Camp at Sharpsburg, Md.

August 5th - August 20th


Post War image of Sharpsburg - nps

Postwar view of Sharpsburg, Antietam National Battlefield


Introduction - What's On This Page

Historical Marker

    The regiment arrived in Sharpsburg, Md., August 5th, after a march of nineteen miles.  They went into camp about a mile from the town.  The regimental wagons soon arrived with the camp kettles and tents - after an absence of 4 days.

     The next day six companies were detached from the regiment and sent as follows to guard fords on the Potomac river:  A and B were sent to Antietam creek at its junction with the Potomac; C to Shepard's Island; E and H to Blackford's Ford*; and Co. I to Dam No. 4.

     Regiment Historian Charles E. Davis, jr. wrote that "relations with the people of Sharpsburg were very pleasant, and they did their best to prevent our departure."

* The ford is identified as Blackburn's Ford in the Regimental History "Three Years in the Army" by Charles E. Davis, Jr.  Blackburn's Ford is near Manassas, where Davis was badly wounded at the 2nd battle of Bull Run.  I think Davis confused the name when writing his history of the 13th Regiment.  Photo by Craig Swain. 

Whats On This Page

Map of the Fords around Sharpsburg

    John Viles (Band) & Oliver C. Walker, (Company C) describes the first of many difficult marches, - this time from Hagerstown to Harper's Ferry & then back again to Sharpsburg.  At Sharpsburg, the over-zealous recruits met the enemy for the first time and as Austin Stearns relates in his memoirs, the men couldn't resist the chance to shoot at the rebels.  Many also comment on being fired at, for the first time.  Stearns also details his first encounter with the popular government ration, 'hardtack.'

    Domestic concerns for his wife and family back home are chiefly on the mind of John Viles as expressed in his letters.  He also details the situation in camp and  its seclusion from the outside world.  The proper way to address mail is discussed by all the soldiers.

    On August 12th, Companies E and H crossed the Potomac River at Sheperdstown Ford & went on an excursion to arrest prominent secessionist, Alexander Boteler.  Col. Leonard however, orders his unconditional release and angers the zealous soldiers.  Private James Ramsey's letters express dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the volunteers and even speaks naively of requesting a discharge from the service.  Such was the attitude with many in these early days of war.  Corporal Cundy of Co A, gives a detailed account of life on the river, in a letter published in the Boston Transcript back home.  He mentions a large mill burned by the boys in Co. E or H on the Virginia side of the river.  Local Sharpsburg resident Jacob Miller laments the destruction of private property & expresses the hardships suffered by local residents caught between divisive civil factions and the army during the war.  Privates Albert Liscom and Oliver Walker both of Company C describe their new adventures in the army to family members back home.  Private  John Noyes of Company B, berates camp life at Antietam Ford - especially the fleas and details the march back towards Harper's Ferry on August 22nd.

"To add to the general disagreableness of the place the fleas in the straw bit intolerably & soon covered the bodies of the men with itching blotches..."

    Indeed the sudden change to  harsh conditions and exposure of army life took toll on many volunteers.  Records state my Great Great Grandfather, William Henry Forbush of Company K was sick with fever for a week while the regiment was here at Sharpsburg.

    This page ends with "A Midnight Ride" by Sergeant-Major Elliot C. Pierce, one of my favorite well-written stories from the 13th Regiment Association Circulars.

PICTURE CREDITS:  Photos of Blackford's Ford (also known as Boteler's Ford or Shepherdstown Ford) & Antietam Village were provided by Craig Swain who contributes to the website, Historical Marker Database; www.     The Biscoe Bros. photographs of Pleasant Valley & Sharpsburg are posted digitally at the SMU Central University Libraries, http://digitalcollections.smu.edu/all/cul/civ/ ;  Austin Stearns is from the book, "Three Years with Company K", Associated University Presses, 1976; John Viles portrait is from "A Face in the Crowd," by Leonard Traynor, Military Collector & Historian, (Fall, 2001), (p. 127-130);  Portrait of Alexander Boteler is from the website, "West Virginia Archives & History," www.wvculture.org; The portrait of James Ramsey was provided by Mr. Don Gage, a descendant;  William Cundy's portrait is from "In Memoriam - William Henry Cundy: Read Before the Franklin Typographical Society, March 4, 1897, Boston: Samuel Usher, 1897, accessed in the Collections at Army Heritage Education Center, [AHEC}  Carlisle, PA; Portrait of John B. Noyes is from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston; Portrait of Sergeant-Major Elliot C. Pierce, is from AHEC, Mass MOLLUS Collection;{ I cannot re-call the site from which I downloaded Captain James A. Fox of Company  A, but it was an on-line auction house);  All other images and maps are from the Library of Congress Digital Collections;  ALL IMAGES HAVE BEEN EDITED IN PHOTOSHOP.

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The Novelty of a Hard March - Letters of John Viles & O.C. Walker

    In the year 1884, T. Dwight Biscoe, with his brother Walter, took a trip through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland & Pennsylvania, touring Civil War battlefields.  They travelled in horse & buggy over many of the same roads the boys in the '13th Mass' once traversed, - again and again.  Southern Methodist University has posted 129 digital images of the  album on their DeGolyer Library website.  See picture credits above for the link.  All the photos are carefully labelled with location,  date and time of day the images were taken.

Pleasant Valley, Md

Pleasant Valley, Taken from a point half way up Maryland Heights, Taken August 4th, 10:15 a.m.  The View looks to Harper's Ferry with the Blue Ridge (South Mountain) on the left, and the Elk Range, (Maryland Heights)  on the right.

Letter of John Viles, Arranger of Music for the '13th Mass.' Band.

     John Viles was the arranger of music for the '13th Mass.' band.  His letters are deposited at the Army Heritage Education Center in Carlisle, PA.  I visited the center in 2012 and photographed the collection in order to transcribe the letters at home.  There are 110 in all. 

Sharpsburg Md –
Aug 6

    Dear Frank – The last time I wrote was from Hagarstown last Friday – wrote you two letters from there which I hope you received – about sunset of that day were on the march towards Harpers Ferry the roads were bad for Marching in the night but arrived at Boonesboro about 12 ock – Stoped on a large hilly piece of ground and the men lay in the open Air in thier blankets our Band have nothing but overcoats as the Knapsacks and blankets are behind somewhere we were well up to the Blue Ridge and it was quite chilly – took off my Shoes & Stockings and bathed my feet with water from my Canteen – we had Marched

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    10 Miles – put my bare feet in the open air to let them cool off and drawing the Coat Cape over my head I lay on the ground and was sound asleep at once – Sat Aug 3d  was roused up this morning by daylight to for Drum Call I had Slept Sound and on getting up felt rather Stiff at first – the field was covered with red Blankets – the men soon turned out and we were soon on the march again – as the sun came up over the Ridge it grew intensely hot – the men began to give out – the Ambulances were soon filled of which there are 10 or 12 and then all the Teams still the men continued to fall behind – we were halted a few minutes occasionally

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    for rest – encamped about noon in  a beautiful Grove in pleasant Valley through which we have been coming for the last 5 or 6 miles between the Blue Ridge and Elk Mountains – have marched to day 15 miles – not over 300 of the Reg’t came in at first – they came stragling in till next day – I was very tired but every one of the Band kept his place at the had of the column – next day (Sunday) a detachment of Webster’s Reg’t came over from the Potomac 3 miles distant to escort the Reg’t Tents were struck – Companies fell in and all was ready in time to march – when the order was countermanded – Tents were pitched and we were once more in camp – Monday Aug 5 This morning we were on the march back towards Boonsboro

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    before we Started I went to a House and got a good breakfast and found it Just the thing to march on – came back the Valley 6 or 8 miles to a favorable place in the Elk Range and crossed over to the other side – the men held out much better to day but a few were exhausted in crossing the Mountain – turned Southward and marched to this place (Sharpsburgh) and are encamped in a Splendid Grove on the Potomac good Spring water for drinking and bathing in the River or Canal which is on this side – since leaving Hagarstown Have marched 40 miles Strong – to day 16 miles were in center of Column to day and find it more dusty  marching   I have kept my place all the way – my feet are in good condition – feel toughened and hearty and have fairly astonished myself – I want you to write as soon as you

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    receive this as I would want to hear from all of you very much – have written to Ayers telling him I would send him the first money I rec’d – the Waltham Boys are all well – I find many in Reg’t that I know – we may be here here for some time  but it’s uncertain – you must direct your letter in this way

John Viles
13th Reg’t Band
Mass Volunteers
Gen’ Banks Div


Pleasant valley - another view looking south

Another view from the Biscoe Bros., "Looking Down Pleasant Valley, South, Maryland Heights on Right and South Mt. on left.  Monday, August 4th 1884, 9:00 a.m."


Letter of Oliver Walker, Company C

     Oliver H. Walker's quietly compelling letters have a quality that quickly draws readers into the personal world and experiences of the soldier.  Only three of his  letters are in the collection of the Western Maryland Room at the Hagerstown Library in Washington County, Maryland.  I am grateful to the staff there for voluntarily sharing them with me.

 

Aug. 5th 1861
Direct -  Oliver H. Walker Co. C. Capt Kurtz 13th Reg’t
Mass Vol. Col Leonard Gen. Banks’ Division
Harper’s Ferry Va

                         In Camp  Hagerstown Md Aug 2nd 

Dear Father and Mother

                         I take an early moment after our arrival in Camp to write to you, as I told you that I would lose no time in letting you know of my whereabouts.  We made our first stop at Worcester, and took a  good march through the streets and there partook of a collation in the City Hall.  We started again at 9 oclock and reached Allyson’s Point and took the steamboat in good time, it was quite a foggy night and we made slow progress and arrived in New York at 11 A.M.  Tuesday, we marched directly to the Park and after a rest we partook of a collation in the Barracks and then were at liberty to stroll round as we pleased.  I at once called on Cousin Frances and Frank, Jr.  they were much surprised to see me but gave me their best wishes, we soon left the city by Camden & Amboy R.R., Steamer to Phila. Where we arrived at about 2 A.M. Here we went to a large building where most bountiful refreshments were spread before us by a committee of ladies and gentlemen who are always  ready whenever any of the volunteers pass through the City and furnish them with hot coffee and all sorts of  solid food, we voted the Philadelphians to be the best people we had met on all the routs.  It was about 3 ‘oclock when we started for our march across the city, and we marched for about 2 hours, and then halted at the Harrisburgh depot in West Phila. Here we dumped our knapsacks and equipments, in a large field and proceeded to wash up.  Some of us went over to the city and obtained a good breakfast, and about 11 oclock we started for Harrisburg, on the road one of our teamsters was knocked off the train and severely injured but the surgeons hope for recovery.  We proceeded after a short stop at Harrisburg to this place and reached the depot at about 2 in the morning in an awful thunder storm. 

    We stayed in the cars till daylight and after several delays came to our Camping ground where we speedily pitched our tents and became as comfortable as you please.  We have very good water and a splendid place for bathing -

    In camp near Sharpsburg Md AugSt 6th

    A sudden call to strike tents compelled me to suspend my writing on Friday last, and since then up to this moment I have had no time to resume.  We commenced our march toward Harper’s Ferry at sunset on Friday, and marched 10 miles over a horrible road to Boonesboro’ where the Government and rebel troops had a conflict not long since.  We turned into an open field and bunked on the bare ground without blanket or covering, at daylight we we(re) roused again. Weary and sore enough.  I went to a water course and bathed my feet and soaked my head and was so much refreshed that when the order came to move, I started much fresher than on the previous day.  The sun grew very hot and after marching about 13 miles we halted in a beautiful grove near some very fine water.  Our commissary department has been somewhat disordered and our meals were not served regularly but we managed to get along very well, we lay in Camp in Pleasant Valley over Sunday P.M. we were ordered to march to Genl. Bank’s Camp some 1 or 2 miles off.  Two companies of Col Webster’s Reg’t came down to escort us, our tents were struck the wagons were sent on  ahead, and the regimental line was formed and just as we were ready to march an order came from Head-quarters to march on special service.  So arms were stacked, and we lay down on the grass, waiting to move, as we had our rations to eat? some? of? the boys were up all night cooking and at daylight we were waked, ate our breakfast and at 7 oclock were on the road.  We marched with long rests, some 20 miles, and at sunset halted at this spot a few rods from the Potomac, in a most charming country with abundance of splendid water, and now our life of danger is to commence; our pickets and scouts are out along the river and this morning a rebel prisoner was brought in by two of the guards. We are to be divided off by company to morrow and sent to nine?? points on the river, for picket duty.  Our Captain says? that our Co. will have a fine situation. I like the? life thus? far very much, it agrees with me and I am very tough and hearty, have sometimes been to tired  to eat with much appetite, but have been very well, not even an attack of diarrhea has troubled me.  You shall hear from me as often as I can find time to write.  I forgot to tell you that a friend of mine in Boston sent me 10 dollars rec’d it to day with delight.

    With much love as ever Oliver

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Austin Stearn's account of Sharpsburg.

     The following is from Sergeant Austin Stearn's Memoirs "Three Years with Company K" published 1976; Fairleigh Dickenson Press, Arthur Kent editor; pages 20-23; used with permission.

   Sergeant Austin Stearns We formed a camp at Sharpsburg, or about a mile from it, in a piece of woods.

     The first night we were here, there was an alarm given.  I was on guard at the time, and Pat Cleary, who was on the next beat, fired at what he always afterward declared to be a man. I saw and heard nothing. The men turned out and after a few moments were dismissed.

     A day or two afterward a hog was found badly wounded in a wheatfield, which bounded our camp on one side.

     We were sent out on picket toward the Potomac, with orders to keep a strict watch of the opposite shore. While out at one time with Corporal Stone and Henry Gassett, after spending the day alone, a squad from Company F was sent out to lengthen the line, with orders to keep a strict watch all night as the enemy might be expected at any moment.

     Corporal Stone posted his men at places about ten rods apart. As my post was on the line and next to the other Company, he spent most of his time at the other post.  Along in the night, well toward the small hours, as I was sitting on a rail, the man at my right fired.  I jumped up, expecting we were attacked and ready to run if need be.  Stone came up to see what the matter was and went to the man who fired.  He said he saw a man coming up from the woods and “let fire at him.”

     The Corporal went back to his post, and I sat down.  Soon the man fired again. To the enquiry as to what he saw, he said “I saw horsemen coming up from the woods.”  His shots must have frightened them all away, for he saw them no more.

    In the morning an old horse was seen down in that direction.  As he was unhurt, we were never satisfied whether he was the target or not.  No one for a moment would entertain the thought that a man of the13th was so nervous he couldn’t hit a horse.

     Company D was sent down to the mouth of Antietam Creek. While there a squad went over into Virginia and captured Alexander R. Boteler – a former member of Congress, but now a Secessionist.  He was brought to camp and sent down toward the headquarters of General Banks.  Before reaching there he was released by order of the President.

Hardtack sketch by Winslow Homer

     Our food was not of the best kind, or it was a little different from what we had been accustomed to – perhaps that was it.  Our hardtack - about the first we had issued to us – was rightly named hard.  It came in round cakes about as large as a saucer and about half an inch thick; to brake it was impossible; water made but very little impression on it.

     I saw some that had been soaked twenty four hours; when scraped with a knife, just a little could be started from the outside.  With downcast looks we surveyed this article of food.  To us it ment but one thing if we tried to masticate or swallow it whole.  The boys said that Perry carried it with him to Japan for balls for his cannon; as he had no occasion to use them, they were issued by mistake to the infantry for food when they were intended as balls for the artillery.  Those who saw the boxes said they were marked B.C. 2400; that would bring it back to Noah’s time. I cannot vouch for this. The citizens used to visit the camp with their fried cakes and Maryland pies to sell.  To appreciate a Maryland pie, one must eat it.  One of some kinds would be a great plenty.

     On the whole, our stay at Sharpsburg was a pleasant one.  About the first of September we were ordered to join General Banks at Darnstown. 

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Letters of John Viles - Arranger for the Band

John Viles

    Viles' position in the regiment gives him a unique perspective on things, almost like a civilian observer.  He did not play an instrument with the band, so he did not have to participate in the morning and evening duties at dress parade, etc. Nor did he have the added burden of doing guard duty or participating in drills.  Still he followed the fortunes of the regiment and suffered many of the same hardships of the rank and file.  The arrangement of music kept him busy for a long while, but in time, when that work was done, he had little to do.  

    His letters are written to his wife "Franky," whom he addressed as "Frank."  He had three children, a baby girl Fannie, and two sons, Franky and Gene,  the son Gene, quite a bit older.  Domestic concerns take up the greater portion of content in the letters.  He  was concerned for his wife's well-being at home, alone with the three children.  The fact that times were hard came up frequently, and it was clear John appreciated the fact that he was receiving regular pay with his fortunate position in the army, although he missed his family.

MD
Sharpsburg – Sat 11th AUG

    Dear Frank – We are Still in Camp here and from present appearances are likely to be so for Some time – each day goes on very much alike.  The rations - which for some time were all out of Joint are now regular and we are dong very well.  I was rather tired for 2 or 3 days after we come to this place but am now entirely over it – we have marched over 40 Miles since leaving Hagarstown – only 4 Co’s are here in Camp – the other 6 are up and down the River Skirmishing –

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    I have nothing to write this time as every thing goes on so so each day – we are where we hear very little news and get a Paper very seldom  I hope I shall get a letter from you in a few days – I want to hear from you all very much it is the only thing I feel anxious about.  I want to know how you are getting along and want you to write me all the particulars – I saw in a Baltimore paper the other day – that the 14th & 15th Mass were to start Tuesday or Wed of this week – so I presume the 16th has not left yet.  I am afraid the 3 dollars pr week which you

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    are entitled to on my account will be insufficient to get along with and I hope you will be able to get something on Ned  the Chaplain – who has charge of the Mail department tells me that it takes 3 or 4 days for a letter to go through     I wrote you last Tuesday so you ought to have it by this time.  I believe this is the 5th time I have written since I started – I told you in the  last about the address – direct

13th Reg’t Band – M.V.
Gen Banks Div

no need of naming town or State

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    If you can send me a paper I should like it.  no one can get outside the lines without a pass and time goes off rather heavy Sometimes – there are but very few sick here – the water we have to drink is excellent – the Camp is on high ground with a large Spring at the foot of the hill of Splendid cold water but as it comes from Limestone Soil we sometimes put a little vinegar with it to prevent it being injurious – it is quite a Steep ascent from the road to the Camping ground and the Horses could not draw up some of the heavy teams – they were taken off a long rope procured and filled with men and the waggons brought up in double quick regular drill and dress parade commenced yesterday which makes me think we are to be here some time   Yours very Truly  J.V.

August 15, 1861

    Money for the support of his family back home was a constant theme of John's letters.  In the regimental history Charles Davis, jr. wrote: 

Saturday, Aug. 17, Sharpsburg.
     Word having been received that Mr. James Ritchie had arrived at Harper’s Ferry, with money from the State for services at Fort Independence, a detail of twenty men from D and ten from K was sent to that place to meet him, starting at 2 A.M. with an ambulance and wagon.  The distance was fourteen miles, to Maryland heights, where Mr. Ritchie was found. They reached camp, on their return, before dark and all was joy.

Sunday, Aug. 18.
      Paid off.  A good day and a good deed.  We were glad the State recognized our great services at the fort, though $11 per month, to be sure, was not a high price for a laborer who is worthy of his hire.

Sharpsburg Th’ Aug 15
1861

    Dear Frank – Your letter was rec’d last night and I never was more glad of any thing in my life – I have had so much fears that some of you might be sick – I beg you will not have any anxiety for me in regard to clothing – the rest of our baggage came along here last week – I have taken a change of Drawers & Shirts Pants – 2 prs of Stockings – Shoes – Woolen & Rubber Blankets – Towels – in Short every thing I want. the Shoes the Stockings are quite heavy and Shoes very wide and easy for my feet and if I’d had them in that long march I Should have don it much easier.

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    I writing to me hereafter you’d better not name any Town or State in the address – it would be all right to direct Letters to Sharpsburgh so long as I am here – but in case the Reg’t Should move to another place it might cause much delay and possibly I might not receive it at all.  All Letters which are directed to any Reg’t are first sent to Washington then dispatched to headquarters of Whatever Div and then afterwards to the Reg’t to which it is addressed – by your letter being directed to Sharpsburgh it was received a day soon on account of not being detained at head-quarters – but if we had moved before it reached here – it

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    would at best have been 2 or 3 days later   For the last 3 or 4 days it has been quite cool here – my thick Clothing came Just in time – before the weather changed – it was the most comfortable to sleep in the open air but we have had a few quite chilly nights and we occupy the Tents – we have the ground well covered with straw – also the Beds well filled and Tents being double it makes so warm that we sometimes have to leave the front part open – The Pigs and Hogs run at large all over the woods here of which there are great numbers in the camping ground – tell Franky that the old Hog with a whole lot of little pigs come and look into the Tent in the

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    night when we are asleep – they are quite tame and are prowling around all night – I suppose the Beans must be grown by this time – there is one kind I mean the farthest off front the House that are for String and are not fit to gather till they turn yellow and look as if they had gone to Seed.  tell Gene to dig the Potatoes next to Cloughs Fence first As you want them to eat – I hope the Tomatoes are doing something but I fear they wont if you have not had rain – About getting the relief mony from Ned’s enlistment – I think you ought to have it a dollar a week each for Fanny & Gene at least – we depended on his labor for Support of

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    of the Family as well as my own – all his earnings went for that purpose except a trifle now and then and he was out of School a whole year and almost the whole of what he earned went for that purpose.  The Family have been deprived of the labor of both persons on which it depends for support – I don’t see how you can get along through the winter – using economy – with less than $5. pr week – in Summer perhaps you could do with a little less – whenever we are paid off I shall send forward the Money for House rent – and for paying Kate?  I think it was $8 – we owed her.  I set down in my Book at the date she left – it is impossible to tell when or

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    how often we Shall be paid Congress – I believe - has passed a Law to pay the Troops Monthly – but I don’t think it will amount to much – and when I find out where Ned is - I Shall write him to send on a part of his – About the Baby’s name I never thought of it coming away in so much hurry – perhaps the name of Lilla Frances would do – and Franky’s name might be Frank Thornton – but you can do Just as you like about it.  I don’t know how long we shall be here Some say we are going down the River 3 or 4 Miles to Shepardstown but probably it is all talk – give my respects to Mrs Farwell

Yours Very Truly J.V.

The Arrest of Alexander Boteler

     On August 11, a detail of men from Companies E & H crossed the Potomac River into Virginia to arrest former Congressman & prominent Secessionist Alexander Boteler.  It was these kinds of raids, and the build up of Federal troops along the border that prompted frustrated secessionists residing in this part of Virginia, including Boteler,  to petition Confederate Authorities to post a regular military force in the area. In late October this was done, and Confederate General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson was ordered to Winchester.  Until then, there were only loose bands of Confederate Cavalry led patroling the river, led most notably by Lt.-Col. Turner Ashby.

Roxbury City Gazette; August 15, 1861;
pg. 2, col. 7.

Camp Leonard.
August 10, 1861.

Opposite Shepardstown, Va.,

              In my last I mentioned we had orders to go to Shepardstown, and to stop all contraband trade, between Maryland and Virginia.  On our second day here, which was Wednesday, we took a prize, consisting of a wagon, two horses and a load of groceries.  The boys are in great glee on account of their prize, but Major Gould disappointed them by ordering them to let the man go, he being a Union man – what right had he to be trading with the rebels?  Our present location is one of much importance, and lies on the Potomac river.  Opposite us the rebels were recently encamped, and we can see their forts, and the bridge which they burned when they left is close by us.  This is the only place where the river can be crossed, and the most of their provisions must go across this way.  We expect to have some fighting before we get away from here.  Our camp is situated on a high hill, overlooking the river and the surrounding country for miles, the town is a smart looking place, but there are any quantity of rebels in it, including a number of their leaders, some of whom we are trying to catch.  We do not care about going across the river at present.  We expect to stay here a fortnight.  It is almost impossible to write much now, as we are in confusion, and have not yet got fairly settled.  Our food continues bad, and I hope to be able to report a favorable change in my next.

            All friends of the soldiers had better direct to 13th Reg’t. Mass. Vol., Gen. Bank’s division, naming no place, and they will be full as likely to come straight here.  There is but very little sickness in the regiment; the young man who got knocked off the cars is doing well and will ultimately recover.

Your friend,

Rifles.


Boteler's Ford

Boteler's  Ford from the Virginia side looking toward Maryland.  Photo by Craig Swain

Roxbury City Gazette, August 22

    Members of Company E [Captain Charles M. Pratt] and Company  H [Captain William Clark] captured Alexander Boteler at his home near Shepardstown, WVA.   Boteler was a U.S. Congressman in 1861 who went with his state when it seceded and became a Confederate States congressman.  Later in the war Colonel Boteler was an aide to Confederate General Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson.  His house was burned to the ground by Union Major General David Hunter's men in 1864, destroying valuable books, records and portraits.   This information on Boteler comes from the book "The Civil War in Washington County Maryland" A guide to 66 points of interest;  by Charles S. Adams, revised edition, 2001.

Roxbury City Gazette; August 22, 1861
pg. 2, col. 5.

Our Army Correspondence.

Camp Leonard, on the Potomac,
August 13, 1861

            Dear H. – You know I told you in my last letter that we were going to catch some of the secession rebels.  Well, last night Captain Pratt received orders to take thirty men from his company and as many more from Captain Clarke’s company, and go to Shepardstown, on the other side of the river in Virginia, and capture some of the prominent rebels, among whom was the Hon. Alex. Boteler.  We started about one o’clock, and went down to the canal, and paddled ourselves across to a small bank, then we had to wade through the water, which was three feet deep, the rest of the way.  After we had reached the shore we loaded our rifles and then started on the road which runs parallel with the river.  We had not gone but a short distance, when our column halted, and word came to our Captain that two men on horseback wished to see him, and he went forward.  It was thought to be an advance guard of some cavalry company, as it was very dark at the time.  We could hear the Captain’s voice cry “Who comes here?”  The reply was; “a doctor going to visit a patient, with his messenger.”  They were examined to see if they were armed, and asked if they were Union men.  They did not like this, and a guard of six men, under Serg. Scott, was detailed to keep them where they were, and then our column started on its way, going over hills and through cornfields, for about four miles, when we arrived at the house of Boteler.  Our men were placed quietly around the building, and then we went up to the door and knocked. [Alexander Boteler, pictured].

Alexander Boteler

            “Who comes there?” inquired a female voice at the window.

            “Some gentlemen wish to see Mr. Boteler.” was the reply.

            “No man in the house.” was the answer from the woman, “and you ought not to come here to disturb unprotected females.” she continued sobbing aloud.

            “You must come down and open the door, or we shall be under the necessity of forcing it open.” said our officer.

            All this time Boteler was looking for a place to get out an escape, but our guard were on every side, and he could not find a chance, and came to the window and asked what we wanted.  We said to him “Thou art the man.” and he asked “on what authority?”

            “On the authority of the United States.” was the answer.

            “Can you show it to me?” inquired Boteler.

            “Yes; come down to the door.”

            He came down, and we gently whispered in his ear “thou art now our prisoner.”

            He was dreadful mad, and said “only our superior force would make him surrender.”

            Our officers then went into the house and told him to get ready to depart with us, which he did, and in about one hours’ time, after bidding his family adieu, we started for our camp, calculating to capture a few more rebels on our way, but our time was so short, and we so far in the rebel’s country, and besides it was almost morning and we thought it best to go directly towards our quarters; so we come right through the town, released the prisoners left in charge of Serg. Scott on our way, and got home at five o’clock in the morning.  Major Gould and Capt. Pratt took horses and a file of men, and carried the prisoner to Col. Leonard.  The Col. did not say much, but after waiting all day for him to decide what to do with him, he concluded he would have to let him go, because the orders from Gen. Banks were to the effect that no person should be arrested without orders from headquarters, or in extreme cases, unless the person was armed.  This was a hard blow for us, and all kinds of threats have been made in regard to the shooting of Boteler, who is called one of the smartest men in this part of country; he was a strong Union man until the late election in Virginia, when he joined the secessionists, since which time he has been bitterly opposed to the Unionists here.  He has been a member of Congress, and is now one of the most violent opposers of the Union in the South, and I fear it will turn out that it was a great mistake in letting him go.

Pony.

[Digital Transcription by James Burton]

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Letters of James Ramsey, Company E. 

    Historian Charles E. Davis, Jr. noted in the regimental history, on August 2nd :

    "A good deal of complaint was heard to-day because of the short allowance of food provided us on leaving Hagerstown.  As we received nothing more from the government until our arrival at Pleasant Valley, thirty-six hours afterwards, we were forced to draw on our own resources - "The almighty dollar.”  According to letters, written at this time, we continued in much trouble about the matter of rations until after our arrival at Darnestown.  It is very probable that our discontent was largely, if not wholly, due to the sudden change to army rations."

    Private Ramsey's letters express this discontent.  The new recruits felt ill-used by the government, considering they had given up much on the government's behalf, to be  volunteer soldiers.

Banks of the Potomac Wed. Aug 15th 1861

Private James Ramsey, Co E

    Dear Mother I am very well I should have written before but I have not felt much like writing something has made me feel as though I was coming home soon.  When we had taken Alexander Boetler and had exposed our lives doing so and then to see him set at liberty the men all felt like going home two of them have gone already.  He is the biggest rebel leader in Virginia.  When the people heard that our company had captured him they were all glad of it.  In Sharpsburg the people raised the stars and stripes.  Everybody said we had got the right man.  He had ordered the bridge across the Potomac river at Sheppardstown to be burnt.  All of the people in the vicinity dislike the Col. for giving him his liberty.  Our company all hate him.  About 30 of our men and 30 of company H forded the river and traveled about 6 miles across the country to Boetlers house.  When they took him he asked them who they were and when he was told they belonged to the 13th Mass Regt. he said Massachusetts men “come here to take me.”  When they came back to the camp with him they passed through Sheppardstown where they’re was a hundred armed men. Yesterday after dinner there was a guerrilla band of rebels opposite us on the bluffs they fired three shots at us but did not do any damage to us, we sent for reinforcements and they arrived last evening. Last night they doubeled the guard at the ford and along the river, they also sent out pickets in all directions.  I was sent out twords (sic) the west with three other men we went about one mile two of us would watch while the others would sleep.  There is some excitement just now we expect an attack from the rebels but I gess they will get the worst of it.  The folks around here think the war will not last long.  I should like to be back now but I am willing to stay.  I thought of asking the Col. [for] my discharge but I do not believe he would give it to me so I will have to be contented here I suppose I am homesick but I will have to get used to it some time  I might as well get used to it now as never.  I have not seen Joe Halstrick for some time he is about 8 miles further up the river at another ford.

  Give my
love to all.

Kiss Hugh for me

P.S.  Send some papers I should like to read the news.  Direct your letters and papers to
Jas. F. Ramsey.
Company E  13th Regt Mass Vol.
Banks Division.

P.S.  I read your gift about every day.


Letter of James Ramsey; August 18th 1861.

Bridgeport, Md. Aug 18th 1861.

Dear Mother.

 I am well I received your letter this afternoon and was glad to hear from home   I have been expecting a letter some time   I received a letter from Nellie the other day.  She said that she got that letter I wrote to her too late to see me she said she little thought when she saw the steamboat with the 13th Regt that I was with them.  If you write to her you can direct your letters to the care of Mrs Johnston 687 3d Avenue New York city N.Y.  I have written to her she said she had heard that you were all well by Jerry.  She said her father was trying to get a Quarter Masters berth in Lesley’s guard. I am sorry to hear that you are unwell. There is nothing you can send me except papers.  I would [like] a herald every day and perhaps some weekly paper once and a while.  There is nothing I can write about now except the rebels I told you about in my last letter have all disappeard  last night one of our Ostlers was fired upon while coming from head quarters on horse back one of the balls passed through the visor of his cap. Most of our company went in swimming in the Potomac river this morning  when we go in the river we have a body guard with loaded rifles  there are rifle pits dug on this side of the river to pick off the rebels with   I have got a piece of the burnt bridge at Sheppardstown.  I will send you a piece of it with a flower I got this morning.  Sundays the slaves have a holiday in Va, they come down to the river and watch the proceedings in our camp.  I was on guard. We have to go on guard every other day and it comes very hard.  They say it is only a report it may be true that we are to be sworn in again at Washington and that the President had no authority by congres to swear us in if it is true I will not be sworn in for I do not think the U.S. government comes up to its agreements  we do not have half our rations and the men grumble.  When they have got the 13th Regiment to deal with they have not got the ruff scuff of the city that most regiments have got but they have got men that have got good education and are gentlemen so they had better look out for them selves.  I cannot think of any thing more to write about except the boys are all well.  I must bid you good bye

    From your son.
                   James.


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The Burning of the Mill at Shepherdstown Ford

William Cundy, post-war portrait

    Pictured is a post war image of William Cundy from an 1897 biography. He was born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, June 13, 1832.  He apprenticed as a printer in Bangor, Maine, then moved to Boston where he worked for several newspapers.  He was active in local militia from 1850 - 1861.  He joined the 13th as part of the 4th Battalion and served in the field through 1861.  In 1862 he served as a recruiter for the regiment in Massachusetts.  After receiving a commission in the 41st Regiment, he transferred to the 40th Mass, in September 1862.  He joined that regiment in the field in October, was promoted to Captain in January, 1863, and served 6 months before returning north on recruiting duty in July, 1863.  He returned to the field in the fall, but failing health forced him to transfer to the Veteran Reserve Corps.  After the war he worked as a real-estate broker and was active in the State Legislature.

    Private John B. Noyes identifies Corporal Cundy of Company A, as the author of  this detailed letter to the Boston Transcript regarding picket duty on the River at Sharpsburg.  The veracity of this account is vouched for by the intrepid Harvard Graduate Private John B. Noyes, Company B.  Noyes wrote to his father, 

    "You will find a very interesting letter in the Transcript of Aug. 22d written by Corpl. Cundy of Co. A.  It gives a fine account of our experience at Antietam minus the fleas.  The fire he mentions was that of a mill in Virginia from which shots were fired at us.  I do not know who set it on fire.  Perhaps a union man.  The blaze was magnificent."  (Houghton Library, Harvard University; Ms Am2332 (09))

   

Boston Daily Evening Transcript, Thursday, August 22, 1861.

Camp Independence
Anteitam [sic] Creek, near the Potomac,
August, 1861.

    The Thirteenth Regiment.  To the Editor of the Transcript:   After all the letters that have been written home by the “boys” of the 13th, and the very full details given therein of our journey thus far, it seems hardly possible for me to write anything which will in any way interest your readers.  But knowing very well that the regiment, - more especially the 4th battalion, - have very many friends in Boston and its vicinity, who would be happy to see a letter from it every day; and with this impression on my mind, I will send you a few lines.

    As you are aware, our regiment has been detailed for special duty.  Four companies are at the headquarters, near Sharpsburg, where the Colonel and his staff are; the other six companies are thrown along the Potomac, extending over a distance of twelve miles, at intervals of two and four miles, for the purpose of guarding the fords and watching roads.  Co. A, Capt. Fox, and B, Capt. Cary, are here – the former officer in command of the post.  Our tents are pitched upon a side hill, about half a mile from the river – the position commanding a good view of the river and of the camps of Cos. E and H, who are further up.  We are about 70 miles from Washington.  While speaking of the latter companies, I am reminded that they made an important arrest the other day, in the person of Ex-Congressman Boteler of Va.   A detachment of about sixty men from the two companies went over upon the “sacred soil,” and finding out the residence of Mr. B., invited him to accompany them to the other side, - which he did, but rather reluctantly, and not without remarking, the he “would rather be shot than to be taken.”  To which Capt. Pratt (co. E) replied, that “it made but little difference to him which he preferred, and would just as soon do the one as the other.”  But I am sorry to say the boys could not keep him.  Boteler was taken to headquarters, kept one day and a night, and then discharged.  This vexed us exceedingly; for in this arrest we thought we had a “big thing;” but orders are orders; and it appears that such were had from Gen. Scott, or somebody else, to discharge him.  Poor, deluded soldiers, in making this arrest!

Captain James A. Fox, Company A

    The outpost guard of A and B is stationed on the bank of the Potomac, to guard the ford at this point.  On Wednesday afternoon last the men on this guard, while off duty, and while engaged in reading, writing, sleeping, &c., beneath the shades of some walnuts here growing – what do you think?  perhaps you have heard? a volley of musketry suddenly aroused them!  Bang! bang! About a dozen times, in quicker time than I can write it, brought every one to his feet, and into position for the enemy.  Your humble servant was asleep, (having been on guard the night before,) and it did not take many shots to awake him and get his left eye in working order, I can assure you.  As soon as the first shots were heard at the camp, down ran everybody – cook, wagoners, and sick men – accompanied by Capt. Fox and Lieuts. Hoag and Bush, (Lieut. Sampson was officer of the guard, and was on the ground; Capt. Cary and Lieut. Neat had gone to visit Cos. F. and H with fifty men.)  Capt. Fox had a rifle on his shoulder when I saw him, and was “as cool as a cucumber” – (you had probably heard that he is cool.)  [Captain James A. Fox, Company A, pictured].  Upon hearing the first reports, the sentinels all ran in, and with those at the guard tent, took position behind trees, while the others lay themselves down on the banks of the canal and made a cover of bushes, to await the second note from “Mr. Secesh.”  Again deluded soldier!  “Mr. S.” came no more!

    The first of our men up saw several individuals on the island, opposite our camp, which covers the Virginia shore at this point, and “let drive” at them.  We sent about thirty leaden messengers into the tall corn where they were seen; but whether they did their duty or not, I am unable to say.  At any rate, we (the senders) did ours.  Our boys behaved well from the first shot – no bustle, no noise, nor anything of the sort; but every man, as if by previous knowledge, grasped his rifle, and was ready.  We waited for an hour or so, to hear from “secesh” again, but he came not, nor even did he inform us that he was going to leave, that we might resume our little devotions.  One round musket ball struck the bank about twenty feet tot the left of where your correspondent was asleep, which ball was afterwards dug out, and is now in the possession of a member of Company B, and no doubt highly prized as a relic.  Another ball struck near it.  The first ball came within three feet of one of our men, and was considered a narrow escape.  Most of the shots went over our heads.  While awaiting a second volley, some of our boys took out their pipes and had a smoke, while two men, under cover of a walnut tree, positively exchanged pants with each other, having struck up a trade while standing there.  I have given this little affair in detail, knowing that the wives, mothers, sisters, lovers, brothers and fathers of all would like to have the particulars.  We now have rifle pits dug on the top of the bank, and are better ready to receive them the next time they see proper to come.  We have since learned that the party who fired upon us were the “Jackson Avengers,” of Ellsworth notoriety.

    Charles Hale, Esq., has just passed our camp for headquarters; I should like to have seen him, but being on guard, cannot.

    Our “boys” are in good health, generally, although this is a bad season for us (hot days and cold nights).  The duty is heavy now, but we expect another company soon to reinforce us.  We are willing and ready to serve the country, and do not wish to be forgotten by the State we represent.  If our commander calls for volunteers for extra hazardous duty, more always offer than are wanted.  Our camp is called “Camp Independence,” in memory of the many happy hours we have spent at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor.”  I have written this letter with a piece of board for a desk, and as the sun has gone down over the hills in “Ole Virginny,” I will bid you good evening.

Monday, Aug. 19.

    After closing the previous letter to you, on Sunday morning, our scouts, sent out the night previous, returned.  They went nearly to Sandy Hook, but report having seen no rebels.  At the close of inspection yesterday morning, the men were all dismissed until 2 o’clock, when the line was formed for divine service.  In the absence of our regular chaplain, Brevet Major Fox officiated.  The services consisted of reading a chapter from the New Testament, selections form the Psalms; singing the first verse of “America” by the two companies; reading a portion of the Episcopal church service; and closed by the whole repeating the Lord’s Prayer.  Simple as this service may seem, it was the most impressive to me that I have witnessed since we have been organized.

    At the conclusion of our religious ceremonies Major Fox commenced the reading of the Article of War, but before he had time to go through them, Colonel Leonard arrived, with Chaplain Gaylord and Hon. Mr. Ritchie, the latter having with him what some of us have so long needed – money.  Since then we have been paid off, and a richer battalion you have never seen than ours appears to be.  It was wonderful to behold how joyful it made us all.

    Our Chaplain acts as postmaster for the regiment, and we all feel much indebted to him for many acts of kindness in this line.  He is the “right man in the right place,” and “right glad” are we to have him with us.  A subscription is on foot in the e regiment to purchase for him a horse with equipments, and I doubt not before I write to you again he willl be a mounted Chaplain and Postmaster.

    Recently, on the Virginia shore, opposite to the camp of companies E and H, a number of horse-men have been seen, apparently reconnoitering – and making their rendezvous in an old mill hard by, where they shelter themselves.  In this mill they may have been erecting a masked battery for aught we knew; and, to stop their sport, last night, a detachment from the above camp set fire to and destroyed it, - the smoke from which I now see as I write.  The fire made a splendid show, lighting up the hills for miles around. Not a breath of air was stirring, and in one grand column ascended flames, sparks and smoke for hundreds of feet.

    A foraging party, sent out last night, have just returned to camp, brining with them four beef “critters,” one of which, before I can mail this letter, will be served up for dinner.  They belonged to one of the “F.F. V.,” who had them pastured on this side of the Potomac.

C.

    Blackford's Ford on the Potomac River near Sharpsburg (the place where Companies E & H did picket duty) is known by 3 other names; Shepherdstown Ford, Boteler's Ford and it's oldest Indian name, Pack Horse Ford.  In a letter to his daughter, Sharpsburg resident Jacob Miller mentions the burning of a large mill across from the ford while Companies E (Captain Charles Pratt) & H (Captain William Clark) of the13th Mass were camped there.  The letter in general relates the chaos the war brought to the local residents.  The handwritten Jacob Miller letters were typed by Jan Wetterer and given to the Western Maryland room of the Hagerstown Library, in November, 1994.  Originals are on file at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center.  I quote only a portion of this letter that deals with the 13th Mass.  I have eliminated hyphenated words and changed the double s's which were written as f's.

Letter of Jacob Miller, Resident of Sharpsburg 

Sharpsburg, August 20th, 1861

Dear Christian & Amelia and Child

Your letters

of the 16th July to Sevilla & Jacobs to me came duly to hand.  I would have wrote sooner but for this confused warfare which absorbs the minds of almost everybody and mine with the rest.  You are all dear to me in my old age Some of which I have not yet seen but I would be glad to see you all once more if it could so happen.  I always calculated on getting out to Iowa and Illenouse and I think I would have been out before this had I not got into those difficulties in money matters, but now I have my doubts whether it will ever happen.  although my helth and strength at this time would be good anough to make the journey.  but this black republean warefare has thrown everything into confusion but I cannot complain of being much molested by the troops although they encampt in one of my fields twice but only for a night at a time (these ware the northeren troops) the Southern troops ware encamped at Shepherdstown for severeal months during which time our dis union party ware verry uneasy they feared them berry much I did not fear either party but I dreded some of our rowdies in town the[y] called us ceessionists and so reported us to the notheren troops and expected to see us all arrested when the northeren troops came on

(page 2)

but they ware disapointed the officsers said they did not intend to molest any one on account of theer politicle opinon after they ware hear a while they ware better pleased with the democrats than with the Union or dis Union party

as we call them and prove them to be such by being in favour of the war which is disunion it Self  there can be no union between two parties when war exists between them. - There was rather a novelty occured hear sometime since when the first Regiment came into are neighbourhood.  they had thought of incamping in my field but the first days march from Hagerstown brought them to Snivelys three miles from hear where they struck their tents a fiew days after the General & his aides five or Six in number came on to town rode down [the] street to the square and inquired for me and where I lived my house was pointed out to them when they all started off in a gallup back to my house.  this was late on friday evening when the square of the town was full of these disunion boys with their ears cocked up expecting to see me arrested when about twenty or thirty came running up but to their sad disappointment the General handed me a letter of introduction and then said he would be glad to see me up at his camp tomorrow when I thanked him and said I would try and get up when they roda-off but stil left these disunionists in the dark not knowing what the letter contained. - the next morning I went up to the Camp Helen went with me she took

(page 3)

a large bocade of flours along for the General with which he appeared to be much pleased we staid in his Markee about an hour talking with the General and Mager when we took leave of them took  aview of the encampment then came of[f] home - there has been a Masichusets Regiment encampt on Captn D. Smiths farm in the woods above Grove's Spring for the last two weaks a part of which ware encamped oposit the big Mill on Billy Blackfords land.  but Sunday night the big Mill was burned down it is generally thought the northeren troops fiered it, but the[y] deny it.  The Southern troops burned the Harpersferry & Shepherdstown bridges before they left for Martinsburg & Winchester

(the letter continues on for another 1 1/2 pages).

Letter of James Ramsey

   According to this letter the mill was burned Sunday, August 18th 1861.  William Cundy,  John B. Noyes & James Ramsey mention it in letters home.  Noyes's Company B had been posted a couple of miles away from the ford at Antietam Village and did not know who was responsible for the burning of the mill, but mentioned it the letter to his father, August 28th 1861, quoted above.  

     James Ramsey's Company E, was posted at the ford and in a letter to his father dated October 9th James wrote,

"While we were at Sheppardstown we were in a dangerous position which we then did not realize, our camp was situated on a hill within rifle range of the rebels, on their side of the river they had thick foliage besides a four story factory which some of our company burnt, as a good place of protection against our firing they could pick off our guard without danger from our rifles." 

Shepherdstown Ford by artist Alfred Waud

    In September, 1862, during the Antietam Campaign,  War Correspondent Alfred Waud made a sketch of Union troops skirmishing with Confederates across the Potomac River at Shepherdstown Ford.   In the sketch a burned out mill can be seen along the Virginia side of the river.  I venture to guess this is the same mill burned by the soldiers of the 13th Mass a year earlier.  The picture was published in Harper's Weekly October 11, 1862.  (image from the Library of Congress).

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Letters of Oliver C. Walker & Albert Liscom, Company C

                        On Picket duty, outposts Camp Taylor
                         Co. C 13th Regt Mercerville Md A

Letter of James Ramsey

ug 20th

Dear Father and Mother

            My last letter to you has brought no response, and yet I cannot let another week go by without letting you have a line from me.  My last was written at Camp Sharpsburg, where the whole Reg’t lay.  On the day after I wrote, all but four of our Companies were sent out along the river to guard several fords where the rebels were in the habit of crossing.  Our Company made a further march of seven miles to this camp, and pitched our tents at first on the banks of the Potomac, between that river and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; this was Camp Berbe.  As we were in danger of being attacked from the Virginia shore on the next Sunday we moved about  of a mile off on the other side of the Canal in a more defensible position, and our pickets are now sent out daily to guard the ford at the old site of our Camp.  We live a pretty busy Life here, no fighting at present but plenty of work to do.  Our Company is divided into five messes and each mess performs guard duty in succession.  And as we have two guards posted, one at the Camp, and one at the picket, our mess does guard duty twice in five days, performs fatigue duty once and rests two days, so we cant be very lazy.  We mount guard at 9 A.M the guard is divided into three reliefs, each relief standing guard for two hours in succession and resting four so that we each get 8 hours guard duty in 24, we of course get little sleep, and the following day of rest is very welcome. We mounted guard to day as usual, but at 11 ‘oclock a courier  came in from Head quarters with an order for us to join the main body of he Regt at once; so the pickets were called in and the baggage trucked down a most awful hill to the canal and loaded on a boat, and the Company line was being formed, when a few of us who were left finishing the stowing of the goods saw another courier in the person of the assistant Surgeon dash up and deliver an order and ride off to Capt Schriber’s camp,* a mile beyond us, we were not long in placing the order in the hands of the Capt. who at once ordered our arms stacked our equipments off, and the baggage brought up again, as soon as  this was done our picket guard was sent out again, and all is as before, but we shall be here but a day or two at most, as we are to be relieved by the 1st Maryland Reg’t. and our Regiment will then join Gen Bank’s column.  We shall be very  sorry to leave this place as it is very pleasant, the water is good, we can bathe to our hearts content, and more than all the people are very kind and supply us with many delicacies at a low rate, we buy splendid butter for 11 cts a pound, and other things in proportions.  We should not buy much if our rations were furnished us regularly But we have not been able to get our full rations for one day since we left Boston, and as we must eat, and we can’t go hungry for much and do duty we must, and so we draw on our own resources; but for a week our living has much improved, and we hope to deep no more of short allowance.  My health is still very good, and I have taken no cold since I left, though I have sustained all manner of exposure one half of which in New England would have made me sick, we have had rain every day for 9 days and though the rain poured into my tent and I have frequently been very wet, I have escaped all illness.  I am very thankful, for I feared that I should fare the same as others. And be laid up with Rheumatism, or slow fever, but I hope to weather it all.  Please write me as often as you can for letters from home are so much prized.  With love to all I am as ever your son

                                      Oliver-

*Capt. Schiber's Company I, was posted at Dam No. 4 of the C&O Canal a mile beyond, Company C.

    Another view from the Biscoe Brothers, the town of Sharpsburg and surrounding hills.

Sharpsburg & surrounding hills

"Sharpsburg, Maryland View looking West from tower of Cemetery. Tuesday August 5, 1884, 5:55 pm."


Letter of Albert Liscom, Company C

"...My father seems to have been quite a letter writer and sent frequent and newsy letters home, with much attention to detail.  He sent home some 91 letters in all, from Aug. 6, 1861 to Jan. 25, 1863, although the latter part of the time he was confined in hospitals, due to breakdown in health in 1862, just before 2nd Bull Run Battle."  

    So wrote Charles S. Liscom, the son of Albert, to the 13th Regiment Association onSeptember 1, 1921.  Today these letters are part of the military archives collection at the Army Heritage Education Center in Carlisle, PA.  I copied the letters in July, 2012 during the same visit when I copied the John Viles letters.. I've counted 73 letters, -one or two of them are incomplete, and a couple of letter scraps still need to be placed.  Albert's son claimed there were 91 letters so some seem to be missing.

    Albert's father, Levi was a piano maker who had years of experience making quality instruments with a New Hampshire firm calledDearborn Bros.  Mr Liscom was considering going on his own during the early war period, and Albert occasionally comments on his prospects.  The firm of Dearborn and Liscom was eventually formed.  Albert's father was successful in his business venture and continued making fine pianos for many years.  

    Albert developed some serious health problems as the war dragged on, and it completely broke down in August, 1862.  Until then, his letters provide a glimpse into the daily life of soldiers in Company C.  He mentions Oliver Walker, his friend at the end of this letter.

Sharpsburg Md Friday Aug. 23d /61

Dear Parents
                I know you are anxious to hear from me often, so I will write a few lines this afternoon.  I have received but one letter from home and that was from you, but I expect there is a letter for me from you, with the regiment,  which has gone on.  My company is now alone in Sharpsburg.  I will tell you how this is, we were at our camp ground at Shepards ford on the Canal.  Tuesday morning we had orders to strike tents and get ready to march, we cleared the ground and got every thing down the hill to the canal and loaded on board a flat boat, or scow, we had fallen in and were ready to start, when the order was countermanded and we had to carry every thing back and pitch tents

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    again.  The Captain did not explain this but we learned that we had got to stay until our post was relieved, a company from Baltimore was to relieve us. The next morning as soon as light we were again ordered to strike tents as the relief was expected every moment, we had every thing loaded and ready to start before dinner – we had to wait until about five P.M. before the relief came – they were a rough dirty looking set, we got aboard a mud scow and started down the canal about eight miles to this place to join our regiment which is moving on towards Washington and we expect will go there before long when we got here we found the regiment gone and that we were detailed to stay behind for a few days and guard a provision train,  we expect orders every day to move on, we are encamped right on the edge of the town in a small field, when we got here that night we had a small piece of dry

p3 

    bread, and a bit of salt junk it was then dark and we looked about for a place to sleep, our baggage had not got onto the field, as we had some ways to walk from the canal to this place and it had to be taken from the boat and loaded on our team which took some time.  There are two big straw stacks on the field and around this most of us bunked, lying on our rubber blankets and sleeping in our overcoats with our red blankets over us, about midnight, I woke up with the rain beating into my face.  I woke Bosworth (one of the H.B. and he moved over onto my blankets and put his over us, and then we went to sleep again with the rain pouring down onto us but not wetting us.  I woke up before four, and not feeling very comfortable in such close quarters, I got up, took my knapsack and equipments and put them in the tent which some of the boys had pitched any way to get under cover from the rain

p4

    I did not turn in again.  In the morning we pitched our tents over again in proper shape, we put a lot of the straw inside and we are now as comfortable as soldier can be.  As near as we can find out there are about eleven or twelve hundred inhabitants in this place, they take the census here by Counties.  The union people in town are very clever and have done all they could to accommodate the boys, and felt quite bad to have the regiment leave.  There is a lot of sesesh in town but they keep quiet four of our companies have been at this post since we first came here,  and six of us have been off on special duty,  our regt has got the name here as well as at all other places where we have been,  that of being a very orderly and gentlemanly set,  our neighbors at Shepards ford felt quite bad to have us leave there.  We mean to behave ourselves and get a good name where ever we go.  We got news here last night that two Battallions of rebels were on this side of the

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    river,  we expected they were going to attack us.  we were expected ordered to be ready for instant action.  I slept with my equipments on with my rifle by my side as did most of the boys. we always sleep with all our clothes on.  I slept sound all night, there was no alarm.  I am inclined to think it was a false report – we very often get such reports it always puts the boys in good sprites to hear such news.  The regt. has been paid off all but our company – it is the pay for the time we were at the fort,  it amounts to $6.60. aint that big.  we know the worth of money out here and will freeze to it. Mother must not think

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    nor worry about my drinking liquor.  I have not and do not mean to drink a drop while away from home, we have nothing to smoke but a pipe, Father need not worry  about my smoking for I smoke but very little.  I don’t enjoy it at all it didn’t taste good, a great many of the boys say the same.  I suppose it is owing to our living which is so poor, but I think this life agrees with me  I have not had a chance to weigh me but I imagine I have grown fleshy[?]

    I have got to go on guard tomorrow  the serg came in our mess in sick and 5 expect, I have got to  go act as Corporal.  I have to post the  and relieve the guard and if there is a call from any post I have to run and see what it is.  The boys are all well.  O W Walker is well, Bill Stoddard Is in the mess with me, he is well and gets along tip top.  Please remember me to in particular to all my friends.  I suppose you know Gen Banks has left Harpers Ferry direct my letters there

A.M. Liscom
Co C. Thirteenth Regt. Mass Vol
Gen Banks Division

I will close this letter now hoping to hear from you often
With much love I am ever your son
            Albert

                                 

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Antietam Village

Antietam Iron Works Furnace ruins From "The Civil War in Washington County, Maryland by Charles S. Adams, revised 2001;   "Some three miles south of Sharpsburg at the confluence  of Antietam Creek and the Potomac River sits Antietam Village.  By 1853 , just before the Civil War, a tidy village had sprung up there, with the iron works as its center.

     According to Thomas J. Scharf, in his "History of Western Maryland," water power for the works was supplied by Antietam Creek "and the works comprised rolling and slitting mills, a sheet-iron mill, a shingle-mill, saw mill, paddle-mill, and an extensive nail factory. Near the works is a large bed of iron ore."

     Scharf says the village consisted of:   "...dwellings for the operators, ...a large grist and saw-mill, a black-smith shop, a store and office, and a handsome mansion for the proprietor.  About 500 operatives were employed at the works.

    Bridge to Antietam Village As late as 1880, according to Scharf, the Antietam Iron Works produced 8 to 10 tons of cast iron per day. At the time of the Civil War, a tramway carted raw materials up from the C & O Canal to the place where the furnace was, and finished product down to canal boats.

     Today some vestiges of the furnace works till stand after Antietam Iron Works Bridge is crossed on Harpers Ferry Road. Many of the village houses still stand, around the bridge, and are occupied, but the village now is not much more than a small collection of homes on  a rural back road.  --Company B was posted here in August, 1861.  Photos of the Iron Works and bridge Craig Swain.   


Letter of John B. Noyes, Company B.

     The usually observant & descriptive Noyes doesn't mention the revolutionary war period iron works near his camp though it seems it would be of interest.  Perhaps he saw the village as just another 'rough built' Maryland town.  Certainly it was less of a novelty than getting shot at by the rebels for the first time.  Apparantly the fleas made more of an impression than anything else.

    Photo of Noyes courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society; used with permission.

MS Am 2332 (8a).  By permission of the Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Knoxville, or Sandy Hook opposite
   Harpers Ferry Md. Aug 26th 1861

Dear Father

   Photo of John B. Noyes I have received no letters from home since Aug 17th when Wm Allen’s package arrived, although I have been looking anxiously for them.  Perhaps you have been away visiting and have not yet had time to reply to them.  On Tuesday the 20th Aug. I left, Knapsack on back, I thought for good, Antietam, or Flea eat-em or Flea town, or Flea bite-em, as you please. Of all the disagreeable holes I was ever in this was the worst.  Till our skirmish with the enemy our tents were surrounded on 3 sides by water within a few rods of us.  As if the dampness arising from the position itself were not enough it must needs rain for 4 or 5 days in succession so as to render it impossible to wash and dry our clothes.  After the removal of the camp we were obliged to descend a steep hill to obtain water, an inconvenience which was felt more by the cook and his assistants than the men generally.  To add to the general disagreableness of the place the fleas in the straw bit intolerably & soon covered the bodies of the men with itching blotches which for a long time they could not satisfactorily account for.  Many there thought the blotches were “the Hives,” others laid them to bathing while hot, unwilling or unable to learn the true causes.  The only redeeming feature of the place was the breakfasts & suppers at the Miller’s for  a “ levy” that is two “fips” which in N.E. currency makes up  a ninepence. The miller underbid the other house keepers who charged 25 cents.

    On the 20th I say, I left Flea-town with the hope of never seeing it again.  But when we had reached Sharpsburgh, we were obliged after a few hours rest to march back again and stand guard during the night till 12 % M of the 21st.  At that time two companies from the first Va. & a Md. Regiment which had come during the night relieved us.  The men who formed these Regiments were rough specimens of the genus homo, and the miller trembled in his shoes for his ripening corn, and the miller’s wife prudently determined to stop keeping a boarding house.  “We are very sorry to have you leave; those fellows are not such men as you be I reckon” said the men and women about town who sold gingerbread.

    Being relieved we marched back to Sharpsburgh only to take up our Knapsacks to march to Boonsborough distant six or seven miles.  This is the best looking town we have yet seen, the houses mostly made of brick & not presenting that ruinous look which almost every wooden house has in this country. We reached B. at about 10 P.M. and camped out for the night.  Rain pouring down I got under a wagon with my head between two spokes of a wheel for a pillow, and feet between two other spokes, passed a very comfortable night.  Next morning we continued on our march til 2 P.m. covering 10 or 12 miles.  As luck would have it on this march – to Frederick City our orders were countermanded and we were directed to proceed to Sandy Hook.  The only difference to us was that our march was 15 to 20 miles longer thereby.  We encamped over night and set out again in the morning for a 13 mile march, which was needlessly prolonged two or three miles, by our marching past the place we were to encamp upon. The march on the last day was without Knapsacks but the sun was hot & water was scarce.

    I am now here at Pleasant Valley, within 2 miles of our former encampment in the same valley, this place being neither Knoxville which is below, nor Sandy Hook which is above us.  Our field was that on which Banks had his Division , or a large part of it.  It is a fine place, dry & near plenty of good drinking water.  Bread and pies are brought here in abundance. 

    And now about prices.  At Antietam we got eggs at from 12 to 18 p. a dozen already boiled.  Chickens roasted are 18 a piece, pies 10 or 12 and other small matters about us at home. Milk was 5 or 6 a quart.  Here milk is sold at from 8 to 10 though if we can get the milk we do not scruple to give merely its actual value.  Chickens are 20 cents.  Biscuits & ginger cakes are not as large as they were at Antietam. Water-melons are from 15 to 20 a piece but these are brought from Baltimore.  We forage our corn.  A provision dealer charged a 1.00 a bushel for potatoes.  I want you to buy me a map of the seat of war in Maryland & Va. & send it.  It will probably go as a newspaper.  George Francis and E.P. Dutton will have one.  I wrote to have my NY World sent from Aug 1st  or earlier and a paper occasionally.

     There is a letter from our Regt in the Traveller of the 19th which I send & one in the Transcript of about the same date.  The last I have not seen but it is said to be very good.  Have Martha make me an oil silk bag about 3 inches square and send it in a letter.  Send also 3 or 4 new postage stamps.

            Your Aff. Son
                John B. Noyes


     On the march back to Virginia in July, 1863, just after the Gettysburg Campaign, Noyes, now a Lieutenant with the 28th Mass. Vols  wrote home:  "Wednesday Am. We left Falling Waters, and marched through Sharpsburgh to Antietam Iron Works, passing over the identical camping ground of Co. B. 13th Mass. Vols, which with Co. A, you will recollect, was stationed at Antietam Ford in August 1861.  The ground was perfectly familiar to me, and I only regretted that I could not fall out and get dinner at the Miller's, one of my old haunts when I wanted a good meal, of old.  I assure you I was never hungrier than when I passed that same Miller's house."

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A Midnight Ride

    Sergeant-Major Elliot Clark Pierce was an important figure in the chronicles of the 13th Mass.  He was soon promoted to 1st Lieutenant of Company H, jumping the line of 10 second lieutenants.  He would finish out his 3 year enlistment as Major of the 13th Regiment.  The day the regiment left the front lines at Petersburg in July, 1864, to prepare to return home, Major Pierce was captain of the picket guard.  This made him the last man of the 13th Regiment to leave the front lines.  The following is one of my favorite articles from the 13th Regiment Association Circulars.  I was saving it for my book "Stories from the 13th Mass" but since that project is not likely to happen soon, I offer it up here with illustrations.  If any publisher is interested in creating a book from a collection of the best stories of the 13th Mass. regiment, -its already completed.  Feel free to contact me.

A MIDNIGHT RIDE.
BY THE SERGEANT-MAJOR.

Elliot Clark Pierce     During the month of August, 1861, the Thirteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers was in camp near Sharpsbiirg, Md.   Its special duty was the guarding of various fords on the Potomac river, from Dam No-4 to the confluence of Antielam Creek with the Potomac, six or eight miles above Harper's Ferry, and very zealous and watchful were they in the performance of their duties.  

    Jackson and Ashby were very active on the Virginia side, and were expected to cross at each and all of these fords every night in the week.

    The fact that these fords covered a distance on the river of thirty or more miles made no difference, for even at that early stage of the war the air resounded with stories of the valor and ubiquity of those rebel officers and their commands, and in our later campaign in old Virginia we learned that there was not much exaggeration in regard to Stonewall Jackson.  So while reports were brought to regimental headquarters almost daily from the fords, that the enemy appeared in more or less numbers, nothing alarming to our commander occurred until late in the afternoon of the sixteenth of August.   Then the report from our detail at Sheppardstown Ford was to the effect that the enemy was apparently gathering in force on the opposite shore; which demonstration might be construed as evidence of intent to cross over the river somewhere.

    At the consultation of the field officers of the regiment, which immediately followed the arrival of this report, it was decided that the information was of sufficient importance to be forwarded to the commander of the department, Gen. N. P. Banks, whose head-quarters were then at Sandy Hook, a few miles below Harper's Ferry and eighteen or twenty miles from our camp at Sharpsburg.

    I cannot recall just how I happened to be the bearer of this important despatch.  Possibly I offered my services - possibly the services of the sergeant-major could better be spared from camp than that of others, - but I was the bearer, and I am writing this that my few surviving comrades may know who saved them (and incidentally the country) from dire disaster - and that all who read may learn that Paul Revere was not the only midnight rider.

    It's a long hark back to 1861 - forty-seven years,  nearly half a century -so some of the minor details, as to whys and wherefores, time and distance, may have slipped my memory, but the most of my experience that night is as fresh in my mind as though it took place but yesterday.

    It was seven P.M. by Sharpsburg clocks, when I tightened the saddle-girth on Colonel Batchelder's sorrel horse, the only available one at the time.  The colonel gave me special instructions about the animal, which he valued highly.  He was to be ridden quietly for a few miles, as not having been used for a few days, was out of condition for immediate speed.

    Adjutant Bradlee gave me an official document addressed to Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks, commanding at Sandy Hook, Md., with instructions to deliver the same to the general in person, and other instructions more or less mysterious and important.

    Thus, finely mounted and thoroughly instructed, I rode at a trot out of our camp in the woods and took the road to Sharpsburg.

    I can recall that I felt glad to be relieved for even a few hours from the monotony of life in camp and, as I had been much in the saddle from my youth up, was happy to be once more astride a good horse.  

    While passing through the town of Sharpsburg, the clickety clack of a loose shoe made a call upon the village blacksmith a necessity.  After fifteen minutes delay I was again jogging along the highway leading from Sharpsburg to Antietam Creek. Thus far I had acted upon the advice of Colonel Batchelder in regard to "Bucephalus," but now starting him into an easy lope, I began to speculate upon the possibilities of this ride.  Naturally my thoughts turned to the now famous poem of Longfellow, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," published 1860, which I had memorized.

    I wondered if anything would occur during this ride to make it immortal.  Would some great poet think it worth while to sing a song about it?   

    Would some great artist picture "Bucephalus" on a full gallop with a wild-eyed hatless rider?Paul Revere graphic 

    I  really could not see much resemblance just at the time.  Paul has always been represented as making a terrible noise and hullabaloo - his steed was snorting fire "through every Middlesex village and farm" and "the hurrying hoofbeats of that steed "are still echoing from Bunker Hill, through Lexington, to the old bridge at Concord, where was fired the gun "heard round the world."

    He was riding to arouse all the rebels to arms - I was riding to proclaim the coming of rebels in arms.  The word rebel suggests a similarity, but there are classes as kinds in Rebeldom, and two kinds are referred to here.

    He rode over highways which in a few days were to become historic.  Quite possible he realized it.  I rode over a highway where in a year, a month, and a day the bravest of the nut-brown legions of Lee and the bravest of Burnside's "boys in blue" were to meet and struggle for the right of way.   

    Across the peaceful pastures where now the crickets chirp and song birds warble, through acres of waving corn, in a year, a month, and a day will rush battalions, batteries, cavalry and infantry - one hundred thousand men and more - tearing up the Mother Earth, tearing down the Brother Man.  Along the length of this road from Dunker Church to the Burnside bridge on Antietam Creek, river pasture and meadow, through many a corn-field, will roll and break the great waves of battle, and between the rising and setting of the sun of Sept. 17, '62, more men will have fallen beneath the relentless power of those waves, dead or bruised and battered, than the British army lost during the eight years' War of the Revolution. 

     Fortunately, I was not conversant with the language of the stars, so while looking frequently above in admiration of the starry firmament (if those bodies of the solar system called planets do influence the destinies of men), I had no vision or power to read, and thankful am I those twinkling stars gave no sign of "the bloody work they should look upon" in a year, a month, and a day.  For being in ignorance of what the fates had in store for the future, I rode on in full enjoyment of the present.

Cavalry Poster    I recall that I had an ambition to become a cavalry-man. Who that has read "Charles O'Malley, the Irish Dragoon" has not?   This ambition received a new and fresh impetus to-night,  growing and keeping pace with the speed of my steed.  Life in the saddle has such charms - no heavy arms, no knapsack, no tramping through mud that sticks to your shoes till they weigh twenty pounds each!

    What a fascination and inspiration there is in the dashing cavalry- man with his jingling spurs and rattling sabre-chains !

    For a while I contemplate resigning my office of sergeant-major of the Thirteenth and accepting a captaincy in the cavalry. Possibly General Banks will be so impressed by my appearance, when I dash up to his headquarters, that he will at once commission and detail me to serve on his staff.  I decide to accept.

    Thus meditating and castle-building I rode along this pleasant way and drew rein at the old iron works at the confluence of Antietam Creek and the Potomac river.  Here were stationed Companies A and B of the Thirteenth. Lieut. A. N. Sampson was officer of the guard at the time.  I remained here long enough to drink a dipper of coffee, give him some instructions as directed by Adjutant Bradlee, then hastened on my journey.  Over the bridge, which here crosses the Antietam, up a little hill on the other side, then down again, turning sharply to the left and I was on the road which follows for a few miles and quite near to the Potomac river, along which runs the Chesapeake and Ohio canal.

    It is written of Revere :

"He felt the damp of the river fog
That rises when the sun goes down."

    Now the fog on the Mystic is a thin vaporous thing, but the fog I struck that night on the Potomac was heavy as a snow-bank, so dense no human sight could pierce it five feet away.

    Some old legend tells of a horse who bore a headless rider - my legend is of a rider on a headless horse!

    But wherever his head might be I knew his torso was under me and his feet in the right place, for "loud on the ledge is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides."

hoofbeats    The rhythmical beating of hoofs in the gallop is music in my ear.  I soon learned, however, there was another fellow some distance down the road, who heard this hoof-beating and the sound which struck his tympanum had to him no note of music.

    Aware that a road, somewhere near here, led away from the river up Maryland Heights, I had pulled my horse to a jog trot when I was suddenly ordered to "halt!"  I could see no sentinel, nor could I locate the direction from which the order came.  For a moment only was there any doubt, for my horse shying so quickly caused a tightening of the curb-rein, and he was sitting on his haunches with the point of a bayonet at his breast, while a second command, "Dismount, or I'll shoot!" came through the fog-bank in front of me. The position of my horse made the act of dismounting an easy one.  It is possible I might have dismounted without any orders from the fog. 

    The little "click-click" of the lock which occurs in the act of cocking a musket is not in itself an alarming sound; I have heard it a thousand times, but always when at or near the butt of the gun.

Horse sketch by Charles Reed

 Being at the muzzle end, it is much more noticeable, sharper, and pierces the densest fog; and when the "man behind the gun" is a total stranger and imagines you to be an enemy, the clicking of the lock may be regarded as an indication of an unfavorable issue of that particular interview.  In this instance the "man behind the gun" proved to be master of it and himself, also the situation.

    Omitting the formula of picket duly, "Who goes there, etc.," he called for the officer of the guard.  The picket post was a few yards back in the woods, upon the very road I was to take over the Heights. Having satisfied this officer that I was really a bearer of despatches to the commanding general, and not one of Ashby's cavalry in disguise, I rode out of the damp of the river fog into the depths of the dark forests that line the sides and crown the Heights of Maryland.  The road being quite steep in places and difficult to see, plodding at a walk was the best speed to be made.

    When about two miles from the picket post my horse acted so strangely that I dismounted and had an interview with him.  He told me in horse vernacular that he had a touch of colic and wanted to lie down, and this he would have succeeded in doing if I had not made urgent efforts to prevent it by turning him around, backing, rubbing vigorously, applying the switch smartly, anything to keep him on his feet.  As soon as he would move forward I led him at a fast walk.  He was a horse of great spirit and responded quickly to my efforts, but was evidently in pain for some time. 

    To add to my perplexity I had, during the struggles with the colicy animal, become confused as to the general direction of my route and could find no evidence or sign of a trail. 

    With the loss of way and loss of horse, the life of a cavalryman seemed to lose some of its charm and I decided not to accept any commission under that of a colonel.

cabin     Struggling on through the underbrush, I reached a small clearing where stood a shanty of logs which hardly seemed habitable, but I found on approaching that I could hear the sound of voices.  Its appearance was not inviting and was immediately connected in my mind with the stories of the moonshine whiskey stills of the mountains of Virginia and Kentucky.  Intent on finding my way out of this tangle, I rapped loudly on what seemed to be a door  After a short wait a voice asked, 'who's there ?" and "what do you want ?" 

    I replied, "a soldier - the shortest way to Harper's Ferry."  Upon this the upper half of the door swung out a little and by the dim, flickering light of a candle held high above it appeared the face of old John Brown!  Well!  Well! Startling?  Yes, it was indeed!

    For a month or more my comrades and I had been singing the fact of "John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the ground." Now I had discovered or uncovered him.  Possibly my vision was somewhat distorted under the circumstances; perhaps "I felt the spell of the place and the hour and the secret dread of that lonely shanty."  So I'll admit that it might have been John Brown's double who gave me such clear directions that I was soon on the road to Harper's Ferry.

    It does not seem strange to me that to-day I cannot recall whether the distance from the shanty of John Brown's ghost, or double, to Sandy Hook was accomplished on foot or horseback; whether we (the horse and I) slid down the mountain side into Pleasant Valley, or cleared the precipice at the Ferry with one mighty bound, but I do recall being in the saddle and urging Bucephalis to show up bravely, as the end of our journey and troubles was in sight. 

    The dashing act, which I thought to perform through the street of Sandy Hook, upon a "steed flying fearless and fleet," was abandoned as was also my plan of approach to the headquarters of the commanding general.  My arrival was intended to be impressive as became a man from the Old Bay State; brilliant as became a soldier from that State bearing important despatches to her former governor, now general.  The facts are, that I rode quietly through a wagon camp and mule yard, to a point as near headquarters as the guard would permit, and dismounting, was directed to a large, old-fashioned farm- house to find the general.

    Here I was requested by an orderly to give him my despatch, as the general had retired.  I said that my instructions were to deliver them only to the general commanding; the orderly crossed a large hall and disappeared through a doorway. When that door opened again, the general appeared clothed in white from his neck to the floor. Yes, he had on his - his "robe de nuit." Also, he was clothed with that dignity so natural and becoming to him.

general banks    I have seen him many times, as governor of the Bay State; as its congressman, on the lecture platform; on the stump; at the head of battalions, and at the head of the banquet table; and always the same air of dignity surrounded and gave him a majestic appearance, although not a large man physically.

     On this particular occasion he had but to throw one long loose end of that robe over his shoulder, hold a scroll in the other hand and I should have been standing in the presence of a Roman senator.  He read my despatch from the colonel then commanding at Sharpsburg, and I was quite surprised at the calmness he displayed after reading.  He thanked me in a courtly manner, bade me thank the colonel for his prompt report of proceedings up the river; called an orderly and directed him to show me with my message to the tent of Gen. Robert Williams, his adjutant-general. 

    During the interview no reference was made to a vacancy now or likely to occur upon his staff.  The tent of General Williams was close by.  As soon as he had read my despatch I told him about my experience of the night and of the condition of the horse I rode, which belonged to Lieutenant-Colonel Batchelder.  Late as it was, his veterinary was called to attend him.  The contents of my despatch did not seem to alarm him and he said that he would have a reply for me to take on my return in the morning, when, if my horse proved to be no better, I should be mounted on another.  He then advised my retiring, which I was glad to do, in an adjoining tent escorted by an orderly.  Here I slept on a pile of blankets till early morn, and would have slept till dewy eve had it not been for those mules.  Up to this time I had met but few of the genus mule, had heard a solo occasionally from him, when he thought his ration short or overdue; but to have six hundred of him suddenly burst out in grand chorus, accompanied by six hundred iron hitching-chains, rattled against one hundred sheet-iron plates, fastened to one hundred wagon- poles to prevent abrasion, was a new experience to me.  I awoke.  To the combination (which seemed to be sufficient) was soon added the voices of the drivers, one hundred male voices!

mule sketch by winslow homer    As to tones, they were in full accord and harmony with the mules, but the words (though in the English language) do not all appear in the lexicon of people of culture.  Being addressed in the form of responses to the mules' requests for breakfast, they were in mule vernacular and can hardly be recorded here.

    Later, during my service, I became more intimate with the army mule and confess to some affection for him, and to-day could write chapters on his characteristics,— his virtues which were many, and his vices which were few.  At present will only say that I do not think his voice adapted to the rendition of any of Beethoven's Symphonies, particularly just as "the morning light is breaking."

    Somewhere in his anatomy — I should judge near the larynx — nature has placed a number of saws and a few rasps, not in use for regular breathing, but when excited, or he wants to raise his voice in song, he draws it in and out through these obstructions. Well!  He thinks it music!

    Now, right here, by all precedents, my story should end.  Who cares for the rider, his goal being reached?  Yet, thinking some comrades would like to learn the fate of the horse, I will add that the veterinary surgeon advised me not to use him.  

    By order of General Williams I was mounted on what he called a Scout's horse.  He was a saddler, sure; had the speed of the wind, and covered the distance back to camp in less than two hours, showing a strong desire to shorten that time.  The horses were exchanged in a few days.  Colonel Batchelder's entirely recovered and remained in good condition during the rest of his service.  I was not greatly surprised in reaching camp to find that no attack had been made and "all quiet along the
Potomac" the last report from the fords.

"The rebel rides on his raids no more,"
And the story of my ride is o'er,
While in it are errors, I will not deny:
Facts are here told, to which history may tie.

ELLIOT C. PIERCE.


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Page Updated, January 18, 2014


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