«MAJ. GEN. CHARLES S. HAMILTON HISTORY of THE THIRD REGIMENT of WISCONSIN VETERAN VOLUNTEER INFANTRY 1861 — 1865. BY EDWIN E. BRYANT Late Adjutant. ...»
ONDAY, December 2d, we packed up, made a bonfire of our log M houses, and started for Frederick, the band playing “Ain’t I glad I’m out of the wilderness?” We marched a race with the Ninth New York; and a lively one it was. At eve we halted near Barnesville; but somehow our trains did not come up. The men had very generally hired a few farmers to haul their plump knapsacks and overcoats; and these were behind with the trains.
We bivouacked on the cold side of a hill; and a “norther” soon came on, so cold as to freeze the mud solid. We spent a cheerless night, shivering about fires, and helping ourselves to straw from the neighboring farms. Next day we moved to Monocacy Junction. On the 4th we marched some five miles east of Frederick into a hilly, woody region — a dreary place, abounding in wood, water and stone. Col. Ruger was detailed as the earnest solicitation of the citizens of Frederick, as the provost marshal of the city; and his regiment was selected to act as its military police or provost guard during the winter. So just at night on the 5th, we marched back to Frederick, as lighthearted and selfsatisfied as a battalion could be. We were soon snugly back in the old camp ground which we had left October 22nd, and soon had all the duty we wanted.
The troops in the woods poured into town for adventure; and we had our hands full to keep them out of mischief. Between bad whisky and bad women and the bad boys in a dozen or more regiments, our patrol duty for the winter was of a kind to which field service is far preferable. The rogues when driven from town profanely insisted that the Third Wisconsin had a monopoly of all the vices. The winter wore away. Furloughs and leaves of absence were given in stinted measure; and all predictions were for an early campaign in the spring. The discipline of the camp was strict, and camp duty very regular.12 Several changes had been made in the officers’ roster. Capt. Vandagrift was discharged from the service, February 25th, and soon after Lieut. Moses O’Brien of Company C, was promoted to the captaincy of I company. Lieut.
Moscrip, of Company B, resigned January 16, 1862. Sergt. J. T. Marvin, Company H, was promoted second lieutenant of Company C. Sergt. Julian W. Hinkley of Company D, was promoted second lieutenant of Company E.
Lieut. Cady, of Company G, had resigned November 5, ‘61, and Lieut.
Shepard had taken his place; and Sergt. Ephraim Giddings was promoted second lieutenant. Lieuts. Griffith and Martin had also resigned.
A little example of the waggish spirit of the boys is found in the drawer of Harper’s Magazine for March, 1862, contributed probably, by “Porte Crayon,” Maj. Strothers, of Banks’ staff. “In the Third regiment Wisconsin volunteers, it is a rule that no soldier can leave camp without a pass. The chaplain one day was distributing tracts; among others was one headed, Come to Jesus. Soon after, the tract was picked up in camp, and under the heading was penciled, ‘Can’t do it. Col. Ruger won’t sign my pass.’”
ARLY spring brought signs of activity. As part of the general movement E which President Lincoln ordered to begin on February 22d, Gen. Banks, with his command somewhat strengthened, was to enter the valley of the Shenandoah. Accordingly the Third Wisconsin left Frederick by rail February 25th, halted at Sandy Hook and went into camp on our old ground, “Camp Pinkney” of the year before. During the night a pontoon bridge arrived with U. S. engineers. A detail of 100 men from our regiment soon laid the bridge, after a little drill by the pontoniers, and we marched across and up through Harper’s Ferry to Bolivar Heights, the scene of our skirmish of the previous October, where we encamped. The rest of Banks’ corps were coming on. Companies A, C and H of the Third were put on the outposts, having picketed and foraged there before. It rained a dismal, drenching, winter rain, and was a black night. The rebel mounted pickets were close by at sunset; and we probed for them in the darkness. Towards morning it began to freeze. Next day the Second Massachusetts came up from the woods beyond Frederick.
Gen. McClellan came up on the Heights that day, and we had a good look at him. He ordered an armed reconnoissance [sic] to start at dawn next morning. The Third and Second Massachusetts, with two sections of the First New York batters, and a detachment of the First Michigan cavalry were started. With Company A out as flankers, and a line of skirmishers from the Second, we pushed on at a brisk pace in the crisp morning, and soon came into the sleepy, inland village of Charlestown, where John Brown was tried and hung. As we marched in, a squad of some twenty or thirty of the enemy’s cavalry cantered off towards Winchester. Soon McClellan and staff came up;
and he ordered us to remain. The weather was savage. Rain and snow fell together. Our train and knapsacks were ordered up, and meanwhile we took refuge in the churches and public buildings, the court house and jail. We remained here and near here some days, while forces were collected and concentrated. The advance on Winchester was delayed. By March 6th, Williams had moved his brigade to Bunker Hill; and Hamilton in command of our was at Smithfield. Shields moved out from Martinsburg to Bunker Hill.
Our sojourn in Charlestown was exceedingly disagreeable to the inhabitants. It annoyed them to have their churches occupied by Yankee soldiers; and the little organ was kept in full blast in one of the churches occupied by a part of the Third, while a hundred or more stout lungs vented
the song, then new and expressive of the northern feeling:
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, But his soul is marching on.”
-36The boys of the regiment determined to keep that song going constantly during our stay in Charlestown; and though we staid there several days they came near keeping good the resolve. The song and the throats of the singers were rather worn-out and ragged for sometime after. It is to be feared that the organ was a little wheezy, too.
While here, the commanders were besieged with complaints from the citizens. Their geese, turkeys and chickens disappeared. They murmured that “private property was not respected.” The orders were strict enough; and officers did not countenance their violation. But so it was, everywhere that soldiers marched a great mortality prevailed among poultry, pigs and sheep.
The women were most indignant and most outspoken. They took such revenge as bitter tongues and prayers that we might be exterminated could afford them. One well-to-do farmer protested against his corn and grain being taken as he had a large number of negroes dependent on him for support. In a week he was doing his own chores, milking with his own hands his last cow, and as woe-begone a secessionist as could be found anywhere. His slaves had left him; and his stock and poultry had joined the Union side, too.
The significance of this movement may here be explained. McClellan had organized the army of the Potomac into several divisionary [sic] corps under McDowell, Sumner, Heintzelman, Keyes and Banks.13 He, with Sumner, Keyes and Heintzelman, was to operate below; Banks was to move up the valley. The effective strength of Banks’ command — composed of his own, Shields’, part of Stone’s and Geary’s — was about 30,000 men. This force was to take Winchester, then occupied by the Confederate general, “Stonewall” Jackson with a force said to be 11,000 strong.
Hamilton was to move by Smithfield, which is about midway between Charlestown and Bunker Hill, a little hamlet in the Martinsburg pike. Shields was to advance on that pike and join Williams. Abercrombie’s brigade, one of Banks’ was to advance simultaneously by way of Berryville, a village at the junction of a road leading from Charlestown with the turnpike from Snicker’s Gap in the Blue Ridge to Winchester. This brought the several brigades within eight or ten miles of Winchester, and in easy supporting distance.
What was Jackson doing meanwhile? On the 24th of February, the day before we left Frederick, he wrote to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston: “I have reason to believe that the enemy design advancing on this place in large force.” He had considered the necessity of fortifying and set about it, and had assured the people of Winchester that they should not be abandoned to the enemy.
EDITOR’S FOOTNOTE: Irvin McDowell, 15 Oct 1818 - 4 May 1885, 23/45 West Point class of 1838;
Edwin Vose Sumner, 30 Jan 1797 - 21 Mar 1863; Samuel Peter Heintzelman, 30 Sep 1805 - 1 May 1880;
Erasmus Darwin Keyes, 29 May 1810 - 14 Oct 1895, ranked 10th in West Point class of 1832; Nathaniel Prentiss Banks, 30 Jan 1816 - 1 Sep 1894; Charles Pomeroy Stone, 30 Sep 1824 - 24 Jan 1887, ranked 7th in West Point class of 1845; John White Geary, 30 Dec 1819 - 8 Feb 1873.
-37On the 6th day of March, when an advanced reconnoissance of Williams’ brigade had moved to Stephenson’s depot, within four miles of Winchester, Jackson awaited him drawn up in line of battle in front of his fortifications. He was much exercised in mind whether to fight or flee. At one time he was in a mood to hazard everything to make good his promise to the people that he would protect them from the incursion of the Yankees; again, seeing the matter in a military light, he would conclude to retire, as he deemed our forces too strong to cope with.14 On the 11th, the Union columns from Martinsburg and Charlestown were united at a point about six miles from Winchester. About 2 o’clock A.M. that day Ashby’s cavalry picket were driven off. Reinforcements sent them were also driven by our advance. Jackson then threw forward his whole force. But banks did not accept battle. His dispositions were not then made. He prepared to advance at early dawn next morning. After midnight Jackson drew off his infantry, leaving Ashby with his cavalry as a rear guard, and started south. He removed all the public property, and hauled overland a railroad locomotive on a vehicle drawn by forty-two horses.
The Federal lines were formed and swept along in fine style through the open fields toward Winchester. Gen. Hamilton, as senior officer, was in command, and his dispositions were admirably made. His troops were in excellent spirits and eager for fight. Ashby’s cavalry was brushed out of the way; and soon we were at Winchester to find the enemy gone, and all our bracing up for a battle needless. Ashby’s cavalry galloped out of town on the south, as out column entered from the north.
His biographer, Cooke, [Ed. Note: ?? John Esten Cooke, 1830-1886, author of “Wearing of the gray: being personal portraits, scenes, and adventures of the war”] tells us that he was loth to leave the valley and to abandon Winchester. He wrote a friend on the 3d of March, “If this valley is lost, Virginia is lost.” “On the night of the 11th of March,” says Cooke, “he visited the family of the Rev. Mr. Graham, a Presbyterian clergyman of the town, with whom he was intimate, and the whole family were struck with the unusual buoyancy of his bearing. His manner was animated; his countenance smiling, almost gay; and he came with a rapid and elastic tread which indicated high spirits. As the hour for evening prayers had arrived, he asked permission to read a chapter in the Bible and offer a prayer ~ ~ ~ When the family rose from their knees, Jackson remained for a moment silent, and then said: “My good friends, I can tell you what I am going to do to-night; I shall attack the enemy and beat him.” After a few more words he left the house, but, to their great surprise, returned toward midnight, looking haggard and dispirited. He came in slowly, almost dragging himself along, and said, in accents of the greatest depression: ‘I have come to tell you that I must leave you and say farewell.’ His head sank as he spike, and he seemed to fall into a gloomy reverie, from this he suddenly roused himself, and starting to his feet with flushed cheeks and flashing eyes, he half drew his sword from its scabbard and exclaimed: ‘I will never leave Winchester without a fight! — never, never!’ He stood looking at the astonished auditors for some moments without uttering another word; and then his excitement disappeared, his sword was driven back with a ringing clash into the scabbard, and in tones of profound discouragement he said, ‘No, I cannot sacrifice my men. I intended to attach on the Martensburg road, but they are approaching on the flanks and would surround me. I cannot sacrifice my men. I must fall back.”
-38Captain Bertram of Company A, was then acting as provost marshal of Banks’ command. He, with his company, A, and Company C, as guard, at once entered — the leading citizens, meeting him, surrendered the place. It is said that this town was occupied and re-occupied some thirty times by one side or the other, subsequently in the war, but was never formally surrendered. Jackson fell back doggedly. Gen. Shields followed on. Not until he had reached Mount Jackson, forty-five miles from Winchester, did the Confederate general allow his men to go into camp. Banks halted with his division about Winchester; and here his command was re-organized. Gen.
Hamilton was sent to the corps of Gen. Heintzelman. The Second Massachusetts was brigaded with our regiment, also the Twenty-seventh Indiana, and Twenty-ninth Pennsylvania, and Col. Geo. H. Gordon of the Second Massachusetts took command as ranking colonel.
Of the four regiments comprising the Third brigade, thus formed, three remained united during the war — the Twenty-seventh Indiana, the Second Massachusetts and the Third Wisconsin — sharers together in a period of service lasting till the final overthrow of the rebellion and in “a common history and common glory.” General Shields pursues Jackson up the valley, and on the 19th entered Strasburg, eighteen miles above Winchester.
And, here, let us leave the narrative of operations, and briefly describe the country into which the initial movements of this campaign have brought us.