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War From the Inside

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War From the Inside
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Author(s): Frederick Lyman Hitchcock
Date Published: 2009/12
Page Count: 248
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-901-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-902-2

A Union officer on campaign

The author of this book served as Adjutant and Major in the 132nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and his primary objective in writing his account was to provide a regimental history. Whilst the book serves admirably in that capacity, it is also the case that Hitchcock proposed to leave a record of his own Civil War experiences for his family and in that he has been even more successful. This is a personal and personable account of a Union officer at war and Hitchcock's descriptions of battlefield combat are particularly immediate and well told. We join him and his regiment in camp, on campaign and on several bloody fields of conflict including Blue Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg—where Hitchcock's experience is a classic account of the horror of the Union charge—to Chancellorsville and wars end. Available in soft back and cloth bound hard cover with dust jacket.

Our men were being swept away as by a terrific whirlwind. The ground was soft and spongy from recent rains, and our faces and clothes were bespattered with mud from bullets and fragments of shells striking the ground about us, whilst men were every moment being hit by the storm of projectiles that filled the air. In the midst of that frightful carnage a man rushing by grasped my hand and spoke. I turned and looked into the face of a friend from a distant city. There was a glance of recognition and he was swept away. What his fate was I do not know.<br>
That same moment I received what was supposed to be my death wound. Whilst the men were lying down, my duties kept me on my feet. Lieutenant Charles McDougal, commanding the colour company, called to me that the colour-guard were all either killed or wounded. We had two stands of colours, the national and State flags. These colours were carried by two colour-sergeants, protected by six colour-corporals, which made up the colour-guard. If either sergeant became disabled the nearest corporal took the colours, and so on until the colour-guard were down. This was the condition when this officer called to me to replace these disabled men, so that the colours should be kept flying. He had one flag in his hand as I approached him, and he was in the act of handing it to me when a bullet crashed through his arm and wrist, spattering my face with his warm blood.<br>
I seized the staff as it fell from his shattered arm. The next instant a bullet cut the staff away just below my hand. An instant later I was struck on the head by the fragment of a shell and fell unconscious with the colours in my hand. How long I remained unconscious I do not know, possibly twenty minutes or more. What were my sensations when hit? I felt a terrific blow, but without pain, and the thought flashed through my mind, “This is the end,” and then everything was black. I do not remember falling. It takes time to write this, but events moved then with startling rapidity. From the time we went forward from the embankment until the line was swept back could have been but a few minutes, otherwise all must have been killed.<br>
When I revived I was alone with the dead and wounded. The line of battle had been swept away. The field about me was literally covered with the blue uniforms of our dead and wounded men. The firing had very perceptibly decreased. I had worn into the battle my overcoat, with my sword buckled on the outside. I had been hit on the left side of my head, and that side of my body was covered with blood down to my feet, which was still flowing. My first thought was as to my condition, whether mortally wounded or not. I was perceptibly weakened from loss of blood, but lying there I could not tell how much strength I had left. I did not dare move, for that would make me a target for the guns that covered that terrible wall, the muzzles of which I could plainly see.<br>
Many of them were still spitting out their fire with a venom that made my position exceedingly uncomfortable. What should I do? What could I do? To remain there was either to bleed to death or be taken prisoner and sent to Libby, which I felt would mean for me a sure lingering death. To make a move to get off the field would draw the fire of those guns, which would surely finish me. These were the alternatives.<br>
I carefully stretched my legs to test my strength, and I made up my mind I had enough left to carry me off the field, and I resolved to take my chances in the effort. I determined that I would zigzag my course to the rear so as not to give them a line shot at me. So getting myself together I made a supreme effort and sprang up and off in jumps, first to the right, then to the left. As I expected, they opened on me, and the bullets flew thick and fast about me. The first turn I got a bullet through my right leg just above the ankle. It felt like the stinging cut of a whip and rather accelerated my speed.<br>
About fifty yards back was an old slab fence to my right, and I plunged headlong behind that, hoping to find shelter from those bullets. I fell directly behind several other wounded men, two of whom rolled over dead from bullets that came through the slabs and which were probably aimed at me. This flushed me again, and by the same zigzag tactics I succeeded in getting back to the railroad embankment, where, to my great joy, I found Colonel Albright with what remained of the regiment. Colonel Albright grasped me in his arms as I came over, with the exclamation, “We thought you were killed.” Sergeant-Major Clapp told me that he had rolled me over and satisfied himself that I was dead before they went back.<br>
As I reached cover under this embankment I remember noticing a field-officer rallying his men very near us on our right, and that instant his head was literally carried away by a shell. So intense was the situation that even this tragic death received only a passing thought. Then came the Irish brigade, charging over our line as they did at Antietam. They came up and went forward in fine form, but they got but a few yards beyond the embankment, when they broke and came back, what was left of them, in great confusion. No troops could stand that fire.