STORY OF A REGIMENT
A RECORD OF THE MILITARY SERVICE
FIFTY-SEVENTH NEW YORK STATE
WAR OF THE REBELLIN
1861 - 1865.
GILBERT FREDERICK, D. D.
LATE CAPTAIN 57TH N. Y. V. I.
MARCH 10TH, TO JULY 1ST, 1862
On Monday, March 10, 1862, at two o'clock in the morning, the call was sounded and the Army of the Potomac roused from sleep with orders to march at daylight. Three days rations and sixty rounds of cartridges were issued to each man, blankets and shelter tent were rolled together lengthwise, thrown over the right shoulder and the ends joined under the left arm. The haversacks were filled with the rations and such articles for the toilet as could find room. At the appointed time all was ready, and the moments of waiting for the word to move were spent in taking a last look at the old camp. It is not unnatural that we were loath to leave a place which had become so much a part of ourselves, a spot where we had become so nearly a part of the soil. Soon the expected order came to "fall in" and the regiment filed out and took its place in the column.
As we started the clouds also started, it not only began to rain, but it continued to rain. The tramping of many feet soon kneaded the soil into dough, and then into slush, and the troops waded, sometimes knee deep, through mud and mire. All day long with laborious steps the march continued until, at sunset, near Fairfax Court House, all lay down upon the soaked earth, too weary and wet for refreshing sleep. At daylight a hurried breakfast was followed by an inspection of arms and the column pushed on through Fairfax Station to Sangster’s Station, where the second night was spent. On the following day Union Mills was reached, and the third night spent on the Bull Run hills.
Many of the boys, unused to gauging rations, consumed their three days’ allowance in two days or less, and went hungry thereafter, except as they were able to beg from others who had been more saving. After stacking arms a detail was made of ten men from each company and sent with the Major to explore the deserted rebel camps. They found provisions in abundance: crackers, pork, rice, dried apples, peanuts and sugar, also coffee pots, kettles, frying pans, and cups. The hungry boys did not wait to say grace, but filled themselves at once. A hogshead of sauer krout, heads in and heels out, is one of the blessed memories of this expedition. It was forenoon of the next day that the Third Brigade pushed on to Manassas, entering that strong-hold of the enemy with flags unfurled and bands playing Yankee Doodle and Star Spangled Banner.
It was hoped and expected that there would now be a little time for rest but it was not so to be with our regiment, at least, for it was immediately detailed to support the brigade of Stoneman’ s Cavalry in a reconnoisance to Cedar Run. Moving at daylight, the line of march was along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, but as the bridges over Broad and Kettle Runs had been burned away, detours had to be made down the high embankments, through the stream and into the soft soil of plowed ground where each step sank to the knee. Five miles from Manassas the rebel out-posts were driven in and for ten miles beyond the fires of the retreating pickets were passed, until the enemy was found in force behind Cedar Run. The regiment now divided into four parts, each part taking a separate position so as to give the appearance of a brigade, and fires were built along the line—a difficult task when every stick of wood was soaked with water, yet accomplished by carrying coals from fire to fire. Captain Chapman was ordered to take his company and drive on a cavalry picket stationed beyond a hill, which he succeeded in doing, following them to the Run where they crossed. Shots were exchanged but perhaps without hurt to any. The day following, an advance was made by the rebel cavalry and the Fifty-Seventh was formed in battle line on the brow of a hill with Stoneman’s Cayalry in the rear. They did not seem inclined to attack this line, and soon returned across the stream again. Sergeant John Nilesç of Company I, is said here to have fired the first shot ever fired at a rebel from our regiment.
The object of this reconnoisance had now been accomplished and the march back to Manassas was begun. Then it began to rain again and the rain did its worst; down, down, down it came, but we were getting somewhat used to rain and were learning to protect ourselves from its worst effects. The walking between the rails was not bad, but when we had to turn out for the broken bridges it did seem as though we would be buried alive in the mud. The third bridge on the return hung by a single rail over a chasm of fifty feet and the water below was waist deep, in places up to the arm pits. The boys looked long at the broken bridge and then at the stream below, trying to decide which route to take. Nearly all waded the stream, but some ventured on the single rail, one man crossing thus missed his footing and scarcely saved himself from death by catching a swinging tie. On reaching Manassas we got into the vacant huts, built large fires, stripped and dried our spaked clothes, and lay down to a night of solid rest. The next day was Sunday, March 16th, and the Third Brigade fell back to Bull Run, only to return again on Monday. During this reconnoisance to Cedar Run the other regiments of the brigade remained at Manassas, and the Second Corps occupied the Bull Run fortifications.
General Stoneman, who was in command of the expedition sent a special note to the Fifty-Seventh, highly complimenting its officers and men for their energy in overcoming the difficulties of the march, and for their bravery in the presence of the enemy. This greatly pleased the boys, as they had never been under fire before and were not entirely sure that their conduct was of the proper sort. It was practice in the art of war, limited indeed, but of the same quality that goes to make up larger campaigns. The marching was among the hardest, the experience in fighting was to come later. A letter of Captain Chapman speaks of Stoneman’s complimentary note as “most flattering” and as “pronouncing our regiment one of the best in the service.” We append Colonel Zooks’ report:
HEADQUARTERS FIFTY-SEVENTH NEW YORK VOLUNTEERS.
Manassas Junction, March 18th, 1862.
SIR.—On the 14th instant, about 9:30 a. m. this regiment marched with a brigade of cavalry, all under the command of Brigadier-General George Stoneman, via the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to Cedar Run. The march was rendered somewhat tedious and difficult by having nothing better than the ruins of burned bridges upon which to cross at Broad and Kettle Runs.
At 6:30 p. m. we arrived at a point about a mile and a half east of Cedar Run, where the enemy had driven back a small force of the Sixth Cavalry. General Stoneman here ordered me to send two companies to drive in their pickets. I ordered out companies A, Captain Chapman on the south side of the road, and H, Captain Homer, on the north, under the command of Major Parisen. Advancing as skimishers, they drove the enemy before them in the dark to the west end of the run. Here a portion of Captain Chapman’s company, becoming exposed by the light of some burning cars on the road, received a few shots from the enemy, which were promptly returned, but with what effect is not known further than the enemy retreated beyond the hills.
About midnight Lieutenant Reid, of company F with twenty men, returned to the regiment. He had been sent forward with Lieutenant Brower from the vicinity of Bristoe Station in the morning. He reported having seen the enemy’s scouts at a distance several times during the day. In the morning General Stoneman ordered the whole regiment forward to Catletts StatiOn. Two companies, B and I, under Throop and Lieutenant Mott, being deployed in advance as skirmishers, continued their march to the run. Shortly after Major Parisen was séñf to assume command of them. They had arrived but a-short time when small parties of the enemy appeared on the opposite bank.
The orders of the general prohibited firing except in reply to fire. But little time, however, was lost in consequence, for they soon commenced firing upon both companies. Their fire was promptly and effectually returned, two or three of their saddles being emptied.
The general’s object having been accomplished the regiment retired. The skirmishers were drawn in as a rear guard, and the whole command commenced a march to this place. The return march was severe on account of the incessant rain and bad condition of the roads, the difficulty in recrossing Broad and Kettle Runs was increased by the rapid rise of the water. At the former the ruins were swept away whilst two men yet remained to cross. There was no alternative but to leave them behind, but both have since come in.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. K. Zook,
A story is told in connection with this expedition to Cedar Run that illustratçs what a terrible temptation to a soldier living on pork and hard tack is the sight of a chicken. Before leaving Manassas General Stoneman encouraged us by saying he had chosen our regiment to go with his cavalry because he thought we could be depended upon in an emergency and would obey orders. He desired that a good impression be left on the country through which we passed, especially in regard to foraging. On the march, however, as the general rode along he saw a man in company I with a chicken hanging from his shoulder. “Young man” said the general, “Where did you get that hen ?“ After the usual salute the man responded “Bought it of a man in Company A.” The hen was traced to the Company A man, thence to a man in Company B, - then to a man in Company C and then to a man in Company K who said he bought it of a man in the Sixty-sixth regiment at Manassas. General Stoneman was sharp enough to see the point of all this and good natured enough to say “If you men fight as well as you forage we will go straight through to Richmond.”
About this time General McClellan issued his order calling upon the troops to endure hardships cheerfully, to be prompt in obedience and courageous in battle, as all these things would be necessary to success in the summer’s campaign. When this order was read at dress parade three cheers were given for General McClellan, three for General Stoneman and three for Colonel Zook.
Manassas and the Bull Run Mountains were one mass of fortifications, embracing an area of four square miles. There were at least fifty different hills, each having its earth works. A wide level plain south of Manassas and the valleys between the Bull Run hills were filled with huts, which were generally twelve feet square, built of rough logs and roofed with split shingles, the fire-places and chimneys being of wood and mud. At the ruins of a burnt hospital was found a burnt body and at a creek fifty feet away were five bodies with their hands tied behind, giving every appearance of violence. The Manassas depot, a locomotive, several cars, large quantities of camp equipage and commissary stores had been burned. Some fifty barrels of flour were unharmed and the boys had a feast of flour cakes. This stronghold gave every appearance of having been evacuated hastily, a result of the belief that our army was moving toward Fredericksburg. From rebel Reports it appears that General Jackson, who was in command, expected that McClellan would move toward Richmond by Fredericksburg, which, in his military judgment, was the best route for one army to take, as it covered Washington and was just as good a route for attack. With this judgment President Lincoln agreed and later General Grant’s campaign was carried on along this line. General Jackson, therefore, fearing a quick movement to his right and rear, made all haste to get his army to Marye’s Heights. The bad roads prevented his saving all his stores. There was great complaint at Richmond over the destruction of these stores and several generals were called upon to explain.
General Richardson on March 19th, 1862, while at Manassas reported "I have some information as to the position of General Jackson. He is northwest of Manassas Gap twenty-five miles and sOuthwest of Winchester, has 35,000 men .and three batteries. At Warrenton Juncton are 5,000 men and one regiment of Stewarts Cavalry. At Rappahannock Bridge some 50,000. They are falling back since Friday last towards Fredericksburg. We have this information from different intelligent persons both white and black.” At the same time a rebel spy reported to General Jackson that our army be-. tween Alexandria and Manassas numbered about 200,000. He also mentions the advance of the Fifty-Seventh with Cavalry to Cedar Run. It was told us by the inhabitants that Manasses was a very unhealthy place, that about 20,000 southern soldiers had died there during the winter.
March 2 5th, an advance toward Warrenton Junction was made, but the main army having ten days before began its return to Alexandria, were embarking for the Peninsular, so we too were ordered back. Taking the cars at Fairfax Station and stopping over night at old Camp California, we came into possession of our knapsacks again but found that some one had made free to examine their contents and help themselves to such articles as they., happened to want. The thief could not be discovered and the quartermaster seemed not to be blamable so the men consoled themselves with that oft expression, “Why did I go for a soldier?” This sentence came later to be an army classic. Its power to “soothe one’s sorrows and heal one’s woes” was never failing. It meant that the soldier had voluntarily enlisted, that hardships were a part of his occupation and were therefore not a matter for complaint. Indeed there was nothing more marked in the entire range of the Union Soldier’s experiences than the recuperative power by which he arose above discouragements and revived after defeat. Such a soldier will never stay whipped if ever he can be called whipped. In this respect he was greater than Napoleon, for Napoleon while a master in strategy and a cyclone in action was nerveless in defeat. Paul Jones was his opposite, for his most signal victories came when he was fairly defeated. There is a difference between being whipped and being defeated.
After one night at Camp California the regiment marched to Alexandrja and, the following morning the 4th of April, embarked on the steamer Ariel for Fortress Monroe. The day’s ride down the Potomac was another excursion full of pleasure. Passing Mount Vernon and other points of historic interest, the scenery was charming with no signs of war to mar its general peace. At night, however, a different state of mind ensued. To find a plank that had a soft side was an unsuccessful search. The usual depressions found in the ground and utilized so readily for the hip and shoulder could not here be made, so there was nothing to do but lie first one side and then the other, until both sides became sore and then sit up. No one could walk around without tramping on something sensitive. The second night out the steamer lay off Fortress Monroe, but the next morning moved to Ship Point where we waded ashore. In the vicinity of Ship Point the regiment spent ten or more days building corduroy roads and repairing bridges and docks. At Cheeseman’s Landing a barrel of whiskey was discovered among some suttler’s goods but, as whiskey was contraband, the head of the barrel was knocked in, those who wished got into line and dipped each his cup carrying away what it would hold. Several drunks and some disorderly conduct followed this method of upholding the regulations against the importation of spirituous liquors.
The experience with wagon trains coming up the Peninsula in the rain and mud is something worth recording. A Sergeant of Company C, who had charge, as ordnance Sergeant of the Third Brigade, of eight ammunition wagons, relates that a large part of the time was
spent getting wagons out of holes. A road was terribly cut up after a single train had passed over it, and whatever followed had to dig its way through. The nearer they got to the Chickahominy the worse it became, and on the swamp land corduroy roads had to be made every step of the way. A wagon would get stalled and then came the usual attempt to get the mules to pull together, the snapping of the whip, the yelling of drivers, the prying of the wheels out of the hole with rails, the hitching on of an extra team, etc., etc. That wagon must move for it stops the whole train behind it. Sometimes it would take an hour to start it, sometimes it would not start at all, then a road must be cut through the woods so that teams could go around. Advice is always cheap and abundant on suèh occasions, especially if troops are passing, and especially if stragglers are crawling by. The latter usually sit down, being tired, and give advice, but they seldom take hold and lift. Colonel Zook, during a battle saw a lot of stragglers coming to the rear and said to them: “Where are you men going!” One of them answered: “We are all cut to pieces.” The Colonel responded: “There is a big lot of you left for having been all cut to pieces.” These men along the road are “powerful weak” as the colored people say, but they are never too tired to give advice.
The enemy evacuated Yorktown on the 4th of May, without a general engagement, and the battle of Williamsburg was fought on the fifth by the Third and Fourth Corps, the rebels falling back towards Richmond. Richardson’s Division, which had been separated from the Corps, marched to Yorktown and beyond, but was ordered back to Yorktown, and took the boat up the river, landing at Elthan, some five miles above West Point. General McClellan’s report says that Richardson’s Division was at Elthan on the 15th of May, and that it had rained, it was raining and would rain.
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