Aunt Katy's Civil War Tale
Pleasant's Landing, Virginia, Sunday evening, April 26, 1863
"We have had only one man killed in battle in our company yet: that was last winter at Berryville. I was within a few feet of him when he fell from his horse and the bullets flew pretty lively for a few minutes. That is the only fight I have ever been in and if I never have to go into another I shall not feel bad about it as the sound of a ball passing close to one's ear is not very pleasant.
"Well, if this thing is ever ended by fighting somebody has got to fight and I am willing to do my share whenever I am called upon."
Pa's wish never to hear the noise of battle again couldn't come true yet. May third they could hear heavy cannonading from the battle at Chancellorsville and rumors flew thick and fast. That night they listened to the whippoorwills as they stood picket duty and in the morning stragglers from the battlefield arrived with varying reports. By the sixth it was definite, defeat, and in the usual dreary rain following a battle, the Union Army retreated again.
About this time the mails brought the photographs they had had made at home in March. Pa wrote to say that Uncle Lonzo spent a good deal of time looking at Bea's picture much to his, Pa's, and Uncle Bert's amusement. He said he guessed they'd have a new sister as soon as Lonzo got up his nerve to speak.
June seventh he writes wryly:
"It was news indeed to me to hear that Richmond was taken. I have before me today's Washington paper and they have not heard of it there yet. I had heard that Vicksburg was taken and was not any surprised when I heard that it was not taken yet: and my opinion is it will be a long time before it will be taken. As for our taking Richmond, I think there is about as much hopes of that as there is of the Rebels taking Philadelphia.
"Perhaps you may think I am getting discouraged, but I am not and I think our prospects of ultimate successs are better now then ever before. There have got to be many great battles yet and many thousand lives sacrificed before the Rebels are going to think of peace.
"All the news I have to write is that I am under arrest. My crime is refusing to go on Sergeant of the Guard. There is but a few non-commissioned officers here and Captain B. wanted me to go on guard, but as I was in command of the company, or what men are here and not liable to guard duty on account of being Quartermaster Sergeant, I declined going. So he put me under arrest but I guess he won't make much of it as my captain and the colonel commanding our regiment sustain me in what I have done."
Pa was right. There were to be more terrible battles but he was not to see many of them. In June the Confederate troops began swarming over Pennsylvania and all the battles and skirmishes led to the three blazing, blood-soaked days at Gettysburg. There are no letters covering this time, presumably Pa and Uncle Lonzo were too busy to write, and since there have been volumes written about that battle, I will not attempt to describe it.
When Pa talked about the battle in later years, he would tell of the great heat and how they suffered from thirst. They fired shot after shot until their gun barrels were hot and their faces black with powder. The sound of cannonading was deafening but when it stopped they would hear the screams of wounded horses and the moans of men laying injured and in agony from thirst, under the relentless sun.
In after years when they went to Encampments there, Pa, Uncle Bert, and Uncle Lonzo would walk about the battlefield and point out to each other where they had been. They, like many others, always took a ceremonial drink from Spangler's spring to toast the comrades who had fallen during those awful days.
All three came safely through the carnage at Gettysburg and took part in the pursuit of Lee's forces as they retreated south over blood-stained roads, their springless hospital wagons jolting the wounded ahead of them.
At Boonsborough, July 8th, it rained as always after a battle and the Rebels attacked, trying to delay their pursuers. In the midst of the fighting Pa heard Uncle Bert call out his name and turned to see him clutching his knee. Pa crawled over to him and wrapped his neckerchief around the wound to stop the bleeding. Then, propping his gun on their sheltering rock, he rose to sight, saw a Rebel's head pop over a rock a few yards away and they both fired at the same time.
The Rebel's bullet struck Pa's head and he dropped on top of Uncle Bert who was only half conscious. There they lay until the battle moved on leaving them and others like them to be picked up and cared for. Pa and Uncle Bert lay side by side on straw in a nearby barn when Uncle Lonzo finally found them. All he could do was bring them some water and leave what food he had before going on with the company. Pa was unconscious and Uncle Bert swore he wouldn't leave him until he was safe in a hospital.