Sunday, April 2, 2017

Diary of John Hay: February 2, 1864

The enemy's fire was getting pretty warm. They had the range perfectly; most of the shell burst in or over the works; but the men were so well protected that all the time we were there but three were hit, and they were said to be imprudent. The men dodged and broke to cover at the flashing of the enemy's battery, but the officers exposed themselves with perfect insouciance.

The shells had singular voices. Some screamed frightfully; some had a regular musical note like Chu-chu-weechu-weechu-brrr; and each of the fragments a wicked little whistle of its own. Many struck in the black, marshy mud behind us, burying themselves, and casting a malodorous shower into the air. Others burrowed in the sand. One struck the face of Chatfield, while I was standing on the parapet, with a heavy thud, and in a moment afterward threw a cloud of sand into the air. I often saw in the air a shell bursting, — fierce, jagged white lines darting out first, like javelins — then the flowering of the awful bud into full bloom, — all in the dead silence of the upper air; — the crack and the whistle of the fragments.

Col. Drayton took us to see the great 300 pounder Parrot. At a very little distance, an ugly-looking hole where a shell had just burst; — beside the gun traces in the sand of hasty trampling and wagon-wheels; — dark stains soaking into the sand; — a poor fellow had just had his leg taken off by a piece of a shell.

I saw them putting a crushed and mangled mass into an ambulance. He was still and pale. The driver started off at a merry trot. A captain said: — “D[amn] you, drive that thing slower!”

Two or three young fellows were playing with their horses in the parade. The horses joining in the fun threw riders over their heads and started off.

The ill-starred boat got badly pounded, her machinery and works battered in. She seemed sinking before we left. The navy were off nearly two miles, but still made passable shooting. Their ricochet shots, however, were generally failures.

With a good glass we could see a good many anxious spectators on the rebel side.

Chatfield to boat, 2,600 yards.
Wagner to boat 3,000 yards
Monitors, 2 miles.

We walked back on the beach to Wagner. A shell exploded close behind us. I made a bad dodge. Walked all over Wagner and got a sympathetic view of the whole affair.

SOURCES: Clara B. Hay, Letters of John Hay and Extracts from Diary, Volume 1, p. 160-2

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