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Perry's Saints

The Fighting Parson's Regiment

• Title
• Author
• Preface

• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
• Chapter XIV
• Chapter XV
• Chapter XVI
• Chapter XVII
• Chapter XVIII
• Chapter XIX
• Chapter XX



Relations between the 47th and 48th regiments. Re-enlistment of veterans. Court-martial. Departure of veteraus on furlough. Expedition to Florida. Battle of Olustee. A great blunder. Heavy losses. Admirable conduct of the troops. Dr. Defeudorf. The retreat. Return of veterans. Sergeant Thompson. At Palatka. Expedition into the country. Dunn's Creek. Its marvellous beauty. Ludicrous scenes. Good-by to Palatka. At Gloucester Point, Va. A happy change. Shelter tents. General Grant. Army of the James under Butler. General Terry.

[January, 1864]
OF the several months that followed, until January 31, 1864, little can be gathered from the journals which furnish the materials for this history. Aside from the usual routine of duties incident to life in camp, a few changes . took place in the distribution of the companies to the outposts within the district. On Thanksgiving Day the members of the 47th New York State Volunteers were our guests, and on Christmas we partook of their hospitalities, cementing by these courtesies that bond of union between the two regiments which was unbroken during our term of service, and was one of the pleasantest facts in our army expe- rience. The rivalry between the two regiments seemed to manifest itself only in generous expressions and friendly offices.

During this period, the officers used all their influence to induce re-enlistments as veterans, and, as a result, some three hundred or more of the best men in the regiment signified their willingness to sacrifice anew their comfort and saiety, their prospects in life, and life itself, if necessary, in the service of. their country, if perchance, by such a sacrifice the blessings which they and their fathers had enjoyed, and by which the world had so largely benefited, might be transmitted to future generations. If, after the lapse of years, and in the dim light of the past, such a sacrifice seems a common thing to those who, in security and comfort, at this time, thought of little but of the opportunity afforded, through the waste and destruction of war, for the accumulation of riches, or to those who, too young to take interest in the events of which we write, know nothing of them except as a part of the history of days gone by; it was not a common thing to those who, having already given of the best of their years, and the freshness and vigor of their strength, declared their willingness to plunge anew into those scenes the effect of which they knew full well was to harden their natures, blunt and benumb their sensibilities, and paralyze those finer instincts through which come the enjoyments most prized in life; it was not a common sacrifice for these men to turn again from the sweet influences and tender affections of home and friends that others might be benefited. Nor let it be said that the considerations to which I have referred could have entered the minds of only the intelligent few, while to the great body of the army they were far beyond their thought; for, while we must admit that there were different degrees of intelligence, and that that which formulated itself in clear, distinct, and logical following in some minds was but faintly outlined in others, who so dull that, from the lessons of the past three years, had gathered so little as not to appreciate this new demand upon them! Had children forgotten father and mother, husbands their wives and little ones! About this time I was made familiar with a feature of army life to which I have made only slight reference. As a member of a general court-martial, day after day and week after week was occupied in the examination of charges of the gravest character, involving the liberty and life of scores of officers and men. It was the highest tribunal by which those composing the rank and file of the command could be adjudged. Questions of the gravest moment, and of supremest interest to those concerned, were discussed and determined. It was a responsibility shared only by the highest judges in the land, and life and death often hung upon our decisions. A photograph of army life is incomplete without this feature, and while the duty is the gravest and the most solemn which an officer is called upon to perform, it is as necessary to the well-being and efficiency of an army as the ordinary courts of justice to the preservation of the state.

January 30, the Enfans Perdus, an independent battalion, was consolidated into the 47th and 48th New York regiments. The number received by us was about one hundred and

[February, 1864]
fifty. On the 31st, the veterans left for New York, under the charge of several officers. February 4, those left behind received orders to prepare six days' cooked rations, and be in readiness to march, and on the 5th, with the left wing of the 115th New York, they embarked on board the steamer Delaware. ! On the 6th they left Hilton Head, in company with a number of transports, under the convoy of a gunboat, and proceeded to Florida; the force numbering in all from six to seven thousand men, and comprising artillery, cavalry, and infantry. The artillery and cavalry were under the immediate command of Colonel Henry, and the infantry under Colonels Barton, Hawley, and Scammon, with General Seymour in command of the whole expedition. Its object was to aid the Union people of the state in withdrawing it from Confederate control. General Gilmore accompanied the troops as far as J acksonville, where they disembarked, and, after seeing that all necessary arrangements were made which could promote the success of the enterprise, returned to Hilton Head, leaving with General Seymour instructions not to attempt an advance beyond Baldwin without further orders, nor unless well assured of success. His intention was to hold and fortify several important points, including Jacksonville, as centres of Federal authority, and reopen those sections to trade. But General Seymour, apparently satisfied that he could not be successfully opposed by any Confederate forces within the state, conceived the idea of destroying the railroad, and cutting off communication with Georgia. As soon as notified of this intended movement, General Gilmore sent a despatch to stop it, but was too late to prevent the massacre which followed. On the 20th a general advance was ordered, and the troops proceeded towards Lake City, about five thousand in all; Colonel Henry with the cavalry in advance, followed by three columns of infantry; Colonel Hawley, with his brigade, on the left; Colonel Barton in the centre; and Colonel Scammon, with his regiment, on the right. In the rear was a brigade of colored troops, under Colonel Montgomery. Near Olustee they came upon a strong force of Confederates favorably posted in the woods, with a swamp in front, over which our troops must pass to reach them.- Before they were well aware of the vicinity of the enemy, a murderous fire was opened on them, at a distance of little more than a hundred yards, and for more than two hours they could scarcely do more than stand up to be slaughtered, the nature of the ground and the strength of the enemy effectually preventing any advance. No severer test could be applied to men than they suffered at the battle of Olustee, and when, at evening, the troops were withdrawn, nearly one-fourth of their number were dead or wounded. The most of the latter were left on the field, under the care of Surgeon Defendorf of our regiment, who volunteered to remain with them; an act of bravery and self-sacrifice which cannot be too highly commended. The testimony of those engaged in this affair, as we gather it from journals and other sources, is that it was the most trying position in which' they were placed during the war, and the heroism displayed by our' men is accounted marvellous. The retreat to Jacksonville was much as might have been expected from broken, dispirited, and defeated troops, with a strong body of the enemy in their rear, flushed with victory, and determined upon their destruction. On the way back, the stores at Bald win were burned, and when the broken columns were gathered at Jacksonville, it was found that twelve hundred men had been sacrificed, five pieces of artillery and a large number of small arms left in the hands of the Confederates, while the purpose of the government in ordering the expedition was completely frustrated. Our own regiment, whose conduct in the affair was beyond all praise, suffered terribly.

While these events were transpiring, the veterans, and the officers sent with them, were enjoying the comforts of home and the society of friends once more. But the time was all too short, for on the 9th of March WEYwere securely housed in Fort Schuyler, waiting for transportation to the South, which ,was furnished on the 11th, when we embarked on the steamer Arago, and on the morning of the 16th landed at Hilton Head. Some of us took the opportunity to visit our wounded men in

[March, 1864]
the hospitals. Among them was Sergeant Thompson, whose journal has been of so great service in the composition of this history. It is a pleasure to record of him that he was a faithful soldier, and that, in the recent battle of Olustee, he was conspicuous for coolness and bravery. His services as a soldier ended at this time, and we hope that his subsequent career has been both successful and happy.

Late on the evening of the 16th, we started on the steamer Dictator, to join the other portion of the regiment, which was stationed at Palatka, on the St. John's River, where we arrived on the 18th. The camp was located on the outskirts of the town, and protected by entrenchments. The village consisted of some thirty or forty houses, with three churches, and was almost entirely deserted by its former inhabitants, only a few Union men remaining with their families. Very little occurred, during our stay at Palatka, of special interest. There were occasional alarms, and several attacks by small bodies of Confederates. Pickets were stationed at some distance on the hills back of the town, and the country between was frequently patrolled by guards who were mounted for the purpose.

On the afternoon of the 25th, an expedition was started for the interior, consisting of forty men, with guides, under the cQmmand of the writer. We were conveyed up the river about fifteen miles, in the gunboat Ottawa, to what was called Dunn's Creek, through which we proceeded in small boats. The beauty of this stream is impressed on my memory with wonderful distinctness. At its point of junction with the St. John's, and for some little distance, it was narrow, with considerable current, but, as we proceeded, it broadened out, and moved so sluggishly that, at times, it seemed caught and held by the rank growth of grasses and other plants which filled its bed and covered its surface. The branches of the overhanging trees intermingled above our heads, and the pendent moss and dense foliage formed a canopy through which the sunbeams struggled with dim and softened light, while on either bank the shrubs and trailing vines presented all almost impenetrable wall of bright green leaves and fragrant flowers. Only the songs of birds that fluttered about us broke the stillness, for everyone was strangely impressed and subdued by the marvellous beauty by which

A Florida swamp and jungle

we were surrounded. Silently we pursued our way, except when an occasional opening broke the spell that bound us, until, shooting out of the darkness which had gradually en- veloped us, we emerged into the-bright moonlight which lighted up the waters of Dunn's Lake. A sharp row of two hours or more brought us to Booth's Landing, where we disembarked. Our object was to capture a few obnoxious individuals who were making special trouble for the Union men who lived in that region; and the night was spent in visits from house to house, much to the discomfort of the inmates. Some very ludicrous scenes occurred, for, while the utmost consideration was used, consistent with the success of our plans, sometimes the occupants of the houses were startled most unceremoniously from their sleep by the tramp of armed men, who entered without knocking, and occupied without permission. A few captures were made" including a Confederate soldier home on leave, and on the following day we rowed back to camp, having accomplished upwards of fifty miles within the twenty-four hours. April 1, one of our pickets was captured, and we never heard of the man afterwards.

April 14, we bade good-by to Palatka, and started for Hilton Head. At Jacksonville we

[April, 1864]
were transferred to the steamer Ben De Ford and ordered to Beaufort, where we spent a day. On the following day, bidding a final adieu to the Department of the South, we headed for Fortress Monroe, where we. made but a brief stop, our destination being Gloucester Point, opposite Yorktown, on the York River.

Glad were we to get into another department, for, from the first, \ve had felt that, while often performing the most arduous service that falls to the lot of the soldier, the limits of our operations were circumscribed, and the results meagre. N ow we were going into the very midst of the conflict. The nature of the change was made manifest by the substitution of shelter tents for those we had been accus-tomed to use. Each mail was served with a single tent, which he carried with his blanket on his back, and by joining with two or three of his comrades, and uniting their tents, a fair shelter or covering could be obtained. The officers were served after the same fashion, the only distinction being that three tents were furnished them instead of one, and they were not compelled to carry their baggage. Who does not recall the first experience with the shelter tents, into whose openings we were obliged to crawl on our hands and knees to effect an entrance, or the curious sight which the various camps presented, especially at night, when the innumerable sparks of light which dotted the sandy plain seemed to rise

General Grant's headquarters at City Point

from subterranean caverns, and suggested anything but human habitations? Few were so dull as not to interpret this change from the ample quarters of the Southern Department as meaning for us more active duty, frequent and rapid marches, and fewer comforts. However, there was only a little good-natured grumbling. We all realized that more labor and care would be necessary to preserve arms and equip- ments in that excellent condition which had elicited snch general com!?endation from the inspectors of the regiment; but it was given cheerfully for the most part, and our reputation for superiority in discipline, drill, and general appearance did not suffer in the comparison with the new troops by whom we }Vere surrounded. General Grant had been made lieutenant-general, and virtually commander-inchief, and had established his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac. Having shown his ability in many successful campaigns in the West, he was now to contend with a general who easily held the first place in the Confederate service, and with an army long accustomed to victory - fortunately at last, the choice of the President had fallen upon the right man, and he was invested with authority which extended over all the military power of the government. Possessing in a remarkable degree those rare qualities of equanimity and self-possession under all circumstances, he united with these a clear understanding of the condition of the Confederate armies, and the ability to organize and carry forward a well defined and comprehensive plan, which embraced every corps and division in the several departments, by which he was able to hurl against the already weakening forces of the enemy, in simultaneous attacks, the whole power of the Federal army. Allowing little time or opportunity to the enemy for rest or recuperation, he never confessed or accepted defeat.

Our corps, the 10th, was commanded by General Gilmore, while General W. T. Smith commanded the 18th, with which we were associated, the operations of these two being under the direction of General Butler, who commanded the department. April 29, the superfluous baggage of the officers was sent with the company property to Norfolk. April 30, general inspection and review.

At this time General Terry was in command of a division of our corps, and Colonel Barton, who at Hilton Head had been district as well as brigade commander, was in charge of the brigade of which our regiment formed a part, the 47th New York and the 76th and 97th Pennsylvania regiments completing the organization. For General Terry we bad already formed a strong attachment. From the time that we met him first, when our regiment was ordered to garrison Fort Pulaski, we had frequently been under him, had watched him through the Morris Island campaign, as temporary commander of the Department of the South, had observed his quiet self-possession, his kindly disposition, and careful forethought for those under him, and had learned to look to him with the respect, confidence, and affection which can only be won by those of superior qualities of mind and heart. We could narrate many incidents in his career, all of which would tend to justify the high estimate in which he is held by the country at large, and, in common with all who have ever served under him, we rejoice in his prosperity, and wish for him a continuance and increase of the favor with which he is justly regarded by the people, whom he has so well served.