The Fighting Parson's Regiment
CHAPTER XVII.On duty at the front. Strange sickness. General Grant under fire. Captain D' Arcy. Battle of Strawberry Plains. Splendid behavior of the regiment. Lieutenants Tantum and Sears picked off by Confederate sharpshooters, Other losses. The excited officer. Hurried retreat. Captain Taylor. The greeting of General Terry. A night's rest. On picket duty. Sad condition of the regiment. Expiration of term of enlistment. Disaffection. Severe duty. Artillery attack on Petersburg. Out of the service.
[August 1864]WE have never heard of any general order issued to the army annulling the Fourth Commandment, but such had been our experience that we needed no argument to persuade us, on the morning of the 14th of August, which was the Sabbath, that some special service, in field or camp, would be required. All day long, we were at the front, in plain sight and within range of a Confederate battery. The weather was intensely hot, and a most curious effect followed the long exposure to the glaring sun. Many officers, as well as non-commissioned officers and privates, succumbed to the heat, and were led or carried to the rear. Some were ti1ken with spasms, and sometimes whole groups fell together; but, the surgeon being summoned, a wonderful change took place, and the powerful remedies which he administered to the most marked cases seemed to have a peculiar effect on the others. It was a remarkable experience, and I have never been able fully to explain the nature of the attack. For a time it seemed likely that we should have a battalion of invalids; but the illness was of short duration, and no serious results followed. While occupying a little hill, the top of which was crossed by a stone wall, General Grant made his appearance, with General Barnard and other members of his staff. Passing through our ranks, he ascended the hill to the stone wall, where he remained some time, taking observations. In the meantime, the battery across the meadow kept up a constant fire, and General Grant was often obliged to duck his head behind the wall to avoid the shot. One of these, whi0h had passed uncomfortably near him, proved fatal to Captain D'Arcy, who was just returning from the valley below, with some of those who had retired under the effect of the sunstroke. He was a good officer, but sometimes showed the want of coolness and self-possession. This would undoubtedly have come to him with age and longer experience. With this, he would have been an officer of unusual excellence; for he was well informed, of quick perceptions, and prompt in all his movements, while his bravery was beyond question. The only result of the day's work, of which we had any report, was the capture of a battery and fifty prisoners by General Terry. The next day, the 15th, we were moved from point to point continually, but were not engaged.
On the next day, the 16th, occurred the battle of Strawberry Plains, where our loss was very severe. I copy from my journal: "During the forenoon moved to the left in rear of battery. Remained a little while, and then moved to the right through the woods. On the way, the firing became heavy in our front, and we soon got the order to double-quick. Through the woods, over dead bodies, - Federals and Confederates mingled together,-past lines of prisoners, into the open ground, knapsacks thrown off, full of enthusiasm, away we went, forming behind the Confederate works, by the right into line, as straight and true as ever on parade drill, amid the cheering of the troops about us. Men, cheerful, cool, and obedient, under a heavy fire, in which Lieutenant John M. Tantulll, of Company D, a Christian man and good soldier, was killed, and Seward, Sears, and many others, wounded. We stuck to the works until the regiments on our right and left had fled, and only gave way when the Confederates were so near that we could almost feel their breath."
During the day we witnessed a marked illustration of the necessity for coolness, as well as bravery, especiaJly on the part of officers. Our position was a trying one, fQr, although there was no enemy in sight, we were under a heavy enfilading fire, probably from sharpshooters stationed in the trees of the adjoining woods, and we had reason to expect an attack, either in front or flank, at any moment. Under the circumstances, it was necessary that the command should be well in hand, cool, alert, and ready for any emergency. While we were closely hugging the intrenchments, to avoid as far as possible the enemy's fire, every man grasping his musket, and waiting for the word of command, a staff officer, possessing more courage than discretion, came along, with pistol in one hand and sword in the other, and gave the order to commence firing. In an instant the men were on their feet, and the utmost confusion prevailed. The firing which followed indicated more perfectly the position of our regiment to the enemy, who were themselves so completely concealed in the woods at our left that no return fire could be effectual. Worse than all, our men could only fire directly to the front,- where as yet there was no sign of the enemy,- on account of the regiment which at that time connected with our left flank. As long as the firing continued, the advantage of preparations to repel attack was entirely lost, and it was only by threats of immediate personal injury that the officer was induced to take his ill-timed enthusiasm elsewhere, and order was restored. In our retreat, which occurred soon after, Captain Taylor was the only office left to assist in the command of the regiment; and, as we hurried through the woods, a last look behind discovered several Confederate battle-flags close at hand, and already. occupying the position we had just left. How heartily we congratulated each other on our escape, when so many of our friends and comrades had fallen; but only an hour afterwards, our picket-lines having been established, and placed in his charge, word was brought to me that he too had been grievously wounded. It was a sad blow, and left me in a very embarrassing position; for the enemy was pressing hard upon us. Soon, however, several officers, who, for various reasons, had been absent during the day,-reported for duty; but no one who took his place. Always ready for whatever he was called upon to do, he was cheerful and intelligent in its performance. An excellent officer, and most agreeable companion. This was his third wound, and, although he recovered sufficiently to attend to ordinary business, he was obliged to leave the service. His constitution was much shattered, and gradually gave way, under the combined effects of his wounds and the malarial disorders contracted in the army. Never shall I forget the greeting of General Terry as we emerged from the woods. He had seen our good regiment through the whole affair and his plaudit of "well done" was honest and hearty. There was no rest that nightf but when, at the dose of the following day, the 17th, after much wearisome marching, we sank down on the damp ground, wet, hungry, and exhausted, many a prayer of thanksgiving went up to Him who had spared us, where so many had fallen by our sides. On the 18th, there was fighting in our front, but we were not engaged.
Having got back to the intrenchments at Deep Bottom, we were allowed a short season of rest. Heavy firing was continually going on about us, especially in the direction of Petersburg; but, although so near, we received no reliable accounts of what was transpiring.
On the 20th we left Deep Bottom, and for a portion of the day acted as a picket guard. The line was formed across Strawberry Plains' and the duty was a delicate one, as our troops were retreating over the roads by which the enemy was expected. The following day we marched to our old camp-ground at Bermuda Hundred. During the week just passed, we had lost Captain D'Arcy, Lieutenants Tantum and Sears, killed, and Captain Taylor and Lieutenant Seward, wounded, while Lieutenant Acker was in hospital, suffering from sunstroke. Many non-commissioned officers and privates had been killed and wounded, while others, officers and soldiers, were incapacitated for duty.
About this time there arose much disaffection in the regiment among those men who, having served three years, demanded their discharge. While sympathizing fully with their feelings, although the commanding officer, it was impossible for me to relieve them from duty, especially as at this time we were taxed to our utmost in guarding a long line, which had previously been occupied by a whole brigade. A few cases of discipline were necessary, but, for the most part, the men were amenable to reason, and recognized the necessity of performing service until relieved by competent authority. On the 24th, we moved farther to the right, and every man was put on picket. At this time there were but
[September 1864]three officers present for duty. Chills and fever were very prevalent, and the regiment was reduced to a skeleton of its former self. Early on the morning of the 25th, a sharp attack was made on our picket-line, but was repulsed. Our loss was one man killed, and nine wounded and missing. Rumors prevailed for several days that we were to be sent to Petersburg, and on Sunday, the 28th, the order came, and by nine o'clock of that evening we were in our old quarters. On the evening of the 29th, the batteries on the hills back of us opened a heavy fire on Petersburg, and continued for some time. It was a magnificent sight. The air was alive with shells, and in their flight they seemed to rise even to the stars, and to mingle their light with them. From this time until September 14, the duties of the regiment were without variety or special interest. With the 76th Pennsylvania, it alternated in serving at the front and resting in the rear lines. On the 14th, my connection with the regiment ceased. After more than three years of service, completely broken down by malarial disease cotracted in the early period of the war, at my urgent request I was permitted to resign. What follows of this history has been largely drawn from the journals of others, and several histories of the war, which I have constantly consulted in preparing this narrative.