Extracts from my Diary, and from my Experiences while Boarding with Jefferson Davis, in Three of His Notorious Hotels, in Richmond, Va., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Salisbury, N. C, from July, 1861, to June, 1862.
By WILLIAM J. CROSSLEY.
[Late Sergeant Company C, Second Rhode Island Infantry Volunteers.]
July 17th, we arrived at Fairfax, where some of the smart ones made themselves conspicuous in a few of the houses evacuated by the Confederates, by smashing portraits, pianos, mirrors and other furniture, without cause or provocation.
Thursday, 18th, bought a hoecake and went a mile to milk a cow, with and from which I had a rare supper. The boys are shooting pigs and hens to kill. At 7 p. m. we marched away three or four miles to a place we named “Brush Camp,” where four men came to us from the fight we had heard two of three miles beyond, at a place called Centreville. They were gunless and hatless, and two of them were wounded. On the 19th, with rails and brush, we made a shelter from the fierce sun. Fresh meat was issued to-day; I made a soup, first in the campaign; rather but not awful salt, — for a fresh-made soup. Dress parade tonight. Sent a letter Home. Have to begin Home now with a capital “H” since we have seen rebel-made blood.
Sunday, July 21st. This is the day we celebrate the occasion of this melodrama. Left camp about 2 a. m., arrived at Bull Run about 9 a. m. Here the Confederacy received us with open arms and refreshments galore. We had barely time to exchange the compliments of the season with them, when one of the Johnnies with much previousness passed me a pepperment drop in the shape of a bullet that seemed to be stuffed with cayenne. Out of courtesy, of course, I returned a similar favor, with but little satisfaction however, for he was so completely hidden down in the grainfield that his colors and the smoke from his guns were all we had for a target. Well, the cayenne was getting warmer, and the blood was getting out of my eyes into my trousers’ leg, so I was taken to the rear, and down to where Surgeons Wheaton and Harris were dressing wounds, and had mine dressed; and, as the rebs began just then dropping shot and shell so near to us as to be taking limbs from the trees over our heads the doctors ordered that the wounded be moved away. I was put in a blanket and taken to another part of the woods and left. Soon after, an old friend of mine, Tom Clark, a member of the band, came along, and, after a chat, gave me some whiskey, from the effects of which, with fatigue, loss of blood and sleep, I was soon dozing, notwithstanding the roar of fierce and murderous battle going on just over the hill. When I awoke a tentmate of mine was standing over and telling me we were beaten and on the run. I wanted to tell him what Pat told the Queen of Ireland, Mrs. Keller, but after looking into his ghostly, though dirty face, I said nothing, but with his help and a small tree tried to get up. That was a failure, so I gave him my watch, said good-bye to him, and he left. Up to date it was also good-bye to the watch. Well, after this little episode, I turned over, and, on my hands and one knee, crawled down to the road, four or five hundred yards away, and tried to get taken in, or on an ambulance, but they were all full (though not the kind of full you are thinking about). Then I crawled up to a rail fence close by a log cabin, and soon the rebs came along, took account of stock, i. e., our name, regiment and company, and placed a guard over us. Being naturally of a slender disposition (I weighed one hundred and eleven pounds just before leaving Washington) and from the fracas of the last twelve hours, was, perhaps, looking a little more peaked than usual, so when one of the rebel officers asked me how old I was, and I told him twenty-one, maybe he was not so much to blame for smiling and swearing, “He reckoned I had got my lesson nearly perfect.” I didn’t know then what he meant, but it seems they had heard we were enlisting boys, and I suppose he thought, in my case at least, the facts were before him.
Monday, July 22d. Well, here I am, a prisoner of war, a lamb surrounded by wolves, just because I obeyed orders, went into a fight, and, by Queensbury rules, was punctured below the belt. So much for trying to be good. And just here I would like to add a few lines pertaining to that (to us, then) strange expression, “Prisoner of war.” From the day of my enlistment to the morning of this notorious battle I had never heard the word mentioned, nor had I even thought of it. I had been told before leaving Providence that I would be shot, starved or drilled to death, that with a fourteen-pound musket, forty rounds of cartridge, a knapsack of indispensables, a canteen of, — of fluid, a haversack of hard-tack, a blanket and half a tent I would be marched to death under the fierce rays of a broiling sun, with a mule’s burden of earth — in the shape of dust — in my hair, eyes, and ears, up my nose and down the back of my neck, or, wading through miles of mud so thick that I must go barefoot or leave my shoes. That I would return home — if at all — with but one leg, one arm, one eye, or one nose, and with but very little of the previous large head; but with all this gabble about war and its alluring entertainments not a solitary word about “Prisoner of war.” So you see, it was not merely a surprise to us, a little something just out of the ordinary, but it was a shock, and not an every day feeble and sickly shock either, but a vigorous paralyzing and spine-chilling shock, that we couldn’t shake off for days or weeks after we were captured. But to continue.
It rained all of last night; I got thoroughly soaked. This morning the rebs made our able ones go out on the battlefield and get rubber blankets, put them over rails and make a shelter for us in the yard of the cabin. The cabin is full of wounded and dying, and I don’t know how many are in the yard. When the surgeon was dressing my wound to-day, we found the bullet inside the drawers where they were tied around my ankle. Oh, but wasn’t I lucky; there was but one puncture and that one below wind and vitals. That’s where the infantry lap over the navy, you see, Mr. Shell-back.
July 23d. Colonel Slocum died at one o’clock this morning. Penno, of the First, had his leg cut off. The major had both of his taken off.
We had some porridge made from meal the men brought in from the woods.
July 24th. Colonel Slocum was buried this morning at the lower end of the garden. Major Ballou’s and Penno’s legs in same place. The Major is getting better; so am I. As the men were going past me here with the Colonel’s body, I was allowed to cut a button from his blouse (I have it yet), at the same time they found another bullet wound in one of his ankles.
July 26th. Had ham and bread for dinner right from the field, and gruel for supper. T. O. H. Carpenter, another of my friends, and of my company, died to-day, up at the church.
July 27th. No bread to-day, only gruel. McCann, of Newport, died.
July 28th. Major Ballou died this p. m.
Gruel for supper, with a fierce tempest.
July 29th. The major was buried beside the colonel at dark.
July 31st. Have had an elegant headache the past two days; to-day it’s singing. Started for Manassas Junction about noon, in ammunition wagons, and with those infernal drivers hunting around for rocks and stumps to drive over; it did seem as if the proprietors of the bullet holes and stumps in the wagons were getting “on to Richmond” with a vengeance. At the Junction we were put into freight cars and started at dark for Richmond.
August 1st. When we arrived at Gordonville this morning, the most of us hoped to be delivered from another such night, for the way that engineer twitched and thumped those cars all night long would have made Jeff Davis & Co. smile, if they could have heard the cursing and groans of the tortured and dying in those cars. This afternoon some are scraping the maggots from their rotten limbs and wounds, for the heat has been sweltering all day, and the stench almost unbearable, as you know, there is no ventilation in the ends of a box freight car; but the most of us lived through it, and finally arrived at Richmond, one hundred and fifty miles from Manassas, at the speed of nearly seven miles an hour. Did you ever hear of Uncle Sam treating a train load of gasping and dying strangers quite so beastly and leisurely as that? As we were being unloaded from the cars to wagons a nice looking old gentleman with a white necktie, standing nearby, said to me, “How old are you, my little man?” I told him twenty-one, but from his insinuating that I must be a near relative of Ananias, I did not pretend to be over seventeen after that while in the Confederacy. From the cars we were taken to a tobacco factory, near the lower end of the city, and on the left bank of the James River, afterwards known as the famous “Libby.” We were dumped on the first floor, among the tobacco presses for the night, and next morning taken upstairs, and, “bless my stars,” put on cots, and given bread and coffee for breakfast. What was the coffee made of do you ask? I don’t know, and, as you didn’t have it to drink it need not concern you; and we had soup for dinner, and it’s none of your affairs what that was made of either. And now we are allowed to send letters home, but have to be very careful as to quality and quantity, for Mr. Reb has the first perusal and will throw them in the waste basket if a sentence or even a word is not to his liking. I tell you if we needed a capital “H” for home, when at Brush Camp, the entire word should be written in capitals here, for there we were surrounded by friends, not an enemy in sight, while here we are surrounded by thousands of enemies and bayonets and not a solitary friend within miles.
While writing this paper I have tried to think of some parallel or similar case to that of ours, that I might give you an idea in a more condensed and comprehensive form what that life was, but I can think of none. Possibly some of you may think that board and lodgings at “Viall’s Inn” for a few months might be comparable. I don’t think so; but as we are cramped for time I will not argue the matter with you, but drop it after a single comparison. If you were to be sent to General Viall’s you would be told before leaving the Court House how long you were to stay. There is where much of the agony, the wear and tear came to us, that everlasting longing, yearning and suspense.
When settled down to our daily routine, I find on the cot beside mine a little Belgian Dutchman, about thirty-five years old, with a head round as a pumpkin, eyes that would snap like stars in January, and a moustache that puts his nose and mouth nearly out of sight. He was seldom murmuring, but flush with sarcasm. His name was Anthony Welder, and he belonged to the Thirty-Eighth New York. He was wounded the same as I, just above the knee, so he could not walk, but he did not lack for friends and fellow countrymen to call on him and help use up many weary hours with their national and lively game of “Sixty-Six.” I wish you could have seen them play it. I was a real nice boy at that time and didn’t know even the name of a card, but seeing them getting so much fun out of it I asked Anthony one day to show me how to play, but with a very decided No, he said, “I tell you; I show you how to play, and you play awhile for fun, then you play for a little money, you win, then you play for a pile, and you win, then you play for a big pile, and you lose him all, then you say, ‘Tarn that Tutchman, I wish the tevil had him before he show me how to play cards.’ ” But there wasn’t much peace for Dutchie until I knew how to play Sixty-Six.” And just here is another illustration of the havoc my evaporated memory has made with some of the tidbits of those days, that I would occasionally like to recall ; for to-day I know no more about that game of “Sixty-Six” than the Chaplain of the Dexter Asylum.
August 4th. A First regiment man died, and on the 6th Esek Smith, also three other Rhode Island men died. And her[e] I should say I make no mention of the dozens and scores belonging to other states and regiments that are carried out daily. One day as a body was being taken out past us I said to Welder, “There goes another poor fellow that’s had to give up the ghost,” and Welder says, “Well, that is the last thing what he could do.”
August 7th. Had services this p. m. by an Episcopal clergyman.
August 10th. Grub very scarce. Cobb of the Second died, and H. L. Jacques, of Company E, from Wakefield, bled to death this evening.
August 13th. Johnnie is whitewashing the walls. It makes the dirty red bricks look a little more cheerful.
August 21st. To-day we are a month away from Bull Run, and a month nearer home.
Hat-tip to reader Bill Kleppel
William J. Crossley at Ancestry.com
While presented in diary format, it is apparent that the above was subsequently edited by the author.