Saturday, April 22, 2017

Diary of 1st Lieutenant Lemuel A. Abbott: Monday, September 19, 1864 – Part 9

As I entered the long broad avenue running between the great tents at the field hospital later in the day where there were hundreds of wounded, dead and dying, Dillingham, Hill and others of my regiment, among the number, Dr. J. C. Rutherford, one of my regimental surgeons, seeing me with a man on either side — for here in sight of others I wouldn't let them support me — close to and keenly watching my unsteady carriage, came running, hastily examined my wounds, bade me sit on the ground, ran for his instrument case, placed my head upturned between his knees, sewed in place a triangular piece of flesh extending from the right corner of my nose down hanging at the lower right corner by a slight shred of flesh, which I had held in place from the battlefield with my fingers, and that job for the time being was done; but oh! my aching head, jaws and chest, as well as the extreme feeling of lassitude for the balance of the day. My face was like a puff ball, so quickly had it swollen, my chest at the point of the wishbone — so to speak — was mangled black and blue and resembled a pounded piece of steak ready to be cooked, and I was so nauseated, lame and sore all over, I dreaded to move. I guess the rebs came pretty near winging me — but Glory! Early was licked. To add to my feeling of depression, I was told Major Dillingham was mortally wounded and that he would soon pass away. He had been a good friend, a brave man, faultlessly courageous, was an elegant gentleman and good fellow, and was much beloved. A solid shot severed a leg going through the woods; his cry of anguish was distressing, and I shrink from thinking of it whenever it comes into my mind.

I fell just in front of the enemy's hastily thrown up breastworks of fence rails in the vanguard after advancing under a murderous fire about a hundred yards or more, in the open field after passing through the woods. I saw no other line officer with his men anywhere in my vicinity so far in front, and there was no other officer there in the open field except Adjutant Wyllys Lyman who was lauded for it, but I, being a boy, got nothing but my two wounds as compliments for my steadfastness, and they will stay with me through life. I wonder if when across the Great River and in another world I will be remembered any better for my faithfulness when so many others failed at such an important moment?*

I found the men of Company E good fighters, Corporal Walker and another big man of my Company whose name I can't recall, being so short a time with the Company — but believe it was one of the Brownells, also of Pownal, Vt. — who helped me occasionally going to the ambulance as I felt faint and weak, were brave fellows. They followed me closely all through the assault as though they expected me to be hit, fighting like heroes as they were at the same time, and when I fell wounded they dropped close by me, Corporal Walker, a giant, coolly saying: “Don't get up Lieutenant, they’ll riddle you if you do!” but I thought they already had. However, the nervous shock of both wounds was too great to think of rising at once, and almost immediately the rebs were running for dear life all branches of the service mixed together in confusion — a perfect jumble. We had licked them in a square stand up open field fight of their own choice — and a very poor one, too, for them in case of defeat, as it proved — and it was clean cut, the worst stampede and rout I every saw.

Sheridan was as brave as a lion, and unlike some commanders who hunt cover when their commands are fighting, went seemingly fearlessly anywhere he wanted to in order to see what was going on and what if any part of the line needed reinforcing. As before stated, my position on the battlefield was sufficiently high to see nearly all of it. It being a beautiful sunny Fall day with a clear atmosphere, it was the most spectacular, and before the Infantry broke, the most beautiful battlefield sight seen, and better yet, the most snappy, brilliant fighting witnessed during the war. Sheridan hovered near the centre in the neighborhood of the high ground where I was twice wounded, and dashed back and forth the line on horseback like a restless lion, an ideally alert fighter, almost as unmindful of shot and shell as though both deaf and blind. It was here that I formed my opinion that he was not only the ideal fighter, but the second, if not the greatest military genius developed by the Civil War, and I have never changed my opinion. Honest, alert, aggressive, dashing and brave with splendid judgment, his equal will be hard to find, and probably rarely surpassed. He was generally conceded a brilliant cavalry fighter, but if the world has ever produced a better planned, executed, dashing, brilliant spectacular, snappy battle or commander than he and this Battle of Winchester, where the different branches of the service were combined, take it from first to last during the day, it would be interesting to know on what occasion. It was so unlike any battle ever seen by me that all others sink into insignificance as dull affairs. Language or words even with the most gifted talkers or writers can never describe this battle; no pen picture, or ever so gifted talker can do it justice; it would have to be seen by an expert to be fully appreciated. Ever afterwards the Sixth Corps of all others was Sheridan's favorite. Said he later: “Give me the Sixth Corps and I will charge anywhere.”

Among the most admirable pictures of the fight — barring the orderly, majestic advance to battle of the whole army in unbroken lines — except after a little our division being unmercifully shelled from the start on the pike it could not withstand it, nor could any other have done so — as a whole after through the wood resembling an immense gracefully waving blue ribbon along the surface of the ground, caused by that enchantingly swinging, billowy motion characteristic of regulars when marching in large bodies, its fluttering banners, glittering arms, equipments and its blue uniforms looking prettier than ever in the bright September sunlight under a bright blue sky specked with fleecy white clouds making a picture beautiful with perfect harmony of color,—was the beauty, grandeur and majesty of both Russell and Custer's splendid debouch on the battlefield with their valiant, intrepid commands, the former's proudly and majestically en masse in perfect order and cadence, line and bearing, coolly confident as though at parade, and the latter's also in perfect lines and order, as well as dashing, intrepid, spirited and assured bearing even the horses as though vieing with each other in speed to run down the unfortunate enemy, entering into the spirit of the occasion and sweeping rapidly like an avalanche down on the demoralized, fleeing and awe-stricken enemy with the fury and apparently almost certain destruction of a tornado. These were pictures comprising awe, beauty, power, grandeur, order and disorder, dash, magnificence, valor, terror, confusion, inspiration and majesty to such an extent as to defy the pen picture of any writer however gifted. This battle was different from any other I ever saw. It was Sheridan's way of doing things—a revelation in warfare.

* Major Lyman was afterwards honored with a brevet as Major, but I was only mentioned in routine official papers as wounded. Why he, being Adjutant, and therefore representing the regimental commander, and the only officer who saw me, didn't see to it that my services were duly recognized as well as his, I have never been able to understand. It always stirs my spirit when I think of it, for if anyone deserved recognition for that day's work it was the leaders in such an assault, for on such largely depended its success; and certainly if Lyman deserved recognition who had no command, then why shouldn't one who did, whose men largely followed him, as well as some of the men of five other companies which I had successfully led in other fights? It is hard to be reconciled to such unfair discriminations. But brevets in many regiments were quite as apt to be given for scheming and favoritism as for merit, and some of the most meritorious line officers who fought gallantly on the front line of battle through almost the entire war, received no such recognition from their regimental commanders, although such line officers' exhibitions of dash and daring, especially in the Tenth Vermont, which was one thing that gave the regiment an enviable reputation both in the field and at home, were very frequent. The company commanders of this regiment did not follow their men into battle, at any rate to commence with, but led them continually when fleet enough to do so, and I always did. Being almost invariably selected when a lieutenant to command a company without an officer, I was with one exception alone with no company commander to observe and report my work, and my different regimental commanders didn't take sufficient interest to do so, even if where they could observe it; but the fact that I was almost invariably selected to command different companies in battle when needed and that I overslaughed several lieutenants when promoted Captain, should have been reason enough for at least one brevet during the war, if nothing more, which since, in the regular army, would have saved me from frequent undeserved embarrassment. A long experience, however, both in the Civil War and the regular army since in the observance of the bestowal of brevets and medals of honor has caused me to regard with very little respect in many instances the recipient's methods in obtaining such favors, and especially the system of bestowal of the same, which is a sacred trust. And certainly if in most cases such consideration was warranted, then many of my acquaintances who were not recognized even once, especially in the Civil War, could have been repeatedly decorated with the far greater propriety. But with me such distinctions were not worth having except earned in the estimation of others competent to judge, and came unsolicited. Such, however, is rarely the case, even when repeatedly deservedly won, and the only reward for such is to tell the truth about it historically whenever the opportunity offers, regardless of criticism.

SOURCE: Lemuel Abijah Abbott, Personal Recollections and Civil War Diary, 1864, p. 168-75

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