«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
In this engagement we lost that brave and chivalrous soldier, Gen. Phil Chantilly is a little cluster of houses on the Little River turnpike about five miles to the northwest of Fairfax Court House, and three miles northeast of Centerville.
These troops were from the corps of Sumner and Heintzleman [sic].
-95Kearny, and also Gen. Stevens.103 The latter fell leading his division into battle. Kearny, brave and reckless to a fault, dashed ahead of his line in the midst of the blinding storm and gathering dusk, and ran into or so near the enemy’s line that he was shot from his horse by a Confederate to whom he had spoken, supposing he spoke to a Union soldier.
Banks’ corps, at the time this action was about to begin, was on the march from Centerville east on the old Braddock road. It was summoned to support our forces in the battle. The sound of Reno’s musketry brought it to the front. We moved northward from our road across fields to the battleground, and Williams’ division was drawn up in line of battle in Reno’s rear. There we stood, bullets whistling over our heads and through the forests; and there that terrific storm burst upon us. The thunder claps were deafening. The roaring storm “lashed the woods into a fury which drowned the noise of the guns.” The rain fell in bodies, not drops, it seemed. Darkness came prematurely on. The violent shower was followed by a cold, drenching rain. We stood under arms — for none could sit or lie in that soaking storm — during a long, miserable night. After the rain had subsided it became cold.
We were drenched and benumbed, supperless, hungry, and our bivouac was one of the most cheerless and comfortless that falls to the lot of soldiers in the field. We thanked God when the dawn came; and never warmth of sunshine felt more grateful.
With early sunshine came our orders to march. It was Pope’s last general order. He directed the several corps to fall back into the intrenchments about Washington. The line of march for Banks’ corps was by the Braddock road to Annandale, where we were to follow the Little River turnpike and take post at or near Fort Worth, on the Potomac near Alexandria.
We were soon on the march toward the Potomac. Banks’ corps brought up the rear on that road.
It was a wearisome march as we were frequently stopped by the column in front — stoppages that did not admit of breaking ranks or rest. Late in the afternoon we had passed Annandale, and the march seemed to be nearing its end. The troops were weary, and the animals of the artillery and baggage wagons were well-nigh exhausted. It was with blank dismay that we received Banks’ order at this time that Gordon’s brigade should withdraw from the ED. NOTE: These are Philip Kearny and Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Kearny, born in New York on 2 June 1815, accidentally rode into enemy lines at the battle of Chantilly, was shot, and killed instantly. He was originally buried in New York, but his remains later removed to the National Cemetery in Arlington. A New Jersey town where he had resided was renamed “Kearny” in his honor, and the Kearny Medal and Kearny Cross were authorized in his honor. Stevens, born in Andover, Massachusetts on 25 March 1818, was actively involved in repulsing the enemy at Chantilly when hit in the head by a rifle ball; he, too, was killed instantly. He was posthumously promoted to Major General.
-96column with a battery and return to Fairfax and load government stores into wagons for conveyance to Alexandria. Major Perkins, who brought the order, did not know whether it was intended that we should return to Fairfax Court House or Fairfax station; and as they were then both occupied by the enemy ans five miles apart, it seemed to Gordon a most amazing order. He sought out the ambulance in which Banks was reclining, ans asked explanation. He got but little. Banks only knew that Pope had given such an order, did not know when it was issued, nor which Fairfax we were ordered to. He would not relieve Gordon from executing it, nor direct as to which place he should go.
Gordon showed him that they were five miles apart. Finally Banks advised that he go to Fairfax Court House, and if he found no provisions there, then to go to Fairfax station.
This command we set about obeying. It was hard enough to be ordered out on a long, night-march, weary and hungry as we were; and it was not a cheerful prospect opened, that we should move back into the face of Lee’s army, with all the rest of ours drawn into Washington. The colonels shrugged their shoulders, Gordon says, and held their tongues. The men looked dejected; and he felt a contempt for both pope and Banks, that, as a soldier, he knew how to repress. We had gone some distance on this backward march, when the light began to wane. We were not far from Fairfax Court House. Then, in the gloaming, we met the commander of the rear guard of some corps, or detached command hurrying to the rear. He asked where we were going. Gordon told him, “to Fairfax.” “Can you whip the whole rebel army”? he satirically asked. Pointing in the direction of the place he informed Gordon that the enemy were in bivouac all about Fairfax Court House and to the eastward of it. At the same time Stuart’s horse artillery was far to the east of the court house, cannonading our rear guard on a road leading out from Fairfax and parallel to the one we were on. Gordon, thereupon, resolved to seek out Banks and get further instructions. He left Ruger in command of the brigade and sought out Banks. It cost him some miles travel. Banks would not relieve him from the order. It is very likely that if we had proceeded to execute this order, we should have been utterly destroyed, for at least 30,000 Confederates were within less than an hour’s march of Fairfax Court House.
Colonel Ruger, as Gordon records, had followed with the rear guard back to near where the Braddock road comes into the turnpike. Gordon decided that it was his military duty not to attempt the execution of the order in the light of the knowledge he then supposed he had, so we moved on in the darkness, and after midnight we were halted, and sunk down to rest in utter exhaustion. The next morning when we rose to our feet, stiffened with marching and sleeping on the ground, and weak with hunger, having been over two days without food, we found ourselves at Fort Worth near Alexandria.
-97The same day, after a few hours rest and an issue of part rations, the corps moved further north, close to Fort Albany, nearly opposite South Washington, about four miles from Alexandria. There we bivouacked another night and on the 3rd crossed the aqueduct bridge over the Potomac into Georgetown and thence north to Tenallytown, where we found out wagons, camp equipage, and our mail, of which we had had none since leaving Culpepper. The luxury of a tent, a chance for a bath, a change of underclothing we enjoyed to the full. On the 6th we moved to near Rockville.
Whether justly or unjustly, the feeling was strong in the army against Pope and McDowell. Halleck did not come in for his share of censure at the time. But all knew, and all felt, that as soldiers we had not had a fair chance.
We had generally had the best of the fighting. But we has been outgeneraled, and whenever battle had been given or taken, the enemy had been careful to bring the most men and guns to the point of collision. So far as we had been defeated it had been in detail. The temper of the army as well as the country was not then cool enough to be dispassionate; and it is not unlikely that these two generals were unjustly condemned. But the more the story of that eventful campaign is studied the stronger becomes the conviction that on our side nearly everything that was done was done wrong. Every battle that we lost could have been won if the troops which ought to have been and could have been on the field had been present.
It was with joy and enthusiasm that the troops heard promulgated the order of the president assigning Gen. McClellan to the defenses of The order read: “Major-General McClellan will have command of the fortifications of Washington and of all the troops for the defense of the capitol.” The Confederate losses from August 23d to September 2d, their ports place at nearly 20,000 men killed and wounded. It is morally certain that they were much larger. And it is well-known that there severe marches and disregard of the needs of the men, requiring of them more than was in the power of human endurance, which mark Jackson’s campaigns, broke down many thousands of his soldiers. It is said that his path on his swift marches was dotted with broken-down men, who were left to die or to shift for themselves as best they could. Contempt for the lives and comfort of the common soldiery seemed to be a characteristic of the Confederate leaders.
The Union losses do not appear to be accurately reported. They were probably fully 15,000 killed and wounded, and the stragglers, especially from the army that came from the Peninsula, were to be counted by thousands.
HE corps to which the Third Wisconsin belonged remained in camp near T Rockville some two days. Changes indicative of reorganization were making on all sides. Gen. Banks was assigned to the troops for the immediate defense of Washington. On September 5th, Gen. Pope was relieved from command and sent to the Department of the Northwest soon after. Our corps was assigned temporarily to Gen. Sumner. New regiments were added to the old brigades; and we received the Thirteenth New jersey, Col. E. A. Carman, and the One Hundred and Seventh New York, Col. Van Valkenburgh — two full and excellent regiments, destined to serve with us to the close of the war.
The excitement in Washington and throughout the country was intense.
Gen. Lee’s plans were not unfolded and the worst was feared. McClellan was busy with the work of reorganization. The armies of Virginia and the Potomac were consolidated; and a few days’ rest began to restore the tone of the men.
On the 3rd, Stonewall Jackson left his camp on Ox Hill, near Fairfax Court House, and started his column northward. The Confederates had resolved on the invasion of the Northern States. “On to Maryland,” was the clamor of the rebel ranks. Passing through Dranesville and Leesburg, his command waded the Potomac at White’s Ford. When they reached the middle of the river, Jackson pulled off his hat, the band struck up the air of “Maryland, My Maryland,” and the soldiers sang that popular rebel song.
Halleck thought this was a feint of the enemy to draw our troops after him, while Lee assaulted Washington. The authorities at the Capital found fault with McClellan, because he was disposed to move north and drive out the invaders. But he put his columns in motion, Burnside on the right, Sumner, to whom we were temporarily attached, in the center, and Franklin with his left on the Potomac formed the left wing. In echelon, with right thrown forward, we began to forge northward. The men marched in the fields while the roads were given up to the artillery and trains. On the 9th, the Third with its brigade moved near Middlebrook; near Damascus the 10th; on the 11th and 12th to near Gainesville, where we learned that the Confederate army were evacuating Frederick, and moving west over the South Mountain. Other rumors — and the camps were full of them — were that we must fight at the crossing of the Monocacy. On the 13th we marched to Frederick fording the Monocacy and going into camp in the suburbs of the city. We heard the cannon, as Burnside’s advance was pushing the Confederate rear guard over the Catoctin mountain, some five miles out from Frederick on the road to
-100Middletown.105 Here we pleasantly greeted our old friends at Frederick; and though the Confederates had taxed their larders, they all had something toothsome for the “Third Wisconsin boys,” who did not outstay their welcome, for four o’clock in the morning found them on the march, on the broad turnpike leading northwesterly. Our ammunition trains were moving three abreast, while two dense columns of troops moved through the fields on either side.
On reaching the top of the Catoctin; our men could hear the cannon and rattle of musketry and see by glimpses the lines of our troops moving bravely up to the attack on the mountain westward. These were our troops engaged at Fox’s Gap and Turner’s Gap of South Mountain. Our divisions hurried on to their help; and when it had passed Middletown it was directed off to the right, by a circuitous route, to turn the left flank of the enemy’s position.
Before the left could be reached our troops had gallantry carried the position by direct assault. At the same time our troops had wrested Crampton Gap some six miles nearer the Potomac, from McLaw’s [sic] division after a spirited battle.
Our command had a weary, hurrying time of it on that side march. It moved across lots, through tall corn, through brooks, climbed rocks, groped and stumbled; and finally when near midnight the guns had ceased at the gap, moved back to the turnpike and sunk down to bivouac at one o’clock in the morning after a twenty-one hours’ march, the night hours of which were spent in groping in the dark up the mountain side. It was dinnerless, supperless and in the chill night. It wished the war was over. The next morning it was up early and pushing over the mountain. The enemy had withdrawn from the passes during the night. The road was strewn with muskets and accoutrements — sure signs of a recent battle — and vast amounts of plunder of all sorts which the fleeing enemy had gathered in Maryland, and now in their haste had thrown away. Their dead lay thickly about, piled on each other in places, where Reno’s and Gibbon’s men pushing up the heights had slain them. Here the gallant Reno on our side had met the soldier’s end. This morning the old veteran Gen. Mansfield106 arrived and took command of our corps. He was a soldierly, brave, gray-haired old man; but he rode his horse with proud, martial air and was full of military ardor. As the command pushed along, it noted that all the houses were filled with wounded men; and squads of prisoners, from twenty to a hundred or more were constantly passing to the rear. It was a grand sight to see, as out troops in high spirits and at a gait Middletown is 12 miles northwest of Frederick in the valley between Catoctin and South Mountain.
ED. NOTE: Joseph King Fenno Mansfield (22 Dec 1803 - 18 Sep 1862