Extract prepared by Kerry Webb
Preface to the book
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At daylight it was found that the enemy had left the city. Our volunteers crossed, and were on the other side to welcome us when we came over. We were the first in the city, but soon met General Sedgwick's division marching in from the left, having crossed below us. We found that Sedgwick was to storm the heights and we were to support him. General Hooker, with the rest of the Army of the Potomac, had marched up the river and engaged the enemy at Chancellorsville, and we were to hold this city. In column by regiments General Sedgwick advanced up the hill. We saw the white flag of Massachusetts as the 7th, 10th, and, I think, the 37th advanced. A rebel battery opened upon them but the line did not waver, and on, on, even to the cannon's mouth they went.
The battery was silenced, captured, and its support fled. We followed close in the rear, and when some two miles from the city were ordered back for provost duty. We expected a "soft snap". Coats were brushed, brasses brightened, and in every respect we "braced up". We turned in early for a good night's rest, but at nine p.m. we were turned out and double-quicked to the left of the city, as our pickets at that point had been fired upon. At daylight "Johnnie [reb] came marching home again" and filled the earthworks on the left and front of the city. Where they came from we could not tell, but they were there, and had a battery which was used to stir us up with good results.
From provost soldiers we changed to sappers and miners. Dirt flew fast as we dug trenches for our own protection, and to obstruct the passage of artillery. We had several men slightly wounded but none killed.
On the morning of the 5th we fell back to our rifle pits in the city, recrossed the river, remained on duty until the pontoons were taken up, and then marched back to our old camp. We had not slept an hour since May 2, and were completely tired out. I slept all night and awoke thinking it was time for breakfast and found it was three p.m.
We moved our camp to a delightful spot on the top of the hill, resumed our daily drills, and were once more under strict discipline. It was very hard to get leave of absence, but Lieutenant Shackley made application, giving as a reason that he required an officer's uniform, having just been promoted, and it was granted. Mose was absent ten days, and then returned, having purchased two pairs of stockings, a linen duster and a brush broom, but he had enjoyed his vacation, and had two cents left of his two months' pay.
June 16, marching orders came; we waited until all had moved, then with two pieces of the 1st Rhode Island artillery took our place in the rear. Two companies were ordered to march half a mile in the rear of the column, and Major Rice was placed in command of this detachment. We marched over ground which we had travelled before. The roads were very dusty and the sun scorching. At times the woods on each side were on fire, and our men suffered badly. June 20 we arrived at Thoroughfare Gap, where we remained three days, to repel an advance through the gap. On the 26th we reached Edward's Ferry, crossed the Potomac, and at noon halted at old Camp Benton, where we had camped in 1861. What changes had taken place since we were there before! Then we were light-hearted, happy boys, expecting to be at home in a year at least. Now those who remained were bronzed and war-torn veterans marching back to meet the enemy on northern soil.
Our old camp was a fine wheat field and nearly all traces of our former occupancy were removed. We passed through Frederick City to Uniontown, Md., where we arrived the 30th, and were ordered on provost duty. We expected to remain here for some time, and on the morning of July 1 Captain Palmer and myself were ordered to dress in our best and make the acquaintance of the families in town, so we could understand where the officers would be most welcome. We had just started on this pleasant duty when the assembly sounded. We returned and found we must march at once, and we did march thirty-five miles, not halting until nine o'clock at night, when we bivouacked on the field of Gettysburg, two miles from the battle-ground. All day we had heard heavy firing and knew that a battle was being fought. At daylight on the 2d we were ordered into line of battle on the left of Cemetery Hill, where we remained under a severe artillery fire until about five p.m.
We had seen the advance of the 3d corps and the warm reception they met; we saw them falling back and the enemy advancing. Lieut. Sherman Robinson and I were lying side by side watching the battle. "Some one must go and help them, Jack," said Robinson. At that moment a staff officer rode up to Colonel Devereaux, and then we heard the familiar command, "Attention, 19th!" "We are for it ," said Robinson, and with the 42d New York, we double-quicked to a point where the line had broken and the rebels were advancing on our flank. I was in command of the color company, had just removed the covering from the colors when a regiment on our left broke; with other officers I rushed to rally them, and was returning to my place in line when I went down. I heard an officer say, "Jack is down," before I really knew that I was shot. I could not rise, and Sergeant Smith and Private Collopee came to me. "Put him on my back, Smith," said the latter, and under a terrible fire he carried me from the field. Our lines fell back as fast as we could go, and I expected that Collopee would be obliged to drop me, and I should fall into the hands of the rebels, but he kept on and landed me in the field hospital of the 3d corps. Everything indicated that we were again defeated, but when our men arrived at the stone wall, by unanimous consent they turned about, and with that wild hurrah that only Yankee soldiers can give, drove the rebels beyond our former lines.
I found myself surrounded by men wounded and dying. An assistant surgeon was in charge and I asked him to look at my wound. He did, and said that I could not live twenty-four hours. I suggested that he stop the blood, as he might be mistaken, but he had no time to waste on me and went along. Upon examination I found that I was wounded in three places, and all were bleeding badly, but I could not tell where the bullets had entered or come out.
The battle was yet raging; men were coming in thick and fast, the last arrivals being mostly rebels. Collopee had waited until the surgeon said that I should die, when he rushed back to the regiment with the information. In a short time Lieut. Mose Shackley appeared before me with one of his company named Younger. "Jack, old boy, they say you are going to die, and I thought you would like a canteen of coffee before you passed up your check," said Mose. "What are you lying on?" he asked, as it was quite dark. I replied, "Only the ground;" and going to a rebel who was slightly wounded but was comfortable, having a rubber blanket under and a woollen blanket over him, he said, "There is a darned sight better man than you are, with no blanket under or over him," and captured one for me. Making me as comfortable as possible, urging me to keep a stiff upper lip, he said he would like to remain with me, but there was lots of fun at the front, and he must return.
I remained in this place until late at night, when a surgeon came with an ambulance, and said I must be moved to the 2d corps hospital, as this was too near the line of battle. Having no stretchers they placed me on a board, and loaded me in. This movement started my wounds bleeding again, and I thought that the words of the assistant surgeon would prove true, but they drove me a mile I should judge, and dumped me by the road side with other wounded. I remained here until the next noon. The day was fine, only very warm. All was still except an occasional picket shot. The silence was broken by one heavy gun, and the shell went whistling over us, followed by another. Then opened the heaviest cannonading ever heard on earth. Shells burst over me, and on all sides. Solid shot ploughed up the ground and I expected my time had come. Many of the wounded could crawl away, but I could not, and must stand it.
When the shelling opened nearly all of the non-combatants were at the front, and they now made the best time possible to get out of danger. I lay near a gate way, where they passed. Down would come a pack mule loaded with cooking utensils sufficient to start a stove and tin-ware store; then a lot of colored servants, or a runaway horse. I would shout and kick; was sure that I should be either killed by shell or trampled to death. Would beg some skedaddler to get another, and take me away. He would stop, look on me with pity and say he would, but before he could capture another, a shell would come along, and his place be vacant. At last I saw a staff officer whom I knew riding to the front, and called to him. He heard me, drew his sword, and drove a couple of men to me, who, finding a stretcher, had me carried to the rear of the barn, where an ambulance was found and I was placed in it. My first sergeant, Damon, had been lying near, and I urged that he be taken with me, and my request was granted. Damon was wounded in the leg, the bone was shattered, and it was necessary that the leg should be amputated as soon as possible.
We started for the rear. The driver was anxious for our safety, and it is possible that he might have thought of himself; at any rate he drove over a corn-field on the jump. Part of the time I was in the top of the ambulance, part on the floor. Damon and I would come together hard enough to drive the breath out of each other; but we were only passengers having a free ride, so we could not complain. When at last we reached our destination I expected we were both jelly, and would have to be taken out in a spoon, but we had held together, that is, I had, but Damon's leg was all broken up, and was soon amputated.
They laid us on the ground on the side of a hill, near a stream called Cub Run. This was the field hospital of the 2d corps, Dr. Dyer, my regimental surgeon, in charge. He soon visited me, and found that one bullet had entered my groin and had not come out, the other had passed through my right hip. I asked him what he thought of it and he said, "It is a bad wound, John, a very bad wound." Officers of the regiment began to come in, and soon there were seven of us lying side by side. They told me the story of the battle. Lieutenants Robinson and Donath had been killed, also many of our bravest and best men. My company the day before had numbered fifteen, officers and men. Only Lieutenant Rice and five men remained. They also told me how well our boys had fought; that at last we had met the rebels in an open field and had won a substantial victory. They described to me Pickett's charge. How they had come across the field in three lines of battle, expecting to sweep everything before them, but when they arrived at our lines they found our boys ready and waiting; that the result was more prisoners than we had men in our line, and our boys had captured four rebel flags besides. It was glorious news; it revived me, and my wounds pained me less than before.
No matter how serious the battle, there is always a humorous side to it which an old soldier never loses. So it was at Gettysburg. When the fire was the hottest on the centre the battery that the 19th was supporting lost nearly all its men. The captain came to our regiment for volunteers to man the guns. Captain Mahoney was the first to hear the call. Going to Company E, he said, "Volunteers are wanted to man the battery. Every man is to go of his own free will and accord. Come out here, John Dougherty, McGiveran and you Corrigan, and work those guns." Lieutenant Shackley jumped to his feet and said, "Come on, boys, we must keep her a-humming," and they stood by the guns until the fight was over.
Ben Falls, who was now a sergeant, had captured a rebel color. Coming in with it over his shoulder, an officer said, "You will have to turn that flag in, sergeant. We must send it to the war department in Washington." "Well," said Ben, "there are lots of them over behind the wall. Go and get one; I did." (I told this story several years ago at a camp-fire. Since then I have heard it told by others, and it is located and dressed up in other ways, but it is my story, and true, at that.)
We lay side by side until the morning of July 4, when the ambulance came to take us to the station. One after another was loaded in. I said, "Save a good place for me," but was informed that the orders of the surgeon were not to take me. I sent for the surgeon, who came and said that I must not be moved for two weeks. I saw the ambulance drive away, then buried my face in the ground and cried like a baby.
Other wounded were brought in to fill the vacant places. Duncan Sherwood of Company A was one, so I had company. Mike Scannell had also remained, being wounded in the arm, and rendered valuable service to Sherwood and myself. Directly in front of us were two amputating tables which were always busy. We saw several men whom we knew placed on them and removed, minus a leg or an arm. The groans of the wounded were constant, and the dead were being carried past us nearly all the time. On my left lay a young boy. He suffered much, but did not complain. One night, when it was time to go to sleep, he whispered, "Good night, lieutenant, I think that I shall go up before morning." I urged him to keep up his courage, but he said it was no use, he should die. In the morning I looked and saw that the poor boy had answered the last roll-call. He lay by my side until afternoon, before they could find time to take him away. I had forgotten to ask his name, and no one knew him. His grave no doubt bears the mark "unknown", and the records of his regiment say, "missing in action."
I remained here six days, and my wounds received no attention only such as my comrades gave. They kept my canteen filled with water, which I used freely, to prevent inflammation. Do not think that I blame the surgeons. No nobler men ever lived than composed the medical staff of the Army of the Potomac; but there were twenty thousand wounded men, Union and rebel, on the field of Gettysburg, and the cases requiring amputation must receive attention first.
One day I was made happy. Lieutenant Shackley and Adjutant Hill came to see me. They had ridden back fifteen miles. Some of the boys had found a chicken, and they had made a broth and brought it to me in an old coffee pot. It was the first thing that had tasted good, and I shared it with Sherwood. Some think soldiers are hard-hearted. No hearts more tender can be found than in the breasts of brave men. When those officers parted from me that day not one of us could speak, and tears ran down our cheeks as we pressed each other's hands.
My mind had been quite active, and I had come to the conclusion that I would move my lodging as soon as possible. One surgeon had said that I would not live twenty-four hours, another that I must remain where I was two weeks. It struck me that to die in twenty-four hours or stay where I was two weeks would neither be pleasant for myself nor those near me.
I talked the matter over with Sherwood. We counted our cash and found we had five dollars each, and we formed a syndicate. We made Mike Scannell our agent, with instructions to bring some kind of conveyance to take us off the field. The next morning he reported with a citizen, a horse and a side-spring wagon. The whole lot was not worth ten dollars, but we paid our money and were loaded and on our way to Littletown, where we arrived in due time, and were driven to a church which had been converted to a temporary hospital. We found it nearly full, but they made room for us. I had a nice place on top of the pews in the broad aisle.
There was no organization of the hospital. Two of the town doctors were doing all they could, being assisted by the women. No doubt out Massachusetts women would do the same work should the emergency arise, but I cannot speak in too high praise of the women of Littletown. They would dress the shattered arm of some poor boy, wash the blood from the wounds of another, thinking only of what they could do to relieve suffering. It was like getting home. My wounds were in a frightful condition. They had not been dressed, and the maggots were crawling into them. As soon as we were settled the ladies came to see what they could do. They were anxious to dress our wounds, but it required more hospital accommodations than the church afforded, so they washed our hands and faces, and made us as comfortable as possible. A real motherly woman asked me what I wanted to eat. I had eaten little except the chicken Billy and Mose had brought me, and when she said she had chicken broth, I said, "Bring me two or three." As soon as possible she came with a large pan full of broth, but the trouble was I could not sit up to eat it. At my suggestion she brought the prettiest girl in the room, who put her left arm around me and let me lean my head on her shoulder, while she fed me with the broth. Oh, it was nice! Either the broth or the young lady's presence revived me. My new friend's name was Lucy. She said "Don't take breakfast until I come, because I will bring yours from home." Bright and early Lucy was on hand with a pan of milk toast. She had seen me eat the night before and had brought enough for six. As she was called away for a few moments, I spoke to the boys who were near, and they soon reduced the surplus.
We remained here two days. While I had the best care they could give I was growing worse. I had a high fever, and my wounds were getting inflamed. At times I would lie in a stupor for hours. One day I rallied and found the church deserted except for Lucy and myself. Soon two men came in. "Are you going?" they asked. Lucy said, "No. Mother told me if any were not able to be moved to bring them home, and we would care for them; he is not able, and must not go." The temptation was strong to stay, but a moment's reflection told me that I required hospital treatment, and I explained the danger to her. The men then carried me to the train and placed me on the floor of a baggage car. Lucy came with us, fixed my head all right, and, as a good sister should, kissed me good-by, and we were off for Baltimore. I was so weak that the rear name of Lucy passed out of my mind, and I have never seen her since, but have ever prayed that the blessings of Heaven be showered upon her, for her ever constant care the last day in the old church saved me from fever.
The ride to Baltimore was terrible. The air was bad. Groans of the wounded were constant, and could be heard above the rattle of the car. I did not believe it was possible for me to live to reach the station, but I survived, although many of our number did not.
We arrived in Baltimore about three o'clock in the morning, were placed in ambulances and driven over the rough pavements to the Newton University Hospital. The next day, for the first time, my wounds were dressed; the surgeon placed a large syringe where the ball had entered and forced water through the opening; maggots, pieces of clothing and bone came out; then they probed for the ball which had entered the groin, found it had struck the bone and glanced downward, lodging in the leg, where it yet remains. We received the best possible care from the surgeons and attendants. Ladies visited the hospital every day loaded with delicacies for our comfort.
I did a foolish thing while in hospital which came near ending my earthly experience. One day an officer, slightly wounded, came in and said the paymaster was at the Custom House and if we could get there we would receive two months' pay. On the bed next mine lay Lieut. "Bob" Stewart of the 72d Pennsylvania, wounded in the leg; neither of us had a dollar, and the thought of two months' pay in our pockets was pleasant. We talked it over that night; Bob was sure he could stand it, but thought I had better not try; still I was anxious to go, so we bribed the nurse, and the next morning, after the surgeon made his rounds, we took a carriage and with the nurse started for the Custom House. I fainted before we had gone a block, but kept on and was able to sign the roll which a clerk brought to the carriage, and received the money. We returned to the hospital and I suffered from fever all day, and when the surgeon made his rounds the next morning he was alarmed at my condition. I dared not tell him what we had done, for the nurse would be discharged if I did. In front of me was a man who suffered from a shell-wound in the back; he was forced to lie on his face and was very restless. I told the surgeon that this man suffered so much that it made me nervous, and he ordered him changed to another ward. It was several days before I regained what I had lost by my foolishness.
I had been here a little more than a week when one day Mr. Robinson, the Massachusetts agent stationed there, came in and asked me if I had a brother named Asa Adams; informing him that I did, he asked if I would like to see him. My answer can be imagined, and in a short time he came in with my brother, who had left home when the news reached him that I was wounded. He had been to Gettysburg, searched the field hospitals, found where I had been, but no one could inform him where I was, as I did not leave my address; he was returning home and stopped in Baltimore, and calling on the Massachusetts agent, found where I was located. As soon as I saw him my mind was made up to go home; the surgeon said it was impossible, but I begged so hard that he consented, and in due time I was placed on my stretcher and carried to a hospital car. The cars were so arranged that the wounded were hung up by the stretchers, being placed on rubber springs. I was hung up on mine, but the motion of the car was such that I could not bear it so was taken down and placed on the floor. More dead than alive we arrived at Jersey City. We found that the mob had possession of New York and we could not cross the ferry. After being carried from place to place, we were placed on a steamer and taken to Bedloe's Island, where we remained several days, then to the Fall River boat. We found great excitement at the boat; several negroes were on board who had been driven from the city. Others jumped from the wharf and swam out to us after we were under way. They reported that the mob intended to fire the city that night.
I received every attention on the boat, was placed in the ladies' cabin, and the lady passengers were constant in attendance, anxious to do something to relieve my sufferings. Handkerchiefs were wet with cologne and given me, and when the boat reached Fall River I had a large stock, marked with nearly every letter of the alphabet. Every few moments some good woman would bend over me and say, "Shall I turn your pillow?" and wishing to please them I would say, "If you please," although it had been turned two minutes before.
We arrived at Fall River in the morning. I was placed on my stretcher, carried to the train and taken to Brockton, where I was loaded into an express wagon and driven to the hotel. Here I was placed under the care of Dr. E. E. Dean, and in the afternoon was driven to Sharon, the home of my brother, where I remained three months, attended by Dr. Dean and nursed by my dear mother and sister.
From Sharon I was taken home to Groveland, where I remained until December, reporting to the department at Washington and my regiment, by surgeon's certificate, every twenty days. I enjoyed the convalescent period much. Colonel Devereaux, Captain Boyd and Adjutant Hill, along with Mark Kimball and several others, had been ordered to Long Island on recruiting service, and I visited them often. I also sat on the platform, with my crutches, at war meetings and was quite a hero. I found quite a change since 1861; then men were very anxious to get to the front, now they were just as anxious to keep away. We had all learned that war was no picnic.
I sincerely hope the publication of this volume will inspire other comrades, and that from the memories thus evoked some one may gather further material whereby the deeds of the men who so bravely followed the flags of the State and Nation for four long, weary years may be preserved.
JOHN G. B. ADAMS
Under the above title, I have published a volume giving a brief account of the services of the 19th Mass. regiment in the Civil War, as well as my nine months' experience in rebel prisons. It is a book of some two hundred pages, bound in cloth. While it is not intended to be a history of the regiment, as nothing of the kind has ever been written, I trust it will be acceptable to my old comrades of the 19th and others interested in the Civil War. The publication is limited, and if you desire a copy early application should be made. The price is one dollar ($1.00), with ten cents additional for postage if sent by mail.
JOHN G. B. ADAMS