A History of its Organization, Services in the Defenses of Washington, Marches, Camps, Battles, and Muster-Out, with Accounts of Life in a Rebel Prison, Personal Experiences, Names and Addresses of Surviving Members, Personal Sketches, and a Complete Roster of the Regiment.
Alfred Seelye Roe of Company A
Published by the Author, Worcester, Mass., 1899.
A GENERAL SHAKING-UP.
The advent of General Grant in Washington and his subsequent presence in the Army of the Potomac were making a decided impression on all wearers of the blue. The changes in location of Companies C, D, E and G have already been noted. Corresponding activity was also true of the other companies. All of them took leave of their long-time quarters, and on the 26th of March made their way to the forts across the Eastern Branch, all this in accordance with General Orders No. 21, whereby the regiment, except the 2d Battalion, was directed to form line in the parade ground at Fort Simmons at 4:30 A.M. the 26th, having two days' rations, Company B to join at the junction of Military and Georgetown roads. The march began at daybreak, and was a cheerful variation on the long monotony of the forts, passing, as it did, through Washington and across the bridge which spanned the Eastern Branch, sometimes called the Navy Yard bridge. Thence there was a decided scattering of the companies, a large number of forts coming under their care as follows: A at Fort Baker, with the band and regimental headquarters; B, Fort Mahan; F, Forts Dupont, Wagner and Ricketts, with Lieutenants Allen, Patterson and Stafford, respectively, in charge; H, Fort Meigs; I, Forts Snyder and Davis, with Captain Hughes and Lieutenant Howard commanding; K, Fort Greble; L, Fort Stanton; M, Fort Carroll. Of this range Fort Mahan was the most northerly, and was fully seven miles away from Greble, the most southerly position. At this time the 1st Battalion comprised the men in Forts Baker, Davis, Dupont, Meigs and Mahan, under Major Snyder, with headquarters at Fort Mahan. The 3d Battalion included other forts under Major Burgess, with headquarters at Fort Carroll. The 2d Battalion was still in Fort Foote, so the regiment was really in a line of forts extending a distance of quite eleven miles, though communication between Fort Foote and the other fortifications was by water rather than by land. By this latest move, the Ninth was made to have something to do, first and last, with nearly every fort on the Maryland side of the Potomac. The life for the next two months, in each fort, differed very little from that in another, nor from that in the forts recently left near the river, though there were incidents peculiar to each one, as at Fort Mahan Lieutenant Chauncey Fish, just promoted from orderly sergeant, was given a fine sword by Company B; he had only recently returned from a visit home, and with him came, as recruits, two of his sons, one of whom was to later fall at Winchester. As this was a company affair, Sergeant Smith made the presentation, and Sergeant Bock read a reply. The weapon cost $100. In this same fort, later in April, a daughter of Ebenezer Page opened a school in the mess-house at fifty cents per pupil, weekly. Towards the end of the month certain companies were canvassed by cavalry-men seeking those who would like to be transferred. The outlook towards the Capitol from nearly all these forts is fine, and it is easier making a visit to Washington than it was before the move. Not a day was lost in active drill, and if the regiment is not proficient in infantry, heavy and light artillery practice, it is not the fault of the officers. Battalion drill necessitates long and occasionally hot marches for some of the companies. May brings with it the consciousness that the North will soon take a new departure, and that for the front. Packing up all that a man thought he could not conveniently carry, was the order of the day, and it was surprising how many things were dispensed with, but two weeks later the reduction of baggage was even greater still. Two Wayne county boys thought to lessen their portable library, and so made up a box to send home, in which they placed their copies of Virgil, Horace, Longfellow (2 vols.), Methodist Hymns, etc., determining to depend on memory for any classical or poetical necessity, and also throwing in two or three bed-quilts and a pair of boots, they sent it northward. How carefully the mother of one of those boys treasured the collection, till the close of the war brought home the literary soldiers! On the 7th of May was promulgated an order specifying what the soldiers might carry in their knapsacks, viz., one shirt, one pair socks, one pair extra shoes, one pair pants, one rubber-blanket, one overcoat. It did not take long, when marching actually began, to get rid of nearly all of the above-named necessities.
In the ranks of this immense aggregation of men were hundreds who had recently joined. They had come down from northern homes, rallied by the nation's cry for more soldiers; very many, indeed the large majority of them, were lads in their teens, who three years before were too young for enlistment. They represented nearly all vocations, but by far the greater number came from the farm. They represented the same element that, nearly a hundred years before, had fought for freedom from Britain's yoke. Many, assigned to companies and taking their guns, essayed the life of an active soldier with no drills at all. What they learned of the use of their weapons in parade or in action, was from observation. That they did not particularly mar the prospects of the regiment is evident in the sequel. Ere many weeks they were bearing their burdens and doing their respective duties with as much ease and coolness as the veriest veteran by their side.
May 10th came another moving day; this time replacing the steps across the Branch and through the city to the Virginia side of the Potomac. Heavy Artillery regiments are succeeded, largely, by 100-day men, sent in from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, but our immediate successors are, in the main, from the 10th N. Y. H. A., and we ourselves follow other heavy artillery regiments that have gone ahead. For the march, Companies A, B, H, F, and I in part, report at Fort Baker, and the remainder of I, with L, M, and K, join at the bridge. There sas no special incident in the transit, save that the horses of a coach near the eastern end of the Eastern Branch bridge, having no ear for music, became frightened at our band, and bolting short about turned the coach completely over, spilling the passengers, but fortunately not harming anyone. With drums beating and flags flying we marched over the plaza to the east of the Capitol, by the south end of said magnificent structure, and along Pennsylvania avenue, all unconscious of our destination. Some said we were going back to the old forts, others said "the front," and when we marched out upon Long Bridge, we were quite certain we were to have some experience in Virginia. Company L veterans recall, as they neared Unionville and the band played a lively air, a fine high-headed horse prancing to the music, but as they neared him, they saw he was moving on three legs only, but in perfect time. The familiar government brand, "I.C." on his flank, told of battle-strife and his appreciation of marching music. Though only a horse, preserved for the good he had done, he was greeted with hearty cheers.
While new regiments were constantly forming and a man counted for as much in one of them as in the other organizations, there were considerations of locality that frequently determined the body wherein the recruit was to serve. If he were not too intent upon getting a commission immediately, if he were only modestly ambitious, he found the regiments already in the service better for him than those whose record was all before them. Hence the numbers that had enlisted in Auburn and in the old barracks there had received an introduction to soldier's life. The winter of 1863 and '64, spent in that place, has a considerable space in the memories of many a Ninth survivor. There were some men considerably beyond the age of service, but by discriminating lying and the barber's art, they manage to pass muster. On the whole, the accessions to the Army of the Potomac at the beginning of the Battle Summer added much to its strength. At first they met some chaff from the older soldiers, but in the line of duty all differences disappeared, and before Cold Harbor was reached, only the closest scrutiny could have told who were the old and who the new. As usual, our party was a large one, and we could not all stop at one fort, so we were distributed, A, F, and M to Fort Richardson, which became the headquarters; B and I to Fort Barnard; H, to Fort Garrische; K, to Fort Berry, and L, to Fort Scott. The "boys" of the latter company ever dilate on the terror of rats in this stronghold. They had to sleep in the bomb-proofs, and life, waking or sleeping, was a warfare with the rodents, which stole their food at all times and made nights hideous by walking over the sleeping soldiers, one of whom declared, as between rebs and rats, he preferred the former. The regiment is again as nearly united as it can be in so many forts. The 2d Battalion that came up from Fort Foote on the same day found itself placed with C, D and G in Fort Ward, and E in Fort Reynolds, the former companies making a long detour by way of Long Bridge and not reaching the fort till nearly midnight. The distance of Fort Ward from Alexandria is not more than four nor less than three miles, but the men marched twelve miles to get there. One of them tersely remarks in his journal, "Military."
Our move was more "military." The 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery vacated many of the forts as the Ninth moved in. Over the main entrance to Fort Richardson the soldiers had left, in large letters, the Latin motto of the Wooden Nutmeg State, viz., "Qui transtulit sustinet," which some boys just from school were able to render to their fellows as, "Who brought us, will sustain." For once we thought the sentiment quite as good as our New York's "Excelsior." Fairfax Seminary was near. Daily picket-guard was maintained, but there was very little stability, since on the 15th, Companies B and L were ordered to Fort Worth, still further south. The very next day there was an inspection at Fort Richardson, just to see how quickly the men could move. With the exception of men on duty in the forts, and so could not report, this was the first time for the men of the Ninth to assemble in a body. During those days active boys are scouring the neighborhood country for adventure and sights. The wounded from the Wilderness are filling the Seminary Hospital, and thither many go, both from curiosity and possibly to see wounded friends from other regiments; when there, few failed to climb to the steeple of the seminary to get the fine view it afforded. This seminary was and is an Episcopal theological school. Arlington is not so very far away, and the building and grounds filled with memories of the Lee family are thoroughly inspected. Many a letter carried to the northern homes floral souvenirs from the Arlington flower gardens. Camp distribution comes in for a visit, and Camp Chase, where the first stop was made nearly two years before, is also quite near.
The night of May 17 is a long one to many, for certain companies are under arms or on the march nearly every moment of it, for all have been ordered to report at Fort Richardson very early. Shelter-tents have been added to our outfit, and we are ready to go. It is scarcely more than morning on May 18 when we enter Alexandria, 2000 strong, and go upon transports, the great mass of us quite ignorant of our destination. Steamers John Brooks, John W. D. Prouty and the State of Connecticut bear us away and down the river. Lost sleep is sought upon the deck floors, and those who desire amusement find it in cards and other diversions. The tolling of the ship's bell as we passed Mt. Vernon called up reflections that possibly the Father of this Country might not be pleased if he knew in what disorder his children were. Late in the afternoon we reach Belle Plain Landing at the mouth of the Potomac creek, and soon go ashore in the midst of a drenching rain, though to make room for our boat another, filled with rebel prisoners, is obliged to move out. The Johnnies are dirty and saucy. Some one suggests that these qualities are usually joined. Some of the boys, recruits, pitch their first tents here, and try to dry off by means of camp-fires. There is a hospital transport at the dock, and some of our number are borne thereon to be taken back for treatment.
The rain continues, and during the following night our cars are treated to the sound of distant cannonading, a part of that "wild diapason of war" which Grant had inaugurated earlier in the month, and to which our cars were to become so much accustomed. The next day, the 19th, in the morning Companies H, I and L started for Fredericksburg in charge of a wagon-train, reaching there at about 10 P. M. Company D followed in the afternoon and camped east of the Rappahannock. Each man was again his own cook. On this day a party of rebel prisoners passed through the camp, and went aboard a boat bound for some northern prison. Draw six days' rations. While we were lying at this point some of us saw Colonel Welling and Lieutenant Colonel Seward go aboard a transport and soon steam away towards Washington. Naturally we said to each other "What's up!" A few days later we learned what it all meant. Those who roamed over Belle Plain came to the conclusion that it derived its name by the law of contraries, for it was anything but attractive. The shores were composed of conglomerated shells not unlike the coquina of Florida. Still pleasures were found even there, for the bathing was good, though some roguish fellows suggested sharks. Many a soldier will recall how very cheap shad were, and how gloriously he fried them on his tin plate, which became at once griddle and trencher. To their unsophisticated taste, the result of their cooking was every whit as appetizing as were the famous planked shad cooked by Daniel Webster himself.
We were not to march hungry or unarmed, for all started away from Belle Plain with six days' rations and forty rounds of cartridges, quite a load in itself. Five companies left on the afternoon of the 20th - Companies A and K the following morning, and G at noon on the 22d. This going to the front was a new experience to most of the men, and it did not take long to lessen the baggage which the special order had named as necessary. Hundreds said, "If we only had these blankets at home, how nice it would be, but they are a nuisance here," and off they would go from the knapsacks. The days were very warm and the burden great. Seemingly, there was no moment when some one could not be seen in the act of throwing away something, till our line of march was effectually indicated by tons of cast away apparel. One captain, of a very saving nature, had his feelings hurt by so much wastefulness, and he did his best to carry a part of the stuff thus discarded, and was laughed at for his pains; even he had to yield finally and drop his extra burden. In their extremity, some men threw away, at once, knapsack and all it contained. Others reduced it by degrees, while still others made a roll of what they deemed most precious and, with joined ends, bore it over one shoulder. Every one felt it necessary to sacrifice something, and a New York old-clothes man could have made his fortune on the material with which our way was strewn. What we did was done by every new regiment, and the acres between the landing and the city became the temporary depository of our own and government possessions in fabulous quantities. If those in authority had only told us what we really needed and what we had best leave behind, how much better it had been for all; but the mere waste of property was of small consideration, and our officers were just as inexperienced as their men.
The route itself was through a veritable land of desolation. Whatever it may have been in the past, three years of war had swept off everything that made life worth living. If there were inhabitants, like some rodents they must have burrowed. On our way we met an ambulance conveying wounded from the front of the landing. Among them were many from the 1st Maine, long our neighbors in the defenses. They had had their baptism of blood, and had made a glorious record. While camping and waiting for the other companies, it is said that Captain Gregory of B was bitten in the temple by a rattle-snake, and that this contributed to his death at Cold Harbor more than the wound received there. At noon or a little past, the last company, except G, also guarding a wagon-train, came up and had a sight of the Rappahannock and Fredericksburg. some veterans who had first gone out in 1861 retained vivid recollections of their long day on Stafford Heights, and it was just a renew of old acquaintances, but to the majority all was new. The words had long been very, very familiar, and now we were having the realities that went with those words. Head-boards here and there told of the dead in the long days of '62 and '63, when Burnside and Hooker, staking their fortunes lost.
The noteworthy hamlet of Falmouth is at our right, and opposite is Fredericksburg, with its ragged steeples and yawning walls, its ruined bridges and bullet-marred houses. We are standing on land that may have belonged to Washington, and before us may be the very spot, on the river's bank, where the youthful athlete stood when he made that famous throw of a silver dollar across the Rappahannock. While waiting by the river, some of the men crossed over and found the city one great hospital. The Wilderness and Spottsylvania were only a few miles away, and the wounded from these terrible fields were here by the thousands. The scenes of the amputating tables were not calculated to inspire the young men, who were to soon experience similar dangers. So absorbed were they in the bloody present, they had little disposition to think of the city's past, but had they been inclined, they might have found the Masonic Lodge room in which Washington was initiated just before he was of age, and the very Bible on which he laid his hands, i.e., if they had been disposed to break in. In the northern part of the city, they might have found the home of Washington's mother, the very home in which she breathed her last, and where her distinguished son often visited her, and a little to the westward her grave with the marble monument by its side, for it was never reared. All this the boys might have seen, but probably no one did. Their thoughts were quite too prosaic and practical for historic reminders, and besides the school-master was not with them.
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