We arrived at Falmouth about the middle of November, and went into camp two miles from the town; here we spent our second Thanksgiving. No dance for the officers this year. We had a dinner of hard tack and salt pork, and should have passed a miserable day had not the commissary arrived with a supply of "Poland water," and the officers were given a canteen each. The men had the pleasure of hearing our sweet voices in songs of praise from the "home of the fallen," as our tent was called.
We remained undisturbed until the morning of December 11, when we were ordered to the banks of the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg. Here we found a pontoon bridge partially laid, and the engineers doing their best to complete it. Our batteries were posted on the hills in rear of our line, and were vigorously shelling the city, but the rebel sharpshooters were posted in cellars and rifle pits on the other side, and would pick off the engineers as fast as they showed themselves at work. At last volunteers were called for by Colonel Hall, commanding the brigade, and the 19th Massachusetts and 7th Michigan volunteered. We took the pontoon boats from the wagons, carried them to the river, and as soon as they touched the water filled them with men. Two or three boats started at the same time, and the sharpshooters opened a terrible fire. Men fell in the water and in the boats. Lieutenant-Colonel Baxter of the 7th Michigan was shot when half-way across. Henry E. Palmer of Company C was shot in the foot as he was stepping into the boat, yet we pressed on, and at last landed on the other side.
As soon as the boats touched the shore we formed by companies, and, without waiting for regimental formation, charged up the street. On reaching the main street we found that the fire came from houses in front and rear. Company B lost ten men out of thirty in less than five minutes. Other companies suffered nearly the same. We were forced to fall back to the river, deploy as skirmishers, and reached the main street through the yards and houses. As we fell back we left one of our men wounded in the street; his name was Redding, of Company D, and when we again reached the street we found him dead, - the rebels having bayoneted him in seven places.
The regiment was commanded by Capt. H. G. O. Weymouth, Colonel Devereaux being very sick in camp. Captain Weymouth went from right to left of the line, giving instructions and urging the men forward. My squad was composed of men from companies I and A. We had reached a gate, and were doing our best to cross the street. I had lost three men when Captain Weymouth came up. "Can't you go forward, Lieutenant Adams?" he said. My reply was, "It is mighty hot, captain." He said, "I guess you can," and started to go through the gate, when as much as a barrel of bullets came at him. He turned and said, "It is quite warm, lieutenant; go up through the house." We then entered the back door and passed upstairs to the front. Gilman Nichols of Company A was in advance. He found the door locked and burst it open with the butt of his musket. The moment it opened he fell dead, shot from a house on the other side of the street. Several others were wounded, but we held the house until dark, firing at a head whenever we saw one on the other side.
As night came on we advanced across the street and the rebels retired. We posted our pickets and went into the houses for rest and observation. The house my company now owned was formerly occupied by a namesake of mine, a music teacher. I left the men downstairs while I retired. The room I selected was the chamber belonging to a young lady. Her garments were in the press, and the little finery she possessed was scattered about the room. Fearing she might return I did not undress, but went to bed with my boots on. I was soon lost in peaceful slumber, when a sergeant came and said I was wanted below. Going to the kitchen I found the boys had a banquet spread for me. There was roast duck, biscuit, all kinds of preserves, spread upon a table set with the best china. We were company, and the best was none too good for us. After supper we went up stairs, and the men were assigned, or assigned themselves, to rooms.
In our investigation we had found a barrel filled with molasses. Every one must fill his canteen, and as he filled it from the faucet it ran over, and the house was molasses from cellar to attic. I opened a trunk in my room and found packages of paper. Thinking they might be bonds or stock I put them in my haversack. The next day I found they were unpaid bills of the music teacher. Going out on the street we found it quite lively. One of the boys would come along with a lady on his arm, but upon inspection it proved to be another soldier with borrowed clothes.
Since we left Rockville I have not mentioned Ben Falls. He had been on every march and in every battle, and had his musket shot from his shoulder at Glendale, but picked up another and went in again. While at Falmouth Captain Boyd, who was now in command of Company A, made Ben a cook, because, as he informed me, he wanted him to live to go home. While we were in Fredericksburg Ben and another man came over bringing two kettles of coffee on poles. Halting before Captain Boyd he said, "Captain, if you have no use for Ben Falls, send me home. How nice it will look when I write to my wife in Lynn that the regiment fought nobly, and I carried the kettles. I either want a musket or a discharge, - and prefer the musket." Captain Boyd granted his request; and it was the last of Ben as a pot-slewer.
The next day we remained in the city, awaiting orders. We buried our dead, sent the wounded back to the hospital, and made ready for the battle which we knew must come. On the morning of the 13th we received orders to advance, and marched up the street towards Marye's Heights by the flank. Shot and shell ploughed through our ranks, but we filed into a field and were ordered forward to storm the heights. It was necessary to move up an embankment, then charge over an open field. A rebel battery on our right had a raking fire on us, but we must go forward. Led by our gallant Captain Weymouth we moved up the bank. The two color bearers, Sergeant Creasey and Sergeant Rappell, were the first to fall, but the colors did not touch the ground before they were up and going forward. Captain Weymouth fell, shot in the leg, which was afterwards amputated. Captain Mahoney took command of the regiment, and he was also seen to fall, shot in the arm and side. Down went the color bearers again. Lieutenant Newcomb grasped one, a color corporal another. Newcomb fell, shot through both legs, and as he went down he handed the color to me. Next fell the color corporal, and the flag he held was grasped by Sergeant Merrill, who was soon wounded. Another seized the color, but he was shot immediately, and as it fell from his hands the officer who already had one caught it.
By obliquing to the left, followed by the regiment, we got out of the line of fire for a time, and lay down. I do not mention this fact to show that I was braver than other men, for every man of the old regiment on the field would have done the same had opportunity offered, but my services were recognized by promotion to first lieutenant, and I was afterwards given a Medal of Honor by Congress for the act.
Looking back over the field we saw the ground covered with our dead and wounded. Captain Plympton was now in command of the regiment, and we waited for darkness to bring in our wounded.
Late in the evening we withdrew to the city, where we remained the next day. At night we were ordered to the front. No man was allowed to speak. Dippers must not rattle against bayonets, but all must be as still as the dead who slept near us. We remained until nearly daylight, found the army was being withdrawn to the other side of the river, and as usual we were to cover the retreat. We recrossed in safety, and waited on the other side until the pontoons were withdrawn. About half of those who went over never marched back. In the battle of the 13th, out of less than three hundred men we lost, in killed and wounded, one hundred and four. Of the eleven men who carried the colors that day eight were killed. I do not believe we killed five of the enemy, if we did one. We found them strongly intrenched, charged upon them, and they mowed us down. Here the rebels lost an opportunity. Had they attacked us while we were recrossing the river they could have captured a large part of the army; but they did not see the chance, and we escaped.
Sad and weary we marched back to our old camp. We had become accustomed to defeat; we knew that no braver army stood upon the earth than the Army of the Potomac, but fate had been against us from the start. We saw our numbers growing less, and no real victory to reward us for the sacrifice.
It only required a few days after returning to camp to reorganize the regiment; promotions were made to fill the vacant places, and active drill was resumed. We took up skirmish drill and bayonet exercise in earnest, and what spare time we had stockaded our tents, expecting to remain until spring; but in army life there is no assurance that you will find yourself in the morning where you lay down at night, and in a few days the army was ordered to pack up. As soon as the order was given it began to rain and continued several days. We wallowed around in the mud, trying to march, but it was impossible, and all were ordered back to camp, after suffering untold misery for two days. Our next move was to break camp, and locate nearer the town. Here we stockaded our tents, and were comfortable.
Were it not for the sadness felt by reason of the vacant places in our ranks, it would have been the happiest winter I had ever passed. Every night the officers would gather in the adjutant's tent, - which was a Sibley, stockaded some six feet from the ground, - and there hold regular campfires. Stories would be told, songs sung and recitations given. We had our orators and our poets. I remember one night, when seated around the camp-fire, the quartermaster, Tom Winthrop, who had enlisted as a private with me in old Company A, read the following tribute to the boys who had gone on: -
OUR FALLEN BRAVES.
Not in the quiet churchyard where their fathers' bones repose,
With loving hands to mark the spot with willow and with rose;
Not in the quiet nooks and dells of the old homestead place,
'Mid scenes of boyhood days time never can efface;
But in strange lands we laid them down, in rough dug soldiers' graves,
And far from home and kindred ones they sleep, our fallen braves.
No mother's wail of sorrow o'er the new sod fresh and green,
Where sleeps the boy she nursed and loved, and fondled when a ween;
No blue-eyed maiden, golden-haired, to drop the bitter tear,
Or mark the spot with loving hands, where sleeps the form so dear;
But comrades knew their honest worth, the sacrifice they made,
And they have marked with thoughtful care where sleep our fallen braves.
We left our heroes at Fair Oakes, we dug their honored graves
Beside the Chickahominy, with its dull, dreary waves.
Not alone they fell in battle, not alone by steel and lead,
The fell malaria swept them off, as fruits fall, ripe and red.
And where the southern laurels bloom, and oleanders wave,
In the swamp lands, drear and deadly, they sleep, our fallen braves.
And oh, it was a fearful lot we buried at Glendale.
Our ranks were thinned like standing corn before the sweeping gale.
And thick their honored graves were strewn, through cornfields, one by one,
They mark the spot when Antietam was bravely fought and won.
And where the fight raged fiercest, by the Rappahannock's waves,
There is many a yellow mound to tell where sleep our fallen braves.
Oh, brave hearts that know no shrinking, oh, strong hands tried and true,
You paled to see your country's stars turn from their azured blue;
And burned your hearts with patriot fire, nerved your arm to right,
Ye were foremost when the call came, ye were foremost in the fight.
And well ye fought and brave ye died, ye were no hireling slaves,
May earth its richest tribute bring to all our fallen braves.
What though no marble monument, no towering shaft of stone,
Is reared above the sacred soil where rest their honored bones;
What though no graven tablet shall, through all the coming time,
Tell to the world heroic deeds of sacrifice sublime.
But we who know how willingly their noble lives they gave,
Will treasure in our hearts the worth of all our fallen braves.
I do not believe there was a regiment in either army where the love was so strong between officers and men as in the old 19th. We had no little jealousies; the men obeyed the officers because they knew that no unreasonable orders would be given. All was peace and harmony. Officers and men were given furloughs, and boxes were received from home. Some of the boxes had been a long time on the road, and when they arrived the contents were in an uncertain condition. It was hard to tell the tobacco from the mince pie. William A. Hill, adjutant of the regiment, had expected a box for some time, and the officers knew that when it came "Billy" would see that all had a share. At last it arrived, and we gathered at headquarters to see it opened. The cover was removed and the smell was not quite equal to the arbutus, but we hoped it was only the top. Another box was found inside containing what was once a turkey, but was now a large lump of blue mould. Nothing in the box was eatable. We held a council and concluded that a turkey that had been dead so long should have a decent burial. The next day the remains lay in state while we prepared for the last sad services. We waked the corpse until midnight, then the sad procession was formed. First came the largest negro, selected from the many servants, as drum-major; then the comb band; next the quartermaster, with the carbine reversed, as a firing party; then the corpse borne on a stretcher by four negroes, two small and two large; then the mourners (officers who had expected to eat the turkey, and were left); all so disguised that none could recognize them. We marched down the main street of the camp, the comb band playing the dead march. Men half dressed came out of their tents to see what was the trouble, but we passed beyond the camp lines, where a grave had been prepared. Here the body was lowered, remarks were made by the chaplain (pro tem.), a poem was read by the quartermaster, and we returned to camp and mourned for the spirits that had departed.
Another jolly time I recall. One day a light snow had fallen, and the men began to snow-ball. Soon companies were engaged and then the right and left wings of the regiment were pitted against each other. I was with the left wing and we were holding our own when the drum corps re-enforced the right. Up to this time headquarters had been spectators, but they became excited, and joined the right wing. With such re-enforcements, the battle would soon be lost to us, but I remembered that some twenty of our negro servants were in rear of the hospital tent, and went to them and offered bounty if they would enlist. They hesitated, but I assured them that I would stand the blame if they joined our forces. Having loaded every one with an armful of snow balls, I charged over the hill and attacked headquarters by the flank. If any one doubts the bravery of colored troops he should have seen my army that day. They rushed upon the foe, regardless of who it was. Their ammunition exhausted, they started on the charge with heads down, and butted all before them. Headquarters vanished. The right wing gave way, and the left held the field. It was the first battle won by colored troops in the war, and proved that they could fight if well officered.
Many of the soldiers quartered near us, and some of our own men, had an eye to business, and were going about the camp selling pies, cookies and other articles of food. The 19th Maine had many men engaged in this business. One day a tall, honest-looking fellow was going through our camp when he passed Sergeant McGinnis. "What do you ask for your pies?" said McGinnis. "Twenty-five cents," replied the soldier. "I won't give it," said McGinnis. "Your colonel was just through here selling them for twenty cents."
While at this camp Colonel Devereaux was called home, and we were without a field officer. Captain Mahoney hearing of this felt it his duty to return. Although on leave of absence from the severe wound received at Fredericksburg he reported for duty. As I have before said, Captain Mahoney was a true son of Erin, brave and patriotic, yet a little peculiar. He brought with him two dozen bottles of ginger ale (?) and at night the officers in full uniform called to pay their respects. We were royally received. Corks were drawn and sociability began. We informed the captain that the regiment was delighted to have him return, that we had not had a battalion drill for several weeks, and were very rusty. He asked what in our opinion we were the most deficient in, and we said the charge. He said he had expected as much, and that the next day we should have a drill. The drill call was sounded, and we fell in. All the officers' horses were away except an old one that was called "Palmer's wood-box." Mounted on this Captain Mahoney took command, and we marched to the parade ground near the town. As the drill was a new thing, the negro women and children assembled to witness it. We started forward in line; the order "Double-quick" was given, then "Charge." On we went; the old horse began to wheel and kick and the centre of the regiment could not pass. Lieut. Eph. Hall was in command of the left company and I the right. Captain Mahoney cried "Halt! halt!" but we did not hear him, and kept on driving the negroes into the town. After we had cleared the field we came marching back; the captain had dismounted and was walking up and down the line mad way through. "Why didn't you halt, Lieutenant Adams?" "Didn't hear you, sir." "Why didn't you halt, Lieutenant Hall?" "Didn't hear you, sir." "D--d lie! consider yourself in arrest. Adjutant, take Lieutenant Hall's sword." Eph. was a lieutenant in Captain Mahoney's company, and while I got off without a reprimand he must be punished. We marched back to quarters and at night called on the captain with a petition for Lieutenant Hall's release. We were well received. The ginger ale was opened, and after much discussion it was thought best to send for Lieutenant Hall and have matters explained. Captain Mahoney forgave him although I am not quite sure Eph. asked him to do so, but the noble old captain's heart was so large that he never treasured up anything against us.
While in camp at Falmouth the base ball fever broke out. It was the old-fashioned game, where a man running the bases must be hit by the ball to be declared out. It started with the men, then the officers began to play, and finally the 19th challenged the 7th Michigan to play for sixty dollars a side. Captain Hume and myself were the committee of our regiment with two officers from the 7th Michigan, the four to select two from another regiment in the brigade. The game was played and witnessed by nearly all of our division, and the 19th won. The one hundred and twenty dollars was spent for a supper, both clubs being present with our committee as guests. It was a grand time, and all agreed that it was nicer to play base than minie ball.
What were the rebels doing all this time? Just the same as we were. While each army posted a picket along the river they never fired a shot. We would sit on the bank and watch their games, and the distance was so short we could understand every movement and would applaud good plays. Our men and theirs met in the river and exchanged papers, tobacco and coffee and were on the best of terms. As the spring months came they fished the river for shad, and as they drew their seines would come so near our shore that they could and often did throw fish to our boys. This truce lasted from January to May, 1863, and to both armies was one long, happy holiday.
In April I received ten days leave of absence, and visited my old home. I had been promoted first lieutenant after the battle of Fredericksburg, and wore my new uniform for the first time. After two days spent on the road I arrived in Groveland. As in the field, I found death had been busy. My father had been called home, and many others had passed away. The second night after my arrival a delegation of citizens waited upon me and escorted me to the vestry used as a town hall, where I was given a public reception. I do not know what the feelings of General Grant were when he landed at California and was given the grand reception after his trip around the world, but if he felt better than I did he must have been very happy. I remained at home six days, and at the expiration of my leave reported back to the camp. I was as pleased to meet the dear old boys as I had been to meet friends at home.
How I love to linger, living over in memory those happy days. I could fill pages with reminiscences of that winter; the horse show February 22, the grand inauguration of Lieutenant Shackley when he received his commission, the blackberry jam at the sutler's tent, the courts-martial in the Sibley tent on the hill, and last but not least, the grand joke which was enjoyed by all; but it would be of interest only to the comrades of the old 19th and I will pass on to the stern realities of war.
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