«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
We ended our march for the day at a little place called Buckeystown, and encamped on low ground along the Monocacy river, a little stream that takes its rise at the base of South Mountain, flowing southerly past the city of Frederick, and then bending westerly empties into the Potomac near Edward’s Ferry. The valley of the Monocacy is regarded as a rich and fertile portion of Maryland. Here we remained until the 24th, then changed camp for higher ground.5 From this, on the 25th, we were moved out at 6 o’clock in the afternoon, marched six miles and bivouacked. The next morning the regiment started at sunrise, made a march of some eight miles, going into camp at Barnesville, Md., some twenty miles southeast of Harper’s Ferry. The morrow put us in motion again nearly to Edward’s Ferry, on the Potomac. Here we encamped near the First Minnesota regiment. Remaining only one night, we marched back in the rain on the 29th, in deep mud, to Darnestown, a little dilapidated hamlet, about eighteen miles northwest of Washington and eight miles east of Edward’s Ferry on the Potomac. Here we encamped in a grove of second growth pine trees, with General banks’ headquarters near by.
The reason of this movement, as we now know from the published correspondence, was to have us in hand to repel an invasion of the enemy at any point on the river. After the battle of Bull Run it was feared that the enemy flushed with victory would make an advance on Washington or to cut the communications between the capital and the north.
Here adjutant Crane received his commission as major, and Sergeant Major E. E. Bryant was promoted second lieutenant of Company A. Lieutenant Bertram was appointed adjutant. Two valuable and intelligent officers, Lieut. Nathan Daniels and Edwin J. Meeker were here detached from the regiment and assigned to duty in the signal corps, in which they rendered useful and adventurous service during the entire war.
UT the camp at Darnestown soon lost its novelty. The locality was not B healthy. The September evenings began to be chilly, with malarial tendency in the atmosphere. We were glad enough to be ordered elsewhere, for which orders came on the 12th. We marched a few miles, encamped, and the next day, in a roasting September sun, we made twentytwo miles and encamped after dark, selecting in the darkness a place that had long been the camp of supply trains. Hundreds of mules had better fitted the soil for a crop than a soldiers’ bivouac; and we were not long in moving to a better ground the next morning, in a trim field of clover on the south side of the city of Frederick.
Frederick was then a tidy city of the peculiar style in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. The houses of the older style stood broad side to the street with chimney at each end; and the sidewalk took the full drip of the eaves. But there was an aspect of good, prosperous cheer about it; a quiet, restful air, that made it a pleasant place to visit. The old town clock struck the hours with a moderation that admonished not to be in a hurry. The great numbers of elderly people, jolly, healthy, good-natured and full of hospitality, bespoke a healthful climate.
The city, like all other cities in Maryland, had its intense sympathizers with the South, and its equally intense adherents to the Union cause. The former kept remarkably still. The latter took the Third Wisconsin into their homes and hearts; and for days our regular issues of rations were but sparingly used, so sumptuous was the fare of cakes, pies, fruits, milk, dainty biscuit and loaves which were given by these loyal and hospitable Marylanders. Of all the memories of the war, none are more pleasant than those of our sojourn in the goodly city of Frederick.
In these days, our “uniforms” — the old state blouses or “wamusses,” our gray hats and satinet trousers — presented a tout-ensemble anything but soldierly. What with original shabbiness and slouchiness, grease, dirt, tears and patches, the appearance of our regiment was ludicrous in the extreme.
It must be confessed, we were the laughing stock of our military neighbors.
When we marched by the camp of another regiment, its men roared with laughter at our looks. It was common to hear the remark, “A bully lot of men, but oh G))), what uniforms!” The eastern regiments were well dressed and had fine equipage, and our garb was abominable. But they soon saw that the regiment was equal to their best in discipline, drill and the manual of arms;
and the bluff, hearty western ways of our men soon made them popular, despite their shabbiness. The regiment marched into the good will of the
-24Frederick loyalists at once. They did not mind our rage, but the ladies said they “could see the man through the clothes,” a remark that in numerous cases was more literally than metaphorically true. The rough and ready gallantry of our men, their perfect manliness — and by the way, they were for the most part a handsome lot of boys — made them favorites with the ladies;
and there were but few of the younger lads of the ranks who did not find some bright-eyed Frederick lasses who loved to bring them fruits and dainties. It was a common remark later on that every Third Wisconsin soldier had a sweetheart in Frederick.
Soon after our arrival, we learned the object of our march so far to the rear. The Maryland legislature had convened at Frederick in the preceding April, and by a decisive vote had resolved not to secede. But there were some of the members eager to reconsider that vote; and they had called irregularly a special session of the legislature there, in the hopes of taking the state out of the Union. An active intrigue had been on foot for months between the secession element of the legislature and the Confederate authorities. Governor Hicks, at that time the executive of Maryland, was true to the Union cause. But the secessionists were determined to drag “My Maryland” into revolt, and the meeting in September had been called in furtherance of the scheme. The authorities at Washington determined to prevent this meeting, and on the 11th, the secretary of war instructed Gen.
Banks that the passage of any act of secession by the Maryland legislature must be prevented, and, if necessary, all or any part of the legislature must be arrested. “Exercise your own judgment as to the time and manner, but do the work effectively.” For this duty Gen. Banks had selected and ordered our regiment to Frederick. Meanwhile, Allen Pinkerton, the celebrated detective, had been at work, and numerous arrests of secessionist members had been made in Baltimore. Only part of the members came to Frederick, but the morning train brought in quite a crowd of well-dressed men with the air of politicians. Many more came in on the turnpike roads, and groups began to collect on the street corners and saloons. It was evident that some deep-laid scheme was being worked. Meanwhile, the regiment to all appearance was as indifferent as a stranger to all these actions. But some trusty soldiers in civilian clothing were out among them; and loyal Unionists were giving the names and pointing out the persons of the secessionist portion of the legislature. The lingerers around the camp did not notice that the men had loaded their guns. The passing out of several ambulances also escaped their observation. Some unarmed soldiers passed out of camp in couples, while other disorderly squads rambled off through the fields. Others went unarmed into the town. Nothing was suspected outside, though hundreds of eyes watched our every movement. Apparently it was a listless day in camp.
-25Suddenly, as if by magic, the city was surrounded by a cordon of bayonets.
Pickets bristled on the roads leading from the town, and on the knolls and in the cornfields; and the streets of the city were full of patrols from the regiment armed with revolvers. The lounging soldiers in the streets at a signal assembled in charge of some trusty sergeant or other officer, and the work of arresting began. Almost simultaneously the members found themselves surrounded, and politely requested to accompany some ragged files of soldiers to the headquarters. They were obliged to comply, and soon there were a dozen or more in camp.6 At first they put an air of offended dignity, a sort of I-am-an-American-citizen expression, but when they saw their game had been spoiled, they tried to see the situation in its ludicrous aspect. A detail in charge of Capt. Martin Flood, with Lieut. George W. Rollins and Sergt. Wallace Hunter of Company C, took the prisoners to Baltimore. The fact that several arrests had been previously made at Baltimore had given the secessionists alarm; and they did not appear at Frederick in large numbers as had been anticipated. This timely action stamped out the secession movement in Maryland. Gov. Hicks wrote to Gen. Banks concurring in the action taken, saying “we can no longer mince matters with these desperate people.” Two other events, occurring during our stay in Frederick, caused lively satisfaction. We received the blue uniforms of the United States soldiers, and we drew our pay. The paymasters brought us partly coin and partly the treasury notes, known as “greenbacks,” then recently issued. Some of the companies at first refused to take the paper; and were given Hobson’s choice, “this or none.” One simple-hearted German boy, on receiving his greenbacks, said philosophically, “Uncle Sam give us dis baper, und if we doand fight like h)), dis baper vas good for nottings.” On September 21st, Adjt. Bertram was commissioned captain of Company A, in place of Gibbs, resigned.
There were ten members of the legislature and the chief clerk of the house arrested and sent to Annapolis, and there placed on a government steamer to be sent north. A number of subordinate officers were also arrested but released on taking the oath of allegiance.
S regiment. On Wednesday, October 9th, three companies of the regiment — Company A, commanded (now) by Capt. Bertram, Company C, commanded by Lieut. O’Brien, and Company H, to which were detailed 13 men of Company F, all commanded by Capt. Whitman — were ordered to report to Major Gould of the Thirteenth Massachusetts, as Sandy Hook, for an expedition into Virginia. Marching to Monocacy Junction we took cars on the Baltimore & Ohio railroad for Sandy Hook, the little hamlet opposite Harper’s Ferry. On arrival Major Gould ordered the detachment to go up to the Ferry, opposite the old burned arsenal, and there cross the river.
The crossing was effected in small skiffs, carrying eight men at a time. Late in the afternoon, the little column ascended the hill road that leads from the river streets to the upper town, and took quarters in the government buildings, which were the residences of the officers of the arsenal, elegant and substantial abodes, then unoccupied. The next day we learned the object of our mission, which was to remove some 20,000 bushels of wheat then stored in an old mill on the Shenandoah river, a few hundred yards above its mouth.
Three companies of the Thirteenth Massachusetts assisted in the work.
Pressing into service every team that could be found and every vehicle on which bags could be laid, and as many colored men as ventured near, the wheat was transferred rapidly to the banks, placed upon barges taken across the Potomac and loaded into canal boats. Meanwhile a part of the command was kept on duty as a picket guard. We soon learned that Col. Turner Ashby, a notorious cavalry officer of the Confederates, was hovering about with considerable force. The second morning after our arrival Lieut. O’Brien, in charge of the guard, had a spirited brush with some sixty or seventy of Ashby’s men. A few well-directed shots from the picket of Company C, and a volley from Company H, which came up at double-quick to the support of the picket, emptied some of the saddles and sent the squadron “whirling up” the pike over the Bolivar ridge. The several companies deployed while this little brush was going on. Surely the service was growing active! We had been under fire, had seen armed rebels, had exchanged shots with them, and seen them holding their wounded on their horses, as they scampered away.
Our pickets were at once extended and strengthened. And, here, a brief description of the locality and ground is necessary to make clear this narrative.
Harper’s Ferry, as has been said, lies at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers on an angle of land between the two. The lower town is down on the banks of the rivers, and back of it on a little knob of ground is
-27the upper town. Just beyond, on the main turnpike, is the little suburb of Bolivar, a hamlet separated from Harper’s Ferry by a little valley and standing on higher ground. Extending from the Potomac just above the Ferry is a high ridge which runs southwesterly, just to the westward of Bolivar, and the turnpike that leads into the heart of the Shenandoah valley, crosses the heights at a point about one and a half miles southwest from the Potomac and half a mile from the outskirts of Bolivar. The Shenandoah road runs along the northwest side of the river close to the bank; and on the right or northwest side of the road bold, rocky banks overhanging the path, and ranging, perhaps, 100 feet high, extend up the river far beyond the Bolivar plateau.
On learning that the Confederate cavalry was lurking about us constantly, the pickets were placed along Bolivar Heights, and a company stationed on the heights at the point where the turnpike passes over them;
and here a breastwork of logs to command the approaches was erected, and videttes were kept out beyond at night.
For two or three days the enemy kept out of sight. Our boys grew venturesome; and foragers went out and brought in mutton, poultry, fresh pork, honey and garden vegetables to garnish the monotonous ration. These forays were made a night by small squads, self-detailed. Wonderful strategists these night bummers were, in flanking beehives, poultry-yards; and they never were convinced during the entire war that southern sheep were loyal.
On the morning of October 16th, our job in the flour mill was nearly completed, and we were expecting orders to return. But it seems the Virginians were planning to facilitate our departure.