91st PA: Walter, part 3

Thomas F Walter, 'Personal Recollections', part 3

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[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #36 p.2 continued]

We had been in camp a week or so when an orderly from the colonel came to me and asked me if I was afraid to go on an expedition back to Snicker's Gap. Two men and two horses, with wagon gears and saddles, were to be sent. The reason of the sending was this: When we laid on the mountain at the gap the officers of the regiment had the wagon brought up that carried their baggage. When we left there the wagon, while following us down the mountain, ran into a place where the ground was soft and against a rock, and stuck fast. Three guards were left to help the teamster to get out of his difficulty, and start the team forward, and we moved on. [One of the guards was Bob Gray] I believe the wagon had to be unloaded, and about the time the goods were all out the driver thought he saw the enemy coming and mounting in a hurry, he and his horses soon came up with the regiment that had already gone several miles. He was sent back again, but was scared away the second time without the wagon. So the guard and the baggage had to be abandoned for the time.

The company books and papers, with the officers' clothes and other property, were considered worth another attempt, so that as soon as we got into camp an effort was made to get authority to send back the expedition mentioned. Finally a document was obtained bearing the the [sic] assenting signatures of Generals F. J. Porter, A. A. Humphries and E. B. Tyler, corps, division and brigade commanders. A lieutenant of Co. H was to lead this "forlorn hope," but so much time had elapsed since the wagon had been left that he declined to go. [Probably either George Black (first lieutenant) or John Dyke (second lieutenant).] It was desired that some one should volunteer to take his place and somebody suggested that I be asked. The enterprise was an extremely hazardous one for two men to undertake, as rebel cavalry were known to have been scouting the country we would have to pass through, and all the while inhabitants along the route were enemies. Almost a miracle it would be if we should accomplish our errand or escape capture, still I was entirely willing to go at once; though it seemed odd that I, who was yet under age, should be preferred for a mission that involve so much of value as well as was likely to require so much courage and finesse.

The next morning, November 12, 1862, a private of Co. C and I mounted our good horses, bid fare well to our comrades and turned our faces to the rear. [Walter later calls the private 'Joe'. Company C then had two privates named 'Joseph': Joseph L Hayward, and Joseph E Smith. There was also a corporal named Joseph Everhart. I don't know which of these accompanied Walter.] We went without preparing to fight, but relying on our tact and a favoring Providence to get us through. Each of us had a little of both United States and Confederate money, and my companion, in his better wisdom, took his blankets, haversack and tin cup. From our camp to Snicker's Gap was something over thirty miles, through a long settled section of country.

The first day we rode twenty miles or more, and occasionally stopping at some darkey's cabin near the road to inquire if any "graybacks" were known to be in the neighborhood. They had been about frequently in squads, and appeared to be scouting the country almost daily, they said, so we went forward in constant expectation of being discovered or pursued.

I had no determined plan to pursue if the enemy appeared, nor could I bear the idea of killing the horses to prevent their capture. Part of the way I had to travel a road that I had never been over before in order to avoid Middleburg, which was a little old town of some aristocratic pretentions, and sure to contain active foes. Dusk came and I had to decide on some place to spend the night. A small, decent looking frame house near the road appeared to be a favorable place, so we dismounted and led our horses into the back yard, where we met the lady of the place. She was an elderly woman of ordinary appearance, who answered our request to purchase some food for ourselves and horses by saying that she was poor and had nothing to sell or give away, and that she was alone and was a member of the Methodist Church that stood near. The church alluded to was a bare looking little frame that was scarce a hundred yards off.

A second and a third appeal was made before she would consent to have any dealings with us, and she then added that as soon as we got supper we would have to leave. The horses were stables and fed, and supper being announced, we entered a little cabin in rear of the house and sat down to a repast composed of corn-break, flitch and milk. Only a couple of darkey women were present at first, but soon the "missus" [sic] came in and talked to us, inquiring where we were going; and among other things, asked me if there were many such boys as I in our army.

After supper we rested awhile and then asked her again to give us lodging. She could not do it, she said, for she was poor and lone, and had nothing to sell or give away, and was a member of the Methodist Church near by. I was not disposed to insist on house accomodations, so we went out and climbed into the hay loft about our horses, where we managed to sleep most of the night, though it was a chilly repose. Rising early, the horses had corn from the crib and we ate from our haversack, before I went to the house to pay our bill. Three dollars was the charge, but whether to take it in greenbacks or Confederate notes, she did not know. She went over the rigmarole [sic] about her circumstance.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #37 p.1]
[13 November 1862] I paid the woman in Confederate money, and we rode off, feeling assured that Providence had greatly favored us thus far. About three hours later we came in sight of Snickersville, a small and poor-looking town of near a dozen houses that stands near the road that leads through the gap. A halt was made, and leaving Joe, my companion, with the horses in a secluded place a little distance from the road, I went forward to reconnoitre. As I got close to the village I met two nice looking girls, scarcely half grown, and I questioned them carefully as to whether there were any soldiers about. They did not seem a bit scared, and said there were not. Cautiously I went on past several houses and saw no one except a citizen of extensive proportions, who did not manifest any interest in me.

On I went, thinking how wonderfully fortune was smiling upon us, when, as I was about to turn the corner of the last house to ascend the mountain, I suddenly found myself within a few feet of a rebel cavalry picket. They had not seen my coming, as a lieutenant and sergeant were leisurely talking, and a private was getting his horse shod near by. I turned quickly about, hoping to escape their observation, passed around to the other side of the house, and took in at once the chance of getting away. If pursued at once there was nothing to save me. Our army had destroyed the fences, and there were neither woods nor swamp within a quarter of a mile that offered me a chance. In less than half a minute I saw the officer mount and after me [sic], but I continued my retreat, disregarding his repeated order to halt, until he drew in his horse and with deliberate aim was about to send a persuader from his dragoon pistol, when I turned about and surrendered. He made no fuss, but took me back to the picket-post, and an effort was made to find out who I was, and why I was so far from the rest of our army, but these were things I did not know much about just then, so that very little light was shed upon the matter. I feared they would search me, and from my pass learn the existence of the wagon, as well as of the horses and my comrades in the vicinity. I resolved to get rid of my pass as soon as possible. I soon discovered that my captors belonged to White's [p.2] Guerillas, as they were called, a command whose reputation was something like Mosby's.

In the course of an hour the lieutenant escorted me through the gap and across the Shenendoah to their camp. On the way over he asked me why the North was so anxious to desolate the South, and what right we had to invade their homes and destroy or deprive them of their property. I asked him if Abraham Lincoln had been constitutionally elected president. He said yes. I asked him if all the States had ratified that constitution. He said they had. "Well, then," I added, "has not the president a perfect right to govern all the States, and does not his oath compel him to go to the utmost extremity if necessary to do so?" Whether he could refute this argument I do not know, as he changed the subject and made some disparaging remarks about our dead being left for them to bury, that were killed by their battery at the time our troops occupied the gap.

He was a gentleman all the time, and I have cherished kind thoughts of him and hope that he came through the war without serious harm. When we came to the river he called to a ferryman on the other side, and a scow was brought over to take me across, while he, with his horse, waded the stream a few rods above.

Now I saw a chance to get rid of my pass, so slyly getting my hand into the breast of my coat, I crushed it as small as possible and then leaning over the side of the boat, began to wash my face. As I dipped my hands the second time, I sunk the crumpled document and had the satisfaction of seeing the swift current bear it away unobserved. A few minutes later we were in the rebel camp, the military home of the four companies then composing Major White's Battalion. About thirty tents of different patterns, scattered about in a small patch of woods, and a small Confederate flag flying, was all that attracted the eye.

The men wore various costumes, some military, some civil and some mixed, while now and then, one would appear partly rigged in some article of "Uncle Sam's" blue.

The general bearing and appearance of the command was good, and most of them I believe belonged in the region they were then serving in, and were competent to do good service as scouts and pickets.

I had been in their camp a little more than an hour when I had the mortification to see Joe and the horses brought in. Having now gobbled our whole expedition they soon guessed what brought us back to the gap. They told us they had captured the wagon we were after more than week [sic] before, and that the guard that was with it were on their way to Richmond. Joe was caught by a scouting party that followed in our rear, and left him no chance to get away. They had several other Federal prisoners in camp that had been gathered in from various places within a few days.

Shortly after noon a trooper came and wanted to know if we were hungry, and soon afterward brought us some ginger-bread loaves and smoked herring. This was a rather surprising "set out" under the circumstances, and he explained it by telling us that they had captured six of our sutlers, with full loads of goods, that had followed our army down from Harper's Ferry, but had been too slow to join it before our troops left Snickerville.

You may be sure that they were in good spirits and living high, as such good fortune justified.

During the afternoon the lieutenant who captured me, came to me and said, that when I got into our lines again Major White desired me to give our colonel his compliments, and thank him for having sent back the horses and gears after leaving the wagon and its valuable contents.

We spent the night and the greater part of the next day in White's camp, and I have no complaint to make of the way we were treated. Then we Yanks were all sent to General Sam Jones' headquarters, he being at that time commander of the rebel cavalry that remained in the Shenendoah Valley. The two mounted guards who had charge of us on this tramp of eight or ten miles, were quite young fellows and chatted pleasantly with us as we went along. They said they did not want to treat us harshly, and were going to rely upon our honor a good deal not to get them in trouble; told us of some of their most exciting soldier experiences, and talked freely about the war. They said the times seemed to demand that every man should be with one side or the other, and they were with the South. They spoke against Jeff Davis, and said they would as soon see the "old flag" wave over Virginia again as any other.

It was dark and raining ere we reached General Jones' camp, and, after having a short interview with him, we had to go on a couple of miles further to a place called White Post, where the commissary headquarters of Jones' Brigade was located. When we arrived we were welcomed to a good log fire that the commissary guard had for themselves, and our guards made us some coffee and gave us some rations before they cared for their own wants.

We succeeded in sleeping a little on the damp and chilly round, and early the next morning were on the road again to go to Stonewall Jackson's headquarters, that were close to the valley pike, a little distance southwest at Winchester. It was near 9 o'clock when we got to Jackson's, and were turned over to his provost guard.

Our regretful looks and best wishes followed Mull and Wiley, White's friendly young troopers, as they rode off to rejoin their comrades. A slightly pompous young lieutenant gave us a short inspection, and then ordered a sergeant to carry us to the guard-house. The general guard-house that the sergeant marched us to was more than a quarter of a mile away, and was a small, four-roomed brick house, close to the pike on the west edge of Winchester. Here we began to experience at once some of the more impressive results that followed when a Unionist consented to accept the hospitalities of the chivalrous South.

The prisoners here were all confined in the two second story rooms, and beside our squad, there were six or eight other Yanks, about thirty Confederates, several citizens, and a couple of negroes. So closely were we packed that all could not lie down at once.

Each of us received nearly a pint of flour and about six ounces of dirty beef a day, but as our cooking facilities were next to nothing, we did not get much good of it. A family living close by would bake dough cakes for us for a part of our flour, and that was our best chance, though we could ill afford to lose the toll.

Several days were spent in these miserable quarters, and then all the Union soldiers were transferred to the large hall in the upper part of the Winchester Court House. Before leaving the guard house our squad was taken back to Jackson's headquarters and paroled. Each signed his parole in duplicate and received a copy, and the following transcript of mine, I hope may prove interesting, both on account of its peculiarity and its associations:


I, Thos Walter, A Co., 91st Pa. Regt., Tyler's Brigade, Porter's Division, do promise on honor, that I, Thos Walter, a prisoner of war to the Confederate States of America, do promise on honor, that I will not serve the United States in any capacity whatsoever, either civil or military, until regularly exchanged according to the terms of the cartel. THOMAS WALTER

Personally appeared this 17th day of November, 1862, before D. B. Bridgford, captain and provost marshall, and subscribed to the above article of parole. D. B. BRIDGFORD,

Captain and Provost Marshall, 2d Army Corps

The paroles were written on unruled paper, that closely resembled the common printed paper of near a century ago. I did not get a fair view of "Old Stonewall," but I remember Captain Bridgford as an unusually fine-looking man, with a kind expression.

In our court house quarters we had plenty of room and were served twice a day with good bread and boiled beef in reasonable quantities. The rebel soldiers confined with us belonged to various divisions of Lee's army, and though several of them were hard cases, they were not much disposed to impose on, or quarrel with us. Among them was a chap who had deserted his regiment and "jumped" sixteen bounties in Richmond, and as part of the result had more than three thousand dollars in Confederate money with him. One dark night he and several of his comrades lowered themselves out of a window, close to where I was sleeping, and escaped. Several days passed away, and then one morning we were ordered to fall in, and while we rested in the yard outside A. P. Hill's Division passed before us on their way to confront our army opposite Fredericksburg. Hill's command had a rather scalawag appearance, but they had seen hard service and were effective soldiers. The provost guard of the division and the rear guard of Lee's army at this time was the 1st Virginia (Irish) Battalion, and they took charge of us to conduct us South. At the time we left Winchester sugar was a dollar and seventy-five cents a pound; rye coffee, a dollar; butter a dollar and scarce; but a nice loaf of bread, near three pounds in weight, could be had for twenty-five cents in Richmond currency.

From Winchester to Gordonsville we would have to foot it, and the distance is near a hundred and twenty miles. The rest of the way to the rebel capital we would have railroad transportation. We were eight days on the march with our guards, and though they treated us pretty fairly, our living and sleeping was decidedly rough. The custom was to camp near the roadside at night, when a low rail fence would be built around us, outside of which guards would be posted. Some fuel would be given us and several fires would soon be blazing in the enclosure. A small quantity of flour and beef would be issued to us, but we had to manage to do our cooking with any culinary implements whatever.

The flour was mixed with water on a smooth stone, a board, a haversack, or something, and the dough being flattened out into a cake in inch or more think, while the fire was burning out enough to give us a chance to scoop out a hollow among its ashes and coals. Into this hollow the bare cake was thrown and coals and ashes raked on top of it. When it had been in long enough to be well heated through it was unburied, cleared off a little and eaten: no one being fastidious enough to require that it should be thoroughly or evenly baked. The meat was cut in thin slices and toasted on the end of sticks and eaten, sometimes without salt. It was no unusual thing for a man to eat all his day's rations for supper and march all the next day without a mouthful. Some of us were worse off still when bed time came. Indian summer was ended and the frosts and breezes of the nights were such as make feather beds desirable, yet we, without beds, blankets or fire, and having but a stone or piece of rail for a pillow, slept upon the bare ground. We did sleep, but not to excess, especially when spitting snow or a cold rain, such as often comes late in November, visited us with their variations.

In spite of all there was to depress us, we sometimes joked with out guards and viewed with much interest the attractive scenery with which our route abounded.

The points that had been occupied by General Bank's forces, and the places where battles or skirmishes had taken place were pointed out: our Irish guards telling us that they had lived for weeks on his commissary and were still using wagons captured from him. We told them they would have it all to pay for in the end, and a high rate of interest beside. Our route was down the famous valley pike, until we came to Newmarket, the most southern point reached by "Bank's Valley Expedition," but here we turned off to the eastward and crossed the Blue Ridge, going over Mount Hope. From the base of the mountain to its top is five miles, the ascent being regular, by an excellent winding road.

As we toiled upward the scenery about us became more wild and grand, and an occasional glimpse of the valley we were leaving, which was in a high state of cultivation, were truly beautiful. When we reached the summit, some light clouds floating away in the distance seemed lower than us. Having descended a short distance we came upon one of the most superb winter scenes that could be imagined. A few hasty glances were all that I could give it, but that was enough to impress it upon my memory with extraordinary vividness. To the right of the road huge rocks were piled up as far as the eye could reach among the green clad and giant pines that here and there had gained a safe hold in the crevices that held a little mountain-side soil. A thin trimming of glittering snow decked the upper boughs of the trees, while the lower branches were resplendent with a fringe of tiny and silver icicles.

Far up among the pines and rocks a stream had its source, and came dashing and whirling down, throwing its spray on every side and crossed the road. Like the finest diamond in its clearness and brightness, it seemed as though it might be unearthly and awfully pure. There was a weird and mysterious charm about the spot that I never had experienced elsewhere. We were glad when we got to Gordonsville, and here the guard and the rebel culprits, who had shared our journey, left us, and we were cared for by some home-guards, several of whom seemed hardly tall enough to look into the muzzle of an ordinary musket, and were young in proportion.

[Grand Army Scout and Soldiers' Mail v.3 #38 p.1]
We were quartered for a day and a night at Gordonsville, in a large shed, and received a good feed of Confederate "hard tack" and bacon. I think both the crackers and meat were better than any I ever drew in our army. A ride of about six hours through an uninteresting country, on one of the regular passenger trains, introduced us to the Confederate capitol. Our march through the city had been a short one, when we halted in front of a large building, which I knew at once to be the Libby Prison, a place already famous and dreaded. Fortunately for us the cartel of exchange was then in operation for enlisted men, and having a large share of hopefulness and self-possession in my disposition, I entered the door when my turn came, without any great fear or misgivings. Prisoners on entering were carefully searched, and their money as well as any arms or other property that might help to make them dangerous were taken away, and a record was made of their name, rank and general appearance. I told the searchers decidedly that I would give them what I had, and they took my word and did not "go through" me. The sacredness of my pockets was not violated, but I handed over to them fourteen dollars in greenbacks and three dollars in Confederate.

The upper room in the west end of the building became our quarters while we boarded in Richmond. This room was near a hundred and twenty feet long and forty feet wide, and before we left it nearly three hundred of us were its tenants, and were not crowded. On three sides of the room there were large windows, some of which were partly boarded up, while others still had the original sash and a few pieces of broken glass. Wood enough was allowed us to keep fire about one-third of the time, and during the rest those of us who had no blankets could only keep warm by going through an amount of exercise that corresponded badly with the amount of "grub" we received. It being December, and the temperature going below the freezing point nearly every night, made open windows and bare planks for fully furnished beds seem like inferior accomodations, even to a soldier. A few sleeping bunks were in the room, but these were all possessed by three companies of the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry, who came [page 2] in ahead of us. These troopers were active, roystering fellows, that kept up an agitation of some kind nearly all the day.

Sometimes they would sing so as to be heard a quarter of a mile away. At other times they would seize such of the prisoners as seemed to be glum and down-hearted, and race them up and down the room in a way likely to quicken their blood if it did not cheer their spirits.

The first night I slept on the floor I suffered a good deal of extra discomfort because I had nothing for a pillow except my cap. The next morning I set my wits to work to ameliorate my condition in that respect, but the chances very soon narrowed down to a brick or nothing. The rafters and gable wall were exposed in our room, and by climbing up along the edge of the gable a considerable distance, I got possession of a half brick, and this, covered with my cap, continued to be my head-rest while I honoured the Confederacy with my presence. Plenty of good water and a well-arranged sink was in the room, and on no account could a prisoner go beyond our room and the room below, except he was a candidate for the hospital, or went down with a guard to bring up wood or food.

Our fare of bread and soup was furnished us twice a day, at about nine in the morning and three in the afternoon. The bread was of wheat, and right good, and was brought to the prison in loaves that were a good size for one meal for a man. We each received a half loaf, morning and evening. The soup was made of peas and beans of various kinds, and though it was not very thick, it had a palatable taste. The great fault was that there was not enough of it, less than a pint a day being furnished for a man, and many did not even get this much, on account of having no cup or dish to get it in, but only got what their chunk of bread would absorb during a short dip.

I was one of those unfortunates at first, and I taxed my ingenuity to the utmost to improvise something to get soup in, but failed. However, in searching about in the room below, on an overhead beam, I discovered a little glass jar that would hold near half a pint. I soon had my prize, and then spent several hours cleaning off some dirty, gluey-looking stuff that had hardened about it. I used it several times, and then abandoned it for fear it would crack to pieces when dipped in the hot soup, and do mischief. Another comrade took it and used it, and I consoled myself by thinking that he probably needed it worse than I. The quantity of food we received was little more than half enough, and for this I suppose both the government and contractors were to blame. The prison guards were civil, and several of them did us small favors, but the officers seemed to have no concern to recommend themselves to us. Salt was a dollar and a half a pound in Richmond at this time, though scarcely any other necessity was so scarce or high in proportion. This was near the noon-day of the Confederacy's greatness, and it had some inclination to be just and generous, as I was made to realize when my identical greenbacks were returned to me, as I left the prison. Eleven days passed away, and then came the glad tidings that the flag-of-truce boat was again at City Point. They packed us in box cars, on the Petersburg Railroad, and after a tedious ride of several hours the "stars and stripes["] waved their welcome benediction to our eyes once more, and while the bloody and useless havoc was being made in Burnside's ranks at Fredericksburg, we were gladly speeding down the James River, on our way to Fortress Monroe.

Undemoralized and undaunted, though weary, dirty and famished, I felt grateful that my winter tour in the chivalrous and sunny South had ended so soon, and I had got away without being longer oppressed with Confederate hospitality. Then the rebellion was strong and the South defiant, and full of pride and hope, yet it seemed a mystery to me how they kept their poorly fed and outfitted army together and accomplished so much. We made a short stop at Fortress Monroe, and then took our course up Chesapeake Bay, and the following day we settled down in Parole Camp, at Annapolis, Maryland. Government rations were plenty here, and there was an extensive sutler's establishment besides, and after getting a new outfit of clothes and letting our friends know that we were safe, our only duties seemed to be to eat, to sleep and to recuperate. You may be sure that such a course of duty agreed with us for several days. The camp was on a small sandy plain, near the waters of the bay, and some-thing over a mile from town.

Large tents were in use, and there were accomodations for several thousand men. It was a singular place for a military establishment, and seemed more like a big nest for hatching demoralization than anything else. There was no organization of the paroled men, no roll calls, no inspections and no discipline worth mentioning. Several hundred men were in camp at the time we entered, and several hundred more arrived at different times before we came away. The regiment of New York volunteers that had charge of the camp could put no close restraint on the rampant spirits of the old soldiers after they began to be well fed and rested. There was no rioting or serious crimes, but we often ran the guard and went to Annapolis for a day, and hundreds of men took "French leave" and went home. Early in February I began to make preparations for a trip to Philadelphia, but just before I was ready to start a notice was published showing that nearly all men who were (or who should have been) in camp were exchanged, and might return to their commands. Us few who had been captured in the Shenandoah Valley were not specifically included, but Joe and I concluded we would return to the regiment anyhow. Steamboat transportation was furnished us February 18, and we were taken to Aquia Creek, on the Potomac.

Here I visited and spent one night with my brother, whom I had not seen for many months before. He belonged to the 109th Pennsylvania. [Alfred Walter was mustered into service in company E of the 109th Pennsylvania Infantry on 14 March 1862. He was promoted to corporal on 1 June 1864, and was discharged on 10 April 1865. (Bates, vol.3, p.968)] The next morning, following the railroad to near Falmouth. I found our regiment's camp in a piece of hilly pine woods, a mile and a half northeast of the town. All the company seemed glad to have have [sic] me back, so I had a pleasant welcome. The boys had fixed themselves regular quarters, by putting up frameworks of logs two or three feet high, and roofing them with their little tents. Little fire places were made in each, and the chimneys were built of mud and sticks. The whole appearance of the place forcibly reminded me of Washington's army at Valley Forge.

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