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

Post image for Journal of Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman.

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L. Castleman.

April 16, 2012

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L Castleman.

I6th.—Left camp at 8 this A. M., Gen. Brooks’ Brigade having the advance, with Gen. Hancock’s at a respectful distance in the rear. Then came the third, under General Davidson, and so on. Marched one and a half miles, and halted in line of battle. At the same time, 10 A. M., our artillery (Mott’s Battery) opened fire about a mile in advance of us. This is the first time we have had a near prospect of a general battle, and the effect on the bearing and conduct of our men surprised me. Were they burning with impatience to join their friends in the fight? In trepidation lest the danger approach nearer? Weeping to think how many of us before night must bite the dust? Rejoicing that this fight may terminate the war, and with it our privations, hardships, toils and dangers? Weeping over the fate of friends now falling in the fight? Not a bit of these. For myself, so soon as the firing commenced I rode up to Major ______, and we exchanged an expression of our wishes in case of serious accident to either of us. That arranged, he remarked, “Well, Surgeon, should you be killed it will be only for an hour or two. You will then wake up, (the Major is a Spiritualist) rub your eyes, look around you for the boys, but soon realize your new position.” We parted. I rode along the line of Hancock’s Brigade to see the effect on them. I first came on a group of men talking “horse talk,” and playing with their horses. Whilst I was listening, General H______ rode up, gave some general direction about ambulances, and casually remarked that Mott was having a hard time. I asked, What? He replied laughingly, that his “big French artillerist” had been killed, and that he had several others badly wounded. This Frenchman is said to be the best artillery officer in the service, and thus is his death announced to those for whom he has fought and died. Who knows how many ties of home, of country, of family, he has severed in our cause? I felt hurt, made no reply, but passed on to the 49th Penn. Regiment. Their band were lounging on their drums and horns as listless as personifications of ennui. Along the regimental line were quartettes interestedly engaged in the melancholy occupation of “old sledge.” At the other end of the line the staff officers, including the Chaplain, were lounging around, and seemed to be digging into their brains for something to think about. The Sixth Maine exhibited about the same degree of interest; whilst the 43d New York were amusing their Irish fancies by counting the reports, and now and then exclaiming, “By Jabers, but that shot tould some of your last stories,” and other similar remarks, showing that they had not become quite as much hardened as those around them. Rode back to the head of the line to see if the Brigade Staff realized any more fully the importance of our situation. I, of course, expected to find in Gen. H______ about two hundred and fifty pounds of animated and dignified humanity, surrounded by his staff of well dressed, well mounted officers, dashing from point to point on the field, holding everybody and everything in readiness for the conflict. What an illusion! I found the General stretched upon the dried grass, his elbow on the ground, his head in his hand—that laugh! Why the General nodded so low that a stub of old grass has run into his nose, set it a bleeding, and he sprang up with such an oath as none but he could utter. The scene was so ridiculous that even the common soldiers could not restrain a “guffaw.” Major L_____, a few feet beyond, lies on his stomach so fast asleep as not to be disturbed by the loud guffaw of the soldiers. To such a state of hardened carelessness have we been brought by a few months of constantly disappointed expectations.

In the afternoon moved down into the open field where the artillery fight was going on. Brooks’ Vermont Brigade engaged the enemy, keeping up a sharp fire across the creek, (Warwick). The artillery firing became still more constant. Our sharpshooters picked off their gunners, our batteries dismounted several of their guns, and three Vermont companies dashed across the creek in the face of the enemy’s infantry fire, drove a body of them from their rifle-pits, but were compelled to fall back (not being supported), leaving about twenty of their number dead on the field. We have no better fighting men than this Vermont Brigade, composed of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Regiments. For the small number engaged this has been one of the most fiercely contested battles of the war. The engagements of artillery and musketry have been terrific.

10 o’clock, P. M.—The warring of the passions, the physical straggles and strifes of the day, are hushed in darkness. Oh, to how many, hushed forever! In the last half hour the firing has ceased. I have walked the round of my regiment, lying on their arms in the open field, to see if any were sick after the fatigues of the day; and having retired into the deep woods alone, and ate a little cold supper, now sit on a litter, bloody, dyed with the blood of the dead, whom it has been all day carrying, (my lantern between my knees) to make this note of the sad occurrences of the day. We attacked the enemy, and have been repulsed.

I have not had time to finish my article, commenced weeks ago, which was to write down the U. S. Sanitary Commission, and I am glad of it, for here again we have been made to feel that the Commission is a power for good. Whilst the officials have been wrangling over the question as to how the hospital stores of the army got lost in the move from the Potomac to the Peninsula, and whilst the soldiers have been suffering for want of them, this Commission has been actively devising means to supply the much needed articles, and, behold! right in the midst of the battle to-day, whilst Generals were inquiring of Surgeons : “Have you the necessary comforts for the wounded?” and whilst Surgeons were anxiously enquiring what they were to do in the absence of them, this Commission drops down amongst us—from some where—their wagons are unloaded, and the wounded made comfortable. That “writing down” article will not spoil by a little more keeping.

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