Memories of the War.
By General Robert C. Cox
See also Obituary of General Robert C. Cox
Agitator Book and Job Print
On a beautiful Sunday morning, April 21, 1861, while eating breakfast I heard a rap at the door. I immediately opened it and found standing there Julius Sherwood, Esq., of Wellsboro, PA., and Captain Nelson Whitney, of Charleston, Pa. They said, "We have come here to get you to go with us to Wellsboro." I asked, "For what purpose?" They replied: "Have you not heard the news that Fort Sumter has been fired upon and Major Anderson compelled to surrender Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, and that only day before yesterday our troops were fired upon while passing through Baltimore en route to protect and save the Nation’s capital?" I said I had heard the news from Sumter, but knew nothing about the firing on our troops. They said: "You are the Brigade Inspector of the county, and we want you to organize two companies at Wellsboro of one hundred men each and to go with us to-day, for the men will be there so that it can be done to-morrow." They then left me and went to the hotel.
After breakfast I called at the hotel, and in a short time the Liberty drum-corps was on hand, and in less than one hour there was a large gathering of people in and about the hotel and on the street. Service was to be held at the Methodist and Evangelical churches at 10:30a.m.; but the result was that no service was held at either church, for the people were all engaged in another matter.
About three o’clock, the same day General Josiah Harding, Colonel Levi Landon, Major J.G. Albeck, J.H. Levergood and myself started for Wellsboro, reaching there about 2 o’clock Monday morning. We found the town illuminated from one end to the other. Men were standing in groups on almost every corner discussing the question of enlisting for the war: there was no chance for any one to sleep. About two o’clock p.m., we organized a company of one hundred men, who elected Julius Sherwood their Captain. Immediately we organized another company of one hundred men, who elected A. E. Niles (the late Col. Alanson E, Niles, of Wellsboro) their Captain.
On the following day, Tuesday, we went to Tioga borough, I organized a company of men, who elected Hugh McDonough their Captain. The same evening I went to Lawrenceville and after dusk we met in a large hall and organized a company of one hundred men, who elected Phil Holland their captain. The next day, Wednesday I went to Covington and there organized a company of one hundred men, who elected A.L. Johnson their Captain. The same afternoon we went to Mainesburg and there organized a company of one hundred men, who elected Henry B. Card their captain,--making six companies in all. On Monday morning the two Wellsboro companies started from Troy, Bradford county, Pa., and on reaching Covington were joined by Captains Holland’s, McDonough’s and Johnson’s companies. In this way we formed a line of march and reaching the forks of the road leading from Mainesburg to Troy, we were joined by Captain Card and his company, forming a line of at least one-half a mile in length while we were on the march about five miles from Troy. All of a sudden the column halted, and I never knew who gave the order. The center of the column where our flag was being carried in front of a farm-house, whose occupant, as I soon learned, was known to some of the boys to be a sympathizer with Rebels. I saw some of the men to go to the house and the old farmer came out, while others took the flag and placed it in the farmer’s dooryard, when he was ordered to get down on his knees under the flag and ask God to forgive him, or his house would come down. He did it, apparently with a hearty good will. We then proceeded on our journey, reaching Troy about 8 o’clock p.m., where we met with the most cordial and welcome reception. The people opened their halls, churches, and private houses to make room for us and afford us accommodations.
We were compelled to remain there about eight days for the want of transportation. After the expiration of five or six days our men became quite dissatisfied with their situation, declaring that they had left their homes to go to the front and fight Rebels, and that they wanted to go on or return home. There was a meeting of the officers called, and at that meeting it was decided that Gen. Harding go immediately to Harrisburg and state our condition to Governor Curtin and ask that transportation be furnished at the earliest possible moment. The General left Troy the same day. The next day, on his return from Harrisburg and on reaching Northumberland, where the train stopped for a short time to give opportunity to change cars for the North Branch route, the General had occasion to step from the car for a moment, and when about to stop on the porch of a hotel he was seized by three men and pushed through the crowd into a room and the door locked. He wore a full regulation uniform, as requited under the old militia law, consisting of a pair of large gilt epauletes and chapeau cap, which attracted attention. They took him to be a rebel spy. Everything at that time was at fever heat; the railroad near Baltimore had been torn up, a bridge burned and a hotel called the Relay House set on fire. They kept the General until they received a dispatch from Troy that he was all right, when they released him. The General made this statement to me the next morning at Troy. We occupied the time as well as we could while there, drilling or learning the first school of a soldier without arms. Finally transportation was furnished and we were all taken to Harrisburg, where we reported to Colonel Everard Bruce, the commanding officer of "Camp Curtin." Here we remained about two weeks, during which time our men suffered much; for three days it rained almost continuously, mixed with snow. More than one=half of our men were without blankets and some without tents; many were thinly dressed, expecting to be clad with the National blue as soon as we reached Harrisburg. We made frequent calls on Governor Curtin, who finally told us that the quota that the State of Pennsylvania was to furnish was more than full, and that they did not have clothing and equipments for more than one-half of our men. Consequently Captain McDonough with part of his company, Captain Hollands with part of his company, and Captain Sherwood with part of his company, and Captain Niles with part of his company, were mustered into the service. The remainder, about three hundred men, were sent home.
On or about August 10, 1862, in pursuance of an order from the President, a draft was made, and I was one of the number that was drafted from the township of Liberty, Tioga county, PA., but it so happened that I was a School Director in that township, which office exonerated a man from doing military duty at that time. Mr. George Harer, a resident of Liberty, and also a School Director, was drafted. Immediately after receiving notice he went to Wellsboro and when he returned he brought my discharge, signed by Josiah Emery, Esp., who was Marshal for Tioga county.
This did not satisfy me, and when the boys, some fifteen or twenty, left their homes at Liberty, I arranged my business as best I could and went with them by the way of Canton, Bradford county, to Harrisburg, where we met the other men who had been drafted from our county. We remained there in Camp Curtin about eight days, when we were formed in a regiment, which regiment was mainly from the counties of Bradford, Tioga, Lycoming, Juniata and Somerset, with the following field officers: Everard Bierer, of Fayette county, Colonel; Theophilus Humphrey, of Bradford county, Lieutenant-Colonel, and Robert C. Cox of Tioga county, Major. This regiment was numbered 171, and left Camp Curtin on the 27th day of September, 1862, proceeded by rail to Washington, D.C., thence by water on transports to Norfolk thence by rail to Suffolk, Virginia. It was here assigned to F.G. Spinola’s Brigade, Terries Division, General John A. Dix Commander of Department. A school for the instruction of officers was here established, and each commissioned officer was subjected to thorough drill. We were required to make detail of one hundred men each day to do picket and guard duty; we also made a raid in the direction of the Black Water river, being out one night and part of two days.
The 28th of December the regiment broke camp at Suffolk and marched a distance of sixty-five miles passing through Gates county, Virginia, to Ballard’s Landing on the Chowan river. The first night after we left Suffolk we camped on a large farm said to contain 1,500 acres. It was a beautiful farm with good buildings surrounded with a large number of negro houses or huts. It looked like a village by itself. The fences were mostly the old-fashioned split-rail fence with stakes and riders all in good condition. There were one hundred acres of corn standing on the stalk with ears of corn not husked. Out brigade consisted of the 158th, 168th, 171st, and 175th Regiments, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and 32d New York Volunteers, making a total of 4,800 men, which were ordered to break ranks and camp for the night on that farm. And about 7 o’clock p.m. it looked as if the whole farm was on fire; it was one continuous blaze; the rails, cornstalks and corn were moving in all directions; our horses and mules were well fed. The next morning when we were ordered to march there was not a stalk of corn left standing and not one rod of fence to be seen anywhere on that farm; the buildings were left as we found them. General Spinola and staff occupied the mansion-house for their headquarters, which was also occupied by the family, except the male members who had gone with the Rebel army. Quite a number of the huts were occupied by the oldest slaves.
About 8 o’clock the next morning we were in line and on the march. We traveled that day about 22 miles. When at about sunset the brigade bivouacked in a heavy growth of pine timber for the night. The next morning about eight o’clock we were again in line and on the march. We traveled all day and about sunset we reached the Chowan river at Ballard’s Landing. This was a very hard march for the men to make. Their armament and equipage consisted of a musket and bayonet weighing 13 pounds, cartridge-box with 30 rounds of E ball cartridge, belts, and plates, overcoat, blanket, canteen, frying-pan, haversack, tin cup and knapsack. These articles bore heavily down upon the soldiers, and when we reached the landing we found that about twenty of out men had the last half day fallen out by the wayside. Not-withstanding the hard march some of the men would climb a persimmon tree to get one persimmon. The farm-houses in that county were built with the sills resting on posts about two feet from the ground, with the chimneys outside. I have seen a chicken run under a house and ten soldiers standing around it with bayonets fixed while another would crawl under the house and chase the chicken out, and then the best fellow to get the chicken, which some of them were sure to do. Prior to this it would seem that these men would hardly endure the march.
The second day, while marching, a colored servant of Col. D.B. McKibbon of the 158th Regiment saw a duck in the field. He sprang over the fence and caught it. Captain Hanly, a member of the staff of General Spinola, ordered the boy to drop the duck. The boy held on to it. He finally said, "Drop it or I will shoot you," and while in the act of cocking his revolver it was discharged, the ball entering the back part of his horse’s head, killing the animal instantly. As it fell to the ground in the center of the road, one of Hanly’s legs was injured by being caught under the horse, but he soon recovered. I heard him say he had refused an offer of $400 for the horse. Not one of McKibben’s men would assist him, but marched right along, and fixed bayonets when he threatened to shot the colored boy.
Our Brigade was mostly made up of troops from Pennsylvania and was known as the "Keystone Brigade," forming part of the 3d Division, commanded by General Prince, 18th Army Corps, commanded by General Foster. On reaching Ballard’s Landing the Brigade proceeded by transports to Newburn, North Carolina, by way of the Chowan river, Albemarle Bend, Pamlico Sound, reaching Newburn, North Carolina, on the first day of January 1863. On reaching the Chowan river our Regiment was divided into three parts; the Colonel and Lieutenant-Colonel were placed on a large boat with six hundred men, including horses, wagons, etc., under their command; two hundred men were placed on another boat with me; the balance of the Regiment was placed on another boat with the Adjutant in command. We all left Ballard’s Landing at the same time. The boat assigned to me was a very fine one and a fast runner; it was called "The Sycor," We had a very rough night while passing over Pamlico Sound. The Captain of the boat told me that during the nine years that he had been running over that Sound he never experienced such a night; every soldier was sick. After being landed at Newburn, at about 8o’clock in the morning, I ordered my men to stack arms and remain on the wharf until I could report to General John G. Foster, commanding the 18th Army Corps, whose headquarters were in that city. I finally reached headquarters and made report, and was ordered to remain in the city with my men and to leave them at or as near the landing as possible, where the balance of the regiment would arrive, after which an Orderly would be furnished as a guide. I then returned to my men, had them form line and march about three blocks in the city, when I discovered a small park on which I placed my men and left them in charge of two officers, after which I returned to the boat to have a talk with the Captain. After being there about half an hour I heard some one calling to some men who belonged to the boat if there was an officer there who had charge of some soldiers up in the city. I immediately stepped out where he could see me; he seemed greatly excited. I asked what the trouble was. He said, "If you are the man in command of some soldiers up in town I want you to come quick, for they are taking everything out of my store." I saw that he was a regular "gray-back," and I moved slowly out on the wharf and up to the men, he calling out occasionally, "for God’s sake, hurry!" I found his little grocery-store standing on a corner just across the street from the park, and the boys were in it and around. I immediately inquired the cause or if they had been molested in any way, for I saw several men and women standing around who appeared to be willing to assist the men if they dare do so. The officer whom I had left in command told me that some half dozen of the men went there to purchase something that they could eat after having a hard night on the boat and feeling unable to eat Government rations, and offered to pay cash for what they wanted, and were told to get out of the store at once or they would be put out; calling them hard names.
Soon after, the two hundred men were in and around the store helping themselves to tobacco, molasses, crackers, cheese, cigars, soap, etc. I asked if they all had a supply, they said there was a dozen or so in the store yet. I said, "Now, boys, if you have all got a supply, then all start at once to your guns, and see that your supply of ammunition is all right," which was immediately done. I began to feel quite anxious for the balance of the Regiment to land. I did not know but that the gray-back might raise some help and give us a turn.
About four o’clock p.m. the Adjutant with his men landed, and about an hour later the big boat landed. It took us until 8 o’clock to get in line, when the guide appeared and piloted us to a camping-ground which was one and one-half miles from the city, where the ground was covered with small oak bushes, where we bivouacked for the night. Early the next morning the boys were all busy clearing away the brush, erecting tents, etc., and before night we had our camp in fine condition, streets laid out and tents erected. There was an old colored man living a short distance from camp who had a good well of water, which our men soon discovered. His house could just be seen through the bushes, where our men were almost continually going for water.
A short time after dark while arranging my bunk for a good night’s sleep, I heard hogs squealing in the direction of the old man’s house. Early the next morning the old man called at my tent and complained that my men had killed his two hogs. I said to him, "You are mistaken; our men would not do such a thing. We are all Pennsylvanians, and I do not believe we have a man who would steal or commit such an act." But I failed to convince him. He referred to the uniform number on their caps and said they were the same. He said there were six men, and when the hogs commenced to squeal he and his wife ran out to see what was the matter; but the hogs had been taken from the pen into the bushes, and while absent from the house the two men whom they had left there, stole his coffee-pot, skillet, some plates, tin-cups, spoons, etc. While I was trying to convince him that our men would not be guilty of such a crime, he looked down the row of tents of Company A and saw a soldier place a skillet outside of his tent. That instant he broke out, "There is my skillet!" I immediately started for that tent and took the old man with me. On opening one of the canvas folds in front of the tent, and before I had time to speak, one of the boys said, "Major, don’t you want a nice piece of fresh port for breakfast?" I was surprised and felt cross, for I had been candid and, as I believed, truthful in trying to convince the old man that no such act was committed by our men. And then, to add to my disappointment, the four men in that tent were personally known to me, being my neighbors and residents of Liberty, Tioga county, Pa. I asked them if they assisted in the killing of this old man’s hogs; they said they did, I asked them if that was his skillet; they said it was. I then gave them a severe reprimand, and said, "I ought to send you to the Rip-raps." I had them gather up every article they had taken from the house and return them, which was immediately done. The old man said he intended the two hogs to supply his old wife and himself with meat during the winter, and he wanted some pay. I told him that Colonel Bierer would be up from the city during the day and I would mention the matter to him. The Colonel said he expected we would stay there in camp the remainder of the winter, and, as was generally the case while in camp, we would draw an over-supply of rations; the boys must divide their supply with the old man. This was done with a hearty good will. The old man afterwards told some of the boys that he had received full value for his hogs.
While there in camp and in winter quarters our Regiment was engaged in picket, fatigue and garrison duty.
Early in March General Prince’s division, with the 3d New York Cavalry made a recognizance into Jones and Onslow counties, encountering the enemy at several points and taking quite a number of prisoners, and returned to camp on the 10th. On the 17th of March, General D.H. Hill with a large Rebel force appeared in front of Newburn, but was easily repulsed.
He then moved off to Washington, N.C., which he closely invested. Its defense was by General John G. Foster, in person, who had gone there for that purpose, but being vastly outnumbered the little garrison could with difficulty hold its works. General Prince at once headed a fore for the relief of the place, which proceeded by transports accompanied by gunboats. At Rodmant and Hill’s Point, four miles below Washington, the enemy had erected strong works and mounted guns which commanded the navigation of the Pamlico river. On approaching these works preparations were made to run them, but it was a finally considered unsafe to do so and the purpose was abandoned. Two regiments were then ordered to land and carry the Hill’s Point battery by storm, the 171st being one, but before the blow was delivered they were withdrawn. General Prince then returned with his division to Newburn. Spinola was then sent out with his brigade to make a way across the country and break the enemy’s lines in the rear. On the 9th of April he arrived at Blount’s Creek, where he found the bridge destroyed and the water turned so as to flood an impassable swamp and the enemy in position with artillery to dispute the passage. The troops were moved up on the right of the road and the guns opened on both sides. For some time our troops were exposed to a heavy fire, but fortunately the enemy’s shots were aimed too high and passed mostly overhead. Our loss was four killed and thirteen wounded. Deeming it imprudent to further attempt to carry the place by direct attack Spinola withdrew. On the 14th of April the whole division was concentrated and General Prince, heading them in person, marched toward Washington, but on approaching found that the enemy had raised the siege and were in full retreat. On the 23d of April General Spinola took command of Washington, N.C., with his Brigade, and on the 29th of April Spinola was relieved of the command of the Brigade and was succeeded by Colonel Bierer.
While at Washington, N.C., our regiment had a large amount of picket duty to do. We furnished from fifty to one hundred men each night. Besides this a whole company would leave camp on Sunday morning, when they would be relieved by another company taking their place, and so on. The line on which they were placed was about four miles from Washington. We marched across the Pamlico river on a long bridge, thence over a corduroy road about three miles with a dense swamp on each side, when we came to what was called Read hill, a small bluff four or five feet higher than the corduroy. Along this hill or bluff for a distance of four miles our pickets were posted. It was our outside picket line and required great vigilance and a continued watch on the part of our men.
I was our appointed Brigade Officer of the Day once each week, and sometimes oftener. My duty was to report at head-quarters at nine o’clock a.m. for orders, which consisted in making the rounds the same morning, also at five or six o’clock in the afternoon; the same during the night and the same the next morning prior to nine o’clock, when I would make my report back to headquarters as follows: That I had visited all the picket posts on our line; also the camp where our company was stationed; also the condition of the men at each post, whether I found them on the alert, doing duty well; also the condition of our defenses in general. After this I would be released and another officer take my place.
While thus engaged during one dark night in June, I approached Read hill where our company was encamped, which I always did with much care, for I knew the sentinels were posted, and it was not safe to approach a sentinel in any other way. My horse was walking slowly on the soft, sandy ground, and I noticed a man sitting in a fence corner about four rods from the company camp. I spoke in a low voice to the sentinel and repeated it three or four times. Receiving no answer, I rode into camp and found every man under his tent asleep, including the Captain. I called to the Captain. He jumped from his tent and asked what was the matter. I replied, "Surely, what is the matter?" "Why," he said, "where is the sentinel?" I said, "You have no sentinel; I passed a man out yonder, but he is down by the fence asleep." He was greatly excited, and started on the run and seized the sentinel and soon had him on his feet. I then asked the Captain if he had but one sentinel. He said he posted two on the line of his camp toward the enemy, but, unfortunately, they had fallen asleep. I said, "Captain, you ought to be severely punished. One dozen men might have taken you by surprise and captured you and your whole command; I will have to report you." He said, "I hope you will not; but if you do, make it as favorable as possible." I promised to do so.
At nine o’clock I was at division headquarters and made report to General Prince. After stating the case of the Captain, I made it favorable as I could for him by repeating what he had said to me about his sentinels being properly posted, and that I thought he depended a little too much on them. The General replied that the captain ought to be court-martialed. I told him that he had been in every way a good officer prior to this. "Well," he said, "tell Col. Beaver that when that Captain reports off duty Sunday morning to give him perfect h—l!"
At another time, while making the rounds in the morning and while at the Read hill post or camp and where the public road continued through the enemy’s country, I was invited to join half a dozen officers, whom, it afterwards became known, were in the habit of riding out to Read hill, thence about one-half mile further, where there was a fine farm-house which could be seen from our line. I told them they had better stay inside of our lines; that it was not safe. They assured me there was no danger, as they had been there several times. They said the name of the farmer was Patrick, but the family at home consisted of Mrs. Patrick and three young women, while about the premises were some old darkies; the others were in the Rebel army. I rode with them to Patrick’s, and in a short time the old lady and I entered into conversation. She was of the opinion that we were in the wrong and were trespassers, and finally asked me what day I would next make the rounds and be at Read hill. I told her the day my time would come and I would be there if not otherwise ordered. She said she made and had on hand some very fine rolls of butter, the same she said as she formerly sold in the city, but since the line had been established she would not pass. She said she was in great need of sugar, and if I would bring her four or five pounds she would give me a roll of butter in exchange. I told her I would come out, and that we had plenty of sugar, and it was a great treat to get a little good butter. She said she would have it ready for me. She said to the other officers as we were about to leave, "The Major is coming such a day, and we would be pleased to have you come with him." On the appointed morning on making my rounds I was at Read hill, but did not cross the line, while eight or ten officers and soldiers went galloping toward Patrick’s. They remained there about half an hour, and just at the moment when they were about to mount their horses a volley was fired at them from behind a fence near the house, where twenty-five or thirty rebels had concentrated. One of their number was mortally wounded and died soon after, two slightly wounded, one horse was shot so it died the same day. This was the last I ever heard of the Patrick family.
About the last day of June the Brigade was ordered to Fortress Monroe,
and upon its arrival was sent to the White House landing on the Pamunky
river to join in a demonstration toward Richmond, being ordered by General
Dix for a diversion in favor of the army at Gettysburg. It remained in
that vicinity until the 7th day of July, when it returned and
proceeded to Harper’s Ferry, where it arrived on the 8th. The
Rebel army was now in full retreat with Meade following closely in pursuit.
On the 11th the Regiment marched to Boonsboro, thence to a pass
in the South Mountain, where it remained until the enemy had escaped into
Virginia. It then proceeded to Frederick City, Maryland, where it remained
on duty until August 3, 1863, when it was ordered to Harrisburg, Pa., when
on the 8th day of the month it was mustered out of service.
On July 18, 1864, a draft of 500,000 men was ordered to be made on the 5th day of September, and in view of this a meeting was called by the citizens of Liberty to meet at the graded school-house I that town on or about August 10, 1864, for the purpose of devising ways and means to raise a sufficient number of men to fill the quota that the township would be required to furnish in case of a draft, which was estimated at 41. This meeting was largely attended, not only by the citizens of Liberty, but by the adjoining townships of Union and Morris. After a thorough discussion of the matter, it was ascertained that a sufficient number of persons would volunteer from the three townships represented to fill the quota of each, provided they could be formed into one company and be mustered as such, and it was then decided that I should go to Harrisburg and ask Governor Curtain to accept a company of volunteers recruited mostly from the townships of Liberty, Union and Morris. On the 15th day of August I went to Harrisburg and made the application to the Governor, when he replied in these words:
"Major, why do you want to come here with a company? Go to work at once and raise a regiment; you are just the fellow; you have had experience; you have been down there and have become acclimated and in view of the draft which is soon to be made you will have little difficulty in raising a regiment. You can get 1,000 men about as easy as 100. go to Adjutant-General Russell and he will tell you just what to do, and any understanding or agreement you make with him I will indorse."
I then called on General Russell, whose office was in the Capitol-building, and made known to him my business. He gave me authority to recruit a regiment, and I returned home the same day. The next day I went to Wellsboro and gave notice through the county papers that I had authority to raise a regiment of volunteer infantry, and that any person who wished to recruit a company to form part of a regiment should report to me and I could give them authority to recruit a company. In less than one week after the notice went out I received thirteen applications in person and by letter. Of course I could not grant all their requests, but those that I did I had an understanding with that as soon as they had recruited one hundred men they should bring them to Harrisburg and report. In about two weeks from that time I had a regiment made up as follows: Companies A, D, H and K, and parts of B, E, and G, of this regiment, were recruited in Tioga county, C in Clinton county, F in Cumberland and Franklin, I in Lycoming and parts of B, E and G in Bradford, York and Lancaster counties. These companies reported for duty at Camp Curtin, and on the 8th day of September, 1864, were organized and mustered into the service of the United States with the following field officers: Robert C, Cox, who had served as Major of the 171st Pennsylvania Regiment, Colonel; William W. S, Snoddy, Lieutenant-Colonel; Victor A. Elliott, Major.
On the 12th the regiment started for the front, and upon its arrival at City Point was ordered to duty with the Army of the James, then commanded by General Benjamin F. Butler. For three days it remained at what was called Peach Orchard without shelter awaiting orders. At the end of that time it was ordered to report to Col. J.H. Potter’s Brigade, called the Provisional Brigade, and was assigned to picket duty on the Bermuda front, stretching from the Appomattox to the James river, a distance of five miles. The picket lines were here in close proximity. At one point a Rebel vidette was standing at one end of a fallen chestnut tree and the Union vidette at the other. Down in the ravine between the two lines was a cold, clear spring of water. Around this soldiers occupying the outposts of the two armies would gather, and for the time would forget that they were enemies and would engage in friendly conversation at councils and exchange papers; also coffee and sugar for tobacco, the Rebel soldiers always having a good supply of the latter article. On the 16th of November this friendly parley was suddenly broken up and at 7 o’clock in the evening the enemy charged on the picket line. The Regiment was immediately ordered up to the support of the pickets, when a general engagement ensued, in which three were killed and a number wounded. Col. Kauffman, of the 209th Regiment, and nine of his men were taken prisoners. The enemy was soon forced back to the entrenchment.
On or about the 16th of November, 1864, while doing duty in the Army of the James, having been assigned to the Provisional Brigade under command of Col. J. H. Potter, I was called upon as often as twice a week to serve as Brigade Officer of the Day. This was a part of the service that required careful attention. I was ordered each day to report at Brigade headquarters at 9 o’clock a.m. to receive instructions, after which I was required to travel the whole length of the picket line between the Appomattox and the James rivers, a distance of five miles or more, -- the first trip during the day after receiving orders, the second trip during the night and the third in the morning as soon as it was light. The principal part of the work was to examine carefully the picket lines and to see that every man was on the alert and doing his duty well, also to examine the lines of works and to see that all parts were in good condition and properly guarded, and to make a report to the Brigade Commander the next morning at 9 o’clock, when I would be relieved by another officer. While making one of these rounds about 2 o’clock p.m., and when I was on the extreme left of the line, where it passed through some rough unimproved land in a low, dismal place in a ravine, and while engaged talking with the men on picket, two Rebel officers appeared on the opposite bank and said to me: "We want you to move that picket post two rods further in, or to where it had been." I told them that I could not comply with their request. They stated that about one week ago that post was moved out to where it then was, and that they had taken pains to meet me there to see that it was moved back. I told them I would not move that post one inch unless I was ordered to by my superior officers. They said they would give me till the next morning to have that post moved, and if not they would open fire on us. I told them their chance was good if they wished to do so. I went immediately to headquarters and reported the condition of things at that post, when to my great surprise I was ordered back to that post, when it was getting dark, four miles away, with instructions to place that post two rods further in. Some of the soldiers who had done duty at that place for a long time told me that it had not been moved. They were mad, and so was I; but orders had to be obeyed, notwithstanding, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
On the 24th of November, 1864, the Brigade was relieved from duty in the Army of the James, and a colored brigade, under command of Gen. Farraro took its place. It was immediately transferred to the Ninth Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
It was Thanksgiving-day that our Brigade comprising the 205th, 207th and 211th Regiments, in all about 3,000 men took up our line of march, crossing the Appomattox river, marching on a line with Grant’s military railroad, passing the city of Petersburg, which was about one and one-half miles on the right, continuing on the line of the railroad until we reached what was called the Peble House, or near it, which was twenty-five miles from the Appomattox. Here we remained one night and part of two days in the same quarters, which had been abandoned a short time before by General Farraro’s colored brigade. Then we were ordered back over the same route which we had just come, and when in front of Petersburg, which was on or about December 1, 1864, we were ordered to file left into a very heavy growth of pine timber and scrub oak. Here we bivouacked for the night. The next day we were ordered to prepare winter quarters, and in less than two days there was not a tree nor hardly a stump to be seen remaining within the limits of our camp. Every article was cleared away and camp regularly laid out. A certain number of axes were furnished each company, and they made good use of them in cutting, splitting and hewing the timber suitable to erect a secure pier, which was about seven feet in the clear, with a door cut in it. When about six feet high they were covered with an A tent. Here we remained, on Grant’s army line railroad and within one-half mile of Fort Sedgwick, better known as "Fort Hell." And within a few rods of Fort Prescott, and were in co-operation with the Third Division, which was composed of six Pennsylvania regiments commanded by General John F. Hartranft, our Brigade being the second.
On the 5th of February this Regiment joined in the movement to Hatcher’s Run, the Brigade being in command of Col. Robert C. Cox. On reaching the run it was ordered into line of battle, heavy fighting at the time being in progress on the left of the position occupied. At night orders were given to fortify. Substantial breastworks of logs and earth were thrown up, and the command held in momentary expectation of an attack.
The second morning after reaching this place I, accompanied by my orderly, made a trip along the whole line of our Brigade to see if all was in good condition in case of an attack. To my great surprise I found in one of the regiments the Lieutenant-Colonel, who was in command of the regiment, three Captains and several of the men greatly intoxicated. On learning the facts, there was a farm-house just outside our lines where there was a good supply of apple-jack. They had frequented this house during the night and had partaken of entirely too much of this juice for their own good or for the good of the service. I reprimanded them severely and reported them to General Hartranft, then on the ground, whose headquarters was about one-half mile distant. The answer of the General was, "I will appoint a court-martial and have the officers tried for an open violation of military discipline, and that immediately on our line in front of the enemy." When about to leave him, he said, "I am really at a loss to know what to do with those men. They deserve the severest punishment; but the time is here when we will need every man and especially these officers, and I think if you would prepare a severe reprimand and have it read on dress parade, it would have a good effect and for the present be sufficient." I promised to do so if he would so direct, which I did, and never had any trouble with the officers in that way after that.
The attack never came as expected, and after remaining in position three days, exposed to the inclement weather without shelter, we returned to camp, where we remained comparatively undisturbed until the 25th day of March, except for the whizzing of shells and minies, which were almost continually flying over our camp day and night, A continual fire of musketry was kept up between this picket lines to prevent desertion, our camp being one and one0half miles on the direct line in front of Petersburg and about three-fourths of a mile form the Rebel works. The situation being a little low, most of the shots passed over us.
Our duty was to do a large amount of drilling. Company drill at 10 o’clock a.m., battalion and brigade drill at 2, and dress parade at 6 p.m., and occasionally between these times squad drills; officers’ school which every field and staff officer was required to attend, and to be subject to a thorough examination. In addition to this we had to make large details of men to help build wharfs at Jones’s Landing and other places, also to build forts and fortifications, do guard and camp duty, make raids, etc.
About one-half mile to the left of us was Hancock Station, at which point there was a large white house and many out-buildings, from appearances where some Southern aristocrat had lived, surrounded by his slaves, prior to the rebellion. The farm, it is said, contained 1,000 acres. In a large field about 100 rods from this house there was erected a gallows, and it was quite frequent during that winter that some soldier paid the penalty of his crime by being hung on the gallows. It was quite often that some of our boys would call for a pass, saying, "They are going to hang a fellow out in the big field, to-day," which they would generally get if circumstances would permit. When, on or about December 9, 1864, we returned to camp, we remained there half an hour. Our brigade was ordered to prepare to march, and in less than one hour the brigade was in line with three days’ rations and thirty rounds of E ball cartridges. We marched about three miles from our comp, when we were ordered to halt and bivouac for the night. It had commenced to storm soon after we left camp, raining, snowing and freezing; it was a very bad night to be out. Most of the men had no shelter of any kind. I had none myself and was compelled to stand in the storm all night; no spot to lie down except the cold, wet ground covered with sleet. The men gathered pine knots and roots to make fires, and after standing in the smoke all night they looked more like mulattoes than white men. I well remembered being asked by an officer as he was passing along the line in the morning, "when I had been placed in command of a colored regiment." During that forenoon the whole brigade was ordered back to camp. Soon after, the same day, we were all invited to attend an execution that was to take place out in the big field and at the gallows, which the boys called "New York hay-scales."
On this occasion two young men were hung at the same time, when there was a general order for all to attend. The time of execution was fixed at 5 o’clock p.m. Not less than 6,000 soldiers were present, forming a large circle around the gallows. Then the two condemned men were brought from the white house under guard, with colors flying and several bands of music playing the familiar tune, "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl." The men marched immediately behind their coffins, each smoking a cigar. Their graves were dug immediately in the rear of the scaffold where they could look down into them as they stepped upon the platform. After which, without one word spoken, the drop fell and all was over.
Immediately after the execution the men all returned to their quarters and while engaged in preparing tents for a good night’s rest an order was given to fall in line. We marched in the direction of Hatcher’s Run, Va., for the purpose of relieving General Warren, who had the day or two before penetrated the enemy’s country in the direction of what was called Wilson Creek. There was great fear that the enemy would flank him and cut off his supplies. After traveling about six miles through the rain and mud we were ordered to halt, file left into a grove of timber and prepare for refreshments. We remained there about two hours, and during that time General Warren’s whole command passed us, traveling over the same road we had come. We were then ordered to return to our camp, which we were glad to do. It was then about three o’clock p.n. when we were again on the march. It was very cold and windy and very hard traveling. We had marched about ten miles, when I noticed that some of my men were becoming tired and were compelled to fall out by the roadside. I knew they were liable to fall into the hands of the enemy if left alone. When we reached a place where there was a good rail fence on each side of the road-pine rails that would burn rapidly-I commanded them to halt, break ranks, make a fire by burning the rails, and make coffee. In about ten minutes there was a blaze from the right to the left of the regiment. While sitting on my horse at the right, or in front of my regiment, feeling as though I could not endure it much longer and half asleep, the Adjutant-General of Division Headquarters, in company with two other officers, rode up to me and the first word he spoke was, "Colonel, what in h—l are you doing here?" I replied that my men were very tired and I had ordered a halt that they might take some refreshments as well as a little rest. He ordered me to move on at once with my regiment. I told him I would do so when I was ready. He replied, "Do you mean to disobey orders?" I said, "You have no orders." He then repeated the order to have my regiment fall in at once or I would get into trouble, and rode towards me. I drew out my old sword and told him to "git." About this time some half dozen of the men near me arose from their fire and began to fix bayonets. They did "git," and that in a hurry. We remained there until the men were all ready, when we resumed the march, reaching our camp about one o’clock a.m. the next morning. I did not sleep any, but kept thinking the matter over. I knew that I had been out of humor and quite saucy and would probably be reported by the Adjutant-General to General Hartranft and might be ordered before a military court. As soon as it was light I ordered my horse and rode to Division Headquarters, determined to know the worst and provide for it the best I could. On entering Headquarters I met Gen. Hartranft in his room. He was kindling a fire. After the usual salute, I said, "General, Major Bartlett and I had an altercation out on the line last night." He replied, "Yes, the Major told me all about it." I then told him our conversation as I then remembered it, and told him the condition of my men. He then said, "Did you know you were six or seven miles outside our line?" I said I did. He said, "You ran some risk of being followed by the enemy and of an attack." I told him I had no idea that the Rebels were in any force in that direction from which we came, also the troops under General Warren. He replied, "Well, Colonel, after this when you are out beyond the lines, before you stop try and get inside and all will be right." He then bade me good morning, and I went back to camp a happier man.
The three regiments composing the brigade were all stationed on a direct line with the railroad before mentioned. The three camps were about one-half mile apart. This railroad was a most singularly constructed one; there was no grading done, notwithstanding the land was quite rolling and uneven in many places, but the road was built over the hills and through the valleys. Trains would run down hill at a very rapid rate to get sufficient headway to gain the summit on the other side, and I have seen them fail at times and be compelled to go back up, put on all the steam possible and try again and after a time reach the summit.
So our several duties went along until March 21, 1865, when I was called out by some officers and asked if I would like to look at a nice horse. I went out, and saw tied to one corner of the stable a fine bay horse, and to my great surprise they said it had been purchased for me and would be presented by the officers and men of my regiment about 4 o’clock that afternoon, saddled, bridled, with holsters and all complete.
At 2 o’clock the soldiers, by companies and regiments, began to come together, until there were at least five thousand present. The presentation speech was made by Captain R.T. Wood as follows:
"Col., Robert C. Cox, on behalf of my fellow-officers and the enlisted men of the 207th Regiment, I am delegated to make a tender of their kind regards for you as their commanding officer. A worthier selection might have been made from among their numbers-one more able to do this occasion justice. The duty has devolved upon me and I will discharge it as best I may. Whatever there may have been in the past to render our associations agreeable, let the recollections of this day be the halcyon of hope and rainbow of promise. In more than words we tender you our approbation.
"Associated in a common cause, connected by more than the common ties of humanity, it is our duty and privilege to look up to you for counsel and support. Hitherto we have not been disappointed. May the future be governed by the past. You position is one of difficulty and responsibility, interested as you are in the welfare of a thousand men ready to date and do at the cannon’s mouth. Though at times the storm may threaten upon the horizon, yet ere long the bright day-star of hope will cheer us with its rays.
"Let not traitors hereafter desecrate the soil, all hallowed as it is with the blood of patriots. Be it ours to add our mite to the glorious cause which has for it’s object the emancipation of the Republic, that it may become truly an asylum for the oppressed. For that we endure the scorching heat of summer and the rigors of winter, the march, the bivouac, disease and the perils of the fight; for that we have sworn to do or die for our country.
"But we are assembled to-day to contribute a token of our appreciation of your gentlemanly deportment and soldierly conduct to us all since we have been under your command. Its intrinsic value is little, but the motive that prompts the gift will live in your kind remembrance, that you may look back to this day and occasion as to one of the happiest of your life.
"Allow me, Colonel, to present to you this beautiful steed, caparisoned for the field. May he bear you nobly in the heady fight and bring you forth unscathed and victorious, that when smiling peace returns to bless the land you may return to the bosom of your family, honored and respected by a grateful people."
To this eloquent speech I responded as follows:
"CAPTAIN WOOD, OFFICERS AND SOLDIER OF THE 207TH:--For this mark of your esteem I thank you, not so much for the intrinsic value of your truly noble gift, but as believing it to be a token of your regard for me.
"During the seven months that we have been associated together, I remember no good deeds for you that merit this very valuable gift. If I have done my duty as a soldier, I have but observed the stipulations of my oath to my country. Fellow-soldiers we form a part of the brave 300,000 which the grand old Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has furnished to put down this unholy rebellion, punish traitors and restore the dear old flag. You are Pennsylvanians; so am I, and well may we take pride in her glory. We stand to-day upon the soil of Virginia, the old Dominion, and as it is often called, the Mother of Presidents. Yet here rebellion is rampart; traitors desecrate the soil and the honored old flag is insulted. But the end is not far off; already the rotten Confederacy is tottering to its fall; may God hasten the day!
"My brave soldiers, I have that confidence in you that when the hour of danger and trial shall come and the din of battle is around us, you will not falter or be found wanting. With right and justice on our side we go thrice armed into the conflict and can not fail. Again I thank you, and wish you all prosperity and a safe return to your families, friends and homes."
The band then struck up The Star Spangled Banner, and the Regiment moved to its quarters.
A large number of officers and invited guests assembled at headquarters to partake of refreshments provided by the officers of the Regiment. About this time the Rebels, who could see a large gathering, commenced shelling our camp, the pieces flying in all directions but doing very little damage. So ended the eventful day.
On the morning of March 25th, at about 3 o’clock, the 207th Regiment was aroused by heavy cannonading in the direction of Fort Steadman. This fort was situated on our main front line and about two and one-half miles from our camp on our right in the direction of the Appomattox river. Half an hour later I received an order form General Hartranft, commanding at division headquarters, to put my Regiment in line at once and that we double-quick march to his quarters, which was directly on the line from our camp to Fort Steadman and in a large frame house called the Avery house, about two miles from our camp. The Regiment was immediately placed in line and ordered to double-quick march. Upon reaching the Avery house I was ordered to place my Regiment in a deep ravine, which was about one-fourth of a mile from Fort Steadman and directly in front and there await further orders, and at the same time I was told that at three o’clock the Rebel forces, commanded by General Gorden, had made a sudden dash and driven in our pickets and captured the fort which had been garrisoned and held by the 14th new York Heavy Artillery, which had been taken by surprise and driven out. Just when the light of day could dimly be seen in the east, while the Regiment was in the ravine, the Rebels were seen in the fort and along our picket line each side overlooking the ravine, but they did not know we were there. Just before sunrise the signal was given, and I immediately ordered my Regiment to charge on Fort Steadman. The men sprang from that ravine in a moment and like magic and in one solid column and on the run charged to retake the fort, and when we reached an old abandoned picket line we were by our brigade commander ordered to halt.
Companies A, B, C, and D being on the right of the line, not hearing the order or without giving any attention to it, scaled the old picket line and without the slightest halt rushed into the fort. The other companies heard the order and had halted, but for a moment, at the old picket line. They saw the movement of the four companies and rushed over the picket line and a few minutes later were in the fort. On entering the fort the Rebels threw down their arms, and a large number gave themselves up as prisoners. At this point, while facing the crowd and rush of prisoners who had dropped their guns in the fort, and came running with both hands up, I was nearly run down by them. Some of the boys said after the battle was over that they heard the Colonel swear once as the Rebel prisoners were crowding upon him; he struck one of them with the side of his sword and said, "G-d d—n you, get to the rear!" I recollect distinctly striking the fellow with my sword, but do not recollect the language quite so well.
They had taken the heavy guns from the main front line of the fort pointing to the enemy and placed them on the opposite side to use against us in case we undertook to retake the fort, but, as we were told by some of the prisoners, when they saw us rise from the ravine they thought the whole Army of the Potomac was coming. They were taken by surprise and did not fire one of the guns that they had moved. This battle was a grand victory, our Regiment only losing two men killed and thirteen wounded; the Rebel loss as reported by them being in killed, wounded and missing, twenty six hundred. About one-half of this number were deserters. After the fight was over the Rebel commander asked for a truce, which was granted; they then came between the lines and gathered up the dead and wounded, placing the dead in one pile; there were about four hundred dead. I stood near them and shall never forget the sight, and I never want to see another like it. They soon after loaded them in wagons, each drawn by six mules, and drive in the direction of Petersburg.
There was a young man by the name of Frank Shaffee, a member of Company E, who was looking through one of the traverses where one of our guns had been placed and had been taken out by the Rebels to get a shot on the opposite side. A minie ball came through, striking him on the back of the head, causing him to drop in an instant. I saw him and thought he was killed, and directed that he be taken back and placed under a bomb-proof, which was done. Not more than five minutes after, happening to look around, I saw Frank coming; he had a large amount of curly hair on his head and it stood out in all directions. He had been feeling for his wound) which was only scalp deep) to ascertain how bad he was hurt, and had brought his bloody fingers down over his face which made him look like a savage. He finally saw me, and as he approached he said, "Colonel, just show me the d—d scoundrel that shot me." At the same time he picked up a Rebel’s gun, that had been dropped by a deserter, and commenced to shoot.
After all was over and quiet restored, we returned to our camp reaching
there about four o’clock p.m. All seemed to be moving along in a quiet
way until March 30, when late in the night of that day, in compliance with
orders from Division headquarters, the Regiment was ordered into line of
battle with the view of forming an assaulting column in front of Fort Sedgwich
at daylight on the following morning; but at two o’clock a.m. the next
morning, March 31, the order for the movement was countermanded and the
regiments returned to their respective camps. This movement was only postponed,
not abandoned. On the following day, April 1, I received an order to report
to Division headquarters, from General Hartranft, which I did immediately,
reaching there about two o’clock p.m. The General then detailed to me the
particulars and magnitude of the assault which was to take place the next
morning. His greatest anxiety was to know how we could get through the
chevaux-de-frise and aballis, which formed an almost impassable obstruction
about three rods in front of the enemy’s guns. These obstructions extended
along the whole line of the Rebel works for several miles. The chevaux-de-fris
formed the first obstruction after passing the Rebel picket line. It was
made in sections of about fourteen feet in length consisting of a round
straight stick of timber sex inches in diameter, sawed off at the ends;
each section was brought close together, the timbers having two-inch holes
bored through them sex inches apart and opposite each other. In these holes
there were rungs six feet long, made sharp at each end; so it did not matter
in what way they were placed, they would form a perfect rack. These sections
or pieces of timber were fastened together with a short piece of chain,
and the question was how could these chains or fastenings be broken open,
for without the removal of this obstruction the assault could never be
a success, for at this point we would be near the enemy’s guns and under
a galling fire and, as the General said, what was done at this point had
to be done quickly. He then furnished me with a large field-glass with
orders to go to our outside picket line, one-half mile from the Rebel line,
and if possible ascertain just how the sections of chevaux-de-frise were
fastened together. I immediately went to the picket line as ordered, and
with the glass I could see the faces of the Rebel soldiers plainly. I very
soon discovered just how the sections of chevaux-de-frise were coupled.
The coupling consisted of a small piece of chain, as above stated, about
one foot in length and about the size of a common trace-chain with straight
links, and on the outside of each end link there was a small staple driven
in the wood its whole length, so as to fasten the link to the wood; this
was the only fastening, which completed the line of chevaux-de-frise.
I returned to Division headquarters and made my report in detail to General Hartranft. I told him what discoveries I had made, and gave as my opinion that one heavy stroke with an ax made sharp, if struck in the joint or where two timbers came together, would sever the chain. He then gave me to understand that I would be placed in command of the brigade the next morning and that my regiment would lead and be the assaulting column, and that I would take the whole of the pioneer corps and place a pioneer at each section of company along the whole line of the brigade with an ax and that they should carry no other arms and should be instructed by the commanding officers of companies to cut the chains at one blow if possible. I then left him and returned to m headquarters. A sadness came over me while traveling that two miles which I cannot forget.
I thought of the great responsibility of commanding a brigade of three thousand noble, brave men in a deadly conflict and having so little experience and the certainty of a great battle with loss of life, the officers and men mostly without experience, having been in service only a short time. Some of the old officers and soldiers who had been on duty on that line for a long time told us that to make a successful charge on the works in front of Petersburg would be, in their opinion, impossible and would result in disaster. This had a demoralizing effect on the men, as it was well known to be one of the strongest lines of work along the whole Rebel front.
Soon after reaching my headquarters I was called upon by Lieutenant-Colonel Dodd, of the 211th Regiment, Major Morrow, of the 205th Regiment, and Captain Brown, of Hartranft’s staff. They said they had been ordered to call on me to accompany me over the ground between Fort Sedgwich and our own picket line and view the situation the best we could in the darkness of the night, where we were to form our line of battle the next morning as an assaulting column. We went and made a careful examination of the ground, to enable us more rapidly to get into position. After leaving the three officers, on my way to camp, I called at brigade headquarters, to see Colonel Mathews, our brigade commander. On entering his private tent I found him lying on his couch. He said he was awful sick. I told him I was in hopes he could take command of the brigade in the morning. He said it might be that he would be able to take the command, but in case he was not and could not be there when the line was formed, I should consider myself in command and at the proper time move the brigade to the front. I said to him we have a big job before us. "Yes," said he, "we will have a h—l of a fight."
I left him, feeling well satisfied (as I before felt) that he would not be present. Immediately on my return to camp, at eleven o’clock p.m., I directed my orderly (my son Henry) to give notice to each commanding officer of the companies of my regiment to come at once to my headquarters. In less than ten minutes the ten Captains were present. I then detailed to them the orders I had received, and gave particular instructions as to how I wanted the pioneers placed and the orders that should be given them, and gave them to understand what would be expected of them, and gave them to understand what would be expected of them and the men under their command. I told them that there would be no call or reveille by the drum-corps, but at three o’clock the next morning the should in a quiet way see that every man fit for duty was ready to fall in line with thirty rounds of E ball cartridge in their cartridge-boxes; to make as little light as possible, for the reason that the Rebels could plainly see if there was an unusual movement being made. This was a solemn meeting, and there were sad faces and some tears.
About twelve o’clock they all left and went to their quarters, and between that time and three the next morning some of the officers made their wills, thinking that they would not come out the battle alive, and so far as I know all who took this precaution were killed. At three o’clock the whole camp was in motion, and at 3:30 I delivered all my effects, including the headquarters desk and papers, pocket-book, watch, etc., to my son Henry, with orders that he remain there and take care of them. I then went to where my regiment and the other two were drawn up in line on our company street.
As I was riding along in front of my regiment while quite dark, I heard the voice of my son Henry in the line. I rode up and said, "Henry, are you here?" He replied, "I am." I ordered him to return to headquarters at once and do as I had told him. He replied: "Father, let me go along. Frank Sheffer is sick and I have got his gun." I told him to start at once. He started, but about ten minutes after and just before about the time we were getting in line to march, I was told by a soldier that Henry was in the ranks. I immediately went to him and was compelled to be quite severe with him before he would leave his place. He said he wanted to be near me if anything happened, and could not bear the thought of remaining in camp; he wanted to be with the boys and would take his chance with them; that he had placed the articles all in the headquarters desk and locked it, and that some of the sick men would look after them; but he finally started for headquarters.
During the fight I made an effort to cross a ditch by jumping from one side to the order, but failed to reach the opposite side sufficient to hold myself up and consequently went down in the mud, and the more I struggled the deeper I found myself. Finally some of the boys saw my condition and very soon I was out of the ditch. It was reported that I had been shot and fallen in a ditch, and in some way this report reached Henry at my headquarters. He immediately started, and about nine o’clock, when in the Rebel works, I chanced to look back over the battle-field where the dead and wounded were lying, and to my surprise saw Henry coming as fast as he could run. This was directly between Fort Hell and the Rebel Fort Mahone, where at the time bullets were flying thick and fast. I never looked upon any person with more interest than I did at him, for I did not expect he would ever reach the Rebel’s first line of works, which we then had in our possession. I was expecting to see him go down any moment. Of course he did not know just were to find me, dead or alive, but reached the line of earthworks about three rods to the left of me; I immediately started, keeping in the trenches, and soon met Henry. He said, "Oh, father, I could not stay at headquarters. I heard you were dangerously wounded and decided to find you or die in the attempt." I told him to remain in the trenches and keep his head out of the way of the Rebel bullets.
We immediately took up our line of march, the brigade moving from its position out by way of Fort Sedgwich, (Fort Hell) to the point on the picket line where we formed in line of battle as follows:
The 207th was the leading regiment and formed directly along the picket line. The 205th formed about two rods in rear of the 207th, and the 211th about two rods in rear of the 205th. In this position we remained about twenty-five minutes waiting for the signal; during this time I availed myself of the opportunity of passing in front of each regiment to see if the pioneers were in their proper places and had been properly instructed, for I knew that much depended on that part of the work; also to instruct the officers to see that every man under their command would get over the picket line the moment the signal was given and when over the line to see that the men move on a run with heads as near the grounds as possible, for the Rebels were shooting high, and not stop until they were in the enemy’s works, for the sooner we did this work, if we did it at all, the better it would be for us.
Just here allow me to go back a little. During the month of March I had noticed a number of men erecting a fort a short distance to the left of our camp and a little to the left of Fort Hell. On visiting it in person I found that the fort was of large dimensions and was intended to mount several large guns. It was called Fort Davis.
Immediately in front of this fort and directly between it and the Rebel works there was a thick cluster of pine timber, with thick undergrowth that entirely hid it from the Rebels, but on the morning of the 2nd of April every tree was cut down and the way made perfectly clear, so the fort stood out in full view, and everything about it was in order and in short range of the guns of Fort Mahone, which was one of the strongest on the Rebel lines.
Just when the grey dawn of day could be seen in the east, the firing of a rocket gave this signal which we all understood meant to charge, and every man of my whole brigade, so far as I know, sprang over the picket line. Forts Hell and Davis belched forth a perfect hail of heavy shot and shell, and from Fort Mahone and all along the Rebel line came in return a most galling fire. The air over our heads was full of bursting shells and made light by the burning missiles, but we pushed on over that, less than one-half mile, regardless of our loss, and on coming up to the chevaux-de-frise, the pioneers with their axes in their hands were just the fellows to do the work assigned to them, and each blow struck on those chains in the proper place, cut them apart, and the result was that in an instant the boys turned each section around and through we went. But this was not all; about one rod from the chevaux-de-frise there was a line of abate or abattis. This line was differently, constructed. Sticks the size of a hand-spike and larger, ten or twelve feet long, with one end sunk in the ground and the other end sharpened, with long poles or sticks lying on the ground lengthwise, close up under those that were sunk in, for a support and to give the sharpened sticks about half pitch. The sharpened ends were about 6 feet from the ground or as high as a man’s head, and were placed close together and resembled a bridge or roof. But the boys were not long settling this obstruction. By getting a firm hold of the sharp end and giving a quick jerk, they would either break just at the ground or the lower end would came up out of the sandy soil, and in about one minute this obstruction was laid flat.
But still further on and in front of the Rebel fortification was a ditch that looked like a canal, where they had taken out the dirt to build the fort. This ditch was about 15 feet wide, and without knowing the depth of the water we plunged in and found the water and mud from three to four feet deep. All this time we were in front and under a most destructive fire from the Rebel guns. The cannon-shots mostly passed over us, but from the musket fire we suffered severely. As soon as we were out of the water, the next thing was to scale the enemy’s works, which we did, and a hand-to-hand battle followed for a few moments; but the Johnny Rebs could not stand before our bayonets, and they were compelled to yield and give up the possession of their front line of works and fall back to their second and third lines.
While inside of a small redoubt, I, with others of our men, came in contact with some half-dozen rebels, and while not more than 12 feet away I was shot at by one of them. It did not seem possible that he could miss me, but he failed to hit his mark. Immediately after, our men rushed at them, and they were forced to leave the place. During that forenoon they made repeated charges to drive us, if possible, out of their front line of works, but each time they were forced back with great loss. At about two o’clock p.m., of that day, I noticed out to our left and on the main front line that the Rebels had broken through the fort line and had taken possession of one of our redoubts which our troops had taken from them in the morning, and they were filling it at a rapid rate. Soon after Captain S.D. Phillips, of Company D, came to me and said we had better get out of this; he said, "Do you see how the Rebs are filling up that redoubt out yonder on our left? There is no less than 300 in there now, and it is fast filling up. Their enfilading fire is killing our men all along the line, and it will not be long before they will attempt to flank us; and our men, after going through what they have to-day, are in no condition for another engagement." I told him to go back to his Company and to have them get down in the trenches; that I had no fears that an attempt would be made to flank us. Just at this time an orderly came to me with an order from General Hartranft with instructions to hold the works if possible, for I would soon be re-enforced. After half an hour after that, while watching every movement with the greatest anxiety, I saw about 500 Zouaves start from Fort Hell on a run to charge on the redoubt which Captain Phillips referred to. I never looked with more interest on any company of men than I did on these Zouaves. Their red uniforms made them appear grandly. The Rebels in the redoubt saw them coming and concentrated their fire on them as they came nearer the redoubt, and quite a number of them fell to the ground; but they kept on without any change of pace, and it was not ten minutes after they left Fort Hell before they were in the redoubt and the Johnnies were out, running back to their second line of works which they at this time were in possession of. While thus running from their redoubt the Zouaves opened fire on them, and they met with great loss before reaching their works.
About two hours after this we were re-enforced with two full regiments, and during the evening I had the chevaux-de-frise placed in our front and in position as best we could to aid us in case the Rebels should make an attempt to re-take their front line during the night. Early the next morning I formed a skirmish line with orders to make careful examination of the ground in the direction of Petersburg, and after such examination report back to me. This was done and no enemy was found in our front. We then commenced the work of getting our men in their proper places and in line as companies, which was no easy task, for they had become greatly mixed. Company A’s men were with Company K, Company B’s with Company I, and so on throughout the hole brigade.
About 4 o’clock that morning, April 3, my whole brigade, or what was left of it, marched into Petersburg, reaching there about sunrise; we halted for a few moments at a beautiful park just out of the business part of the city, and I shall never forget the sight I saw while there. About one thousand colored people, men, women and children, most of them not more than half clad, met us and had a regular jubilee, calling out at the top of their voices, jumping and shouting, "Lord bless de Yankees, de Yankees hab come. Lord bless Fader Abraham!" etc.
After leaving the Rebel works which we had taken the morning before, and on our march over the ground and entrenchments which the Rebels occupied during the 2nd of April, and before we reached Petersburg, a most sickening sight presented itself; the dead, wounded and dying were lying thick on the ground, and at one place they were so thick that I had to guide my horse with great care to prevent him from tramping on them. After seeing the colored people dance and hearing them shout, we returned to our camp, and after taking a little rest and some breakfast, broke camp b taking everything with us, then marched again over the battle ground over which we had fought the day before, through Petersburg in pursuit of General Lee and his army, a distance of about 60 miles. Our brigade was engaged in keeping open the line of supply, which was along the South Side railroad.
On the 5th day of April 1865, we reached Burkville Station, where the column halted, which was but a short distance from Appomattox Court-house. Here we did picket duty until the morning of the 10th, Lee having surrendered the day before. That morning about sunrise, what was left of the two armies reached Burkville Station. Our Army was led by General U.S. Grant and the Rebels by General Robert E. Lee in person. It was a grand sight is see the soldiers of both armies mingle together on the most friendly terms. I thought of a remark that I had heard from some Rebel prisoners when in a boasting way they said, "You can never whip Lee, he will fight you to the last ditch," which I was well satisfied he had done; their men were without sufficient clothing, many of them nearly naked and without one morsel of food, except an ear of corn or two, in their haversacks. Our boys would step up to them and divide their hard tack. General Grant issued an order that a sufficient amount of supplies be furnished by the Commissary Department to constitute three days rations for each Rebel soldier. All was harmonious and pleasant that morning, except one little tilt. A Rebel officer while passing through the crowd said, " You think you have whipped us, but you are mistaken, you have Johnston to whip yet." He hardly had spoken the words before he received a stroke on his head from one of our officers standing near him that sent him headlong to the ground, saying, "D—n you! if you are not whipped, we will whip you." The Rebel gathered himself up and left as fast as his legs could carry him, without looking back.
After the surrender our whole division was ordered back to City Point, where we took transports and landed at Alexandria, Va., April 12, 1865, where we remained in camp about two miles from the city, having but little duty to do except an occasional drill. We finally were ordered to Washington, D.C., to join in the grand review, in which we all took part. After this we returned to our camp near Alexandria, and on the 31st day of May, 1865, we were mustered out of service and immediately transported by rail to Harrisburg, where, on the 5th of June, we were discharged and went home.
I have frequently been asked why it was that soldiers who served in the late war were so attached to each other; that it would seem, after so many years since the close of the war, that this feeling would grow less and eventually to a great extent be forgotten. But, on the contrary, as the years roll away these men become more and more attached to each other. I will make a brief statement of facts to show why this is so. In the first place, if a man wishes to become a soldier he must enlist, then be mustered into a company of one hundred men; commanded by a Captain; then in a regiment of one thousand men, commanded by a Colonel; after this they are all sworn into the service of the United States. They are then clothed with a suit of National blue; then a musket with bayonet, etc., is furnished, also the knapsack, haversack, blanket, canteen, cartridge-box, belts, plates, etc. Each company would then draw twenty-five A tents, or one tent for four men, and one dog tent for every two men, to be used on the march. Thus being armed and equipped as the regulations and law required, each man was considered a soldier in the full sense of the term he was expected to obey all orders from his superiors, even if it was to go in the thickest of the fight and to the cannon’s mouth, if need be, and to know but little else.
These tents, if well stretched, would cover about either feet of ground, coming up on each side to a point, where the canvas would cross the ridge-pole. On each side the men would pack their accouterments individually, blankets, overcoats, dog tents, etc., which would require nearly one-half the space that was covered by the tent, thus using that part that could not be used for much else for the reason that it was packed under the slope on each side, for a man could not stand straight in any part except directly under the ridge pole; thus it will appear that four men had at most four and one-half feet by eight feet. This was the house and home of the four soldiers or many of them. For four long years in this tent ad on that small space of ground they ate their meals, sitting on the ground. When ready to retire for the night they would use their blankets for bedding, placing two blankets under and two over them; occasionally when the weather was very cold they would use their overcoats for top covering, and as I often heard them say that it was almost impossible for any one of their number to turn over without all turning at the same time, consequently, if one would wish to turn he would call out "spoons", the others would heed and understand, and it was like a general order—all would turn at the same time. It often happened that one or two of their number would get sick and had to be reported sick. In this case the two or three men would watch over their sick comrade all through the hours of day and night, excepting when called upon to do duty, and then at times when a little tardy or their gun not as bright as it might, be very severely reprimanded by the officer, and at times ordered back to his quarters after being compelled to march in front of his company so all could take a look at him. These men would keep their sick with them in the tent as long as possible, for if he was taken to the hospital they would never see his face again. The next they would hear would be the drum crops playing the dead march. And when on the march these four men would march together and quite often some of there number would get weary under the load he had to carry and would be compelled to fall out by the roadside. The other three would not allow this, but would carry the man and his load until they would reach a stopping-place, as their was no safety when the country and woods were infested with guerrillas and bushwackers.
These are only part of what one soldier would do for another. In short they were as a family, and make any sacrifice, even life if need be, for a comrade. Can any rational mind wonder for a moment, after knowing these facts, why these men are so attached to each other?
The following incident occurred while in the army of the James, under command of General Benjamin F. Butler, at Bermuda Front;
We were on a direct line with the Rebel works, our pickets doing duty on one side of the open ravine, while the Rebel pickets were doing duty on the other side. Our boys could call to them and say, "Good morning, Johnnies; how are you?" when they would return the call and say, "How are you, Yanks?" We were compelled to furnish from 150 to 200 men each night for picket duty. Our men were posted four in a place and from three to six rods apart. Each company or post was under command of a Corporal. Directly in front of each post in the direction of the enemy, about two rods distant, was the vidette post. As soon as the four men reached their post, the Corporal would place one of his men at this post, whose duty it was to stand two hours and watch, and in case of any unusual movement or noise to make it known to the Corporal. At the end of the two hours he was relieved and another soldier took his place, and so on for the whole twenty-four hours, when the five men would be released and another five took their place.
I had a young man in my Regiment by the name of George Reed; he was a member of Company I, and of course when his turn came and he was properly detailed to do picket duty he had to go. One dark, cold night in November George was called on and when out on the line he had to take his turn at the vidette post, and during the two hours which was required of him to stand and watch, he dropped his gun on the ground, sat down on a stump and went to sleep; in this condition he was found by the officer of the day while examining the safety of the line. He immediately placed George under arrest and ordered him to his Regiment. About 10 o’clock a.m., the next day, I received the report of the officer, and that he had found George Reed, Company I, 207th Regiment, sleeping while on the vidette post in front of the enemy, and of course I had to let the report pass along up through the military channel. I heard no more of this for about two weeks, when one day when in m tent an officer and two soldiers, with bayonets fixed, called and asked for George Reed; they said they had been sent for him by order of General Butler. I immediately had George brought up, when they took charge of him and marched away. The next I heard from him was that at Fortress Monroe he had been tried by a military court and found guilty of the crime of sleeping on his post in front of the enemy, and upon this finding he had been sentenced to be shot dead by six of the members of his own company. This order was read on dress parade the same evening. I was greatly surprised at the result of this matter, and I took a deep interest in it.
I looked upon it as outrageous. He was a young man only eighteen years of age, unacquainted with his duty, not knowing the penalty of the military law for such an offense, or the teachings of the "Blue Book." I immediately wrote to his father, Joseph Reed, at Liberty, PA., and told him all about it and requested him to make an affidavit as to George’s age, his natural inclination to sleep, etc. in due time I received his letter inclosing all I had asked him for. I immediately attached my certificate to the papers, corroborating the statement of the father as near as I could, and forwarded them through the military channel directed to the President of the United States, with the request that the sentence be commuted. In about one week the papers came back to me with this indorsement:
"The sentence of George Reed, Company I, 207th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, is commuted to two years’ imprisonment in the penitentiary at the city of Auburn, State of New York. Signed, by order of the President.
E.M. Stanton, Secretary of the War."
I was greatly pleased with this result and immediately went to Meade’s headquarters, which were two miles from our camp, and were George was confined in a stockade without shelter and strongly guarded. I had quite a time before I could see him; finally I showed the order I had from President Lincoln to the Adjutant-General, and he told the guards to let me in. I read the order to George; I need not tell you there was one glad boy. A few days after he was sent to Auburn, N.Y.
After the war had closed and when about twenty of us had reached our homes, in June, 1865, the people had prepared a banquet for our reception, and while we were having a good time, Joseph Reed came to me and said: "Poor George, if he was only here," and at the same time with other friends, urged me to go back to Washington and see if the President would not pardon him. After thinking the matter over for two days, I took the papers in the case and started for Washington. I stopped at Harrisburg and showed the papers to Governor Curtain, who said there was no use in keeping that boy a prisoner, and signed the request for a pardon.
I also called upon Hon. Eli Slifer, Secretary of the Commonwealth, who willingly added his signature, as did General Coddan, an officer on duty at Harrisburg. I then went to Washington, where I had to work through military channels, with almost endless red tape. I was finally introduced to Secretary of War Stanton, who on looking over the papers recognized that they had been in his hands before and readily signed the request for a pardon. My next move was to see the President. I called at the White House and was told by a messenger the reception-hour was from two to four p.m., and I need not call at any other time. I gave him my name and military title. The next day I was there on time and waited patiently the two hours and was not called. The next day I was on time again and after waiting about half an hour was called. I felt that it was a great undertaking, but I went in and was introduced to the President by the messenger; after a while all fear and timidity left me; the President was standing and shook hands most cordially. I then made known to him my errand. He took my papers, looked carefully over them, asked me a few questions and then directed the messenger to telegraph the keeper of the Auburn prison to release George Reed, Company I, 207th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, from confinement. In about two minutes the messenger returned and handed me a slip with the order of the President printed on it. I thanked him as best I could and left the White House having a much better opinion of Andrew Johnson than I had before.
I took the first train out, reaching home June 26th, 1865. About the first man I met after leaving the stage was Joseph Reed, who was very anxious and asked me, "What luck?" I told him, and he said he would go directly to Auburn; that George would have no money to come home. I told him not to go; that the order of the President had reached the prison before I left the White House, and that George had been released and would be gone long before he could reach Auburn; but I could not prevail, and he started. On the 28th of June about noon, who should step into the store where I was but George Reed. He made the following statement to me:
"An officer came to me at the prison and said: ‘Young man you must get out of this.’ I trembled all over, and the thought came to me that they might shoot me yet. The officer directed me to go to a certain room and take off the clothes I had on, which were like a clown’s, ringed, streaked and striped, and they would give me my old clothes to put on and I could go home. I immediately went and did as he told me. On my way out he handed me eight dollars. I did not know where I was, but finally found my way to a railroad depot and was not long in boarding a train; but instead of going in the direction of home I went to Philadelphia, where I was not long in finding a train for Harrisburg, Williamsport and home; but I only had fifty cents in money left. However, I managed to get on the train, and when the conductor came along for tickets I told him I was a poor soldier, had been in prison and had no money. He told me to sit still and each conductor the whole distance from Philadelphia to Trout Run station told me about the same. So I came right along, and when I reached Trout Run the stage driver brought me here."
He said that they used him well I prison and that he was learning the
trade of shoemaker. That same evening his father, Joseph Reed, reached
home by way of Blossburg.
SKETCH OF GEN. COX’S CIVIL LIFE.
Robert C. Cox, son of William and Hannah Corson Cox, both of German descent, was born in Fairfield township, Lycoming county, Pa., near what is now called the borough of Montoursville, November 18, 1823. His parents moved from there to Delmar township, Tioga county, about two months after his birth. His father built a small log-house in the woods and commenced to clear the land which is now the farm owned and occupied by M.W. Wetherbee, near Stony Fork. The county was then almost a primitive wilderness. After remaining on that farm for five years and doing some hard work in clearing land, it was discovered that the title of the land was defective, and he was compelled to leave it and to lose most of his labor. He then moved on the farm now owned by J.D. Houghton or his heirs, where he lived seven years. Then he sold our and returned to Lycoming county and settled about half a mile from where he formerly lived. Here the family lived for six years, when they migrated back to Tioga county and located in Liberty township.
Robert was raised on a farm and insured to all the trials and tribulations of pioneer life, for in the days of his youth there was very little of the comforts of to-day to cheer and help the new beginner. He was allowed to go to the district school during winter for a period of two or three months, or when there was no other work for him to do.
Having reached manhood, he married Miss Lydia Ann Wheeland in April, 1846, and took her to his Tioga county home. She was an unpretending country girl, handsome but not vain. Her steadiness and firmness of character has been the stay of the family through life. She was always careful and watchful over her three children, but never austere and not opposed to their free participation in innocent and harmless amusements. Her ancestors were among the early settlers in Loyalsock township, Lycoming county, and many of their descendants still live there.
Mr. Cox started in life as a farmer and followed that occupation for a period of eight years, during which time he cleared, fenced and placed in a state of cultivation about seventy acres of land, mostly with his own hands. Many days and weeks was he occupied in making log-heaps, with no help except a good, well-broken yoke of oxen and plenty of chain; and by the use of skids and with a rolling hitch he could place logs on a pile that would ordinarly require the work of three or four men. He had no means to hire help and was compelled to adopt this slow process. During this time he served for a period of six years as Orderly Sergeant in a company of Volunteer Cavalry, and was for ten years during that time and thereafter commissioned Brigadier Inspector of Militia with rank of Major. In 1854 he sold his farm and engaged in the mercantile and lumbering business. This he continued up to the time of the breaking out of the Great Rebellion. (See military career.) in June, 1865, after the war was over he returned to his home and resumed his former occupation of lumbering and this he continued up to 1869, when he was elected Treasurer of Tioga county, which office he held for three years.
The following is a list of the commissions now held by General Cox, which in themselves form the record of a useful and honorable life:
Commissioned Brigadier Inspector, with rank of Major, July 18, 1854, to continue to first Monday of June, 1859.
Commissioned as Brigadier Inspector, June 6, 1859, to continue to first Monday of June, 1864.
Commissioned a Justice of the Peace, February 28, 1862, to continue to February 28, 1867.
Commissioned Major of the 171st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, November 18, 1862.
Commissioned Colonel of the 207th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, September 28, 1864.
Commissioned Brevet Brigadier-General, April 9, 1865.
Commissioned Postmaster of Liberty, April 13, 1869.
Elected Treasurer of Tioga county in October, 1869.
Commissioned Major-General of National Guards of Pennsylvania, June 6, 1871.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, November 13, 1872.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 14, 1875.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 28 1878.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 15, 1881.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 16, 1884.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 21, 1887.
Three commissions as Prothonotary and Clerk of the Court of Tioga County, December 19, 1890.
The following is the card published by Gen. Cox declining the renomination for the office of Prothonotary:
Extract from the Wellsboro Agitator, March 1, 1893:
TO MY FRIENDS, AND TO ALL WHOM THIS MAY CONCERN:
In the month of October, 1869, you elected me Treasurer of this county, and after a term of three years, or in October, 1872, you elected me Prothonotary, and I was duly sworn January 4, 1873, Since that time you have elected me each recurring three years, making a total of twenty-one years as Prothonotary, or twenty-four years in all, to the first Monday of January, 1894.
During the campaign of 1890 I said to you that I would not ask again for the office. I was elected the eighth time and by the largest majority I ever received.
During the last five weeks or more I have been strongly urged to be a candidate by persons from nearly all parts of the county—so much so that I have been at times at a loss to know what to do for the best; but I have at all times stated that I was not a candidate. My health is good. I can do as much office-work as I ever could; but when I remember that I have passed my sixty-ninth mile-stone, there is nothing certain in the future; and in case life and health are vouch-safed me at the close of this term, a few years without the responsibility of this office, will, I think, be no disadvantage to me. I therefore announce my absolute decision to decline a re-election.
It has always been my greatest pleasure to do your work as best I could all through these years. I make this statement for the reason that I believe it to be just to you and to the persons who are or may be candidates, as well as to myself.
Now, dear friends, glad I would be if I could reciprocate to you in some way your kindness, but this I can never do. I can only ask that you accept the thanks of your unworthy servant, ROBERT C. COX.
Wellsboro, February 28, 1893.
Sketch of an Old War-Horse.
General Cox’s old war-horse, known as "Banks," was foaled in March, 1859, and raised in the State of Virginia. He was purchased by the officers and men of the Regiment at a cost of $553, including the equipage, and he was presented to General Cox as before stated.
He was a noble animal, being of a bright bay color and weighing about 1,100 pounds. He was beautifully proportioned and was a most remarkable intelligent animal.
One day during the war while the horse stood tied to a tree a missile from a bursting shell above him struck him on the right side inflicting a bad wound. After being healed, the spot, which was about as big as a man’s hand, was covered with white hair and was a very conspicuous mark.
Banks died on March 6, 1891, being thirty-two years old. General Cox had the old horse carefully buried in a coffin laid in a grave upon his own lot in Wellsboro at an expense of $41. In the near future there will be a suitable monument placed on the spot to mark his resting-place.