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

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rienzi, Monday, Sept. 8. To-day was spent in anxious waiting. I stood guard for the first time while we were momentarily expecting orders to leave; slept in the open air.

September 8 — This morning we started with the cavalry on a scout toward Poolesville, which is south of Urbana and eighteen miles distant. When we got to within one mile of Poolesville we spied the first Yanks that we saw since our arrival in the United States. They were cavalry, and showed fight right away.

We went in battery on a hill in the edge of a woods about a mile from the town, and fired some six or eight rounds at them, when they drew up their cavalry in columns with drawn sabers ready for a charge on our pieces, but we threw a shell which anchored dangerously near them, broke their ranks and scattered them rearward. They brought up a battery then and opened a well-directed fire on us, and eventually drove us from our position. Their battery was about a mile and a half from us, and every shell after the first two fell and exploded right in the midst of us. I believe that the confounded Yankees can shoot better in the United States than they can when they come to Dixieland. They did better shooting with their artillery to-day than any I have seen since I have been in service. For a while we seemed to be in a dangerous locality, for while the battery on our front was pouring in some good warm work some two or three regiments of Yankee cavalry closed in on us in our rear. Heaven only knows where they came from or how they got so completely in our rear, and on the very road we came over, and which was the only way of escape for us if there was to be any getting-out business in the game. Our situation was critical indeed, for the Yankees in our front were advancing rapidly and getting very bold and those in our rear charging and closing in on us, but at this juncture of affairs Colonel Munford, who had charge of the fight on that part of the field, became unduly excited, and as he galloped past us he shouted: “Cut loose from your pieces!” But the calm and gallant Chew, whose judgment could not be dethroned by a little danger or excitement, quietly unheeded Colonel Munford’s hasty advice or suggestion and told us to stick to our guns. Just then a regular fusillade of pistols and carbines opened all around us, with some of our cavalry with drawn sabers rushing first one way then another, not knowing whom to fight first, the ones in our front or the flankers in our rear. Fortunately, and just in time, the grand old Seventh Regiment of cavalry charged, with drawn sabers, in regular Ashby style and repulsed the enemy in our rear, and we slipped through the meshes of the dangerous web that the Yanks were weaving around us, and brought all our pieces out safely. Even then we were not on the dead sure side of safety yet, as the Yanks that were in our front at first attempted to flank and cut us off from the Urbana road, but the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry stubbornly held them at bay until we got past the cutting off place and were once more where we felt the gratifying virtue of an open and unobstructed rear. After we wriggled out of the most hazardous and eventful situation the battery was ever in, we fell back a mile and went in position on the road, but the Yanks did not pursue us. After we remained in battery in the road until we found that the Yanks had settled down for the day,—and I know we had enough for one dose,—we fell back ten miles and bivouacked for the night at the southern base of Sugar Loaf Mountain. Our cavalry lost very few men to-day, considering the close and mixed-up encounter that we were all in. I saw some of the shell from the Yankee battery explode right in the ranks of our cavalry, but it seems they did very little harm, and our side sustained very little damage all through. If to-day’s proceedings is an average specimen of the treatment the dear Yanks intend to give us in these dear United States, I think the best thing we can do is to go back to Dixie right away, for the Yanks seem to pop up out of the ground most anywhere, and if it had not been for the Seventh Virginia’s gallant and timely charge to-day this evening some of our battery would be on the way to a delectable den called a Yankee prison, while others might be traveling on that gloomy stream that unerringly drifts its silent passengers to that boundless mystery-veiled sea that lies beyond the outposts of mortal ken.

The country we traversed to-day is very diversified, at some places beautiful, at others hilly and rough. We passed through Barnesville, a small but pleasant village situated on a prospective eminence seventeen miles south of Frederick City.

Sugar Loaf Mountain bounds the beautiful valley of the Monocacy on the southeast, and is about three miles long and lifts its head above the valley in the Sugar Loaf style. On top of the mountain at the highest crest the Yanks have a signal station which affords a splendid view of the whole Frederick City country and all the country between the mountain and the Potomac, and also the greater part of Loudoun County, Virginia. The mountain is about six miles from the Potomac.

September 8, Monday. Less sensation and fewer rumors than we have had for several days.

The President called on me to know what we had authentic of the destruction of the Rebel steamer in Savannah River. He expressed himself very decidedly concerning the management or mismanagement of the army. Said, “We had the enemy in the hollow of our hands on Friday, if our generals, who are vexed with Pope, had done their duty; all of our present difficulties and reverses have been brought upon us by these quarrels of the generals.” These were, I think, his very words. While we were conversing, Collector Barney of New York came in. The President said, perhaps before B. came, that Halleck had turned to McClellan and advised that he should command the troops against the Maryland invasion. “I could not have done it,” said he, “for I can never feel confident that he will do anything effectual.” He went on, freely commenting and repeating some things said before B. joined us. Of Pope he spoke in complimentary terms as brave, patriotic, and as having done his duty in every respect in Virginia, to the entire satisfaction of himself and Halleck, who both knew and watched, day and night, every movement. On only one point had Halleck doubted any order P. had given; that was in directing one division, I think Heintzelman’s, to march for the Chain Bridge, by which the flanks of that division were exposed. When that order reached him by telegraph, Halleck was uneasy, for he could not countermand it in season, because the dispatch would have to go part of the way by courier. However, all went off without disaster; the division was not attacked. Pope, said the President, did well, but there was here an army prejudice against him, and it was necessary he should leave. He had gone off very angry, and not without cause, but circumstances controlled us.

Barney said he had mingled with all descriptions of persons, and particularly with men connected with the army, and perhaps could speak from actual knowledge of public sentiment better than either of us. He was positive that no one but McClellan could do anything just now with this army. He had managed to get its confidence, and he meant to keep it, and use it for his own purposes. Barney proceeded to disclose a conversation he had with Barlow some months since. Barlow, a prominent Democratic lawyer and politician of New York, had been to Washington to attend one of McClellan’s grand reviews when he lay here inactive on the Potomac. McClellan had specially invited Barlow to be present, and during this visit opened his mind, said he did not wish the Presidency, would rather have his place at the head of the army, etc., etc., intimating he had no political views or aspirations. All with him was military, and he had no particular desire to close this war immediately, but would pursue a line of policy of his own, regardless of the Administration, its wishes and objects.

The combination against Pope was, Barney says, part of the plan carried out, and the worst feature to him was the great demoralization of his soldiers. They were becoming reckless and untamable. In these remarks the President concurred, and said he was shocked to find that of 140,000 whom we were paying for in Pope’s army only 60,000 could be found. McClellan brought away 93,000 from the Peninsula, but could not to-day count on over 45,000. As regarded demoralization, the President said, there was no doubt that some of our men permitted themselves to be captured in order that they might leave on parole, get discharged, and go home. Where there is such rottenness, is there not reason to fear for the country?

Barney further remarked that some very reliable men were becoming discouraged,and instanced Cassius M. Clay, who was advocating an armistice and terms of separation or of compromise with the Rebels. The President doubted if Clay had been rightly understood, for he had had a full and free talk with him, when he said had we been successful we could have had it in our power to offer terms.

In a conversation this morning with Chase, he said it was a doubtful matter whether my declining to sign the paper against McClellan was productive of good or harm. If I had done it, he said, McClellan would have been disposed of and not now in command, but the condition of the army was such under his long manipulation that it might have been hazardous at this juncture to have dismissed him. I assured him I had seen no moment yet when I regretted my decision, and my opinion of McClellan had undergone no change. He has military acquirements and capacity, dash, but has not audacity, lacks decision, delays, hesitates, vacillates; will, I fear, persist in delays and inaction and do nothing affirmative. His conduct during late events aggravates his indecision and is wholly unjustifiable and inexcusable.

But I will not prophesy what he will do in his present command. He has a great opportunity, and I hope and pray he may improve it. The President says truly he has the “slows,” but he can gather the army together better than any other man. Let us give him credit when he deserves it.

Monday, 8th—It rained all last night. Bolivar has a town clock which can be heard as far out as our camp. The town watchman keeps calling out the hours till 2 or even 4 o’clock in the morning, ending with his monotonous “all’s well.” The feeling of the boys is that all is not well when hundreds of men have to be out on vedette with drawn muskets ready for a fight, and that the watchman had better dispense with the announcement until this war is over.

Monday, September 8. Camp near Leesboro, Maryland. — Nothing new this morning. Men from Ohio all in a talk about General Reno’s abusive language. It is said that when talking with me he put his hand on his pistol; that many standing by began to handle their arms also! I am sorry the thing goes so far.

8th.—Marched again last night. Started at dark, and moved till about midnight. Were called before daylight this morning, started early, passed through Rockville. Stopped to rest for two or three hours, left knapsacks and baggage, and pushed forward. Verily, there may be mettle in General McClellan, after all. This is so different from our wont, that we appear to be under another dynasty. The army is elated. Let us hurrah for McClellan! But we must do it cautiously; we are not quite out of the woods.

Having lightened ourselves of our baggage, we moved on, our transportation wagons keeping up with us.

To Mrs. Lyon.

Camp 16th Wis. Vol., near Corinth, Mon. a. m., Sept. 8, 1862.—I got away from the hospital Saturday night and came to Corinth yesterday morning. Sent word to Sperry, who came after me with an ambulance, took me first to General Grant’s headquarters, two miles out of town, and then brought me here. I found everything all right. Resigned as Captain, which was accepted, and I go to headquarters again today to be mustered as Colonel of the 13th.[1] This is only for convenience and to have my pay going on. It looks squally about my getting home, I am improving too rapidly for that. I leave tomorrow morning for Columbus. I met Captain Smith at Corinth yesterday. He says he heard in Cairo that the 13th had gone up the Tennessee river to Fort Henry. This is uncertain. Sperry is hearty.

(The 13th Regiment had gone to Fort Henry. One of the officers, Levi Billings, came home with Mr. Lyon, as he was then so feeble that they would not allow him to come alone. He stayed in Racine for three weeks, then went to Madison and was mustered in as Colonel of the 13th Regiment and joined the regiment at Fort Henry.)

[1] Not being able to get a leave of absence if I mustered as Colonel, I postponed the muster and returned home as a private citizen.—W. P. L.

Monday, 8th. Wrote a short letter to Melissa. Considerable talk among officers about the colonelcy. Tod says Ratliff can not be colonel. So it is thought Major Miner will be the favored one. He says he will either run the regiment or be out of it! Considerable prejudice against him among the men on account of his course at Carthage in April and on the march from Flat Rock.

Written from the Sea islands of South Carolina.

[Diary] 8th.

Rina of the “Corner,” who was so ill as to have sent for her children from Hilton Head and bade them goodbye the night before I saw her, is now well and smiling. She loads us with presents when we go there — figs and oranges preserved in honey, honeycomb, watermelons, eggs, vegetables.

We have such fun discussing love, which I have termed the “psychological phenomenon,” or rather, listening to the discussion upon it between Mr. Soule and Captain Hooper. Mr. Soule contends that Captain Hooper knows nothing about it and will wake up some day with a start. Captain Hooper says he knew all about it when he was a small boy and will never be more in love than he was then. I say, “We shall see.”

Camp near Alexandria, Va.,
Monday, September 8, 1862.

Dear Sister L.:—.

For over three weeks we have been constantly on the move, not sleeping in the same place two nights in that time.

We marched down the Peninsula, camping at Chickahominy, twenty-seven miles; Williamsburg, sixteen miles; Yorktown, fifteen miles, and Fortress Monroe, twenty-eight miles; eighty-six miles in four days. Next day embarked at Newport News, and next day landed at Aquia Creek; thence sixteen miles by railroad to Fredericksburg, then following the north fork of the Rappahannock, we went out in the direction of Culpeper and after scouting round that country a few days, took the back track and followed alongside the railroad to Manassas Junction. We left the railroad there and marched back and forth near the old Bull Run battlefield, and on Saturday week we were engaged in the second Bull Run fight on the same ground as the other, a fight that throws the first one into the shade. If I had time and felt able, I would like to describe the battle to you and our retreat to Centreville. But I don’t know as you would like to hear such terrible details. Suffice it to say it was another of McDowell’s victories—a fearful scene of bloody carnage.

We stopped at Centreville one day and then made a long round-about march to Hall’s Hill, stopped there one day, and then a march of sixteen miles brought us here.

I would not, if I could, tell you how we have suffered on this march. Eating raw beef without salt, and drinking water from mud holes, were done more than once. I have marched forty-six miles on nothing but raw beef and ditch water, and yet I held out to the end. Now I am worn out, and can neither write nor do anything else till I am some rested.

I had to smile a little at your questions about the battle smoke. I think it more probable somebody was burning the brush in his pasture that week.