Page images
PDF
EPUB

gle with those turbid waters, and the desperate calmness with which each wretched soldier went down at last 'i Who can tell of those who, struck down by the fire from above, slipped in their own blood upon the clayey river bank; of those who wasted too feeble strength in swimming half way across the cruel stream; of the shouts for help where no help came. A few, more fiercely courageous than'the rest, dragged the cannon to the edge of the hill and plunged them over, thus rendering them useless to the enemy. The colonels who had fought so steadily still refused to surrender, but guarded the retreat, so far as desperate courage could do it, to the end. . Led by Coggswell and Lee, several organized companies charged up at their tormentors, once and again returning dangerous volleys. They kept the enemy at bay till long after nightfall closed upon the scene. All who could pass over to the island had escaped, and midnight was close upon them before the two colonels and the other field officers still on the shore saw that their duty was accomplished, and surrendered themselves and the remnant of their commands to the enemy.

A most painful scene transpired at the sinking of the launch, in which were some sixty wounded men, and twenty or thirty members of the California First. The launch had been safely taken half way acrpss the river, when, to their utter consternation, it was discovered that it was leaking, and the water gradually, but surely, gaining upon them. The wounded were lying at the bottom, suffering intolerably from their various dislocations, wounds and injuries, and all soaking in water, which at the very start was fully four inches deep. As the water grew deeper and rose above the prostrate forms of the wounded, their comrades lifted them into sitting ppstures that they might not be strangled by the fast rising stream. But the groans and cries, screams and moaning8 of the poor fellows who were thus tortured, were most distressing and indescribable. Despite all that could be done, the fate of the launch, and all that were in it, with the exception of a few expert swimmers, was sealed; suddenly, and like a flash of lightning, the fragile craft sunk, carrying with it at least fifty dying sufferers, and some twenty or thirty others, who had trusted their lives to its treacherous hold.

The very skies were pitiless that evening. O the misery of the black, tempestuous night, when the rain poured down upon that narrow island where those who escaped the flood and field were bivouacked, huddled together and bereft of their comrades-in-arms! Scores of the dead were guarded by sullen watchers; the wounded were tended in every possible shelter. The river swelled in a kind of savage triumph over the havoc it had made, its current darkling and murmuring on the east and west, while on the opposite shore lay their dead comrades, whose white faces the rain beat in merciless fury, but all unfelt, and far more harmless than it fell upon the living victims.

Next morning boat loads of dead and wounded were brought from the battle-field under a flag of truce; and a dispatch had been published in Washington stating that General Stone had successfully thrown his force across the Potomac, and held his position secure against any hostile force.

The statistics of this conflict show that the total number of Federal troops that crossed the Virginia channel was about 1,853 officers and men. Of these 653 belonged to the Massachusetts Fifteenth, 340 to the Massachusetts Twentieth, about 360 to the Tammany regiment, and 570 to the first battalion of the First California. The Massachusetts Fifteenth lost in killed, wounded, and missing 322, including a lieutenant-colonel (wounded), and 14 out of 28 line officers who crossed. The Massachusetts Twentieth lost in all 159, including a colonel, major, surgeon, and adjutant (prisoners), and' 8 out of 17 line officers who crossed. The Tammany companies lost 163, including a colonel, and 7 out of 12 line officers who crossed. The Californians lost 300, including their colonel (the general commanding), lieutenant-colonel (wounded), adjutant, and 15 line officers out of 17 who crossed. Total engaged in the fight, 1,853; total losses, 953; field officers crossing, 11 ; returning uninjured, 3; line officers crossing, 74; returning uninjured, 30.

The troops that were successful in reaching Harrison's Island remained there during the night of the 21st, and on the morning of the 22d were all passed over in safety to tho Maryland shore, no attempt being made by the rebels to interfere with the movement. The condition of many of the men was pitiful., Some of them in their encounters with the enemy, and in struggling through the trees and thorny undergrowth, or plunging down the rocky steep, having been almost stripped of clothing. In a short time they were encamped in comforable quarters, and the wounded were provided for with the greatest care.

Large bodies of rebel troops had been brought up to Leesburg after the battle, to defend that point, and to make an offensive movement, if deemed expedient. About four thousand Federals, under the command of General Stone, occupied the Virginia shore immediately opposite Edwards Ferry, and were in imminent danger of attack from the now rapidly increasing force of rebels threatening their front. Generals McClellan and Banks, who had repaired to Edwards Ferry, on the Maryland shore, and were ready to furnish large reinforcements in the event of a general engagement, watched with anxiety the rebel movements on the opposite side of the river. Becoming convinced that the means of transportation were entirely inadequate to properly reinforce General Stone's command, the commander-in-chief ordered a withdrawal of all the Federal forces to the Maryland shore, which was safol y accomplished on the' night of the 23d.

Colonel E. D. Baker, whose death will make this battle-field immortal, was born in England, early left an orphan, and emigrated to this country. Few men have had a more eventful career, and few men have done so much to win the admiration of the people. He was, without question, one of the ablest speakers in the country; when he addressed public audiences he thrilled them with the electricity of his eloquence, and kindled them by his earnestness as a storm of fire sweeps over the prairie. For many years, whether at the bar, in the Congress of the nation, or before wild wood caucuses; in speaking to citizens, jurors, statesmen or soldiers; on the slope of the Atlantic, in the valley of the Mississippi, at the head of legions in Mexico, before the miners of California, or upon the banks of the Columbia, he held a place with the best men and finest orators in the land.

At the age of nineteen he was admitted to the bar in the State of Illinois. Subsequently he twice represented that State in the lower house of Congress. In 1840 he resigned in order to lead the Fourth Illinois regiment to Mexico. At Cerro Gordo, after the fall of General Shields, as senior Colonel he took command of the brigade, and fought through the desperate battle in a manner that drew an especial compliment from General Twiggs.

Returning home, he was, after his recovery from a severe wound received on the Rio Grande, again elected to Congress. Later in life he was connected with the Panama railroad; still later, in 1852, he removed with his family to Oregon, where he was elected United States Senator.

The struggle for the Union came, and he hastened to New York, where his fiery eloquence stirred the heart of its people. When they rushed impetuously to arms, he warned the country of the magnitude of the struggle, and was foremost in support of the Government. He was not, however, a speaker only, but a worker as well. In a little time he had gathered about him an effective regiment. Men from all States rushed to fill up the ranks. Refusing to resign, his position in the Senate and be promoted to a Major-Generalship, he retained his simple title of Colonel, and died with no higher rank.

He was killed at the head of his brigade, and with his life's blood sealed the vow he had made to see America a free and united people or die in the struggle. Courageous, upright, earnest, indomitable spirits like his can never be forgotten; they are the jewels of a nation, which brighten as they pass into eternity. In his own words, the words that from his eloquent lips rung over the grave of Broderick, let us give him to immortality.

"True friend and hero, hail and farewell I"

BATTLE AT GAMP WILD OAT, KY.

Octobxe 21, 1861.

On the same-day that the disastrous battle at Ball's Bluff, Va., was fought, and also the successful engagement of Colonel Plummer's command at Frederickton, Mo., a spirited fight was maintained by a small force of Federal troops in Kentucky. They were successful in resisting the attack of a large body of the enemy under General Zollicoffer, who had made advances into that State from Tennessee, by the Cumberland Gap. The engagement was unimportant when viewed in reference to the numbers engaged, or the loss of life, but its moral effects were significant. It was the first battle thus far that had taken place upon the soil of Kentucky, and it was bravely fought by her own loyal sons.

To' oppose the advance of the rebels, a single Kentucky regiment, under Colonel Garrard, was stationed at Rock-castle creek, at an encampment known by the name of "Wild Cat." General Zollicoffer conceived the design of cutting off this isolated regiment, and for that purpose was moving rapidly forward with six regiments of infantry and one of cavalry, sacking the towns of Barboursville and Loudon in his progress. General Albin Schoepf,' who commanded the Federal troops in this district, hearing of the advance of the rebel forces, dispatched the Thirty-third Indiana, Colonel J. Coburn, from the camp at Big Hill, nineteen miles south of Richmond, with instructions to occupy an eminence half a mile to the east of Camp Wild Cat, while directions were also given to the Fourteenth Ohio to proceed to the same place; and two regiments of Tennessee Federalists, then at Camp Dick Robinson, forty-four miles from the scene of action, hastened to participate in the expected fight, and marched the whole- distance on the day of the 21st, arriving just after the last feint by the enemy. Colonel Woolford's Kentucky cavalry had also arrived, and General Schoepf and staff reached the scene of action in the course of the day.

At eight o'clock on the morning of the 21st, before the arrival of Colonel Coburn's forces at the point designated, the advance of the enemy, with wild and exultant shouts, attacked Colonel Garrard's camp, and anticipated an easy victory over an inferior force* much reduced by sickness. But the brave Kentuckians met them with an undaunted front, and poured into their ranks a deadly fire. Having been taught to despise the little band they were now attacking, the rebels advanced again gallantly to the assault, but the cool and determined resistance they met with soon put them to flight, and they )etired discomfited, to await the arrival of the main body of their forces.

Meantime Colonel Coburn, with four companies of the Thirty-third Indiana, had started at seven o'clock, to reach the hill designated. The command consisted of Company D, Captain McCrea; Company I, Captain Hauser; Company E, Captain Hendricks; and Company G, Captain Dille—in all about three hundred and fifty men. Their arrival was most opportune, as the rebel forces were on the point of seizing the same position. The companies wire immediately deployed as skirmishers. In about twenty minutes, the rebels, who were concealed in the woods, commenced firing. Soon after they appeared in front, half a mile to the south, and below in the valley. They were in large numbers, and formed in line, near an open space, and then approached the Federal force under cover of a wood which concealed them from ,view, and opened fire. At this moment the Kentucky cavalry (Colonel Garrard,) came up, and reinforced the Thirty-third. The enemy charged, but were repulsed under a galling fire. The front of the rebels ap- . proached within a few rods of Colonel Coburn, with their caps on their bayonets, saying that they were " Union men," and were " all right;" and having thus attempted to disarm the suspicion of the loyal troops, suddenly poured a murderous fire upon them. After an hour of severe struggle, the enemy were compelled to retreat, leaving part of their dead and wounded behind them.

At about the close of this attack, another detachment of the foroea under General Schoepf came upon the ground. It consisted of four companies of the Seventeenth Ohio. Company E, Captain Fox; company C, Captain Haines; company K, Captain Ilea; and company H, Captain Whisson, all of whom, under Major Ward, promptly formed in line ready for their part in the contest. But the enemy had retreated only to return with an increased force. At about two o'clock, p. M., the attack was renewed, and at the same time, company C, Fourteenth Ohio, Captain J. W. Brown, appeared on the field. The position was fiercely contested, the Federal troops rendering the most gallant and effective service in the face of the largely superior force brought against them. A few discharges of cannon, three pieces of which were in use, aided by the well-directed infantry fire, resulted in the total rout and dispersion of the enemy, who again retreated, and during the night were finally removed by General Zollicoffer. Captain Stannard's Ohio battery earned for itself high commendations in this contest.

The Federal loss was four killed and twenty-one wounded. We have no record of Zollicoffer's loss.

While the battle was raging, General Schoepf, who had just arrived, and had tied his horse- to a tree at a short distance, desired a soldier to go and get him. The man hesitating, the General went himself, and just as he was unfastening the reins he was greeted with a storm of bullets. One of them passed through his boot-top, and several struck

« PreviousContinue »