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In the Ranks

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In the Ranks
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Author(s): R. E. McBride
Date Published: 2011/08
Page Count: 136
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-700-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-699-2

The crack shots with the bucktails on their caps

This the first hand account of a young Pennsylvanian soldier who joined the Union Army to fight the Confederacy during the American Civil War. He originally joined the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry and campaigned with it until the Battle of the Wilderness when it became untenable as a unit and was merged with the renowned Pennsylvanian Bucktails—a unit principally made up of sharpshooter backwoodsmen who wore the famous bucktail upon their caps as a sign of their skill as hunters and marksmen. Together they formed the 190th Pennsylvania and became part of the Third Brigade, Third Division of the Fifth Army Corps. In honour of the their new comrades, who had become the largest part of the regiment, the 190th adopted the bucktail as their own insignia. McBride takes us on campaign with the 190th and its sister regiment the 191st. Much of McBride’s experience was as a skirmisher where he found the battlefield of independent action both terrifying and liberating, so his is a different view—of the Union infantryman at war removed from the formality of the battle line. An excellent first hand account of these well regarded and distinctive troops, this will be a welcome addition to the library of any American Civil War enthusiast.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

But our waiting is over at last; and, at the word of command, every soldier is in his place. These men were not stolid, ignorant, nor inexperienced. Their thinned ranks show how well they know what battle means. You can see some pale faces, and lips compressed, as “FORWARD” passes down the line. We pass out of the woods into the open field. A few rods ahead, some mounted cavalrymen are firing toward the woods, which conceal the enemy. We can see a puff of smoke here and there among the trees. A little farther, and the cavalry gallop away to the right, and bullets begin to whistle past, some over, some tossing up the dirt at our feet. It would be a waste of powder to return the fire at this distance; besides, we are going down there.<br>
But the bullets begin to come closer. They are fairly hot as they hiss around us. We quicken our pace. It is five hundred yards to the woods. The men on our left open fire—four hundred yards, three, the line slackens a little, and a volley, and another, and another, bursts in quick succession from our Spencer rifles. Then a cheer, as we dash for the woods at headlong speed, yelling and firing as we go. The rebel skirmishers give way before our charge, and the woods are gained.<br>
Up to this time I had not looked back. I supposed we had advanced about a thousand yards, and would soon encounter the main force of the enemy. As we reached the woods, I turned to see if the line of battle was yet in sight. My eyes fell upon the most stirring scene I ever witnessed. This was the grandeur, the sublimity of war. The corps was coming in order of battle, line after line sweeping on with steady step. Their front extended nearly a mile across the open ground, guns at a right-shoulder, glittering in the sunlight like silver, battle-flags fluttering in the air. In front, the skirmishers were fighting savagely; on the left a score of cannon were thundering, shells screaming out their horrid warning, as they leaped from the smoking guns. But this living avalanche swept on in stern silence, as if there breathed within it a great soul, which scorned to speak or strike but once. A single glance took in the inspiring scene. I gazed but a moment, and then hurried into the woods.<br>
The ground here consisted of alternate ridges and depressions, covered with trees and bushes, with occasional open places. It was hard ground to fight over, every ridge serving as a rallying point, and affording a superior position for defence. Our advance was now a succession of charges. When the rebels were driven from one ridge, they rallied at the next. A short distance from the edge of the woods, where we first encountered them, was a little brook, running nearly east; along its banks were some large rocks, while a few rods nearer were piles of wood, logs, and other means of shelter. Quite a large group of rebels made a stand here. Sergeant Hasler, Crocket, one or two others and myself, centred our attention on these, and advanced upon them, at first taking what cover we could among the trees, firing rapidly as we went. As we were pressing forward, my foot tripped on something, and I came to the ground with stunning force. Crocket, who was a few yards to my right, hurried toward me, his face the very picture of anxious sympathy, and inquired if I was struck. Recovering my breath, in a moment I was on my feet again, and assured him I was all right.<br>
We now rushed on them with a cheer, and they broke and fled. We were so close on them, that seven of their number took refuge behind a large rock, while three or four more fled across the brook, leaving one of their number wounded on its bank. The men behind the rock now waved hats past it in token of surrender, and soon they were marching toward the rear in charge of Crocket. The wounded rebel whom I had seen fall, lay about a rod to the left, shot through the thigh. I gave him a drink, filled my canteen, and went on.