Unknown Confederate, On Searching for the Dead and Wounded

28 02 2012

A Search for the Dead by Moonlight.

A correspondent of the Columbia (Ga.) Sun, whose letter has been unaccountably detained, sends an interesting account to the paper of the great battles of Manassas Plains. We extract a portion, which we think will prove interesting even at this late day:

Having procured Dr. Miller’s ambulance, a party of us started to look for the body of Col. Bartow. It was a melancholy search, and extended far into the night. – The moon was shining however, and afforded sufficient light for our purpose. But who can describe the awful sight its pale beams disclosed to us during the night’s ramble among the hills! The mangled forms, the ghastly wounds, and gleaming faces of the dead; the beseeching cries of the wounded, the torments and contortions of the dying – who can depict them! The first man I encountered was a youth of twenty summers who had been killed by a Minnie ball, which entered the temple just in front of the ear, and passed out on the other side. It was a monster ball, and made a hole through which we could almost see. We next came upon a great heap of the enemy’s dead, among them some wounded who were still alive. It was here that the gallant Fourth Alabama Regiment had covered themselves with glory. An appeal was made to me by a wounded man from New York for water. – An Alabamian, also wounded, interposed and begged that we would give the New Yorker water; for he added, “when I was shot down a member of a New York Regiment went to the hollow below, and filled my canteen with water, and brought it to me.” Of course we did what we could to render the poor fellow as comfortable as possible.

But on we move among the dead, turning over first one man and then another, to see whether he be not the one for whom we are searching. As this one is turned over, we discover that the lower part of his face has been carried away that one a leg, and the one further on has lost his entire head. At one place we find a leg and nothing else; at another the scattered fragments of a body. By this branch we find a poor fellow who, having crawled to the water’s edge, drank his fill and died – We could see by the bloody track that another had vainly tried to reach the water, but died before he got to it. Near the stream stood a horse, one of whose forelegs had been carried away by a cannonball. He groaned most piteously.

Meanwhile we learn that Col. Bartow’s body has been found and carried in by another party. So, we’ll fill our ambulance with the sounded and send them into the hospital. By 10 o’clock all our wounded had been cared for, and we turn our footsteps back to the hospital. Three of us who started on foot, finally got lost. Again we traverse the battle field, and again are our ears saluted by the cries and groans of the wounded and dying. At length, my companions having encountered friends who were uncertain whether they would return to the hospital that night, I struck out alone [….] distant) and along which the battle had raged furiously during the latter part of the day. I soon came upon heaps of the enemy, where the dead and wounded, torn and mangled horses lay one upon another. A wounded Irishman from Minnesota saw me by the moonlight, and begged “for the body of the holy St. Patrick,” that I would give him “so much as a mouthful of water.” It was a great trail. I had been out since early morning without anything to eat but one cracker, and it was four or five hundred yards back to the branch, but I remembered what the wounded Alabamian had said, and went and got it for him. Nay, I should have gone any way. Having taken off the coat of a dead soldier and folded it and made a pillow for him and placed the canteen of water within his reach, I bade the poor fellow to be of good cheer, and left him among his dead companions. You may be sure he never ceased to ask the blessing of the holy Virgin upon me as long as I could hear him.

Further on I encountered a small party, one of whom was an old man whose white locks gleamed in the moonlight, and another was a young woman who leant upon his arm. What could they be looking for at this late hour and in this dread place. Was it for a son who had fallen in battle, or for the husband of this you wife? – As I reached the top of the hill and turned back to take a last look of the field, I heard a woman’s scream far down the road, which told too plainly for whom they were searching. She had found him, but whether dead or wounded, I could not tell. God have mercy upon this young wife, and upon the stricken hearts throughout our land, whose loved ones now sleep the sleep of death.

(Charlotte) North Carolina Whig,  9/3/1861

Clipping Image contributed by John Hennessy