A classic account of the Civil War from a Union Army Infantry officer
In 1861 John Beatty raised a company of Ohio Volunteers to take their part in the great conflict between the states. From this time, as an officer of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer regiment he faithfully kept an almost daily journal of life in a Union Infantry regiment. As the campaign in West Virginia began Beatty recorded the events of army life on the march, around the campfire, on picquet duty and in clashes with the Confederate enemy. He has a fine sense of humour and his anecdotes of dialogue involving soldiers, former slaves, his brother officers and their 'rebel' prisoners elevate his text from the run of the mill military memoir. Battlefield accounts are equally graphically drawn including Perryville which he experienced as a regimental officer. Promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers in 1862, Beatty commanded a brigade at Stone River, Tuilahoma and Chickamauga. Another brigade appointment saw him in action at Chattanooga and Knoxville. This edition includes the narrative of General Harrison Hobart of the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, Beatty’s close friend, in which he recounts the story of his capture, imprisonment and escape
14th August, 1861. Privates Vincent and Watson, sentinels of a sub-picket, under command of Corporal Stiner, discovered a man stealing through the woods, and halted him. He professed to be a farm hand; said his employer had a mountain farm not far away, where he pastured cattle. A two-year-old steer had strayed off, and he was looking for him. His clothes were fearfully torn by brush and briars. His hands and face were scratched by thorns. He had taken off his boots to relieve his swollen feet, and was carrying them in his hands. Imitating the language and manners of an uneducated West Virginian, he asked the sentinel if he “had seed anything of a red steer.” The sentinel had not. After continuing the conversation for a time, he finally said:
“Well, I must be a goin’; it is a gettin’ late, and I am durned feared I won’t git back to the farm afore night. Good day.”
“Hold on,” said the sentinel; “better go and see the Captain.”
“Oh, no; don’t want to trouble him; it is not likely he has seed the steer, and it’s a gettin’ late.”
“Come right along,” replied the sentinel, bringing his gun down; “the Captain will not mind being troubled; in fact, I am instructed to take such men as you to him.”
Captain Cunard questioned the prisoner closely, asked whom he worked for, how much he was getting a month for his services, and, finally, pointing to the long-legged military boots which he was still holding in his hands, asked how much they cost. “Fifteen dollars,” replied the prisoner. “Fifteen dollars! Is not that rather more than a farm hand who gets but twelve dollars a month can afford to pay for boots?” inquired the Captain. “Well, the fact is, boots is a gettin’ high since the war, as well as every thing else.” But Captain Cunard was not satisfied. The prisoner was not well up in the character he had undertaken to play, and was told that he must go to head-quarters. Finding that he was caught, he at once threw off the mask, and confessed that he was Captain J. A. De Lagniel, formerly of the regular army, but now in the Confederate service. Wounded at the battle of Rich mountain, he had been secreted at a farm-house near Beverly until able to travel, and was now trying to get around our pickets and reach the rebel army. He had been in the mountains five days and four nights. The provisions with which he started, and which consisted of a little bag of biscuit, had become mouldy. He thought, from the distance travelled, that he must be beyond our lines and out of danger.
De Lagniel is an educated man, and his wife and friends believe him to have been killed at Rich mountain. He speaks in high terms of Captain Cunard, and says, when the latter began to question him, he soon found it was useless to play Major Andre, for Paulding was before him, too sharp to be deceived and too honest to be bribed. When De Lagniel was brought into camp he was wet and shivering, weak, and thoroughly broken down by starvation, cold, exposure, and fatigue. The officers supplied him with the clothing necessary to make him comfortable.
15th August, 1861. I have a hundred axmen in my charge, felling timber on the mountain, and constructing rough breastworks to protect our left flank.
General Reynolds came up to-day to see De Lagniel. They are old acquaintances, were at West Point together, and know each other like brothers.
The irrepressible Corporal Casey, who, in fact, had nothing whatever to do with the capture of De Lagniel, is now surrounded by a little group of soldiers. He is talking to them about the prisoner, who, since it is known that he is an acquaintance of General Reynolds, has become a person of great importance in the camp. The Corporal speaks in the broadest Irish brogue, and is telling his hearers that he knew the fellow was a sesesh at once; that he levelled his musket at him and towld him to halt; that if he hadn’t marched straight up to him he would have put a minnie ball through his heart; that he had his gun cocked and his finger on the trigger, and was a mind to shoot him anyway. Then he tells how he propounded this and that question, which confused the prisoner, and finally concludes by saying that De Lagniel might be d—d thankful indade that he escaped with his life.
The Corporal is the best-known man in the regiment. He prides himself greatly on the Middle Fork “scrimmage.” A day or two after that affair, and at a time when whisky was so scarce that it was worth its weight in gold, some officers called the Corporal up and asked him to give them an account of the “scrimmage.” Before he entered upon the subject, it was suggested that Captain Dubois, who had the little whisky there was in the party, should give him a taste to loosen his tongue. The Corporal, nothing loth, took the flask, and, raising it to his mouth, emptied it, to the utter dismay of the Captain and his friends. The dhrap had the effect desired. The Corporal described, with great particularity, his manner of going into action, dwelt with much emphasis on the hand-to-hand encounters, the thrusts, the parries, the final clubbing of the musket, and the utter discomfiture and mortal wounding of his antagonist. In fact by this time there were two of them; and finally, as the fight progressed, a dozen or more bounced down on him. It was lively! There was no time for the loading of guns. Whack, thump, crack! The head of one was broken, another lay dying of a bayonet thrust, and still another had perished under the sledge-hammer blow of his fist. The ground was covered now with the slain. He stood knee-deep in sesesh blood; but a bugle sounded away off on the hills, and the d—d scoundrels who were able to get away ran off as fast as their legs could carry them. Had they stood up like men he would have destroyed the whole regiment; for, you see, he was just getting his hand in.
“But, Corporal,” inquired Captain Hunter, “what were the other soldiers of your company doing all this time?”
“Bless your sowl, Captain, and do you think I had nothing to do but to watch the boys? Be jabers, it was a day when every man had to look after himself.”
They came very soon. At 11 A. M. the Third was directed to take the head of the column and move forward. We anticipated no danger, for Rousseau and his staff were in advance of us, followed by Lytle and his staff. The regiment was marching by the flank, and had proceeded to the brow of the hill overlooking a branch of the Chaplin river, and was about to descend into the valley, when the enemy’s artillery opened in front with great fury. Rousseau and his staff wheeled suddenly out of the road to the left, accompanied by Lytle. After a moment spent by them in consultation, I was ordered to counter march my regiment to the bottom of the hill we had just ascended, and file off to the right of the road.
Loomis’ and Simonson’s Batteries were soon put in position, and began to reply to the enemy. A furious interchange of shell and solid shot occurred, but after a little while our batteries ceased firing, and we had comparative silence.
About 2 o’clock the rebel infantry was seen advancing across the valley, and I ordered the Third to ascend the hill and take position on the crest. The enemy’s batteries now reopened with redoubled fury, and the air seemed filled with shot and exploding shells. Finding the rebels were still too far away to make our muskets effective, I ordered the boys to lie down and await their nearer approach. They advanced under cover of a house on the side hill, and having reached a point one hundred and fifty yards distant, deployed behind a stone fence which was hidden from us by standing corn. At this time the left of my regiment rested on the Maxville and Perryville road; the line extending along the crest of the hill, and the right passing somewhat behind a barn filled with hay. In this position, with the enemy’s batteries pouring upon us a most destructive fire, the Third arose and delivered its first volley. For a time, I do not know how long thereafter, it seemed as if all hell had broken loose; the air was filled with hissing balls; shells were exploding continuously, and the noise of the guns was deafening; finally the barn on the right took fire, and the flames bursting from roof, windows, doors, and interstices between the logs, threw the right of the regiment into disorder; the confusion, however, was but temporary. The boys closed up to the left, steadied themselves on the colours, and stood bravely to the work. Nearly two hundred of my five hundred men now lay dead and wounded on the little strip of ground over which we fought.