Saturday, December 29, 2012

A soldier cemetery at Gettysburg

Frank Haskell of the 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade was serving as a aide to Gen. John Gibbon when the two went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in November 1863. They were there to represent the Army of the Potomac at the special dedication of a new federal soldier cemetery. The neat row of stones of the fallen was troubling to Haskell. He wrote his brother a short time later:

“…[W]hat is so appropriate for the soldier’s rest as the spot where he died nobly fighting the enemies of the country,--where perhaps the shout of victory went up with his spirit to Heaven—where his companions in arms, his survivors, had lovingly wrapped him in his blanket, and wet with brave men’s tears, had covered him with the earth his blood had consecrated…. But no,--these things were not to be. The skeletons of these brave men must be handled like the bones of so many horses, for a price, and wedged in rows like herrings in a box, on a spot where there was no fighting—where none of them fell! It may be all right, but I do not see it…but as it is now…we have instead a common, badly arranged grave yard, in which names, and graves, if designated at all, are as likely to be wrong as right. But read the newspapers,--Every body says this is splendid, this making the ‘Soldiers’ Cemetery,’ and I suppose it is.”

Frank Haskell was himself killed in 1864 leading a charge of the 36th Wisconsin near Cold Harbor, Virginia. His body was returned to Wisconsin for burial at Portage.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Terrible would have been the fate of the 19th Indiana

Thinking today about Fredericksburg in December 150 years ago, and of  the Iron Brigade and Lt. Clayton Rogers:

Left behind a mile beyond what had been the Iron Brigade line in the retreat from Fredericksburg was the 19th Indiana, whose job it was to watch the Rebels and keep them at a distance. General John Reynolds had made the decision to abandon the Hoosiers to prevent an alarm during the withdrawal, but Colonel Lysander Cutler pleaded with the general and gotten permission to make an effort to save the regiment. When the Iron Brigade began marching for the bridges, Cutler sent his aide, Leutenant Rogers, with an order for the commander of the 19th Indiana to call in his pickets and march for the pontoon crossing. The splendidly mounted Rogers, a man with an eye for good horses, “rushed to the extreme left with no regard to roads but straight as a bee flies.” “The left once gained,” a friend wrote, “he moderates his pace and whispers into the ear of each astonished officer.” The order is passed by whispers and Rogers moved out to the picket line in a movement hidden by the stormy weather. A witness described the scene: “One by one our drenched boys are falling back and drawing in together. Silently as shadows the whole picket line steals across the plain. And now as the ranks closed up for rapid marching, ‘double double quick’ is about the pace.” One bridge remained at the crossing point, and engineers were standing by with axes to cut it loose. It is only after the last of the 19th Indiana has passed that the mounted Rogers, “grimly smiling,” rode onto the bridge himself. The rearguard of the regiment arrived a short time after the bridge lines were cut. They climbed into skiffs the engineers had held back for them and began paddling for the north bank. “[I]f we had been left as our head General at first designated terrible would have been our fate,” a private in the 19th confessed in his diary, “or we would have known nothing of the retreat, and when the enemy advanced the 19th is not the Reg’t to surrender without any fight.” The consequence, he added, “would have been a wiping out of the old 19th.”