PERSONAL EXPERIENCE-A SIDE LIGHT ON THE WILSON RAID, JUNE, 1864.1
BY BREVET-BRIGADIER-GENERAL EDMUND M. POPE,
COLONEL EIGHTH NEW YORK CAVALRY, U. S. VOLUNTEERS.
(Read December 14,1897.)
At the period of my story, in the latter days of June, 1864, the Army of the Potomac had closed the Wilderness campaign, and was south of the James River, investing Petersburg.
Sheridan, with the First and Second Cavalry Divisions under Generals Torbert and McGregg, was en route from the White House to his crossing of the James, and was receiving close attention from the Confederate cavalry under Hampton, Fitz Lee and Butler, while the Third Cavalry Division under General J[ames]. H. Wilson, was south of the James, under the watchful care of W. H. F. Lee and his division of Confederate cavalry.
General Wilson was under orders, for a movement to destroy the Confederate lines of supply from the south and southwest, the Weldon, Southside, and Richmond and Danville Railroads, and at two A. M. on the 22nd of June, with his division of two brigades under McIntosh and Chapman, and four regiments from the Army of the James under General Kautz, (in all 5500 sabers and 12 guns) he moved from his camp at Sinai Church near Prince George Court House.
Crossing the Jersualem Plank Road, and the Blackwater and Nottaway Rivers, he reached the Weldon R. R. at Ream’s Station, which he destroyed, then marched via Dinwiddie Court House, and turning north struck the South Side Road near Sutherlands, thence moved west to Burksville, and south on the Richmond and Danville Road, until, on the afternoon of the 25th, he was checked at the crossing of the Roanoke River, and found himself unable to carry or destroy the bridge at that point. In the early morning of the 26th he withdrew and started over the most direct route for a shelter within the Union lines.
It is no part of my present purpose to make a detailed report of this eventful and disastrous campaign, but I will indicate some of the events which formed a connecting link, between the compact, well organized, and powerful cavalry force, which moved out on the 22nd of June, and the shattered, disorganized, wearied, and worried crowd of horse and footmen, which regained our lines in the early days of July.
There had been no rain in that section since the 5th of June; the dust was—well, you know what that was; the heat was intense, and the work of disabling and destroying the railroads had been arduous and continuous.
Chapman’s Brigade was attacked at Ream’s Station on the first day out, and we had been in daily, almost constant, contact with an ever enlarging force under that enterprising officer, W. H. F. Lee.
The five-days’ rations with which we started were exhausted, and as Mr. Lee’s men objected to our foraging widely, Mr. Wilson’s men kept their ranks well closed, and tightened their belts.
A large part of the command had been engaged at Blacks and Whites on the 23rd, at Nottaway Court House in the
afternoon and night of the same day, and at Staunton River on the 25th. with a constant skirmish at some part of the column.
Almost constantly marching when not destroying roads or fighting, sleeping, except in the saddle, was impossible, and when dismounted to fight, in the last days of the raid, the men would fall asleep under fire.
Although we had easily repulsed every attack of the Confederate cavalry, the skirmishing had been continuous, and the fighting, sometimes, severe; our ambulance train was filled with wounded and disabled soldiers, while a vast number of vehicles of every description, and contrabands to the number of several thousands, crowded the roads and hindered the column.
This exodus of negroes was not desired or encouraged, but it could not be prevented by us without the use of more severe measures than the commander would authorize. (I may here mention that these unfortunates, with their varied assortment of vehicles laden with their varied assortments of plunder, failed to reach the “promised land,” but were all recaptured, and set at work restoring the Danville Road, which we had destroyed.)
Under these conditions, after a rapid march from Roanoke Station we reached the crossing of the Nottaway River at Double Bridges, in the afternoon of the 28th. At this point a road led south and east, crossing the Weldon Road at Jarratt’s Station, perhaps ten miles distant. Another road ran northerly and northeasterly, passing two miles west of Stony Creek Station and continuing northeasterly to Prince George Court House which had been our starting point within the Union lines.
Still another road ran northerly, passing about ten miles west of Stony Creek Station and crossing the Sappony, Stony, and Rowanty Creeks on its way to Ream’s Station and Petersburg.
A road ran west from Stony Creek Station, intersecting the roads I have named and forming a direct route to Dinwiddie.
There were other cross-roads from the Weldon R. R. to the Ream’s Station road. Stony Creek Station was perhaps ten miles north of Jarratt’s, ten miles south of Ream’s Station and twenty miles south of Petersburg.
At Double Bridges McIntosh’s Brigade had the advance, and was moved out on the Prince George’s Court House road; and near the crossing of the Stony Creek Station road it became engaged with the enemy under Wade Hampton. McIntosh was reinforced from Chapman’s Brigade, but could not force the passage.
[Hampton had been hurriedly withdrawn from Sheridan’s front, and confronted Wilson with the brigades of Butler, Chambliss, and Rosser, and an infantry support; while Fite Lee, with his division, stiffened by Mahone’s infantry, was at Ream’s Station, and W. H. F. Lee’s Division was on our left flank, promiscuous like.]
The fighting with McIntosh was intermittent, and some hours after dark Chapman’s Brigade was put in the line, and about midnight McIntosh was withdrawn and followed the division of Kautz, which had been moved on the direct road to Ream’s Station.
The attempt to withdraw Chapman’s Brigade was only partially successful. The artillery and a su[p]porting regiment, got off early and in reasonable order, and later General Chapman with about three hundred of his command, taking a circuitous route, rejoined McIntosh in front of Ream’s Station at noon on the 29th; while my regiment, the Eighth New York Cavalry, was left in position, dismounted, behind a rail breastwork, forming part of the original line of Chapman’s Brigade.
The enemy, knowing of our attempted withdrawal, was
closely pressing the line. About 4 A. M. their artillery fired the woods in our rear, and drove our led horses from their position, thus preventing their capture a little later.
In the early dawn of the 29th, two brigades of the enemy passed by our left, and, forming a line in our rear, moved down upon us. We made a hurried and disorderly movement by the right flank, by which most of the line escaped capture, and some, fortunately finding their led horses which had been driven from our rear, mounted and wended their way to rejoin the division, while others were scattered in squads and singly, through the woods and fields. At this point, the writer parted company with the command, but the record runs—
That Kautz, reaching the vicinity of Ream’s Station about seven A. M. of the 29th, found Fitz Lee and Mahone’s infantry in overpowering force, and at once became actively engaged. At 9 A. M. General Wilson had joined McIntosh and as the enemy developed their strength and partially surrounded his command, he abandoned his ambulances, fired his trains and caissons, and attempted to save his cavalry and guns.
Kautz, with a large part of his command and a part of Wilson’s, took to the woods, and succeeded in crossing the railroad at an unguarded point south of Ream’s Station. He reached safety within the Union lines on the 30th, but left his artillery, and everything on wheels, with many prisoners, in the hands of the enemy.
Wilson, with McIntosh’s Brigade, a remnant of Chapman’s, and about five hundred men of Kautz’s comand, forced his way to the rear and retraced his route to Double Bridges; his artillery under Fitz Hugh, and Maynadier, was all captured or abandoned, but McIntosh managed to gather and maintain a strong rear-guard, warding off too close a contact with the pursuing foe. Marching as rapidly as was
possible, he passed the intersection of the road to Stony Creek Station where Hampton was lying, unmolested, crossed the Nottaway at Double Bridges, moved across the Weldon Road at Jarratt’s Station, recrossed the Nottaway, by a ford, at Peter’s Bridge [only two hours in advance of Hampton], and crossed the Blackwater at Blunt’s Bridge, and burned the Bridge behind him in the early morning of the 1st of July. Then proceeding more leisurely he reached his camp within the Union lines at 2 P. M. on the 2nd of July.
Now to matters more personal, and I wish it were possible to treat of personal matters, without the use of personal pronouns.
Recurring to the situation of my regiment, on the left of our line at Stony Creek, in the early morning of the 29th. I had been advised by the pickets that a Confederate column was passing our left flank and forming in the rear. It was fairly light when I went to the rear to verify the report. After going but a short distance I saw the gray line advancing, and was challenged and fired upon from it. I ran back, and ordered the regiment to leave the line by the right flank. This movement was made without formation, and on a run, and most of the command escaped, for the time. I was in the rear with a few men and we were moving through woods; the Confederate line had not seen our retreat, and they were advancing with caution, so we passed in front of their right, unseen by them.
After going a short distance, seeing a large tree, forming a bridge across a deep but narrow ravine, along the west bank of which we were retreating, and desirous of finding if the railroad lay beyond that ravine, I ran out upon the tree and found that some Confederate infantry were rushing up the ravine; they saw and challenged, and fired at me. Hastily crossing to the east side, and finding there a well worn
path parallel to our march, I turned south and could see men in front, and hear those who had seen and were following me. I ran but a short distance to where at my right, lying along side of, and between the path and the ravine, was a long log perhaps thirty inches in diameter, on the ravine side of which was a dense growth of vines.
A hasty survey convinced me that this was the place of hiding, and crawling, or rather, backing in, I found plenty of room on the under side of the log, and was covered from sight by the dense growth which came up to, and, in some places, over the log. Hardly was my position secured, before my pursuers came running along the path; they passed out of hearing, to be succeeded by others, who, in squads and singly, passed and repassed throughout that long day. Many of these parties seated themselves upon the log to talk it over, and twice during the day they brought back with them some captives. That there was an interested listener to their talk, you may be assured. I slept some, but had nothing to eat or drink during the day.
I had with me a Colt’s revolver, which fortunately was loaded, and turning my dark blue jacket showed a grayish stone colored lining which would attract no attention at a little distance, and made me look somewhat like unto one of my enemies, whose uniform was not uniform. Late in the afternoon I learned that we had been repulsed at Ream’s Station, that they were gathering in many Yankee prisoners, who were scattered through the country; and that the line of railroad was to be closely guarded during the night, so as they said no Yank might travel on that road unless he had a pass.
The tramping past my hiding place continued long after dark, and it was midnight before I ventured to crawl out. The moon was large and the night was light. Suffering for water and being entirely ignorant of the country, my first
effort was to get within sight of the railroad and its line of pickets, after which I moved south, parallel with the road.
Many attempts were made to cross, but they challenged and fired upon me so often, that I gave up the effort for the night, and sought for shelter. After a little I found and entered a wooded swamp,—one of those swamps so peculiar to the headwaters of the Blackwater. The trees were very large and tall, with roots growing out of the water and so closely woven together that, by using care, I could travel upon them.
Penetrating so far as to be out of sight from the edges of the swamp, I found a place in which to curl up, and lying down, fell asleep, and wakened with the bright sun shining full in my face about 10 A. M. of the 30th, on the ground, or rather on the water level. No moving thing but snakes, could be seen. These were numerous, some of them enormous in size, but they feared me as much as I did them and did not come near me when I was awake. I had no difficulty in quenching thirst, but something to eat seemed desirable, and working my way eastward I could, after a time, see the edge of the swamp and, beyond, a field of ripening wheat.
Cautiously advancing and reaching the field, I crawled out into it and, gathering and shelling the heads, had a hearty meal, of one course.
Then filling my jacket above the belt with heads of wheat, I crept back into the swamp.
From my position while in the wheat-field I had heard many scouting parties, and throughout the day I could hear the movements of the Confederates, who seem to have been generally dispersed for a search through the day time; but although I could sometimes see them, none of them could see me, in my hiding place.
After it was quite dark, leaving the swamp, and crossing
the wheat-field which had been my dining room, I came upon a Confederate brigade, which had been down to Jarratt’s and on its way back bivouacked along the road in my immediate front. I wanted nothing better than this, and went boldly toward and to the road, which I have since concluded was the Halifax road. Passing leisurely through their camp and avoiding too close contact with their camp fires, I was soon outside their line, and next came to the railroad. It was closely picketed, but the proximity of the brigade had taken the attention of the guards and they were easily passed.
A short journey eastward brought me to the edge of another of those Blackwater swamps. My repeated attempts to flank this swamp brought challenges, and failures, and as daylight was approaching I sought its recesses and was soon asleep.
When I awoke it was nearly noon of the 1st of July. Again water and snakes in abundance. The first I could drink, but the last would not satisfy my hunger, and I determined to pass through the swamp. After several hours slow progress I could see an opening in front, and, in the distance, saw another wheat-field.
When I reached the eastern edge of the swamp and the forest, I found a farm path running along the woodside, and could see soldiers scattered about, some mounted and others dismounted, but they were so far away I ventured to show myself, and so crossed an open field and went into the wheat-field.
I had been there but a short time when I was hailed with “Come out of that,” and looking up I saw two “butternuts” coming toward me through the wheat, following a path which I had not noticed before.
As they were still some distance from me I turned and leisurely moved toward the field and the woods, and in-
creased my pace to a rapid walk. On reaching the edge of the swamp, I turned north, and finding a place where for the instant I was hidden from their sight I dashed into the swamp and running as fast as I dared lest they should see me, threw myself down among the roots. My disappearance was commented on, and one said, “What will you bet he ain’t a Yank”; but no search was made for me and, watching my o[p]portunity, I withdrew farther into the swamp, remaining until night.
Unfortunately the moon was near its full, and when I again ventured out it was difficult to discover and avoid the pickets before they had discovered me. I think they fired upon me as many as six times that night, and so much time was lost after each challenge that the coming of day at last drove me to find shelter. This time there was no friendly swamp at hand but I entered a large forest which in places had a dense undergrowth, where I remained through the day of the second of July.
By this time I had decided that it was not probable that I could pass the Confederate lines, unaided, and that I would attempt to capture a man who might be made to serve me as a guide.
Working my way toward the north side of the wood I found that it was skirted by a river, and discovered a strong picket reserve camped on the opposite side, and during the afternoon I made out to get a fairly correct idea of its situation.
A small regiment in number, it was stationed on the north bank of the river, which there ran easterly, with two wagons and a few “A” tents. The horses were tethered to pins and bushes and the men were lying around promiscuously. On the west side of the camp was a ditch, perhaps five feet wide at the top, running to the river.
On the banks of this ditch was a genuine Virginia ever-
green hedge, while west of the ditch the ground fell off, and in a short distance was nearly on a level with the river, which in fact had overflowed it, in times of high water.
This ground was covered with a dense growth of blackberry bushes, three to five feet high and very close. The tops were green, but the stalks were bare, and red and thorny, and the ground was covered with a black sediment which was baked and cracked from the heat of the sun.
I observed during the day a passing of the men from the camp through the hedge on its west side, to the river, for water, the banks in the immediate front of the camp being steep.
So I decided I would cross the river directly opposite the low ground west of the camp, and about 3 A. M. on the 3rd of July I crept to the bank of the river and, undressing and carrying my clothing and pistol above my head, waded across.
I came out opposite the entrance to the berry bushes, redressed myself and at once took my post on the bank of the ditch, at the place where the path from the camp to the river led through the hedge. And there I waited. How long I waited I do not know, the camp was frequently disturbed by the coming and going of pickets and by firing on their picket lines in various directions, and with the coming of daylight there was a general awakening and preparation for breakfast.
For several hours I had stood immovable with pistol in hand and waited, listening to scraps of conversation in camp. Finally I heard one say, “I’m going fishing.” Another said “Bring up some water first.” “All right” was the reply, and I was conscious that the hour and the man had arrived.
I heard his approach, and parting the hedge close by me he leaped across the ditch, and as he jumped the ditch I also
jumped, and was close to him with my pistol at his head when he landed on the west side. I said “Don’t you speak,” then reached and took his revolver from the holster on the side toward me, and threw it behind me in the ditch.
He tendered me his pail but I said, “Move forward”! I was thoroughly chilled, having taken no exercise since wading the river and I was conscious that the hand holding my pistol was shaking. My friend in gray was quick to notice it. Said he, “You’re in a damned tight place.” The thought that he thought that I trembled from fear warmed me and nerved me instantly, and with a now steady aim I said, “You’re in a damned sight tighter place. Move forward!”
And he moved, while I fell in behind him. A few paces brought him to the berry bushes. He looked at me, and I said, “Go on” and he entered the tangle.
After perhaps twenty paces, fearing that we might be seen from the camp, over the top of the hedge, I ordered him to creep.
Very naturally he objected, and said that the bushes would scratch him to death. I told him that if he did not creep his death would come without a scratch.
Evidently believing me, he got down on his knees and made his way forward, while I followed in his track.
After a short distance finding that we were invisible from the camp I called a halt, and crept up on his right side to look him over. Then, as now, I was slight in physique, while my friend in gray, perhaps thirty years of age, was about six feet tall, and weighed from 180 to 200 pounds.
I felt that he must not get close enough to reach me, and made him lie down facing me with a six foot interval between us, and my revolver pointed at him.
The sun had not yet risen, and I was well aware that unless we were discovered, we should not change our location until night, so I smoothed my bed and rested.
After a time, we heard the comments of his comrades on his absence. They called him, and getting no response concluded that he had gone fishing, and another man went grumbling after the water.
After the sun was well up, the man was again in demand; they called and called, and then they cursed and cursed, as Confederate soldiers would sometimes do. Then a man was ordered to take care of his neglected horse.
A little later came the time for him to go on picket duty with his relief, and the officers seemed to have been for the first time made acquainted with his prolonged absence.
They also swore, and promised that he would catch it. I tried to get him to admit that he was glad to be safe with me, but we could not agree on that point.
About eleven his relief returned to camp and he was again in demand, but after that the camp seemed to forget him for the day. During the absence of his relief I obtained the name of the man, ascertained his regiment and company and heard a good deal of his military and personal history.
He had been in active service about two years, was well posted as to the picket lines and forces, and knew where our lines had been on the previous midnight. He was quite willing to tell me what he knew of these matters, and, as it seemed to me, was rather exultant in reciting how many straggling Yankees they had gathered in, and the incidents attending their capture.
He was quite positive in his statement that it was not possible for any one to get through their lines, unless well acquainted with the locality.
A Georgian by birth, a machinist by trade, with a wife and two children, he had for a time worked in an arsenal, and was then drafted into the field service.
As may be supposed, he had no sympathy with the Slave Power, and was not a Secessionist, but frankly admitted that the Yankees would win out in the end.
He seemed to be a clean, manly man, who loved his home and his family. He carried the pictures of his wife and children which he showed me.
To my sincere regret his name has passed from my recollection, seemingly beyond recall.
After a time, as the sun rose to the zenith, its rays penetrated the thin foliage at the tops of the bushes, and were reflected from the black, baked surface at the bottom. But for us there was no escape; we must lie there without food or drink sweltering through the entire day. Not even a berry could be seen on the bushes around us.
I was sorely puzzled to decide how to deal with my prisoner, but concluding that he was equally puzzled over his fate, I waited for some manifestation of his curiosity. At last it came, as “all things come to him who waits.” Said he “What are you going to do with me”? I replied, I shall release you and you can go to your command, after you have guided me through your picket line.
He promptly replied, “I’ll never do that.” I said, “Oh, yes you will,” and then followed absolute silence for at least two hours. I was greatly troubled to keep awake, I dozed at times, but woke at the slightest movement, and was considering how best to secure his consent to my plans. Having finally determined on my course with him I commenced by stimulating and gratifying his curiosity about me.
I gave him a glimpse of my home life, and opened out my army experience, especially my eight month’s experience in Libby Prison, which had terminated by exchange a few months previous, and assured him that I had registered a solemn vow that I would not again be taken alive.
Emphasizing the desperation which had led me into his camp that morning, I endeavored to impress upon him that it was no part of my plan to make him a prisoner, and prom-
ised that if he were captured with me by the Union Troops, I would secure his release from Generals Wilson and Sheridan.
I touched and retouched upon his love for his wife and little ones, and, as if quite casually, told him that if he did not consent to my demand, I should shoot him where he was lying and dressing myself in his clothing would try for another captive who would guide me through.
At last he wavered, and began to suggest the difficulties of the enterprise, and the chances of our being captured by the Confederates. Many times he asked “How could I account for my absence?”
He had not been paid for a long time, and I had but a dollar or two with me, but had a gold watch, and told him I would give him that when we parted, and that his account of his absence would not be disputed by me. He said he didn’t want the watch. If he consented it would be because he was compelled to, not because he was hired.
Again and again we went over the ground on which my arguments were based. We talked quietly but earnestly as you may believe, and at last, about 6 P. M., he said he would do as I demanded. Said I, “Will you promise me that, on your honor as a soldier”? He said, “I will promise it on the honor of a soldier.”
Then for the first time in twelve hours, I turned my pistol from him, uncocked it and put it in my belt, after which I reached my hand to him.
I was physically almost exhausted, and thought best to manifest the confidence in him which I really felt, and am sure he felt more at ease when that pistol was dropped. We at once engaged in planning the route by which we could most surely evade their lines of pickets, and finally decided to follow down the river, and pass around their right, then go northerly to our lines, which were on the Jerusalem Plank
Road. Although the country was strange to me, I made sure that he understood the route, and that there was a reasonable chance for success.
After waiting until perhaps nine o’clock we crept to the river, and drank, and drank, and drank, then moved down on the north side passing close to the camp, under the river bank, and following down until we approached a ford of the river, which was picketed on both sides, here we undressed and waded across to the south side of the stream and, passing out into an open, we went around this picket and, regaining the river, moved along under the banks close to its edge, sometimes wading and sometimes walking on the sand.
Five times after that we undressed and waded the river, in order to keep under the banks on which their picket was placed. Our last crossing was made about eighty rods east of a north and south road which was the extreme right of their line of pickets. We crossed opposite a wooded ravine which ran to the river and, moving away from the river up this ravine, we soon reached a spring which my guide said was frequented by his comrades for its excellent water.
The moon had by this time risen, flooding with light the fields and forest. Kneeling at the spring I rested on my hands and knees to drink, my friend standing near me, a little back and at my right side. At this juncture my pistol fell from the belt to the ground, so near me that by springing toward it I could have reached it, and so near him that by putting his foot out he could have stepped on it. Words cannot describe my feelings, but I was able to control my movements, and continued drinking, watching closely for a motion from him. He did not move, and leisurely rising I picked up the pistol and he took his turn.
Had I doubted him before, I did not thereafter distrust his loyalty, to the promise he had made me in the berry bushes.
After this he led through the wood to the left, into a clearing where we could see a cabin and an outdoor fire. This he said was the negro quarters connected with a house which was situated across the road picketed by the Confederates, and he proposed to go to this cabin and try to get something to eat.
He claimed to be hungry, and I had eaten nothing but wheat and water for five days. He promised to avoid the Confederate pickets who frequently visited these quarters, and might even then be there. I gave him what money I had, and appointed a place for meeting him on his return, but fearing that he might return under Confederate escort, I at once moved and took up a position much nearer the house. From my new position, I observed his cautious, creeping approach through the grass, and heard his whistle calling Auntie out, and after prolonged negotiations she departed to her cabin.
My guide had been met with the assurance that “Fore god, Massa, dar ‘ain’t a crumb, or a scrap of meat. You alls have done et em up.” Then he tried the effect of his Yankee money but could not move her. “Ho kin er when dar ain’t none” seemed to be unanswerable. But he then played his last card and told her the food was wanted for a starving Yankee who was going through their lines, and that he was acting as a guide.
Then Auntie said “Ise sure dar ain’t none but I’ll sarch again, if I kin find somethin’, ’twill be mighty little, shuah.”
He was not to approach the shanty as the Confederates were liable to come any moment, but if she could find anything she was to signal him. He soon saw and understood her signal; while, as he remained lying in the grass, I was encouraged to think he had succeeded. After what seemed a long wait for a lunch, Auntie came out to him, and he started to find me.
I intercepted him and found that he had secured some freshly baked corn pone and a mere scrap of bacon. She had not dared cook the bacon lest it should be required of her, and I gladly gave my share of it to the guide.
We returned to our spring in the wood, and feasted. I then acquired a fondness for corn pone which abideth to this day. After the last crumb had been eaten we moved along, going north about a mile, when we reached a swamp, which proving impassable, we turned west and crossed a field and road on which were mounted pickets, and entered a pine forest. The trees were old and large and endlessly tall, and the ground was covered and carpeted with the fallen needles, and the full moon overhead gave the scene its lights and shadows.
We went into the forest until we could faintly see the outlines of the fence which indicated the road, and then travelled north parallel with it. After several miles were passed over, my guide thought we had gone beyond their outpost and might safely go into the road. So we turned and went east. I was a few paces in advance, and had nearly reached the fence, when there was a start and jump, by a horse, which stood with his back toward us, and had doubtless been asleep. His rider certainly had been so, and when the horse started, he fired his carbine and galloped down the road, without turning about or knowing the cause of the alarm. We ran into the forest and flung ourselves on the ground. Soon there was a dash of cavalrymen up the road and on beyond us, and after an interval, a return and replacing of the picket.
We then carefully withdrew into the forest and resumed our northern march, until my guide insisted that he had passed the Confederate outpost, and would next strike the Union pickets. He begged me to release him but I steadily refused and we went into the road, and plodded along. We
finally approached a hill from the top of which, he assured me we could see the Union Lines by daylight and their fires at night. I said, that after we reached the top I would release him if the Union lines were in sight, and we proceeded.
He was on the left, the west side of the road, while I was on the right side, with pistol in hand. The night was so bright and light that we had been screening ourselves wherever we could, by seeking the shade of the trees, which skirted and sometimes overhung the road.
At this point there were no trees on the left side, but there was a second growth forest on the right, with a dense undergrowth of pines.
As we approached the top of the hill, from behind a low rail fence on the left and not more than twenty feet from my friend in gray, an outlying picket of four infantrymen rose to their knees, and, without challenging, they fired at Johnny.
I at once opened on them with my pistol, and as their pieces were empty they disappeared, and we ran into the bushes on my right. My friend assured me that the picket was Union, and begged me to let him go. I was ashamed to admit that Union soldiers were so inhospitable, but thought he was right and said to him, “Go, God bless you.” For the instant I forgot the watch, and when I called he was beyond hearing, and I retained it, feeling, whenever I saw it after, as if it were a piece of ill-gotten gain.
I then went farther to the east into the woods and laid down to wait for the dawn of July 4th. When morning came and I could hear the welcome reveille from drum corps and bugle, I made my way very carefully to the front, and after reaching the edge of the woods, could see our lines on the plank road, but when I exposed myself the pickets would fire upon me.
They were from the same green regiment whose picket
had fired at us without challenging, a few hours previously. And it was only after I had drawn quite a fusilade, that an officer of a New Jersey regiment, rode out to the line and stopped the firing, and then rode down to meet me. Need I say that I was welcomed and cared for, and I have ever since maintained that Jersey is part of the United States and fully entitled to celebrate the Fourth of July.
- Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle: Papers Read Before the Minnesota Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, 1892-1897, Volume 4, pages 585-604 ↩