The Battle of Gettysburg
"Military Life as Seen from the Ranks of the Army"
Charles Sprague Article on Gettysburg as it dawned for a soldier at Gettysburg.
In Camp and On a March-Getting Out of the Wilderness-How a Soldier Feels On the Edge of a Fight-The Stage Fright of a Battle-Green Soldiers and Seasoned Ones-Forming for the Fight.
[Most battle sketches are written from the standpoint of a commanding general or a war correspondent who saw and knew, or is supposed to have seen and known, the whole field of action. These sketches are more or less valuable contributions to history, but thet do not give the civic reader a very clear idea of what war really is. The following intensely interesting sketch, written for us by Co. Charles E. Sprague, now secretary of the Union Dime Savings Institution, of New York, who served at Gettysburg in the ranks of the Forty-fourth New York regiment, tells what one soldier saw and experienced in a great battle. There is no description of grand operations in it, but as a picture of real experience in camp, on the march and on the field of battle, it is a most valuable contribution to the literature of the war.-Editor.]
Of all the homes that I have ever loved and left, the one that has made the deepest impress on my mind is a little but og one room, about 6x6x6, built of pine logs, sticks. Sod, mud and canvas. It was built "by days works"-a good many days-and the architects, builders, masons, carpenters, plumbers and sanitary engineers were two fellows (Eugene and I), both rather of the student class than of any mechanical bent. This residence of ours was situated in the state of Virginia, county of Stafford. Nothing in that region is described by any closer geographical limit than the county. This part of "Stafford" county held more population to the square mile at the time our mansion was standing than ever before or probably ever again, since the Yankee army, as our Virginia neighbors called us, had dropped down there to stay over night, and has lived there a good many months, "off and on"
It was a rule we soldiers learned to recognize, that if you camped down at night with strict injunctions to be ready to march on at daybreak, with advice from your officers that you;d better not waste any time in getting up comfortable shelter because this was the most temporary kind of a halt, then for a certainty, if you followed this advice, you were going to be kept right in the bivouac long enough to repent not going to work at getting comfortably housed. So after some experience, we never took any stock in assurances of brief stay; we went right to work at house building on the assumption that we should stay a month; if we marched next day no great harm was done, but if we stayed a week we were well paid for our trouble.
This was our state of mind when we halted back of Falmouth, opposite Fredericksburg, at a point on the railroad which thenceforward, possibly to this day, became known as Stoneman's Switch." We halted at night, and bivouacked in thick pine woods, which extended for miles around. Before we left that spot for the last time that forest had disappeared; every tree had been cut, first wastefully, at shoulder height from the ground, then down to a decent stump, and then this stump was cut to the very quick. Finally we had no wood at all.
Being, as I said, aware of the long duration of supposed temporary stays in military life, this house of ours ("shanty" was the correct name in camp language) was promptly begun. In our regiment they were not so strenuous for uniformity of architecture as in some commands, and allowed scope for individuality; as long as the line of front doors was pretty straight down the company streets, we could build our shanties of size and style to suit our tastes. Certainly, Eugene and I had about the worst looking one of the settlement.
It was, first, a cellar dug the full size of the ground plan, about two feet deep. Next came a wall of split pine logs, resting on the ground and held up by stakes, carrying up the cellar wall to a height of five feet in all. Now, the roof was of canvas, made of several of the little shelter tents, fastened together and stretched over a ridge pole, which was supported by two stout uprights in front and rear. The front, or door, was also of canvas until we got our chimney built , later on. Our next step was to caulk our wall with mud. Glorious Virginia mud! The one product of which there was always enough. Plastic as butter, but tough as spruce gum when dried; for architectural purposes, admirable; for pedestrian uses, vile. We plastered our wall pretty tightly with this natural stucco, and banked up the lower edge. We ditched around our house, and conducted the waters into the company gutter. Our bed, which comprised all our furniture, being also chair, sofa and table, was our next care. It was a spring bed. We split long, straight pine saplings and laid them crosswise of the shanty on supports which held them about level with the surface of the ground. The bed was about three feet wide, Eugene and I were both slender. When sitting on the edge of the bed our feet rested against the front wall of our mansion. Here we talked; here we smoked; here we read; in pleasant weather, with our front canvas fastened back. We conversed with our neighbors, discussing every subject under heaven, and here we sat, Eugene and I. By our own fireside after the chimney was built.
Our chimney was a picturesque structure of sods. The mortar which held together these substitutes for brick was the aforesaid mud. An open fireplace faced the right hand manof the two inmates who sat on the bed, and that man did the cooking from that position. Our chimney was a large one, covering more than half the front of the house and forming our front wall. Vice canvas removed. A wooden mantel defined the top of the fireplace. Above this the chimney tapered somewhat and ended in a barrel. Some of our comrades had double-barreled chimneys, but we found it hard enough to steal one barrel at a time to supply those which caught fire; total loss; no insurance.
This is the biggest house which I have helped to build with my own hands, and as I get to dreaming through my past life I always work back to it; just like the house that Jack built-I guess Jack was a soldier-and what made us more attached to our shanty was that w so many times bade it good-by during the month we owned it; each time we trudged away we faced our friends across the river; they laid us out like brave fellows as they were. When we found there was no use, we drifted back, without much ceremony or order, to the old camp and went to pegging away at our regular professional work as architects. Every time we had left some of the best of the boys behind and the line grew shorter in front of the first sergeant at roll call.
First, we went on an excursion to Fredericksburg; things were handled badly and back we came to the old camp; Eugene and I bailed out the cellar, put up the roof and resumed housekeeping in our old dwelling. Then our corps went on a Christmas trip up the river-a failure unrecorded in history-gave it up and came back "home." Then Burnside tried it again, and this time our old friend, Virginia mud, was against us and there was an effectual "tie up" (as we now say) of pack mules, cannon and wagons. Once more the old home welcomed us and again we commenced improvements on our real estate in the very same spot.
We now looked upon ourselves as quartered there for the rest of the war. The housebuilding activity of the regiment was too great to be satisfied with the private residences in the company streets and spent itself upon a regimental church, really quite an imposing structure of logs, with seats and pulpit all complete, and well utilized, not only on Sundays, but on week day evenings with debating societies, lectures and classes. So we lived until Joe Hooker issued invitations for another picnic, an eight day one, since known as Chancellorsville. This time, we thought, surely was the last. But now we came back once more, inside of the eight days, and worse used up than ever. All organization was pretty well suspended by unanimous consent and was simply "go-as-you-please," but get to the old camp. That was a manoeurve we had pretty well learned, and though, like such movements as "on the right into line," it looked disorderly, yet it got there.
So in thinking over our next trip, which fetched us up at Gettysburg, no wonder I had to drift back to that old shanty in Stafford county. It occurs to me that the little details of our camp life are fading away, and that they are well worth sketching for the present generation, which knows not war; for this year's voter was born after the war was over.
Once more the old shanty was dismantled to the music of that long and solemn call which every soldier knew as "Strike Tents." First the brigade bugler had given it to us, after twice repeating a preface, or heading, as it were, to his proclamation, which, to every Third Brigade man seemed to chant the name of our old commander, thus: [Drawing follows]
Dan! Dan! Butterfield! Butterfield!
The Angel Gabriel in his musical capacity is always associated with Gen. Butterfield in the mind of any soldier of our brigade. If the bugler was not at hand, "Dan" could even sound the call himself; in fact, there were few things which a soldier of any grade ought to do, but that he could and dared. But, though hs trumpeted name rallied us on many a field, he was in a higher position at this time.
Mike, the regimental bugler, next lifts his old barrered copper horn to his good natured mouth, and easy as a bird out floats his little song. His overture is a different one; his musical message is addressed thus:
And forty, forty-four!
Hold you so before!
Come come! come! come!
Strike-your-tents, strike-your-tents, strike-your
And good-by to the old shanty.
The last bugle note had ceased, and our regiment stood in line in marching order. This procedure was an unusual one when on the march, for military ceremonies on actual campaign were dispensed with as far as possible. There is a degree of elasticity about military formalities. If this had been a review we should first have had the companies formed and taken charge of by the captains, then the companies would have marched out into line, and the regiment when complete would have been handed over by the adjutant to the colonel, who would have then marched to the place designated by the brigade commander and reported to him; and thus, in orderly, dignified, though prompt succession, we might have been built up into divisions and corps. But while we were actually on the march, this was all out very short, and when the companies were once in ranks no more time was wasted. The leading company was marched by its captain straight to the road we were to follow, in fours (or, as we then called it, "by the flank") and the other companies struck into its wake, in order, by the shortest line and without waiting a yard of travel. The regiments swung into column in the same easy and informal way, the leading regiment picking up the others without a hitch and with no fuss.
But to-day we had not quite dropped our camp manners, and as we stood there is line we were a fair specimen of an American regiment. We stood about 300, rank and file. Few regiments had anything like the nominal strength which a regiment should have. We were a very sun burned, hearty-looking set of fellows; we looked as if we could eat a square meal whenever we got one. In fact, we were a set of boys. The ages of our company averaged 24, and probably there were more men about 22 than of any other age. We were not punctilious about the regulations as to dress. Our regimental uniforms of semi-zouave pattern had been turned in before Chancellorsville, and we had frock coats, blouses or jackets, just as it happened; anything blue would do. In hats and caps there was also much variety-the hideous regular army cloth cap, with slanting peak, which some turned up and some turned down-each way it looked worse; or the more nobly French shape, with a straight visor, or the McClellan cap, with top falling forward; there had been sent on from home or purchased when on furlough; or the army black felt, which was generally worn with the crown depressed in the center; or other varietites of black soft hats, which were worn in spite of regulations. But everyone had on his cap or hat a red Maletese cross, the badge of our division.
Some had leggings, some had not; some old hands were in favor of stuffing the trousers into the stockings and tying them there with strings. The broad shoes given out by the government and usually styled "gunboats" were the most fashionable footwear; this was the only part of the uniform which private enterprise did not much improve upon. Only one thing about our get-up would have pleased a military critic; our guns were clean and bright. The loads carried on our shoulders also varied, and suited each man's idea of comfort at the expense of exertion. Some clung to their knapsacks-I think only one of these got to Gettysburg in our company; some kept their overcoats, but these were soon adorning theroadsides during that hot summer, and the darkies have been wearing them ever since. The canteen, haversack and tin cup, it was difficult to dispense with; then there was a difficulty in knowing which to throw away, the rubber blanket, the woolen blanket or the piece of shelter tent. These last, through some accidental confusion, we called "ponchos;" most of us kept as many as two out of the best group of articles, and I rather think the rubber was the most popular.
The Confederates greatly envied the "Yankee gum blankets," and their officers could always get them to charge very willingly if there were any likely to be had. Some few frying pans were retained, not a handy thing to carry, but a mighty handy implement to have at night. I know one man who stuck to his pan, but never had the trouble to carry it himself. Tom would carry it till noon every day for the privilege of frying next after the owner at night; Dick and Harry would take the burden the rest o the day for a similar concession. So the owner of this frying pan reveled in its enjoyment in the sweat of other fellows' brows. A perfect capitalist, but he had had the nerve to go in on the ground floor and develop the enterprise.
In our own little partnership Eugene carried the most of the grub and I most of the shelter, and we seldom separated. Other syndicates we formed of three, four or five men on similar terms.
We had forty rounds of cartridges besides, and these we never used to throw away. A man always kept his cartridges, somehow. They were of paper, and though the tactics told us to bite the, we always broke them with our fingers at the muzzle and poured in the powder. The days of breech loaders had not yet fully come, and we used the clumsy ramrod. But if we felt the ball slide down easily, we knew that a smart bang of the butt on the ground would do the ramming just as well.
When our colonel had called us to attention, he sat on his horse a moment perfectly still, but with his eyes gravely scrutinizing our ranks from right to left; then, quickly bracing himself, rang out in his clear tenor voice the few commands which put us in motion on a journey of which no one knew the end.
And now we swing along the rough Virginia roads in route step. There is very little nonsense, talk or skylarking. We have long since got beyond that stage of our education and don't waste any strength in those ways. We keep approximately in our fours, but very loosely. Our "guns" slant over our right or left shoulder. We might 'sling' them by the leather strap, but I have seldom seen that done. Apparently the weight is easiest carried on the shoulder, where a slight shifting eases the muscles. The officers interfere very little with us and command as little as possible. They want their breath too, for other purposes and understand that too much fussy meddling won't go down with us. Not that we should openly "kick," but the officer would find that he was thus losing his hold on the men.
To-day our regiment leads the brigade and our brigade leads the division. To-morrow we drop back to the rear, and then gradually work up to the head again. This alternation equalizes rhe difficulties of marching. The head of the column has the easiest time of it. When the roads are bad the column gets "strung out." The head of the column is halted and enjoys a square rest of fifteen minutes, while the rest are getting closed up, and the last regiment just gets to its proper distance in time to start again.
One of the lessons of the march is to lie down at every chance. The green soldier will stand in his tracks because he thinks the stoppage is merely a "jam" and that it won't be worth while to get down and get right up again. But the seasoned marcher will go for the roadside like a shot, and drop; and if it gives him thirty seconds horizontal rest he gets up lighter and fresher.
About eight hours a day was enough of this kind of thing, and that was usually divided into equal stretches morning and evening. There was a good deal of straggling, and not much notice taken of it. It was of two kinds-the weary or lazy, who could not or would not keep up, and gradually dropped back, and the independent spirits who occasionally preferred the freedom of the woods and the side roads to the monotony of the column. "Coffee boiling" or "coffee cooling" was our name for these erratic excursions. The coffee coolers usually turned up at night, because it was not very safe to get too far from the troops.
Coffee was a great sustainer-the prime necessity at every halt. The most approved way of boiling was by suspending the cup by its bail at the end of a stick, and thus, as it was, fishing for coffee. This was found a great improvement over balancing your cup on an unsteady stick of wood, which was likely o give way just at the critical moment of the boil, and demonstrate that hot coffee will put out a fire just as soon as cold water.
As to out fires, I can't remember how it was that we always had matches. I suppose we got them from the sutler. But wood was abundantly supplied, at least for a short stay. The Virginians had a custom, worthy from our point of view, of the highest commendation. They had lavishly piled all over their lands, in the form of zigzag fences, the most elegant rails of hard wood; as fences they were neither useful nor ornamental; as firewood, they were superb. When we had finally halted for the night, it was a race for the most eligible fences. I have chased a vanishing fence for some distance, at the best speed of my long legs and could not catch up with its melting lengths. No matter how wet the rail, the wood just below he surface was dry and seasoned, and we had men, expert fire lighters, who would build up a cheerful blaze in the middle of a plowed field in a pouring rain, with some fence rails and one match.
Luckily we did not have much rain as we trudged northward. It is a very close thing between Virginia mud and Virginia dust, but I think I prefer the latter. So we pushed along pretty steadily, though Lee, away off at the left, certainly got ahead of us, which was a good thing in the end. One day was like another, except such little diversity as resulted from a fight at Aldie, where we took a hand with the cavalry. As we began to make four or five crossings of Goose run every day, we knew we were approaching the Potomac. We crossed at Edwards' Ferry, where the water was as clear as Lake George. We halted and rested a few days at Frederick on a beautiful farm, where the milk house was built over the most wonderful spring I had ever seen, which bubbled out in a stream as large as a barrel. Here we heard that Hooker's place had been given to our own Meade, whom we knew as a resolute, though not a kindly man; not a man like Charley Griffin," whom we could like, though equally resolute, because he really liked us.
Again we heard the old familiar sound of "Dan-Dan-Dan-Butterfield-Butterfield" with his call for us to break up our camp on the noble Maryland farm, and once more march-northward still. Cherries were now ripe and we ate all we could hold. I have no doubt the acid fruit did us good on the whole, though some of us got badly doubled up. We felt in good spirits too; we knew that we were going to fight, but somehow we felt that it was going to be a different affair from the bucking against their fortifications which he had tried so many times. We talked it over and concluded the fight was going to be something like Antietam. The very atmosphere, the looks of the people and the beautiful country as we went through Maryland reminded us of our homes in the north, and as we drew near the border, we had wonderful fancies of the country north of Mason and Dixon's line, where most of us had not been for two years. We pictured it as an earthy paradise.
When we reached the line, something unusual occurred. We were brought to attention; the colors, which always were covered with cases, were taken out, the drummers and fifers played, "Aint You Glad to Get Out o' the Wilderness?" while we marched steadily in the"cadenced step" across the border into a free state. This made a good deal of impression on us, somewhat weakened afterward by finding that, as to wood and water, we were not so free as before.
We were now in the last days of June. On the fist day of July we made our biggest march-thirty odd miles from sun to sun. That day we found that there were two kinds of people in Pennsylvania, and that only one kind were "like our own folks," as we said. In the afternoon we heard firing away off ahead, and rumors reached us of fighting in front. By this time there was a settled conviction in the ranks that there would be a fig fight near Gettysburg.
That night we halted at midnight. The colonel commanding the brigade (it was the last fight for him) sat on his horse close to a tree, at whose foot Eugene and I had rolled ourselves up, utterly exhausted. Mike, the bugler, was finishing his go-to-bed call of tattoo; and that colonel calmly said; "Reveille at 3." I think this was the most intensely disagreeable remark I ever heard. I resolved to defy discipline and sleep as long as I liked, but when morning came I got up with the rest.
The most of that day we were just on the edge of a fight, and that is the time you feel most uncomfortable. If a man ever tells you he felt jolly in such circumstance, you had better change the subject, as you are not getting reliable information. To hear a lot of firing a little way off, and a lot of nasty, buzzing, squealing, whining noises let loose uncomfortably near you, and then to have to keep still and think of everything you don't want to think about, with no chance to blaze away in return, is not so much maddening as sickening. I know I didn't like it a bit, and would have been glad to be excused. Any man, if he once gets where the shooting isn't all one-sided, can stay; he is generally too much interested to think about going..
This day at Gettysburg, I did not feel the stage fright as usual, because I was too sleepy. Every little while, as we lay down in various places, I took a snooze. Perhaps I was saved a good deal of anguish this way, and perhaps Col. Vincent did us a good turn in ordering that very early reveille. Certainly I would rather feel sleepy than scared.
Along in the afternoon, things seemed to thicken up. They had our regiment in close column by division, and all the other regiments in the corps seemed to be formed in the same way, and these masses to be in a pretty compact line. I remember that the regulars (who constituted the bulk of the Second division) lay on our left in the same formation; that I saw the Hundred and Forty-sixth New York, of that same division, in their singular light blue and yellow uniform, coming up in place with the others, and noticed a college friend at the head of his company. As I remember, we were on pretty high ground, with higher still in front, and back on the plain came a long slender ribbon of infantry. The corps flag at the head with its Greek cross, told that this was the Sixth corps, who were finishing a tremendous march, such as we had made the day before.
But now our old brigade call of "Dan! Dan! Dan! Butterfield! Butterfield!" rang out in such an emphatic way as I never heard before, and brought us instantly to our feet. It was the last time I ever heard it in me. It seemed hardly a minute before we were marching off. We weren't told that we were going to hold the Little Round top, but that was our mission. Some staff officer seemed to be riding ahead and showing the way, and a battery was plunging up in the most reckless manner I ever saw, at least one wheel in the air all the while, while we double-quicked up at our best speed.
It is queer how in such a moment of excitement your mind is busy with some absurdly trifling thought, and how plainly you remember this afterward. At Fredericksburg we were under a very warm enfilading fire, and the captain of Company B reported the fact to the major. My thoughts ran like this: "Enfilading! Never heard that word pronounced, though I have read it all my life. Now, first time I hear it, I am enfiladed. Practical example, like Squeers' teaching at Dotheboys Hall." Another time, at Chancellorsville, I was listening, during that heavy artillery fire, to some little birds, whose high treble notes did not seem to be in the least interfered with by the deeper tones.
I noticed several things, as we ran along. One was a cannon ball which looked as if it was passing just in front of our alert little major's face-just above his horse's ears it seemed-probably it was further off. He must have dismounted soon, for I did not see any horse after that. Another thing I noticed was a fox-the only wild one I ever saw at large; the little fellow must have been so frightened by an exploding shell, or something, as to lose all fear of men, and he ran almost under our feet.
On the way up, but before we got far, there was an old stone house, over which was the red flag. I recollect calling out: "Boys, there's a hospital; we'd better remember the way back to it." As a punishment, perhaps for my prophecy of evil, I was the only one of the company who got there; but still it was a good thing to know.
Pretty soon we went through the woods, and as we came out there stood our old friends of the Sixteenth Michigan, who seemed to be just getting into a very scrambling sort of line, but we knew that it was there to stay.
We heard the command, up at the head of our regiment: "On the right by file into line. March!" Now, though we did not by any means go through the motions of that very complex movement as we had learned it when drilling, yet it told us just about where the colonel wanted to place us, and we got there with a rush. The command was not to be executed literally, but it was a graphic indication of our intended position. If any one thinks that drill is of no use because it can't be used in a fight, let him imagine in what words he would explain off-hand to a procession of citizens, four abreast, how he wanted them to get "on the right" into line.
The principal feature of the ground there was rocks. Not what they term rocks in prairie states, where a rock is the size that a small boy can throw, but what would have been recognized even in Vermont as rocks-weighing half a ton or more. These were elegant things to get behind and shoot over; we appreciated them fully, for we always had to scoop up our own protection, and never had had ready-made works; ours were custom goods.
The ground in front of us ran steeply down and was full of rocks and trees. It would have been a considerable exertion for a fat man to come up without opposition. Almost the instant our company got behind the rocks some one said, "There they come," and just for a half second I could see "them" dodging zig-zag among the trees down the hill. I never saw them again distinctly, for instantly we began to fire. There was no order to do so-there seldom is; on the contrary I heard the colonel yelling "Cease firing!" and Mike repeating it with his bugle. It reminded me of the birds at Chancellorsville-and we did not heed it any more than we should the birds. It was bangity, bang, bang into the smoke ahead of us, and rip, zip, squilch just over our heads. The latter sounds were from the Johnnies' bullets, and very likely ours went over their heads, too. Once in a while they would get very close and a red star of flame would jump right out of the smoke at evey discharge. These times they would be pretty apt to hit some of our boys.
As I was kneeling down and loading, one of our boys, partly in front of me, got a bullet through both legs-so I knew afterward, for he died in the hospital near me, my mother standing by him. The bullet, anyway, after doing this work, struck me on the inside of the leg without cutting my trowsers, and I saw it drop. It must have been spent by crushing through his two legs. I thought how I wished I had time to pick it up as a souvenir. A week or two after, when I next undressed, I was reminded of this ball by finding quite a big bruise on my leg.
I don't think any one was afraid now, or cared for anything but getting rid of his cartridges. We were not good marksmen; I suppose if we had been we should have been more deliberate and should have made less smoke and done more execution. Target practice had been very little attended to.
I don't know how long it was before they got me. I know we had not budged from our general position, though many were killed in their tracks. I can't remember seeing any one go away wounded. As one of those red flashes came out of the smoke I felt some one poke me very hard, jab me, in fact, on the left shoulder with a big stick; from the end of the stick spread in every direction needlepricks, like an electric battery. That's the way it felt; the fact was a rifle ball had bored through me. I did not exactly realize what had happened; I was not knocked over, my gun was still in my right hand; I did not understand it yet. I looked at my shoulder and saw a hole in the jacket; knowing that no hole had been there a little before it dawned at last upon my stupidity that I was hit. It seems so queer to a man that he should be struck; so very natural that it should be some one else. As soon as I saw the hole i front I twisted my head around to see if there was another behind; to my relief there was one. I had a great dread of a ball in me which would have to be extracted.
So I found myself a wounded man before I knew it. My next reflection was that it hadn't hurt much. One tooth-pulling is worse than a dozen shootings like that.
Now I laid down my gun and resolved to retire. We were not at the crest of the hill, but a little down; so in going back I had first to go up hill a little. Here the rip-zip noises were a good deal thicker than where I had been; these were the same balls that went over our heads.
I saw one of our officers, and pointed to the hole in my coat as an excuse for my leaving the entertainment. The excuse seemed acceptable.
As I got over the crest of the hill the bullets did not annoy me any more. I had obliqued to the left in retreating, having the instinct to find that hospital flag. So I passed behind part of the Sixteenth again, and had my last glimpse of Col. Vincent. The Sixteenth seemed to have fallen back, but in an orderly way, so that I supposed it was by command.
As I went on my arm ws very awkward. It hung straight down and was very heavy. I was like a young mother with her first baby and did not know how to carry it. I had to walk slowly and felt very tired. Probably I had bled a good deal. Away back behind a tree I found a soldier; he was on the opposite side of the tree to the shooting and appeared to have a chill. As he seemed to have his canteen full of water I lay down by him and told him to pour it on my shoulder. He obeyed with alacrity; perhaps he was believed at finding I did not drive him to his regiment. The water soon enabled me to get up and go on, and I went straight to the old stone house where I had seen the hospital flag; I do not think, however, I went at all by the same road that the regiment had come.
As I reached the back door of the stone house some very German person received me with the remark: "Oh, we can't do noting for you here." Still I pushed in, assisted by an able-bodied Confederate who proved more hospitable than the host. He had stayed in our lines in order to be with a Confederate officer, Gen. Sibley, who was dying. I walked into the middle room of the house, which was the "old folks'" bedroom. In front was a parlor, the floor covered with wounded men of both armies. As I lay on the floor with my head unsupported I felt as if my neck was breaking; and when a middle-aged woman came into the room I asked her to put something under my head, but she did not seem to understand. Luckily, as I was not in good condition for gesticulating, I knew enough German to say: "Etwas unter dem kopf," and she obligingly put some old matting under me.
The "old folks'" bedtime came rather early. Soon after the firing had ceased for the night my worthy German host and hostess came into my bedroom and climbed up on their high, fat bed. In the meantime each soldier lying in the house had adopted some kind of a sound which he repeated at pretty regular intervals. I can hear some of them now as I think of it. These smothered groans, and sighs and breathings-none of them very loud, but intense-recurred often enough to be rather depressing. Soon there were added to the strange concert a snore by the old man and another, a different one, by the old woman. And so we passed the night, each repeating his own note of endurance, and the "old folks" calmly sleeping through it all. The most painful sound was the word "water." I think it must have been that Confederate general who repeated it. The clock was just as unconcerned as its owners and struck the hours at immensely long intervals. I heard them all, and they were the only sounds I was glad to hear that night. My elderly roommates seemed much refreshed next morning, but I did not see anything more of them, as they went down cellar and very sensibly stayed there all the next day, which was the day of the artillery. Such a noise was made that I am not surprised that persons, especially nervous, sensitive people, should wish to avoid it. The younger woman brought me some chicken broth, or something like it, in the morning.
I dreaded another night in that old house. It quite swarmed with surgeons and chaplains that day, until some shells exploding quite near reminded those officers of duties which called them away. After dark, as I began to dread the chorus of wounded men, distressing through the day, but far more so in the still night, I was carted away in a racking ambulance and laid on straw near the creek. My roof was a sagging piece of canvas which, when saturated, conducted the rain directly upon me; and if on the next morning an old chaplain who knew me had not given me a full tumbler of whisky I think the 4th of July then dawning would have been my last.
"CHARLES E. SPRAGUE"
Home Normal School History Battles
The Men Memorial
The Men Memorial