Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/June/Diary of Captain R. E. Park
Diary of Captain Robert E. Park, Twelfth Alabama Regiment.
[Continued from May Number.]
August 18th, 1864—We marched through Winchester, and were, as usual, warmly greeted. Ladies and children and servants stood in the porches and on the sidewalks, with prepared food of a very tempting kind, and goblets and pitchers of cold fresh water, and sometimes of milk, which they smilingly handed to the tired troops, who, as far as I could observe, seldom declined the proffered kindness. The native Virginians of Winchester and the Valley are as true as steel, and the ladies—God bless and protect them!—are as heroic and self-denying as were the noble Spartan mothers. Indeed, they are the equals of the highest, truest heroines of the grandest days of the greatest countries. The joy and gladness they evince when we enter their city serves to encourage and inspire us, and the sorrow and pain we see in their fair countenances, and often hear them express, with trembling lips and streaming eyes, as we leave them to endure the cruel and cowardly insults and petty persecutions of Sheridan's hirelings, fill our hearts with indescribable regret. We love to fight for patriotic Winchester and her peerless women. We camped one mile from Winchester, on the Berryville pike, and cooked our rations. Lieutenant-General Anderson, with Kershaw's infantry and Fitz. Lee's cavalry division, arrived from Lee's army. Their ranks are much depleted, but a very small reinforcement will greatly encourage and help our sadly diminished command.
August 19th—Marched to our familiar looking old camping ground at often-visited Bunker Hill.
August 20th—Twenty-four hours of rest and quiet.
August 21st—Marched through Smithfield, and halted about two miles from Charlestown, where "old John Brown's body" once "was mouldering in the ground." Our gallant division sharp-shooters, under Colonel J. C. Brown, of North Carolina, those from our brigade under Major Blackford, of Fifth Alabama, and our regiment under Lieutenant Jones, of Mobile (Company "I"), skirmished vigorously the rest of the day. The firing was fierce and continuous.
August 22d—The Yankees fell back towards Harper's Ferry, and we promptly followed, passing their breastworks and through Charlestown, encamping in a woods near where Honorable Andrew Hunter's beautiful residence recently stood. His splendid mansion had been burnt by order of General (Yankee) Hunter, his cousin. A very affectionate and cousinly act, surely!
August 23d—Quiet in camp
August 24th—A sharp skirmish took place in front of our camp, which we could see very plainly. It was a deeply interesting sight to watch them advancing and retreating, firing from behind trees and rocks and clumps of bushes, falling down to load their discharged muskets, and rising quickly, moving forward, aiming and firing again—the whole line occasionally running rapidly forward, firing as they ran, with loud "Rebel yells," and the Yankee hirelings retreating as rapidly and firing as they fell back. It is so seldom we have an opportunity to look on, being generally rested combatants ourselves, that the exciting scene was very enjoyable. After dark the Twelfth Alabama relieved the brigade sharpshooters and took the outer picket post.
August 25th—At sun up we were relieved in turn, and had to vacate the rifle pits under the fire of the enemy. General Anderson, with General Kershaw's division, took our place, and General Early, with the rest of the little Army of the Valley, marched towards Shepherdstown, on the Potomac. We met the enemy's cavalry beyond Leetown, but they fell back quickly, and, except a few shells thrown at us, our advance was not opposed. We marched through Shepherdstown after dark, making the air ring with joyous shouts. Many ladies welcomed us with waiving handkerchiefs and kind words as we passed through the streets. Lieutenant J. P. Arrington, A. D. C. to Major-General Rodes, was severely wounded in the knee, and Colonel ———, of Louisiana, commanding Hays' brigade, was killed in a skirmish.
August 26th—Slept until three o'clock P. M., then marched to near Leetown and halted.
August 27th—Went into camp two miles from our old stamping ground, Bunker Hill.
August 28th (Sunday)—I heard two excellent sermons from our regimental chaplain, Reverend Henry D. Moore. We have been "on the wing" so much recently, the "Parson" has had little opportunity to preach to us.
August 29th—A convention of Yankee politicians is to be held at Chicago to-day. I reckon they will spout a good deal about the "gal-lorious Union," the "best government the world ever saw," the "stars and stripes," "rebels," "traitors," et id omne. Our entire corps was in order of battle all day, and General Breckinridge drove the enemy some distance from his front. The Twelfth Alabama went on picket at night.
August 30th—Very quiet. The Yanks made no advance.
August 31st—Another reconnoissance by Rodes' division. General Rodes received orders to drive the Yankees out of Martinsburg, and taking his division of Battle's Alabama, Cook's Georgia, Cox's North Carolina, and Lewis' (formerly Daniel's) North Carolina brigades, started on his errand. Battle's brigade was in front, and was shelled severely. General Rodes seems to think his old brigade of Alabamians entitled to the post of honor, and usually sends them to the front in times of danger. About two miles south of the town, the brigade was deployed, and ordered forward. We marched in this way through Cemetery Hill into town, running out the Yankee cavalry and artillery under Averill.
At night we returned to our old camp, having made twenty-two miles during the day. These reconnoissances may be very important and very interesting to general and field officers, who ride, but those of the line, and the fighting privates, wish they were less frequent, or less tiresome this sultry weather. We have walked this pike-road so often, that we know not only every house, fence, spring and shade tree, but very many of the citizens, their wives and children.
September 1st—A day in camp.
September 2d—Marched towards Winchester, and when about five miles distant, met our cavalry, under General Vaughn of Tennessee, retreating in disorder, the Yankees in pursuit. We quickly formed line, and moved forward, but the enemy retired, declining further battle. Camped six miles from Bunker Hill.
September 3d—Went to our well known resting point, Bunker Hill. A few shell were fired, and one wounded our skillful and popular Surgeon, Dr. George Whitefield, from Demopolis, Alabama, in the arm. His absence will be a great loss to us.
September 4th (Sunday)—Marched towards Berryville, passing Jordan Springs, a well known watering place, and halted at 12 o'clock, one and a half miles from Berryville. Deployed to the left of the town, where we could see the enemy and their breastworks very plainly. At night retired one mile.
September 5th—Our division again passed Jordan Springs, and soon after heard the skirmishers firing in front, were hastily formed into line, and ordered forward to support our cavalry, marching parallel with the pike. We pursued the enemy about four miles, during a heavy, drenching rain, amidst mud and slush, across cornfields, fences, ditches and creeks, but were unable to overtake them, and halted about three miles from Bunker Hill. It rained incessantly during the night, and prevented our sleeping very soundly.
September 6th—No change of position to-day.
September 7th—We hear heavy skirmishing on the Millwood road, and are ordered to be ready for action. Adjutant Gayle and Sergeant-Major Bruce Davis keep busy carrying such orders from company to company. The Richmond papers bring us the sad news of the fall of Atlanta. It grieves us much. Atlanta is between us and our homes. It is only seventy miles from where my dearly loved mother and sisters live, and all mail communication with them is now cut off. It pains and distresses me to think that La Grange and Greeneville, Georgia, may be visited by raiding parties, and my relatives and friends annoyed and insulted by the cowardly and malicious Yankees, as the noble and unconquered people of the Valley have been.
September 8th—I received my pay as first lieutenant during months of June, July and August, amounting to $270. Am daily expecting my commission as captain, as Captain McNeely has been retired on account of the wound he received at Chancellorsville, May 3rd, 1863, nearly eighteen months ago, and since which time, except when on wounded leave of absence for twenty-five days, after the battle of Gettysburg, I have been in constant command of my company, being the only officer "present for duty." My commission will date from time of issuance of Captain McNeely's papers of retirement, some months since. Lieutenant-Colonel Goodgame left for Alabama to-day on leave of absence. His name is an exceedingly appropriate one, as he is a gallant, unflinching officer and soldier. His "game" is unquestionably "good."
September 9th—Company "F" was on picket to-day. I took tea with the family of Mr. Payne, near Stevenson's depot. They are true Southerners. Our entire army is getting its supplies of bread by cutting and threshing the wheat in the fields, and then having it ground at the few mills the enemy have not yet destroyed. The work is done by details from different regiments. It shows to what straits we have been reduced. Still the men remain cheerful and hopeful.
September 10th—Rodes' division, preceded by our cavalry, under Generals Fitzhugh Lee and Rosser, went as far as Darksville, returning to Bunker Hill at night. Our brigade acted as the immediate support of the cavalry. As it rained, without cessation, during the night, we had a very damp time of it. I slept on half, and covered with the other half of my oil-cloth, one I captured from the Yankees when I captured my sword. The drops of rain would fall from the leaves of the large tree under which I lay, drop on my head and face, and trickle down my back occasionally. Notwithstanding these little annoyances, I managed to get a pretty good night's rest. A stone served as my pillow.
September 11th—I am almost barefoot, and was glad to pick up and substitute for one of mine, an old shoe which I found thrown away on the road side. It, in its turn, may have been thrown away for a better one, or perhaps the wearer may, in some of the numerous skirmishes in this vicinity, have been wounded and lost his leg, thus rendering this shoe no longer necessary to him. Or, probably, the gallant wearer may have been slain, and is now sleeping his last sleep in an unmarked and unknown soldier's grave. Nearly all of my company are barefoot, and most of them are almost destitute of pants. Such constant marching on rough, rocky roads, and sleeping on the bare ground, will naturally wear out the best of shoes and thickest of pants. While anxious for some attention from our quarter-masters, the men are nevertheless patient and uncomplaining. We returned at night to our camp near Stevenson's depot.
September 12th—Welcome rest.
September 13th—In obedience to a singular order, we marched from our camp two or three miles in the direction of Winchester, and then marched back again. At night my company ("F.") went on picket outpost. This continual moving to and fro indicates that a decisive action is imminent. Sheridan is reported to have large reinforcements from Grant. Our own ranks are thinner than at any time since we entered service. My company is one of the largest in the Twelfth Alabama, and numbers less than thirty present for duty. The entire regiment, including officers, will not number two hundred, and the brigade is not more than a thousand strong, if so much. It is said that Early has, including infantry, cavalry and artillery, less than 8,000 men for duty. General Anderson, with his infantry and artillery, has left us, and returned to Richmond, leaving only Fitz. Lee's small force of cavalry. On the contrary, rumor says Sheridan has fully 40,000 well equipped, well-clad and well-fed soldiers. If Early had half as many he would soon have sole possession of the Valley, and Sheridan would share the fate of Millroy, Banks, Shields, Fremont, McDowell, Hunter and his other Yankee predecessors in the Valley command. Sheridan's lack of vigor, or extra caution, very strongly resembles incompetency, or cowardice.
September 14th—This is the anniversary of the Battle of Boonsboro', Maryland, where I had the ill-luck to be taken prisoner in September, 1862, and kept nineteen days before exchanged. We had just reached the scene of action, met the dead body of the gallant General Garland, when an order from General D. H. Hill, through General Rodes to Colonel B. B. Gayle, of the Twelfth Alabama, directed that skirmishers should be deployed in front, and while our precise adjutant, L. Gayle. was looking over his roster of officers, to detail one in his regular turn, Colonel Gayle hurriedly exclaimed, " Lieutenant Park to command the skirmishers," and I immediately reported for orders. Was directed to carry my squad of forty men, four from each company, to the foot of South Mountain, and "keep the enemy back as long as possible." I hastily deployed the men, and we moved down the mountain side. On our way down we could see the enemy, in the valley below, advancing, preceded by their dense line of skirmishers. I concealed my men behind trees, rocks and bushes, and cautioned them to aim well before firing. We awaited, with beating hearts, the sure and steady approach of the "Pennsylvania Bucktails," who were in front of us, and soon near enough to fire upon. The men fired almost simultaneously, and we drove back the skirmishers to their main line. The solid, well drilled line advanced steadily forward, and my small party, as soon as they were near enough to make their aim sure, fired again, and nearly every leaden messenger sped to its intended destination, and buried itself in some one of the approaching foe. At least thirty men must have been killed or wounded. But they continued to advance, their officers cursing loudly, and earnestly exhorting them to "close up" and "forward." My men slowly fell back, firing from everything which served to screen them from observation. Several of them were wounded, and six or eight or more became completely demoralized by the unbroken front of the rapidly approaching enemy, and, despite my commands, entreaties and threats, left me, and hastily fled to the rear. Brave Corporal Myers, of Mobile, adopting a suggestion of mine, aimed and fired at an exposed officer, receiving a terrible, and, no doubt, mortal wound in the breast as he did so. I raised him tenderly, offering him water, and was rising to reluctantly abandon him to his fate, when a dozen muskets were pointed at me, and I ordered to surrender. There was a ravine to our left, and the Third Alabama skirmishers having fallen back, the Yankees had got in my rear, and at same time closed upon me in front. If I had not gone to Myers when he fell I might have escaped capture, but I was mortified and humiliated by the necessity of yielding myself a prisoner. Certain death was the only alternative. One of the men who ran away early in the action reported that I had been killed, and my name was so published, and my relations mourned me as one dead until I was regularly exchanged and reached Richmond. The enemy pushed forward, after my capture, and soon came upon Colonel Gayle and the rear support. He was ordered to surrender, but drawing his pistol and firing in their faces, he exclaimed: "We are flanked, boys, but let's die in our tracks," and continued to fire until he was literally riddled by bullets, and surrendered up his pure, brave young spirit to the God who gave it. Colonel Gayle was originally from Portsmouth, Virginia. The gallant Lieutenant-Colonel S. B. Pickens was severely wounded also, and the regiment fell to the command of Captain Tucker, who was killed at Sharpsburg, three days afterwards.
Thoughts of that day's conflict bring to mind the names and faces of many of my noble company, very few of whom are still with me. I am grateful that such gallant spirits as Sergeants T. H. Clower, R. H. Stafford, A. P. Reid, J. H. Eason, W. M. Carr and A. G. Howard, and Privates Chappell, Tobe Ward, Lester, Moore, Attaway and, others are still spared as my faithful comrades and as true soldiers of the Confederacy. I am proud of them all, and regret much that I can do so little for their comfort. All are worthy of commissions, and some would fill high positions most worthily.
Late in the afternoon of to-day we were relieved from picket and returned to camp, where I have written down these thoughts of the stirring incidents of this day two years ago. Captain Dan. Partridge is now our excellent brigade ordnance officer, and is ably assisted by Sergeant A. G. Howard, a disabled soldier.
September 15th and 16th—Many "grape-vine" telegraphic reports are afloat in camp. None worthy of credence; but those of a cheerful nature exert a good influence over the tired soldiers.
September 17th—Rodes' and Gordon's divisions, with Braxton's artillery, marched to Bunker Hill.
September 18th—Gordon's division, with Lomax's cavalry, moved on to Martinsburg, and drove Averill's cavalry division out of town, across the Opequon, and then returned to Bunker Hill. The Twelfth Alabama went on picket after dark. By referring to previous pages of this Diary, I find we have camped at Bunker Hill July 25th and 31st, August 1st, 2d, 3d, 7th, 8th, 9th, 19th, 20th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th; September 3d, 10th and 17th. It seems to be a strategic or objective point.
Grant is with the ruthless robber, Sheridan, to-day, and we expect an early advance. His forces have been largely increased, while ours have been greatly diminished.
[TO BE CONTINUED.]