June 17. —We are still in the front of the advance, living in dens and caves of the earth, maintaining our incessant skirmish, and occasionally losing men from the regiment. We go unwashed, uncombed, unshaven, creeping and stooping, with no baggage but the clothes on our backs, and they torn everywhere by brambles, and sometimes by shot. My only portfolio now is my cartridge-box, where I find room for a few sheets, and my pencil, among my sixty rounds, writing my record upon its broad leathern flap. This afternoon, there has been a flag of truce; during which they have buried dead, and even removed wounded men, who have lain on the field since Sunday! It is now Wednesday. Company D has assisted in burying a hundred and fourteen corpses. I have just seen Cyrus Stowell, who tells me a terrible story. The decomposition of the bodies was so advanced, that the flesh slipped from the arms as our men tried to raise them, the heads fell away from the trunks sometimes, and the worms crawled from the dead upon the hands of the living! Unspeakably dreadful!
The rebels now use little artillery against us, but mostly rifles. Tremendous fellows they are. During the flag of truce this afternoon, plenty of them have been in plain sight—slovenly-looking butternuts—about the few tents and clumps of old buildings inside their parapet, and, indeed, in the open space between the two armies.
I have written about the assault of the 14th inst. Never come to a private soldier to pass judgment on a military act; for his horizon is too circumscribed to comprehend the circumstances. But the judgment of us, the rank and file, upon the matter, is this, — let it go for what it is worth, — that the men did their part: they showed willingness and bravery, but it was misdirected. Our men could see the charging regiments begin their rush, way back by an old chimney to our left here, — too far, too far, by a long distance, considering the difficult nature of the ground to be traversed. We heard the poor fellows’ cheers as they started; but the rebs heard it too, and could be seen rushing to the point of their works, against which the assaulting regiments were to dash. Their attention was attracted by our unnecessary demonstrations, and our men received more terrible volleys. The result was, about fifteen hundred lost to us, by the last accounts.
We advanced in the battle as skirmishers, as I have written; and when the roar and heat were over, and the tide of Federal energy and valor had ebbed again from off the field, —leaving it wet with red pools, and strewn with bloody drift, — it was given to our brigade to stay in our steps, to hold the tangled ravines and slopes we had conquered, under the daily and nightly volleys of the Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas regiments, who, we hear, hold the breast-work in our front. Now and then we lose a man, killed or wounded; but we believe our loss would have been quadrupled, were it not that our colonel has handled his command so prudently and skilfully.
So far, my hands have no stain of human blood upon them. Our rifles are always close at hand, loaded, to be ready against any sortie, or if we should suddenly have to charge. The regiment, generally, have practised much against the sand-bags and loop-holes of the enemy’s parapet; but we do not fire until some hostile hand seems likely to get the flag out of Wilson’s grasp.
Until within a day or two, my situation has been hard. I draw my rationswith Company D, and they have been posted at some distance from the ravine of the color-guard. I could not always go for my food at the right time, — sometimes could not go at all: at any rate, it was always at a risk; for the only path was the obstructed, bullet-swept track leading from our ravine to the woods in the rear. Irregularity in eating, abstinence, exposure to the heat of burning days and the night-damps, have rather affected my condition. To the sights of war we have all become used, and can see the worst without sickening. Every day, gaping wounds and mangled death are borne past us, on stretchers, out of the rifle-pits and trenches. The surgeons and chaplain remain at the old camp in the woods which we left the midnight preceding the assault, and that has become a city of refuge for the sick. One tired boy after another has gone there, from the heat and damp at the front, until the companies have grown smaller than ever. The march from the Courtableau to Brashear City brought down numbers. Numbers have fallen sick here, so that our company has scarcely more than twenty on duty; and other companies are nearly as much reduced.