Editor’s Note: This article was transcribed by Brett Schulte.
An Incident at “Hatcher’s Run.”
While we were yet before Petersburg, two divisions of our corps (the Fifth) with two divisions of the Ninth, leaving the line of works at the Weldon Railroad, were pushed out still farther to the left, with the intention of turning the enemy’s right flank.
Starting out, therefore, early on the morning of Thursday, October 27, 1864, with four days’ rations in our haversacks, we moved off rapidly by the left, striking the enemy’s picket-lines about ten o’clock.
“Pop! pop! pop! Boom! boom! boom: We’re in for it again, boys; so, steady on the left there, and close up.”
Away into the woods we plunge in line of battle through briers and tangled undergrowth, beneath the great trees dripping with rain. We lose the points of the compass, and halt every now and then to close up a gap in the line by bearing off to the right or the left. Then, forward we go through the brush again, steady on the left and guide right, until I feel certain that officers as well as men are getting pretty well “into the woods” as to the direction of our advance. It is raining, and we have no sun to guide us, and the moss is growing on the wrong side of the trees. I see one of our generals sits on his horse, with his pocket compass on the pommel of his saddle, peering around into the interminable tangle of brier and brush , with an expression of no little perplexity.
Yet still, on, boys, while the pickets are popping away and the rain is pouring down. The evening falls early and cold, as we come to a stand in line of battle and put up breastworks for the night.
We have halted on the slope of a ravine. Minieballs are singing over our heads as we cook our coffee, while sounds of axes and falling trees are heard on all sides; and still that merry “z-i-p! z-i-p” goes on among the tree-tops and sings us to sleep, at length, as we lie down shivering under our India rubber blankets, to get what rest we may. How long we had slept I did not know, when some one shook me, and in a whisper the word passed around:
“Wake up, boys! Wake up, boys! Don’t make any noise, and take care your tin cups and canteens don’t rattle. We’ve got to get out of this on a double jump!”
We were in a pretty fix, indeed! In placing the regiments in position, by some blunder, quite excusable no doubt in the darkness and the tangled forest, we had been unwittingly pushed beyond the main line–were, in fact, quite outside the picket-line! It needed only daylight to let the enemy see his game, and sweep us off the boards. And daylight was fast coming in the east.
Long after a Company A boy, who was on picket that night, told me that, upon going to the rear somewhere about three o’clock, to cook a cup of coffee at a half-extinguished fire, a cavalry picket ordered him back within the lines.
“The lines are not back there; my regiment is out yonder in front, on skirmish!”
“No,” said the cavalryman; “our cavalry is the extreme picket-line, and out orders are to send in all men beyond us.”
“Then take me at once to General Bragg’s headquarters,” said the Company A boy.
When General Bragg learned the true state of affairs, he at once ordered out an escort of five hundred men to bring in our regiment. Meanwhile, we were trying to get back of our own accord.
“This way, men!” said a voice in a whisper ahead.
“This way, men!” said another voice in the rear.
That we were wandering about vainly in the darkness, and under no certain leadership, was evident, for I noticed in the dim light that, in our tramping about in the tangle, we had twice crossed the same fallen tree, and so must have been moving in a circle.
And now, as the day is dawning in the east, and the enemy’s pickets see us trying to steal away, a large force is ordered against us, and comes sweeping down with yells and whistling bullets–just as the escort of five hundred, with re-assuring cheers, comes up from the rear to our support!
Instantly we are in the cloud and smoke of battle. A battery of artillery, hastily dragged up into position, opens on the charging line of gray with grape and canister, while from bush and tree pours back and forth the dreadful blaze of musketry. For half an hour, the conflict rages fierce and high in the dawning light and under the dripping trees–the officers shouting, and the men cheering and yelling and charging, often fighting hand to hand and with bayonets locked in deadly encounter, while the air is cut by whistling lead, and the deep bass of the cannon wakes the echoes of the forest. But at last the musketry-fire gradually slackens, and we find ourselves out of danger.
The enemy’s prey has escaped him, and, to the wonder of all, we are brought within the lines again, begrimed with smoke and leaving many of our poor fellows dead or wounded on the field.
Anxiously every man looked about for his chum and messmates, lost sight of during the whirling storm of battle in the twilight woods. And I, too, looked,–but where was Andy?1