|Beautiful Belmont, Part 40 -- The Hardships of Soldiering.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 39 -- The Regiment Crosses into Kentucky.
Civilians have little conception of what the life of a soldier in an active campaign is really like. A soldier is not permitted to become inactive. Every day is filled with duties of some kind. Reveille is usually sounded an hour before dawn, at which each soldier and officer is required to form up into his unit, properly dressed and armed, in line, ready for action and to respond to roll call. A soldier's clothing and person are required to be kept neat and clean, and his firearms bright and polished, ready for use. He has plenty to do in drilling, marching, cooking, camp and picket guard duty, and fatigue duty. Camp guard duty involves sentries thrown around each regiment to keep the members in place and not permit them outside the regimental lines without a proper pass.
Picket duty, on the other hand, establishes an exterior line thrown around the whole army at a distance of one to three miles, in case of infantry; and ordinarily a picket guard of cavalry is thrown outside this line a number of miles further distant. When an advance is made by the enemy, these picket guards send couriers to the main body, fighting the enemy as they fall back. They are very frequently captured, and thus become sacrifices for the safety of the whole army. Lastly, fatigue duty, such as digging rifle pits, throwing up fortifications, building quarters, cutting timber, providing firewood, making roads, day and night policing the camp, and the like were also sometimes required to be done when sleep and rest seemed much dearer than life.
Imagine a regiment marching from twenty to thirty miles in a day and then doing picket duty all night. When the weather is cold or wet, this adds to the hardship. If in close proximity to the enemy, no campfires are permitted and the soldier is compelled to eat crackers and raw meat, with no warm coffee to drink. Still more unfortunate is the same soldier if it has been raining, sleeting, or snowing, or possibly doing all of these.
In some of our winter forced marches we were compelled to ford rivers and streams, the water up to the armpits, and then not be out of the stream an hour before we could hear the sound of frozen pants legs one against the other as the march went on, with the full prospect of going into battle at the end of it all. Imagine marching all day and half the night in such conditions, eating at midnight without fire or warmth, and going into battle at daylight. Imagine lying down in the sleeting rain without shelter, with your shoulder-cape thrown over your head to catch an hour or so of sleep, and then awaken to find the cape frozen to your hair. Imagine lying on the ground, the water running around you, and yet being too tired and exhausted to stand. These and many other hardships are endured. A soldier becomes so schooled to them, he can readily sleep standing on his feet, and yet detect the slightest sound and be awake in a moment.
Then again, when exhausted, and when no immediate forward movement is expected, soldiers can sleep in line of battle under the most fearsome fire. In crossing streams where the water is high, cartridge boxes containing the ammunition, and usually a knapsack, are strapped over the shoulders, and the men pass over in platoons of eight, holding each other by the shoulder so as not to be washed away by the current. To a delicate man these types of hardships are overwhelming. It was always a mystery as to what became of Christ Maule, a German, who was a member of our company, for example. He had been well drilled in military tactics in the Prussian army, and was as good and faithful a soldier as I ever knew. He was placed on a picket outpost one night, and when the relief went around they found his gun, cartridge box, and knapsack beside a tree at his post, but Maule was never heard from again.
It is quite difficult to describe one's feelings in battle. In a heavy, hard fought battle I think there are few who participate without fear of some kind. This is especially so when the frequent "zip" of bullets and the bursting of artillery shells are heard everywhere, and the advancing enemy is in view. There is nothing so demoralizing to a soldier as an attack from the rear, or flank. It causes him to believe his commanders are not masters of the situation, and that through somebody's blunder, or incompetency, the whole command has been led into a trap. His first, or at least second impulse, is anger directed against his own officers. A certain amount of fear is commendable in a soldier, even necessary. A person must be sufficiently impressed with the dangers of his surroundings, in order to be prepared to meet them. Much of all fear quickly wears off in battle, and the soldier becomes so preoccupied and interested in the movements and the fight as in a measure to forget all else.
There are times during a battle when a few minutes seem like an age; then there are others when a whole day has passed, and one can scarcely realize it has been more than an hour or so. Feelings of hunger may be the first indication that many hours have passed.
I have often thought, if there be such a person as one having absolutely no fear whatever, yet endowed with great discretion, it is Captain C.W. Carroll, of old Company K of the 15th Ohio regiment, later on the postmaster of St. Clairsville, Ohio. Another man I would class with him is Colonel James F. Charlesworth of the same town, formerly colonel of the 25th Ohio. He was also a veteran of the Mexican War and helped to level the walls of Montezuma in the capture of Mexico City. Although receiving one of the worst wounds I ever saw, he survived the Civil War.
Action at the Barren River Bridge
One of the first fights that our regiment saw, we were not permitted to participate in. It was on the Barren River in Kentucky on our march to Nashville. Our regiment was on picket duty on the north side of the river, with orders not to cross, while about 600 of the 32nd Indiana, under Colonel Willich, advanced in full view across the river and occupied a beautiful piece of bottom land in front of a bridge. Orders had been issued not to bring on a general engagement, unless acting on the defensive. On that morning, the enemy made a reconnaissance in force, attacking Colonel Willich's German regiment, with about 3,200 cavalry called "Texas Rangers." The German regiment was one of the best-drilled in the federal army, and brave to a fault. They were deployed as skirmishers, presenting a thin line along our whole front, the men standing some distance apart. The cavalry emerged from a piece of lightly wooded timber about a mile distant and raced towards the already outnumbered Germans, who began firing along their whole line, emptying some Confederate saddles before the cavalry had spanned half the intervening distance.
At the bugle call from the German commander, his regiment rallied by platoons, their backs thrown together and faces and bayonets outward, to resist cavalry charge. Seeing this, the enemy immediately broke into single file in companies and parts of companies, charging toward each squad of Germans in Indian fashion, one behind the other. Forming beyond the range of fire of the Germans, the Confederates would approach each infantry squad at full gallop, and when within good pistol range would suddenly wheel, going back in the same manner in a line parallel to that of their approach, then reform for another charge. Just as each horseman made the turn, he would fire about two shots at the squad. Of course, while this was going on, the Germans were not idle, but were dropping the enemy out of their saddles as they came into range and as they retired. When the cavalry retreated to again form up their units, the Germans immediately deployed to prevent the enemy artillery from firing at the squads.
This was repeated a number of times, and while the Germans were holding their own splendidly and acted like clockwork in their movements, yet the fearful odds began to tell on them, and they called for help. Captain Frank Askew then commanded Company E of our regiment, and was stationed at the end of the bridge with positive orders not to cross. He was a splendid soldier, a rigid disciplinarian and a magnificent man, and these great qualities subsequently raised his rank to brevet general. He refused to disobey orders. Captain C.W. Carroll was then a lieutenant in Askew's company. He asked permission to go to the assistance of the hard-pressed Germans. The colonel refused. "Then let me take a part of the boys over there. I don't like to see those fellows fighting those overwhelming odds alone," said the lieutenant. "You know what the orders are," replied Askew, "and if you go, it will not be by my orders." Some of the boys were anxious to go, and stood around Carroll. "I'll take all responsibility," said Carroll, "and I want to see what a rebel is made of anyway, so come boys." A portion of the company followed, but when they arrived on the other side the battle was over. I think the Colonel Askew wanted Carroll to go, but felt bound by his orders.
Some of the incidents of war are peculiar, and even amid the tragedy of it, are not without their amusing features. While this fight was going on, those of the wounded who were able to do so hobbled across the bridge to our lines. One poor fellow who had received a terrible sword cut on the head was lurching along with his head bowed over and blood all over, repeating in a mournful way, "Oh, mon cup! Mon cup! Mon cup!" He still carried the butt end of his gun on his shoulder, but the barrel had been cut almost in two in the center, the end with the bayonet on it hanging straight down his back from a strip of metal. He had partially blocked the sword stroke with his gun, and this saved his life. When a cavalryman charges an infantryman, and both are facing each other, the cavalryman attempts to pass at full gallop on the right side of his enemy, and holding his sword over his right shoulder, pointing down his back. He can strike a terrible blow on his right side, as he rises in his stirrups in passing; such a blow will cut through an ordinary musket.
I also noticed another little German on the end of the line who failed to rally in time, and in the charge was cut off from his squad. When the little German found he was cut off, and he saw the two cavalrymen approaching him at full gallop, one behind the other, he took deadly aim at the foremost, dropping him out of the saddle. The cavalryman apparently never moved afterwards. The other, knowing the gun of his enemy was unloaded, made a rapid rush with sword ready to strike. The German stood facing him until the horse had approached to within what appeared to be the last step; quick as a shot, he then jumped to the left side of the horse, and as the cavalryman's sword went whistling through the air where the German had formerly stood, the footsoldier thrust his bayonet through the horseman's body.
The momentum of the horse was so great that the sudden contact knocked the German flat on the ground, and the horse galloped away. After a vain effort or two to maintain his seat, the rider fell off with the bayonet and gun still in him. I at first supposed that all three were killed, but after a little while the German slowly raised his head, and finding the enemy had retreated to reform, he sprang up and ran until he arrived on the riverbank opposite our lines. He then sprang into the river and swam across. When he struck dry land he shook the water from him like a spaniel, and half bewildered, said, "Where did my gun go to?" One of our boys coolly replied, "Guess you gave it to that Texas Ranger, and he's carried it off." The German stared at him a moment and then breaking into a half laugh, said, "By golly, I dinks dot is so."
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 41 -- The Battle of Shiloh, 6-7 April 1862.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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