Marching to Washington
Chapter 70 (May 11, 1865 – May 17, 1865)
Thursday, 11th, broke camp, passed thru Manchester on the south side of the James River. From the bridge we could see Belle Island, where three of the boys of Company G, then with us, had been held as prisoners in May, 1863, and on this island they had their headquarters for a little while until exchanged. Sergeant F. H. Knight, Elias Miller, and Edward Fisher were the comrades referred to.
We marched thru Richmond around by Castle Thunder, the old tobacco house before the war, and to Libby Prison, which was only a short distance away. We saw where a number of our prisoners had made their escape by tunneling beneath a public road and coming out in a lumber yard just across the street. The writer examined the hole thru which they crawled. Upon the evacuation of Richmond, a large part of the city was destroyed by fire. We marched thru the city, passed the Confederate Capital and the State capital buildings, used as Jeff Davis’ headquarters, and continued on out to Hanover court house, where General McClellan had been with his army and fought in 1862. This was only a few miles from Richmond. Our march that day was 12 miles.
Friday, May 12, we left camp today and now it is on to Washington, instead of Richmond. We were all looking forward with happy expectation to soon meeting our friends and loved ones in old Selinsgrove.
Saturday, May 13. In our northern march passed over many of the battle fields, where General Grant and his noble army had built long lines of breastworks and fortifications, and where he had pushed General Lee step by step, until at last he was driven into the fortifications at Petersburg and Richmond.
We passed over Spottsylvania and the Wilderness battle fields on Sunday, the 14th, it being the ground on which General Hancock’s Corps had done its most desperate fighting. Colonel Craig rode into the woods, where a charge had been made by his men, and he said on coming to the road that he had stopped his horse in front of a Rebel fort and counted over 300 corpses of men unburied, who were all members of Hancock’s Corps. The stump of a 22 1/2 inch tree, now on exhibition in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. D. C., was examined with interest, because the trunk had been literally shot off by minnie balls.
May 15. Today we marched upon the battlefield at Chancellorsville, where just two years and twelve days before Company G was engaged in the first battle of the service, the same being fought on May 1-2-3, 1863. This time we came direct from Richmond. When we were here before things were different. Then the woods were filled with Confederates whose cry was “On To Washington.” Now as the war was over, all was quiet.
Here after one of the severest battles of the war, General Hooker’s army was defeated, and we were driven back across the Rappahannock River. In our imagination we could see the awful battle raging; columns moving back and forth, men cheering and cursing and swearing, the cannonading, the volleys of musketry, the moaning and groaning of the wounded, the stampede of the army, the woods afire from exploding shells and filled with the dead and dying, the wounded praying that we would help and save them. All these thoughts returned and are indelibly impressed upon our minds.
Two members of Company G, Frank Knarr and Reuben Miller, did not answer at roll call after the battle, and Sergeant F. H. Knight, Ed Fisher, William McFall, Michael Schaffer, and Elias Miller were made prisoners and, as mentioned before, were taken to Belle Island, at Richmond, and at a later time were exchanged, and were now with us on this march. Sergeant John R. Reigle was the only one of the wounded who was with us on this second visit to the battlefield, where we received our baptism of shot and shell. We spent some time here looking over the battlefield. Very few of the fallen ones were buried after the battle, and now their bones had been bleached under the southern sun. A number of the members of Company G picked up parts of the skeletons and brought them home with them. Major Chapman was killed here while gallantly leading his regiment, the 28th. P V. I. of our brigade. Some knew where he had fallen, and in looking over the ground found what had remained of his corpse. His body had been interred by what was known as sodding. That is, the ground was shoveled up and thrown over his body. He was lying on his back and was recognized by a tooth brush and several other articles, which were found in his clothing. Under his back in the ground was the print of a horse’s foot as plain as if just made. General Geary said no doubt it was the mark of his (Geary’s) old war horse Charlie.
The bones were placed in a box, put in an ambulance, taken to Washington and then shipped to his home. After a few hours, the bugles sounded the fall-in call, then it was forward again.
We marched to the United States ford on the Rappahannock River, where we went into camp, marched 15 miles.
Tuesday, May 16. This day we passed Harwood Church, going thru Brentsville and went into camp in the evening near Fairfax, a station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, marched 20 miles.
Wednesday, May 17. Broke camp late in the morning and marched until midnight. In the afternoon at 4 o’clock, we crossed Bull Run. The Colonel ordered the men to take off their shoes and roll up their trousers, so as to cross without getting wet. We expected to bivouac, as a great thunder storm was brewing in the west, but in our halt we were disappointed.