Monthly Archives: July 2008


Capt. Wilkins, of Gen. Williams’ staff, who was captured at the battle of Chancellorsville, gave the following account of his experience with the Confederates. At the time the Eleventh corps was routed he was despatched with important orders from his chief:

“On galloping to convey the orders referred to, Capt. Wilkins found that two regiments had already gained their positions. He communicated the orders to their Colonels, and passed on to convey them also to Gen. Kuger, commanding the Third brigade, who was considerably nearer the enemy. Soon after leaving the embankments he passed a double line of skirmishers, and saw, to his astonishment, that they wore gray coats. Up to this moment he had no idea the enemy were so near. It was now about eight o’clock in the evening, and owing to the darkness and the fact of his riding with such speed directly towards them, the skirmishers evidently mistook him for one of their own officers, and allowed him to pass. At this moment he saw the distinguishing flag of the First brigade of Williams division (every brigade in the Army of the Potomac carries a distinguishing flag of bright colors) to the left, and still farther on. He rode towards it, expecting to deliver the orders to the commander of the brigade. On reaching it he discovered that it had just been captured by a Georgia regiment, and was then in the possession of the enemy, by whom he was surrounded. He threw himself upon the neck of his horse, and endeavored to escape by leaping the abatis; but he found that the rebels were on every side of him. His horse was shot under him, a blow from a musket dislocated his knee, and he was dragged to the ground in a nearly insensible condition.

He was placed in charge of a guard, who took him a short distance to the rear and to the plank road, where he met Gen. Jackson and staff. Jackson had at this time formed a column of attack on the plank road, with the design of flanking our army and obtaining possession of United States Ford. The column consisted of upwards of 15,000 men, massed in columns of sections, having three batteries of artillery on the flank. Jackson was sitting on his horse, at the head of the column, surrounded by his staff. He wore a new suit of gray uniform, and was a spare man, with a weather-beaten face, and a bright, grayish-blue eye. He had a peculiarly sad and gloomy expression of countenance, as though he already saw a premonition of his fate. It was but fifteen minutes later that he was mortally wounded. As they came into his presence the guard announced, ‘A captured Yankee officer.’ Capt. Wilkins asked if it was Maj.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson. On being answered in the affirmative, he raised his hat. Gen. Jackson said: ‘A regular army officer, I suppose; your officers do not usually salute ours.’ Capt. Wilkins replied: ‘No, I am not; I salute you out of respect to you as a gallant officer.’ He then asked his name and rank. On being told, he further inquired what corps and commanders were opposed in front. Capt. Wilkins replied that as an officer, he could not return a truthful answer to such questions. Jackson then turned to the guard and ordered them to search him. He then had in the breast-pocket of his coat Hooker’s confidential orders to corps commanders, giving a plan in part of the campaign, the countersigns of the field for a week in advance, and the field returns, giving the effective strength of the Twelfth corps on the preceding day.

Fortunately, before the guard could carry the orders into execution, a terrific raking fire was opened on Jackson’s column by twenty pieces of artillery, commanded by Capt. Best, from an eminence on the plank road. The first eight or ten shots flew over the heads of the column. The men and gunners dismounted, leaving their horses and guns. Our artillery soon got the range with more precision, and the shell and round shot recocheted and ploughed through this dense mass of the enemy with terrific effect. Shells were continually bursting, and the screams and groans of the wounded and dying could be heard on every side. As an instance of the terrible effect of this fire, one of the guard was struck by a solid shot just below the hips, sweeping off both his legs. A battery came dashing up; but when they got into the vortex of the fire, the gunners fled, deserting their guns, and could not be made to man them. An officer, splendidly mounted and equipped, attempted in a most gallant manner to rally them. A ball struck him on the neck, completely severing his head from his body, and leaving his spinal column standing. His body rolled to the ground, and the horse galloped to the rear. One of the shells struck a caisson full of artillery ammunition, which, exploding, ascended in a crater of variously colored flame, and showered down on the heads of the men below a mass of fragments of shot and shell. The loss inflicted by this fire must have been terrible, placing considerably over one thousand men hors du combat, and effectually breaking up the contemplated attack of the column.

An officer of Jackson’s staff subsequently stated that it was about fifteen minutes after this that Gen. Jackson with staff advanced to the front to reconnoitre our position, having accomplished which he returned by a different path towards his own men, who, mistaking his approach for that of a party of our cavalry, fired upon him, killing and wounding four of his staff, and wounding Jackson once in the right arm and twice in the left arm and hand.

While Capt. Wilkins was being taken to the rear he devoted his attention to disposing of the important papers which he had on his person. He dared not take them from his pocket to attempt to tear them up, but cautiously placed his hand in his pocket, and worked the papers into a ball, and as they were passing along, got them into his bosom, and finally into his arm-pit under his arm, where he carried them all that night. The next morning the guard halted to get their breakfasts, and a soldier was trying to kindle a fire to cook some coffee which they had taken from our men. The wood was damp, and the fire refused to burn. The soldier swore at it until his patience gave out, when Capt. Wilkins asked him if he would not like some kindlings, and handed him the important papers. The soldier took them, and, not dreaming of their importance, used them to kindle the fire.”

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“‘TWAS a terrible fight,” the soldier said;
“Our Colonel was one of the first to fall,
Shot dead on the field by a rifle-ball–
A braver heart than his never bled.”

A group for the painter’s art were they:
The soldier with scarred and sunburnt face,
A fair-haired girl, full of youth and grace,
And her aged mother, wrinkled and gray.

These three in porch, where the sunlight came
Through the tangled leaves of the jasmine-vine,
Spilling itself like a golden wine,
And flecking the doorway with rings of flame.

The soldier had stopped to rest by the way,
For the air was sultry with summer-heat;
The road was like ashes under the feet,
And a weary distance before him lay.

“Yes, a terrible fight; our ensign was shot
As the order to charge was given the men,
When one from the ranks seized our colors, and then
He, too, fell dead on the self-same spot.

“A handsome boy was this last: his hair
Clustered in curls round his noble brow;
I can almost fancy I see him now,
With the scarlet stain on his face so fair.”

“What was his name?–have you never heard?–
Where was he from, this youth who fell?
And your regiment, stranger, which was it? tell!”
“Our regiment? It was the Twenty-third.”

“The color fled from the young girl’s cheek,
Leaving it white as the face of the dead;
The mother lifted her eyes and said:
“Pity my daughter–in mercy speak!”

“I never knew aught of this gallant youth.”
The soldier answered; “not even his name,
Or from what part of our State he came:
As God is above, I speak the truth!

“But when we buried our dead that night,
I took from his breast this picture–see!
It is as like him as like can be:
Hold it this way, towards the light.”

One glance, and a look, half-sad, half-wild,
Passed over her face, which grew more pale,
Then a passionate, hopeless, heart-broken wail.
And the mother bent low o’er the prostrate child.

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Gen. Ashley, member of Congress from Ohio, gave the following account of the recreption of the “contraband” slaves at Fortress Monroe:

“You will have heard, by the time this reaches you, of the manner in which Gen. Butler disposed of Col. Mallory, who came into the fort under a flag of truce, to claim three of his loyal slaves, who had fled from his kind and hospitable roof, and taken shelter in Fortress Monroe among strangers. Who will say that Gen. Butler, so far as he went, was not right? This Col. Mallory had met Gen. Butler in the Charleston and Baltimore Conventions, and with that impudence and assumption characteristic of the oligarchy, he comes into Gen. Butler’s camp, and, though engaged in open treason against the Government, demands that he shall enforce the Fugitive Slave law upon the soil of Virginia with United States soldiers, and return him his happy and contented slaves.

“Gen. Butler says, ‘You hold that negro slaves are property, and that Virginia is no longer a part of the United States?”

“The Colonel answered, ‘I do, sir.’

“Gen. Butler then said, ‘You are a lawyer, sir, and I want to know if you claim that the Fugitive Slave act of the United States is binding on a foreign nation; and if a foreign nation uses this kind of property to destroy the lives and property of citizens of the United States, if that species of property ought not to be regarded as contraband?’

“This was too much for the Colonel, and he knocked under and withdrew.

“This was but the beginning at Fort Monroe, and is but the beginning of a question which this Administration must meet and determine, viz., ‘What shall be done with the slaves who refuse to fight against the Government of the United States, and escape from the traitors, and come into our camps for protection?’ If the Administration meets this question as it ought, well; if not, it will prove its overthrow. It is a question of more magnitude and importance than the rebellion itself; and woe to the public man or the party who proves false to the demands of humanity and justice.

“On Sunday, eight more stout, able-bodied men came in. Gen. Butler said to me, ‘As you went to see John Brown hung, and have some claim to control Virginia volunteers, I authorize you to see who and what those colored men are, and decide what is to be done with them.’ He added, ‘You had better examine them separately, and take down in writing the material part of their answers.’

“Before doing so, I went out to the fence where the slaves were standing, surrounded by about two hundred volunteers. I asked the colored men a few questions, and was about to go into the house to call them in separately, as suggested by the General, when one of the slaves said, ‘Massa, what’s you gwine to do wid us?’

“I told him that I did not know, but that we would not hurt them.

“‘O, we knows dat,’ quickly responded another; ‘we knows you’s our friends. What we wants to know is, whether you’s gwine to send us back.’

“I answered that I had no authority over them, and no power to do anything, but that my opinion was ‘it would be some time before their masters would see them again.’ I said this in a low, conversational tone of voice, without noticing that all the volunteers were eagerly listening; but no sooner had the words fallen from my lips, than a hundred voices shouted, ‘Good! good!’ and some in laughter and some in tears clapped their hands and gave three rousing cheers, which brought out the officers and General, who supposed I had been making a speech to the troops.

“This little incident tells me more plainly than ever, that what I said last winter in the House is true, when I declared that ‘the logic of events told me unmistakably that slavery must die.’

“If I had the time, and you the space, I would give in their own words the material portion of the answers of the most intelligent slaves. There is one thing certain; every slave in the United States understands this rebellion, its causes and consequences, far better than ever I supposed. I asked one old man, who said he was a Methodist class-leader, to tell me frankly whether this matter was well understood by all the slaves, and he answered me that it was, and that he had ‘prayed for it for many, many long years.’

“He said that their masters and all talked about it, and he added, ‘Lor’ bless you, honey–we don give it up last September dat de North’s too much for us;’ meaning, of course, that Mr. Lincoln’s election was conceded even there by the slave masters, and was understood and hoped for by all the slaves. I asked the same man how many more would probably come into the fort. He said, ‘A good many; and if we’s not sent back, you’ll see ’em ‘fore to-morrow night.’

“I asked why so, and he said, ‘Dey’ll understan, if we’s not sent back, dat we’re ‘mong our friends; for if de slaveholder sees us, we gets sent right back.’ And sure enough, on Monday about forty or fifty more, of all ages, colors, and sexes, came into the camp, and the guard was bound to arrest them.”

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Allow me to describe how I spent the day, at the time of the first arrival of the Federal fleet at this city. The first day that the fleet arrived, I and my sister, and a great many others, were wending out way to the levee. On our way we met a gentleman acquaintance of ours, who asked us if we were going to get some sugar. I felt quite indignant; but as I was in an amiable mood then, I forgave him with all my heart, as I had no wish to be angry only with those hateful secessionists, who were destroying all the sugar and cotton, and burning the ships and steamboats that had been left standing. If I had had the power over those that proposed it, I would have taken them all, women and men, and placed them in the burning ships, and there let them remain until secession and secessionists were consumed by the flames. I would have shown them no mercy. “Be merciful unto him that showeth mercy.” The next persons we met were a lady and gentleman–the lady appearing to be quite delighted at the sight of the cotton and ships burning. There were a great many others who had come to see the fleet–some with joyful hearts, once again to behold that time-honored flag, as it was unfurled to the breeze; others came for curiosity, and others with feelings of hate burning in their hearts, because they knew they were conquered, or would be in a short time. They foolishly depended upon some traitors to drive out the enemy when they came; but the cowards made good their escape when they heard that the fleet had arrived, leaving their dupes to take care of themselves the best way they could, telling them how vain is the help of man in an unjust cause. We were often stopped in our progress by the burning of the wharves and piles of cotton. We had gone a good distance, when right before us lay piles of cotton burning. We had our choice, either to return back the way we came, or jump across the cotton-piles. At last we came to the conclusion that we would do the jumping; so we selected a pile that we thought had been well burned out, and my sister made the first leap; and as soon as she was over she exclaimed, “O my! but that was hot!” and told me that I had better find some other place to jump; but I wanted to have some experience in jumping cotton-piles; so over I went. When I was over I exclaimed with my sister–“O my! but that was hot!” and looking round to see what could have caused such heat, we saw the piles of cotton that we had jumped across burning. What appeared to have been all ashes to us, we found out by experience was a little too hot to be only ashes. We shook our dresses well, so as to make sure that there were no sparks on them, and went on our way rejoicing; but we made up our minds that the next time we jumped cotton-piles we would look before we leaped.

In looking at the ship burning, there was a young lady standing before us, who seemed quite unconscious about her dress burning, until told by us. Then there was another old lady, who was so absorbed in looking at the fleet, that she did not take notice of where she stood; and, being at the edge of the wharf, where it had been burned, the plank gave way, and she was precipitated into the river. Fortunately, she caught hold of another portion of the wharf, and two men assisted her out. No harm was done, but she was pretty much scared. Nothing of importance happened to us, until we noticed that one of the gunboats was coming towards our side of the river, (for the fleet was in the middle of the river.) I and my sister ran to see where it would land, so that we could get a good view. It landed near the St. Mary’s Market; so we took our position before the gunboat. As we were running along, three women, who were behind us, made some remarks, one of which I overheard: she said that all persons who seemed glad to see the Yankees ought to be punished. I turned round and told them if they did not like it, why did they not remain at home. They looked at me, as much as to say I was not worth answering, and we passed on. While we were standing before the gunboat, we waved our handkerchiefs towards the men on the boat, when one of the officers lifted his cap and bowed. This attracted the attention of the three women, who had come up to us, when the eldest of them touched my sister on the shoulder, and said, “Do you mean to say that you are waving your handkerchief at them?” pointing to the men on the gunboat. My sister saie it was none of her business, and I said: “Certainly.” Then she said: “You had better go to them.” I said I would if the boat came near enough, so that I could get in. The two younger ones called us rebels, and giving us a disdainful look, passed out of sight. You may be assured I was quite surprised on being addressed so unexpectedly; but for all that, we were ready to answer them or any other person. While the gunboat was leaving the wharf, we still continued waving our pocket handkerchiefs and bidding them good by. A man said to my sister: “Give me the handkerchief, and I will wave it for you.” My sister thanked him, and said she could wave it herself. She knew it was his intention to throw it into the river. As we came farther on, we noticed two young girls, one of them waving a small Confederate flag, and calling out to them–“Go back, you dirty Yankee devils; go back where you came from.” I asked, “Where are the dirty (not Yankee, but) secession devils?” and echo answered, there; and looking around I saw that it was those two young girls, the one still holding the flag and calling them names, and the other one assisting her. At last we left them, and returned home about six in the evening. We passed through Annunciation Square, which but a short while ago had been filled with tents and traitors, but now vacant. Only here and there could be seen some poor woman picking up some wood and bottles that were left by the brave defenders of the Confederacy, in their hurry to escape from the conquerors. From thence we passed on home.

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