Thursday, April 20, 2017

Diary of 1st Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Monday, September 19, 1864 – Part 8

The Tenth Vermont, Fourteenth New Jersey and the rest of our brigade as usual, not only proudly led the Division at first by a good deal in the advance through the woods but in this instance the whole army. It was therefore not only the most aggressive and conspicuous part of — being on high ground where I could see our line of battle each way — but the most important point in the line; was first seen when through the wood and the most dreaded by the enemy being on the pike, and in consequence its artillery fire within reach was concentrated on us, and it was a hot place. But soon, after recovering from the collapse of the Second Brigade on my right which wholly disappeared and nothing more was seen of it by me, with the valor of the old-time “Green Mountain Boys” on we went undaunted until, after we had advanced about seventy-five yards beyond the woods now extinct behind which we had formed in the open field where I was, being then on a high point where I could see the whole battlefield, I glanced to my right and left and was appalled to see that the troops on both flanks of my Brigade were obliquing rapidly away from us, the whole Nineteenth Corps in perfect lines of battle by an oblique movement to the right having pulled away from the right of our Division until there was a gap big enough including that made by the Second Brigade, to more than admit a Brigade line of battle although it is said that Corps had been directed to guide on our Division and that a similar state of affairs existed on our left flank where the Vermont brigade was.* (See No. 3 through opening in woods showing No. 7; also see No. 5 where I was in the foreground). With a feeling of dismay I slackened my pace and nearly halted for I saw that through the gap in the very center and most vital point in our line on my right towards the Nineteenth Corps opposite which point was a strong force of the enemy's infantry awaiting us behind its works on the near edge of a little valley which protected it from our fire until right on it, it would throw its force so situated opposite the gap on our right and left flanks caused by the gap and have us completely at its mercy; but glancing almost immediately again to my right and rear, hearing loud military commands there, my spirits rose as I saw the gallant Russell leading his splendid Division en masse through the opening in the timber in his front, magnificently forward as though at drill to fill the gap. The appearance of his column greatly relieved us, as it drew the concentrated artillery fire from our column by the enemy largely to his. The whole battle scene at this moment at this point was one of appalling grandeur, one which no beholders could ever forget, provided they could keep their nerve well enough to preserve their presence of mind sufficiently to take in the situation midst the screeching shells and appalling musketry fire. The splendid appearance of General Russell’s Division elicited a cry of admiration from all who saw it. It was the supreme moment or turning point in the great tide of battle, and as Russell’s men rapidly deployed latterly under a galling fire on the march either way in perfect order enough to fill the gap, it was magnificent — beyond description — the grandest, best and most welcome sight I ever saw in a tight place in battle, and so inspired me — seeing the danger of a flank movement had passed — I again pushed forward to be in front and was there when the intrepid General Russell, one of the best fighters in the army, was twice shot and soon died a short distance to my right rear just about the time I was also twice hit; (see Nos. 5 and 6 illustrations) but when the enemy in my front and all along the little valley caught sight of our reserve coming at them so majestically and in such solid phalanx and splendid order, it seemed to me the rebs couldn’t run fast enough apparently to get away. It was the most sudden transformation on a battlefield I ever saw, as well as the most perfect stampede and rout; and it was the enemy’s last volley when it saw our reserve coming at them so determinedly that put a stop to my fighting for several months; and but for our reserve coming on the field just as it did I would have been worse riddled than I was by the enemy and killed even lying on the ground wounded, as I was wholly exposed where I lay close on their works not a rod away, the ground sloping towards them.

No. 8. – View from near the head of the ravine occupied by the enemy's infantry looking southerly towards the pike running along the edge of the distant forest. This is now (1908) a fine farm: its building on the left and those dimly seen in the edge of the distant wood along which the sunken pike runs have been built since the Civil War. Observe the perfect cover next to the pike for the enemy: it was here the Tenth Vermont assaulted, and the Second Brigade, this side as far north as the figure (Mai. Abbott), while the enemy's infantry behind rail breast-works and its artillery several hundred yards in rear to the right on higher ground swept the flat open field over which we charged in their front. It was almost a forlorn hope. Who would wish to criticise troops unfairly under such circumstances? The divide running east and west was about a hundred yards to Mai. Abbott's right. On its opposite or north side the Nineteenth Corps charged.

General Sheridan’s plan of battle was perfect and I shall never cease to admire him as the greatest military genius I have ever seen on a battlefield, for by this and his pluck and dash, I see the secret of his great successes. The plan of battle was fully developed by the time I fell twice badly wounded — at first I supposed mortally — only a few feet in front of the enemy’s works, and as I arose partially recovered from the shock of being twice hit, quivering and bleeding profusely, one of the first things my eye caught was Sheridan all alone without a staff officer or even an orderly near him, about forty yards in my rear, sitting his splendid thoroughbred horse like a centaur looking — all animation his very pose suggesting it — intently through his field glass toward the fleeing routed enemy and later after the third and last assault of the day all in a jumble with our undaunted dashing cavalry in perfect order sweeping across the great comparatively level plain bordering Winchester, like a tornado, with banners, arms, brasses, etc., brightly gleaming in the blazing autumn sunlight — a battle scene, as badly as I was wounded, the forepart of which held me entranced. As I again soon turned after the first assault, Sheridan put spurs to his horse and off he dashed all animation to another part of the field to reform his line and so on, going finally like the wind into the very midst of the great congested jumble, the enemy trying like a frightened flock of sheep to force itself through the streets of Winchester all at one time, the men literally piling themselves at the main street entrances on top of each other in order to do so. No battle scene will remain photographed so vividly on my memory as the first part of this for I could see nearly the whole field from where I long remained.

The fatal wounding in my sight near enough to hear his cry of anguish of my old Captain — Major Dillingham — and the killing of Major Vredenburg of the Fourteenth New Jersey from his horse by having his heart torn out, and others; General Russell’s brilliant debouch with his dauntless division marching proudly on the battlefield en masse with all its enchanting glitter and precision to take a hand at the sacrifice of his life — unfortunate, gallant, dashing Russell — Merritt, Averill and Custer’s brilliant spirited final charges on the fleeing enemy, its disorder and worst possible rout all beggar description, our retreat at the battle of Monocacy, July 9, 1864, being one of order and dignity comparatively speaking. I felt revenged for my wound and at having to run so in retreat at the Monocacy, and for my two wounds that day even if I did totteringly tarry, maimed and speechless with paralyzed tongue, chin and blanched face to look at such a brilliant battle scene until I became so faint from loss of blood, shock and partial reaction, I could hardly go steadily and finally did accept help, having declined at first, from two faithful men of my Company who, when I fell instead of stampeding stayed by me in one of the hottest places I have ever been in on a battlefield, one of whom was Corporal Joel Walker of Pownal, Vt. My first wound was from the butt end of an exploding shell in the breast which maimed and knocked me down and simultaneously as I fell a minie ball fired but a rod away in my front just grazed my forehead, torn through my upper lip crushing both jaws and carrying away eleven teeth, the most painless dentistry I ever had done; but, Oh! The shock it gave my system and the misery I suffered that night!

* It is alleged by one or more writers that this gap was partly caused by a turn in the pike to the left, and as the Tenth Vermont had been ordered to guide on the pike its colors being on it, this alleged turn in the pike caused the regiment to oblique to the left. This is incorrect. The turn in the pike when this dangerous gap was caused partially by the obliquing of the Nineteenth Corps to its right, which General Russell's Division filled, was about six hundred yards behind the rebel line of battle, a little beyond the enemy's battery close to the right of the pike, an exploding shell from which knocked me down, and this turn in the road at this time was within the enemy's lines in the rear of this battery, and it was then shelling us. The pike was perfectly straight from us to this turn, about a quarter of a mile away, or about a half mile from where we formed line of battle, the road being virtually straight, as can be seen from Nos. 2 and 9 illustrations. Our line of battle wasn't formed at right angles with the pike, hence the obliquing alleged.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 163-8

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