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1863. Thursday, April 30.
National Fast day. Until 9 o'clock the heavy fog clung to the river, obscuring everything from sight. Firing was heard to the right in the vicinity of United States Ford, where the main portion of the army crossed. About noon we were summoned to "attention," and then, by brigades, closed en masse on the first brigade; after which General Hooker's famous bulletin was read, saying that "the operations on the right had been a series of splendid successes, and that the enemy must leave his intrenchments and fight or ingloriously retreat," etc. Some cheering was given among the new troops, but the older ones were cautious about being too jubilant. Ranks were then broken, and the men collected in groups to discuss the bulletin or to drop asleep. An hour or so passed when a heavy report was heard in front, and suddenly a shell came whizzing through the air to our right. All was bustle in a moment; each man making for his place in the ranks, putting on his equipments as he ran. Then another shell came striking on the river, throwing up the spray which glistened in the sunlight, reflecting the colors of the rainbow, and then bounding along the plain into the ranks of the bucktails of the third division. Another struck near General Robinson's headquarters, while his men were striking tents. Another struck in the ranks of the Ninetieth Pennsylvania, tossing arms, equipments, and fragments of clothing, and possibly human bodies, in the air, in wild disorder. General Robinson's staff were mounting in hot haste, while batteries, now unlimbered, were replying. The Thirteenth was lying on the ground, some asleep, some playing cards, while others were intently watching the effect of the shells as they burst in the midst of other troops, quite well satisfied to be out of immediate danger, when a shell suddenly burst among us, and caps, haversacks, clothing, in a confused mass, were seen to fly out from the centre of the explosion. When the smoke cleared away, we found three mangled and bleeding bodies, two commissioned officers and a sergeant. The officers were both dead, and the sergeant, whose body was hastily taken to the rear, was so badly injured as to necessitate the amputation of an arm and a leg. The regiment was ordered to the bluffs in the rear,
where there was a road with an embankment, by which some protection was afforded, though the shells were flying through the air thick and fast. In the two divisions exposed to the fire, eight or ten were killed and between forty and fifty were wounded, without a shot being returned by any of our troops except the artillery.
Yesterday we laid quiet all day undisturbed, except when batteries of artillery would gallop by us on the road to some threatened point of the line.
At 4 o'clock this morning we were turned out by a general alarm, and preparations made to march. When the roll was called it was learned that we had in line 346 men, including officers. Orders were received for the First Corps, under General Reynolds, to take up its bridges and join General Hooker by way of United States Ford, and before 9 o'clock we were on our way. It was a beautiful day, but very hot, and the boys were full of hope and anticipations of soon meeting the enemy and wiping out the disaster of Fredericksburg. As we approached the river, the masses of fog that enclosed its banks were moving toward the sea, while here and there a house was peeping through the vapor as if struggling to be seen. Very soon the plain and forest could be distinguished, and shortly all was clear. As we came in sight of rebel batteries, they opened upon us without doing any damage. We passed the Sixth Corps on their way to the lefta movement made to deceive the enemy. From time to time, as we marched along, we met squads of rebel prisoners under the escort of Union cavalry, on their way to the rear. Tramp, tramp all day until nearly 8 o'clock at night, when we filed down between the hills to the ford, which we crossed on pontoons, and then half a mile farther, when, tired and weary, we gladly received the order to halt for the night. Our bivouac fires were scarcely lighted and preparations made for sleep when the drums were sounded, followed by orders to "fall in!" and then "f-o-r-w-a-r-d, march!" and at a good round pace we started for Chancellorsville, wondering what had happened to necessitate this sudden change in our programme. Something serious, for mounted officers were hurrying about with orders urging forward the troops. We had not long to
wait, however, before we got some idea of the disaster which had overtaken the army. Very soon we saw men of the Eleventh Corps hurrying to the rear, many of them panicstricken with fear. Orders were received to drive back to the front all men who were not wounded. We knew so little beyond the sphere of our duty, that it was impossible to understand what the retreat of the Eleventh Corps betokened, or what influence it might have on the fortunes of the Army of the Potomac. We had crossed the river with great hopes, a well-organized army, with such perfect confidence in our leaders, that what we now saw seemed surprising, and we were eager to know the meaning. The wildest confusion prevailed. Staff-officers and messengers were excitedly shouting to clear the road, that they might not be obstructed in their duties, or their haste impeded. "Halt, there!" "Where in h-1 are you going?" was frequently heard, followed by "Turn back, you cowards!" While all this excitement was going on in the road, at each side was seen the equipment and supplies of a great army huddled together in bewildering disorder as if suddenly dumped from the sky. Ammunition wagons, hospital supplies, wagons loaded with food, horses and mules inextricably mixed, gun-carriages, blacksmith's forges, pontoons, all packed together, while the men in charge, tired and weary, were lying unblanketed, their feet to smouldering fires, dead with sleep, insensible to the heavy roll of artillery or the tramp of infantry. It was a strange sight and a new experience to the Thirteenth, which had never before been in the wake of an army engaged in battle. Long years have not obliterated the impressions of that night. Along the road it was pandemonium; on the side of the road it was chaos.
Presently the sound of musketry was heard, and in a little while three Yankee cheers were heard, denoting successful resistance to a charge of the enemy, whereupon the boys started "Glory, Hallelujah!" which passed along from brigade to brigade until the whole. corps, apparently, were singing this stirring old war-song. Way was made for the ambulances, hurrying forward to bring off the wounded. It was evident we were nearing the line of battle, when an order was received to change our direction, which we did by turning sharp to
the right toward the Elley's Ford road, which we reached about 2 A.M. and halted, twenty-two hours after we were turned out in the morning, having marched about thirty miles. In spite of the efforts of officers to clear the road, our advance had been slow and tiresome. Notwithstanding fatigue and weariness, we began at once to build earthworks, as every man felt that his own safety as well as that of the army might soon be at stake. Knives, bayonets, plates, and dippers were enlisted, and by continuous activity substantial breastworks were completed when daylight appeared.
After the publicity we have given to the flight of the Eleventh Corps, and the remarks that were made to some of them on the way to the rear, it is no more than justice to quote the following statement from General Doubleday's narrative of the battle of Chancellorsville, with which statement we are in hearty accord:
It is always convenient to have a scape-goat in case of disaster, and the German element in the Eleventh Corps have been fiercely censured and their name a byword for giving way on this occasion. It is full time justice should be done by calling attention to the position of that corps. I assert that when a force is not deployed, but is struck suddenly and violently on its flank, resistance is impracticable. Not Napoleon's Old Guard, not the best and bravest troops that ever existed, could hold together in such a case, for the first men assailed are— to use a homely but expressive word — driven into a huddle; and a huddle cannot fight, for it has no front and no organization. Under such circumstances, the men have but a choice of two evils, either to stay where they are and be slaughtered, without power of defending themselves, or to run; and the only sensible thing for them to do is to run, and rally on some other organization.
The following graphic statement of our doings and position at this time is also taken from General Doubleday's narrative of Chancellorsville :
At sunset the First Corps went into bivouac on the south side of United States Ford, about four miles and a half from Chancellorsville. The men were glad enough to rest after their tedious march on a hot day, loaded with eight days' rations. General Reynolds left me temporarily in charge of the corps, while he rode on to confer with Hooker. We heard afar off the sound of battle caused by Jackson's attack, and saw the evening sky reddened with the fires of combat; but knowing Hooker had a large force, we felt no anxiety as to the result, and took it for granted that we should not be wanted until the next day. I was preparing a piece of india-rubber cloth as a couch when I saw one of Reynolds'
aids, Captain Wadsworth, coming down the road at full speed. He brought the startling news that the Eleventh Corps had fled, and if we did not go at once, the army would be hopelessly defeated. We were soon on the road, somewhat oppressed by the news, but not dismayed. We marched through the thickening twilight of the woods, amid a silence at first only broken by the plaintive song of the whippoorwill, until the full moon rose in all its splendor. As we proceeded we came upon crowds of the Eleventh Corps fugitives still hastening to the rear. They seemed wholly disheartened. We halted for a time, in order that our position in line of battle might be selected, and then moved on. As we approached the field a midnight battle commenced, and the shells seemed to burst in sparkles in the trees above our heads, but not near enough to reach us. It was Sickles fighting his way home again. When we came nearer and filed to the right to take our position on the Elley's Ford road, the men struck up the John Brown's song, and gave the chorus with a will. The cheerful demeanor and proud bearing renewed the confidence of the army, who felt that the arrival of Reynolds' corps, with its historic record, was no ordinary reënforcement.
All day long we remained quiet in the earthworks constructed by us in such haste, wondering at Our inactivity. The enthusiasm of the First Corps had become so excited by what it had seen and by the fears of an impending disaster to the army, that it was eager to take an active part in the battle, the sound of which could be plainly heard. Nor was there a general in the Army of the Potomac better able to lead it to victory than its commander, Gen. John F. Reynolds, who was regarded by his corps with enthusiastic admiration; but the laurels reserved for the First Corps, under his command, were to be won elsewhere.
During the day General Hooker rode along the line and was everywhere received with shouts of enthusiasm.
As there were no indications of an attack to be made on our line, a reconnoissance was made by the Twelfth and Thirteenth Massachusetts regiments, and the Second Maine Battery, under the command of General Robinson, with orders not to bring on an engagement. After marching half a mile to the front, a halt was ordered, and four companies of infantry were deployed as skirmishers, when the column slowly advanced. The rebels being sheltered in the woods and thick underbrush, could not be seen. In this attempt seven men of the Thirteenth were