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LaForge Civil War Diaries and Correspondence: September 1864 - Part 2

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - 07:00

"The glittering hosts bestrew the Plain." This week's entries continue in the aftermath of the major battle recorded in last week's session. There is a deadly episode of friendly fire, details of the taking of prisoners, and a certain enjoyment of something better than army rations. But mostly there's constant movement, though without the same uncertainty as before. The Union forces are feeling confident and victorious at the moment. At a meeting with a former acquaintance, Abiel notes, "Strange things happen in war--strange enough for the most fastidious novelist. None need wrack their brains for subjects of fiction who have been in this war for they will find truth quite strange enough."

The Diary and Letters of Abiel Teple LaForge 1842-1878

Transcribed, edited, and annotated by Phyllis G. Jones (his great-granddaughter)

Copyright © 1993, Phyllis G. Jones, All rights reserved

September 20-30, 1864


Tuesday 20th September 1864

The army started in pursuit as soon as it was light this morning,  moving in five columns: two of infantry on each side of the road, and one of Cavalry and Artillery in the road. The Rebs had taken the Strausburg Pike in their retreat and we did the same, picking up many of their stragglers on the road. As we went by the Cav[alry] Camp, four of the captured battle flags were brought out for us to see.

We moved by the way of Kernstown, Newtown, and Middletown, reaching Strausburg before sundown. It was a weary march, although but 20 miles, for we were sore and tired from yesterday's charge. The Rebs army is posted in their strong position beyond the [missing word?] on Fishers Hill, which is strongly fortified. Many of our men and officers think we cannot take it. I think we can, for their army is a defeated one, while ours is victorious.

We camped for the night 3/4 of a mile from the town.

Wednesday 21st

We lay quietly until past noon, then broke camp and moved behind the woods to the right. Our second brigade drove their picket line from a hill they occupied, and which our General desired to possess. The loss was quite severe, considering the number engaged. After the hill was ours (which was not until dark) we moved upon it and, after considerable maneuvering, established a line in the dark, threw out pickets, and got rails to lay behind in case of a night attack, then rolled up in our blankets for the night.

Thursday 22nd

Under arms before daylight for 1/2 an hour. After breakfast, entrenching tools came around and we built a line of works, lay behind them until noon, then were moved out to the right towards the Alleghenies, and drove back the Rebel Picket line, and opened communication with the 8th Corps, which were just at the foot of the mountains.

We must wait until their line should be up with ours, then they were to charge, endeavoring to turn the enemies left. As soon as they advanced, we were to do the same.

While we were waiting, our Division Batteries of eight guns commenced firing over us at the Rebel lines. Some of the Cartridges were bad and the shells fell short, bursting over and even behind us. One of our shells burst and a piece of it struck our commanding officer (Captain Parker) in the side, inflicting a probably fatal wound. He was carried from the field. General Rickets sent back word to have the battery stopped two or three times, but it was not. Finally he sent one of his aides to say if it was not stopped he would withdraw his Division and resign. This had the desired effect.

About four O.C. P.M. the 8th corps charged. Shortly after, our order came and away we went with a shout. The Rebs had a very strong breastwork with guns all along it, but we were not to be checked and so stormed them at once, capturing their guns. I was struck on the arm, but not much just. The Johnnies did not fight very well but run splendidly. We swept from the left to the right of their strong works, driving them as we went. Fishers Hill was ours and "fairly won."

In their retreat, the disorganized mass had to cross an open field, from the borders of which our men poured volley after volley into them. I wanted them to stop firing and charge for prisoners but they would not. I jumped over the fence and started on the rear of the Reb. Some of the men came after me, but the rest still fired. I must confess that the only fear I had felt during the charge was then, lest our men should hit us from behind. I and the squad with me soon secured 28 prisoners. After I got them, I was somthing like the man with the elephant: I did not know what to do with them. Finally I saw General Rickets and staff. I asked him what I should do with them. "Thats right my fine fellow, thats right," said he. "You just take them to Captain Lenard and have them ceredited to the Third Division". I hated to leave the field, but started. I soon came across one of the Sergeants of the 106th and gave them into his charge and started back for the front.

It was now dark and our regiments were getting together. I took command of what I could find of our Regiment and, after considerable marching around, found the rest of the Regiment and with them stacked arms and got supper. Our Division, of the 6th Corps and the 8th Corps did all the fighting today and have won the glory. I have not yet learned what our gains were in this fight: it ranges from 15 to 20 guns and several Battle Flags. Also a large number of prisoners. Never since the war began have the rebs received two such blows so close together.

Friday Sept 23rd 1864

We did not stop--only to get supper last night--but pressed on after the retreating enemy, resting two hours during the night. Morning found us near Woodstock and we stopped there and got breakfast. Quite a lot of rebs were captured during the march.

It rained some this A.M. We drew rations. Three of the guns captured yesterday are up here now. Started again about noon. Just as we started, the 87th P[ennsylvania?] V[olunteers?], whose time is up the 24th, filed off to return to Harpers Ferry. Poor fellows! Many of them were killed just as their time was up.

Came up the Valley as far as Edenburg and camped for the night. We are very sore and lame with our four days' hard work.

Saturday 24th

Started early this morning on our journey up the Valley. Found the Rebs rear guard at Mt. Jackson. Our Regiment was leading the army and was deployed as skirmishers to drive in their advance. We did so, and the army was formed on the ground which we had gained. We were relieved at M. [noon] and marched back to the Brigade. My servant came up with my dinner while we were waiting for some demonstration of the enemy. It was the first I had eaten today for, by a mistake, our Brigade had to start without breakfast.

Finally we crossed the plain beyond the town, driving them before us. They retreated and took up a new position on the next hill, from which we drove them from there also. They again retreated as before, and so kept fighting all this P.M. We drove them thus step by step as far as Newmarket, when as it was night so we camped. I think by the stubbornness displayed by them we must be pressing their wagon train.

Our advance battery was well worked today: one section followed the range of hills, the other the pike. While one was firing, the other advanced and took position, commencing to fire at once. Then the other would advance the same way.

Sunday 25th

No rest, if it is Sabbath. Still forward is the word. Started at sunrise, marched through Mintville and stopped on the hills above Harrisonsburg about four o'clock P.M. This corps took up a posish [i.e., position] on the hills south of the town, the 19th Corps West, and the 8th North of it. I had a good illustration of "The glittering hosts bestrew the Plain" this afternoon. [See note below.] I hapened to be in a position where I could see the whole army crossing the large flats below the town. The Western sun shone full on their bright arms and accoutrements, sending back its rays from ten thousand points. It was a grand sight.

We found in H[arrisonsburg?] a large number of wounded Rebs. I forgot to state that the hospitals of Mt. Jackson fell into our hands. In them were many Rebs and some Union Soldiers. How glad the latter were to see us! Some had been there over a year. One of them had lost his left leg and arm. We are living on the people of the Valley now and do prety well. Our bill of fare today was bread, butter, honey, cheese, peach preserves, fresh mutton fried and boiled, peach pie, potatoes, mustard, coffee, sugar, pepper, salt, and milk. Not bad for soldiers.

Last night was pretty cold. A wind from the West caused it. Our woolen blankets we found very comfortable.

[Note: Abiel seems to be either accidentally or deliberately paraphrasing lyrics from a hymn The Star of Bethlehem by Henry Kirk White. The original definitive text appears to run, "When, marshalled on the nightly plain, the glittering hosts bestud the sky...," but online searching can find variants with "bestrewed the sky" instead. A footnote in Preacher's Tale: Civil War Journal of Rev. Francis Springs, Chaplain, Us Army, notes that he referenced the hymn, which is included in the collection Hymns and Tunes of the Army and Navy which was printed in the Civil War era. I should search to see if Abiel mentions listening to Rev. Springs preaching.]

Monday 26th

The army is resting today, enjoying the mountain air with much satisfaction. I suspect our rest is owing to the fact that our rations are out and we must wait for the Supply Train, which is following us from the Ferry.

Deserters are coming in all the time. They say the mountains are full of stragglers from the Rebel army, many of which would be glad to come in, but that they have been told that they will be badly used by us. Their officers strive to make them believe this as much as possible.

I forgot to mention that, during the lull in the fight at Winchester, I met one of the officers with whom I formed a pleasant acquaintance while on the boat going to the front last June. I was walking along the prostrate line, looking for our commanding officer, when he jumped off the stone on which he was sitting and shook hands heartily. When we parted, we were wondering under what circumstances we should meet, if ever. It turned out to be on that bloodiest field of the war. A few moments pleasant conversation and we parted again, when to meet we could not tell. Perhaps in some other bloody fight. Strange things happen in war--strange enough for the most fastidious novelist. None need wrack their brains for subjects of fiction who have been in this war for they will find truth quite strange enough.

Tuesday 27th

Still on the Harrisonburg heights. Our rations came up today from the Ferry and have been issued. I would not wonder if we resumed the march tomorrow. Many men who had been absent in hospital and some recruits came to the army today. More than enough to make up for our losses at Strausburg. Those who came say there are large reinforcements on the road to join us. If such is the case, I am looking for another attempt on Lynchburg, I think we shall have better success than General Hunter did, for things open more brightly to begin with. We drew three days rations; they are to last four days. There will be no difficulty in making them hold out, for the men will forage in spite of General Sheridan's orders against it.

Wednesday 28th

Last night we got orders to be ready to move at daylight. We were accordingly up and had breakfast and everything ready and so remained until 8 O.C. when the order was countermanded. Our tents were again put up and we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable for the day.

We have apple dumplings, apple-butter, syrup, butter, and cheese--all indigenous productions. We do not pay for these things. Of course if we did it would take a fortune. Flour is $200 per barrel, bacon $5.00 per lb., candles $10 per lb., boots $150 per pair, sugar $3 a pound, eggs $1 a piece (confederate scrip). We would find it somewhat dear in our money. The army are setting the mills (flour) going, grinding for us. The wheat is being collected from the farms arround and when it is ground I understand it is to be issued to the soldiers for rations.

Thursday 29th

Last night we were ordered to be ready to move at 5 A.M. We had the same order yesterday morning, so we got breakfast but did not have our tent taken down. So as to disappoint us, I suppose, the order came to march, instead of being countermanded as before. We moved towards Stanton some five miles, then stopped for dinner, after which we moved 1/4 of a mile farther into a grove near Mt. Crawford and camped again for the night, making a very easy days march.

It rained a little yesterday, also today. We do not look for stable weather now, however it is warmer than it was when we were at Clifton, for we need no fires, and marching makes us perspire pretty freely. I and my Company were detailed as Provost guard today. I was Provost Martial. I went down to the creek and had a bath--pretty cold. When I came up to camp, it was dark. The lurid glare of some conflagration lighted up the heavens. It made me feel bad. I understand our cavalry have orders to burn the barns, mills, and shops and grain of the people--in fact everything which would benefit our foe. This is a hard order, but given in strict justice, for retaliation.

Friday 30th

Policed our camp this A.M. The streets run through trees, making fine shade for our camp. We are very comfortable, considering we are a hundred miles and more away from our base. Just as we were eating dinner (apple dumplings), the "strike tents" was sounded, which rather hastened the proceedings. I thought we were going on toward Stanton, but when the long column began to stretch out, it was towards the rear and not the front. The first two hours were very hot. A storm was brewing which finally burst upon us. The rain poured down in torrents for a short time, then an East wind set in and old weatherwise said "look out for a cold snap." We moved to--and camped on--nearly the same ground about Harrisonburg that we occupied before. The men were not long in putting up their tents, for the wind had changed from warm to cold, and everything indicates a long cold storm. My messmate Lieutenant Cox has just been detailed for picket, so I shall have our little tent alone tonight. The new troops spoken of the 27th have not arrived.

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