by W. H. Shaw

Note:  This is the fourth of a four part series on Company E, 115th Regiment written by W. H. Shaw in 1864.   Additions will be updated once week until the entire series is online by mid June.

Back to Part III

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In sketch No. 3, we brought up the never to be forgotten Park Barracks, in New York.  There we breakfasted, dined and supped, and about six o'clock P.M., took up the line of march for the old Battery, or some point near it, where we embarked on a sort of craft dignified by the term of "transport".  We have often thought that we would give most anything for the name of the old tub, on which we were conveyed from new York, by water, to Amboy, N.J.   Those of our men who had never been on ship board before, were highly delighted with that short "ocean voyage" as some of them termed it, while those who were made a little seasick by the rolling of the heavy laden and filthy old hulk were not as generous in their praise of the pleasures of the sea voyage.  We reached Amboy about twelve o'clock at night, when we were given the alternative of going on foot through the Jerseys, or taking our chances in the rickety old tumble down cattle cars, furnished by the most contemptible and insolent monopoly that ever our world was cursed with, the old Camden and Amboy railroad company.  The night was dark, and we were not acquainted with the Jersey highways, and the distance to Philadelphia being about eighty miles, we decided to try the cattle cars, which was no doubt an improvement on walking.


    We had with us, as an ornamental appendage, the Cayadutta Cornet Band, and as our train entered the Quaker city about daylight, the Band commenced playing the Star Spangled Banner, or something of that sort, when one of the descendants of Uncle Billy Penn, stepped up to the Aleck Mills, and accosted him about thusly; "Friend, does thy men of brass instruments know how to play the tune called Yankee Doodle, or Star Spangled Banner?"  "oh yes sir uncle, they can play anything but poker."  "Well then, will thou instruct thy men to play something besides God Save the Queen, as that tune is distasteful to the descendants of the founder of our city?"  Now it is barely possible that some of the band were playing God save the old lady, while some others were no doubt, blowing away at Home Sweet Home, and some others were practicing on Fisher's Hornpipe or Devil's Dream, while yet others were whacking away at the Girl I left behind me.  Whichever it might have been, we have no doubt of "broadbrim's" sincerity in thinking that the Band was playing God save the Queen, or most anything else except the Star Spangled Banner.   Aleck was so overcome with laughter, that it took him two and a half days to pucker his mouth sufficient to fit the horn he was trying to blow.


    We had now left the cars and marched to the Soldiers' Retreat, where we were breakfasted in a large and commodious building, which the Philadelphians had fitted up especially for the feeding of all soldiers passing through the city in their way to the seat of war.  The Quaker city was noted all thro' the four years of war, for its hospitality to the soldiers.  At the Retreat, our boys were bountifully refreshed with good thing abundantly supplied, and it was a matter of general comment, the difference in hospitality, quantity and quality of provisions, between New York and Philadelphia.  Although this was on Sunday morning, the boys could not be restrained from giving those in charge of the Retreat, three hearty cheers for their generous hospitality.

    It was now the last day of August, 1862, and some of those beautiful Sunday mornings whose golden light seemed to be more brightly beaming than usual, when the men were as bright and cheerful as though at a wedding feast, and as for the old Chaplain he was all smiles, and only wished for an opportunity to preach in the Quaker city, that he might in a more general and religious manner, thank people for their generosity, and at the same time tell them what the tho't of rebels and their northern sympathizers. -While all these preliminaries were being gone through with, the members of Co. E, that had been treated to the same kind of hospitality on a previous occasion, while members of the old Black Horse Cavalry, were inspecting real estate in the vicinity of the Retreat and renewing old acquaintances.


    About the time Company E had completed their inspection, a train of second-class freight cars were ready, and into which we were marched like so many cattle, and away the train moved toward the city of Monuments.   Our first stop was at Wilmington, Delaware, at which the people greeted us with cheers and a display of the old Stars and Stripes.  In a short time we were on the move again, and nothing of interest occurred between Wilmington and Baltimore, only the display of stars and stripes from doors or windows of almost every farm house, and especially by the colored population, which were by no means insignificant in numbers.

    Baltimore was reached at about 4 o'clock P.M. where we were again ordered on shore, formed line and marched across the city to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad station, where we remained till dark.  While waiting for the train, the men of our command, and especially those of Company E, who had previously paid their respects to the Monumental city, felt themselves, and in fact were, under no particular restraint, and were perfectly willing to show the rest of the boys around the city.  In doing so, they quite naturally came in contact with not only sympathizers of the cause that was lost before ever it was found, but also, real genuine rebels, who manifested their displeasure at the appearance of so many d____d Yankees in their midst.   However, such little ungrammatic expressions didn't scare the Yankee boys worth a cent, but tended to create in their patriotic breasts, a bitter contempt for anything that savored in the least of secession, and in several instances during our short stay in that semi hot bed of treason, loud mouthed rebels paid dearly for their waste of breath in denunciation of the only flag on earth that is worthy of being defended by the life blood of its admirers.


    At the appointed hour in the evening, the men were all on hand, and again we were stowed away in freight cars of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and the next morning, Monday, September 1, 1862, we were landed at Sandy Hook, Maryland, a distance of forty miles from Baltimore.  Here the farce of arming the regiment was gone through with, and when Company E's turn came, which was last to be armed and equipped as the law directs, each enlisted man was given an old Belgian rifle, which by the way, was worth just the price of so much old iron in an ordinary junk shop, a cartridge box, belt, bayonet, scabbard and the usual accoutrements given to a soldier on such occasions, together with four rounds of ammunition for each man, quite an outfit for the defense of our glorious nation.  We were also supplied with two days' rations for each man, and in that condition Company E was ordered out on the line of the Shenandoah railroad.  Leaving the regiment to take care of itself as best it could, we took up the line of march, passed Point of Rocks, crossed the Potomac at Harper's Ferry on pontoons, the chivalric F.F.V's having destroyed the bridge, and boarded a Shenandoah Valley train of cars, and after four or five hours' ride, reached Cameron station, where we relieved a company of the 12th U.S. Infantry, with orders to the Captain of Company E, to issue a proclamation declaring the territory under his jurisdiction under martial law.   That of course was a new idea to us, as we knew nothing about martial law, or any other law, and cared a great deal less than we knew.


    Having now settled down to business, isolated from the regiment, and alone in the enemy's country we were thrown upon our own resources for everything we needed.  Headquarters was established in an old house that stood near the railroad track, a detail of men was made, and a line of pickets established around our camp, and the men instructed what to do in case the enemy advance on us, which of course we knew he wouldn't do.

    Some of the men not on picket were allowed to go out among the inhabitants, for the purpose of buying, begging or borrowing a little tea, coffee, applejack, butter, or most anything to mix in with the dry hardtack with which we were scantily supplied.  This little enterprise was not entirely a success as the few inhabitants left in the Shenandoah valley were of the radically rebel sort, that thought that it would be more than sacrilege to even sell a Yankee anything in the food line, even for hard cash.  Night came on, and just before retiring, Sergeant Haines visited the pickets, giving them their instructions for the night, returned to headquarters and we all slept soundly as though we had been in our northern homes.   In this we include the pickets.

    Tuesday morning found us all around the headquarters' campfire, as the pickets relieved themselves by coming into camp without orders, and as the Captain thought that from our isolated condition the company would be as safe with the men all in camp, as with half of them on picket, and in fact, the whole proceeding thus far looked more like a picnic than it did like real war.  During the day the men, or quite a number of them, were sent out among the farm houses, or on plantations, to try their luck again for subsistence stores with rather better success than the day previous.  In the meantime, some of the boys had discovered a family that claimed to be Unionists, and would therefore bake us some biscuit or hoe-cake, provided the men would furnish the material.  It so happened that some of the men purchased or borrowed a small quantity of flour, and others found some corn meal, and thus between the two, the men were well supplied with hoe-cake and biscuit for supper, and soon the boys began to think that a soldier's life was not exactly the hardest lot that could befall a man.  During the day two or three old Virginians came into camp on horseback, and of course claimed to be good Union men, and as proof of their loyalty to the old flag, they were left at home, and as a further proof of loyalty, ordered to sell us anything they had that we could make use of.  Our second night at Camp Cameron was but a repetition of the first, on a little more so.  During the night of September 2nd, we distinctly heard the blowing up of the magazine at Winchester, and in the early morning of the third, the trains began to pass along towards Harper's Ferry, heavily loaded with troops, and some time during the forenoon, Company E was ordered to join the regiment at Charlestown.  This was our second military order, and we very reluctantly obeyed.  It, as we thought we had a good place and wanted to hold it.


    After the troops further up the far famed Shenandoah valley had passed down the road, Company E took up the line of march, struck the Harper's Ferry and Winchester pike, covered the retreat of the army, and reached Charlestown about four P.M., where we found a promiscuous gathering of Infantry, artillery and cavalry, seemingly in a very badly demoralized condition.  Nine out of every ten of the officers, and men were cursing somebody or something, and especially Jeff Davis and his horde of rebels south and rebel sympathizers north.  We at last found the balance of the 115th N.Y. Infantry volunteers, that we had left three days before.  - They were congratulating each other that they were still alive, and wondering how much longer this civil war was going to last.  The boys of Company E informed the rest of the regiment that we had been having a magnificent picnic, and if what we had experienced was all there was of war, we hoped it would last till Gabriel's trumpet sounded its last bugle note.

    Charlestown, one of the hotbeds of secession of the so-called Confederacy, became somewhat noted as the place the immortal John Brown was tried and sentenced to be judicially murdered, and it was with much interest that a large number of the members of Company E viewed the old court house in which the rebel mock trial was held.  - Some of the boys even went through the farce of the trial, occupying as nearly as possible the position of each officer, from judge down to constable and jury.  The people of the so-called city showed not only their disgust, contempt or fear of the Yankee soldiers but ignorance, by closing their houses and places of business, if any such they had, when we were there, for at that time all our troops had money to pay for all they called for, and as for confiscating personal property, they had not, as a rule, learned the art.  AS for Company E, they need not have been afraid of us, for at that time we were well supplied with provisions purchased at Cameron station, therefore had no necessity for practicing the art of self preservation for the inner man, a science in which many of our company graduated with honor from the school at Camp Fonda.  And in fact, from the general appearance of the town of Charlestown, the boys thought there was nothing worth the time it would take for a thorough examination of the place.


    After considerable consultation and explanations of the whys and wherefore of the Winchester disaster, it was decided by the General in command, to retire to Bolivar Heights, a small village situated on the plateau above Harper's Ferry, therefore the army moved out from Charlestown in regular military style, and reached Bolivar Heights, a ridge of land above the village, and running parallel with the Shenandoah river, about sundown of September 3, 1862, and for the first time this company bivouacked on the cold ground, as we had nothing but mother earth for a bed, and the blue arched, starry, decked heavens for a covering.  Some of the men thought this a little rough, but were ready to suffer most anything for the sake of their country.  We were now, not only on the sacred soil of what was then old Virginia, but at the seat of war, and actually in the field and ready for service and Company E didn't care who knew it.  The 115th N.Y. Volunteers being attached to Company E, was brigaded with the 39th New York Infantry and the 9th Vermont Volunteers, the whole commanded by Col. De Utassy of the 39th N.Y., a blustering foreign gentleman, who was possessed of more gab than brains.

    In our next sketch we will be given the ins and outs of the Harper's Ferry disaster, as we saw it; our march to  Annapolis as paroled prisoners of war, our trip to Chicago and return to Washington, D.C. and Arlington Heights.




This piece was typed by volunteer Jill Collins.


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Last updated Tuesday, 13-May-2008 13:37:42 PDT