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

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L Castleman.

2ith.—My resignation is accepted. I am no longer a surgeon in the army, and to-morrow I leave the camp for a home.

23d.—”More trouble in the wigwam.” Charges are preferred against the Colonel of the regiment with view to a court martial and dismissal from the service. ‘Twill amount to nothing more than to hurry his resignation, which he has for some time had in contemplation.

22nd.—This morning I tendered my resignation; it is approved by the Colonel, and has gone forward. I am worn out by the labor of the last year and a half, and feel the necessity of withdrawing from the army. I trust that it will be accepted, and that I may be permitted to retire and rest for a time. I shall leave the regiment with regret, for I have grown to love it, both individually and in mass. But it is necessary.

We probably go into winter quarters now.

21st.—Oh the glorious letter of Gen. Burnside! He asks no subterfuge to hide him from what others might deem the disgrace of defeat. His honor overrules his reticence, and he comes nobly to the rescue of his commander, of the Secretary of War, of the President, of the Government. Right or wrong, he assumes the responsibility of the late battle, with all the odium. I feel that he may safely do so, and await the verdict of history, which in my opinion will place this in the list of the most brilliant military manœuvres. But how different his course from that of some others whose reticence prevailed, and whose high sense of honor could permit them to listen to abuses heaped on the Government for their acts, without the manliness to come boldly to the rescue. How plain the line between the patriot and the partisan! We feel joyous to-night. This letter is a strike. We have an honest man to lead us, and we will follow his lead.

20th.—A deep gloom hangs over the army to-day. I have at no time seen it so depressed—depressed not only at its new defeat, but at its own halting between opinions. Though the affection of the soldiers for Gen. Burnside was warm and active, it had not been confirmed by trials and experience, and the “expectant friends of Gen. McClellan” are still busy in taking advantage of this defeat to depreciate Gen. Burnside in the confidence of the army. This causes halting in opinions, and fears that our new Commander-in-Chief may not prove competent to the charge entrusted to him. It is of a piece with the McClellan tactics. Rule or ruin has been the motto of many of his friends.

19th.—To-day we have fallen back on to the same camping ground which we left on the 11th to advance to the capture of Fredericksburg. How different the feelings of the soldiery on that beautiful moonlight morning, whilst they struck and loaded their tents amid their cheering huzzas, and bidding farewell to the ground which they supposed they were placing in their rear forever, from what they are to-night. Whilst beaten and repulsed, they are this moment re-pitching their tents on the identical spot where they cherished such bright visions of glory. ‘Tis unfortunate that we did not find some other place “to fall back on.

18th.—To-day has been spent in clearing up, as if in preparation for a move or a battle. We have given our surplus “hard talk,” with some tea, coffee, sugar and other necessaries of life to the poor, paralytic old man, whose premises we have occupied. He is an uncompromising rebel, but humanity forbids that we should permit him to starve.

What will be the effect of this repulse on the spirits of the army? I shall watch with much solicitude. For the Commander-in-Chief, it has happened at a most inauspicious moment. He had just superceded General McClellan, who had many warm friends, who stood ready to take advantage of every misstep, or misfortune of the new Commander, and to turn it to the credit of their friend, now in disgrace. Though the army was rapidly growing into an affection for General Burnside, the feeling was of new growth, and not yet confirmed by long acquaintance, by trials, or by successes. The friends of McClellan, true to the instincts of human nature, will magnify the reverses, whilst they will withhold credit for the merits of the manœuvre. Already General Burnside’s friends are finding it necessary to defend him against the attacks of the croakers, by following the example set by the friends of McClellan on the Peninsula, in attributing the failures to the interference of the President, to General Halleck, or to Mr. Secretary Stanton. For my own part, I feel that defence is unnecessary, for when I consider the fact, that public opinion compelled the crossing and the attack on Fredericksburg; that no commander could have withstood the outside pressure, however great the danger of advance; when I recollect the successful crossing in the face of so large a force, the successful attack and capture of part of the heights, the falling back, made necessary by the tardiness of some of his Generals to support him, the ruse of clearing the decks for action, the removal of the hospitals and wounded to a point out of reach of fire, yet in full view of the enemy, the withdrawal of the army so quietly and so adroitly that even his own divisions were deceived into the belief by each, that it was the only division recrossing, altogether mark it as one of the most adroitly managed military manœuvres since the crossing of the Delaware by General Washington.

17th.—To this day I have lived fifty four years—cui bono? With all my defects in moral, mental and physical organization, I believe that in the aggregate of these powers, God has favored me, up to the average of men. Have I used those capabilities up to their power, for good? If asked positively, I do not hesitate to say, No! There have been many opportunities for me to do good, which I have not embraced, but if asked comparatively, I as unhesitatingly answer, Yes? No man is perfect, and few, I think, have struggled harder or more unselfishly to be useful and to alleviate the sufferings of others than I have. As, then, I have failed, by my own admission, to do all I could, but have satisfied my conscience, by striving to do better than others, shall I continue to be satisfied with this measure of my efforts? Can any man, with that alone as his guide, say and feel that he wholly divests himself of the motives of public approbation, and that there is not, after all, something of selfishness in his efforts. I fear that a close examination of this question, would, to my conscience, be less pleasant than profitable. Rivalry is a motive necessary to advancement, but unsupported, it is a weak staff on a long journey through a life of temptations. Support it, however, by a desire to live for other’s good, and the lame and the halt may lean on it with confidence and with comfort. God grant that for the short time remaining to me, I may have all these for my support, and that I may live more usefully than I have done.

“Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To hide the faults I see.”

Well, I am at a loss to judge what will be the next move in the great game now being played. I am two to three miles from the army, and being shut up in my hospital, I have less means of judging than if I were in Washington or Wisconsin. But how little, oh, how little, do our people at a distance from the scat of war realize of the sufferings it inflicts, say nothing of the abandonment of homes, where only the joys of childhood can be recalled in all their freshness, where the whole history of the family is written on the very walls and trees, to which we bid farewell forever, where little “tracks in the sand” constantly remind us of our deep but joyous responsibilities of directing little footsteps to good, to high, to holy walks, or where the little empty armchair chains us, through sad memories by a tie stronger even than that of our joys. Say nothing of the thousands of larger chairs made vacant, and the deep heart aches which they cause, still the sufferings, little, when compared with these, would strike terror to the minds of those who have not witnessed these scenes of distress.

At a farm house, in the yard of which we have our medical headquarters, I met this morning a young lady of genteel appearance. I soon learned that she was from Fredericksburg. It was a cold morning. Rude soldiers, and officers not much more polite, regardless of the comforts of the household, had filled every space and had crowded her, with the rest, into the open air. Her teeth chattered from the cold. I invited her to my tent, in which was a good, warm stove. With a look of surprise, a little hesitation and a pleasant laugh at the novelty of the situation, she accepted my invitation. Having remained with her a few minutes, and obtained her promise to dine with me, I left her in the enjoyment of the warm stove. I found her highly educated, and a lady. Her father had died, leaving a handsome property in the city of Fredericksburg, the rents of which supported the family aristocratically. During the dinner, I made a laughing apology for offering her some sweet meats on a tin plate, with an iron spoon. The cord which she had held tense and tightly, now gave way. Dropping knife and fork, she exclaimed: “Oh, sir! excuse me. Two days ago this would have been palatable, though eaten on the trodden road, but now I cannot eat; five days of fasting and anxiety have destroyed even my power to hunger, and here I am a starving beggar, dependent even for shelter on the charity of the poor paralytic owner of this house, who has not a mouthful to feed himself, his wife and children. Oh! my poor, poor mother!” “May I know what of your mother, Miss G——?” “Four days ago I stood near you, as you watched from the river bank the shelling of our city, I witnessed the pleasure with which you noted the precision of the shot which fired the veranda of my mother’s house.[1] In that house I last saw her, ten days ago. Oh, my God, where is she to-day? Old and feeble, she could not get away!”

“But did you abandon her there?”

“When you ordered the evacuation of the city, within six hours, I was from home. I did not hear of it till the time had expired, and since I have been denied admittance to the city, and have had no means of learning how or where she is. Can not you, sir, procure me a pass through your lines?

She told me, too, of her sister, whose husband, a Colonel in the rebel army, was killed in battle two months ago. Three days after, her sister died of a broken heart, leaving in her charge an orphan child of two years; and this child, too, was left in the city, with its grandmother. How many years of civil life would it require to accumulate the misery historied in these dozen lines, intended only as an apology for a lady’s want of appetite? The misery of herself, the starvation of the paralytic and his large family, the deaths of the heart-broken sister and her husband, the orphanage of the child, and the destitution of the poor decriped mother! and not a tear did I shed at her distress. Did my benevolence owe a single tear to each case as bad as this, my whole life-current converted into tears, would never pay the debt; yet it is well to record a case, occasionally, that when I feel inclined to complain of my lot, it may serve to remind me of how much worse it might be.

After dinner, Surgeons and attendants were collected to dress the wounded, who were operated on four days ago. As I halted at the door of the tents containing the two hundred mangled men, I thought of the three-fifths of the amputations which had proved fatal, after the battle of Hanover. I pictured to my mind the two-fifths who had died within five days after the battle of Antietam, and I rallied all my fortitude to meet with composure the anxious dying looks of the poor fellows who had been jostled and dragged from place to place, for four days, and whose dependence on me had won for them my affections. Oh! who would be a Surgeon?

Before sun-down, all were dressed, and every man deposited in ambulances for general hospital, and except some four or five, wounded in organs which rendered them necessarily mortal, to our surprise, we found every wound doing well, every patient apparently recovering, and as we left them with a farewell, and heard the muttered prayers and benedictions of the poor sufferers, I found a tear to spare. Who would not be a Surgeon?

[1] I remember it well, and a beautiful house it was.

16th.—I am too stupid, to-night, to write intelligibly even a journal of the day. After we had shaken the broken and grating bones of our wounded, by moving them in ambulances, yesterday, we had scarcely got the poor fellows lifted out and placed quietly on a coating of straw on the ground, when we received orders to reload them for a move farther to the rear, so we worked nearly all night, and by daylight, were thoroughly rain-soaked. This morning, having reloaded them all, we moved about two miles further to the rear, repitched our tents, dumped the men into them, and, for the first time since Friday morning, commenced dressing their wounds. But what was my surprise, on rising the hill on this side of the river, to find all of our great army encamped as quietly as if they had been settled there for a month, and that our pontooniers had taken up the bridges? We are all back! What next? I am hardly in condition to reason much about it to-night, but, taking it all together, and admitting the necessity of a withdrawal, from whatever cause, I must think it one of the most brilliant achievements of the war. The great preparatians of two days in the face of the enemy, as if for a decisive battle, the giving out, on the authority of the Generals themselves, that it would certainly be fought, the manner of moving the wounded, and the pitching of the hospital tents, and filling them with patients, in full view of the enemy; the story got up of Jackson’s attempting to cross, and the necessity of one corps of our army recrossing to prevent him, thus so thoroughly deceiving our own troops, that each corps supposed that it was the only one recrossiug; and the strengthening of our pickets and videttes that night, all so completely deceived the enemy, as well as our own army, that not a gun was fired or a suspicion entertained of our retreat.

15th.—”How brightly breaks the morning!” clear and beautiful. What of the passions and ambitions of the hosts marshalled in hostile array to each other? Oh that they were calm and unspotted as the bright sun which shines on them and lights their way to this wholesale and legitimate murder. I have been a backwoodsman; have lain concealed, and by false calls have lured the wary turkey within range of the deadly rifle. I have climbed the forest tree, and from this ambush have watched the cautious deer as he came at hot summer eve to lave his sides and slake his thirst at the bubbling spring, and have slaughtered him in the midst of his enjoyment. I have lain behind the precipice to surprise the wily wolf, as in hot pursuit of his intended victim he became rash and incautious, and by a shot I have arrested his life current and his chase. But never have I planned with half the care with which man here decoys and plans against the life of his fellow man, or felt half the pleasure at my success as do our men of God, when, at their nightly prayers, they in the same breath thank that God for the murders we have been permitted to perpetrate—the misery to inflict—and ask for peace on earth, and good will to man.

‘Tis 10 o’clock, and no action has commenced. Has there been some change in the rebel positions since yesterday to delay us, or did I judge rightly when I supposed that the public promises of a fight to-day were made to deceive the enemy, not doubting that some traitor or deserter would manage to get the word into their lines?

Orders have come to send our wounded to the other side of the river, and now at 12 o’clock a city of hospital tents is being built up on the plain about a mile further back, but in full view, because we are too near to the expected scene of action. But why, if we expected a fight to-day, was this not done yesterday? It looks very like a ruse of some kind. I do not quite understand it, but something’s in the wind. I have been gratified to find, in my rounds to-day, that my patients seem to be doing so well.

Having sent all the wounded to the rear, at half-past 2 o’clock the surgeons received orders to evacuate immediately , the premises we had so busily and so bloodily occupied, and to “re-cross the river.” This order being rather indefinite, I took occasion when across to select my whereabouts, so I rode up to a point opposite to Fredericksburg, which I found that our troops had saved from entire destruction by extinguishing the fire when the enemy evacuated it, I there found General Sumner’s troops in full possession, and heard that General Lee had this morning given us notice to leave it in six hours, (improbable.) Whether true or not, he had just commenced shelling the city, but, during the half hour that I watched proceedings, with very little effect. I then hunted up the new locality of our hospital, where I now sit, and where I wait for “our misguided brothers” on the other side to send me work to do.

9 P. M.—Night has come, without any important action during the day. I have just received intelligence that our troops are recrossing the river in force! Can it be that we are retreating! Is this the key to the apparent indiseretion of our Commanders, in proclaiming from the house tops, preparations for a battle? If so, it is a shrewd move. I do not like the idea of falling back. However, if we have become satisfied that we cannot force the enemy’s position, nor draw them on to the plain, ’tis better to withdraw and try some other plan, than to sacrifice our men in a struggle where it is evident we must lose. The whispers of two days ago, that there is disaffection, or defection amongst the officers, is swelling into murmurs, and I confess my fear that it is not without reason. At two points, to my knowledge, during the hard day’s fight, the enemy was dislodged from his entrenchments, yet we almost immediately withdrew and permitted him to repossess them. Why?But there is a story current, that General Jackson (Stonewall) made an attempt to cross to our side to-day, and that it is only General Smith’s corps of our army that is recrossing, to guard against any possibility of his success, should he attempt it again.