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Sabre and Foil Fighting

The Fourth Leonaur Book of Ghost and Horror Stories

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Armoured Cars and Aircraft

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Roger Lamb and the American War of Independence

Gronow of the Guards

Plumer of Messines

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Red-Tape and Pigeon-Hole Generals

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Red-Tape and Pigeon-Hole Generals
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Author(s): William H. Armstrong
Date Published: 2009/12
Page Count: 220
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-857-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-858-2

An intimate view of life in the Union Army

William Armstrong’s account of his time in the Union Army during the American Civil War differs from many of its peers. Through Armstrong’s writings we see not only the campaigns, skirmishes and battles of the great conflict, but also get an insider’s view of what it was like to be a member of a regimental ‘family’ at the time. Regimental life is described in much detail and the officers, non-coms and soldiers are finely drawn so that they become well-rounded characters. This book is filled with dialogue, incident and anecdote. As the title implies the author does not shy away from the drudgeries and pointless bureaucracy of military life in his time, and this insight into the frustrations of the citizen soldier at war for a cause in which he believes in spite (from his perspective) of the reactionary incompetence of his superiors makes vital reading for those who look for a total picture of the soldiers of the Civil War. Available in softcover and hard back with dust jacket.

“Well, Lieutenant, poor John is gone!” said the little Irish Corporal, coming to the side of that officer. <br>
“What, killed?”<br>
“Ivery bit of it. I have just turned him over, and shure he is as dead as he was before he was born. That last shot murthered the boy. It is Terence McCarthy that will do his duty by him, and may be——”<br>
“Corporal! to your post,” broke in the Lieutenant. “Old Pigey is taking another pull at the flask, and we will move in a minute.”<br>
The surmise of the Lieutenant was correct. “Tommy Totten” again called the men to ranks, and right in front, the head of the column took the pike on another advance. The Rebels seeing the movement, handled their battery with great rapidity and dexterity, and shells in rapid succession were thrown into the closed ranks, but without creating confusion. Among others, a Major of the last Regiment upon the road, an old Mexican campaigner, and a most valuable officer, fell mortally wounded just as he was about leaving the field, and met the fate, that by one of those singular premonitions before noticed in this chapter,—so indicative by their frequency of a connexion in life between man’s mortal and immortal part,—he had already anticipated.<br>
It was now about four o’clock in the afternoon. The day was somewhat misty, and at this time the field of battle was fast becoming shrouded by the commingled mist and smoke.<br>
On the left of the road the Brigade formed double line of battle along the base and side of a rather steep slope which led to the plateau above. The ground was muddy and well trodden, and littered with dead bodies in spots that marked the localities of exploded shells. Hungry and fatigued with the toil of the day, yet expectant of a conflict which must prove the death scene of many, the men sank upon their arms. From this same spot, successive lines of battle had charged during the day. Brave souls! With rushing memories of home and kindred and friends, they shrank not because the path of duty was one of danger.<br>
We were there as a forlorn hope for the final effort of the field. With great exertion and consummate skill upon the part of its Commander, a battery had been placed in position on the summit of the slope. Officers and men worked nobly, handling the pieces with coolness and rapidity. What they accomplished, could not be seen. What they suffered, was frightfully apparent. Man after man was shot away, until in some instances they were too weak-handed to keep the pieces from following their own recoil down the slope, confusing our ranks and bruising the men. Volunteers sprang forward to assist in working the guns. The gallant Commander, almost unaided, kept order in what would otherwise have been a mingled herd of confused men and frightened horses. No force could withstand the hurricane of hurtling shot and shell that swept the summit.<br>
“Lieutenant, take command of that gun,” was the short, sharp, nervous utterance of a General of Division, as in one of his tours of random riding he suddenly stopped his horse in front of a boy of nineteen, a Lieutenant of infantry, who previously to bringing his squad of men into service, a few brief months before, had never seen a full battery.<br>
“Sir!” he replied, in unfeigned astonishment.<br>
“By G—d! sir, I command you as the Commanding General of this Division, sir, to take command of that piece of artillery.”
“General, I am entirely unacquainted with——”<br>
“Take command of that piece, sir. You should be ready to enter any arm of the service,” replied the General, flourishing his sword in a threatening manner.<br>
“General, I will do my duty; but I can’t sight a cannon, sir. I will hand cartridge, turn the screw, steady the wheel, or I’ll ram——”<br>
“Ram—ram!”—echoed the General with an oath, and off he started on another of his mad rides.<br>
“Fall in,” was passed rapidly along the line, and a moment after our Brigadier, cool as if exercising his command in the evolutions of a peaceful field, rode along the ranks.<br>
“Boys, you are ordered to take that stone wall, and must do it with the bayonet.”<br>
Words full of deadly import to men who for long hours had been in full view of the impregnable works, and the field of blood in their front. Ominous as was the command, it was greeted with cheers; and with bayonets at a charge, up that difficult slope,—preserving their line as best they could while breaking to pass the guns, wounded and struggling horses, and bodies thickly strewn over that most perilous of positions for artillery,—the troops passed at a rapid step. The ground upon the summit had been laid out in small lots, as is customary in the suburbs of towns. Many of the partition fences were still remaining, with here and there gaps, or with upper rails lowered for the passage of troops. For a moment, while crossing these fallow fields, there was a lull in the direct musketry. The enfilading fire from batteries right and left still continued; the fierce fitful flashes of the bursting shells becoming more visible with the approach of night. Onward we went, picking our way among the fallen dead and wounded of Brigades who had preceded us in the fight, with feet fettered with mud, struggling to keep place in the line. Several regiments lying upon their arms were passed over in the charge.<br>
“Captain,” said a mounted officer when we had just crossed a fence bounding what appeared to be an avenue of the town, “close up on the right.” The Captain partly turned, to repeat the command to his men, when the bullets from a sudden flash of waving fire that for the instant lit up the summit of the stone wall for its entire length, prostrated him with a mortal wound, and dismounted his superior. Pity that his eye should close in what seemed to be the darkest hour of the cause dearest to his soul!<br>
Volley after volley of sheeted lead was poured into our ranks. We were in the proper position on the plain, and a day’s full practice gave them exact range and terrible execution. In the increased darkness, the flashes of musketry alone were visible ahead, while to the right and left the gloom was lit up by the lurid flashing of their batteries. This very darkness, in concealing the danger, and the loss, doubtless did its share in permitting the men to cross the lines of dead that marked the halting-place of previous troops. Still onward they advanced,—the thunder of artillery above them,—the groans of the wounded rising from below;—frightful gaps are made in their ranks by exploding shells, and many a brave boy staggers and falls to rise no more, in that storm of spitefully whizzing lead.
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