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Life in the Army of Northern Virginia

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Life in the Army of Northern Virginia
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Author(s): Carlton McCarthy
Date Published: 2008/11
Page Count: 176
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-555-0
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-556-7

An artillery man's experience of the war between the states

Carlton McCarthy, the author of this book, was a serving soldier in the Army of the Confederacy during the great American Civil War. As a humble private soldier of the second company of the Richmond Howitzers, Cutshaw's Battalion of Artillery, he had an intimate experience of life on campaign and upon the battlefield from within the Second Corps of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. McCarthy has painted a fascinating portrait of his experience of war and army life taking the reader to the very heart of the everyday business of soldiering for the Southern states. Much detail will be found in these pages concerning the minutiae of camp and campaign in all its aspects. McCarthy gives a vivid account of the closing stages of the war, the collapse of the Confederacy and his return homeward immediately after the surrender and the difficulties of subsisting in its aftermath.

Lieutenant McRae was placed in command. The infantry detailed skirmishers for their front. All arrangements completed, the men deployed and entered the woods. They had advanced but a short distance, when they encountered a strong line of picket posts. Firing and cheering they rushed on the surprised men, who scampered away, leaving all their little conveniences behind them, and retreating for about a mile. From this point large bodies of the enemy were visible, crowding the hill-tops like a blue or black cloud.<br>
It was not many minutes before a strong line of dismounted cavalry, followed by mounted men, deployed from this mass to cover the retreat of their fleeing brethren, and restore the picket line. They came down the hills and across the fields, firing as they came. On looking around to see what were the chances for making a stand, Lieutenant McRae found that the infantry skirmishers had been withdrawn. The officer who had commanded them could be seen galloping away in the distance. The little squad, knowing they were alone, kept up a brisk fire on the advancing enemy, till he was close up in front, and well to the rear of both flanks.<br>
On the left, not more than two hundred yards, a column of cavalry, marching by twos, had crossed the line and were still marching, as unconcernedly as possible, to the rear of McRae. Seeing this, McRae ordered his squad to retire, saying at the same time, “But don’t let them see you running, boys!”<br>
So they retired, slowly, stubbornly, and returning shot for shot with the enemy, who came on at a trot, cheering valiantly, as they pursued four men and a lieutenant. The men dragged the butts of their old muskets behind them, loading as they walked. All loaded, they turned, halted, fired, received a shower of balls in return, and then again moved doggedly to the rear. A little lieutenant of infantry, who had been on the skirmish line, joined the squad. He was armed with a revolver, and had his sword by his side. Stopping behind the corner of a corn-crib he swore he would not go any further to the rear. The squad moved on and left him standing there, pistol in hand, waiting for the enemy, who were now jumping the fences and coming across the field, running at the top of their speed. What became of this singular man no one knows. He was, as he said, “determined to make a stand.”<br>
A little further on the squad found a single piece of artillery, manned by a lieutenant and two or three men. They were selecting individuals in the enemy’s skirmish line, and firing at them with solid shot! Lieutenant McRae laughed at the ridiculous sight, remonstrated with the officer, and offered his squad to serve the gun, if there was any canister in the limber chest. The offer was refused, and again the squad moved on. Passing a cow-shed about this time, the squad halted to look with horror upon several dead and wounded Confederates who lay there upon the manure pile. They had suffered wounds and death upon this the last day of their country’s struggle. Their wounds had received no attention, and those living were famished and burning with fever.<br>
Lieutenant McRae, noticing a number of wagons and guns parked in a field nearby, surprised at what he considered great carelessness in the immediate presence of the enemy, approached an officer on horseback and said, in his usual impressive manner, “I say there, what does this mean?”<br>
The man took his hand and quietly said, “We have surrendered.” <br>
“I don’t believe it, sir!” replied McRae, strutting around as mad as a hornet. “You mustn’t talk so, sir! you will demoralize my men!”