JCCW – Wagon-Master Nathaniel F. Palmer

16 08 2009

Testimony of Wagon-Master Nathaniel F. Palmer

Report on the Conduct of the War, Vol. 2, pp. 221-224

WASHINGTON, February 18, 1862.

NATHANIEL F. PALMER sworn and examined.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. Will you state in what capacity you served in the army under General Patterson?

Answer. I was appointed wagon-master in the 8th Pennsylvania regiment by Colonel Lumley.

Question. When did you enter the army?

Answer. On the 15th day of May last.

Question. You were captured by the enemy?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. On what day and in what engagement?

Answer. I was taken on the 2d day of July.

Question. At the battle of Falling Waters?

Answer. There were two divisions of the army after we crossed the river; they came to a fork of the road, and one part took the right and the other the left. The 15th Pennsylvania regiment was on the extreme right of the right wing; they had an advance guard thrown out, and Dr. Tripp and myself were taken with it.

Question. Where were you taken after your capture?

Answer. To Winchester.

Question. When did you arrive at Winchester?

Answer. On the morning of the 4th of July.

Question. Can you tell what number of troops Johnston had at the time you were taken—his whole force at Winchester and with him?

Answer. After we were taken we were taken with their retreat through Martinsburg. We came around to Martinsburg from Falling Waters. We were not on the road at Falling Waters, but on the road west of it. But it was all the same engagement. They then retreated three miles out of Martinsburg to a place they called Big Springs. There we lay over night with three regiments of infantry. I do not know how much cavalry they had, for they were scattered, coming in and running out, helter-skelter, and I could not get much idea of them. We then lay there until, perhaps, the next morning at 9 o’clock, when we fell back three miles further towards Bunker Hill, and went into a field, where they drew up in a sort of line of battle. There they were met by two more regiments and six pieces of light artillery. I think four of the guns were brass, and the other two were iron. We lay there in that field until alter dark; I do not know what time in the evening it was; and then we were put on their baggage wagons, and everything was sent into Winchester—all their traps.

Question. Did the force there go into Winchester at that time?

Answer. No, sir. We left them on the ground there, but all their wagon trains went into Winchester.

Question. Tell us, as near as you can, the whole number of Johnston’s force at that time, what you left behind you, and what you found at Winchester.

Answer. From the best calculations that we could make—and we got our information from very good sources—we concluded that they had about 7,000 men, besides their cavalry. That was scattered about in such confusion that we could not tell anything about it.

Question. How long did you stay at Winchester?

Answer. Until the 18th of July.

Question. Did Johnston’s force continue to increase while you remained at Winchester; and if so, to what extent?

Answer. There were squads coming in there every day. I do not think there was a day but what some came in. They would come in two or three companies at a time; no full regiments ever came in while we were there. By counting up the squads and calculating the best we could, we concluded that by the 18th there was but very little over 13,000 there.

Question. Did this increase of force come in from Manassas or from other points?

Answer. They did not come from Manassas. They were reported to us as coming from towns off in Virginia. I cannot remember the names of them. We made inquiries, and they were reported to us as coming in from different places in Virginia; that is, they were volunteers that had been picked up through the country.

Question. What was the condition of the fortifications at Winchester when you arrived there?

Answer. I did not see anything of any fortifications myself. Some of our men were taken out to work on the 5th of July, I think. When they came back they reported that they had been working at a cannon to mount it on a little fortification they had in the edge of the town where the Charlestown rail-road comes in at Winchester. They reported that there was a little fortification there, with a sort of rifle-pits or trench dug for some fifteen or twenty rods.

Question. Is that the only fortification you heard of there?

Answer. That is the only one we ever got information about.

Question. How many guns had they there?

Answer. Only this one they tried to mount.

Question. You left Winchester on the 18th of July?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Will you state where you went and what you saw on the road?

Answer. We were taken from Winchester to Strasburg, and arrived there in the evening about nine or ten o’clock. We lay there until the next morning until two o’clock; when we were put in the cars for Manassas. On our way to Manassas, I should think twenty miles from there, we ran a foul of Johnston’s men. One of them came into the cars whom I knew, because he stood guard over me while I was at Big Spring. He said they had three regiments then bound for Manassas, and that there were more coming on behind. While we lay there on one side, there were two trains that ran in there and went by us. We got into Manassas about nine o’clock in the morning. In the course of a couple of hours or so these trains came in with these men on and unloaded.

Question. How many regiments were there in all that came in?

Answer. There were three came in there. Whether they brought them all down there is more than I can tell. They had perhaps four or five switches at Manassas, where the headquarters were. They ran in there and ran past us, unloaded the trains, and then they went right back again. They were gone until nearly night, when they ran in again and unloaded some more men there.

Question. How many men were brought into Manassas while you were there?

Answer. We were told that there were 7,000 of them.

Question. Was Johnston there himself?

Answer. That is what we understood that he was there.

Question. Did you hear of any battle when you had got to Manassas?

Answer. We heard before we got there of the battle of the 18th. We heard that at a station called the Plains. There was quite a gathering and hurraing there. Some men had shot guns and threatened to shoot us through the windows of the cars.

Question. When did you leave Manassas?

Answer. On the 19th, about ten o’clock in the evening.

Question. Where did you go?

Answer. We ran down to Culpeper Court-House. I lay there until the next day, the 20th, at one o’clock, when we left.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. Why did you lay there so long?

Answer. To let trains pass coming from the south.

Question. From Richmond?

Answer. I do not know as they all came from Richmond. Some of them came in from Gordonsville.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. How many troops, according to your estimate, passed you going to Manassas, while you were on your way from Manassas to Richmond?

Answer. We calculated that if Johnston brought 7,000, there were then taken there twenty-two regiments.

Question. Including the 7,000 brought down by Johnston?

Answer. Yes, sir. There were three in Richmond that night; two trains were loaded, and another regiment was at the station, standing and sitting about there.

Question. The whole you think amounted to twenty-two regiments?

Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You do not know, of your own knowledge, what became of the force Johnston left behind at Winchester?

Answer. No, sir; I could not tell anything about that.

By the chairman:

Question. Were there any large re-enforcements at Winchester at any time?

Answer. No, sir; they came in there in small squads. I do not think there was any number at one time come in higher than perhaps four or five companies.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. And none of those came from Manassas?

Answer. No, sir; none of them were reported as coming from Manassas.

By the chairman:

Question. And in all they had not more than 13,000 there?

Answer. No, sir; there could not have been more than that.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. Did they get that gun mounted while you were at Winchester?

Answer. We did not know. They were pretty much all young men who were taken out for that work. After they found out that that was the work they had to do, we came to the conclusion that we would not work on their fortifications or their guns. The fact of it was, we thought if we were going to be murdered by them, we might as well have it done first as at last. I protested against going out, and all the other men came up and declared that they would not go out and work on the fortifications, let the consequences be what they might. The result was that they did not come for us again.

By Mr. Gooch:

Question. What time did Johnston start with his men from Winchester?

Answer. He started the 17th, in the night some time. We heard in the evening that he was going to start.

By Mr. Covode:

Question. You started the next day after?

Answer. Yes, sir; the next day at 1 o’clock.

Question. Would there have been any difficulty in Patterson’s force coming and taking Winchester when you arrived there?

Answer. No, sir; they never could have made a stand at all. We expected them hourly all the time, and had got the wall of the jail fixed so that we could get out in five minutes. And all over town, at every door almost, there was a horse and wagon hitched, so that they might be ready to get right in and leave the town—standing there day and night.

Question. Looking for Patterson to come in?

Answer. Yes, sir, hourly.

Question. How did you keep the jailer from knowing that you had fixed the wall?

Answer. We hung blankets over it. The fact is, I had a scheme of my own to attend to that jailer. When we were first brought there, he came in, and when he saw me he said: “Damn you, you are the fellow I have been looking for. I am going to hang you on the bars here.” As he was not armed, I answered him pretty sharply. While that was going on, Lieutenant Buck, who was a gentleman, came in and chided the jailer for treating a prisoner that way. He was a brute, that jailer, if ever there was one. There was an old man named Martin, over eighty years of age, taken because he was a Union man, and brought there a prisoner from Martinsburg. The way that the old man was treated was shameful. And I had just made up my, mind to attend to that jailer if our troops came. I could have got out there in five minutes, and finished with him before our troops could get through the town; but they did not come.


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