The Old First Massachusetts Coast Artillery In War And Peace Part 4

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While Gen. George B. McClellan's ability has been a subject of prolonged controversy, the general never lacked for loyal and devoted support from the members of the First.

Yorktown is historic ground. Going by water from Budd's Ferry, the regiment landed upon the same sh.o.r.e which Was.h.i.+ngton's Continentals had trodden eighty years earlier. Their progress thru the fields of yellow broom was over ground rendered memorable by the Revolutionary heroes.

Near the present beautiful National cemetery and in sight of the present charming Yorktown battle-monument stood a Confederate intrenchment which occasioned annoyance to McClellan's army. It had withstood two a.s.saults, and was in the way of the army's advance. Lt. Col. Wells offered to take the work; and his offer was accepted. Col. Wells had read American history and knew how "Mad Anthony" Wayne achieved immortality; the appeal now would be to cold steel. About 2 A. M. the 5th, 8th and 10th companies were quietly awakened, the 5th to make the attack, and the others to serve as supports. The men formed their line amid the silence of the woods; and, at earliest dawn, heard their commander whisper, "This is McClellan's first order. The honor of Ma.s.sachusetts is in your keeping. Charge!" Across four hundred yards of miry, uneven ground they advanced in the face of Confederate rifle fire. Arriving at the redoubt, with a shout for old Ma.s.sachusetts, they fired a single volley; and completed their task with the bayonet. Just ten minutes after Col.

Wells' command, the intrenchment was in Union hands. An old lithograph of this action is to be seen in the museum of the Cadet Armory, Boston.

Four members of the 5th Company were here killed. April 26 was the date of the a.s.sault; four days later the remains were sent north, and in due time were received with a magnificent demonstration of honor in Chelsea.



One of the dead, Private Allen A. Kingsbury of Medfield, was specially honored by the publication of a memorial biography.

The battle of Williamsburg was almost a private affair with Hooker's division. Williamsburg, the "cradle of the republic" and birthplace of the American revolution, had once been a proud capital. It is today, and always has been, noted for the warm-hearted hospitality of its citizens.

It was there that Was.h.i.+ngton earned his degree as civil engineer, and there he wooed and won his bride. There Patrick Henry thundered forth the brave words, "If that be treason, make the most of it." And there today the two sons of President John Tyler reside, one serving as county judge and the other as president of "William and Mary College." But so early as 1862 the glory had departed, and the shabbiness which accompanies slavery was dominant. There on May 5, 1862, amid the beeches and sycamore trees about Fort Magruder Gen. Joseph E. Johnston halted his retreat and engaged in a rear-guard action. His intrenchments were shallow; but the pursuing Federal troops were few--only a single division. Hence the fighting was severe. When finally the 1st Regiment marched thru the town and up "Duke of Gloucester" St. in pursuit of the broken Confederate column, they felt that they had fully earned their laurels.

While most of the Union army went up the York river by boat, the 1st Regiment made the journey on land. Altho the country was naturally fertile and the climate of the best, a general seediness and "run down"

condition prevailed, so that it was like a desert to the weary, hungry marchers. Finally the Williamsburg road brought the troops to Seven Pines--the spot from whose tree-tops could be seen the spires of Richmond, six miles away. Doubtless everyone has pa.s.sed thru some experience so terrible that it comes back in his moments of nightmare.

Seven Pines and Savage's Station fill that role for veterans of the old 1st. Today a portion of the battle-field is a National cemetery, a veritable G.o.d's acre, sacred to the memory of the dead, melodious with the voice of cat-bird and mocking-bird and the graceful killdeer. There the magnolia grows to perfection and the luscious fig matures in the summer suns.h.i.+ne. But this district, usually so dry and substantial, is at the edge of the Chickahominy or White Oak Swamp. From May 31 to June 25, 1862, unusually severe rains swelled the Chickahominy and inundated the surrounding country. Fortunately there are islands in the swamp, places of partial refuge, to which our men resorted. McClellan's plan called for a junction with the army of Irvin McDowell about June 1, and for a grand a.s.sault by the combined forces upon the Confederate Johnston. For reasons which seemed adequate to the authorities in Was.h.i.+ngton, notwithstanding the serious results for McClellan and his army, McDowell was forbidden to march south and keep his appointment.

While McClellan waited, and while the floods refused to abate, the Army of the Potomac was in a bad way. R. E. Lee, Johnston's successor, attacked nearly every day. Mosquitoes bit, and the result thereof was malaria. Finally the ground was dug over and fought over so constantly that there was time neither to care for the wounded nor bury the dead; and a condition of horror ensued which surpa.s.ses all power of description. Men actually had to sleep side by side with their dead comrades,--comrades who had been dead for days. It is very easy to understand why the Peninsular campaign developed into a retreat; a month of such fighting was all that flesh and blood could endure. Not even the issue of a whiskey ration, which commenced at this time, could sufficiently blunt the soldiers' senses--altho it did accomplish vast moral damage. So when McClellan became convinced that he would not have McDowell's co-operation, he turned back; he could do nothing else.

It was easier in the north to organize new regiments with their numerous openings for the appointment of officers, and with the enlisted men starting military life on an equality rather than with some as veterans and others as "rookies." Nevertheless this system resulted in depleting the older and more experienced regiments, and cost the government millions of dollars in unnecessary expense. Ma.s.sachusetts, by contrast with other states, did recruit up her three-year regiments, and endeavored to keep their ranks filled, even tho the later accessions had to be given the privilege of taking discharges with their regiments at the end of less than three years. Sept. 5, 1862, a large number of recruits arrived, who had been enlisted by officers of the 1st in Ma.s.sachusetts, and who brought the companies once more up to one hundred each. About the same time there was an exchange of prisoners, and the men who returned from their unwilling residence in southern cities had many interesting experiences to relate.

After the Peninsular campaign, as regiments became reduced in size to not more than five hundred men, the government decided to economize by dismissing the regimental bands, and subst.i.tuting brigade bands. The First bade regretful farewell to their musicians; this method of saving money the men regarded as a mistake.

Much of the hard fighting done by the 1st Regiment took place within a very limited area. Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania all lie within a few square miles, and all can be visited by automobile within half a day. Moreover a visitor cannot fail to be impressed with the fact that these battle-fields seem to have been selected so as to destroy the least possible amount of private property.

Outside of the actual city of Fredericksburg, the country is little better than pine-barren, and contains few houses and not even much cultivated land. Since we now know pines to be health-giving, and well-drained sandy soil to be freest from disease germs, we can see how this choice of battle-fields by the Army of the Potomac doubtless saved lives as well as property. The climate too is free from extremes. But the men of 1863 and 1864 did not appreciate these things; all that they had time to notice were the dust and drought and heat and hunger and hard fighting.

At Fredericksburg Gen. A. E. Burnside tried to march directly south toward Richmond, crossing the Rappahannock on pontoon bridges. It was a winter battle--the date was Dec. 13, 1862--with great discomfort and a fair chance that wounded men would freeze to death. Fifer Bardeen tells that one captain, Walker, trembled as he entered the battle--and Capt.

Walker was the bravest of the brave. Lee had every advantage of position; the resulting disaster was inevitable.

About two months after Col. Cowdin's promotion, as the regiment were covering the retreat of the army from Fredericksburg, they were introduced to their new colonel. Napoleon B. McLoughlin, in spite of his French-Irish name, was a Vermont Yankee. He had entered the regular army from the New York 7th, and at the time of his appointment to the Colonelcy was a captain in the 6th U. S. Cavalry. He was respected and well liked; but he always suffered from the fact that the men felt him somewhat of an interloper. Capt. Baldwin of the 4th Company had become Lt. Col. and by all rules of seniority should have been made Colonel.

However Col. McLoughlin held the esteem of his men, and made an honorable record. His regular army strictness was beneficial to his new command. On Feb. 9, 1863, two months after the arrival of the new colonel, the regiment was subjected to an extremely rigid inspection; and was p.r.o.nounced one of the eleven best disciplined and most efficient regiments of the one hundred fifty const.i.tuting the Army of the Potomac.

Chancellorsville, May 2 and 3, 1863, was the next great battle. Gen. J.

Hooker crossed the Rappahannock several miles above Fredericksburg and tried to turn Lee's left flank. Hooker unexpectedly came into collision with Stonewall Jackson's troops and instead of hurting Lee, almost suffered the humiliation of seeing his own right flank crumpled up. At the most critical moment of the Chancellorsville fight, Hooker was wounded and the army left without a head. When O. O. Howard's 11th corps broke and ran ("started for Germany"), it was only the 1st Regiment and other troops under Dan. Sickles who saved the Union army from destruction. Their promptness in entering the breach in the lines, and their stubborn courage in remaining there hour after hour, were all that checked the on-rus.h.i.+ng Confederates. At Chancellorsville the regiment was for the first time serving under both of its best-loved commanders, Gens. Hooker and Sickles.

On the night following Howard's break, according to common belief amongst the men, it fell to their fate to be the slayers of Gen.

"Stonewall" Jackson, one of the severest blows to the Confederate cause during the entire war. The 6th and 10th Companies were on outpost when a party of Confederate hors.e.m.e.n rode down the Plank Road toward their lines. As a result of the volley then fired, Gen Jackson fell, the identification being made complete by Sergt. Charles F. Ferguson of the 10th Company, who was a prisoner-of-war for a few minutes, and happened to be close to the mounted officers when the fire was received. Ferguson made his escape in the ensuing confusion. This event was merely an accident of warfare, and entirely unpremeditated. While others claim to have been the agents of Jackson's removal, and altho the Southerners say that their own men fired the fatal shots, still there is no good reason for rejecting the contention of the 1st Regiment,--in fact the evidence seems conclusive that our claim is valid.

The plain shaft which marks the spot where Jackson fell is a painful reminder to men of the 1st. Returning a year later, at the opening of the battle of the Wilderness, May 5 and 6, 1864, they were stationed upon the very ground over which they had fought in '63. And when, during a lull in the fighting, they inspected their surroundings, they found human bones and fragments of clothing sufficient to identify some of their own regimental dead. The bodies of those slain at Chancellorsville had never been buried. No wonder that men shuddered as they saw the "buzzards" soaring over head.

Deep was the discouragement preceding Gettysburg. The failure at Chancellorsville had been due to no fault of the men and left them questioning whether they could ever meet Lee on favorable terms. They were not fond of Meade. Their march thru Maryland and into Pennsylvania was the most trying of the entire war. On June 25, 1863, after following the muddy tow-path of the C. & O. Ca.n.a.l all day, only two footmen were able to keep with the mounted officers until night-fall. Stragglers kept coming in during the entire night. Then, at Gettysburg, on the July days of 1863, July 1, 2, and 3, the tide finally turned, and the rebellion began to ebb away.

[Ill.u.s.tration: THE SOUTH ARMORY, BOSTON

Page 133]

[Ill.u.s.tration: FORT MONROE IN 1861

Page 118]

Historians differ concerning the relative importance of the second and third days at Gettysburg. Gen. Sheridan in 1880, and Gen. Longstreet in 1902, and Capt. J. Long in his "Sixteenth Decisive Battle of the World," published in 1906, took the ground that the battle was won on the second day, by Sickles and the third corps. Gen. Sickles had been posted on low ground to the north of "Little Round Top." Becoming convinced that Longstreet was about to attack and crumple up the Union left flank, just as Jackson had crushed the Union right at Chancellorsville, he determined to prevent such a disaster by moving his corps forward to the higher ground, running north from the Peach Orchard along the Emmetsburg road. The 1st Ma.s.s. Inf., at the "Peter Rogers house," held the most advanced position of the entire army. As a consequence Longstreet had no more than started when he unexpectedly came upon Sickles' men, where he found plenty to keep him busy and was unable to crush anyone. At the day's close the Union regiments were compelled to fall back to Round Top. But meanwhile, by Longstreet's own admission, the Confederate plans had failed entirely and Lee had been defeated. The gallant charge of the Virginians on the third day was only a desperate final attempt by a beaten army, before commencing its retreat. Near the Peter Rogers house, in 1886, was erected the regimental monument of the First, a granite "white diamond," bearing the words, "On July 2, 1863, from 11 A. M. to 6.30 P. M., the First Ma.s.sachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Lieut.-Col. Clark B. Baldwin commanding, occupied this spot in support of its skirmish line 800 ft.

in advance. The Regiment subsequently took position in the brigade line and was engaged until the close of the action. Casualties: Killed, 18; Died of wounds, 9; Wounded, 80; Prisoners, 15; Total, 122." But for Sickles' advanced stand with the third corps on July 2, there would not have been a third day at Gettysburg. A model of the regimental monument may be seen at the museum of the Loyal Legion in the Cadet Armory, Boston.

Corporal Nathaniel M. Allen of the 6th Company was later awarded the Congressional medal of honor for here bringing off the regimental colors at the greatest personal risk, after the color sergeant had fallen. Col.

Baldwin and Adjutant Mudge were wounded. It was on this same day that Lieut. James Doherty of the 10th Company steadied his men in the face of a hot rifle fire, by calmly exercising them in the manual of arms.

Doherty was a character. A most gallant officer, he had risen from the ranks and never lost his fellow feeling for the enlisted men. An ex-sailor, he had the sailor's vices. Once, in 1863, while pa.s.sing thru Baltimore, he became drunk, and tried to kill an officer of another regiment. Had not Col. Baldwin seized a musket and clubbed Doherty over the head, murder would have been done. In New York he was placed under charges for telling his commanding general that he "lied." But the charges were never pressed; perhaps the accusation was true. At Chancellorsville he was wounded in the finger by a bullet which managed to wind itself about the bone. Doherty roundly cursed the enemy for using defective lead. The brave lieutenant finally died in battle. A well-loved member of the regiment, Corp. Albert A. Farnham of the 4th Company, was taken prisoner at Gettysburg, and died in Richmond the 15th of the following November, his death being due to dysentery caused by insufficient and unsuitable food. His soldier's hymn-book is in the museum of the A. & H. Art. Co.

July 30 to Oct. 7, the regiment was one of four on provost duty in New York City, guarding against further draft-riots, and preventing conscripts from deserting. Here they resumed heavy artillery drill; and incidentally became rested after the Gettysburg campaign.

A new commander directed the army in the Wilderness, Lieutenant General U. S. Grant. The difference of men showed itself in the different result. Altho the 1st, now under Gen. W. S. Hanc.o.c.k, and the other Union regiments were handled as roughly in 1864 as they had been in 1863, when they left the field of battle, it was to march southward past Lee's flank rather than northward toward security. Scrub oak and pine have obliterated practically all traces of the great fight. But men can never forget that the Wilderness proved that the tide had turned, and marked a long step toward the downfall of the Confederacy.

Spotsylvania was a continuation of the Wilderness with the fighting increased, if possible, in ferocity. On May 12, the culminating day at the "b.l.o.o.d.y angle," the 1st Regiment was heavily engaged for the last time in its career. During the morning it acted as provost guard immediately behind the firing line, with orders to permit no one to pa.s.s to the rear excepting wounded men. In the afternoon it was advanced into the very thickest of the conflict and a.s.signed the task of covering part of the Confederate line with a curtain of fire. Here both armies intrenched, and charged each other's earthworks. The fighting was amid tangled underbrush wherein one could see only a few feet ahead; at such short range the bullet gave way to the bayonet and even to the clubbed rifle. When the combat continued after darkness had fallen, the fighting increased in intensity. Someone had to yield--Lee retreated. The apples which today grow at the b.l.o.o.d.y angle should be redder and the corn should bear more red ears, for they grow on sacred soil once crimson with the life-blood of heroes.

As they approached the completion of their enlistment the 1st Regiment were stationed with the reserves. Here, on May 19, they took part in their last engagement, at Anderson's Plantation, on the road to Fredericksburg--and home. R. S. Ewell's corps of Confederates came around Grant's right flank and attempted to cut communications with the north and to capture the wagon-trains. A brigade of heavy artillery regiments fresh from the defenses of Was.h.i.+ngton were acting as convoy--one of them being the 1st Ma.s.s. Heavy Artillery from Salem. Here the Salem men have erected their regimental monument. The heavy artillery had seen but little fighting; but they now stood up like veterans and drove back an entire corps. Unfortunately the Confederates were taking some of the wagons with them as they drew back; and it remained for the 1st Inf. and their companions in the brigade, some 1,200 in all, to rush to the rescue and recover the lost train. While both 1st Ma.s.s. regiments--the Art. and the Inf.--were equally brave, the 1st Inf. had learned by long experience to make use of "cover," to shelter themselves behind trees, stones and earthworks. It was largely this skill that enabled them to stop the panic and save the Union army at Chancellorsville. Now, on this less important field, it saved Grant's wagons from capture.

Then came the welcome order to return to Boston and be mustered out.

A great reception awaited the regiment in Boston. Gen. Cowdin was grand marshal of the parade, and all Boston came to extend the hand of welcome. Gen. Cowdin had been honored that year by election as Captain of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and of course was loyally supported by this command in all the exercises connected with the reception. Another ex-Colonel of the regiment, Gen. Walter E.

Lombard in 1916, was similarly to be honored by America's oldest military organization. A grim pathos obtruded itself upon the spirit of the festivities; for of the 1,651 men who had gone to war, only 494 were present on May 25, 1864, to be mustered out. The command had been in twenty general actions; and nine of its seventy-one officers had been killed. It marched 1,263 miles, travelled by rail 1,325 miles, and on transports 724. The regiment gave three general officers to the army, and ninety-one other officers to sister regiments.

A number of noted clergymen have at times held the office of chaplain of the command. Applying the standards which control the selection of names for the volume, "Who's Who," amongst the distinguished chaplains would certainly have to be mentioned Otis A. Skinner, the noted journalist and preacher, 1850-'55; Thomas B. Thayer, the writer, 1858-'61; Jacob M.

Manning, the lecturer, 1862-'63; Lewis B. Bates, father of ex-Gov.

Bates, 1868-'72; Alonzo H. Quint, the ecclesiastical statesman, 1872-'76; William H. H. ("Adirondack") Murray, devotee of horses and woodcraft, 1873-'76; Minot J. Savage, author and poet, 1883-'96; and Edward A. Horton, the orator, Chaplain of the Ma.s.s. State Senate, 1896-1900. Preeminent among them stands the name of the war chaplain, Warren H. Cudworth, 1861-'72, '76-'82. Chaplain Cudworth possesses the added distinction that he was the historian of the "Fighting First."

Warren H. Cudworth had graduated from Harvard in 1850; and represented the finest type of American culture. If size of hat indicates mental caliber, his chapeau, sacredly preserved at the Soldiers' Home, Chelsea, proves him to have been an intellectual giant. For it is number seven and one-half. Since 1852 he had been pastor of the Unitarian "Church of Our Father" in East Boston. A bachelor, and of independent means financially, he was able to prove his patriotism before receiving appointment as chaplain by announcing to his church that, if he should not secure the appointment, he would give his salary as minister to maintain work among the soldiers. The church had raised a fund for the erection of a new house of wors.h.i.+p; this the pastor urged them not to spend as intended, but to devote the money to the welfare of the Union soldiers. When appointed, he gave himself unreservedly to the duties of the office; and absented himself from his regiment only once, for a single week of Aug., '61, during the entire three years.

While not a "fighting chaplain" as some were, he was in every sense a brave soldier and true gentleman. Believing that the better American one is, the better American soldier he is, Cudworth both preached and exemplified this part of his creed.

His Ma.s.sachusetts pride revealed itself in his comments upon the inferior standards of living and comfort as one progressed southward.

His scholarly interest in history and science kept showing thruout all his writings. Bladensburg is noted as the field of the disastrous militia defeat in 1814; there is no glossing over the uncomfortable facts. Bladensburg is also the duelling-ground where Commodore Barron killed Decatur in 1820. A scientific observer, he comments upon the excellence of the spring water. At Yorktown the regiment was encamped on historic ground, where Was.h.i.+ngton's tents had stood, and Cornwallis surrendered, in 1781. But he somehow fails to note there the oldest custom-house in America. One is reminded of high-school days to hear him commenting upon McClellan's bridges over the Chickahominy--that they were exact reproductions of Caesar's famous span across the Rhine.

Cudworth comments appreciatively upon the notable past of the Fairfax family, so influential in moulding the career of George Was.h.i.+ngton; of the Chancellors; and even records facts about Prince Frederick, father of George III, after whom Fredericksburg was named. Fossils and other geological remains unearthed by regimental well-diggers on the Peninsula interest him.

But his chief interest was in men and their welfare. The degradation which he saw occasioned by slavery brought sorrow to his heart. The untidy appearance of Williamsburg and other Virginia towns--a consequence of slavery--impressed him, as it does the visitor today.

None rejoiced more than he over the issuance of the emanc.i.p.ation proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, and he felt that such a clear p.r.o.nouncement for justice and righteousness was more potent than many victories. At Williamsburg he commented on the generous hospitality of the southerners; he was also amused by quaint epitaphs in the old Bruton parish cemetery. At the close of the Peninsular campaign he manifested his social interest by commenting that the army was then existing in accordance with ideal industrial conditions--eight hours daily for work, eight for rest, and eight for recreation. When a whiskey ration was inst.i.tuted in 1862, he deplored the resultant moral evils.

Such a chaplain would do everything possible for the welfare of the men.

During the first leisure season in the regiment's existence, that in 1861 at Budd's Ferry, he organized a chess club which conducted exciting tournaments; a literary inst.i.tute or debating society named after Mayor Frank B. Fay of Chelsea; and a large temperance society bearing the name of their total-abstinence Colonel, Cowdin, which enrolled nearly two hundred soldiers on its pledge, and had fully one-third of the regiment "on the water wagon." The chaplain's tent was indeed the social center of the camp. Most important of all was his religious organization. The Y. M. C. A. had not then been introduced; so the chaplain devised an a.s.sociation, which he termed "The Church of the First Regiment." Their admirable covenant, by which they existed, "You now solemnly covenant, in the presence of G.o.d and these your fellow-soldiers, that you will endeavor, by the help of grace, to walk in all the ordinances of the gospel blameless, adorning your Christian profession by a holy life and a G.o.dly conversation," has received much unsolicited praise; and has afforded an inspiring model for other military chaplains.

Chaplain Cudworth was idolized by the men. They affectionately called him "Holy Jo"; and he accepted the t.i.tle as a mark of affection, stipulating however that they must never pervert it into "unholy Jo."

Fifer Bardeen of the 1st Company tells how, in a New York barber-shop, he thrilled the crowd by a narrative of his own supposed heroism in battle, all suggested by a boyhood scar on his head. After he had told enough "whoppers" to set himself up as a hero, he glanced into the mirror and was thunderstruck to see "Holy Jo" occupying the next chair but one. The chaplain knew Bardeen well, and also knew just how true the yarn was not. But under the circ.u.mstances he showed his real self by utterly failing to recognize or embarra.s.s the youthful hero. No wonder that Bardeen later wrote concerning the chaplain, "He was a good man, a patriot and a Christian, ready to pray with you at the proper time but never obtruding his piety, and always ready to help you in any way.

There was no other officer in the regiment who approached him for genuine manhood of the highest type."

Chaplain Cudworth's pa.s.sing was in keeping with the rest of his life.

His death was that of a Christian soldier. It happened on Thanksgiving day, 1883, while the Chaplain was partic.i.p.ating in a union observance of the day held in a neighbor church, the "Maverick Congregational" of East Boston. As he was standing beside the pulpit in the very act of offering public prayer, suddenly he was heard to exclaim in pain, "I cannot go on." Before others could reach him, he fell to the floor, dead.

CHAPTER VI

1866-1878

The Old First Massachusetts Coast Artillery In War And Peace Part 4

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