Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Camp On Flat Top Mountain,
May 20, (Tuesday), 1862.

Dearest : — Here we are “back again” — fifty or sixty miles in rear of the advanced position we had taken. The short of it is, since the Rebel disasters in eastern Virginia they have thrown by the railroad a heavy force into this region, forcing us back day by day, until we have gained a strong position which they are not likely, I think, to approach. I do not think there is any blame on the part of our leaders. We were strong enough to go ahead until recent events changed the plans of the enemy, and made it impossible [for us] to reinforce sufficiently. I was much vexed at first, but I suspect it is all right. We have had a great deal of severe fighting—fragmentary — in small detachments, but very severe. We have had narrow escapes. My whole command was nearly caught once; the Twenty-eighth barely escaped. General Cox and staff got off by the merest chance. Colonel Scammon’s brigade was in close quarters, etc., etc. And yet by good luck, we have had no serious disaster. We have lost tents and some small quartermaster stores, but nothing important. In the fighting we have had the best of it usually. The total loss of General Cox’s command is perhaps two hundred to three hundred, including killed, wounded, prisoners, and missing. The enemy has suffered far more. In my fight at Giles, the enemy had thirty-one killed and many wounded; our total casualties and missing, about fifteen. We shall remain here until reinforced or new events make it possible to move.

I see the Thirty-third, not the Twenty-third, gets the credit of taking Giles. Such is fame. No Thirty-third in this country. [The papers also said] Major Cowley not Comly, and so on. Well, all right. General Fremont complimented me for “energy and courage” and the Twenty-third for “gallantry” to this division. So it is all right.

Jim is here in our brigade (the Twelfth Regiment) looking very well. Dr. Joe well. Adjutant Avery is to take this to Raleigh only twenty miles off. We are connected by telegraph with you too, so we are near again for a season.



Show this to Steve [Stephenson].
Mrs. Hayes.

Camp On Flat Top Mountain On Line Between
Mercer And Raleigh Counties, May 20, 1862.

Dear Uncle: — The last three weeks has been a period of great activity with us — severe marching, sharp fighting, and all sorts of strategy and manoeuvring. I had command of the advance southward and marched to within ten miles of the railroad, seventy miles south of this. This was ten days ago. On the morning of the 10th the enemy attacked us in greatly superior numbers and with artillery. In obedience to orders we have been falling back ever since. I was much vexed that we were not reinforced. Perhaps I was wrong. It is now believed that the enemy, since their reverses in eastern Virginia, have been sending heavy bodies of troops this way; that our force is wholly inadequate to its task, and must wait here until largely strengthened. I am not sure about this, but accept it without much grumbling. As I had command of the advance, I also had command of the rear-guard during the two most perilous days of the retreat. I am glad to know that nobody blames me with anything. Perhaps nobody ought to be blamed, certainly not if the force of the enemy is correctly reported. We have got off very well, having the best of all the fighting, and losing very little property in the retreat, and conducting it in good order.

General Cox and staff narrowly escaped capture. My command had a narrow escape. With any common precautions we should have been captured or destroyed, but luckily I had mounted pickets two miles further out than usual and got notice of the trap in time. The total loss of my command up to yesterday since May 1 inclusive is seven killed, six missing, and thirty-five wounded. We have killed forty to fifty of the enemy, captured about fifty, and wounded a large number. We have captured and destroyed many arms, and lived on the enemy’s grub a week. We also took several teams and waggons. We have lost our tents (except headquarters) and part of our mess furniture.

We shall remain here and hereabouts some time to get reinforced and to get supplies. We are in telegraphic communication with the world and only sixty miles from navigation.

Dr. James Webb is now in this brigade, assistant surgeon of the Twelfth Regiment O. V. I. Dr. Joe is brigade surgeon. We shall enjoy a few days’ rest here. The Twenty-third is a capital set. They always stood up squarely to the work and enjoyed it. A vast difference between raw troops and those who have tried it enough to be at home.

Love to all. Good-bye.

R. B. Hayes.

S. Birchard.

Camp on Flat Top Mountain, May 20, 1862. — Monday, 19th, marched from camp on Bluestone River to this point (yesterday) — a hot dry march — with knapsacks. I supposed we were to go only five miles; was disappointed to find we were retreating so far as this point. Being out of humor with that, I was out of sorts with all things; scolded “some” because the column was halted to rest on the wrong side of a stream which had to be crossed single file; viz., the near instead of the opposite side; mad because Colonel Scammon halted us in the sun half an hour — no water — without telling us how long we were to halt, etc., etc. But got good-humored again soon. Must swear off from swearing. Bad habit. Met Dr. Jim Webb, assistant surgeon of [the] Twelfth, yesterday as we approached here. March fourteen miles.

[Today], Tuesday, 20th, rains occasionally — a cold rain. No tents, some trouble, but men are patient and hardy. Heard of Ike Nelson’s wounds, four to six in number and twenty bullet holes in his clothing. Left for dead but got well.

Avery and Captain Drake go to Raleigh this morning. We are holding on, waiting for supplies in the place of the tents, etc., we have lost. No news yet of Richmond’s having been taken, but it is likely soon to fall unless we are defeated.

London, May 20, 1862

It has rained every day at some time in the day for eight or ten days. People begin to look dismal and croak about the crops. To Great Britain every day of sunshine lost is equal to an expense of just so many thousand pounds. The islands never produce bread-stuffs sufficient for the consumption of the people annually. They must beg some millions of quarters of wheat at any rate. In bad years they buy just so much more. Hence it is that at this season every bad day sensibly affects the price of stocks. No country ever had a more sensitive thermometer of the weather. But if this be true in ordinary times, how much more so in this season. The supply of cotton is rapidly and steadily declining. And the poor operatives of Lancashire are coming nearer and nearer to the time of starvation for want of work. If upon the top of this there should come a dearth of bread, it is not difficult to understand the extent of the social distress that may ensue. So there are miseries quite as acute as those of war which now afflict us.

In the meanwhile things are looking better rather than worse with us. The game of secession looks as if it might be nearly played out. The country is just putting forth its power whilst the rebel armies are gasping for breath. I have been here now more than a year, during which time I have gone through nearly every variety of emotion in connection with this war. The time is approaching, I trust, when this anxiety will disappear, and with it the uncertainty of my own situation. Doubtless others may succeed, of an equally serious nature. We shall have upon us the dangerous and critical task of restoration of the civil and a diminution of the military power. All this is very likely. But at any rate that condition presents a different face to external nations. It does not materially impair the entireness of the national position. I shall therefore accept the transition with cheerfulness and accommodate myself to the new state with more cheerfulness than to the old….

MAY 20TH.—The President, in response to the Legislative Committee, announced that Richmond would be defended. A thrill of joy electrifies every heart, a smile of triumph is on every lip. The inhabitants seem to know that their brave defenders in the field will prove invincible; and it is understood that Gen. Lee considers the city susceptible of successful defense. The ladies are in ecstasies.

Tuesday, 20th—Things are a little more quiet today, the cannonading not being so brisk, although the skirmishers are keeping up a lively firing all along the line.

May 20th. The quartermaster was buried ashore this morning, after which we got under way and proceeded up some thirty miles, where we found the river again divided by an island, and the Brooklyn, Richmond and Iroquois having preceded us and taken the wrong channel, the two former ones had run aground. We lay by till morning, in the meantime sounding; the Brooklyn soon got off.

To Mrs. Lyon.

Farmington, Miss., Tuesday a. m., May 20, 1862.— On Saturday, just at night, our whole force advanced about three miles to this place. We are about a mile south of our battle ground of the 9th inst. We bivouacked that night in line of battle and the next morning went to work and entrenched ourselves. This is done by digging ditches sufficiently wide for two ranks, and deep enough so that the men when standing can just see to shoot over the embankment of dirt from the trench which is thrown up on the outside. When the men sit down they are completely out of sight below the surface, and perfectly safe unless a ball or shell happens to fall directly in the trench. The artillery is posted directly behind us and shoots over our heads.

Behind our regiment are ten field pieces, one twelve-pound howitzer for shell, four ten-pound Parrott guns and five six-pound brass pieces. Then immediately on our left is a battery of four thirty-two-pound Parrott siege guns; and this is a specimen of our defenses through the whole line stretching miles away to the north.

We are waiting here now for the rebels to attack us, as our position is very strong. We are on an elevation, with a broad plateau of cleared fields before us which they must cross before they can reach us. There is constant firing of pickets and some cannonading up the line every day at different points. I hear the big guns talking now a few miles north of us. If they do not attack us here we shall soon move up still nearer to them and fortify another line. At the longest I think the struggle will be over here in the course of two weeks, perhaps sooner. We do not doubt our ability to defeat them. I feel calm in view of the approaching contest. My greatest solicitude is for the brave boys that I lead to battle; but they, and all of us, are engaged in a righteous cause and are in the hands of Him ‘Who doeth all things well.’ Now, be brave and hopeful. You will hear of the great battle many days before you know my fate, as I can not telegraph to you. I will write as quickly as I can. I am in perfect health.

20th. Tuesday. Nettleton and Stewart went to Leavenworth. Rained.

20th.—Army moves at 7 this A. M. In the P. M., in obedience to the order of yesterday, I returned to White House, where I was received with the gratifying remark of the Medical Director, that when he needed the interference of my General in his hospital, he would let him know it. Tomorrow I shall return to my regiment, and hope to be permitted to remain with it.