Vermont Riflemen in the War for the Union
From the date of their return from the field of Chancellorsville to the 11th of June, the sharp shooters remained in camp near Falmouth engaged only in the usual routine duties of camp life. Drills, reviews and other parades of ceremony were of frequent occurrence, but nothing of moment took place to essentially vary the monotony of their lives. Occasionally a detail would be made from the company for a day or two of especial service at some portion of the picket line where the rebel sharp shooters had become unusually aggressive, but affairs in those parts generally soon became satisfactory, and the men would be ordered back to camp. These little episodes were eagerly welcomed by men tired again of the inactivity of their lives in permanent camp. During this time, however,108
important changes in the organization of the company took place. Capt. Seaton, who had never entirely recovered from the effects of his wound received at Malvern Hill, resigned o the 15th day of May, and E. W. Hindes was appointed and commissioned captain. C. D. Merriman was promoted to be first lieutenant and H. E. Kinsman second lieutenant, the two former to date from May 15, 1863, and the latter from May 26.
The non-commissioned officers were advanced to rank as follows:
First Sergeant, Lewis J. Allen. Second Sergeant, A. H. Cooper. Third Sergeant, Cassius Peck. Fourth Sergeant, Paul M. Thompson. Fifth Sergeant, Edward F. Stevens. First Corporal, Jacob S. Bailey. Second Corporal, L. D. Grover. Third Corporal, Chas. M. Jordan. Fourth Corporal, E. M. Hosmer. Fifth Corporal, Edward Trask. Sixth Corporal, W. H. Leach. Seventh Corporal, M Cunningham. Eighth Corporal, Edward Lyman.
The new officers had been connected with the company from its organization; they were all roll of honor men, straight up from the ranks, and were men of distinguished courage and skill, as they had demonstrated already on at least fifteen occasions upon which the Army of the Potomac had been engaged in pitched battles with the enemy, beside numberless minor engagements and109
skirmishes. Indeed, their lives might be said to have been passed, for the year and a half they had been in the field, in constant battle, and the same was true of every man in the company as well. The month of June was, however, destined to bring with it hard marches and stirring events.
Not content with the results of the Maryland campaign of 1862, which had resulted in a disastrous rebel defeat at Antietam, Lee, perhaps recognizing the historical fact that a power which allows itself to be placed entirely on the defensive is sure to be beaten in the end, determined to essay once more an invasion of the loyal states, and to transfer the sear of war, if possible, from the impoverished and suffering South, to the soil of populous and wealthy Pennsylvania.
His route was substantially the same one pursued by him the previous year, but not now, as on that occasion, was the severe fighting to take place on the soil of Virginia.
By skillful feints and rapid marches, he succeeded in placing his army north of the Potomac before the Union commander could strike a blow at him. Early in the month it was certain that Lee was about to take the field in some direction. Sick and wounded were sent to northern hospitals, all surplus baggage and stores were turned in, and the Union army, stripped of everything but what the men carried on their persons, was ready to follow or to confront him. On the 11th of June the sharp shooters broke camp at five o'clock P. M., and, for the third time, marched out110
from the ground that had been their home for nearly seven months. Twice before had they left the same place to fight desperate battles with the same enemy, and twice had they returned to it, defeated and despondent. Many a man, as the regiment marched out, wondered in his heart if such would be their fate again; but soldiers are optimists by nature and education; they soon learn that to fear and dread defeat is to invite it; that confidence begets confidence, and that the example of courage and cheerfulness is contagious. Not for a long time, therefore, did these gloomy thoughts possess their minds, and soon they were stepping out merrily to the sound of the bugle.
Other portions of the army had preceded them, and still others were starting by different roads; and as far as the eye could reach, as the columns passed over some height of land, could be seen the clouds of dust that, rising high in the air, betrayed the presence of marching men. Pressing rapidly northward, passing successively Hartwood church, Rappahannock Station, Catlet's Station, Manassas Junctions, Centerville and Green Springs - all familiar as the scenes of past experience, and many of them sacred to the memory of dead comrades - they forded the Potomac at Edwards' Ferry on the 25th of June and reached the mouth of the Monocacy, having marched thirty-one miles on that day. Arriving at that point, tired and foot-sore, as may be imagined after such a march, they found an aide-de-camp ordered to conduct them to their allotted camp ground. He appeared to be111
one of those nice young men who were so often appointed to positions on the staff for their beauty or their fragrance, or for the general elegance of manners, rather than for their ability to be of any real service. This young person, with no apparent idea of where he wanted to go, marched them up and down and around and about, until the patience of Trepp, the Dutch lieutenant-colonel, was exhausted. Commanding halt, he turned to the bewildered aid and with phrases and objurgations not fitted for the polite ears of those who will read this book, concluded his lecture with "Now mine frent, dese men is tired and dey is to march no more dis day," then, turning to the regiment, he commanded, in tones that might have been heard at Washington, "Men, lie down!" and the sharp shooters camped just there. Leaving this place on the twenty-sixth, they marched to Point of Rocks, and on the twenty-seventh to Middletown. On the twenty-eighth they marched via Frederick and Walkersville and crossed the Catoctin Mountains at Turner Gap. On this day the corps commander, General Sickles, returned to his command after a short absence, and on the same day General Hooker, not being able to make his ideas of the campaign square with those of the department generals at Washington, was relieved, at his own request, and General Meade was appointed to the command. The army parted with Hooker without very much regret. They recognized his wonderful fighting qualities as a division or corps commander, and he was personally popular, but112
they had never quite forgiven him for Chancellorsville, where he took his army, beaten and well nigh crushed, back from an enemy numerically weaker than his own, while he had yet nearly forty thousand soldiers who had not been engaged in the action, and hardly under fire. It was safe to say that his army had no longer that degree of confidence in his ability to handle large armies, and to divert great battles, so essential to success. Of his successor the army only now that he was a scholarly, polished gentleman, personally brave, and that as a brigade, division and corps commander he had made few mistakes. On the whole, his record was favorable and the men marched willingly under him, although the choice of the rank and file might possibly have been some other man.
On the twenty-ninth the sharp shooters marched with the corps to Taneytown, some twenty miles distant, and on the next day to within two miles of Emmetsburgh, where they camped for the night. On the morning of July 1st the guns of Reynold's fight at Gettysburgh were plainly heard, and in the late afternoon they started for the point of action, some ten miles distant, making most of the distance at the double quick.
At about sunset they arrived on the field and went into bivouac in the rear of the hill known in the history of the subsequent battle as Little Round Top, and were nice more confronting their ancient antagonists. The sharp shooters were now attached to the second brigade, commanded by Gen. J. H. H. Ward, of the first division, under113
Gen. Birney, the old third division having been consolidated with the first and second after the terrible losses of the corps at Chancellorsville, and in this connection we shall have to follow them through the battle of Gettysburgh. The battle of the 1st of July was over. The First and Eleventh Corps had sustained a serious defeat, and at the close of that day the rolls of these two corps showed the terrible loss of over nine thousand men, and yet the battle had hardly commenced. The situation was not an encouraging one to contemplate; not half the Union army was up, some corps being yet thirty or forty miles distant, while the events of the day showed that the rebel army was well concentrated - but the die was cast, events forced the battle then and there, and thus the rocky ridges of Gettysburgh became of historic interest and will remain so forever.
Troops arrived rapidly during the night and were assigned places, as they arrived, in the chosen line, which was in a direction nearly north and south. The extreme left rested on a rocky height rising some three hundred feet above the level of the surrounding country; some five hundred yards to the north of this hill, called Round Top, rises similar elevation, although of less height, called Little Round Top; thence north to Cemetery Hill, immediately overlooking the village of Gettysburgh about two miles distant, the Union troops occupied, or were intended to occupy, a rocky ridge overlooking and commanding the plain to the westward. From Cemetery Hill the line was refused114
and curved backward to the east until the extreme right rested on a wooded eminence called Culp Hill, and fronted to the east, so that the entire line was some three miles, or perhaps a little more, long, and was in shape like a fish hook, the shank lying along the ridge between Round Top and Cemetery Hill, and the point on Culp Hill. Below the bend of the hook, at the base of Cemetery Hill, lay the village of Gettysburgh. Such was the Union position at daylight on the morning of the 2d of July, 1863. Fronting that portion of the federal troops which was faced to the west, and at a distance of about one mile, ran another ridge, parallel to the first, called Seminary Ridge, and which was occupied by the Confederate army. To the north and east of Gettysburgh the ground was open, no ridges or considerable body of wood land existed to cover or screen the movements of the rebel troops. The village of Gettysburgh was occupied by the enemy on the afternoon of the 1st of July after the defeat of the First and Eleventh Corps, and yet remained in their possession. Midway between the two armies ran the Emmetsburgh road, following the crest of a slight elevation between the two lines of battle. The position assigned to the Third Corps was that portion of the line immediately north of Little Round Top where the ridge is less high than at any other portion. Indeed, it sinks away at that point until it is hardly higher than the plain in front, and not as high as the ridge along which runs the Emmetsburgh road. At an early hour on the115
morning of the 2d, Sickles, believing himself that the latter ridge afforded the better position, and perhaps mistaking Gen. Meade's instructions, passed down into the valley and took up the line of the Emmetsburgh road, his center resting at a point known in the history of the battle as the "peach orchard." From this point his line was prolonged to the right by Humphrey's Division along the road, while Birney's Division, to which Ward's brigade with the sharp shooters was attached, formed the left, which was refused; the angel being at the peach orchard, and the extreme left resting nearly at the base of Round Top, at a point known by the altogether suggestive and appropriate name of the Devil's Den - a name well applied, for a more desolate, ghostly place, or one more suggestive of the home of evil spirits can hardly be imagined. Barren of trees or shrub, and almost destitute of any green thing, it seems cursed of God and abandoned of man.
Pending the deployment of the Third Corps, four companies of the sharp shooters, F, I, D, and E, with the Third Maine, a small regiment of only two hundred men, were detached from Ward's brigade and ordered to a point in front and to the right of the peach orchard, where they were directed to advance to a piece of wooded land on the west of the Emmetsburgh road and feel for the enemy at that point. The four companies, deployed as skirmishers, advanced in a northwesterly direction, and at about nine o'clock encountered a strong force of the rebels, consisting116
of at least one brigade of Longstreet's command, who, with arms stacked, were busily engaged in preparing their breakfast when the rifles of the sharp shooters gave them notice of other employment. They were taken entirely by surprise, and quickly perceiving this fact, the riflemen dashed forward, firing as they pressed on as rapidly as the breech loaders could be made to work. The rebels made but a short stand; taken entirely unprepared and unaware of the insignificant numbers of the oncoming force, they seized their guns from the stack, and, after one or two feeble volleys, retreated in confusion.
The general in command made a gallant personal effort to rally his men, but fell dead from his horse immediately in front of Co. F. The rout of the enemy at this point was now complete, and pressing their advantage to the utmost the sharp shooters drove them back nearly to the main rebel line on Seminary Ridge, capturing many prisoners who were sent to the rear, and a large number of small arms which, however, they were unable to bring away. Having thus cleared the ground nearly to the main rebel line, they took position behind walls, fences, etc., and for the two or three hours following were engaged in sharp shooting with the enemy similarly posted in their front. Their position was now some distance to the right of the peach orchard and in front of the right, or right center, of Humphrey's Division.
At about half-past three in the afternoon Longstreet commenced his attack on Sickle's extreme117
left near Round Top, the battle soon becoming very severe also at the angle in the peach orchard and involving Humphrey further to the right. The attacking columns had passed to the left of the sharp shooters and the fighting was now in their left and rear. The rebels in their front also became very aggressive and they were gradually pushed back until they became intermingled with the troops of Humphrey's Division posted along the Emmetsburgh road where the struggle soon became close and deadly. The angle at the peach orchard was the key to Sickles' line, and against it Longstreet pushed his best troops in dense masses, and at this point occurred some of the hardest fighting that took place on the whole field; but as the troops whose doings are chronicled in these pages had no part in that struggle, it is enough to say that after a gallant resistance the line was broken at the angel and the shouting rebels, rushing through the gap, took both portions of the line in reverse, while both portions were yet resisting heavy attacks on their fronts. Such a situation could have but one result - both wings were compelled to retire in confusion.
Anticipating this, Meade had ordered heavy supporting columns to be formed behind the crest of the ridge and these were ordered down to the relief of the sorely tried Third Corps. Barnes' Division of the Fifth Corps, the same to which the sharp shooters had been attached for so long a time, and in the ranks of which they had fought in all the battles previous to Fredericksburgh,118
came gallantly to the rescue, but were unable to withstand the terrible vigor of the Confederate assault, and Caldwell's Division of the Second Corps was also thrown in to check the onset.
These troops fought with the greatest courage but were defeated with the loss of half the men engaged. In the mean time Longstreet, finding the ground between the left of Birney's Division and the base of Round Top unoccupied, pushed a force behind the Union left at that point which succeeded in gaining a position in the rocky ravine between the two Round Tops from which they pushed forward to secure the possession of the lesser elevation, at that moment unguarded. This was the key to the entire Union line, and once in the hands of the rebels would probably decide the battle in their favor. But Warren, another old Fifth Crops friend, quickly discovered the danger and ordered Vincent with his brigade to occupy and defend this important point. The struggle for its possession was terrible, but victory perched upon the Union banners and the hill was made secure. Vincent and Hazlett, both of the Firth Corps also, were killed here. They had been well known and highly esteemed by many of the officers and men of the sharp shooters, and by none were they more sincerely lamented.
Darkness put an end to the battle of July 2d. Lee had gained considerable ground, for the whole of the line occupied by the Third Corps was now in his possession. There yet remained for him to carry the real line of the federal defenses which119
was as yet intact. The position taken by Gen. Sickles had been intrinsically false, and was one from which he would have been withdrawn without fighting had time allowed. Lee had gained ground, and that was all, unless the inspiriting effects of even partial success can be counted.
Many thousands of Union soldiers lay dead and wounded on the field, and the Army of the Potomac was the weaker by that number of men, but Lee had lost an equal, or morel likely a great number, so that on the whole the result of the day could not be counted as a substantial gain for the rebels, and when the federals lay down for the night, it was with confidence and assurance that the morrow would bring its reward for the mishaps of the day. The corps commander, Gen. Sickles, had been wounded and Gen. Birney succeeded to the command. Gen. Ward took command of the division, and thus it came about that Col. Berdan was in command of the brigade.
Company F had killed on this day Sergeant A. H. Cooper, and Geo. Woolly and W. H. Leach wounded. Woolly's wound was severe and resulted in the loss of his arm. Other companies in the regiment had suffered more or less severely, the four companies engaged in front and to the right of the peach orchard losing twenty men, killed and wounded, out of the one hundred engaged.
During the night succeeding the 2d of July the shattered remains of the Third Corps was withdrawn from the front line and massed behind the sheltering ridge as a reserve. Its terrible losses of120
the day, added to those sustained at Chancellorsville, had reduced the once powerful corps almost to the proportions of a brigade. As the troops stood in line the colors were like a fringe along its front, so close together were they. The regiments that defended them were like companies - indeed, many regiments had not the full number of one hundred men which is called for on paper by a full company. The Third Corps was nearly a matter of history, but the few men left with their colors were veterans, tried and true, and although they were not displeased to be relieved from the active fighting yet in store for the federals, they were quite ready to stand to arms against whenever it should please Gen. Meade to so direct. At daylight the enemy opened a heavy artillery fire all along the line. The random nature of the firing was proof, however, that nothing more serious than demonstration was intended.
Late at night on the preceding day the rebels had succeeded in gaining important ground on the extreme right, and had indeed possessed themselves of almost the whole of the wooded eminence known as Culp's Hill, from which their artillery, should they be allowed time to get it up, would take almost the entire Union line in the rear. To regain this, Geary's Division was sent in early in the day, and after four hours of severe fighting the rebels were dislodged and the Union right was restored. Affairs now became quiet and so remained for some hours - suspiciously quiet indeed, and all felt that some great effort was about to be made121
by the Confederates. At about one o'clock a single gun was fired as a signal from the Confederate lines near the seminary, and instantly one hundred and fifteen guns opened on the Union center, which was held by the First and Second Corps, supported by all that remained of the Third. Never before had the Union troops been subjected to such an artillery fire. Previous to this battle the cannonading at Malvern Hill had always been quoted as the heaviest of the war. The bombardment of Fredericksburgh had also been on a magnificent scale, but here the troops were to learn that still further possibilities existed. Eighty Union guns responded vigorously, and for two hours these guns - nearly two hundred in number - hurled their shot and shell across the intervening plain in countless numbers. The Union artillery was posted along the crest of, or just behind the ridge, while the lines of infantry were below them on the western slope. The soldiers lay prone on the ground, sheltering themselves behind such inequalities of the surface as they could find, well knowing that this awful pounding was only the precursor of a struggle at close quarters, which, if less demonstrative and noisy, would be more deadly; for experience had taught them that however frightful to look at and listen to, the first of shell as such long range was not, on the whole, a thing to inspire great fear. It is a curious fact, however, that heavy artillery fire, long sustained, begets an irresistible desire to sleep; and hundreds of Union soldiers went quietly122
to sleep and slept soundly under the soothing influence of this tremendous lullaby.
At three o'clock the artillery fire ceased, and from the woods crowning Seminary Ridge, a mile away, swarmed the grey coated rebels for another attempt at the federal line. Lee had tried the left and had failed; he had been partially successful on the right on the preceding evening, but had been driven back in the morning. It only remained for him to try the center. In the van of the charging column came Picket's Division of Virginia troops, the flower of Lee's army, fresh and eager for the strife. On his right was Wilcox's brigade of Hill's Corps, and on his left Pender's Division. Could Picket but succeed in piercing the Union center, these two supporting columns, striking the line at points already shattered and disorganized by the passage of Picket's command, might be expected to give way in turn, and the right and left wings of the federal army would be hopelessly separated. But others besides Lee saw this, and Meade hastened to support the points on which the coming storm mast burst with all the troops at his command. The Third Corps was ordered up and took position on the left of the First, directly opposite the point at which Wilcox must strike the line, if he reached so far. Our artillery, which had been nearly silent for some time, opened on the oncoming masses as they reached the Emmetsburgh road with canister and case shot which made fearful gaps in their front, but closing steadily on their colors they continued to advance. Their courage was magnifi-123
cent and worthy of a better cause. Eight Union batteries, brought forward for the purpose, poured an enfilading fire into the rushing mass, while Stannard's Second Vermont Brigade, far in advance of the main line, suddenly rose up and, quickly changing front, forward on the right, commenced a close and deadly fire directly on their exposed right flank. Their track over that open plain was marked by a swath of dead and dying men as wide as the front of their column; still they struggled on and some portion of the attacking force actually pierced the Union line, and the rebel Gen. Armistead was killed with his hand upon one of the guns of Wheeler's battery. The point had been well covered, however, and no sooner did the rebel standards appears crowning the stone wall, which was the principal defensive work, than the troops of the second line were ordered forward and for a few moments were engaged in a fierce hand to hand fight over the wall. The force of the rebel attack was, however, spent; exhausted by their march of a mile across the plain in the face of the deadly fire, and with ranks sadly thinned, the rebels, brave as they undoubtedly were, were in no shape to long continue the struggle. They soon broke and fled, thousands, however, throwing down their arms and surrendering themselves as prisoners rather than risk the dangerous passage back to their own lines, a passage only in a degree less perilous than the advance.
In the meantime, Wilcox, on the right, had124
pushed gallantly forward to strike the front of the Third Corps where the sharp shooters had been posted in advantageous positions to receive him. They had opened fired when he was some four hundred yards away, too far for really fine shooting at individual men, but not so far as to prevent considerable execution being done on the dense masses of the men coming on. This attack, however, was not destined to meet with even the small measure of success which had attended Picket's assault, for Col. W. G. Veazy of the Sixteenth Vermont, one of the regiments of Stannard's Second Vermont Brigade, which had been thrown forward on the right flank of Picket's column, seeing that attack repulsed, and being aware of the approach of Wilcox in his rear, suddenly counter-marched his regiment and made a ferocious charge on the left of Wilcox's column, even as he had just done on the right of Picket's. The effect was instantaneous; they faltered, halted, and finally broke. Launching forward, Veazey captured many prisoners and colors, many more, in fact, than he had men in his own ranks.
The fighting of the 3d of July now ceased and the federals had been signally successful. The morrow was the 4th of July, the birthday of the nation; would it be ever after celebrated as the anniversary of the decisive and closing battle of the war? Many hearts beat high at the thought, and the troops lay on their arms that night full of hope that the end was at hand.
The repulse of Lee's final assault on the 3d of125
July had been so complete and crushing, so apparent to every man on the field, that there were none who did not awake on the morning of the 4th with the full expectation that the Army of the Potomac would at once assume the offensive and turn the repulse of the last two days into such a defeat as should insure the utter destruction of the rebel army. Everything seemed propitious; Sedgwick's gallant Sixth Corps had arrived late on the night of the second, and had not been engaged. They men were fresh and eager to deliver on the national holiday the death blow to the rebellion. The troops who had been engaged during that terrible three days battle were equally eager, notwithstanding their labors and sufferings, but Meade was eminently a conservative leader, and feared to "Put is to the touch To win or lose it all." And so the day was spent in such quiet and rest as could be obtained by the men. The wounded were gathered and cared for, rations and ammunition were issued, and every preparation for further defense should Lee again attack, or for pursuit should he retreat, was made. Some rather feeble demonstrations were made a various points, but no fighting of a serious character took place on that day. The sharp shooters were thrown forward as far as the peach orchard where they took up a position which they held during the day, constantly engaged in exchanging shots with the rebel pickets posted behind the walls and fences in the126
open field in front of the woods behind which lay the rebel army. It was of itself exciting and dangerous employment; but, as compared with their experiences on the two preceding days, the day was uneventful. Co. F lost here, however, two of its faithful soldiers, wounded, L. B. Grover and Chas. B. Mead. Both recovered and returned to the company, Grover to be promoted sergeant for his gallantry in the field, and Mead to die by a rebel bullet in the trenches at Petersburgh. The regiment as a whole had suffered severely. The faithful surgeon, Dr. Brennan, had been severely wounded while in the discharge of his duty in caring for the wounded on the field, and Capt. McLean of Co. D was killed.
Many others, whose names have been lost in the lapse of years, fell on this bloody field. The fifth was spent in gathering the wounded and burying the dead. On the sixth Meade commenced that dilatory pursuit which has been so severely criticised, and on the twelfth came up with the rebel army at Williamsport, where Lee had taken up and fortified a strong position to await the falling of the river, a sudden rise of which had carried away the bridges and rendered the fords impassable.
The army was eager to attack; flushed with their success, and fully confident of their ability to give rebellion its death blow, they fairly chafed at the delay - but Meade favored the cautious policy, and spent the twelfth and thirteenth in reconnoitering Lee's position. Having finished this preliminary work, he resolved on an attack on the fourteenth;127
but Lee, having completed his bridges, made a successful passage of the river, and by eight o'clock on that morning had his army, with its trains and stores, safe on the Virginia side.
On the seventeenth the Third Corps crossed the river at Harper's Ferry and were once more following a defeated and flying enemy up the valley, over the same route by which they had pursued the same foe a year before while flying from Antietam. The pursuit was not vigorous - the men marched leisurely, making frequent halts. It was in the height of the blackberry season, and the fields were full of the most delicious specimens. The men enjoyed them immensely, and, on a diet composed largely of this fruit, the health of the men improved rapidly.
On the nineteenth the sharp shooters reached Snicker's Gap, where, on the 3d of the previous November, they had looked down on the beautiful valley of Virginia and beheld from their lofty perch Lee's retreating columns marching southward. To-day, from the same point of view, they beheld the same scene; but how many changes had taken place in that little company since they were last on this ground! Death, by bullet and by disease, had made sad inroads among them, and of the whole number present for duty the previous November, less than one-half were with their colors now, the others were either dead in battle, or of wounds received in action, or honorably discharged by reason of disability incurred in the service. Sheridan once said that no regiment was fit for the128
field until one-half of its original numbers had died of disease, one-quarter been killed in action, and the rest so sick of the whole business that they would rather die than live. Judged by this rather severe standard, Co. F was not fit to take rank as veterans. Descending the mountains, they marched southward, passing the little village of Upperville on the twentieth.
On the twenty-third the Third Corps was ordered to feel the enemy at Manassas Gap, and there ensured a severe skirmish, known as the affair of Wapping Heights. The sharp shooters opened the engagement and, indeed, bore the brunt of it, dislodging the enemy and driving them through the gap and beyond the mountain range. They inflicted considerable loss on the rebels, and made a number of prisoners.
In this affair a man from another company came suddenly face to face with an armed rebel at very short range; each, as it subsequently appeared, had but one cartridge and that was in his gun. Each raised his rifle at the first sight of the other and the reports were simultaneous. Both missed - the rebel bullet struck a tree so close to the sharp shooter's face that the flying fragments of bark drew blood; the Union bullet passed through the breast of the rebel's coat, cutting in two in its passage a small mirror in his breast pocket. They were no upon equal terms but each supposed himself at the disadvantage. Yankee cheek was too much, however, for he innocent Johnnie, for the sharp shooter, with great show of reloading his129
rifle, advanced on the rebel demanding his surrender. He threw down his gun with bad grace, saying as he did so: "If I had another cartridge I would never surrender." "All right, Johnnie," said the Yankee. "If I had another you may be sure I would not ask you to surrender." But Johnnie came in a prisoner. In this action the sharp shooters expended the full complement of sixty rounds of ammunition per man, thus verifying the assertion of their ancient enemy in the ordnance department that "the breech loaders would use up ammunition at an alarming rate;" both he and other were by this time forced to admit, however, that the ammunition was expended to very useful purpose. Passing now to the southeast over familiar grounds they encamped at Warrenton the twenty-sixth, and on the thirty-first at or near White Sulphur Springs, where they remained until the 15th of September, enjoying a much needed rest. It was eighty-one days since they left their camp at Falmouth to follow and defeat Lee's plans for an invasion of the North, and during that time they had not had one single day of uninterrupted rest. Here the regiment had the first dress parade since the campaign opened.
On the 15th of September they broke camp and marched to Culpepper, some ten miles to the southward, where they remained until the 10th of October. On the 22d of September eight days rations had been issued and it looked as though serious movements were contemplated, but the plan, if there was one, was not carried out.130
On the 11th of October, with full haversacks and cartridge boxes, they broke camp and moved again northward, crossing the Rappahannock by Freeman's ford, near which they remained during the rest of that day and the whole of the twelfth on the picket line, frequently engaged in unimportant skirmishes with the enemy's cavalry. On the thirteenth they marched in the early morning, still towards the north, prepared for action, and at Cedar Run, a small tributary of the Rappahannock, they found the enemy in considerable force to dispute the crossing. Here a severe action took place, and as the emergency was one which did not admit of delay, the attack was made without the formality of throwing out skirmishers, an the sharp shooters charged with the other regiments of the division in line of battle. Edward Jackson was severely wounded here, but returned to his company to remain with it to the close of the war. Quickly brushing away this force the corps advanced northwardly by roads lying to the west of the Orange & Alexandria railroad and parallel with it, and after a fatiguing march arrived at Centerville, only a few miles from Washington.
The cause of this rapid retrograde movement was not easily understood by the men at the time, but was subsequently easily explained. Lee had not been satisfied wit the results of his three previous attempts to destroy the Union army by turning its right and cutting it off from Washington, and had essayed a fourth. It had been a close race, but the Union commander had extricated his army from a131
position that, at one time, was one of grave peril, and had it compact and ready on the heights of Centerville with the fortifications of Washington at his back. Lee was now far from his own base of supplies and must attack the Union army in the position at once, or retreat. He took one look at the situation and chose the latter alternative, and on the nineteenth the Army of the Potomac was once more in pursuit, the Third Corps with the sharp shooters passing Bristoe's Station on that day with their faces toward the South. ON the twentieth they forded Cedar Run at the scene of their battle of the week before, and on the same day, owing to an error by which the sharp shooters were directed by a wrong road, they recrossed it to the north bank, from which they had, later in the day, to again ford it to reach their designated camping place on the south side near Greenwich, thus making three times in all that they waded the stream on this cold October day, sometimes in water waist deep. The next camp made was at Catlet's Station, when the sharp shooters with the Third Corps remained inactive until the 7th of November awaiting the repairing and reopening of the Orange & Alexandria railroad which had been greatly damaged by Lee I his retreat, and which, as it was the main line of supply for Meade's army, it was necessary to repair before the army could move further southward.
On the seventh, the railroad having been completely repaired and the army fully supplied with132
rations, ammunition and other necessary articles, Meade determined to try to bring his enemy to a decisive action in the open field, and to that end directed the right wing of his army, consisting of the Fifth and Sixth corps under Sedgwick, to force the passage of the Rappahannock at Rappahannock Station, while the left wing, consisting of the First, Second and Third Corps, was directed on Kelly's Ford, some five miles lower down the river.
The Third Corps, under Birney, had the advance of the column, the sharp shooters acting as flankers, until the head of the column arrived at the river opposite the designated crossing place. The enemy were found in strong force occupying rifle pits on the opposite bank, and the column was deployed to meet the exigency of the occasion. The sharp shooters were at the front as skirmishers and advanced at the double quick in splendid order until they reached the bank of the river, when they took such cover as was afforded by the inequalities of the ground, and commenced an active fire upon the enemy in the rifle pits on the opposite side. It was soon found, however, that they could not be driven from their strong position by simple rifle work, and the regiment was ordered to cross the stream and drive them out by close and vigorous attack. It was not a cheerful prospect for the men who were to wade the open stream nearly waist deep and exposed to the cool fire of the concealed enemy, who would not aim less coolly because the sharp shooters would necessarily be unable to133
return the fire; but the line was carefully prepared and at the sound of the bugle every man dashed forward into the cold water and struggled on. Co. F was one of the reserve companies and thus followed the skirmishers in column of fours instead of in a deployed line. As the skirmishers arrived on the further shore they naturally took such cover as they cold get, and opened a rapid fire. The Vermonters, however, closely following the movement, passed the skirmish line thus halted and pushed on without stopping to deploy even. Capt. Merriman, who had just succeeded to his well deserved promotion, led the way until he stood upon the very edge of the works overlooking the rebels within, of whom he demanded an immediate and unconditional surrender. He was far in advance of his men, and the rebels, at first taken aback by the very boldness of the demand, now seeing him unsupported as they thought, refused with strong language to surrender, but on the contrary called upon him to yield himself up as their prisoner. Merriman, however, was not minded to give up his captain's sword on the very first day he had worn it, and called out for "Some of you men of Co. F with guns to come up here." His call was obeyed, and five hundred and six Confederates surrendered to this little company alone. In the company the casualties were as follows: Patrick Murray, killed; Eugene Mead, Watson P. Morgan and Fitz Green Halleck, wounded. Having thus uncovered the ford the sharp shooters were pushed forward some distance134
to allow the remainder of the left wing to cross and form on the south bank. Advancing about a mile from the river they took up a position from which they repulsed several feeble attacks during the day, and at dark were relieved.
For their gallantry and dash in this affair they received unstinted praise from their brigade commander, De Trobriand, they having been transferred back to his brigade some days previous. On the next day the troops advanced towards Brandy Station where the union of the two wings of the army was expected to take place. Considerable resistance was met with at several points during the day, and at one point the skirmishers of the third division, which was in advance, being unable to start the rebels, the corps commander sent back his aide for "the regiment that crossed the river the day before," but the brigade was some miles in rear of the point of obstruction, and Gen. De Trobriand, rightly believing that it would be unjust and cruel to require these men to march so far at the double quick after their severe service of the day before, sent the second regiment instead, who fully met the requirement and soon cleared the road for the head of the column. On arriving at Brandy Station the vast open plain was found packed and crowded with troops, the entire Army of the Potomac being now concentrated here. The sharp shooters went into camp on the farm of the so called loyalist John Minot Botts, where they remained for the eighteen days following. In consideration of his supposed
loyalty, every effort was made to protect the property of the owner of the plantation, but rails are a temptation that no soldier was ever known to withstand on a cold November night. Evil disposed troops of other organizations raided the fences every night, and the troops nearest at hand, the sharp shooters, were required to rebuild them every day; and in this manner they passed the time until the 26th of November, when the army broke camp and crossed the Rapidan at several points simultaneously.
This was the initial movement in what is known as the Mine Run campaign. The Third Corps crossed at Jacobs Mills ford, their destination being understood to be Robertson's Tavern where they were to join the Second Corps in an attack on the Confederate line behind Mine Run at that point. But Gen. French, by a mistake of roads, and sundry other unfortunate errors of judgment, found himself far to the right of his assigned position, and while blindly groping about in the mazes of that wilderness country, ran the head of his column against Ewell's Corps and a brisk fight took place, which was called the battle of Locust Grove.
De Trobriand's brigade was near the rear of the column and was not therefore immediately engaged. The familiar sounds of cannon and musketry indicated to their practiced ears something more than a mere affair of skirmishers, and soon came an order to take up a more advanced position in support of the Third Division which was said to be heavily
engaged. Upon arriving at the front the sharp shooters were deployed and ordered forward to a fence a little distance in advance of the main Union line, and to hold that position at all hazards. Moving rapidly forward they gained the position, and quickly converted the stout rail fence into a respectable breastwork from which they opened fire on the rebels in their front. Near them they found the Tenth Vermont, and thus once again stood shoulder to shoulder with the men of their native state. Five times during that afternoon did the enemy endeavor to drive the sharp shooters from this line, and as often were they repulsed, and each time with heavy loss. In one of these assaults the colors of a rebel regiment, advancing immediately against Co. F, fell to the ground four times, and just there four rebel color bearers lay dead, stricken down by the fire of the Green Mountain riflemen.
The line of breastworks were held until the fighting ceased after dark, when the sharp shooters were relieved and retired from the immediate front and lay on their arms during the night. Co. F had lost in the battle of the day five good men; E. S. Hosmer was killed at the fence, while A. C. Cross, Eugene Payne, Sherod Brown and Corporal Jordan were wounded. Cross rejoined the company and served faithfully until the battle of the Wilderness in the following May where he was killed. Payne returned to duty and served his full term of enlistment and was honorably discharged on the 13th of September, 1864. Brown
never fully recovered from the effects of his wound and was subsequently transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps. Jordan also reported again for duty and served until the 31st of August, 1864, when he was honorably discharged on surgeon's certificate of disability. The regiment had lost thirty-six men killed and wounded during the day, while the corps had suffered a total lost of fifteen hundred, and had not yet reached its objective point. And this was the soldiers' Thanksgiving Day at Locust Grove. Far away in quiet northern homes, fathers and mothers were sitting lonely at the loaded tables thinking lovingly of their brave boys, who were even then lying stark and cold under the open sky, or suffering untold agonies from cruel wounds. But this was war, and war is no respecter of time or place, and so on this day of national thanksgiving and praise, hundreds of the best and bravest suffered and died that those who came after them might have cause for future thanksgiving.
"To the misjudging, war doth appear to be a worse calamity than slavery; because its miseries are collected together within a short space and time as may be easily, at one view, taken in and perceived. But the misfortunes of nations cursed by slavery, being distributed over many centuries and many places, are of greater weight and number."
Further severe fighting took place on the next day, but the sharp shooters were not engaged. On the twenty-ninth (the corps having changed its position on the previous day, taking up a new138
line further to the left), the sharp shooters were deployed as skirmishers and pushed forward to within sight of the strong works of the enemy on the further side of Mine Run where they were halted and directed to closely observe the movements of the rebels, but to do nothing calculated to provoke a conflict, the preparations for assault not being completed on the Union side. While laying here in a cold November rain storm they had ample opportunity to calculate the strength of the enemy's line and the chances of success. It reminded them strongly of Fredericksburgh. The position was not dissimilar to that. Here was a swampy morass instead of a hard plain, but beyond was a height of land and, as at Fredericksburgh, it was crowned with earth works, while at the base of the elevation, plainly to be seen by the watchers, were the long yellow lines that told of the rifle pits well manned by rebel soldiers. It looked like a desperate attempt, but early on the morning of the thirteenth, in obedience to orders, the sharp shooters advanced across the swamp through the partly frozen mud, in many places mid-leg deep, driving the rebel pickets into their works and pressing their way to within a few rods of the enemy's front, which position they held, being of themselves unable to go further without support, which was not forthcoming. This advance had the seeming character of a demonstration only, but the sharp shooters made the best of their opportunities, picking off a rebel now and then as the139
chance occurred. Night came on and no hint of relief came to the worn and weary men.
It was intensely cold and, of course, they had to endure it as best they could, since to light a fire within so short a distance of the watchful rebels would be to draw the fire of every gun within range. Neither could they get the relief which comes from exercise, for the first movement was the signal for a shot. So passed the long and dismal night; the men getting such comfort as they could from rubbing and chaffing their benumbed and front-bitten limbs. Morning dawned, but yet no relief from their sufferings; and it seemed to the waiting men that they were deserted. At times firing could be heard on the right, but of other indications of the presence of their friends there were none. They remained in this state all the day on the 1st od December, and at night, after thirty-six hours of this exposure, they were ordered back across the swamp. Many men were absolutely unable to leave their positions without aid, so stiff with cold and inaction were they; but all were finally removed. The army had retired from the front of the enemy and was far on its way to the river, leaving the Third Corps to cover the withdrawal; the greater portion of this corps was also en route for its old camp, and the sharp shooters were thus the rear guard of the army. The march was simply terrible. All night they struggled on, many men actually falling asleep as they marched and falling to the ground, to be roused by shakes and kicks administered by their more wakeful140
comrades. In spite of all, however, many men left the ranks and lay down in the fields and woods to sleep, preferring the chance of freezing to death, or that of other alternative only less fatal - being made prisoners - to further effort. At day break the regiment arrived at the Rapidan at Culpepper Mine ford, crossing on a ponton bridge and going into bivouac on the north bank, where they could at least have fires to warm their half frozen bodies. Here they lay until noon, their numbers being augmented by the arrival of the stragglers, singly and in squads, until all were accounted for, though at day break there were not guns enough in some of the companies to stack arms with. At night, however, all were comfortably quartered in their old camp - a thankful lot of men. This was perhaps the most severe experience that Co. F had to undergo during its three years of service. On many occasions they had more severe fighting and had often to mourn the loss of tried and true comrades; but never before or after did the company, as a whole, have to undergo so much severe suffering as on this occasion. The principal loss of the regiment in this campaign was by the death of Lieut.-Col. Trepp, who was shot through the head and instantly killed on the 30th of November. Col. Trepp had been with the regiment from the first, having joined as captain of Co. A. He was a Swiss by birth, and had received a military education in the army of his native land, and had seen much service in various European wars. He was a severe disciplinarian, even hard; but was141
endeared to the men by long association in the field, and was sincerely lamented.
From this time until the 6th of February, 1864, the regiment lay in camp, inactive. On that day they were engaged in a reconnoissance to the Rapidan, but were not engaged.
On the 28th of March the gallant old Third Corps, reduced as it was by its losses at Chancellorsville, Gettysburgh and Locust Grove to the proportions of a small division, passed out of existence, being consolidated with the Second Corps, and become the first and second brigades of the Third Division of that corps, Gen. Birney continuing in the command of the division, while the corps was commanded by Gen. Hancock, who had so far recovered from his wound received at Gettysburgh as to be able to resume his place at the head of his troops. The sharp shooters were attached to the second brigade, commanded by Gen. Hayes.
This change was viewed by the officers and men of the Third Corps with great regret. They were proud of their record, and justly so, but the necessities of the service were paramount, and no sentiment of loyalty to a corps flag could be allowed to interfere with it. In recognition of the distinguished services rendered by the old organization, however, the men were allowed to retain their corps badge; and they took their places in the ranks of Hancock's command resolved that the honor of the old Third should be maintained unsullied in the future, as it had been in the past.