from The Webster Times, May 17, 1906
Looking Backward

By Monroe H.. Corbin

Mr(?) Editor

Sunday morning. May 6th, last found me in the little cemetery at Perryville. I walked down there to reverently visit the grave of Comrade William H. Palmer of I Company 15th Mass. Vol. Infantry, who was killed just 42 years ago that very morning in the battle of The Wilderness Va..  The writer of this was a private in A Co. 56th Mass Vol. Infantry. The 56th was attached to the first brigade, first division, 9th corps Army of the Potomac.

The 9th Corps was held back at Germania Ford on the Rapidan River awaiting orders. On the morning of May 6, 1864 the revely rang out sharp and clear, about half past four o'clock am and after a hurried breakfast, assembly was sounded by the bugler, and forward and off we were to the Wilderness, little dreaming that before the noon hour our (comrades ?) with hundreds of others, (not of our Regiment of course,) would be sleeping the sleep that knows no waking. At about half past seven o'clock the Corps halted for orders ( from?) General Grants headquarters. While halted here the crash upon --- of musketry could be heard distinctly, in the woods off to our (left?) It was here that I first saw (men)? in rebel uniforms. There were prisoners; several thousand of them. . I had a good look at them for the ------ of the line of prisoners came to a halt just at the right of our (unit?) at right angles.

The rebels ----- in platoons of fours and their (line?) extended from where we were---- up into the woods, perhaps half (a?) mile. They seemed to wear the (look?) that said "ain't we glad to get out of the Wilderness."   As the bugle sounded forward and (we?) go up the Germania Plank Road over Mine Run leaving the Wilderness church on the left, and ---- rode further we (came?) into a cart road march(ed) perhaps about a third of a mile and the head of the column files (out?) onto the Brack ( Brock?) Road up which we move at a rapid pace. We are( now) upon the battle ground of the (early?) morning as evidenced by the hundreds of dead on both sides of the road. The rebels on the left and the boys in blue on the right.

The first dead rebel that I ever saw was a little boy perhaps, he might have been 13 or 14 years old, lying upon his back in the gutter of the road, with an ugly bullet( wound) over his right eye. He was without doubt serving as guide for some rebel officer. In all probability his home was in that immediate vicinity and knowing the ground thoroughly was acting as guide when he met his death.

The wounded had all been removed in ambulances down to Fredericksburg, leaving the dead to themselves. Among the Union dead lying beside the road on the right, I noticed the manly and stalwart body of Sergt. William H. Palmer of I Company,15th Mass Vol. Infantry. Some one of his comrades before leaving him had kindly covered the lower part of his body with a rubber blanket. I will here say that among the wounded of the 6th of May and are living in Webster today, and who also belong to the Gen. Lyon Post No. 61, G.A.R. are Comrade Stephen W. Russell, private H Co. , 15th Mass. regiment who was badly wounded in his right wrist, and Comrade Jacob W. Bixby private in Co. C (56 ?) regiment Mass Vol. Infantry. We move on and cross the Orange Plank Road at right angles. We here noticed two 12 lb brass field pieces, smooth bores whose ugly noses were pointed up the Orange Plank Road in the direction of the Johnnies, evidently they were looking for trouble, which was soon to come. After crossing the Plank road we marched some 25 or 30 rods, following the 57th Mass whose head of column had filed left into the woods, and when the right of the 56th began to (go?) left following the 57th some of the wounded of the 57th were coming back wounded looking for a field hospital.

Surgeon T. Fletcher Oakes of the 56th Mass., ordered the band of the same regiment to fall out and let the regiment pass, and said he would establish a field hospital at the intersection of the Orange Plank and Brock Roads, or just in the rear of those two 12 pounders mentioned above. Scarce 30 minutes had passed when the storm burst upon us with all its fury. About this time Grant ordered up the 9th Corps from the Germania Ford on the Rapidan river to re-enforce him, the rebel chieftain Lee, ordered Gen. Longstreet with his veterans, who were held, in reserve at Orange Court House , to join him at once.  The left of the 9th Corps joining Hancock's 2d Corps on its right, had scarcely got into position when Gen. Longstreet came down the Orange Plank Road like an avalanche. Evidently his purpose was to cut Grant's army in two at that point. The crash of musketry between the two armies had been furious for some time.

Our Colonel, Charles E. Griswald of the 56th had been killed, shot through the jugular vien, and was caught while falling from his horse by a corporal of his regiment, who gently laid him on the ground, the Colonel dying with his head resting on the knee of the corporal. The corporal said the last and only words the Colonel uttered were " You are a brave boy". The corporal afterward coming into the field hospital and told Surgeon Qakes the circumstances of the Colonel's death. The boys pants were saturated with the life's blood of the Colonel.

The furious attack of the Johnnies all along the line, simultaneously with Longstreet's whirlwind charge down the Orange Plank Road compelled the Union line to fall back contesting every inch of the ground, until the Union line rested nearly on the Brock Road, leaving our dead and wounded in the hands of the enemy; just the reverse of what happened to the rebels in the early morning when the Union Army pushed the rebels back from the Brock Road, nearly a mile. The climax came for the Union army when the head of Longstreet's rebel hosts came point blank and not thirty rods away from from the two brass field pieces , loaded with grape shot.

The artillery men were alive to the situation , as their brass Napoleans belched forth death and destruction to the advancing, exulting and yelling rebel hosts. I doubt if any two guns were ever served more hurriedly, or discharged more rapidly and with such deadly effect. At the first discharge of those guns the head of Longstreet's forces were seen to waver and as discharge followed discharge in quick succession into their very faces, the whole rebel line became for the moment partially demorilized.

The Union officer quick to see their opportunity, ordered a charge along the whole line, and the rebels were driven back never to return to do any more fighting in the Wilderness, only in a desultory way. After the rebel army were driven back, our officers( of the 56th) found the body of our Colonel Charles E. Griswold. It had been stripped of his uniform and nothing left on him but his undervest and drawers. They brought his body back to the field hospital, which was as this time back at the intersection of the Germania Plank Road with the Orange Plank Road within a few rods of the Wilderness church. The officers purchased some rough pine boards and made a box for the body of the Colonel.

It is now Saturday night, May 7, and it seemed to us all to be the darkest hour that we had ever witnessed.  The band boys were to dig the Colonels grave. We had no tools to dig with. The officers went to the camp of the engineer corps to get a shovel to dig the grave of their Colonel. The engineer's officer told our officers that they were using all the shovels they had to save graves, meaning they were throwing up breastworks to better protect the men.  " Tis well said that necessity is the mother of invention".  It literally proved so with the 56th band, for the boys quickly found hardtack boxes which were soon demolished and wooden shovels whittled out. It was so dark that fires were kept burning so the boys could see to dig the grave. Finally at last we had the grave opened to the depth of 30 inches, and when all was ready with uncovered heads the chaplain made a prayer and the body of our colonel was lowered into his shallow grave and the same quickly filled in with earth. That burial of our colonel at that time of the night( nearly midnight) was the most solemn and impressive sight that ever came to me while in the army. Our hospital steward George W. Copeland made a rough draft of the spot and soon after the war the colonel's mother sent hospital steward Copeland out to the Wilderness to recover the colonel's body and it now rests in beautiful Mt. Auburn cemetery near Boston, the former home of the colonel.

Soon after the burial of the colonel, the 9th Corps very quietly took up positions on the Germania Plank Road, preparatory for a forward movement by the left flank to Spottsylvania Courthouse, 10 miles away in a southerly direction. The very stillness of death settled over that part of the Wilderness. Not a word was spoken out loud: all conversation was carried on in whispers; not even a match lighted ,and it seemed as though one could hear a pin strike the ground if dropped. All at once there was heard down the plank road in our rear, the clatter of the feet of thousands of animals, and those who are now living will never forget the thunderous noise of those thousands of feet upon that plank road.

It was natural for us all to imagine that all of that racket was caused by the rebel cavalry, who had by some hook or crook, succeeded in reaching our rear.To say that there was more or less excitement in our immediate vicinity, especially among the band of th 56th. Is putting it mildly, to say the least. It so happened that our chief musician, Charlie Nash of Stoneham, Mass. was a very timid man. Whenever he saw blood flowing freely he went all to pieces; consequently when that tornado broke loose down the plank road poor Nash went wild with excitement and he broke out with "For God's sake gentlemen make room for this band", the first words spoken aloud for two long hours, and at the same time he tried to clear the deep gutter beside the road by jumping across the same, and thereby getting into the woods; but his jump was not equal to the occasion for he landed flat in the bottom of the ditch. It is needless to say the band or at least some of them landed on top of poor Nash. I really think the Wilderness campaign was to much for Charlie's nervous system, for when the army reached Petersburg Va., poor Charlie Nash went to the hospital to be soon discharged from the army, went to Stoneham, his home, and in a few weeks died.

After the tornado had spent its force, word came down the line that it was caused by the cattle that belonged to the Army of the Potomac(as fresh beef) got stampeded. After standing in line from 12o'clock midnight until daylight began to break in the east, or about 3am, we started upon our march for Spottsylvania Courthouse. Our line of march took us over the battlefield of Chancellorsville, which ville consisted of one solitary house, which bore the marks of the sanguinary fighting of the year before, when the Army of the Potomac was commanded by Gen. Joseph Hooker.

The 9th Corps halted upon the ground that Stonewall Jackson flanked the 11th Corps and so severely handled at that time. Our officers pointed out to us the big bowlder beside the road, saying that bowlder marks the spot where Stonewall Jackson received his mortal wound, shot from his horse, taken to the rear and died at the railroad station at Waverly, I think.

Near me I noticed a little mound of earth, and out of that mound protruded a boot. Curiosity got he better of me, and after looking at the boot for some time, I stepped upon the toe when up came the whole bone of a mans leg from the hip, smack against me.  Tis needless to say, my curiosity was abundantly satisfied. It was all that was left of one of the 11th Corps.



15th Massachusetts VI