|from The |
| For The Worcester Spy
Incidents at the Fight at Ball’s Bluff
Mr. Editor: I purposed, when coming on, from Poolesville, where I had been to see my son, who was in the glorious fighting fifteenth of Massachusetts, at the battle of Ball’s Bluff to give an account of the fight, or rather series of fights, which took place on the 21st ult., unless I found that it had been done already.
I was glad to see when I reached old Massachusetts on Saturday last, that full credit and a correct history of the actions had been published, giving due praise to the officers and men of the fifteenth and twentieth, but there were little incidents related by the soldiers sitting around their camp fires, the two nights I spent with them, that interested me, and perhaps will be acceptable to your readers. I will therefore give, with your permission, a few facts narrated by the men.
One little Irishman of Co. I, belonging to Webster, showed me his coat, with six bullet holes through it, yet he had not a scratch. He says he didn’t mind the danger, but they were shabby rascals to spoil the coat; said he would wear it, however, while a rag of it remained.. “Tis a coat of honor” to him. Will the selectmen of Webster take his case into consideration, as his family, according to his comrades assurance, need assistance while he is engaged in fighting such battles for his country.
Another, one of the privates of Co. H, had a ball shot through both legs, without however injuring the bone. He still kept his place in the ranks, loading and firing whenever he could see a rebel, until another wound in the thigh, prostrated him. His comrades were about to bear him from the field , when he came sufficiently near to request them to prop him up against a tree, where he did his duty nobly, with his three wounds, in front , until another shot struck him in the leg, just above the knee, burying itself in the bone. This last was too much for him to stand up under, and he allowed himself to be carried from the field, saying as he went, to his comrades, “Give ‘em jesse, boys I’ll be back to help you soon.” He was very low, when I left, and I hear he is dead before this, but if so, his wife and family, while they mourn his loss, may and I trust will glory in his fame. A grateful country should remember them substantially. His comrades, I know, will always remember and seek to emulate his example.
An officer of Co. A had been some time in the hospital, but when he casually learned hat a detachment of the fifteenth were ordered across the river, he insisted on joining them, and when the attendants tried to dissuade him, on account of weakness, he told them that go he should, the thought itself, of a fight with the rebels, would give him strength. He walked to the river, in season to cross and join his company, fought with them through the day, and the men said the fight seemed to suit him. He is worthy of a company, and his soldiers hope he will get it, should their captain be lost.
The orderly sergeant of the same company, P. Jorgenson, saw a rebel aim at him while loading. He hurried to get the first shot, but the rebel was to quick for him. The ball from his gun passed the whole length of the bottom of his plate, which was swung at his side, under his arm, cutting a hole the width of the ball. “Ah!” said he in broken English, ”you fire well; you spoil Uncle Sam’s crockery---I pay you for dat”, drew up his gun, shot him through the breast, and dropped him. Just as he fired another rebel sighted him, and shot him through the arm. This is the third wound he has received in his third war, once in Germany, once in Mexico, and now Ball’s Bluff. May he soon be able to be among his comrades, cheering them with his presence, and amusing them by his oddities.
One of them gave me a terrible account of the murder of a comrade after he had given up his arm, and surrendered himself a prisoner of war. He said they were separated from their comrades, and aiming for Conrad’s Ferry, about three miles above. They slept under a stoop of corn Monday night, cold and hungry, having had nothing to eat since the night before, except two crackers, and no drink. In the morning they started, some to a piece of woodland, and about passing out, his comrade being three or four steps in advance of the others. As he emerged from the woods into a cleared space, five rebels met him. Chritchet the narrator, sprang back behind a large tree and they did not notice him. Seeing resistance hopeless Hall surrendered and gave up his gun. They then partially surrounded him and told him they should kill him. He prayed and pleaded with them to save his life, for three to five minutes, they at the same time laughing and jeering him; when one of them coolly drew his revolver and shot him through the body. They then left him. Such acts as this case, not the only one I heard of a like tenor, require vengeance, deep and terrible to atone for them. May it be metted out to the guilty in some way, either in this world or the next. I would not have our soldiers take example of them in their atrocities, nor overstep the bounds of civilized warfare. All warfare is bad enough, but such acts make one’s blood boil within him.
I could write much more that I heard and saw that would be interesting to me, and undoubtedly would be to those who have friends in the fifteenth. Perhaps I may do so at some future time. These things will keep better than the news of the day; but as I said above, I have a son, Sergeant Fred L. Hildreth, who carries the state flag in the regiment, and belongs to Co. A. In the first reports of the battle the papers stated that the regimental colors were brought off by Sergeant Joshua Freeman. I know that one of the standards of the regiment was carried by him, and the other by Fred, and as nothing was said about the latter, we of course suffered a terrible anxiety. We know from experience how to sympathize with those who are suffering from uncertainty in regard to the loved and missing. that word , in connection with the swift running river, the enemy on the bluff, firing relentlessly on the soldiers swimming for their lives, has a terrible significance. God comfort them! Men can say nothing more to a grief like that. Thank God I found my boy safe. Though he escaped narrowly, having the letter of his company shot from his hat, his flagstaff shot half off; and six bullet holes through the cover of the colors, he brought it off, when told to do so by Col. Devens; and is ready ,as all the boys are, to follow where their Colonel leads, asking nothing but a fair field and no favors; still,, they would like a chance to retreat, should retreat be unavoidable. That they would not take advantage of the chance until it was absolutely necessary, I think after the fight of the 21st ult., I think all will allow. P. H. Hildreth
South Groton, Nov. 4