Friday, November 4, 2016

Diary of Sergeant George G. Smith: Sunday, June 14, 1863

We have now arrived through the vicissitudes and chances of this siege, to another day that will ever be memorable, not for the amount of good or for important victories gained on that day, but for reasons quite the contrary. It will be remembered by the actors in that drama for the desperate encounters of a “forlorn hope,” and for the terrible and useless slaughter of human lives. At 12 o'clock midnight, we were ordered in line of battle. The night was dark, but the soldiers groped their way through the forest, two miles and a half, towards the left. Here we found eight or ten regiments ready to move. But before we did so it had begun to be daylight. We passed over a bridge, across Thompson's creek, up the bluff, and halted. A line of skirmishers had been sent out to drive in the enemy's pickets, so that the infantry could pass through the trenches without annoyance or discovery. But while we were waiting for this the enemy opened on us from the fortress with heavy guns, firing every conceivable thing they could get into them — pieces of railroad iron, old horseshoes, nails, spikes, etc.—but they flew harmlessly over our heads. A bullet flew uncomfortably near me and wounded a man directly in my rear. It hit his leg, and I heard the bones crash.

But the order soon came to march. A road had been cut through the fallen timber for about half a mile. It wound among the hills in such a manner that no part of it was exposed to the fire from the fort. This was continued up to within two or three hundred yards of the works. The terminus was protected by a pile of cotton bales. To the left and running parallel to the enemy's breastworks, was a line of hills. We filed to the left and formed in line of battle behind these. During the whole of this time I was ignorant and so was everyone else around me, of what we were about to do. There was a vague notion, however, that there was to be a charge somewhere on the enemy's works. Whoever planned these defences seemed to have understood his business. The timber was cut back three-fourths of a mile from the embankments, tree tops interlacing with each other formed almost an impregnable barrier. Between us and the fortification was the hill or ridge of land, behind which the line of battle was formed, and a hollow between this and the fort. This last was full of deep gullies and fallen timber, rendering it almost impassable. Colonel Holcomb was acting Brigadier General that day. He was a brave man and a good officer. Our bayonets were fixed, and the Colonel gave the command, “Forward! double quick, march.” The first Louisiana gave a yell, and up the hill they went. But no sooner had they come in range of the guns on the breastworks than they were met by one of the most withering fires ever seen by mortal man. In crossing a level piece of ground on the top of the hill I cast my eye around and saw that almost every man had fallen. I halted, and thought, “Well, what does this mean? I do not believe I can take Port Hudson alone and guess I'll fall down too.” There was a white oak tree about a foot through lying on the ground in front of me, so I pitched down, and laid on my face as close to the log as I could get. And I did not get down any too soon, for the bullets began to come, cutting the bark on the top of the log, and striking the ground two or three feet beyond me, but they could not hit me; so I lay there until they got through firing. I then ventured to lift my head to see what was going on, as I supposed Colonel Holcomb would give the command to go forward again. The ground was covered with men as far as I could see, and it seemed as though it was a half a mile. Soon after falling down behind the log, I heard Col. Holcomb say, “13th Connecticut, why don't you move forward?” The 13th gave a faint yell, and came up the hill sharing the same fate as the First Louisiana did. They were on our left. Those were the last words I heard the Colonel speak. After looking as long as I dared, I laid my head down again behind the log: but the rebels had seen me, and began firing again, so I laid still till they got through, and then I gave another look. The men lay there just as they were when I looked before. I thought, “why don't they crawl down the hill and get out of the range of the rebel's guns?” I looked once more and the truth flashed on my mind, that they were all dead or wounded, and they could not get away.

The sun was awful hot, and I had played “hide and go seek” long enough with “my friends the enemy;” besides, I did not see any further prospect of taking Port Hudson that day, so I thought I might as well get out. In coming up the hill I noticed a deep gully on the right, with two logs across it. A young soldier, in a sargeant's uniform, stepped up on the logs, and was crossing, but all at once he stopped, turned round, and fell on his face. He lay there until we got by. Now I thought that would be a good place to get into out of the way of the sun and rebel bullets. So I crawled down the hill, keeping the log between me and my friends until out of the reach of the guns of the fort and got into the gully. The boy still lay there sleeping his last sleep, and I presume his mother never found out where he was. I found Lieut. Gardner in the gully with three or four more of Co. E, First Louisiana. It was quite cool and comfortable there, but the canteens were all empty and no water to be had. The wounded must have suffered terrible agonies lying there in the hot sun. If they stirred a hand or foot the rebels would shoot at them. The groans were something awful. “And there shall be the weeping,” came forcibly to me. It was sure death to undertake to bring one away.

We laid in the gully until 3 o'clock when Lieut. Gardner requested me to go to the rear and gather up the stragglers and bring them back to the gully, as we supposed we were to remain there over night. I thought it prudent to move as fast as convenient, for no sooner had I emerged from the cover than the bullets commenced to fly as thick as bees about a hive on a hot summer's day. I made some pretty long strides down the hill, and was soon out of harm's way. On the way to the bridge I found several of my company and took them along with me. I found the company's cook at the bridge with hot coffee, hard bread, and boiled salt junk. This was a source of rejoicing to the physical man; for the contents of my haversack and canteen of water, brought out at midnight, had been shared at early dawn with my less considerate comrades, and I had not seen food and but little water since that time. I dispatched some men with food to the men on the battle ground. While discussing my coffee I learned that Col. Halcomb, Lieut. Hill, of Co. H, and several other officers and men with whom I had been on terms of intimacy for months past, had been killed. Colonel Halcomb and Lieut. Hill fell nearly at the same time, — the former killed outright and the latter mortally wounded. The Colonel met his death at the moment he ordered the 13th forward, and the words I heard, as related above, were about the last he ever spoke He was struck twice, once in the breast and in the second the ball passed through the brain. This last, of course, was fatal; and I was told by those near him when he was killed, that as soon as the ball struck him he threw up his hand exclaiming, “Oh, G—” (the power of utterance ceasing before the words were articulated) and fell. His body was taken from the field and sent to his family in Connecticut. Lieut. Hill was wounded in the breast and died several weeks later in the hospital at New Orleans. On the way through the woods in the morning his manner was singular. He conversed with me much, and it was about his people at home, and it was of a melancholy nature. He was a brave officer and everybody loved him.

The news I learned that night was sad indeed. We dispatched our supper as soon as possible and started on the return. We had not gone far, however, when we met some men of our regiment who reported that the troops were all coming out. On hearing this we halted by the roadside, and soon Major Grosvenor appeared at the head of all that remained of the First Louisiana. We fell in and marched back to the bridge. Here we compared notes, and while some were lamenting the noble slain others were rejoicing that some were left alive. The night was dark, and Lieut. Jenner and I sat on the ground talking over the events of the day. We did not observe that our companies had gone, but they had, so we started in pursuit, but so many paths led through the woods that we soon discovered that we were lost — lost in the woods in face of a mortal foe, in the night. “All right, let it be so. But I'll tell you what I am going to do. I am going to camp right here. If we wander around here in the dark we will run on to the rebel pickets, and fetch up in Andersonville prison.” Lieut. Jenner agreed I was right. So, happening to be under a large Magnolia tree, I selected a big root for a pillow, and we went to bed. I believe I exchanged the root for my canteen during the night, otherwise the night passed without any molestation.

SOURCE: Abstracted from George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 69-77

No comments: