Thursday, July 28, 2016

Major Wilder Dwight: Monday, March 27, 1862

camp Bivouac, Near Strasburg, March 27, 1862.

I must write you a line from our hillside-wooded bivouac this bright morning.

On Tuesday night we made a forced march toward Strasburg from Winchester, to be within supporting distance of General Banks. We marched till one o'clock in the morning, and then the regiment laid down by the roadside, and built fence-rail fires and rested. Yesterday morning we came on to Strasburg, where we now await the future. Jackson is supposed to be at Mount Jackson, about fifteen miles from here, with part of his force. The force was very much demoralized by the defeat and loss. Their killed, wounded, and prisoners cannot be less than one thousand; three hundred will cover our loss, killed and wounded. At our bivouac, night before last, a few of the officers, including the Colonel and myself, took possession of a comfortable house, and slept in the “best room.” The next morning at breakfast, when the master was out of the room, the mulatto that served us said: “Jackson took breakfast here day before yesterday. He told massa that he could not make much, but he should try you again.' But he won't, think I. As we marched through Middletown yesterday, whose houses are full of secession wounded, dropped on their march by the retreating army, our band poured out its national music, and there was a somewhat unfeeling sauciness in the swing and tramp of the regiment over the way so lately passed by the panic-stricken fugitives. At one house near which we rested we found a poor Rebel soldier whom a shell had overtaken in his retreat. One arm gone, one leg nearly so, and the other leg mangled. Poor fellow! his life will be short. By his bedside was a Union soldier of the Seventh Ohio, — the regiment that suffered most, on our side, in the fight. That soldier was nursing and tending the poor wounded man as affectionately as a sister. He had been with him a day, and said he was afraid of being court-martialled if he stayed; but, said he, “I can't leave him alone.” Our surgeon, who has been behaving like a trump, gave him a certificate, and advised him to stay. We left him dressing the hopeless wounds.

At one of the hospitals in Winchester, a Rebel soldier, wounded and suffering, said: “How kind you are to us! They told us that you would kill us, and kill all the wounded.” Such are some of the lies with which they keep their men up to the fighting point. The women of Winchester began by bringing delicacies for their wounded, as they said. After a day, however, when they saw our equal kindness, they began themselves to get a little humanity, and to work for all.

There is a base and brutalizing influence at work here in Rebeldom, beyond all question.

The scenes through which I have passed for the last three days remain with great vividness. Take the Winchester court-house as an example. You enter the door, and the vestibule is full of dead. You go in farther, and the court-room is a hospital, in which every variety of wound and suffering meets your eye.

It is little enough that human aid can do in such a place, but it is wonderful to see the comfort that is given by human sympathy. I noticed one boy shot through the jaw and the back. He had been looking intently at the man next him, when he began some inarticulate address to him. Through the wounded and disturbed jaw he at last made himself understood as saying, “Do you feel better?” “Yes,” said the man next him. “Glad of it,” he worked out, with difficulty, and lay back, having imperfectly expressed the sympathy which most men would hardly think he had to spare. Young Lieutenant Crowninshield was walking through one hospital. “Hallo, Crownie, how are you?” said a wounded Rebel soldier. On looking at him, he recognized a classmate, named Washington, who left Cambridge a year ago. He was a private in Jackson's army. His mother and sister were living near Charlestown. The poor fellow was wounded through the lungs probably mortally. What a war this is!

An odd incident occurred to one of our regiment. Private Alexander, of Company E, was taken prisoner last summer at Maryland Heights, and brought to Winchester and thence to Richmond. He was released with Colonel Lee, and sent back here to rejoin his regiment. He arrived in Winchester just after we had left for Centreville, but just in season for the battle. He went out on to the field, took a gun from some fallen soldier, and went in with all the bitterness of a six months' captivity. At the close of the engagement he returned to Winchester, bringing with him two Rebel guns and a Rebel prisoner as his booty and revenge. He thinks he is even with them now. Captain Cary's company was on duty in Winchester, at the time of the battle, as part of the provost guard. Three of the men got leave of absence in the afternoon and went out to the field, picked up guns, and sailed in. The last that is known of one of them is, that he was seen in the advanced line of skirmishers fighting like a hero. The others, after the battle, returned. So you see our regiment had only four men in the engagement. I believe we remain here quietly to-day. We are on the line of the Manassas Gap railway, but the bridges have been burnt. I think that we shall not be attacked again, nor be able to overtake Jackson, whose movement was against a divided force, and unsuccessful at that. He will not, therefore, assail us when we are reunited. It is a splendid, mild morning. We are camped in a pine and cedar grove facing the south, and resting after a march of sixty-five miles in four days, — awful hard work with very little glory. Those fellows who are put on cars and then shipped to an exploit, with no service in the field, are lucky men. Ours is the labor and heat of the day with no penny as yet. The eleventh-hour men are getting their pennies first! Will there be any left for us? Who knows? Love to all at home. I am writing on your little portable writing-case, which is a convenience. Your letter of the 20th was received last night.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Amelia Dwight, Editor, Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight: Lieut.-Col. Second Mass. Inf. Vols., p. 218-21

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