One day the colonel sent for me and said, "Jack, I have a letter from Governor Andrew asking that the regiment re-enlist for three years more or until the end of the war; do you think they will do it?" My answer was, "I don't know; there are not many left to re-enlist." He said, "I wish you would go to your old company, A, and talk with them," and I consented. The regiment was encamped on a side hill in shelter tents, and the weather was cold and rainy. I went to Company A; the mud in the company street was ankle deep and everything was as disagreeable as possible. Giles Johnson was first sergeant. I talked with him and asked him to "fall in" the men. Thirteen responded to the call, - all who were on duty of the grand company which had left Massachusetts in 1861. I repeated the story the colonel had told me, then asked for a response from them; for a moment all were silent, then Ben Falls said, "Well, if new men won't finish this job, old men must, and as long as Uncle Sam wants a man, here is Ben Falls." Then spoke Mike Scannell: "It is three years, as you know, since I have seen my wife and children. I had expected to go home when my time was out and stay there, but we must never give up this fight until we win, and I am with you to the end." Others expressed themselves in the same way, and when I said, "All who will re-enlist step one pace to the front," every man in line advanced.
I then saw men of other companies. Ed. Fletcher of Company C said, "They use a man here just the same as they do a turkey at a shooting match, fire at it all day, and if they don't kill it raffle it off in the evening; so with us, if they can't kill you in three years they want you for three more, but I will stay." I next saw Michael O'Leary of Company F and asked him if he would re-enlist. Mike threw his cap on the ground, struck an attitude and said, "By the gods above, by the worth of that cap, I never will re-enlist until I can be with Mary Ann without the stars and stripes waving over me." But I said, "Mike, they are all going to do it." "They are? Then Michael O'Leary must stay." A large majority signed the re-enlistment role, and December 20 they were mustered in for three years more, or until the end of the war. In this instance, as in nearly every other where the soldiers and the government were concerned, the government did not do as they agreed. The conditions of the re-enlistment were, that the soldier should at once have thirty-five days' furlough and transportation to his home. Our men did not receive theirs until Feb. 8, 1864, nearly seven weeks after they had re-enlisted. The weather was very severe, many were sick and all were unhappy.
To my mind the re-enlisting of the three years' men in the field was the most patriotic event of the war. They knew what war was, had seen their regiments and companies swept away until only a little remnant remained. They did not have the excitement of the war meetings to urge them on, but with a full knowledge of the duties required and the probability that many would fall before their term expired, with uncovered heads and uplifted hands they swore to stand by the flag until the last armed foe surrendered.
I could not wait until the regiment received orders to come home, so came alone, took off my uniform, put on citizen's clothes, and began to look for employment. About the 12th of February I saw by the newspapers that the regiment had arrived in Boston. I could not keep away, and went to Beach Street barracks, where they were quartered. Almost the first man I met was Colonel Devereaux, who said, "What are you here for?" My answer was, "I wanted to see the boys." Drawing a paper from his pocket he said, "Get a uniform and equipments, and report for duty in half an hour." "But my uniform and equipments are at home," I replied. "Can't help it," said Colonel Devereaux, "I propose that you command your company in the parade to-day." So I went out, bought a cheap uniform, hired a set of equipments and reported for duty. I found that the paper read: "So much of General Order No. 492 as discharged First Lieut. John G. B. Adams, 19th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, is hereby revoked, and he is restored to duty without loss of pay, provided the vacancy has not been filled, evidence of which he must furnish from the governor of his State." We were given a reception and dinner in Faneuil Hall; Governor Andrew, not being able to attend, was represented by our old commander, General Hincks.
From Boston we went to Salem, where we were royally entertained, and then broke ranks with orders to report at Wenham in thirty-five days. While our receptions were grand, and showed that our hard services were appreciated, our joys were mingled with sadness. Everywhere we met friends of the boys who did not march back with us, and our eyes were often filled with tears as we clasped the hand of father, mother, sister or wife of some brave boy who had marched by our side, but now slept his last sleep in the rude grave where we had tenderly laid him.
The next day I went to the State House to see Governor Andrew. I had never met a live governor before, and as my feet reached the executive chamber my heart beat faster than it did when advancing at Gettysburg. Meeting the messenger at the door I was explaining my errand when the door opened, and the governor seeing me said, "Come in." On entering he said, "Well, my boy, what can I do for you?" I began to tell my story, when he interrupted me with, "I know all about it, and it is all right." Pointing to a roster of our regiment my name was in the list of first lieutenants, but it was at the bottom. "There, you see that it is all right," said the governor. I replied, "Not quite; I was the third in rank when discharged, now I am the tenth." "Oh, we will fix that," said he, and taking my name out moved them down one and put me in my proper place. All the time he was doing this he was talking and laughing, making me feel perfectly at home. I was so pleased with the interview that I would have signed an enlistment roll for thirty years if he would have promised to be governor during the time.
The orders to the officers were to do all in our power to obtain recruits while we were at home, but although we worked hard we made little or no progress. Men were enlisting for coast defence regiments quite fast, but the 19th had no attractions, and I only recruited one man while at home. The thirty days were like one long holiday; the towns gave receptions to the men, Company A being received by the town of West Newbury. The time soon came when we must march away, and at the end of thirty day every man reported at Wenham. We mustered five more than we brought home, - three deserters whom we had captured and two recruits. Two boys, Rogers and Fee, who were not old enough, stole away with us and were mustered in the field. I carried a new sword, presented by the citizens of Groveland, and several other officers were remembered in like manner.
Great injustice was done to fighting regiments in allowing them to return without being filled to the maximum. While the State was filling its quota it was, as far as active service went, nearly all on paper. Every old regiment had many brave and well-qualified non-commissioned officers who could not be promoted because only two officers were allowed each company, and, besides, we were placed in line to do the duty of a regiment, when we were no larger than a company of heavy artillery. Yet our men did not complain; with brave hearts, but with eyes filled with tears, they again bade good-by to loved ones, and marched away to face dangers that three years' experience had demonstrated would make vacant places in their thinned ranks.
Colonel Devereaux did not return with us, and the regiment was in command of Lieutenant-Colonel Rice. We had a nice passage to New York, spent St. Patrick's day and Eph. Hall's birthday in Philadelphia, and in due time arrived in Washington. I was detailed officer of the day, Lieutenant Thompson officer of the guard. A little incident occurred there which I think is not known to the officers, but it shows the honor of the men of the 19th. After I was detailed Colonel Rice sent for me and said, "We leave here at six o'clock tomorrow morning. The officers will stay up in the city. I want you to keep every man here to be ready to move at the time stated." After the officers had gone I fell in the men and informed them that we were to move at six A.M.; that as they were tired I should post no guard, and as Lieutenant Thompson and myself had business in the city we should not be able to stay with them, but would see them all at half-past five the next morning. Thompson and I returned about three o'clock, and when the colonel came at six every man was in line ready to march. The next night we spent at Alexandria. The officer of the day put on a strong guard, and half the men got out in some way and made things lively. Thompson and I were complimented by the colonel for faithful performance of duty when we should have been court-martialed.
In a few days we arrived at our old camp and began anew our army life. The first night it snowed quite hard, and we who had been sleeping in nice, warm beds enjoyed the damp, cold ground, with snow for our covering. Active drilling began, reviews were frequent, and it was apparent we were soon to enter on an active campaign. Lieutenant-General Grant took command of the army, and we all felt that at last the boss had arrived. Unlike most of his predecessors, he came with no flourish of trumpets, but in a quite, business-like way. After a grand review by him we were ordered to division headquarters with the 20th Massachusetts for an exhibition drill. The 19th drilled in the manual of arms, the 20th in battalion movements. Both regiments were highly complimented for their excellent work.
The discipline of the army at this time was very strict. So many substitutes were being received that the death penalty for desertions was often executed. We were called out to witness the first and, so far as I know, the only execution by hanging. Thomas R. Dawson had been a member of Company A, 19th, but was transferred to the 20th Massachusetts when our men re-enlisted. He had been a soldier in the English army, and wore medals for bravery. One night while on picket he left his post, and, being under the influence of liquor, went outside the lines and committed an assault upon an old lady. Dawson protested his innocence of the terrible crime, but acknowledged that he was drunk and had left his post. The woman swore against him, and the sentence of the court-martial was that he be hanged. The officers and men of the 19th did all in their power to save him; we signed a petition to President Lincoln asking for a reprieve, and sent it by a Catholic chaplain, Dawson being a Catholic. The President would have been pleased to grant our prayer, but he said the complaint from army officers was that he was destroying the discipline of the army by so often setting aside the findings and sentences of courts-martial, and he dare not do it.
April 14 was the day assigned for the execution. The 2d division of the 2d corps was formed in a hollow square, ranks opened, facing inward. Dawson was placed in an open wagon, seated on his coffin. With him rode the provost marshal and his spiritual advisor. The band was in advance, playing the dead march. Files of soldiers, with arms reversed, marched on each flank, and in front and rear. As they passed our lines Dawson smiled and bowed to those he recognized. When he arrived at the scaffold, which had been erected in the centre of the square, he ran up the steps, and before the black cap was pulled down said, "Good-by, comrades, officers and men of the 19th. I thank you for what you have done for me. May you live long and die a happy death; I die an innocent man." The cap was then drawn down, the drop cut, and poor Dawson was launched into eternity, but not so soon as was intended; the rope was new and stretched so much that his feet touched the ground, and the provost marshal was obliged to take a turn in the rope. It was a horrible sight, and set me forever against execution by hanging. After he was pronounced dead by the surgeon he was taken down, placed in his coffin, and lowered in a grave that had been prepared. The troops marched past and looked into the grave.
I presume that the impressions desired were produced upon the minds of the men, but the remarks were that it was too bad to hang men when they were so hard to get, and if they had let him alone a few weeks Johnnie Reb would have saved them the trouble.
The monotony of camp life was relieved by details for three days' picket duty. Our ranks were being increased by the return of detailed men and the arrival of recruits. Many were ordered to the ranks who had not carried a musket since the day they enlisted. The transportation being reduced to one wagon to a brigade, several who were ordered back were drivers of the festive mule. Among this number was Will Curtis of Company A. One day in passing the wagon train a mule set up one of those unearthly snorts. Will looked at him, and said, "You need not laugh at me; you may be in the ranks yourself before Grant gets through with the army."
[ Previous Chapter | Table of Contents | Next Chapter ]