Willard Glazier kept a detailed journal of his time as an officer in the 2nd New York Cavalry during the American Civil War, making immediate notes about his experiences in camp, around the campfire and even during lulls in the fighting. It was that carefully kept resource that is the basis of the two volumes included in this special Leonaur edition of Glazier’s memoirs. In the first book he tells of his time on campaign with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia and describes many interesting scenes of action in cavalry skirmishes or full battle and camp life. The second volume continues Glazier’s story to the pivotal conflict at Gettysburg and beyond. Shortly after an engagement with Confederate forces at Culpepper Courthouse and Liberty Mills, the good fortune that had seen him safely through the war up to that point abandoned him. In an ambush at Buckland’s Mills in 1863, his horse was shot from under him and he was knocked senseless and trampled in an enemy charge. The action was a notable victory for Confederate forces under J. E. B Stuart commanding Wade Hampton’s cavalry division and Fitzhugh Lee’s division; Union forces under Judson Kilpatrick were routed in a debacle which became known as the Buckland Races. Glazier regained consciousness in Confederate hands as a prisoner of war. He spent nearly a year in prison camps and made a daring bid for freedom which is recorded here in detail.
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The dauntless troopers charged furiously the invading hordes, and drove them back upon their supports, where our boys were driven back in their turn before overwhelming numbers. As Providence would have it, our infantry advance, under General James S. Wadsworth, marching from the village of Emmitsburg, hearing the familiar sound of battle, went into a double-quick, and, hastening through Gettysburg, struck the advancing Rebel column just in time to seize and occupy the range of hills that overlooks the place from the northwest, in the direction of Chambersburg.
General John F. Reynolds, a true Pennsylvanian, was in command of our entire advance, which consisted of the First and Eleventh Corps, about twenty-two thousand strong. As General Wadsworth was placing his division in position, General Reynolds went forward quite alone to reconnoitre, when he discovered a heavy force of the enemy in a grove not far distant.
Dismounting quickly he crouched down by a fence through which he sought to survey the force and its position by means of his field-glass, when a whistling ball from a sharpshooter’s musket struck him in the neck. He fell on his face and baptized with his life-blood the soil which had given him birth. His untimely fall, especially at this crisis and almost in sight of his childhood’s home, was generally lamented. His lifeless form was borne away to the rear just as the Rebels in heavy force advanced upon not more than one-third their number.
General Abner Doubleday had to assume command of our forces under this galling fire, having arrived with a portion of the First Corps, the remainder of which and the Eleventh Corps, not being able to join them until two hours of fearful destruction had gone on. Our feeble advance was compelled to fall quickly back upon Seminary Hill, just west of the village, and were pursued very closely, so much so that one portion of our line, seeing its opportunity, swung around rapidly, enveloping the Rebel advance and capturing General Archer the leader and about eight hundred prisoners.
On the arrival of the Eleventh Corps, General O. O. Howard, being the ranking officer present, assumed command, giving his place to General Carl Schurz. Our men, now emboldened by these fresh arrivals of helpers, and having alighted upon a fine commanding position, renewed the fight with spirit and wonderful success. This prosperous tide of things continued until about one o’clock p. m., when their right wing was assailed furiously by fresh troops, which proved to be General Ewell’s Corps, which had been marching from York, directed by the thunder of battle.
Thus flanked and outnumbered by the gathering hosts, the Eleventh Corps, which was most exposed to the enfilading fire of the newly arrived columns, began to waver, then to break, and soon fled in perfect rout. The First Corps was thus compelled to follow, or be annihilated. The two retreating columns met and mingled in more or less confusion in the streets of the town, where they greatly obstructed each other, though the First Corps retained its organization quite unbroken.
In passing through the town the Eleventh Corps was especially exposed to the fire of the enemy, who pressed his advantage and captured thousands of prisoners. Our wounded, who, up to this time, had been quartered in Gettysburg, fell into the enemy’s hands, and scarcely one-half of our brave boys, who had so recently and proudly passed through the streets to the battle lines, had the privilege of returning, but either lay dead or dying on the well-fought fields, or were captives with a cruel foe. The number of killed and wounded showed how desperately they had fought, and the large number captured was evidence of the overwhelming numbers with which they had contended.
General Buford, with his troopers, covered our retreat, showing as bold a front as possible to the enemy, who, it was feared, would follow fiercely, as they were very strong and several hours of daylight yet remained. But doubtless fearing that a trap might be laid for them if they advanced too far, they contented themselves with only a portion of the borough, their main force occupying the hills which form a grand amphitheatre on the north and west. It would be difficult to refrain from saying, that those Rebel forces were prevented from advancing by some mighty unseen hand—the hand of Him who “watches over the destiny of nations.”
Our feeble and decimated forces took possession of Cemetery Hill, south, of the town, and being re-enforced by General Sickles’ Corps, they began to intrench themselves with earthworks and rifle-pits, to extend their lines to right and left, and to select the best positions for our batteries. This work was continued quite late into the evening, the broad moonlight greatly facilitating the operations.
The jail is a large octagonal building of four stories, surmounted by a tower forty feet in height. On the right is the large Bastille-shaped work-house, where a part of the prisoners were confined.
The gallows is located at the south side of the jail, and the fragment of a tent which I occupied was directly in front of it. This is the nearest we ever came to hanging, so far as I could learn,—unless it be the necessary suspense of our situation.
Our quarters were in the yard, and the whole enclosure was surrounded by a massive wall of masonry sixteen feet in height. Everything was in the most filthy condition conceivable, having been occupied for a long time by prisoners and convicts, without ever having been cleaned. We were unable to obtain even the necessary tools from the authorities, to do this work ourselves. Its sanitary condition was such, that it seemed impossible for us to remain there long without suffering from some foul and malignant disease. The ground was literally covered with vermin. A fellow-prisoner has said that he thought it the “nastiest, dirtiest, filthiest, lousiest place he was ever in.”
We were without shelter. Fragments of tents were still standing, but afforded no protection from the sun or storm, for the prisoners who were confined there before us, many of whom were from Andersonville, were in such a destitute condition upon their arrival, that they cut the tents to pieces to make themselves clothes to wear.
The ground floor of the jail was occupied by civil convicts; the second storey, by Rebel officers and soldiers under punishment for military offences; the third storey, by negro prisoners; and the fourth, by Federal and Rebel deserters.
It is a fine compliment to the good sense of the Rebels, that the deserters from either side were treated with the same severity. They seemed to consider that none but those who deserved the severest punishment would be guilty of deserting the Federal army to go over to them; and so they placed them side by side with deserters from their own ranks, and subjected them to the same privations.
It must have been consoling to the cowards and sneaks, who deserted the Stars and Stripes, to receive such close attention. Sometimes they ventured down from their fourth storey to mingle with the Federal soldiers in the yard. Under such circumstances nothing could restrain the prisoners from working a general onslaught, and the miserable slinks did well if they got back to their “sky-lot” with whole heads. This righteous indignation of suffering soldiers was a natural out-cropping of that heroic determination which kept their patriotism burning brightly in the midst of their untold sufferings.
Many of the negro prisoners in the jail were captured at our assault on Fort Wagner. I had a conversation with Sergeant Johnson (coloured), Company F, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry; he was a full-blooded negro, but possessed of no ordinary degree of intelligence; he gave me an interesting history of the captivity and trial of the negro prisoners! Soon after their capture they were informed, that they were to be tried by a civil commission on a charge of having abandoned their masters and enlisted in the United States army, and if found guilty, they were told that they might make up their minds to stretch hemp.
And why should they not be found guilty? to be sure, nearly all were from the North and had always been free; but they knew full well that this court was formed, not to subserve the ends of justice, but to convict, for the Rebels had sufficiently illustrated their method of dealing with negro prisoners, that is, when they deigned to receive them as such, instead of murdering them in cold blood, in order to convince their comrades of the narrow chances for life, should they unfortunately fall into the hands of an enemy.