Saturday, January 7, 2017

Diary of 2nd Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Saturday, July 9, 1864

We left Frederick under the cover of darkness last night, and after marching a round-about way which took nearly all night, brought up at Frederick Junction, about three miles away on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, where on a ridge of hills skirting the Monocacy river probably on an average eighty feet high more or less across and on the east side of the river opposite the junction the railroad steel and Georgetown turnpike covered wooden bridges, the latter of which we burnt early in the day to keep the enemy from crossing — we formed line of battle in a naturally strong position about 7 o'clock a. m. probably about three miles long. The river was virtually crescent-shaped opposite the Third Division with the concave side towards Frederick, but a little way above the railroad bridge ran northwesterly for fully six miles or more, it being about three miles distant from the Baltimore pike stone bridge northeasterly from Frederick, and the same distance southeasterly to the Georgetown pike wooden bridge. A skirmish line of two hundred and seventy-five enlisted men and three officers was established as soon as practicable under the command of Maj. C. G. Chandler. It was also crescent-shaped with the convex side also towards Frederick with its flanks resting practically on the river. Captain C. J. Brown and two hundred enlisted men were from General E. B. Tyler's command, and Major C. G. Chandler, First Lieut. G. E. Davis and seventy-five enlisted men were from General J. B. Rickett's Third Division of the Sixth Corps, the latter officers, — Davis and Chandler, — being from the Tenth Vermont. Here we waited for the enemy to approach. We didn't have long to wait for soon the whole country across the Monocacy was alive with Johnnies who attacked us with overwhelming numbers about 8 o'clock a. m. and kept it up till about 5 o'clock p. m.

It was a brilliant little fight on our part, although when we formed line we were much depressed for we knew we were greatly outnumbered. General E. B. Tyler guarded the Baltimore pike stone bridge with a goodly portion of his command, and Crum's Ford with three companies of Colonel Gilpin's regiment of the Potomac Home Brigade. At first three pieces of Captain Alexander's Battery were given General Ricketts who protected the railroad bridge and Georgetown pike, and three pieces were given General Tyler but later only one piece. The left of our main line was refused or bent back just north of the Thomas house, Colonel Clendenin's squadron of cavalry being far to our left. Our infantry left ran along the Georgetown turnpike which led to the wooden bridge burnt early in the morning to keep the enemy from crossing. The pike runs as a whole from the river about southeast forming an obtuse angle with it, and it was along it which runs through a slight cut here, which formed an excellent natural breastwork, Company D of Burlington, Vt, and two other companies of the Tenth Vermont were stretched out fully a quarter of a mile or more under Major E. Dillingham of our regiment his right being near the junction of the Georgetown pike and the Urbana road. It was little more than an attenuated skirmish line but nevertheless the main line of battle. The command of Company D fell to me as Lieut. G. E. Davis was on the skirmish line. It was an anxious time for having little faith in our cavalry I feared a cavalry charge from the enemy down the pike to my left, as a sharp cavalry skirmish had occurred here when this part of the field had been first occupied by our forces in the morning before my arrival. The skirmishers in my front were very busy, too, exchanging shots with the enemy's skirmishers till the first assault by the enemy in the afternoon about 2 o'clock on the east side of the river which was a brilliant one. The enemy in strong force had forded the river a goodly distance south of us, left its horses out of sight and appeared from the edge of the woods on top of a high hill bordering the river about three-quarters of a mile away to the south in solid lines which moved in double time down the long green sloping open field in perfect order all the while shouting their ominous defiant battle cry. It was General McCausland's Brigade of dismounted cavalry in two lines; and let me say right here that if this was an average sized brigade in Early's army then half the truth as to its numbers has not been told. I could see this assaulting column being nearest to it probably, better than any other officer on the field, and know whereof I write.

The long swaying lines of grey in perfect cadence with glistening guns and brasses, and above all the proudly borne but to us hated banner of the Confederacy with its stars and bars, was a spectacle rarely surpassed in the bright sunlight of a perfect summer day. I for one looked on the scene with mingled feelings of bitterness, dread and awe, for they were so far away there was nothing else to do. As soon as they first appeared on the hill all firing largely ceased in my front on the skirmish lines and everything was as hushed later save the indistinct distant battle cry of the enemy as on a Sabbath day even the men looking at the spectacle in silent awe for apparently the enemy which greatly outnumbered us, was making directly for our part of the line. On, on, they came down the long slope, through a wide little valley out of sight every moment seeming an age until finally they appeared about a half mile away still in excellent order when they slightly changed direction to their left along the hills near the river which greatly relieved my anxiety inasmuch as we wouldn't have to bear the brunt of the attack; but a suspicion of being cut off from the rest of the line and captured, which I feared a little later, made the situation still more trying. On they came, swaying first one way and then another, keeping us in breathless suspense, but determined to hold our ground as long as possible when the shock of battle should come. Finally as they got near enough to be shelled our artillery opened on them to our right and then the infantry supporting it when the enemy's lines wavered and broke and they were temporarily repulsed until reinforced.1 I was then ordered with Company D about a half mile more or less to my right nearer the left centre of our line from the railroad to support with others four or more guns of Alexander's battery, in a sharp artillery duel with the enemy across the Monocacy in which First Lieutenant C. E. Evans, an unassuming, quiet officer, but good fighter, took an active part and did excellent work, together with Second Lieutenant P. Leary — now Brigadier-General U. S. A., retired — of that battery. It was here, too, that I was painfully wounded by an exploding shell from the enemy on the tip of the right hip bone. It was so bad that Major J. A. Salsbury of my regiment advised me to go to Colonel Henry for permission to go to the rear as it was well known that soon the Union forces would have to hastily retreat as the enemy had crossed the Monocacy river on both flanks and were fast surrounding our intrepid little force with overwhelming numbers, which, when the order came to retreat meant a rapid one and Salsbury, an elderly man, did not think me in condition to keep from being captured.

Knowing that every one who possibly could should remain on the fighting line in such a vital emergency as the possible loss of the National Capital, and especially an officer, for the effect such an example would have on the men, and being the only officer with and in command of my Company, I declined to ask for such permission. Major Salsbury rather emphatically in effect replied: “If you don't go and ask Colonel Henry for permission to go to the rear, I shall go myself!” and he did. Before he returned, the whole limb having been numbed by the shock produced by the shell, the reaction had caused excruciating pain, especially at the sensitive point where the glancing butt end of a shell in full flight had mangled the flesh and turned it black and blue for several inches around.2 It was the sensitive end of the hip bone, however, which afterwards affected the whole limb producing with age numbness especially in the toes and heel of the foot and of the whole limb when on horseback scouting for Indians after the Civil War, which disability was one of the principal causes of my retirement from active service in the regular army in 1885, that was most affected. Lying on the ground with blanched face and clenched teeth to keep from crying out with pain, which pride prevented, Major Salsbury returned, and to my amusement, even in such circumstances, jerkily took the position of a soldier, saluted his junior officer, then a Second Lieutenant, who was still lying on the ground in great distress, in the most respectful and dignified way saying, disappointedly, sympathetically and snappishly, for obvious reasons, with an anxious look: “Colonel Henry has denied my request!” or to that effect.

While these events were transpiring, First Lieutenant G. E. Davis, of Company D, Tenth Vermont, who after Captain Samuel Darrah of that Company — a most intrepid fighter, — was killed at Cold Harbor, had commanded Company D, but was now in command of the skirmish line on the opposite or west side of the Monocacy River where he so ably directed, fought and finally withdrew it with so much dash,—he and some of his men sensationally escaping by running along the ties under fire across the open railroad bridge forty feet above the water, Private Thomas O'Brien of Company D, Tenth Vermont, falling through the bridge into the river and escaping,—as to attract the attention of General Lew Wallace, and thereby won lasting fame and was also awarded a Medal of Honor later on. For some reason Major C. G. Chandler had left his command, when it fell to Captain C. J. Brown, the next in rank, who, being inexperienced, and the skirmishers in a hot place and hard pressed, sensibly relinquished his command to Lieutenant Davis who had had more experience, and thus had enviable fame and valor most dramatically forced upon him, although he was grandly equal to the emergency.

Within a very short time after I was wounded the valiant little command was in places virtually cutting its way through the enemy's lines, which almost completely enveloped it, in full retreat. It was during this time that one of the color guard, Corporal Alexander Scott, a brave and efficient soldier of the same Company (D, of Burlington), who was retreating near me under a hot fusilade of shot and shell, saved the regimental colors from capture for which he deservedly afterwards, partly on my recommendation, received a Medal of Honor. But I did not take to being captured as some who were even able-bodied did, and hobbled away. Feeling piqued, however, because not allowed to go sooner to the rear from the battlefield in my maimed condition — although I would not have gone anyway, but wanted permission because I thought I deserved it, as up to that time I had never asked to do so in any battle — still I made no complaint to anyone afterwards, but stubbornly, grieved and in constant pain, marched with my command all night and the following day to the Relay House, near Baltimore, bathing the wound occasionally en route with cool water from a friendly well or running stream as I passed, which was a great relief. But my feelings were greatly wounded at the lack of consideration received, as I thought, from Colonel Henry. As my pride got the best of my judgment I have suffered in consequence ever since. Had I ridden instead of marched, it would have at least saved a game leg and hip of undue strain and possibly from disappointing results afterwards, for had I been in active service at the breaking out of the Spanish-American war, as I would have been but for this wound, it goes without saying that I would then have been given high rank with others of my rank at that time and in the end retired from active service with the rank any way of Major-General.

Owing to a greatly superior force we were obliged to fall back in disorder having eleven officers and five hundred and forty enlisted men captured and leaving most of our wounded and dead on the field.

For some unaccountable reason the three regiments of the Second Brigade mentioned in this diary yesterday as not having arrived were detained at Monrovia, Md., a station on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad about eight miles east of Monocacy and were not in the fight. If they had been, I believe we could have stood the enemy off even longer than we did, and Early might not think of appearing before Washington — though this is doubtful — which he may now do. I cannot understand though, why veteran troops should have been kept in reserve if such was the case in such a contingency—the capital of the nation being in jeopardy — instead of hundred days' men or in fact any force whatever. It seems to me that in case they were not kept in reserve purposely by competent authority, someone should be court-martialed and punished, let it fall where it may, and that General Lew Wallace should insist upon it in justice to himself and to the gallant men who so valiantly fought of the Third Division as to hold an enemy so greatly outnumbering us at bay for almost an entire day.3

If General Lee knew the facts in the premises it would not redound to General Early's military valor, genius or judgment so far as his conduct of this battle is concerned, any way. He ought to have driven us from the field at once, and would with his usual dash. Had he done so, he might capture Washington and may now if other troops haven't been sent from the Army of the Potomac, but I'm sure they have. The enemy is estimated at 20,000 strong. At any rate it is many times our size as I could see it from a hilltop where I was during a part of the battle. We are falling back over the pike to the Relay House.

General Early says in his “Memoirs” in regard to this fight: “McCausland, crossing the river with his brigade, dismounted his men and advanced rapidly against the enemy's left flank, which he threw into confusion, but he was then gradually forced back. McCausland's movement, which was brilliantly executed, solved the problem for me, and orders were sent to Breckenridge to move up rapidly with Gordon's Division to McCausland's assistance, and, striking the enemy's left, drive him from the position commanding the crossings in Ramseur's front, so that the latter might cross. The Division crossed under the personal superintendence of General Breckenridge, and, while Ramseur skirmished with the enemy in front,” — which didn't deceive us at all — “the attack was made by Gordon in gallant style, and with the aid of several pieces of King's artillery, which had been crossed over, and Nelson's artillery from the opposite side, he threw the enemy into great confusion and forced him from his position, Ramseur immediately crossed on the railroad bridge and pursued the enemy's flying forces; and Rhodes crossed on the left and joined in the pursuit. Between six hundred and seven hundred unwounded prisoners fell into their hands, and the enemy's loss in killed and wounded was very heavy. Our loss in killed and wounded was about seven hundred. The action closed about sunset.”

According to General Grant's “Memoirs,” Early's command at this time consisted of four divisions or twenty brigades, composed of the very sinew or hardened veterans made so from the constant fighting of sixty-five depleted regiments of infantry, three brigades of cavalry and three battalions of artillery since the commencement of the war. It must be taken into consideration, too, that the corps, divisions and brigades of the Confederate army were just as big again when its army was reorganized in 1863, as ours. The foregoing does not include the brigades of infantry composing Breckenridge's division as its composition is unknown to me, but all of which confronted us on some part of the field together with the other foregoing mentioned organizations. At one time we were fighting in our two fronts to our left center, facing southerly and westerly, forty-five infantry regiments and more, McCausland's brigade of dismounted cavalry, and several pieces if not all of Nelson's and King's artillery either on one side of the river or the other; fourteen of which infantry regiments were with Ramseur on our west front across the river and thirty-one with Gordon in our south front near the Thomas house on the east side of the river behind which a line of McCausland's dismounted cavalry was formed by Gordon, after it was defeated in its first assault.

Although General Early admits that it took until about sunset to fairly dispose of us, it being then mid-summer when the days are about the longest of the year, what he says as a whole, in some respects is misleading. He did not at once rout us as soon as Gordon's assault commenced at about 3 o'clock p. m. as even with the help of McCausland's brigade and Nelson's and King's artillery he was repulsed, when he says himself he asked twice that another brigade be sent him from the west side of the river and even then after getting it he was held in check some time when, General Rhodes having forced a crossing on our right at or near the Baltimore pike, and having to weaken our line at the railroad bridge to reinforce our line in front of Gordon, we were so weak that a retreat was ordered, being fast surrounded, but we didn't give up until told to. The Ninth Regiment of New York Heavy Artillery, one Hundred and Sixth, One Hundred and Tenth, One Hundred and Twenty-sixth and One Hundred and Fifty-first Regiments of New York Infantry, and the Fourteenth New Jersey not being fortunate as was the Tenth Vermont in finding natural breastworks in their front at first, their casualties were larger than in the other regiments or at least than in the Tenth Vermont. General Tyler's command lost one officer and fourteen enlisted men killed, four officers and seventy-nine enlisted men wounded, seven officers and one hundred and sixteen enlisted men were captured or missing, making a total of two hundred and twenty-one casualties all told in that command. Early levied a contribution of $200,000 on Frederick, burnt Governor Bradford's suburban residence, Postmaster-General Blair's home at Silver Springs, in the suburbs of Washington, D. C, and later Chambersburg and Williamsport, as well as other small places which did not pay tribute in money.

General Gordon, when speaking of this fight to a survivor on the Union side afterwards, stated that it was one of the hardest fights he saw during the war and he was in many, many of them. A division of his command and McCausland's brigade confronted six or more regiments of the Third Division, including the Tenth Vermont, and still the enemy here had to be reinforced. Let us hope that Time, our kindliest and truest friend in all things but One, will yet place the brilliant little Battle of the Monocacy in history before the world as it belongs.

General Grant in his “Personal Memoirs” makes this interesting reference to Monocacy: “The force under General Wallace was small in numbers to move against Early. The situation in Washington was precarious. Wallace moved with commendable promptitude and met the enemy at Monocacy. He could hardly have expected to gain a victory, but hoped to cripple and delay the enemy until Washington could be put in a state of preparation to meet Early. With Rickett's Division at Monocacy on time, Wallace succeeded in stopping Early for the day on which the battle took place.

“The next morning Early started on his march to the capital of the Nation, arriving before it on the 11th. Learning of the gravity of the situation, I ordered Meade to send the other two Divisions of the Sixth Corps to Washington for the relief of the city. The latter reached there the very day that Early arrived before it. The Nineteenth Corps, under General Emory, arrived in Washington from Fort Monroe about the same time.

"Early made his reconnoissance with the view of attacking the city on the 12th, but the next morning he found intrenchments fully manned. He commenced to retreat, with the Sixth Corps following. There is no telling how much this result was contributed to by General Lew Wallace's leading at Monocacy what might well have been considered almost a forlorn hope. If Early had been but one day sooner, he might have entered the capital before the arrival of the forces I had sent there.

“Whether the delay caused by the battle amounted to a day or not, General Wallace contributed on this occasion a greater benefit to the cause than often falls to the lot of a commander of an equal force to render by means of a victory.”

One would get the impression from the foregoing, that the whole of Rickett's Division was engaged at Monocacy. It was not. Two and a half regiments or more, I was credibly informed at the time and have been since, was in a train of cars eight miles to the rear as before stated. The reason for this, it was said, was because the engineer refused to go with the train any nearer the front; but, if so, why not have marched, or better still, have compelled the engineer at the point of a bayonet and loaded gun to have taken the train to the front? Surely the commanding officer of that force could not have been a model soldier or man of force, and much less an ardent, devoted patriot, in this instance.

According to Dr. E. M. Haynes’ History of the Tenth Vermont, the Union loss in killed, wounded and missing in this fight was 1,294, of which 1,072 were of Rickett's Third Division of the Sixth Corps. There were eleven officers and five hundred and forty-nine enlisted men taken prisoners, thirty-five officers and five hundred and seventy-five enlisted men wounded and ten officers and one hundred and thirteen enlisted men killed. Early mentions the killed and wounded of his command in his official report as “about” seven hundred, which was about the same as ours, showing when the strength of the two commands is taken into consideration, about three to one, how desperately our force contested every inch of ground at Monocacy in this fight. The Third Division lost fully one-fourth or more of its men engaged. General Ricketts, one of the best fighting generals in the army and much beloved by his men, commanded the Third Division, Sixth Corps and was second in command to General Wallace of all the forces there.

The Battle of the Monocacy for obvious reasons, was one of the most stubbornly contested fights and the most important in its result of any I was in during the war. It is remarkable when it is taken into consideration that the Union force of about 5,850 men — of whom about 2,500 had never fired a gun in real battle — and seven pieces of artillery, with no trains or reserve ammunition of any kind, not even a newspaper reporter, so suddenly by reason of Early's invasion had everything come about, could fight from 8 o'clock a. m. to 5 o'clock p. m., a force of from 15,000 to 20,000 of Lee's veterans, and about forty pieces of field artillery with plenty of ammunition, under such a dashing, strategic commander as General Early. But through the grace of God, it is thought he was over-cautious in this fight; he had lost his accustomed dash. It will ever be a disputed point, however, exactly how many men Early had, as twenty-five years after the battle General Lomax who was in it under Early, informed me that many of Early's organizations had been so reduced from constant fighting in the summer's campaign, that even regiments with but few men left were commanded by non-commissioned officers who made no morning reports and that the exact strength of Early's force was unknown. Lomax placed it under 13,000 all told, but I think it was more.

Great credit is due General Wallace for his excellent judgment in his selection of a battlefield, as but for that to have fought against such odds, whatever it was, would have been folly outside the strong fortifications of Washington; but Baltimore had to be protected, too, which necessitated the Battle of the Monocacy. Wallace should have been commended in orders and thanked by Congress for his splendid judgment and pluck to confront such an overwhelming force as well as for the indirect benefits which resulted from his having had the intrepidity to undertake, from a purely military viewpoint, as Grant says "almost a forlorn hope"; but instead of this he was ignominiously treated by General Halleck because Wallace's command had not accomplished an impossibility, it is presumed, by defeating Early. It should be vigorously resented in history by every honest, fair-minded man who is an advocate of fair play, and especially by the surviving members of that intrepid little army, discredited by General Halleck by his treatment of Wallace, the stubbornness of which army, according to General Gordon's official report of the fight, caused the waters of the Monocacy to run red with the mingled blood of the blue and the gray on that memorable day when it fought not only to save the National Capital, but to prevent the disastrous moral and other effects its loss would have produced, and the comfort it would have given to northern copperheads, allies of the Confederacy, and especially to the enemy wherever found. If Washington had fallen into the hands of the enemy, even though only temporarily, at this time, it would of course have been sacked and its public buildings destroyed; Grant's plan of campaign, even if it hadn't put an end to his military career, might have been changed, the Confederacy might possibly have been recognized by foreign powers — for it is no small matter for an enemy to occupy a belligerent's capital — and the war might have been somewhat prolonged, if nothing more.

The ovation given that part of Rickett's Division of the famous historic fighting Sixth Corps, which bore the brunt of the Monocacy infantry fighting, as it marched up Pennsylvania Avenue a few days later, and especially the bullet, shell, weather-beaten and battle-torn flags of the Tenth Vermont, as they appeared along the line of march, is a proud and pleasant memory never to be forgotten. It was the event of the day, no other regiment within hearing, receiving such a continuous and noisy reception. It will go with the men of that most excellent regiment throughout eternity; it was a proud day. The regiment had been one of the most valiant of some nine or more in the Monocacy fight to save the capital; it was known in Washington and it was pleasant to feel the city understood and appreciated it. It has never been thought, though, by the survivors of the command who fought in the Monocacy battle that the general public did appreciate, or has since appreciated it, as a defeat is generally looked upon as a disaster and with discredit; but indirectly in this case it was a great victory, one of the most important of the war for obvious reasons aside from having saved the National Capital, as without the delay of a day or more, caused by this fight, Early certainly would have found no veteran troops to defend the city, for even as it was some of them had to double quick through the city — a fact not before given in history it is believed — into line of battle just north of it at Fort Stevens from the transports which had brought them from in front of Petersburg to fight Early whose appearance before the city they were just in season to confront with hardly a moment to spare. Says Hon. L. E. Chittenden, Registrar of the Treasury in his “Recollections of President Lincoln and his Administration”: “The importance of a battle is determined by its ultimate consequences rather than its immediate results. If that fought on the Monocacy did delay General Early so as to save the capital from his assault and probable capture, it was one of the decisive battles of the world.”4 Thus we have the matter summed up here in barely two sentences for it did delay Early just enough to save the capital.

This was forty years ago this 9th day of July, 1904, when many of the survivors, including myself, have been celebrating the anniversary of the Monocacy fight at Frederick, Md., and on the battlefield; and even now old department clerks who largely formed the Home Guard in 1864, and were in the trenches in front of Washington when Early approached the city, mention with wonder the apparent indifference and yet alertness with which the veteran Sixth Corps skirmish line double quicked from in front of the works to meet and repulse Early's advance. They did it in a matter of fact way, it seemed to the clerks, as though going to the drill ground in time of peace for manoeuvres. Those were days though, when we fought with clenched teeth, and learned to smother our emotions. We had no time to growl over rations, as in the Spanish-American War, in more recent times, and did not murmur if at times we got but a hard tack a day and nothing else and most of the men not even that, as at Mine Run, and many other places. We were in the field to preserve the Union and to eliminate the National parasite of human slavery, and constant fighting had taught every man who from conscientious motives could always be found when well, on the fighting line and nowhere else, exactly what to do under most circumstances; and hence, they were generally cool having thoroughly learned the science of war.

1 It was here that General Early mentions in his “Personal Memoirs” of this battle, an extract from which will be found further along, that he had to send General Gordon's Division to reinforce McCausland under the superintendence of General Breckenridge, etc. This was what kept us waiting so long after McCausland's repulse, it took so long to get reinforcements across the river. It was the desperate fighting here, too, where there were three or more separate assaults, that years afterwards drew forth an acknowledgment from Gordon that It was one of the hardest fights he had ever been in or to that effect, and that it caused the waters of the Monocacy to run red with the mingled blood of the blue and the gray.

2 As time and history has developed other facts in connection with this battle and this wound, it is fitting that the facts should be introduced here, which will be the case from this time on in the case of battles.

3 Colonel J. W. Keifer of the Second Brigade says in his official report of this battle that the regiments at Monrovia were unnecessarily detained by Colonel J. F. Staunton. — See Haynes’ History Tenth Regiment Vermont Infantry.

4 Haynes’ History of the Tenth Regiment Vermont Infantry.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 98-118

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