Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read h
s righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never beat retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat;
Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
--Julia Ward Howe.
In no war since the close of the great Napoleonic struggles has the
fighting been so obstinate and bloody as in the Civil War. Much has
been said in song and story of the resolute courage of the Guards
at Inkerman, of the charge of the Light Brigade, and of the terrible
fighting and loss of the German armies at Mars La Tour and Gravelotte.
The praise bestowed, upon the British and Germans for their valor, and
for the loss that proved their valor, was well deserved; but there were
over one hundred and twenty regiments, Union and Confederate, each of
which, in some one battle of the Civil War, suffered a greater loss than
any English regiment at Inkerman or at any other battle in the Crimea,
a greater loss than was suffered by any German regiment at Gravelotte or
at any other battle of the Franco-Prussian war. No European regiment in
any recent struggle has suffered such losses as at Gettysburg befell the
1st Minnesota, when 82 per cent. of the officers and men were killed and
wounded; or the 141st Pennsylvania, which lost 76 per cent.; or the 26th
North Carolina, which lost 72 per cent.; such as at the second battle
of Manassas befell the 101st New York, which lost 74 per cent., and
the 21st Georgia, which lost 76 per cent. At Cold Harbor the 25th
Massachusetts lost 70 per cent., and the 10th Tennessee at Chickamauga
68 per cent.; while at Shiloh the 9th Illinois lost 63 per cent., and
the 6th Mississippi 70 per cent.; and at Antietam the 1st Texas lost
82 percent. The loss of the Light Brigade in killed and wounded in its
famous charge at Balaklava was but 37 per cent.
These figures show the terrible punishment endured by these
regiments, chosen at random from the head of the list which shows the
slaughter-roll of the Civil War. Yet the shattered remnants of each
regiment preserved their organization, and many of the severest losses
were incurred in the hour of triumph, and not of disaster. Thus, the 1st
Minnesota, at Gettysburg, suffered its appalling loss while charging a
greatly superior force, which it drove before it; and the little huddle
of wounded and unwounded men who survived their victorious charge
actually kept both the flag they had captured and the ground from which
they had driven their foes.
A number of the Continental regiments under Washington, Greene, and
Wayne did valiant fighting and endured heavy punishment. Several of the
regiments raised on the northern frontier in 1814 showed, under Brown
and Scott, that they were able to meet the best troops of Britain on
equal terms in the open, and even to overmatch them in fair fight with
the bayonet. The regiments which, in the Mexican war, under the lead of
Taylor, captured Monterey, and beat back Santa Anna at Buena Vista, or
which, with Scott as commander, stormed Molino Del Rey and Chapultepec,
proved their ability to bear terrible loss, to wrest victory from
overwhelming numbers, and to carry by open assault positions of
formidable strength held by a veteran army. But in none of these three
wars was the fighting so resolute and bloody as in the Civil War.
Countless deeds of heroism were performed by Northerner and by
Southerner, by officer and by private, in every year of the great
struggle. The immense majority of these deeds went unrecorded, and
were known to few beyond the immediate participants. Of those that were
noticed it would be impossible even to make a dry catalogue in ten such
volumes as this. All that can be done is to choose out two or three acts
of heroism, not as exceptions, but as examples of hundreds of others.
The times of war are iron times, and bring out all that is best as well
as all that is basest in the human heart. In a full recital of the civil
war, as of every other great conflict, there would stand out in naked
relief feats of wonderful daring and self-devotion, and, mixed among
them, deeds of cowardice, of treachery, of barbarous brutality. Sadder
still, such a recital would show strange contrasts in the careers of
individual men, men who at one time acted well and nobly, and at another
time ill and basely. The ugly truths must not be blinked, and the
lessons they teach should be set forth by every historian, and learned
by every statesman and soldier; but, for our good fortune, the lessons
best worth learning in the nation's past are lessons of heroism.
From immemorial time the armies of every warlike people have set the
highest value upon the standards they bore to battle. To guard one's own
flag against capture is the pride, to capture the flag of one's enemy
the ambition, of every valiant soldier. In consequence, in every war
between peoples of good military record, feats of daring performed
by color-bearers are honorably common. The Civil War was full of such
incidents. Out of very many two or three may be mentioned as noteworthy.
One occurred at Fredericksburg on the day when half the brigades
of Meagher and Caldwell lay on the bloody slope leading up to the
Confederate entrenchments. Among the assaulting regiments was the 5th
New Hampshire, and it lost one hundred and eighty-six out of three
hundred men who made the charge. The survivors fell sullenly back behind
a fence, within easy range of the Confederate rifle-pits. Just before
reaching it the last of the color guard was shot, and the flag fell
in the open. A Captain Perry instantly ran out to rescue it, and as he
reached it was shot through the heart; another, Captain Murray, made
the same attempt and was also killed; and so was a third, Moore. Several
private soldiers met a like fate. They were all killed close to the
flag, and their dead bodies fell across one another. Taking advantage of
this breastwork, Lieutenant Nettleton crawled from behind the fence to
the colors, seized them, and bore back the blood-won trophy.
Another took place at Gaines' Mill, where Gregg's 1st South Carolina
formed part of the attacking force. The resistance was desperate, and
the fury of the assault unsurpassed. At one point it fell to the lot of
this regiment to bear the brunt of carrying a certain strong position.
Moving forward at a run, the South Carolinians were swept by a fierce
and searching fire. Young James Taylor, a lad of sixteen, was carrying
the flag, and was killed after being shot down three times, twice rising
and struggling onward with the colors. The third time he fell the flag
was seized by George Cotchet, and when he, in turn, fell, by Shubrick
Hayne. Hayne was also struck down almost immediately, and the fourth
lad, for none of them were over twenty years old, grasped the colors,
and fell mortally wounded across the body of his friend. The fifth,
Gadsden Holmes, was pierced with no less than seven balls. The sixth
man, Dominick Spellman, more fortunate, but not less brave, bore the
flag throughout the rest of the battle.
Yet another occurred at Antietam. The 7th Maine, then under the command
of Major T. W. Hyde, was one of the hundreds of regiments that on many
hard-fought fields established a reputation for dash and unyielding
endurance. Toward the early part of the day at Antietam it merely took
its share in the charging and long-range firing, together with the New
York and Vermont regiments which were its immediate neighbors in the
line. The fighting was very heavy. In one of the charges, the Maine men
passed over what had been a Confederate regiment. The gray-clad soldiers
were lying, both ranks, privates and officers, as they fell, for so many
had been killed or disabled that it seemed as if the whole regiment was
prone in death.
Much of the time the Maine men lay on the battle-field, hugging the
ground, under a heavy artillery fire, but beyond the reach of ordinary
musketry. One of the privates, named Knox, was a wonderful shot, and had
received permission to use his own special rifle, a weapon accurately
sighted for very long range. While the regiment thus lay under the storm
of shot and shell, he asked leave to go to the front; and for an hour
afterward his companions heard his rifle crack every few minutes. Major
Hyde finally, from curiosity, crept forward to see what he was doing,
and found that he had driven every man away from one section of a
Confederate battery, tumbling over gunner after gunner as they came
forward to fire. One of his victims was a general officer, whose horse
he killed. At the end of an hour or so, a piece of shell took off the
breech of his pet rifle, and he returned disconsolate; but after a few
minutes he gathered three rifles that were left by wounded men, and went
back again to his work.
At five o'clock in the afternoon the regiment was suddenly called upon
to undertake a hopeless charge, owing to the blunder of the brigade
commander, who was a gallant veteran of the Mexican war, but who was
also given to drink. Opposite the Union lines at this point were some
haystacks, near a group of farm buildings. They were right in the center
of the Confederate position, and sharpshooters stationed among them were
picking off the Union gunners. The brigadier, thinking that they were
held by but a few skirmishers, rode to where the 7th Maine was lying
on the ground, and said: "Major Hyde, take your regiment and drive the
enemy from those trees and buildings." Hyde saluted, and said that he
had seen a large force of rebels go in among the buildings, probably two
brigades in all. The brigadier answered, "Are you afraid to go, sir?"
and repeated the order emphatically. "Give the order, so the regiment
can hear it, and we are ready, sir," said Hyde. This was done, and
"Attention" brought every man to his feet. With the regiment were two
young boys who carried the marking guidons, and Hyde ordered these to
the rear. They pretended to go, but as soon as the regiment charged came
along with it. One of them lost his arm, and the other was killed on the
field. The colors were carried by the color corporal, Harry Campbell.
Hyde gave the orders to left face and forward and the Maine men marched
out in front of a Vermont regiment which lay beside them; then, facing
to the front, they crossed a sunken road, which was so filled with dead
and wounded Confederates that Hyde's horse had to step on them to get
Once across, they stopped for a moment in the trampled corn to
straighten the line, and then charged toward the right of the barns.
On they went at the double-quick, fifteen skirmishers ahead under
Lieutenant Butler, Major Hyde on the right on his Virginia thoroughbred,
and Adjutant Haskell to the left on a big white horse. The latter was
shot down at once, as was his horse, and Hyde rode round in front of the
regiment just in time to see a long line of men in gray rise from behind
the stone wall of the Hagerstown pike, which was to their right, and
pour in a volley; but it mostly went too high. He then ordered his men
to left oblique.
Just as they were abreast a hill to the right of the barns, Hyde, being
some twenty feet ahead, looked over its top and saw several regiments of
Confederates, jammed close together and waiting at the ready; so he gave
the order left flank, and, still at the double quick, took his column
past the barns and buildings toward an orchard on the hither side,
hoping that he could get them back before they were cut off, for they
were faced by ten times their number. By going through the orchard he
expected to be able to take advantage of a hollow, and partially escape
the destructive flank fire on his return.
To hope to keep the barns from which they had driven the sharpshooters
was vain, for the single Maine regiment found itself opposed to portions
of no less than four Confederate brigades, at least a dozen regiments
all told. When the men got to the orchard fence, Sergeant Benson
wrenched apart the tall pickets to let through Hyde's horse. While he
was doing this, a shot struck his haversack, and the men all laughed at
the sight of the flying hardtack.
Going into the orchard there was a rise of ground, and the Confederates
fired several volleys at the Maine men, and then charged them. Hyde's
horse was twice wounded, but was still able to go on.
No sooner were the men in blue beyond the fence than they got into
line and met the Confederates, as they came crowding behind, with
a slaughtering fire, and then charged, driving them back. The color
corporal was still carrying the colors, though one of his arms had been
broken; but when half way through the orchard, Hyde heard him call out
as he fell, and turned back to save the colors, if possible.
The apple-trees were short and thick, and he could not see much, and the
Confederates speedily got between him and his men. Immediately, with the
cry of "Rally, boys, to save the Major," back surged the regiment, and
a volley at arm's length again destroyed all the foremost of their
pursuers; so they rescued both their commander and the flag, which was
carried off by Corporal Ring.
Hyde then formed the regiment on the colors, sixty-eight men all told,
out of two hundred and forty who had begun the charge, and they slowly
marched back toward their place in the Union line, while the New Yorkers
and Vermonters rose from the ground cheering and waving their hats.
Next day, when the Confederates had retired a little from the field,
the color corporal, Campbell, was found in the orchard, dead, propped up
against a tree, with his half-smoked pipe beside him.