapter XI Spottsylvania
The Cavalry struck the rebel column, and skirmished until the advance troops (5th corps) arrived, and took their place.
It was with difficulty that our division was brought into line, owing to the shattered condition of our ranks, caused buy the double-quick, but a critical moment had arrived, and with a cheer the men dashed forward, re-taking the ground lost by Robinson's division. But in the charge, as usual, we advanced too far, and were in danger of being flanked, so we were ordered back to our line, where we lay on our arms till six o'clock.
The whole army had now arrived, and the order was given to advance. The enemy yielded, and the first line of entrenchment was carried, and they fell back to a strongly fortified position, from which they could not be driven. Soon after our brigade made a dash upon the enemy in our front, (unauthorized, it is said) there being no co-operation by other troops, we skerried back again, Col. Talley commanding the brigade, and several hundred men having been taken prisoner.
At 8 a.m. on the 9th, we moved to the right-centre of the line, and were ordered to throw up Rifle-pits, which Pensyl, in the emphatic language he generally used, said, were "d__d beautiful works for somebody-else to fight behind." George uttered truthful words, if they were a little profane, for, while we built many defensive works of various kinds, I do not remember there we ever actually fought in such works.
Skirmishing, with an occasional indecisive struggle for the mastery, now continued for several days, during which we were called upon to charge on certain works in our front, but owing to the fact that every man understood that the charge was ordered as a mere feint to cover some other movement, it was not pressed.
On the 18th, we swung round to the left, and were sent forward on the skirmish line. Just on our front, possibly fifty yards off, the rebel skirmishers occupied an excellent line of rifle-pits, while we had no cover except that afforded by nature. An order was given to advance the line, which order was intended for other points on the line and not for us it seems, when John W. Shipley in the attempt to obey the orders, was struck by a rebel ball, and was instantly killed. We had the satisfaction of knowing a moment later, that the same rebel was killed by Shipley's especial friend George W. Pensyl. We buried Shipley near where he fell.
Chapter XII. North Anna River
Gen. Lee withdrew his forces to a strong position south of the North Anna River, and Gen'l Grant followed with the Union army in quick pursuit. We reached the river and crossed at Jericho Ford on the 23rd, and spent three days in reconnoitering the positions of the enemy, and then by a flank movement to the left, compelled Lee to abandon the strong position he had taken.
The Union army crossed the Pamunky river on the 28th of May, the Fifth and Ninth corps crossing at Hanover Ferry, thus bringing us once more near the locality where the terrible scenes of 1862 were enacted. Communications were opened with White-house Landing and a new base of supplies thus secured.
Our Brigade on the 30th of May was sent out on the Mechanicsville Road, near Bethesda Church, to prevent a possible surprise by the enemy from that direction. Having advanced a short distance we were formed in brigade front and ordered to throw up a barricade. Company K. soon did the work that fell to their lot., and every man soon seeking to get what rest he could, under the shade of a convenient hedge fence.
We were aroused by the sharp rattle of musketry on both flanks of the brigade and discovered further, that the position had been abandoned, while we were sleeping, (an unheard-of thing, but easily explained) and we seemingly alone on the line of breast-works. Quickly arousing the men, each hurriedly took in the situation, then, such skedadling to the rear was never seen before, "every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost." All soon were gone except for five, H.C. Elden, Cal. Harbaugh, A.H. Blocher, G.W. Pensyl, and Captain Minnigh, the last three named running the risk of capture, in their efforts to induce Harbaugh amd Eldon to run the gauntlet as their comrades had done. This they refused to do, saying "I'll not do it; and be shot down like a dog." The situation was of course an awful one, for the rebels were now in our works on both flanks, and the race for liberty must necessarily be in the range of every rebel musket. Turing to Pensyl, as the two men threw themselves on the ground, thus deciding the question, I said, "Now let us skip out." George W. do you remember that foot-race? Hey? Do you mind the fence, all grown up with red briars, the "durned old haversack" filled with potatoes, that you wanted to get rid of, and couldn't? Well we all got out safe, while Harbaugh and Elden were transferred to an awful southern prison.
[Our Last Battle]
The Brigade now took up a new position, threw up a barricade, and awaited the advance of the enemy, who soon was seen, in a well dressed line of battle, emerging from the cover of the woods, two-hundred yards to the front. Orders were given not to fire one shot until the enemy reached the line of an old fence half-way across the open space between us. We never saw so deliberate an advance by the enemy, in all our three years experience, as this was. Brave specimens of American soldier, they were, consciously facing death, they came on. Two sections of a divided battery, one on the right the other on the left, with enfilading fire, opened on them, them the infantry added their missiles of destruction; they come on no further, a few turn and flee to cover of the woods, the firing ceases and an advance is ordered, when the only enemy we find are the torn and shapeless forms, that literally cover the ground, they were "annihilated". (Rebel records.)
Chapter XIII Homeward Bound
Hurrah for Home! This was the glad greeting, on the morning of June 1st, when the order was issued for our return northward.
We according'y bade farewell to the Army of the Potomac, and to the comrades of the company who had been veterinized, who were now assigned to the 190th Penn'a Veteran Volunteers, to serve their unexpired term of service.
On the 2nd of June, we reached White House landing, and went aboard the transport George Weems at 10 a.m. on the 3rd, and at 12 m. with three hearty cheers, started northward, and landed at Washington D.C. on the 4th, at 4 o'clock p.m.
On Sunday 5th at 11:30 a.m. we left the National Capitol and on the 6th arrived at Harrisburg, Pa., the Capitol of our native State.
We were recipients of a Royal welcome when we disembarked at Harrisburg, but the joyous greeting can only be measured by the deep sorrow of many who received not back their loved ones.
Three years before we as a Division of State troops, had gone forth fully 15,000 strong, now we were merely a hand-full, then, full of life and buoyance, now, war-torn and battle-scarred veterans.
We proceeded to Philadelphia, and were finally mustered out of the service, on the 13th of June 1864.
Company K, as a body returned to our native town (Gettysburg) where a banquet welcome, had been prepared for us, but owing to the fact that is was deferred until evening, only a few remained to partake of the bounteous banquet, preferring the more humble spread that awaited them, in the homes where loved ones surrounded the board.
Of the 110 who had gone forth, three years before, only 24 now returned.
Some sleep peacefully in the unmarked graves of the south-land; no tender hand wreaths flowers over these unknown graves, but the gentle zephyrs chant requiems continually, and around them the wild flowers bloom more beautiful and fragrant, because the soil was enriched by their blood. Others after a manly struggle for life, yielded to disability from wounds and disease.
We cherish the memory of our fallen comrades, and as one by one we are summoned to join the great majority, we hope to meet them again, and to stand side by side, in nobler array, with the brave and true and tried who were our comrades here, and who so well performed their work on the battlefields of this life.
And when the trumpet shell be heard, not calling to fields of conflict, but to rewards for deems well done, may we all be found sharing the victory won by Him, "who died that we might live."