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.

June 29, 2012

Journal of Surgeon Alfred L Castleman.


29th.—’Tis the Sabbath—the appointed day of rest. To us how little of rest, of quiet, either to mind or body, it has brought! After the fatigues of the last three days and nights, our army lay last night on its arms, and this morning, at 3 o’clock, without breakfast, we were on the march, and as the first light of day revealed to us the immense heaps of commissary stores abandoned by the road, the truth that we were stealing away could no longer be concealed. The burning of these stores would disclose the fact to the enemy, and they were therefore left to fall into their hands. Are we then to give up all the anticipated pride of a triumphal march into Richmond? Must we hang our harps upon the willows, and forego the paeans which we were to sing here on the downfall of the Rebellion? Must we abandon the remains of the thousands on thousands of our comrades, who have perished here in the ditches, unhonored and unknown, without having been permitted to strike a soldier’s blow for government against anarchy? There is a retribution for some one. Till now this want of efficiency has been attributed to the powers at Washington. At present much of the blame is being laid at the door of our Commander-in-Chief, and I fear he deserves it. He has certainly committed many errors. His vast army, the best of modern times, has accomplished nothing. Early in the day it became evident to us that the watchful enemy was aware of our movements and was on our track, and everything of value was now destroyed. Runners were sent ahead to dam up the little streams near ammunition depots, to wet the powder and to drown the thousands of boxes of cartridges there deposited. Thousand on thousands of new muskets, of Springfield and of Sharp’s rifles, were bent and broken over logs and stones. Barrels containing whisky, molasses, sugar, were broken in, bridges destroyed, and locomotives blown up. Delayed by work like this, by marching and by countermarching to protect our long transportation trains, 4 o’clock P. M. found us only about four miles from where we had started. For thirteen hours we had marched, after a night of watching, and the men had not yet had their breakfasts. On our arrival at Savage’s Station we found the large building crowded with the wounded of the battles of the two days previous. Hundreds of tents were pitched around, from all of which came the groans of the sufferers, and the yard was filled with our poor mutilated men, with an army of surgeons and nurses moving amongst them. As we left this Station the booming of cannon in our rear told us a that this day, too, must have its fight. In the terrible heat of the day we moved on. We had not, however, proceeded more than a mile when we were overtaken by couriers calling us back to reinforce the rear, which was now preparing to engage the pursuing enemy. Back we marched. On again reaching Savage Station we found two immense lines of battle nearing for the conflict. We had a long line of batteries in position just in the edge of a wood fronting an extended plain over which the enemy was advancing. In rear of artillery our infantry lay in ambush. Our artillery was the coveted prize, and over the level plain came rushing on the long lines of the enemy at a full charge of bayonets. Our batteries had anticipated this, and were charged with grape and cannister, which they withheld till the mass came within easy range, then belching forth, their iron hail, the whole front was absolutely shot away. For a moment the enemy recoiled, but it was momentary as the recoil of the ocean’s wave as it breaks on the impending rock, then down they came again, but again belched forth the angry cannon, and again a line was swept away. But to this immense host of enthusiastic pursuers numbers were nothing, and a third time it came rushing on. They were now too near for our artillery to be effective, but at the moment up rose in its rear our long line of ambushed infantry, and the setting sun was saluted by the roar of a hundred thousand muskets. Again reeled the staggering foe, and “forward, charge!” and the battle of the 29th—the battle of Savage Station—was ended. The enemy were repulsed with immense loss, and we resumed the march, leaving the dead and wounded and our large hospital filled to overflowing in the hands of the enemy. All night we marched, stopping at 2 in the morning, and after a march of twenty-three hours, almost without food, rested for about three hours.

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