Compiled from original sources by Col. Charles E. Phelps, Brevt. Brig. Gen. U. S. V., at the request of the Commissioners, under the Act of 1896, Ch. 134, "to provide for the completion of the records of the soldiers, etc., accredited to the State of Maryland in the late Civil War, etc."
This regiment was recruited from the northern line of Maryland counties, under the call of July 1, 1862, for "three years or the war.'' Toward the end of August, 1862, nine companies had been enrolled and mustered in Baltimore, and went into " Camp Harford," a spot now included within the limits of Druid Hill Park. The aggregate strength of the regiment at that time was 784 officers and men. Pressing exigencies of the service hurried it into the field before it had received its tenth company, the men recruited for which were mustered into other regiments. The tenth Company, K , was composed of the re-enlisted men of the Tenth Maryland (a six months' organization), and joined the regiment in April, 1864.
Material of the Regiment.
There were very few foreigners in this regiment. Most of the line officers and men were substantial farmers, mechanics and laboring men from the rural districts. Very shortly after they had come to know each other, a unanimous preference for the mounted service took shape in a formal but unsuccessful application to the War Department for transfer to the cavalry.
Two companies (C and H) were raised in Harford County, one (D) in Baltimore County, and one (F) in Carroll. Three (B, E and G) were recruited in Frederick County, and two (A and I) in Washington County. There was no city company in the Seventh until joined by company K, above mentioned, and this company was composed of young active men, clerks, etc., from Baltimore.
The Seventh Regiment was raised and originally commanded by Colonel Edwin H. Webster, of Harford County, a representative from Maryland in Congress. Lieut.-Colonel Charles E. Phelps, subsequently promoted Colonel, and later Brigadier-General by brevet, was a member of the Baltimore bar, and had been Major of the "Maryland Guard," somewhat celebrated just before the war as a thoroughly drilled volunteer battalion, most of whose members went South. Major William H. Dallam was a prominent and highly esteemed lawyer of Harford County, and enjoyed the confidence of the entire community in which he lived. He had served the public in the capacity of Clerk of the Circuit Court and for many years as State's Attorney.
Adjutant George L. Tyler and Quartermaster Thomas S. Nesbitt were young gentlemen of prominent families in Frederick and Washington counties respectively. Surgeon James H. Jarrett and Assistant Surgeon (afterwards Surgeon) Robert K. Robinson were well-known practitioners of Harford County. The line officers, as a rule, were all highly respected citizens of their several counties. Two of the captains, Edward M. Mobley, of Washington County, and David T. Bennett, of Frederick County, were subsequently promoted in succession to the command of the regiment, made vacant by casualties of service. Captain Daniel Rinehart, of Carroll County, was a brother of the world-renowned sculptor.
Early in September, 1862, the advance of Lee's army into Maryland occasioned frequent reports of the immediate proximity of his cavalry. The streets or Baltimore were barricaded, and before the Seventh had progressed so far in its tactics as the battalion drill, it was, on several occasions, ordered into line in expectation of a raid.
On the 8th of September, 1862, it was brigaded with the 1st, 4th, 6th and 8th Regiments of Maryland Infantry and Alexander's Battery of Baltimore Light Artillery, under the command of Brigadier-General John R. Kenly. From that time on, until muster out at the end of the war, the military history of the Seventh is mainly identified with that of the famous Maryland Brigade, composed of the organizations just named, with the exception of the Sixth and Alexander's Battery, subsequently assigned elsewhere.
The Maryland brigade continued a part of the 8th Army Corps nominally, although serving successively under General Franklin, General Couch and General French, either as an independent brigade or in detachments, until on the 11th of July, 1863, it was definitely assigned to the Army of the Potomac as the 3d Brigade, 3d Division, 1st Army Corps.
In January, 1864, it became the 2d brigade of the same division. Upon, the reorganization of the Army of the Potomac under Lieutenant-General Grant, in March, 1864, the old first corps was merged in the fifth, and the Maryland brigade was then designated 3d Brigade, 2d Division, 5th Army Corps. After the Battle of the Wilderness and the first engagement at Spottsylvania, this division was so shattered that it was broken up, and most of its regiments assigned to other commands, the Maryland brigade serving temporarily as an independent organization, reporting to corps headquarters. Upon the reorganization of the division in June, 1864, the Maryland brigade finally became the 2d Brigade, 2d Division, 5th Army Corps, until mustered out May 31, 1865.
At the Front.
As soon as the result of the battle of Antietam was known, the Maryland brigade, which, until that time had been required to guard and picket the approaches to the city, was ordered to the front. Its first service in the presence of the enemy was between Hagerstown and Williamsport, where they found General Reynolds with a body of raw, un-uniformed Pennsylvania militia, engaged in trying to hold in check a force of the enemy's cavalry. Much to the relief of the militia, the Marylanders were promptly deployed in their front, and, upon their advance, the opposing force withdrew, their artillery covering the retreat with a few inaccurate shots. This was on the 19th of September, 1862.
From that time on, until the 29th of October, the Maryland brigade remained in camp in the vicinity of Williamsport, guarding the fords of the Potomac; the cavalry videttes of the enemy, Wade Hampton in command, being in sight on the other side. After some days of excitement, forming line of battle, marches and counter-marches, the routine of drill again began, and this growing tedious, many of the men took advantage of the lull to go home on short visits without leave, after failing to receive furlough. They called this taking a "french," and indignantly disclaimed the idea of desertion. Numbers, in fact, were so near their homes that they could easily make the round trip between tattoo and reveille.
The Upper Potomac.
On the 29th of October, 1862, the Seventh Regiment was ordered on detached duty, guarding a river front of about five miles from McCoy's Ferry to Dam No. 5, headquarters at Four Locks. McCoy's Ferry was the point where Stuart's cavalry had broken through on their famous raid, a few days before, surprising and capturing the signal station on Fair View Mountain, close by. One of the most interesting points in the vicinity was " Old Fort Frederick," built as a defense against Indians, and at that time one of the few remaining structures to be found in this country worthy to be called a "ruin."
From the summit of Fair View could be seen three States, the encampment of McClellan's army at Harper's Ferry and Lee's encampment at Martinsburg. This lookout was at that time a great resort for Union refugees from Virginia. Many of these had served on the other side as unwilling conscripts. They were naturally very much wanted, and they knew it. As our army advanced into the sacred soil, back went the refugees, some piloting our columns as guides. These men were the most vigilant of videttes, keenly snuffing the southern air for the dreaded cavalry raid.
The belt of Virginia soil immediately in front of the Seventh Maryland was almost entirely inhabited by the families of these refugees, and the great rendezvous of the refugees themselves was Fair View. Here they watched from day to day their deserted homes across the river, sometimes witnessing with their own eyes their hogs and sheep taken, often exchanging signals with their families, and when signals were satisfactory, stealthily crossing in skiffs or wading the ford.
Many of the younger refugees had enlisted in Maryland cavalry regiments, and under the command of such men as Cole, Vernon, Russell, Firey and others, did good service as scouts and guides. Their presence and influence contributed materially to impress upon those organizations the character for vigilance, enterprise and daring for which they were distinguished.
But to the older and more timid refugees the regiment was indebted for many panicky rumors, startling announcements, hasty "falling's in." It was characteristic of the men upon every such occasion that they never became skeptical, but took
each alarm as it came, in perfect good faith, always "falling in" with as much alacrity as if the crash of battle were sounding in their ears.
Early in December, the regiment received its first installment of " substitutes,'" an accession of less than doubtful value. There were fifty or more in this batch, of all nationalities, most of them suspiciously well drilled. These disinterested patriots were brought up under guard, with their $300 or $400 each in their pockets. Some had "jumped" the guard on the cars, quite a number vanished the first night, most of them afterwards deserted, and a half dozen or so turned out reliable soldiers. On the 12th of December, 1862, the Seventh returned to Williamsport, finding there only the Eighth, the First having gone to Maryland Heights and the Fourth to Baltimore.
Cordiality of Citizens.
The feeling of the people of Western Maryland towards the soldiers was, with very few exceptions, cordial and thoroughly sympathetic. In return, the instances of invasion of private right on the part of the soldiers were extremely rare, they were discountenanced by the men, and promptly punished when discovered.
On the 21st of December, 1862, the Seventh and Eighth, with Alexander's Battery, started for Maryland Heights, where the whole brigade was finally settled in winter quarters.
West Virginia Campaign.
On the 4th of April, 1863, the Seventh crossed the river and encamped on Bolivar Heights, and on the 27th the Seventh and Fourth were transported by rail to Oakland, under orders which indicated a campaign in West Virginia, then much exercised by a dashing raid under Imboden and Jones. On the morning of the 29th, the Seventh left knapsacks behind at Oakland in charge of the Fourth, and made a forced march all that day and most of the night across the Alleganies, the memory of which was destined to become a standard of comparison in all future campaigns of the Seventh. For several weeks the regiment remained in the vicinity of Rowlesburg, the several companies being so disposed as best to guard the railroad bridge on Cheat river and the high trestles near by. There was practically but one sentiment among the West Virginians here—all were zealous Unionists, and everywhere officers and men found themselves at home. Nothing could be more primitive than the life of these mountaineers. The clothes they wore, the food they ate, the beverages they drank, everything was home-made. Much use was made of maple sugar in a variety of forms; spinning and weaving their own flax and wool, they dyed with madder or black oak bark.
Bolivar and Maryland Heights.
On the 16th of May the West Virginia campaign was closed, the men turning their backs with regret upon the wild freshness and romance of mountain life, and finding their old tents on Bolivar Heights just as they had been left, guarded by the sick and crippled.
For some days the Seventh was the only Union force on the Virginia side of the Potomac, except a few cavalry. Guerrillas were reported in front, and the regiment was much weakened by heavy details for picket and scout duty. On the 23d of May an unfortunate incident occurred at an outpost on the Blue Ridge, where several demonstrations had been made on the pickets of the Seventh. Lieutenant Gorrell, of Company H (Harford County), was in command of this outpost of twenty men, and ventured beyond his advanced sentries on a private reconnoissance. Returning, he failed to hear the challenge of the sentry, who failed to recognize his officer in the1 darkness. He was shot through the lung and disabled for further service. A few days after, a personal difficulty between two non-commissioned officers resulted in a severe pistol wound to one of them. The shooting was clearly a case of self-defense.
'On the 5th of June, 1863, the Seventh moved across the river to its old drill ground on Maryland Heights, and the brigade was once more united.
A new and eventful chapter in the history of the Civil War was now upon the eve of development. The air, which for several days past had been heavy with rumor, now, on the 14th of June, throbbed with distant cannonading in the direction of Winchester. The flash of the guns and shells could be seen after dark. The next day the tongue of rumor was busy with a thousand startling reports, all of which centered around the established fact that Milroy's command at Winchester had been crushed by an over-whelming force of the enemy on their march to transfer the seat of war to the Northern States. We heard with especial regret that our old comrades of the Sixth Maryland and Alexander's Baltimore Battery had shared in the general disaster, but without loss of reputation.
Toward the end of June, Hooker came and ordered Maryland Heights to be abandoned. The troops were in line ready to march. It was then reported that the order had been countermanded by Halleck. They did not march. The next report was that Hooker was out and Meade in command. By his order, General French, a regular and a Marylander, made his appearance and took command of the troops on Maryland Heights, comprising the Maryland brigade, some heavy artillery and the wreck of Milroy's command.
On the 30th of June the position was abandoned. Big guns were spiked or hauled down to the canal, and ammunition which could not be removed was destroyed. During this process, while the troops were moving down, an accidental explosion in the magazine of a thirty-pounder battery filled the air with fragments, killing and wounding twenty-one men.
Under French to Frederick.
On the 1st of July the two brigades of French's column, Kenly's and Morriss', continued the march through the Middletown Valley to Frederick, the heavy firing of the first day's battle of Gettysburg being at times audible on the left. On the 2d of July a ringing order was issued with the announcement that "any officer, no matter how high his rank, or soldier who fails of his full duty at this crisis, will suffer death, under immediate trial by drum-head court." This order was followed up by a choleric visit from French to every regiment and picket post, the deliberate design of which seemed to be to exasperate the entire command to the fighting pitch. Such, at least, was its effect. On the next day (July 3d), the command was paraded through town in column of platoons equalized, field music playing, on the march to Monocacy Junction. At the corner of Market and Patrick streets the column passed General French in review, and at all
points was loudly cheered by the citizens. On each of these days, especially the third, the sound of artillery continued from the direction of Gettysburg.
It was understood that French was acting as the reserve of Meade's army, keeping open its line of communication and covering Washington and Baltimore. In the event of Meade's defeat, it is easy to see that his task would have been one of vital importance.
On the 4th day of July, 1863, the news of a great victory at Gettysburg flew like wildfire, followed up by long trains of captured wagons and prisoners, escorted by cavalry. All was activity and vigilance, constant marching and counter-marching, posting of pickets and calling them in again, with hourly expectation of something important to happen immediately. Late in the day the Seventh was counter-marched back to its old bivouac on Rizer's farm, west of Frederick, on the Harper's Ferry road.
In the early dawn of the 6th, as the field officer of the day was riding along the out-posts, he descried an object swinging from the limb of a tree, surrounded by a force of cavalry. They reported that the body was that of a spy, caught with the evidence in his boots, and hung by drum-head court by order of General Buford. He was easily recognized as a former visitor to the camp of the Maryland Brigade, offering various small articles for sale and getting up ornamental company rolls.
Army of the Potomac.
General French was then assigned to the command of the third corps, and Kenly's brigade hurried back to Maryland Heights. The Seventh being on picket at the time, did not start with the brigade, which had a skirmish as they occupied the Heights. As soon as the Seventh was relieved by its namesake, the famous Seventh New York Militia, National Guard, it rejoined the brigade, which, on the 10th of July, moved out through Pleasant Valley to a point near Boonsboro. The march was directly toward the sound of cannon. The march was a forced one of seventeen miles, the day was hot and sultry, and many of the best men fell out from sheer exhaustion. The straggling was excessive and much of it was unavoidable; most of the stragglers came up during the night.
Here the Maryland brigade brought up against the Army of the Potomac and reinforced its weakest corps, being designated as the 3d Brigade, 3d Division, 1st Corps. General Newton commanded the corps, Kenly the division and Colonel Dushane, of the first Maryland, commanded the brigade.
The next day the brigade took its place in the corps line of battle, drawn up in a field along the Hagerstown pike. The men opened their eyes as the reserve artillery thundered by, battery after battery, the heavy Parrot guns drawn by ten or twelve horses each. From the time they struck the Army of the Potomac, they had found themselves in an atmosphere of novelty and wonder. The thinned ranks of many of the regiments, shrunken by losses in battle to the proportions of a company or so, the tattered and bullet-ridden colors, and those queer-looking badges worn by men and officers, of various devices, shapes and colors, corresponding with the conspicuous standards borne by mounted orderlies, following every movement of the general officers, formed the principal
subjects of curiosity and topics for discussion among the men of the Maryland brigade. Many are still living who will remember the thrill of pride with which, on that day, the brigade and division standards were received, and the corps badges attached.
Skirmish at Funkstown.
After several changes of position, on the 12th of July the Maryland brigade was brought into contact with the enemy near Funkstown. The Seventh being called on for a company to relieve the skirmishers of the sixth corps in its front, it happened to be the turn of company I to go on that duty. This company (Captain E. F. Anderson) was raised in the neighborhood, and most of the men had harvested or hunted over the ground. Ridges of limestone cropping out here and there furnished accidents of position of which the skirmishers of both sides made it a point to avail themselves quite liberally. Lee was at that moment preparing to withdraw his army across the Potomac, a fact unknown to our side, and he was holding his entrenchments only to cover the retreat. Accordingly, the work of our skirmishers went on prosperously and they advanced gradually, pressing back the enemy's skirmishers. The next morning Company I, with a loss of only one man wounded (Scoffin), was relieved on the skirmish line by Captain Bennett, Company E.
A marksman on the other side had been observed to make several close shots, one of which had grazed Captain Bennett's ear and drawn blood. The latter stationed one of his best shots behind a wheat stack, with directions to shoot that man the next time he showed his head above the rifle pit. The captain then lifted his cap slightly on the point of his sword, and instantly the Confederate marksman showed himself, but before he had time to pull, Corporal Mahaney, of Company E, resting his rifle through the stack, had anticipated him, and he was seen to leap from out of the rifle-pit and fall forward upon his face. The corporal was afterwards killed in the Wilderness.
One of the incidents of this skirmish was a struggle for the possession of Stover's barn, which was finally carried by our men, when the barn was opened on by the enemy's artillery. After this, the enemy sent out a flag of truce to get the body of one of their officers.
Retreat of Lee.
During that night the retreat of Lee's army was ascertained by the pickets of the Maryland brigade, who captured a number of stragglers. The next day, 14th of July, 1863, the 1st Corps, following the sixth, marched through the two strong lines of earthworks just abandoned by the enemy, the men noticing the fresh graves of a number of Confederates who fell during the two days' skirmish.
On the 15th the march was resumed to Crampton's Gap, some twenty-five miles, passing a brigade of prisoners captured at Falling Waters. Another day's march brought the corps to Petersville, where the wagon trains came up, and a brief interval was employed in resting and refitting.
Advance into Virginia.
On the 18th the Potomac was crossed at Berlin on a pontoon bridge, and Middleburg was reached on the evening of the 20th, where the officer in charge of the brigade picket experienced the luxury of posting pickets after dark in a strange country, among woods tangled with under-growth, and meadows treacherous with ditches and swamps. The command stayed at Middleburg all the next day, indulging in blackberries to an unlimited extent, which, as a sanitary measure, was a success.
The march was resumed through White Plains and Warrenton Junction, reaching Rappahannock Station on the 3d of August, 1863, where a brisk cavalry skirmish was in progress, indicating renewed contact with Lee's army, now at the end of its retreat. This fight between Buford and Stuart was plainly visible across the Rappahannock, and it was watched with interest, because it was taken to be the prelude of another pitched battle. It turned out to be only a reconnoissance in force.
The Seventh was at this time separated from the Maryland brigade, and it was understood that it, together with some regiments from other brigades, constituted the reserve of the 1st Corps. Among the many rumors in constant circulation was one to the effect that the Seventh Regiment was to be detailed as "sharpshooters." It had been reported that during the two days' skirmishing at Funkstown the fire of our Companies I and E had been especially effective. It had been learned officially (so went the rumor) that the enemy's loss during that skirmish in front of the Maryland brigade alone had been eight killed, including a captain, and fifteen wounded. In point of fact, nothing was certainly known about anything.
It was mysteriously whispered in select circles as a particularly choice tit-bit of rumor that "we" had learned to read the enemy's signals, with many cautions to be very careful of the secret, lest the rebels should get hold of it and immediately change their signal code. There was but little incident of any kind to vary the monotony of camp life at Rappahannock station. Deserters were occasionally shot under sentence of court-martial in some of the neighboring camps, and it was the accepted policy to make these executions as public and ceremonious as possible, to strike terror into the substitutes and bounty-jumpers.
Quite in contrast with the dull monotony of the camps in rear, the picket line or extreme front in contact with the enemy is always interesting. Our division outposts at that time occupied a front of over two miles, the line between the two armies had not been straightened out, and the opposing sentries were within hailing distance, in some cases. This situation sometimes gave occasion for ludicrous mistakes. A too sociable disposition was at times indulged, resulting in the trading of newspapers, coffee, tobacco, etc., but this intercourse was always promptly repressed by the authorities as soon as discovered.
About the middle of September a division of cavalry, supported by the second corps, pushed on as far as Culpeper, not without resistance and loss. A rumor prevailed that we had captured colors, a large number of prisoners and ten guns, reduced afterwards to three.
Advance to the Rapidan.
Early on the morning of the 16th of September, 1863, the long expected order came, and after a march of ten or twelve miles through Brandy and Stevensburg, tents were pitched about half way between that place and Culpeper Courthouse, on Mountain Run. The march was toward the sound of cannon, and many dead and crippled horses were passed.
Here the paymaster made his appearance, and several officers were informed that their pay had been stopped until their regulation "ordnance returns" were duly forwarded. As Government officials became more experienced, greater strictness and more "red tape" was used, and many obscure and neglected "army regulations," which had been a mystery to inexperienced officers and the despair of department clerks, were revived and peremptorily enforced by the quick stimulus of "stopping pay." The next move was to a piny old field on Potato Run, near Stewart's house, where, towards the end of the month, the division was paraded on three sides of a square to witness the shooting of a substitute deserter from the Fourth Maryland. He followed his coffin around the square with unmoved expression and steady step, keeping time to his own dead march, and, after the execution, the troops were marched in review past the bloody remains.
On the 27th of September, 1863, another move was made about four miles westerly to Summerduck Run, and on the morning of the 29th, just after the brigade guard had been mounted, with the assistance of the brigade band, there was another move west to a point near Cedar Run, guarding Raccoon Ford, of the Rapidan. The division was here masked by a dense forest of heavy timber. Blazing trunks of solid hickory, piled with reckless extravagance, cheered the men with a genial air of home comfort and lighted the path of mounted orderlies.
Another active campaign was now at hand, to counteract a rapid flank movement of Lee's army toward Meade's rear. The movement commenced, so far as the Seventh was concerned, at two o'clock on the morning of October 10, 1863, by a forward demonstration of the 1st Corps upon Morton's Ford of the Rapidan. From this point the retreat commenced that night, and the Rappahannock was re-crossed at Kelly's Ford. It was at this time a frequent subject of remark among the men that they had often heard firing in front and on the flank during a march, but never before in the rear. From a hill above the ford, looking back, could be distinctly seen every shell as it burst in the air, the distant Blue Ridge forming a dark background for the puffs of white smoke. The hot cavalry fighting which had been going on all day did not end with it, and there continued to be seen the flash of the guns and of the bursting shells until long after dark.
At one o'clock on the morning of October 13, 1863, began the heaviest march yet made, from Kelly's Ford to a point beyond Bristoe Station, some twenty-seven or eight miles, carrying eight days' rations. If the private soldiers of the Seventh had been polled, their verdict would have been that this eight days' ration business was a fraud. There was never more than about four or five days eating in them; the balance was a dead loss to the men as well as to the Government, spoiled by mixture, by wet, by perspiration, by dirt, by mildew, sometimes by bugs, until the revolting pasty garbage would be heaved out on the roadside. The only parties benefited were the contractors, for, as a rule, a reissue of three days' rations, when attainable, was an absolute necessity.
It was nearly ten o' clock at night when the Seventh bivouacked a mile or so beyond Bristoe, in a place selected for purely military reasons, with no reference, of course, to convenience or comfort. Those whose good luck it was to stretch themselves under the warm shelter of some level spreading pine, upon ground softly padded with fragrant leaves, soon forgot the toils and burdens of that march. Those whose misery it was to be detailed for picket, must be left to their own reflections, aching backs, and blistered feet.
At daylight of the 14th, the 1st Corps resumed the march northward, and the Maryland brigade took its turn in guarding the ammunition train. It was now apparent that the two armies were running a foot-race on parallel lines for the strongly fortified and commanding position at Centerville. Bull Run was crossed at Blackburn's Ford at noon, and the Heights of Centerville were gained two and a-half hours later, just half an hour ahead (so the rumor went) of Lee's advance. Marching over the old Bull Run battle ground, the solid earth quaked and shuddered, and the air throbbed with the sound of cannonading from Bristoe in rear, and from Thoroughfare Gap on left front.
At about four P. M. the firing from Bristoe reached its climax and continued until after dark, the flash of each gun being plainly seen from Centerville Heights, and the firing becoming both more distant and desultory until about eight o'clock, when it ceased. This was shortly afterwards understood to mean a gallant and successful fight of the second corps under Warren, with A. P. Hill's corps, which was defeated, with the loss of five guns and four hundred and fifty prisoners.
The next day the division was drawn back to a point near Chantilly and thrown in (as was said) between the other divisions of the first corps and the sixth. Here the men were again put into a state of expectancy by a very lively fusillade and some cannonading south and southwest. Two hours later this firing grew more distant, and bore more to the west. The cause was not explained. Probably another cavalry reconnoisance.
After being countermarched to Centerville early on the 19th of October, 1863, the 1st corps marched south, in pursuit of Lee's now retreating army, crossed Bull Run at the Stone Bridge, heard heavy firing directly in front, formed column of brigades on a ridge upon the other side of Bull Run, and loaded. The corps then resumed its march over the ground of the first and second Bull Run battles, and about 3 P. M. went into camp at or near a burnt out village named Haymarket.
Skirmish, at Haymarket.
The whole Seventh Regiment was then ordered to picket the front from the Leesburg pike on the right to the Thoroughfare Gap pike on the left, with a strong post well advanced on each road, a mile and a-half in front of Haymarket. Before the posting had been completed, a lively skirmish suddenly commenced between the advanced post on the left and Stuart's cavalry.
It appeared that during the cavalry fight at Buckland Mills, Kilpatrick had thrown one of his brigades (Davies') forward into a bad position, where it was confronted by Stuart, outflanked by Fitzhugh Lee, and routed. It was hotly pursued, and in
steeple chase style dashed through the picket line of the Seventh Maryland. The small outpost on the Gap road promptly opened fire and brought the foremost riders to a stand. But being rapidly reinforced every moment, they soon displayed a front, which threatened the capture of the entire outpost, several of whom had fallen. Captain Makechney then fell back with his little command before the cautious advance of the enemy for some two hundred yards, when he was met by Colonel Webster and posted by him on the picket line, which had retained its position, and now again opened fire upon the advancing force, which was again brought to a stand. In the meantime the delay afforded by the check had enabled a battery of horse artillery with Davies' brigade to get into position on a ridge in rear of our picket line, and the battery was promptly supported by the 143d Pennsylvania, under Colonel Dana, moved up by order of General Kenly. After a few rounds from the battery and some more skirmishing along the picket line, night fell, the enemy's cavalry withdrew, and the battery, with the rest of Davies' brigade, retired to the rear.
By some oversight on the part of the officer in command of the picket line of the division, which was to have connected on our left, an interval was left between the Gap road and a stream some little distance southwest. Through this opening a dash was made by the enemy's cavalry after dark, and a number of our pickets cut off and captured. The renewed firing on the picket line caused General Kenly to order up the 1st Maryland (Colonel Wilson) to the support of the Seventh, and a round or two from the 1st Maryland ended the affair. The fight commenced just before sunset and ended about 8 P. M. There were only the three left companies of the Seventh engaged, all from Frederick County (B, G and E). Loss—one killed, five wounded, sixteen prisoners, including Lieutenant Hagan, of Company G. Colonel Webster received a ball through his clothing and narrowly escaped capture, being at the time of the last dash in the act of inspecting his pickets, when the enemy's cavalry charged past and within a few yards of him.
Several days were then passed at Thoroughfare Gap, and on the 24th of October,1863, the 1st corps made a heavy mud march, the men wading Broad Run and other swollen streams to Bristoe Station, where it entered upon the duty of guarding the railroad and picketing its approaches.
On November 6th the resignation of Colonel Webster, consequent upon his re-election to Congress and the demands of his political friends for his active aid in the pending struggle for emancipation in Maryland, was accepted, and on the following day he took leave of the regiment. A meeting of the officers was held and resolutions were adopted expressing the appreciation of the regiment of the many admirable qualities of their late commander, and their regret at the separation. Lieut.-Colonel Phelps was thereupon commissioned Colonel, and Capt. E. M. Mobley, Major, vice Major Dallam, permanently disabled by illness, the result of exposure.
Guarding Prisoners to Alexandria.
A brilliant charge of General Russell, at Rappahannock Station on the 7th, had resulted in the capture of four guns and 1600 prisoners, and on the same day a dash ordered by General French at Kelly's Ford secured over 400 more. Before the trains containing these prisoners reached Bristoe on their way to the rear, under a small provost-guard, on the afternoon of the 9th, despatches had been received by Col. Dushane, commanding the Maryland brigade, indicating an attempt by a strong force of the enemy to intercept the trains and effect, if possible, a rescue. The colonel of the Seventh was ordered to be in readiness with his regiment, reinforced by a company of the 1st Maryland, to board the train upon their arrival at Bristoe, and guard them to Alexandria. There were two trains of eighteen freight cars each. The first train did not arrive until long after dark, and, owing to mistake or panic, dashed by without slackening speed. A few minutes later the second train arrived, but made such a short stop that numbers of the officers and men were not able to reach their places on the roofs of the cars. Dr. Jarrett, surgeon of the 7th, made for the only open door he saw, probably supposing, in his innocence, that some inside accommodation had been reserved for at least the "field and staff," and was immediately and not at all ceremoniously pulled in by the guard. In the darkness and confusion, the inside guard (of the 20th N. Y.) mistook him for a prisoner who had been trying to escape, and rejected all his protestations as "weak inventions" of the enemy. The doctor found himself in a car densely crowded with Louisiana Irishmen, where he was closely watched by the guard inside as a specially intelligent and dangerous prisoner, capable of framing very plausible stories. The train reached Alexandria at two o'clock in the morning. The prisoners were then turned over to a guard in waiting and marched to the old capitol prison, and the Maryland boys, relieved of all further responsibility, found (to them) sumptuous quarters at "Soldier's Rest."
The spacious enclosure which contained the various buildings was stockaded to the height of fifteen or twenty feet, with banquettes and loop holes for musketry. The first impression, naturally, was that this stockade was only designed to check our hungry and misguided Southern brethren in case any portion of them, with force and arms, should desire to participate in the hospitalities of the place. The next idea that suddenly presented itself to the astonished minds of our boys, after they had duly washed, eaten, drank, rested, and frankly sought to penetrate into the external world, was, that the same stockade answered equally "well to keep them in. All the outlets were guarded by armed men in the Frenchy, sky-blue uniform of the ''Invalid Corps." The officer on duty was a polite young fellow who had left an arm at Gettysburg, and at his invitation the field and staff spread their blankets on the floor of the guard room, adjoining the large hall where the men slept.
The next morning, the necessary preliminaries for transportation having been easily arranged (and nothing was ever found easier or less encumbered with red-tape than getting transportation to the front), the Seventh exchanged the romance of soldiering for the reality, and in due time was found once more at Bristoe, taking its share of duty with the rest of the Maryland brigade in picketing the railroad and its approaches from Manassas Junction to Kettle Run.
The Maryland brigade left Bristoe on the 23d, and marched some twenty miles to a point near the Rappahannock, and three days later moved camp to the bluffs on the north bank, near the railroad bridge. Meade's demonstration upon Mine Run occupied the closing days of this month, during which Kenly's division was held in reserve, guarding the line of communication.
As soon as things began to look settled again, the men occupied themselves in putting up winter quarters, but were not allowed to begin even to feel at home in them. The 3d of December, 1863, was a day of stir and bustle, troops and trains coming back from the front, and on the next day the Maryland brigade marched before daylight, crossing the river to a point on Mountain Run, near Paoli Mills. This was another of those dark, forced marches, leaving wagons behind and halting on the way to load. One of the rumors was that Lee had crossed the Rapidan, and we were going to meet him halfway. Sunrise dissipated these rumors, and the rest of the march was more leisurely conducted, as though we had found out that all Lee wanted was to be "let alone."
To compensate the men for their unprofitable investments in real estate, they now walked into, and literally hung up their hats in, ready-made substantial log cabins, well roofed with heavy oak slabs. For these accommodations, as well as for the bunks and other trimmings, they were indebted to the kind forethought of unknown friends in General Lee's army, probably some of the very men who afterwards received the polite attentions of the regiment in helping them to Alexandria.
Culpeper C. H.
The day before Christmas the snug log cabins at Paoli were vacated, and the 1st corps again marched forth into the unknown. Crossing the railroad at Brandy Station, we soon came in sight of our old friend Mount Pony, and, passing through Culpeper, Kenly's division bivouacked on a hillside a half mile or so south. After one or two changes the Maryland brigade, on New Year's Day, 1864, finally settled down in winter quarters upon the slope and crest of a ridge east of the railroad, between Culpeper and Mount Pony, Colonel Phelps being, at this time, temporarily in command of the brigade, now designated, by the consolidation of the other two brigades, 2d Brigade, 3d Division, 1st Army Corps.
For two or three months, or until the arrival of General Grant, the history of the Army of the Potomac is one of mere drill and routine. Early in February there was a cavalry reconnoissance across the Rapidan, and the whole first corps marched down to Raccoon Ford in support. The detail of this movement was but a repetition of previous experiences—the same picket firing in front, the same interesting prospect of immediate battle, the same lying out in the rain and tramping back in the mud to the same old quarters.
The Seventh Regiment had long since found itself a comparatively insignificant unit in a vast and complex organism. Tied in meshes of red tape, it was subject at every turn to the innumerable minute and rigid exactions which could alone secure the symmetry of the colossal system. It will be found suggestive to glance over the musty files in some regimental headquarter's desk—that of the Seventh, for instance. Here are, to begin with, orders—no end of orders; orders from the War Department, from army headquarters, from corps headquarters, from division, brigade and regimental headquarters; here are infinite reports, returns, requisitions, receipts, abstracts, vouchers, blanks in duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate; here are applications "approved and respectfully forwarded," applications returned with disapproval and endorsements of all sorts; here are details for courts-martial, courts of inquiry and military commissions; here are endless details for guard, for picket, for police, for the pioneer corps, for the ambulance corps, for the quartermasters', commissary and ordnance departments, details as orderlies, guards and provost-guards at the several headquarters, details for fatigue and working parties ; an occasional detail for recruiting service (a rare and soft thing); leaves of absence and furloughs granted, ditto refused; here are circulars, certificates, discharges, descriptive lists of recruits, descriptive lists of deserters, inventories of the effects of deceased soldiers, abstracts of unserviceable ordnance stores, boards to assess value of officers' private horses, pay rolls, muster rolls, muster in and muster out rolls; and here are inspection reports, criticising one regiment for unsanitary condition, another for neglect of military courtesy in saluting, a third for want of schools of tactical instruction. And so on through the whole tedious catalogue, and all this mechanism requiring the consumption of tons of stationery, acres of printed blanks, the tugging this way and that of many thousands of braying mules, and the incessant galloping to and fro of staff officers, mounted orderlies and couriers, always with an intense air of the utmost importance.
This was about the life of the army in brief, looking at it as an organism. Taking
a nearer view, the history of one regiment was about that of every other regiment, and the history of one day pretty much the same as that of every day. Reveille at daylight, police call fifteen minutes after, surgeons' call, breakfast, guard-mount, drill, recall, dinner, drill again, recall again, first call for parade and company inspection, second call and dress parade with retreat at sunset, tattoo about nine P. M., with taps twenty minutes later; so began, continued and ended the soldier's day. On Saturdays there was a special inspection of quarters, and the coverings of the tents, weather permitting, were removed. On Sundays drills were omitted, regimental inspections preceded guard-mount, and the men were assembled for divine service, for which, unfortunately, the Seventh was compelled to depend upon the chaplains of other commands. On the last day of the month was inspection and muster, and muster
for pay when the paymaster came.
The afternoon was devoted to battalion and the morning to company drill. Brigade and division drill, and evolutions of the line were 'specially appointed. The evenings were all supposed to be devoted by the officers to "recitations in tactics and revised army regulations," either at regimental or brigade headquarters, and the hours appointed for drill were, by express order, "to be employed in exercise and not in resting." Particular attention was required to the skirmish drill, and target practice. The penalty for inattention and blundering in drill was the "awkward squad," whose "balance step," "goose step," "shanghai step," and other gymnastic eccentricities, sometimes with loaded knapsacks, never failed to cause sufficient diversion to outsiders.
In the Seventh, it was the invariable practice to close every battalion drill with the "rally on the colors." Ranks were broken, the companies mixed, and as much confusion and disorder made as possible. While this was going on, the colors were advanced or retired over the rise of a neighboring hill, as much out of view as practicable, and markers posted. At the drum signal, the color-guard loudly cheered, and the men raced, with a great shout, to find their places in line or in column, according to the position of the markers. The men greatly enjoyed this exercise, and its value was soon practically illustrated in the Wilderness campaign.
There was never much trouble in the discipline of the Seventh. So far as the men were concerned, ordinary guard-house discipline sufficed for the common run of petty offenses. The few deserters who were caught and brought back were, of course, turned over to general court-martial for more serious punishment. There had not been a single officer court-martialed down to this period of its history, although one had resigned on request, and two were marked as deserters, with whom it would have fared badly if they had been caught. Neither of these three could be said properly to have belonged to the regiment, in the sense of being identified with the society from which it came. At the time the regiment crossed the Rapidan in May, two of its officers marched in the rear under arrest and charges, one of them, by express order from the War Department, for some technical breach, but at the first heavy firing in the Wilderness they were both ordered to resume their swords and expect no other trial than that which awaited them in the woods.
So matters went on, or rather stood still, until the last week in March, when the Army of the Potomac was struck as if by lightning. In the general reorganization ordered on the 23d of March, the old First Corps was "consolidated" out of existence, its 3d division was broken up, and the Maryland brigade was assigned to Warren's Fifth Corps and became the 3d brigade of its 2d division, under Gen. John C. Robinson, a regular army officer of distinction. The brigade was allowed to wear its old badges. Gen. Kenly, in taking leave of his command, was greeted with a hearty expression of good will and regret. Lieutenant-General Grant was at Culpeper, and the saying among the men was that they were being "lieutenant-generalized." Twice they were ordered out to be reviewed by him, and each time came back with- out that satisfaction, the men calling him "Un Seen Grant." At last, on the 29th of March, Grant himself, assisted by Meade and Warren, did actually review the 2d and 4th divisions of the 5th Corps, comprising the consolidated three divisions of the old First.
It is now admitted that this consolidation, the reason for which was the reduced strength of infantry regiments, was an unfortunate move to be made at the outset of a sharp campaign. Among the organizations whose prized record and associations were thus ignored, and whose cherished identity was lost, there was naturally at first some soreness and wounded esprit de corps. (Humphrey's Va. Campaign, 3.) The ceremony was like ail others of the kind, except that the marching past in review was dispensed with. There was no cheering as the conqueror of Donaldson and Vicksburg uncovered before each stand of regimental colors. He rode slowly, in a business like, quiet manner, along the front of the massed battalions, looking critically as he passed, not at the buttons, but at the faces, which, in turn, looked critically at him. The men agreed that they saw nothing at all striking about him or his outfit; nothing for effect, no self-consciousness, further than a sort of shy, half embarrassed, half-bored look, on the surface, and behind it a certain depth of expression, as of reserve force, grit, pluck, will power, energy, and masterful grasp.
The following, from a letter from camp written at about the same time, throws some light upon the topics then engaging the attention of the men : " For some time past rumors have been afloat that our brigade is to be ordered home to vote on the 6th of April. Of course, the men who have failed to obtain furloughs are in ecstacies at the idea. One report goes so far as that we are to be permanently detached from this army. It would not be honest to deny that this prospect is also immensely popular. The discipline is severe, the marching heavy, duty tough and quarters rough, and, whatever the newspapers may say, all men are not spoiling for a fight all the time. No furloughs, no frenches, no hen-roosts, no whiskey, not a pig. They look back wistfully upon the good old days of the upper Potomac and West Virginia, and think they left there the flesh pots of Egypt to come and perish in this wilderness, where the quails are regulation salt pork, and the manna moldy hard tack. There are some of us, however, who would, if the choice were presented to us, decide to take our chances with this army. On the eve of the fourth campaign of the Civil War, we have hopes that it will be the decisive one. There are battles to be fought, and our ranks will be thinned, but if we fall, it will be no more than we bargained for when we volunteered, and if we survive there will be satisfaction, glory and promotion—perhaps. The steadiest, oftenest tried, best disciplined and most unfortunate army in the world is about being led by the ablest and most successful general of the war. We feel a faith that it will at last be led to victory. And to have participated in a victorious and conclusive campaign of the Army of the Potomac would be an experience and a record that we would not exchange for milk and maple sugar."
The brigade was not ordered home to vote, but the Seventh was fortunate enough to have a friend "at court," and, after failing in his efforts in behalf of the whole brigade, Col. Webster at length succeeded in obtaining for his old regiment a furlough from the 1st to the 8th of April, with transportation to Baltimore. Upon arriving there the regiment was practically disbanded, and the men went home. The confidence thus reposed was not abused, except in a very few instances. Promptly, upon the day named, the regiment reassembled in Baltimore. There was no loss by desertion, but, on the contrary, the handsome acquisition was made of 144 first-class recruits from Baltimore, almost enough to make up all the losses which the regiment had ever sustained. These men had all
served their time in the 10th Maryland, a six months' organization, and had re-enlisted for the war for that regiment, which failed to reach the required strength; and upon application made by them through their officers, the War Department ordered that the re-enlisted portion thereof, composed of one company of eighty-seven men with their officers, and a squad of fifty-seven men with one officer, be transferred and assigned to the Seventh Maryland. With this cheering reinforcement, the Seventh resumed its old quarters, where times had continued as dull and quiet as ever.
Stripping for Fight.
Soon, however, every sign began to indicate that the great army was at last stripping for fight. Transportation was being reduced, surplus baggage was packed off to the rear, and, as if the work was not going on fast enough, on the afternoon of the 2d of May, a tornado struck the camp, tore off all the tent roofs, demolished many of the cabins, blew down many trees and covered everything with red dust. The Seventh was out on battalion drill at the time ; field and staff had to dismount; men were actually lifted off their feet. On the whole, it was a pretty strong hint to leave
The camps of a cavalry division now made their appearance in front near the base of Mount Pony, and one of their preliminary movements was a raid upon the private horses of the Seventh, and the capture, while innocently grazing, of a valuable horse belonging to the Adjutant, and a spare horse of the Colonel's. The latter was seen a few days later crossing the Rapidan on a pontoon bridge; no time then for swapping horses, or claiming stolen ones.
Behind camp, and between it and Culpeper, glittered the bright pieces of Wainwright's artillery brigade of our corps. On the crest of a ridge back of this, a red line of earthworks was being industriously thrown up, in full view of the enemy's signal station on Clark's Mountain. What those banks were made for, just on the eve of an advance, was one of those mysteries that still remain unexplained, unless for the purpose of deluding the enemy into the belief that we intended to stay behind them for "three years or the war," or run back to them after defeat.
The Rapidan Crossed.
Heavy weights thrown off, weather not unfavorable, roads as good as ever they were likely to be, all are waiting for the word "go," when, on Tuesday, 3d of May (1864), the general officer of the day goes out to order in the picket line, and advanced copies of Meade's printed address to the army, dated 4th May, are handed around and read at dress parade. Following that came the order to be ready to move at midnight, with a caution against making unusual fires.
The rolls of the Seventh at this time show an aggregate of 794, and its effective fighting strength, on the morning of the first battle in the Wilderness, was 556, including 26 officers, with Colonel Phelps in command. Early on the morning of May 4 the Fifth Corps had pulled out, and at noon crossed the Rapidan at Germanna Ford. Flankers were thrown out on the right, and, after a cautious progress of some five miles or more, the Maryland brigade bivouacked for the night in a piny old field near the old Wilderness tavern.
At daylight of the 5th the Maryland brigade (Colonel Denison), now acting separately, took position on the high clearing near the Lacy House, from which were seen heavy columns of troops disappearing in the thicket, and the skirmishing fire playing around the unseen heads of these columns as they deployed. After some marching and counter-marching, as if prospecting for a good location, the brigade deployed along an edge of small timber facing west or northwest, in what might be called the right center of the general position, and advanced in line, brigade front, through the woods, brush and undergrowth. After some 500 yards or more of such scrambling, the ragged line suddenly stumbled upon another line of somebody else's skirmishers, waiting for something to turn up. It was then discovered that these were the skirmishers of the "Iron Brigade" of western regiments, which had the right of way, soon came up from the rear, passed through intervals formed for the purpose, swept forward, through the woods, skirmishers ahead, and in a few minutes became hotly engaged. Their battle for some time prospered, hundreds of prisoners were sent to the rear, with several colors, and considerable ground was gained. Then the tide turned, the first symptoms being the suspicious numbers of supernumerary attendants upon the wounded, soon followed by stragglers with the usual discouraging reports. An aid, galloping from the front, wanted to know who commanded these troops, and was referred to Colonel Denison. He said he had no time to go to him; "tell him the rebels are driving our right, and there is no support on that flank." This message was promptly communicated to Denison, who remarked with great composure that he had just received an exactly similar report about the left. The Seventh held the left of the brigade, its left emerging from the woods into a clearing of the Hagerson farm, south of the Orange Pike. Near the edge of this clearing a venerable mounted officer, unattended, said to be General Wadsworth, his white locks streaming, was shouting, "Where is my second line? Bring up my second line !'' Before any response could have been given, the crisis came ; the Iron brigade had fairly broken to the rear, the enemy close upon their heels, charging after colors, picking up prisoners, until they rushed impetuously up to the very muzzles of the leveled pieces of the Maryland brigade (at some points of the line), our men having held their fire to the very last minute so as not to injure our, retreating friends. Then followed a hot and bloody duel at close range, which lasted nobody knew exactly how many minutes, but long enough, at all events, to clear the front of the Seventh, at least, from every sign of alive Confederate. The fire slackened on both sides, but it appeared at a glance that this was but a lull in the storm. All that now remained of the brigade was the Seventh and a fraction of the Eighth on its right. The entire right wing of the brigade, formed of the Fourth and First, with most of the Eighth, had been flanked and "fell back, rather irregularly, about a mile." (Camper and Kirkeley, page 128.)
It should be noted that only a small battalion of the 1st Maryland is here referred to; the majority of that regiment, having lately re-enlisted, were on "veteran furlough," under Colonel Dushane. There was nothing now in front of the Confederate force but the small command of Phelps, just referred to, which found itself isolated, left flank "in the air," right flank in the bush. When the attack was shortly after renewed, there was also a mischievous fire from fugitives who had rallied some distance back in the thicket, and who doubtless supposed, in good faith, that everything had fallen back when they did. Under these discouraging circumstances some of the rank and file began to grow unsteady, and the utmost exertions of the officers were required to keep the line firmly in place, seconded by the dauntless bearing of the color guard. By a hot and well-directed file fire the position was stubbornly maintained, until at last Denison rode up and ordered Phelps to "fall back steadily." The movement was executed by word of command as if on drill, the men reloading while marching by the rear rank, then halting, facing front and firing at short intervals. Some men, it is true, were lost at each halt, but, from the difficult character of the ground, nothing else could have been expected.
The same difficulties equally obstructed the rapid advance of the enemy in anything like good order, and the deliberate and steady punishment they were getting warned them of the inconvenience of approaching in bad order. At all events, they did not deem it prudent to follow up their cautious pursuit for more than one or two hundred yards, and, as soon as the command reached a small stream where a good defensive position was found, they were effectually checked, and the men were given a halt to blow and cool off by its side in the heart of the Wilderness.
After a short rest, the command was visited by an aid and conducted still further to the rear, and occupied a line of breastworks near the Lacy House, connecting with Crawford's Division. It was about noon when the battle opened, and about 3.30 P. M. when the breastworks were occupied. They had been hastily thrown together of logs. The dry leaves had taken fire from the burning cartridge papers, and the flames had caught the works. After putting out this fire, a field return was taken, showing but 278 of the Seventh present. These, with about one company of the Eighth, included all that was left of the Maryland brigade, until the missing regiments and men came up from the rear later in the evening, surprised to find their comrades alive. There being no space for them in the line as formed, they were placed in a second line.
The loss of the Seventh Regiment on the first day of the Wilderness (5th May, 1864) was eleven killed, two officers and forty-one men wounded, and seventeen missing. The missing included men killed or wounded, but not heard from, and a few prisoners taken. The officers wounded were Capt. David T. Bennett and Adjutant George L. Tyler. Sergeant Noble H. Creager, afterwards first lieutenant, was twice wounded before retiring. These three were all from Frederick County. Colonel Phelps had several bullets through clothing and horse killed under him. Captain Bennett, for conspicuous gallantry in this action, was promoted lieutenant-colonel. He was shot in the face while engaged in a revolver duel with a Confederate officer, both in advance of their lines, and refused to leave the field until ordered to the rear by the colonel. The loss of the entire Maryland brigade (including the 7th) was two officers and eighteen men killed, six officers and ninety-three men wounded, and one officer and sixty men missing. The brigade went into action about 1300 strong.
Meanwhile, an attack had been made upon the breastworks in the immediate front held by the other brigade of the division, and this attack had been repulsed. The troops of the second line had been rallied into position, and all was now steadiness and confidence where, but a few moments before, there was disorder fast verging upon wreck. The men were ordered to lie down (on account of shell), and all awaited the expected onslaught, whether its main fury should burst upon front or rear.
The storm, however, had reached its height and spent its energy; our brave allies of the second corps, driven from their first line of works, had rallied and retaken them, and, although repeatedly attacked, were not to be driven again. By five o'clock, the enemy was completely repulsed at all points on Hancock's front, with heavy loss.
Later in the evening, the Maryland brigade was thrown into the second line. Skirmishing, more or less heavy, continued until night fell, and, indeed, to some extent throughout the night. The loss of the Seventh on this second day of the Wilderness was slight, there being but three men wounded, one from each of the three left companies. Worn out with the long day's work, the men had scarcely settled for sleep when an order came to build a second line of works, fifty paces in rear of the first. The companies were divided into reliefs, and all night long the woods resounded with the music of axes, picks and spades, fires being allowed along the line. These two parallel lines of works are distinctly visible to this day.
Daylight came, but not the expected attack. The morning was occupied mainly in clearing brush and timber in front of the works thrown up during the night, in strengthening the position, and in burying the dead. As the heat of the sun increased, the men began to spread their shelter tents, and to construct brush arbors. Here they slept awhile, waking up now and then as the skirmish firing came closer and hotter, suddenly swelling at times into a volume like that of a line of battle, and then subsiding to a scatter.
It is an interesting fact that fighting caused little interruption in the postal service, and mails were, with more or less regularity, collected and distributed on the battlefield. About 10 A. M. the brigade mail carrier collected letters from the different regimental headquarters. A hasty note from those of the Seventh said : "As I write, our skirmishers are engaged about 500 yards to the front, and heavy firing is heard on the right. My trust is in the mercy of God. If we are defeated, I have no wish to survive so immense a disaster. If we are victorious and I should fall, I shall be satisfied to have my memory associated with so glorious a triumph."
Later in the day the brigade was moved back to an edge of the clearing before mentioned, in the vicinity of a fine strong spring, where arms were stacked and beef slaughtered and distributed. The battle of the Wilderness had passed into history, as a "wild, weird struggle, where 200,000 men were mixed up, like a hole full of snakes, with their tales intertwined" (F. Lee's "Life of Lee"). In the quaint words of an old English ballad :
"They both did fight, they both did beat,
They both did run away;
They both quick marched,—again to meet,
The quite contrary way."
The Famous Night March.
Soon after eight o'clock began the historic forced night march to turn Lee's right.
The movement was by the left flank, fifth corps leading ; Robinson's division and Maryland brigade in advance, which was thus the leading infantry brigade of the army.
At first, nobody knew whether it was advance or retreat. Soon, the apparent direction, jubilant spirit and extreme rapidity of the movement gave currency to the flattering rumor that Lee's whole army was in full retreat, and that Grant was after him, hot foot. The double lines of Hancock's Corps, through which we were being rushed, rapturously cheered our advance as conclusive proof, and their cheers, in turn, confirmed our confidence.
The first halt was to throw out flankers on the right, when, after an hour or more of hard marching, the long lines of works were at last cleared. Plunging into the mysterious gloom of a deep cut and washed out road, men occasionally tumbled into rocky furrows, or stumbled over carcasses. At intervals, darkness would be made visible on the right by a blazing brand dropping from some distant tree-trunk, still aglow in the depth of the Wilderness, like a signal-light of goblins. The low, damp air, reeked with the pungent, acrid snuff of horse and human slaughter.
Combat with Fitz Lee.
Shortly before daylight (Sunday, 8th of May, 1864), the head of column emerged into the open country around Todd's Tavern, where a cavalry division was found, and a halt was ordered. No sooner were arms stacked than the men dropped, falling asleep directly they touched ground. Before, however, they had fairly stretched themselves, they had to be punched, kicked and shaken up to learn that more fighting was in order, before either lodging or breakfast. The crack-crack of carbines, reverberating in the forest glades ahead, closed up yawning jaws and put snap into numb legs. Merritt's cavalry division, on the road to Spotsylvania Court House, was meeting a serious obstacle in Fitzhugh Lee, and, after considerable dismounted fighting, got out of the way of the infantry, which had been annoyed by the shifting movements of the led horses. The Maryland Brigade was then deployed on both sides of the road, the Fourth on the skirmish line. Successive barricades of felled timber across the road were struck and carried, the enemy making a stand at each obstruction. In the language of the Confederate courier who bore the verbal message from Stuart to Fitz Lee, informing him of the march of Anderson's Corps to his relief and "urging him to hold out to the last at any sacrifice," it was of the "last importance that Fitz Lee should delay the advancing column and cover the position at Spotsylvania Court House as long as possible. His division of cavalry encountered the head of the Federal column of infantry near Todd's Tavern, about four miles from the Court House, and, dismounting his men and fighting with carbines, fell slowly and stubbornly back. The fighting was dreadfully severe, and many of the flower of Virginia's youth went down before the terrific volleys of the Federal infantry." The same writer then gives a spirited account of the reckless daring with which the horse artillery was handled by Major Breathed in covering the retreat, to which he attributes great importance in retarding the advance of the Maryland brigade, which led the Federal column, until the arrival of Anderson's Corps.
(In Memoriam—Major James Breathed, No. 3.)
Substantially the same account of this action is given by Stuart's chief of staff, who calls it "one of the severest conflicts in which Fitz Lee's division was ever engaged." (McClellan's "Campaigns of Stuart's Cavalry," 407.)
While this was the way the affair looked to the cavalry, their infantry opponents,
whose loss was trifling, took it much less seriously. In fact, compared with what was to immediately follow, it seemed to them more like a picnic.
Before daylight of the 6th of May, the Maryland brigade was relieved in the works by the Pennsylvania Reserves, and stacked arms in close column by regiment (Seventh, as usual, by wing) on the Lacy clearing, near Grant's headquarters. About 7 A. M. a New York regiment, the 14th Brooklyn, came up from guard, duty in the rear, and by order reported to the Maryland brigade, its Colonel (Fowler), by seniority, taking command. He commanded the brigade for that day only, his regiment being then ordered elsewhere. It was thought at the time to be an extraordinary performance—in the midst of a great pitched battle, to place an entire stranger, with a strange staff, in command of troops, who had been ably handled the day before by their own commander (Denison), who had shown himself brave, self-possessed, cool-headed and judicious. It was an error, and in direct consequence of it, later in the day, the command narrowly escaped a great disaster, as will shortly appear.
In Support of Hancock.
After several changes of position and reinforcing the troops engaged on the Orange Pike on the right, about 3 P. M. the Maryland brigade was hurried over to the left to support Hancock on the Brock road, and was formed by General Robinson in two lines in rear of his first brigade to right of Birney's division. In this position the Fourth, First and Eighth formed a second line, and the Fourteenth Brooklyn and Seventh Maryland a third, the left of the Eighth and Seventh being both projected into a swamp. The young timber here was dense and choked with undergrowth. The third line was some 25 yards in rear of the entrenchments along the Brock road, a short distance north of its intersection with the Orange plank road, about midway between it and Germanna plank road.
Very soon after the brigade got into position, the fight on this part of the field reached its climax. The log breastworks along Hancock's front took fire from the burning leaves, the direction of the wind favored the enemy, Hancock's first line was driven out of the works, the fight to regain them was going on. While this was taking place on our near left, not within sight, because nothing could be seen through the thicket, the Maryland brigade, the Seventh regiment in particular, was going through a very extraordinary experience.
Scarcely had the brigade got fairly into position, when the din of battle upon the left rapidly drew nearer. Not only so, but it soon appeared to pass beyond our left, to get behind that flank into our left rear. As before stated, the Seventh held the left of the third line, and so dense was the brush that but a few files could be seen at once. The firing increased in volume, individual exclamations could be distinctly heard, the screaming and exploding of shell in quick succession rose above the continuous crash of musketry, stragglers and fugitives were seen to burst through the bushes. Every sign indicated the necessity for a prompt change of front to meet the impending attack upon the rear. General Robinson, at the right of the line, was notified, and erroneously explained that the line made a sharp angle on the left. The officer who had communicated this information was on his way back, when he met General Birney, riding hastily from Han- cock's front to General Robinson with precisely the same information, followed by an orderly, who was at that moment shot from his horse and killed. Immediately after Birney communicated with Robinson, the second and third lines were faced to the rear.
An Awkward Fix.
And now rides up a stranger, purporting to be a staff officer, with a verbal order to the Colonel of the Seventh, "Swing your right around immediately." Being faced to the rear, our proper right was then our left. To be certain, "Which right was meant ?" The officer replied that he gave the order just as he had it from Colonel Fowler. He was asked whether the order meant a "change front forward on Tenth Company," the effect of which would be to swing around our proper right, but our then left, and the precise movement dictated by the situation. He said "I suppose so," and rode off. The tactical command for this movement was given : “By company, right half wheel, etc.," the Tenth Company established on the new line, and the Ninth as it came up, but when the next was partly in position, some hesitation and confusion were noticed towards the centre of the regiment. The other companies were not following up the movement. Riding up to see what was wrong, the Colonel found the right wing engaged in executing an entirely different movement under the direction, as it afterwards appeared, of some staff officer who had faced those companies about and was trying to bring them by a flank to a "Change front to rear on First Company."
At that moment, the situation of the regiment was such, that by no fault of any one connected with it, but through the improper interference of a blundering staff officer, a total stranger, it was broken into fragments, lost from each others' sight in the bushes, the left companies forming on one line, the right companies somewhere else, and the centre nowhere. The roar of battle in the immediate vicinity was deafening, nobody could be heard, nobody that was wanted could be seen, and, to make confusion worse confounded, a panic struck some of the troops of the second line who, fell back in disorder upon the Seventh whilst in the predicament above described, bewildered by conflicting orders and false movements.
In the midst of this scene the Colonel of the 14th Brooklyn, whose temporary staff officer had done the mischief, rode up to the Colonel of the Seventh, while in the act of repairing it, and used some hasty expressions, which were afterwards handsomely withdrawn when the facts were understood. In fact, the accident would have been avoided had the latter's suggestion been acted on and the captains of companies been notified of the precise movement to be made by inversion in the dense thicket.
The Rally on the Colors.
Fortunately for such an emergency, the Seventh had been specially drilled in getting mixed up and straightened out again. A simple "rally on the colors" brought order out of chaos, as if by magic. It was only needed to find the color company (Company C, Harford County, Captain Bouldin), face it square to the nearest racket, and a round of hearty cheers promptly attracted the broken files from either flank. The men fell into ranks by the instinct of habit, and the line was re-established in much less time than had been required to dislocate and scatter it. It was then an easy matter to adjust its alignment to that of the other regiments, which was done under the supervision of General Robinson.
Parallel March of Anderson's Corps.
All this time nothing whatever was known of the parallel and unobstructed march upon an inside track of Anderson's (late Longstreet's) Corps for the same objective point. Nothing of it appears to have been learned by the Union cavalry, although the routes pursued by the opposing forces were but one or two miles apart. Meade and Sheridan had some hot words over it later on, each holding the other responsible. (Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan, Vol. I, p. 367.)
Lee's whole army in full retreat to Richmond ! Nothing in front but a rear guard of cavalry and horse artillery trying to cover his retreat! Whereat, there was extreme elation. Foot-sore, famished, jaded as the men were, on that theory they felt as if they could have kept on to Richmond, if necessary. Unhappily, that was not the situation, but quite otherwise.
General Stuart's Compliments.
While about three miles of stubbornly contested ground were being thus wrested from Fitz Lee's cavalry, another force, under Stuart in person, was engaged in throwing up a hasty but sufficient line of timber defenses, and Anderson's leading division, under Kershaw, was taking position behind them, with artillery somewhat advanced on his right, to enfilade an attacking column. Here Stuart remained to witness the expected assault. (Southern Hist. Soc. Papers, March, 1879; 67 War Records, 1036-1056.)
These important works commanded the fork of the Brock Road, one branch leading to Spotsylvania Court House, one and a-half miles southeast, and the other leading to the old Court House, about two miles south, the Block House being about half way. Both roads directly or indirectly pointed to Richmond. Since the war, a small settlement has made its appearance at the fork, with a post office, called "Sunlight."
General Warren's Speech.
Reaching the high clearing about Alsop's farm, Warren saw this line of works in a skirt of woods along the ridge of Laurel Hill, and energetically addressed his troops as they came up. While the Seventh was passing his white horse, he was heard to exclaim, with an impulsive gesture, at each sharp, crisp sentence : "Never mind cannon ! Never mind bullets ! Press on and clear this road. It's the only way to get your rations."
Formation for Assault.
Robinson's three brigades were promptly formed in three parallel columns of attack, column by regiment, the Seventh, as usual, doubled by wing, and in rear of the Eighth and the battalion of the First. The Fourth made the charge with another brigade to left. The Maryland brigade formed on the right of the division, near the spot where General Sedgwick fell the following day, indicated now by the Sedgwick monument. A battery took position on the right of the Maryland brigade and opened fire, but was not allowed time to get the range, and made no impression upon the works, which could have been easily breached by a few well-directed shell.
The formation was in an edge of timber, about four hundred yards from the works, the intervening space being an undulating, open field. These works on Spotsylvania Ridge, otherwise Laurel Hill, are still to be seen, in fair preservation, together with the epaulement for the advanced battery on the Block House road, to their right.
At first, the men generally failed to take in the gravity of the situation. Their senses were simply stupefied by sleepless overwork. They had been temporarily braced up by the intoxicating excitement of combat and pursuit, but, when massed in close column, they acted as if they supposed the next order would be to stack arms and rest, preparatory to throwing up entrenchments, as in the days of McClellan and Meade.
First Assault at Spotsylvania, or Battle of Laurel Hill.
Instead of that, came the startling command : "Battalions Forward ! Guide Center!" The men responded with a hearty cheer and at the word "March !" stepped off with life, with no music but that of their own voices. There were ringing yells of defiance from the works as the enemy's picket line drew in. Most of the field and staff hastily dismounted as the movement began, and left their horses behind. General Robinson led his division; that is, he rode abreast of the front rank of the Maryland brigade on its right, followed by Colonel Denison, also mounted.
The enemy opened with shell, followed by canister and then double canister, from the crossfire guns on their right. Kershaw's veterans, behind the works, lost no time in proceeding to business. Their fire increased in intensity as the attack advanced. In addition to the advantage of position, they were in better shape physically than their assailants. It is true they also had made a ha,rd night march, but it was a peaceable one, and the delay interposed by Fitz Lee, as already stated, had enabled them not only to get in ahead, but had given them margin enough for what breakfast they had and a good rest, while the jaded Federals were expending what little energy they had left in more marching and fighting. They had even found their breast works ready made for them. The shooting, however, of the defendants was not as good as might have been expected under the circumstances. The best shots had been carefully picked out for the battalions of sharpshooters attached to Kershaw' s division. The sharpshooters had done extra work all night in flanking the exposed left of Anderson's column, and were late in reaching the battle-ground. Still, it must be admitted that the shooting, although not ideal, was good enough practically, and the other side have no right to complain. Had those sharpshooters been present, it is probable that this particular narrative would not have appeared. (Kershaw's Chief of Staff, Col. E. L. Costin.)
There was, of course, no skirmish line in advance of the assaulting columns, as has been erroneously stated. (Humphrey's Va. Campaign, 60, an incorrect account from a very high authority.) The men had not been required to remove caps from the nipples of their pieces, no caution against firing had been given.
Naturally enough, the front rank was goaded into a return fire; individual progress was as naturally retarded by the act of aiming and reloading; men from the rear pressed impatiently forward to repeat the process. In this way, ranks and regiments soon became intermingled, straggling was made easy, the time of exposure was fatally prolonged. The Seventh, which was in the rear when the movement commenced, soon found itself working up to the front, but in a rather mixed condition. The rattle and crash were such that no commands could be heard, and this mischievous return fire, which was helping that of the enemy to destroy the impetus and solidity of the charge, could not be stopped.
Fall of Commanders.
At the distance of about fifty yards from the works General Robinson was shot from his horse and borne from the field, with the loss of a leg. Many years after, in 1895, he received a "medal of honor" from the War Department for conspicuous gallantry on this occasion. Colonel Denison, commanding the Maryland brigade, was about the same time shot from his horse, and assisted to the rear with the loss of his right arm. He was brevetted Brigadier for this action, was again wounded later in the campaign, and brevetted Major-General.
A Forlorn Hope.
Upon the fall of these two ranking officers, the command of the division, or what there was of it in sight (the two left brigades having been repulsed or mingled with the Maryland Brigade), was promptly assumed by the Colonel of the Seventh Maryland. The situation, at that moment, was very plainly that of a forlorn hope, calling for nothing but quick and reckless work. What remained of the movement was no longer a column, but a bunched and ragged line. At points where the enemy's fire was most concentrated,
the drone of bullets blended into a throbbing wail, like that of a sonorous telegraph wire pulsing in a strong wind, punctuated by the pert zip of the closer shots. The din and racket were such that but few could have heard the commands: "Hold your fire! Double quick !" What was plainly seen in front, was the sudden appearance of the new commander, pointing with sabre to the breastworks, and trotting up towards them, until horse and rider came down. Following closely, was Captain Anderson, of the Seventh, and when he fell, or possibly before he fell, all was over.
The unordered retreat left these two officers lying within ten paces of the works, Anderson having stopped three bullets while taking a step forward, just after an unsuccessful attempt to extricate Phelps from the weight of his dying horse. Anderson was well in the lead of everything when he fell, and for his conspicuous gallantry on this occasion, and in the Wilderness, was subsequently brevetted up to lieutenant-colonel. He commanded one of the Washington County companies (Co. I).
Capture and Rescue.
After two hopeless attempts at escape, in one of which he was severely wounded and in the other waylaid and robbed by stragglers, Phelps was taken back to a Confederate field hospital, where he had not only proper but exceptional treatment, and the next day was recaptured, together with over three hundred Union prisoners, by Sheridan's cavalry at Beaver Dam Station. He was present at the battle of Yellow Tavern where General Stuart was mortally wounded, and at the battles of Meadow Bridge and Mechanicsville, where the enemy, commanded by Bragg and under the eye of the Southern President, Jeff. Davis, made a desperate fight for the defense of Richmond. Returning to Baltimore by the James River route, he was honorably discharged in September, 1864, upon resignation and surgeon's certificate of disability, brevetted Brigadier-General, and elected to Congress. Among the prisoners recaptured as above were Lieutenant Lightner of Company F (Carroll County) and Sergeant Walton of Company K (Baltimore City).
The loss of the Maryland Brigade in this action was one hundred and ninety-two killed, wounded and missing. Its present effective was about one thousand and fifty; but of this number, the Fourth Maryland, as before stated, made the charge with another brigade, and company D of the Seventh was detached in support of a battery. The actual charge was made by about seven hundred men. The loss of the Seventh was ten killed, two officers and thirty-seven men wounded, and six prisoners. Among the killed was the brave color sergeant, George Stockham, of Harford County, and two color corporals, Solomon Rohrer of Co. I, and S. M. Dick of Co. H. Two color corporals were wounded, but the colors were saved. From first to last, the enemy's fire appeared to be mainly concentrated upon the mounted officers and color bearers; of these, not one escaped.
Griffin's division came up shortly after Robinson's, and went in on his right. Their attack was repulsed with even greater loss. One regiment in particular, the gallant Eighty-third Pennsylvania, which had several men bayonetted inside the works, actually lost fifty-seven in killed and mortally wounded alone.
Crawford's division, coming up after Griffin, had, at first, more success on the left, driving the enemy (Humphrey's brigade) for some distance and taking many prisoners. It was this temporary success, which encouraged Colonel Phelps, at that time wounded and under guard to the rear, to make the last of those attempts at escape, before mentioned. But Humphrey, being reinforced by Ramseur, regained the lost ground and drove back the Pennsylvania Reserves (Crawford's division) to the main line, which was speedily entrenched.
Such was the first assault upon the enemy's works at Spotsylvania, 8th of May, 1864, sometimes called the battle of Laurel Hill. It was the first of a long series, almost uniformly with similar result, well illustrating the cardinal maxim of war, "Never do exactly what your enemy wants." It is questionable whether, with the modern improved fire-arms, any such assault will be ever again attempted. If it should be, the following principles of common sense are suggested by the practical experience above mentioned :
1. The supreme effort should not be exacted of men in bad physical condition,
when such condition is one of extremity.
2. The works should be breached in places by artillery before the infantry attack.
3. No dismounting of individual officers should be allowed, unless in the discretion of the general it is proper for all to dismount, which will probably be the case hereafter.
4. The men should be told beforehand exactly what is expected of them, and how many minutes they will be exposed, provided they keep moving and hold their fire. They should be especially cautioned that the delay of aiming and firing only increases the risk, and should be encouraged to hope that great celerity of movement, the exhibition of bayonets fixed, and a bold front, may demoralize the enemy, cause him to shoot high, and in all ways diminish their own risk.
5. The standing order against quitting the ranks to help wounded off the field should, in all such cases, be strictly and literally enforced by a provost guard conspicuously present, supplemented by an ambulance corps known to be at hand, and known to be adequate.
6. If such conditions cannot be had, any officer who orders an attack in front? Upon steady troops behind cover, should be held strictly responsible for the resulting disaster, and should not be allowed to throw the blame upon his men.
7. The movement, if undertaken, should be personally and closely watched by the general who ordered it, and his staff, and praiseworthy efforts of individuals should be noticed and suitably acknowledged.
8. Any color sergeant who does his duty and survives should be made a commissioned officer at once. In fact, such should be the understood rule as to every engagement where the casualties amount to ten per cent, or over.
The several actions which have thus been partially and imperfectly described, from the fifth to the eighth of May, 1864, inclusive, were typical of the whole Virginia campaign of 1864 and 1865, during which the Seventh Maryland shared the fortunes and losses of the Maryland Brigade—a story already sufficiently told by Camper and Kirkley, in their "Historical Record of the First Maryland Veteran Infantry."
To this it is only necessary to add that the command of the Seventh Regiment devolved upon Major Mobley, until the return of Lieutenant-Colonel Bennett, upon his recovery from his wound in July, 1864. Colonel Bennett was again wounded in action, April 1, 1865, at the battle of Five Forks, and thereupon Major Mobley continued in command until the muster out; was wounded at Weldon Railroad, 18th of August, 1864, and was brevetted Colonel "for faithful and gallant service." The strength of the regiment having been reduced below the regulation standard, the vacant colonelcy was never filled.
The story of this long and bloody campaign is one of constant marching and fighting, and yet there is hardly an important event of all those later experiences which does not find its counterpart in some incident of the battles in the Wilderness, the forced night march out of it, the protracted combat with retreating cavalry, or the assault upon the works at Spotsylvania.
Dark days of disaster were relieved by occasional flashes of victory, as at the battle of Weldon Railroad on 21st of August, 1864, and of Five Forks, on the 1st of April, 1865. And finally, with many sad memories of fallen comrades, the few fortunate survivors had the proud satisfaction of participating in the crowning glory of Appomattox.
Whatever well-meant but costly mistakes may have swelled the "butcher's bill" of this sanguinary campaign, they were all eclipsed by the dazzling surrender of Lee, and the peerless magnanimity of Grant, that did him even greater honor than his magnificent success.
There can be claimed for the Seventh Maryland one distinction, that although accidental, is unique. It so happened that this regiment was to furnish the last man wounded in the Army of the Potomac. His name is Robert N. Weller, Corporal, Company E (Frederick County). He was struck by a piece of shell, fired by the First North Carolina battery, on the 9th of April, 1865, just before the surrender, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. (C. and K., 1st Md. Infantry, p. 203.)
This incident will recall to mind that the first blood to be shed in the Civil War was that of Maryland, mingled with the blood of Massachusetts, in the streets of Baltimore, on the 19th of April, 1861; and that the last blood spilled in the Revolution was that of an officer of the Maryland Line, Captain William Wilmot, killed in a skirmish on John's Island, S. C., November 14, 1782.
The casualties in the Seventh Regiment were as follows: Killed in battle, one (1) commissioned officer and seventy-eight (78) enlisted men—total, seventy-nine (79); died of disease, etc., one (1) commissioned officer and one hundred and nine (109) enlisted men—total, one hundred and ten (110); or an aggregate death list of one hundred and eighty-nine (189).
The marches of the Seventh Regiment aggregated 1137 miles, and it was transported by rail 803 miles, a total distance of 1940 miles.
The Seventh Regiment took part in the following engagements, etc.: Skirmish at
Funkstown, Md., July 12, 1863; skirmish at Haymarket, Va., October 19, 1863; reconnoissance from Culpeper to Raccoon Ford, Va., February 6 and 7, 1864 ; battle of the Wilderness, Va., May 5 to 7, 1864; skirmish with cavalry and battle of Laurel Hill, Va., May 8, 1864; battle of Spotsylvania, Va., May 9 to 20, 1864 ; battle of Harris' Farm, Va., May 19, 1864; battle of North Anna, Va., May 23 to 27, 1864; battle of Shady Grove, Va., May 30, 1864; Bethesda Church, Va., May 31 to June 1, 1864; Cold Harbor, Va., June 2 to 5, 1864; assault on Petersburg, Va., 1864-'65; Weldon Railroad, Va., August 18 to 21, 1864; Poplar Spring Church, Va., September 30, 1864; Chapel House, Va., October 1 to 3, 1864; Peebles Farm, Va., October 7 to 8, 1864; Hatchers Run, Va., October 27, 1864;
raid to Hicksford, Va., December 7 to 12, 1864; Dabneys Mill, Va., February 6, 1865; White Oak Road, Va., March 31, 1865; Five Forks, Va., April 1, 1865; Surrender at Appomattox, Va., April 9, 1865.