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

Post image for Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

August 9, 2012

Three Years in the Confederate Horse Artillery — George Michael Neese.

August 9 — The band that played last night belongs to General Anderson’s Brigade.

This morning we were ordered to the front, which lies in the direction of Culpeper Court House. We started early, and even then the road was already crowded with baggage and ordnance wagons all headed toward Culpeper. At nine o’clock we crossed the Rapidan River, which is the boundary between Orange and Madison counties. We forded the Rapidan at Madison Mills, and passed through a corner of Madison County, then crossed the Robinson River into Culpeper County.

About three o’clock this afternoon we sighted the enemy nine miles from Culpeper Court House. Jackson’s batteries were ordered to the immediate front, took position and opened fire on the enemy right away. I think this initiatory fire was for the sole purpose of inducing this great and pompous man, Pope (who is just from the West, and boasts that he has never seen anything of the Rebels but their backs), to disclose his intentions and feel his front. The enemy was prompt in replying to Jackson’s batteries, and the cannonading soon after became general along the front, and opened the battle of Cedar Mountain.

From the way the trains were running last night and bringing troops from the direction of Richmond, and from the bustle and stir in the infantry camps, I thought that Jackson was fixing to butcher, but I had no idea that the eventful sword measuring that of the mighty Pope would be drawn so soon. I have no idea what kind of timber is in the make-up of this military giant from the West who has been feeding on eagle meat, but unless he is awfully superior to the Yankee generals that operated in the Shenandoah Valley a few months ago and butted up against old Stonewall, he will find that by the time he bumps against the sticking qualities of Jackson’s bayonets, and receives a few practical object lessons in flanking from the master of that art, he will be ready to soar to Washington and whisper to the Secretary of War that he (Pope) believes and is under the serious impression that he has had a peep at something of the Rebels on the fields of Virginia that did not exactly look altogether like their backs.

The field where the battle of Cedar Mountain was fought is a plain about two miles long and half a mile wide, skirted on each side with woods. On the southeast side is a large hill, or rather a little mountain, covered with timber. Nearly at the summit of the little mountain Jackson had a battery which did good and effective work during the fight.

At the northern extremity of the plain General Pope had his line of battle, at the edge of a beautiful field rather sloping to the south. Our infantry was thrown out on the right and left in the woods, and advanced on the enemy’s line at least a part of the way under shelter of the woods.

Our infantry debouched from the woods about half a mile from Pope’s battle line and drove in the heavy skirmish line in its front, then advancing in splendid order and battle array on the enemy’s main line, and soon after the storm of musketry began to rage furiously along both lines with the same fearful, terrific roar, only more of it, that I heard at Port Republic.

In the meantime our infantry on the extreme left advanced in quick time and promptly assaulted the enemy’s right, which was composed of splendid troops that fought well and stubbornly clung to their position with obstinate tenacity and such undaunted courage that eventually they charged Jackson’s left with a determined onslaught that caused an Alabama regiment to waver and about ready to do that which would permit them to fight some other day. They had already commenced to let Pope have a sly glance at their backs, which was a dangerous exhibition just at this juncture, as it came very near stampeding our whole left wing. I was near the place where this mixing affair occurred, and saw our men come rearward in a sort of wild, conglomerate, stampedy mass.

Just then, and in time to prevent a disastrous wavering and general stampede, General D. H. Hill, with drawn sword, appeared among the apparently disorganized troops, and with urgent appeals and persuasive demeanor he succeeded in rallying the wavering and started it in order toward the front.

After a strengthening plaster had been applied to the weak and shaky place in his line, by the ubiquitous and invincible Stonewall in person, the left wing again advanced with redoubled courage, and in turn swept back the Yankee line beyond its first position. The battle was now in full bloom all along the line. Jackson’s batteries on the mountain side were still thundering away and doing good work, while on our right a continued blaze of fire flashed along the opposing lines of infantry and the musketry raged with terrifying fury. The surrounding air was full of flying messengers that gathered in with a dull thud many inhabitants for the silent city of the dead. I saw our wounded pass to the rear. . Some were able to walk and others were carried back on stretchers — among the latter General Winder, who commanded the old Stonewall Brigade, mortally wounded.

The battle lasted till about sunset, when the musketry ceased; but there was some artillery firing till nearly midnight. Our forces drove the enemy about four miles, and we held the battle-field.

At dark the first gun was ordered forward, and we went down on the field and bivouacked right where an Ohio regiment that was charged by a North Carolina regiment this afternoon occupied the Yankee line. Before the terrible fire of the Yanks slackened and their line began to waver and sullenly fall back under the severe pressure of Jackson’s war machine, here the conflict had been desperate and severe; but as the gallant North Carolinians debouched from the woods they fired a volley into the Ohioans at close range, then rushed down, the hill firing as they went, and before they reached the Ohioans close enough to work on them with cold steel the Buckeye boys had retired with thinned ranks.

The Federal dead lay all around our bivouac, and I heard the pitiful groans of the wounded and the low weakly murmurs of the dying. When I lay down on blood-stained sod to snatch a few hours of sleep it was then two hours after midnight, and the desultory artillery fire that was kept up in the fore part of the night had fully died away and the dogs of war were silent once more.

The sudden and abrupt vicissitudes of sanguinary war rush a man rough-shod from one end of the scale of human experience to the other. Last night I was lulled to sleep, as it were, by the enlivening and inspiring strains of a band playing “Home, Sweet Home”; to-day I heard the hideous roar of battle, and to-night I am kept awake by the constant and pitiful murmur of the wounded and groans of the dying without any “Sweet Home ” in it.

If this cruel war lasts seventy-five years, and the, Yanks don’t kill me before it ends, I hope that I will never be compelled to bivouac on another fresh battlefield.

The same silvery moon that flooded the hills of Orange last night hangs again in an unclouded sky and bathes the plains of Culpeper with a sea of mellow light, and the battle-field lies in a weird silvery glow nearly as light as day. The moonbeams that played last night with velvety fingers, penciling with silvery sheen the silent hieroglyphics of Hope that flashed over the cheeks of sleeping soldiers as they dreamed of home and loved ones far away, to-night silently falls and lingers on many upturned faces that are as cold as marble and wearing the pallid and ghastly hue that can alone be painted by the Angel of Death.

I wonder where that band is that played “Home, Sweet Home” last night. I wish it would come right here and play “Come, Ye Disconsolate,” so as to drown this constant wailing of the wounded.

Our battery was not engaged to-day, but we were under fire of the enemy’s batteries about twenty minutes.

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