91st PA: Walter, part 12

Thomas F Walter, 'Personal Recollections', part 12

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[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.4 #1 p.2 continued]

A new extension of our earthworks and picket line was made, and as our regiment did not come back, I soon after started to hunt them, and had quite a time before I got through. By this time I was feeling very much better, but continued to take the homoeopathic medicine. The regiment was not on the front line, but the tents were up in a piece of nice, open pine woods, and as the weather was moderate, we soon made ourselves a little comfortable. Here we rested in quietness, and soon the military railroad came that way, as well as the sutler and the newspaper. Here we rested till the 29th of March, when "forward," was the command again, and we started on what proved to be our last campaign. I was now well and in good spirits, but I cannot readily recall our movements as they occurred from day to day, up to the time of the great surrender. We moved off to the left as usual, and I marched with the company until we had gone several miles, and were near a place known as Dabney's Mill. We were trampling leisurely along, being, as we supposed, the head of a column, when suddenly, not more than five hundred yards ahead of us, a furious musketry fire began. Bullets came whistling back among us, and soon orders came for our brigade to go forward on the "double quick." We soon learned that another brigade of our division had started the rumpus; and I being a non-combatant prudently fell to the rear. The captain of Co. C [sc. Joseph Gilbert], who was also under arrest, and myself, with some musicians, took possession of a deserted log cabin, and proceeded to make ourselves as cosy as we could.

The opening fight was short but quite severe on the leading brigade, the loss being a hundred or more in killed or wounded. We know that stirring and discomforting events were likely to follow with the advance, so we thought best to remain at our cabin. We got no reliable news, however, of what was going on, nor saw any of our command, nor heard any fighting, so after about three days I got very restless, and concluded I must hunt up the company. I started off alone, but soon fell in with others that were pushing for the front, and learned that Petersburg was taken and Richmond occupied by our troops. But while we were certain that these joyful events were the collapse of the Confederacy, we knew it was likely that Lee's army still existed, and might cost us great trouble and bloodshed before it could be disposed of. I think it was the afternoon of the second day when I got to the regiment, and found the boys trying to get a little rest; they had been on the go day and night, pretty much of the time since I left them. They had been under fire at Gravelly Run and Five Forks, as well as around by Dinwiddie Court House in support of General Sherman's cavalry. Rain, mud, hunger, cold and weariness had abounded with them, but otherwise they had been exceedingly fortunate. None had been killed.

The captain of Co. E [sc. Theodore Hope, who was injured on 31 March] had received a bad wound in the chest, and a dozen others received lighter wounds: two of the lightest, catching Co. A. I felt a good deal of real anxiety about the boys. Knowing that the war was very near its end, I feared that some incompetent officer or some avoidable circumstance might uselessly cause the death of some of them, and that was a result that I was very solicitous to avoid. Some of them having been nearly forty times under fire and through the hardships of nearly the whole war, I felt that it would be a double calamity if one of them should be killed now. Or more than this, I claimed that any man who had gone through the Wilderness campaign and the siege of Petersburg, ought to have his term of life extended indefinitely. I was much inclined to stay right by them, and if an emergency came of the kind I dreaded, to assume direction on my own responsibility. They had seen so much though, that it was hard to disconcert them, and from the reports that were about, it was certain that the rebel army was very much harassed and disorganized. However wretched their condition, we could not forget what indomitable fighters they were nor how dreadfully sharp even a few of them might sting if they could choose a position that favored them.

The following day, after an issue of rations, we marched again and kept marching with little chance to rest until after the surrender.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.4 #2 p.1]
The day previous to reaching Appomattox Court House [presumably 8 April 1865] was a hard and long one. We moved soon after daylight, and our regiment led the column on a pretty good road, through an undulating and settled country. Our company, having about forty men present, was put out as flankers to cover the brigade on the side towards the enemy. Several hundred yards from the road, strung along like a [two illegible words] line, with rifles at a trail, they worked their way along over creeks and hills and through woods, swamps and fields, commanded by one of the sergeants. Near night a drizzling rain began that had a very discomforting chill about it, and lasted several hours.

It was nearly 9 o'clock when we entered some close woods by the wayside to spend the night. This halt brought with it a trying realization of the difference between traveling in a civilized way, and soldiering in such a campaign. Travelers generally put up at night where a good supper and comfortable bed are assured. We were about to put down with a very slim prospect of getting the cosy naps we needed to refresh us once more, and make us forget the hollow condition of our stomachs. Grub was very scarce in the column, and our company was counted lucky in being on the blank, where they had a chance to do a little foraging. Those that had a little coffee or other stuff to cook, found great difficulty in getting fires started in the moist and gloomy darkness that was about us, so that many a weary fellow rolled himself in his piece of tent or blanket and sought sleep with a distressing condition of vacancy existing below his waist. In talking over the events of the day, one of our fellows related an incident that I often think of still when I hear of very fast traveling. He asked me first if I had heard a musket shot about the middle of the afternoon. When I asked him about it, he said "You just ought to have been out there. We saw a darkey about a quarter of a mile off on a little hill and we beckoned to him to come over, hoping to find out where we could capture some grub, but he just stood still and looked at us when one of us up musket and let go in that direction, and you ought to have seen that nigger git. He heels fairly [?]
[p.2; the top corner of this column is cut off]
{missing} n." The thought of
{missing} rk" and his super-
{missing} amuse me as long as
{missing} d and took possession
{missing} dilapidated log building
{missing} back in a field. There
{missing} of on it, but its sides served
{missing} off the breeze. One of my
comrades had a little corn-meal that we succeeded in making mush of before we turned in.

Despite the unsoothing character of our circumstances, we managed to oversleep ourselves, for when we shook out in the morning we found the brigade had been gone nearly an hour. A little coffee was soon made and swallowed, with a couple of crackers, and then my companions hurried off after the column. I started off more leisurely, and the number of "irregulars" that were traveling my way indicated that a good many troops were not far ahead. After tramping along with several others for a couple of hours, we met a glad faced cavalryman, who said he had just left the front, and that Lee had surrendered. None of us could believe it, but we began to step out faster. Soon we heard it again and quickened our pace. I think it was nearly 11 o'clock when I got to Appomattox Court House, and found the regiment in line of battle just to the right of the town. The day was bright and warm, and many of the men were lying on the ground to get rest or sleep. There had been no fighting, though a rebel battery had fired several shots over our fellows before our cavalry could close in and capture it. These were the last shots fired by the Confederate Army of Virginia. Lee was surrendering close by, but the men did not seem to realize it, but seemed more concerned to know how soon the quartermaster would be up with rations. A quarter of a mile ahead, in some woods, were the disorganized and famished rebels. We could see a little movement among them now and then, but nothing more.

We remained quietly resting in line till nearly night, when we moved a little to the rear and camped. Some "hard-tack" and coffee reached us, I think, and we had a quiet night and a good sleep. I had neglected to go into the town to get a sight at General Lee, neither did I go over among the rebs the next morning, with several of our regiment who payed them a visit.

The day after the surrender in the afternoon, our brigade was formed in line in the town, and the Confederates marched up in detachments and stacked their arms in front of us. The stacks were made at our very feet, thus bringing them and us nearly close enough to feel each others [sic] breath. Men who had fought each other desperately on many a bloody field were thus brought to look each other squarely in the eyes. It was a deeply interesting, but not an exciting scene. Our men were quiet and behaved like heroes. The Confederates came up quickly and with some show of nervousness, and as briskly departed. As each section moved off, our line stepped forward and moved the captured arms to the rear, and this process went on until several thousand muskets and rifles, and a few significant flags had been left in our possession. I believe there was no regular Confederate flag surrendered. I did not see any of the most distinguished rebel officers, or did not know them if I did. So far as I observed, the officers bore themselves with much credit. General and ex-Governor Wise, of Virginia, of "old John Brown" fame, was one of the few pointed out to me.

When the last line of the enemy had got back to the shelter of the woods, and while our brigade was moving back to camp, several of us gathered around a reb that had been resting against a tree for some time, a little distance in front. We found him to be an intelligent Petersburger and not averse to being interviewed. He was a good deal depressed at the turn of affairs, and thought that Lee's army ought to have fought till none were left, rather than surrender. This theory slightly riled one of our boys who suggested to him that he could easily become one of those who were not left, by getting up and starting a fight on his own account.

There was few troops there at the town, and no noise or confusion worth noting. Lots of our men went over among their old foes, but there was no clashing, and I think if the veterans in grey could have selected the troops to receive their arms, none would have been more likely to have been chosen than us of the 1st Division, of the 5th Corps. The following day I went over to where they had been, but that great army was no more. Singly, or in squads, or small companies they had started off to tram back to their distant and impoverished homes. To them the war had ended suddenly and completely. They seemed to have melted away as quietly and mysteriously as the dew in the rays of the summer sun. Here and there was the wreck of medical stores, or remnants of worn out equipments; the last martial signs of the late warriors.

I was walking pensively about among the wet leaves and mud when I caught sight of a book. It proved to be a copy of Thackeray's "Pendennis," with an excellent lithograph of the author in front. This picture I kept as a relic, and it is now at my hand. Soon afterwards I picked up another book, that proved to be a genuine Southern novel. Its title was "Micaria, or Altars of Sacrifice." the [sic] author, I believe, was Miss Evans. I glanced through it, its dedication attracted my attention, and it too, is now one of my cherished relics. I think it may well rank as one of the curiosities of modern literature, and reads thus:
To the
Army of the
Southern Confederacy,
who have
delivered the South from despotism,
and who have won for generations
yet unborn the precious guerdon of
Constitutional Republican
Liberty:
To this vast Legion of Honor,
whether limping on crutches through
the land they have saved and immortal-
ized; or surviving uninjured to share
the blessings their unexampled heroism
bought; or sleeping dreamlessly in
nameless, martyr graves, on hallowed
battlefields, whose historic memory
shall perish only with the remnants
of our language, these pages are
Gratefully and Reverently Dedicated,
by one who, although debarred from
the dangers and deathless glory of
the "tented field," would fain offer
a woman's inadquate [sic] tribute to the noble
patriotism and sublime selfabnegation
of her dear and devoted countrymen.

We had about three days more of rest, and then began our homeward march, with our faces turned toward Petersburg. We stepped out gladly, realizing that there was no longer need of loaded rifles or skirmish lines, and besides, were anxious to get back to where we could draw clothes and have a change and a washday. We followed the main road for some distance, and then took the line of the Petersburg and Lynchburg Railroad. We seemed to be hurrying along much faster than there was any ocsasion [sic] for, and in due time reached Burksville, the point where the Richmond and Danville R. R. crossed the one we were on. Three of us who knew the geography of the place were surprised when we turned off towards North Carolina, instead of keeping on towards Petersburg. We had heard of Sherman's great success, and knew pretty well where he was, but when I told the boys that we were on our way to join him, their countenance fell, and some were disposed to be rebellious. However, after we had gone south a couple of miles we halted in a field, and the following day we headed towards home once more.

Then came the first reports of the assassination of President Lincoln. A couple of days afterward when the news was confirmed and details came several of the men expressed their feelings and hopes that the direst vengeance might be meted out to his slayer. Much more was felt than was said, as the hardships of war had developed in many of the veterans a spirit of stoicism that tended to restrain any exuberance of expression under trying circumstances.

We continued our march till we got back to near our old siege lines south of Petersburg, and there we camped, and there a few days later my discharge came. Reluctantly I bid my old comrades adieu, and went to City Point, and from there by steamer to Washington. After undergoing a lot of "red tape" annoyance of the ridiculous and aggravating kind, in trying to settle my accounts with the government, I left there for home, arriving in Philadelphia on the 1st of May, and more than four years after the date of my erst volunteering. The regiment came home in July, and paid off [sic] and discharged ere I knew of its arrival.

(To be continued.)

[note: the microfilm from which I made this transcription ended here.]

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