An adopted Georgian’s story of his war with the Confederacy
Posterity is fortunate that the American Civil War has given us dozens of first hand accounts from soldiers of all ranks—and all are absolutely essential. They are source material for both serious and casual students. Accounts from the Union side of the conflict exist in numbers, but it is inevitable that those from the losing side are in fewer number. This account is by a French soldier who fought as an infantryman beside his friends from his adopted state of Georgia. In common with many in the Civil War, Hermann and the First Georgia Regiment quickly found themselves in the midst of hard action where casualties quickly mounted. They saw action at Antietam, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga and on many other bloodily contested fields before the end of the war. The author tells a touching and engaging story in which he reveals himself to be a feisty and resilient soldier disinclined to accept an injury from anyone irrespective of rank, the colour of their uniform or, indeed, those in civilian attire. Originally titled ‘Memoirs of a Veteran,’ this title has been slightly changed for this edition to more accurately signal its subject to modern readers.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
When the fight first opened I was in the rear, as stated, on account of my foot, but after being dressed and hearing the firing, I made for the front, and reported to Captain Howell for duty, while he was in line of battle on the extreme left. He said his detachment was complete, to report to the next. Having only four pieces of artillery in action, two under charge of Lieutenant Robson not having yet arrived, they were placed along the front about two hundred yards apart, all had full working force. I retraced my steps and so reported to the captain, saying, “Well, captain, there being no use for me here, I shall go to the rear to protect myself and watch the progress of the fight, should there be any casualties in the company I’ll take their place—no use for me to be here unless I can be of some service.”<br>
Up to that time the skirmish line was still contending for every inch of the ground. Captain Howell says to me, “You stay here, and act as my orderly. I’m hoarse anyhow, and you have a good voice and can repeat my orders and commands,” so I was installed by the side of the captain. The ground on which we stood was a gradual incline, while that of the enemy was about on a level with us, leaving a sort of a basin or valley between both lines.<br>
It was a novel sight to see our skirmishers contending every inch of the ground before an overwhelming force, to see them load and fire, and gradually falling back, facing the advancing foe. When suddenly they emerged from the woods, where they were concealed, and advanced in platoon form, sending their deadly missiles into our thin skirmishers ranks. I said, “This is more than our men can stand, let me throw a shell over their heads, into their ranks.”<br>
He answered, “Do so, but don’t shoot our men.”<br>
“No danger,” said I. I depressed the bridge of my piece, raising the muzzle about four fingers. No. four pulled the laniard. It had a good effect, and resulted in stopping their advance, and thus enabled our skirmishers to come in. My fire also gave them our position and distance. They at once formed a battery in front of us. I aimed a second shot at a white horse. Captain Howell watching its effect. I being behind the gun, the smoke prevented me from so doing, when he said, “You got him.” I soon found out that I had done some damage and that my range was accurate, for they centred their fire of several pieces against my own. One of their shots passed over my gun and knocked off its sight, passed between the detachment, striking the caisson lid in the rear and staving it in, and thus preventing us for a few minutes in replying. We had to break it open with the hand spikes to get ammunition.<br>
They undoubtedly thought that we were irreparably silenced, and paid their respects to some other part of our line, but we resumed business again, and they came back at us. I saw a ball rolling on the ground, about six feet to my right. It seemed to be about the same calibre as ours. It rolled up a stump, bouncing about fifteen feet in the air. I thought it was a solid shot and wanting to send it back to them through the muzzle of our gun, I ran after it. It proved to be a shell, as it exploded, and a piece of it struck my arm. It was a painful wound, but not serious. Another ball struck a tree about eight inches in diameter, knocked out a chip, which struck my face and caused me to see the seven stars in plain day light and very near got a scalp of Captain Howell, who stood behind that tree.<br>
Orders came for Captain Howell to fall back. He asked me to inform Major Martin, who was in command of the piece at the extreme right, that he was falling back. I had to traverse the whole front of our line. I took the colour bearers’ horse, a fine animal. We named him Stonewall. The enemy’s fire was rather high, as they came up the incline and the balls rattled through the tree tops like hail. It commenced raining very hard. I dismounted and took it afoot. On my way passing the third section, Sim Bland, who acted as number 6, and whose duty it was to carry the ammunition from the caisson and to hand it to No. 2 who inserts it in the muzzle of the gun, while No. 1 rammed it home. As I crossed him at a trot, I remarked, “Sim, this is hot time.” Before he could reply, a solid cannon ball had struck him. Poor fellow, he did not know what hit him, for he was dead. His whole left side entirely torn to pieces.<br>
The enemy was now advancing more rapidly, as our whole line had given away. On my return I found my horse also shot down. I was trying to save the body of Bland, but couldn’t get the assistance needed. I went through his pockets and took what he had therein and gave it to his brother, Lieutenant Bland. The enemy pushed me so close I had to take to the woods in my immediate rear, the trees of which somewhat protected me from the enemy’s fire. About a hundred yards further I found Sergeant Newsome with his gun and a detachment, trying to make for the public road leading to Jackson. He had managed so far to drive his command evading the trees of the forest, when suddenly he was confronted by a plank fence which stood perfectly erect, not a plank missing and about five feet high.<br>
He ordered the horses cut out of the harness, and was about to abandon his guns, when I hollered, “No Sergeant, don’t do it! Ride through between the posts, they are wide enough apart, knock down the planks.” I put myself in action and kicked against the planks, when the whole panel fell over, carrying several others with it, for all the posts were completely rotten at the ground, and thus I saved this piece of artillery and probably the men. We reached the road and marched in column. It was raining hard and every man was soaked to the skin. The column halted, having fallen back about a half a mile, firing as they went, when again we formed in line of battle. I was very tired, and sat down by the road side. When called again into action, I found that I could not use my arm, and that the leaders of my leg had contracted at my groins. The enemy had again outflanked us, and the men lifted me on a caisson.