William Reiff, 'His worst scare'

His worst scare

[National Tribune, 22 August 1895, page 3, column 2.]

Ghastly Adventure of a 91st Pa. Boy on the Antietam Field.

EDITOR NATIONAL TRIBUNE: Our regiment was encamped to the right of the road that leads from Sharpsburg, Md., to the Shepherdstown Ford, where the Corn Exchange Regiment, 118th Pa, did such good fighting, and was handled so roughly Sept. 18 or 19, 1862, the first or second day after the battle of Antietam.

While there, just a few days after the big battle, I obtained permission about dark to go to a certain spring a half mile from camp and fill a number of empty canteens for camp use.

After doing this, I went along near the Potomac, when I came upon a hospital filled with wounded Confederate soldiers. Surgery had been extensively practiced thereabouts, I should judge, from what I soon afterward beheld. It seems that it was convenient for the hospital attendants to take the legs and arms of these unfortunate men, after amputating them, and throw them in ghastly heaps in worm-fence corners, there to be exposed for days to alternate rain and sunshine. The reader can easily judge of the condition of these limbs under such influences.

While having a pleasant chat with these Confederate Surgeons, who had been humanely left there by orders of Gen. R. E. Lee, I heard our regimental taps. This instantly suggested that I had too long deferred returning and that I had better say a quick "good-by" to those gentlemanly Southerners.

Between this hospital and our camp first was a cornfield surrounded by a worm-fence. It was a little moonlight about the time I started. I jumped up suddenly and ran to the fence, and without much thinking and less looking mounted it and jumped off into the field side of the fence.

One of my first realizations was that I didn't know exactly where I was "at" or what I was going to do, for I was sliding, slipping and spreading in every direction.

I had jumped into about one big wagon-load of partially-decomposed arms and legs. I can see those whitened, slimy arms and no less white legs to-day, and I can see myself helplessly trying to get a foot and hand hold in the midst of numberless hands and feet without success.

Finally they and I ended our commotion when some of them and all me landed out in the first or second row of the September corn. I picked myself up and started diagonally as near as I could across the field in the direction of that drum call. I struck every hill in my pathway, but I got into old Co. H just in time to answer to my name. I used to think I was scared when passing graveyards at night when a boy, but those scares were no circumstance to the one herein set forth.

--WM. C. REIFF, Co. H, 91st Pa.

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