1861 - 1865.

Search Historical Newspaper Collections


Chapter IX


WHEN it was found that the Confederate Army had retired from the battle field of Antietam and was making its way into Virginia, General McClellan immediately put in pursuit the Fifth Corps, which corps followed closely upon the advance of the cavalry towards Harper’s Ferry. It was soon discovered that Lee’s retreat had been well provided with protection at every available point and for every possible emergency. Confederate batteries crowned the heights west of the river in such positions as to command all the fords. An attempt was made to dislodge these but it was only partially successful. Lee gradually withdrew his army toward Winchester. The Second Corps marched to Harper's Ferry and occupied Bolivar Heights on the west side of the river. Here we arrived October 5th and remained until the 30th. We were greatly in need of clothing, our food also had been scarce and poor. Consolidation was begun among the smaller companies, B, C and D becoming one company, although reporting separately. Colonel Zook was put in charge of the Third Brigade and General Sumner, asking leave of. absence, was succeeded by General Couch who assumed temporary command of the Second Corps. General Sumner seems to have been in poor health and in need of rest. He was away but a short time, however, and on his return took command, not of the corps, but of two corps, the Second and Ninth, called the Right Grand Division.

We stayed so long at Bolivar Heights that it seemed as though we might spend the winter there, therefore some of the boys carted bricks from an old house in the neighborhood and began to lay a foundation for winter quarters, but in the midst of the most interesting part of this work, October 16th, orders camo for the Charlestown reconnoissance. General Hancock marched the division to Charlestown, drove off the rebels after a considerable artillery duel, and pushed on two miles beyond the town. The Fifty-Seventh took position on the left of the road beyond a patch of woods, with a clear field before them. The gallows on which John Brown was hung were still standing, and the boys on seeing them, struck up “John Brown’s body,” giving particular emphasis to the line “But his soul goes marching on.” General Hancock's instructions were not to bring on a general engagement, but to find the enemy’s position; this being done, orders were given to return to Harper’s Ferry. Before leaving our position, a sergeant without weapons of any kind, who had been strolling along the road beyond our lines, started back to the regiment through the’ woods. In the thick of the woods lie met a stranger, who evidently was a spy dressed in citizens clothes. It was an embarrassing situation for both of them, and neither was in a position to capture the other. If the spy had captured the sergeant he could not have taken him far, since he was within our cavalry out-pOsts, and the sergeant could not take the spy, as he had nothing about him more dangerous than a jack knife. Under these circumstances they were of one mind, and concluded to let each other pass With the time of day.

Following is General Zook’ s report of the reconnoissance:

Bolivar Heights, Va., Oct 21st, 1862.

Captain:—On the morning of the 16th instant this brigade, except the Fifty-Third Pennsylvania Volunteers, which was detached as advanced guard, marched’ at sunrise under orders received the night before, towards Charlestown. On arriving about one mile beyond Halltown, firing was heard in front and the command halted.

Soon after an order was’ received to march the brigade to the front and take position in and near a woods to -the right of the road, and to detach the Fifty-Seventh New York Volunteers to Colonel Brooke in command the advance guard on the left of the road. After placing the Fifty-Second and the Sixty-Sixth New York Volunteers in the woods and the Second Delaware Volunteers in support of Tompkin’s Battery to the left, skirmishers were advanced to the farther edge. of the timber, and, finding this force inadequate, another regiment was asked for and the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers sent in. After some artillery firing to our left and half an hour’s delay, an order was given to advance upon Charlestown, which was executed in battalion column, with deploying intervals.

The enemy having been driven beyond Charlestown at about one p. m., another. order was received to place my command in line of battle to the left and a little to the rear of the village. This having been executed so that my command stood in rear of the Irish brigade, another order was received from the General commanding to place my two regiments in support of Captain Pettit’ s Battery about 125 yards in front of General Meagher’s command. The whole brigade remained until about an hour after sunrise on the 18th when, by the General’s orders, in conjunction with the remainder of his command, it marched back to camp on Bolivar Heights without any casualty whatever during the expedition.

The regiments under my orders during the reconnoissance were commanded as follows: The Second Delaware Volunteers, Colonel Wm. P. Baily; Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, Captain F. Dreher; Fifty-Second New York Volunteers, Colonel Paul Frank; Fifty-Seventh New York Volunteers, Major A. B. Chapman and Sixty-Sixth New York Volunteers, Colonel Joseph C. Pinckney.

S. K. Zook,
Colonel Commanding Brigade.

It is amusing to read some of the Southern reports of battles. The rebel Colonel L. L. Munford says in his account of the Charlestown engagement, that with four guns they held “at bay for four hours, the advance of General McClellan’s grand army, and only retired when their ammunition was exhausted.” “In the engagement” he goes on to say, “our loss was two killed and three wounded in the artillery. The enemy acknowledges a loss of between seventy-five and one hundred men killed and wounded.” The truth is we lost one man killed and three wounded. True to life is that Shakespearian metaphor, “Easy as lying.”

On the 30th, the Second Corps leading, the army crossed the Shenandoah river, passed the base of London Heights, moved down the valley to Hill Grove, then along the south base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, coming on the 3rd of November to Snicker’s Gap, the following day to Upperville, on the 6th to Rectortown and on the 8th to Warrenton. The weather was cold and gloomy. The boys had to sleep spoon fashion in order to keep warm and then did not succeed particularly well.

It was on this march that the “Sheep Mania,” as it was called, attacked the army. Orders were given strictly forbidding the stealing of sheep, but the lambs would follow the army in spite of protests. It is said that a whole flock of sheep disappeared in one night. A special affection for this article of diet had developed in the Irish brigade, and many stories are told of the innocence of these men, who, being from the Green Isle, were especially green concerning the presence of sheep’s clothing found in their camps. There was a good reason for this epidemic of “sheep winning,” the rations had been poor, and, at best, army rations are exceedingly monotonous, while fresh meat is scarce and hence is the greatest of luxuries.

It cannot be denied that the Fifty-Seventh had some touches of this fever for foraging as will be seen from the following true narrative. Two members of Company I started out one evening, after the halt, with irresistable cravings in their stomachs and blood in their eyes. Their cry was “Fe, fi, fo, fum; I smell the blood of fresh mutton; dead or alive I will have some.” They traveled a long distance before they came to a house, here they found no sheep but were satisfied with a large goose. On the way back they stopped in a secluded spot and undressed the gentleman, then reaching camp which they found in midnight slumber, they put on the pot, cut up the goose and poked the fire. The boiling continued all night yet the meat was not tender. At breakfast the comrades enjoyed goose broth, with crackers and coffee. ‘The meat was then put in the haversacks and carried to the evening camp. It is a long pathetic story and must be shortened by saying that the goose was cooked three nights in succession without yielding an inch of ground, and then the discovery was made, as the story goes, that on his left leg was discovered a brand which when deciphered spelled “Noah,” so it was understood that the goose in question was one of the birds that went into the ark with a man named Noah who lived in the time of the ‘flood.

The order from Washington releasing General McClellan from command of the Army of the Potomac reached us at Warrenton, and caused great sorrow. Aside from the necessities or merits of the case the men loved General McClellan. He was their first commander, had just led them through a victorious battle and now had their fullest confidence. A letter of this date says “Little Mac will take with him a large portion of the fighting qualities of this army. We consider, his removal unjust and feel greatly bereaved.” It yet seemed strange to the soldiers that General Lee should be able to play around McClellan as he did, constantly massing his forces and whipping him in detail. Of General Burnside, who was put in charge, we knew nothing remarkable but were willing to await developments. The whole army was drawn up in line and General McClellan, on his black horse, with his staff, rode along the front while one great wave of cheers rolled on from column to clumn as he passed. This was our farewell.

Leaving Warrenton on the 15th, the Second Corps still in advance and General Sumner now leading, the line of march was direct to Fredericksburg, opposite which we halted November 17th. There was found here a cavalry outpost and this was driven across the river. A battery of four guns which was posted on the heights beyond the city was silenced by Pettit’s shells. It was in Burnside’s plan that the pontoons should be here for the immediate crossing of the army, but they were not on hand and while waiting for them Lee was concentrating his forces and building earthworks. General Sumner advised an immediate crossing by the fords but this was dangerous, for in case of a battle and a defeat there would be no adequate means of recrossing the river. There can be little doubt, however, that it would have been better to risk this crossing for, if there is no escape, men will fight like tigers and the Army of the Potomac had not yet developed much ability for attack, but had had considerable experience in defence. At any rate the battle at Fredericksburg could hardly have been worse than it was or the loss greater. We at least would have had an even field had we defended Marye’s Heights from a western attack.

The recording of changes which have been progressing since Antietam is a pleasant task as many worthy men have been advanced to new positions. We have already mentioned the promotion of Major Chapman to Lieutenant-Colonel. N. G. Throop now ranks as Major. T. C. Paine as Qaptain, R. S. Alcoke as First-Lieutenailt from Orderly-Sergeant, H. M. Brewster and John Clark as Second~Lieutenentants, all to date from the battle of Antietam, September 17th. On the 25th of the same month Paul M. Pou, October 21st George Foss, October 20th Melville Kelsey, and November 22d B. L. Palmer, each took the rank of SecondLieutenant. A. M. Wright became Captain October 21st. W. E. Hall became First-Lieutenant November 6th . and H. M. Brewster December 8th. Captain J. H. Bell returned to the regiment and took command of Company C. A new regiment was added to the Third Brigade; the Twenty-Seventh Connecticut, commanded by Colonel R. S. Bostwick. Surgeon McKim had been detached from the regiment and was acting as Brigade Surgeon. At Harper’s Ferry he had charge of the division hospital with the sick and wounded of sixteen regiments to care for. He resigned just before the battle of Fredericksburg and received an honorable discharge.

Return to index of 57th New York Vol. Inf.

Return to History at Rays Place

Blind Counter