Shooting of Two Deserters
Chapter 29 (September 17, 1863 – September 19, 1863)
Wednesday, September 17, struck tents, crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly’s Ford, and encamped at Stevensburg, marched 12 miles.
Thursday, September 18, struck tents, marched to near Morton Ford on the Rapidan River and encamped, marched three miles.
Friday, September 19. Today we were called upon to again witness the shooting of two deserters. Just three months ago lacking one day three were shot at Leesburg on our march to Gettysburg. These five soldiers belonged to our White Star division. The two latter ones were members of the 88th New York regiment, 3rd brigade. General Geary’s headquarters or body guard was detailed to do the shooting.
The soldiers were seated upon their coffins or rather rough boxes in the same manner as those described at the shooting at Leesburg on June 19.
The guard having been placed in order, the officer in charge gave the command to fire. One fell back into the box dead; the other remained sitting upright. Another platoon of the firing squad was hurried up and when they fired the poor fellow fell; his elbow struck the rough box; he recovered himself and sat up for the second time. The third squad was ordered up; they fired and he fell into his box, dead. Two more souls were ushered into eternity by the mandate of the cruel war. After witnessing the shooting or murdering of these men we changed our mind as to capital punishment and we are now fully convinced that it is wrong to take from man that which God alone can give.
General Geary was wonderfully excited and reprimanded the guard in the severest kind of language. When the guard is drawn up into line, an officer hands each one a loaded gun. When the guns are loaded one in the number is loaded with a blank cartridge. This is done to relieve the minds of the firing squad that perhaps, after all, his gun was a blank.
While near this place on September 15, the four Ohio regiments, who had been sent to New York to assist in the quelling of the draft riots, returned. George S. Davis, brother of our captain, paid us a visit while in this camp. He was a suttler for the 150th regiment, P.V.I. Bucktails.
The Rapidan River is a very narrow stream. Here the two armies confronted each other, doing picket duty, and firing along the line day and night. Many members of Company G had narrow escapes from being shot. From this camp we could hear the Confederate bands playing in the evening, and hear our enemies cheering. It is said that along the Rapidan River one of the Yankee bands one evening played Yankee Doodle, and our boys sent up a rousing cheer, but beyond the river, in the Confederate camp, all was quiet. Then a Confederate band played Dixie, and the Confederates cheered, and our boys were quiet. Again the Federal band struck up the Star Spangled Banner, and such cheering was never heard before, but all was quiet in the Confederate camp. Again the Rebel band played the Bonnie Blue Flag, and every one of the Confederates was cheering, and again in our camp all was quiet. Finally our band played Home, Sweet Home! and when the last echoes of that music had died away the cheering began in our camp and ended in the Confederate camp. Home, Sweet Home! The one great piece of music which appealed to friend and foeman alike, and sent our united cheers echoing into the dismal night.
One evening while in this camp, and while getting our suppers a number of volleys of musketry were fired in the rear of our camp. The long roll was given upon the drums and the bugles sounded the fall-in call from Division and Corps Headquarters. Our coffee and supper, then on the fire, was taken off; coffee thrown away; the tents torn down, packed and upon our backs. General Slocum’s staff officers, also General Geary and his staff were on horseback, riding at breakneck speed to and fro, getting things in shape for a battle. One of General Slocum’s staff officers, who had ridden out in the direction of the firing, had returned with the news that General Beaufort, the cavalry commander, had just returned from a reconnaissance and had ordered his men to fire their carbines and clean them. I think we were all glad it was a fooler, but still we heard a good deal of growling because the boys had thrown away their coffee and had to prepare another supper.