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Title: A Raw Recruit's War Experiences
Author: Nickerson, Ansel D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Raw Recruit's War Experiences" ***


[Illustration: THE "RAW RECRUIT."]


  Late Private Co. B, Eleventh Rhode Island Volunteers.



  To My Wife,

  "The neighing troop, the flashing blade,
    The bugle's stirring blast,
  The charge, the dreadful cannonade,
    The din and shout are past."


This "war paper" was first read before the Rhode Island Soldiers and
Sailors Society, in Providence, October 19, 1886. Subsequently it was read
at the annual winter reunion of the Eleventh Rhode Island Regiment
(January 27, 1887), two companies of which regiment (B and F) were
recruited in Pawtucket, the former commanded by Captain Charles W.
Thrasher and Lieutenant Thomas Moies, and the latter by Captain Edward
Taft. It has since been read several times before other associations and
societies. The paper was not intended for publication, nor was it
originally broken into chapters, and in allowing it to be published, the
author permits the urgent requests of numerous friends to outweigh his own
judgment. It does not assume to be a connected or detailed history of the
regiment; nor is it the history of any one company of the regiment; nor is
it the diary of an officer of the regiment, but simply what its title
indicates, "A RAW RECRUIT'S WAR EXPERIENCES." More is said about Company B
than of any other company in the Eleventh Regiment for the reason that the
aforesaid "raw recruit's war experiences" were especially identified with
that company. Being personal recollections, and to a large extent the
recital of personal incidents connected with the nine months' campaign of
the regiment in Virginia, must be my apology for the frequent use of the
personal pronoun I.

As the events of which I speak occurred at a period in our country's
history when a spade was called a spade, and among a class of men who
could not be justly accused of ambiguity of expression, my paper will be
found to contain more than one "strong, old-fashioned English word,
familiar to all who read their Bibles."

To those comrades whose war experiences were of a very different character
from my own, and into whose hands this unpretentious little volume may
fall, I trust that the recital of some of the ludicrous scenes in camp and
on the march, rather than the harrowing descriptions of sanguinary
battles, may not prove wholly unwelcome.

A. D. N.


_April, 1888._





  OFF FOR THE SEAT OF WAR--THE KNAPSACKS                    11






  AT "THE FRONT"--NORFOLK AND SUFFOLK                       34


  PASTIMES IN CAMP--RELIGIOUS SERVICES                      40




  THE ELEVENTH LOSES TWO COLONELS                           51


  YORKTOWN--HOME AGAIN--MUSTERED OUT                        57


  "HONOR TO WHOM HONOR IS DUE"                              61

A Raw Recruit's War Experiences.


During the winter preceding the firing upon Sumter, I was one of a group
of young fellows of about my own age who regularly assembled evenings at
the corner grocery of the village where we lived, to listen to older
persons discuss the affairs of the nation and all other matters, moral,
intellectual and social, as is the nightly custom in country groceries,
and particularly the probabilities of war between the North and the South,
which, I will say in passing, every day grew more probable. Each several
barrel-head in that grocery seemed to know its own occupant, and for any
one else to have appropriated it to his own use, especially had he been a
young man, would, I am sure, have been deemed an unpardonable breach of
courtesy. The grocer himself was the acknowledged spokesman of the
company, and never allowed himself to be "switched off" from the subject
in hand, however pressing the demands of his waiting customers. He did
not believe there would be any war; but in the event that the South should
"kick in the traces," as he expressed it, "our boys would only have to arm
themselves with brooms and go down there and give 'em a thrashing." This
_sweeping_ assertion was received with liberal applause by all of his
hearers, the impatient customers not excepted.

I hope I shall not detract from your favorable estimate of the grocer's
patriotism when I add that, being a dealer in brooms himself, he remarked
that he "would like nothing better than a contract to supply the
government with them." I hardly need mention the fact that the grocer was
a genuine specimen of the Yankee, and always kept an anchor to the
windward and his eyes wide open for the main chance. "They all did it"--in
war times.

I only mention this incident in illustration of the opinion which our
northern people generally had in the winter of '60 and '61 as to the
likelihood of a war with the South, and their estimate as to what would be
necessary to suppress a rebellion against the government in that section
of the country if, unfortunately, one should break out.

But, as we all know, the groceryman proved a false prophet. When the news
of the attack upon Fort Sumter came, it found me setting type in the
"Gazette and Chronicle" printing office in Pawtucket, where I had been
regularly employed as apprentice and journeyman since 1846. "All work and
no play" had made Jack a pretty dull boy indeed, and the war promised a
vacation, temporary or permanent, which I had long been seeking, and which
I at once made up my mind that I would avail myself of at the earliest
possible opportunity. As the war news became more and more interesting,
filling the paper nearly full every week to the exclusion of less
important matters, I became more and more determined to give the country
the benefit of my services. Very many of my associates had enlisted and
gone "to the front," and I could not satisfy myself with any good reason
for longer remaining at home when men were so much needed to defend the
honor of the old flag and assist in upholding the integrity of the
government in its day of greatest peril. In the language of that good old
hymn, I realized that

     "I can but perish if I go,"

and said:

     "I am resolved to try."

And I did. With what result will be seen.

I expected to encounter opposition at home, and consequently I kept my
plans to myself. A year had passed away, and yet I was not enrolled among
the "boys in blue." Three hundred thousand nine months' volunteers were
called for by President Lincoln, and proclamation was made that if the
necessary quota from each State was not filled by the fifteenth of August,
1862, a draft would be resorted to. I concluded to step in out of the
draft. War meetings were held almost every night in the old Armory Hall on
High street in Pawtucket. I was a regular attendant in the capacity of
reporter for the newspaper upon which I was employed. The speakers were
generally men past middle life, whose principal business seemed to be to
urge the young men to volunteer, and not to volunteer themselves. One
evening, for some reason, there was a dearth of speakers, and after a
while some one in the audience called out my name, and soon the call
became so loud and so general that I was compelled to respond. I ascended
the platform, and, as nearly as I can remember, I spoke as follows: "Young
men, one thing has especially impressed me this evening. Every speaker who
has preceded me has said to you, '_Go!_' Now, boys, I say _Come!_" and
turning to a recruiting officer who sat on my right, I said, "Put my name
down!" I think it was the shortest speech I ever made; at any rate, I know
it was the best received. There seemed to be no bounds to the enthusiasm
which was manifested, and the recruiting business in Pawtucket at once
received a "boom."

After the meeting was over and congratulations were ended, I went home.
Now began the "tug of war." The house was silent--very silent--and so was
I. I didn't sleep much that night. In my wakefulness I concluded not to
say anything to my family about what I had done, but leave her to learn
the news from some other source. But this little scheme was upset very
early in the morning by the lady of the house asking me concerning the war
meeting of the previous evening, and the names of the speakers. After
giving her such general information as I possessed, I hesitatingly
informed her that she had had the honor of entertaining one of the
speakers over night. Woman like, she then wanted to know if anybody
enlisted. Things were getting pretty close home now. The ice must be
broken. I told her that several persons enlisted, and gave her the names
of some of them; and, after a moment's hesitation, I said, "I don't know
what you will think, or say, when I tell you that I was one of them, and
that I am going to the war." Judge of my surprise, and of my own
depreciated estimate of what I had previously considered my great
patriotism, when she exclaimed, "_Well, all I have got to say is, that if
I had been a man, I should have gone long ago_." The ice was pretty
effectually broken now, and what I feared might prove a council of war,
was turned into a council of peace. That speech settled the whole business
for me, and I was ready, yea, anxious, to shoulder my musket and go "to
the front" immediately; in fact, I wished I had gone before. Woman's work
in the war! I fear it has not been fully appreciated or justly
acknowledged. The patriotism, the heroism and the sacrifice were not
confined to the soldiers. They knew little of the inexpressible longings,
the fears, the prayers, the yearning hopes, the terrible suspense, of
those at home who loved them. What pen can truthfully describe the weary
watching and waiting of the wives and mothers, the daughters and sisters,
during those long four years of fire and blood? God bless them, one and

Several weeks elapsed between the time of enlistment and going into camp.
At last we were ordered to report on Dexter Training Ground, in
Providence, the name of the camp being "Camp Stevens," in honor of Major
General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, who was killed September 1st, 1862, in the
battle of Chantilly, Virginia, while leading his division in a charge. To
very many of the members of the regiment, their first military experience
began on Camp Stevens, and truthfulness to history compels me to add that
with no small number of the enlisted men it ended there, they being unable
to "pass muster," or, in other words, to endure the severe ordeal to which
they were subjected by the chief mustering officer, Captain William
Silvey, of the regular army. I had entertained fears from the start that I
would be "thrown out" on account of a supposed pulmonary difficulty. I
"braced up" as best I could for the examination. Captain Silvey looked me
squarely in the face as I stood in line, and placing one of his hands upon
my breast, he struck with the other a blow which seemed hard enough to
fell an ox, and then remarked "All right!" I could not have been made more
happy than I was by his decision if he had knocked me down. He settled one
thing at any rate which had long been a disputed question in our family,
namely, that my breathing apparatus was "all right."

After the examinations were concluded, the "lucky ones" were sworn in and
marched down to the quartermaster's department to receive their
equipments. The "pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war" had never
possessed any great charm for me. I had belonged to an engine company and
a Sunday-school, but never to a military company; in fact, until I went on
to Camp Stevens I do not remember ever to have had a musket in my hand.
This will serve to explain why, when all of the members of my company had
been supplied with arms, the officer in command called attention to the
fact that I had my gun wrong side before, my hand grasping the lock or
hammer instead of the "guard." The suggestion that I should join the
"awkward squad" was sufficiently exasperating to have almost induced me to
throw up my commission.

But a still further humiliation was in store for me. At our first drill in
the manual of arms, among the other orders given was, "ram cartridge,"
when the officer in charge discovered that I had inserted the wrong end of
the ramrod into the muzzle of the gun, I having found the hollow space in
the large end very convenient in which to insert the ball of my little
finger in sending the imaginary cartridge to its destination. Fortunately
for me, no further opportunities for demonstrating my fitness for
promotion in the "awkward squad" were furnished me, and my leisure hours
were spent in acquiring proficiency in drill. How well I succeeded will

While we were on Camp Stevens we had a great many visitors. Among those
whom I shall ever remember was that "grand, square and upright" citizen of
Pawtucket, Charley Chickering. It so happened that the day he visited us,
I was performing guard duty around the camp. I noticed that my portly
friend, as he paraded up and down the sidewalk opposite me, seemed deeply
interested in my movements. Presently he came across the street and walked
alongside of me awhile as I paced my beat back and forth. He was silent.
So was I. But at length that ominous chuckle of his began to be heard, or
perhaps I should say a series of chuckles, which all who are acquainted
with him so well know always precedes his quaint and original utterances.
I fancied that my martial air and my dexterity in handling my musket,
although I knew it did bob around considerably when carried at "support,"
or perpendicularly, was to evoke from my old friend and schoolmate a
compliment. But judge of my surprise when instead he opened upon me as
follows, his every word being punctuated with one of those peculiar
chuckles to which I have referred: "Nickerson,--I--admire--your--

I confess that I experienced considerable difficulty in learning to keep
step, but, like the raw Irish recruit, I stoutly maintained that the
trouble was with "the other b'ys; they wouldn't kape step wid me."


It was on the afternoon of the sixth of October, 1862, when we kissed our
wives and sweethearts, and

  "With our guns upon our shoulders,
  And our bayonets by our sides,"

left Camp Stevens for the seat of war. We were in anything but light
marching order when we broke camp. To this day the remembrance of those
back-breaking knapsacks makes me weary. Feminine ingenuity seemingly
exhausted itself in conjuring up all sorts of things, describable and
indescribable, that could make life a burden to a "raw recruit," a
wheelbarrow being needed for their transportation. But the size of those
knapsacks grew "beautifully less" shortly after leaving home, a blanket
and overcoat being all that were absolutely needed in active service, and
often one of these proved a burden rather than a necessity. In addition to
clothing enough to have overstocked one of the numerous Palestine
merchants on Chatham street, in New York, there were, among other things,
family Bibles, pocket Testaments, prayer-books and dictionaries,
Pilgrim's Progress, Old Farmer's Almanac, photograph and autograph albums,
ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, diaries, razors, mirrors of various sizes,
boxes of blacking, button-hooks, collars and cuffs, corkscrews, tooth
powder, brushes for the hair, teeth and boots, whisk brooms, clothing and
hat brushes, combs, shaving utensils, slippers, clothes-wringers,
frying-pans and patent coffee-pots, soap, towels, napkins, pins, needles
and thread, buttons of various dimensions, boots and shoes, both thick and
thin, hair oil and pomade, matches, pipes, tobacco, plug and fine cut,
rolls of linen bandages and bundles of lint, Pain Killer, Jamaica ginger,
Seidlitz powders, pills, cayenne pepper, and almost everything else but
umbrellas. Then there were the equipments provided by the
government,--haversack, canteen, cartridge box and sixty rounds of
cartridges, not to mention the musket,--until our appearance resembled the
pictures of the dromedaries crossing the Great Desert which I saw in the
geography in my school days. When we embarked on the cars at Olneyville,
bound for New York, and unslung those corpulent knapsacks, the sense of
relief which we experienced was, I fancy, somewhat akin to that felt by
Bunyan's pilgrim when he dropped his burden. Indeed, it seemed like
getting out from under a haystack or a mountain.

From New York to Washington our trip possessed no features uncommon to
other regiments. From Philadelphia to the National Capital we were
transported in freight cars, a new experience to all of us, but one to
which we became accustomed before we saw Rhode Island again. It was at
Perryville, Maryland, that we had our first glimpse of the devastation
wrought by war. Here the extensive bridge across the Susquehanna had been
burned by the enemy, and we were transferred in detachments across the
river to Havre de Grace in a small steamer. We arrived in Washington about
ten o'clock on one of the most beautiful moonlight nights I ever saw. Our
arrival was expected by some of our friends who had enlisted earlier than
ourselves, and they were at the railroad station to welcome us.

Immediately upon landing from the cars we were marched to the "Soldiers'
Retreat" for refreshments. No soldier who has frequented that place needs
to be told that we beat a hasty retreat therefrom. I am very confident
that the most of the men would gladly have taken the next train back to
Rhode Island, if the matter of return tickets had not been entirely
overlooked by the master of transportation.

How marked the contrast between our reception in Washington and in
Philadelphia! Even to this day pleasant memories remain of the hospitality
dispensed to our regiment by the patriotic ladies of the "City of
Brotherly Love," at the famous "Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon,"
a hospitality which was extended to all of the "boys in blue" who passed
through Philadelphia on their way to the National Capital.

Fancy our feelings when we were informed that our first night in
Washington must be spent in this same unsavory "Soldiers' Retreat." Acting
upon the maxim that "what cannot be cured must be endured," and in
unquestioned obedience to orders, we spread our blankets upon the hard,
dirty floor, and taking our huge knapsacks for pillows we wrapped our
mantles (poetry for army overcoats) about us and laid down to pleasant
dreams of home, and feather beds, and hair mattresses, and other comforts
and luxuries to which we had been so long accustomed as to have wholly
failed to appreciate them at their proper value. Truly in our case,
distance lent enchantment. But to come down to solid, matter-of-fact
prose, we didn't sleep much that night anyway. Whether it was the effects
of the heat of the preceding day when we were marching through Baltimore
at a "double quick," with those burdensome knapsacks breaking our backs,
or whether it was the souvenirs left by our comrades-in-arms who had
occupied that same floor the previous night, I cannot positively affirm,
but this one thing I know, that we _scratched_ out a miserable existence
until morning, when, after declining without thanks to regale ourselves
with the so-called coffee which was furnished us, which our boys affirmed
was poor water spoilt, and the turning of the cold shoulder upon the salt
junk which was so temptingly spread before us, we cheerfully obeyed the
order of our Colonel to "fall in," and were soon wending our way to East
Capitol hill, near the east branch of the Potomac, where, our tents not
having arrived, we encamped in the open air, which was far preferable to
spending a second night at the "Soldiers' Retreat." The soil where we
encamped was of a clayey nature, and the surface as free from moisture as
polishing powder, and when we awoke on the following morning we had very
much the appearance of having slept in an ash-pit.

We remained here but a day or two, when we received orders to join General
Casey's Division, and bidding adieu without regrets to "Camp Misery," as
our boys had named the spot, we were soon on our way across Chain Bridge,
and in due season found ourselves on the "sacred soil" of Virginia.

I can never forget a laughable scene which was enacted on Pennsylvania
avenue by Company B while on this march. We were on the extreme left of
the line. In front of a tonsorial saloon on the avenue our boys espied a
Dutchman who formerly carried on business in Pawtucket. The surprise at
the unexpected meeting was mutual on the part of the barber and the boys.
It was his habit when a customer entered his shop to inquire as to whether
he preferred the water hot or cold, but for any one to repeat the question
in his presence, whether on the street or elsewhere, was sure to stir up
the barber's ire. Immediately upon seeing him standing in front of his
shop, our boys began to sing out, "Vater hot, or vater cold?" The old
Dutchman became terribly excited, and the result was that that portion of
the procession which was composed of Company B became sadly demoralized.
As soon as our officers took in the situation, order was at once
restored, and a few minutes of "double quick" enabled us to regain our
position in line. But no sooner had this been done than we saw coming
directly toward us, down the avenue, a regiment which had the appearance
of having just come from "the front." It was a new and strange sight to
us, those "battle-scarred veterans" of the war, and we made up our minds
that the right thing for us to do was to tender them a reception. Without
any orders from our officers, and without even their knowledge, we
immediately came to "company front" and presented arms, to the great
amusement and evident astonishment of those old soldiers. This action on
our part caused us to receive a well-merited reprimand from our officers,
and it was the first and only performance of the kind in which Company B
bore a conspicuous part.


Of the movements of the Eleventh regiment while in Virginia, I will not
weary you with a rehearsal in detail. Our first regular camp was
established on Miner's Hill, the extreme outer part of the defenses of
Washington, and when we reached it on a cold, raw, blustering day late in
the fall of 1862, the wind filling our eyes and mouths with a blinding and
grinding dust, it was the most dismal and dreary-looking place that I ever
saw--with the single exception of Seekonk Plains. We remained here about
three months, building and stockading our winter quarters, drilling and
doing picket duty, and making occasional raids when we felt sure that the
enemy was a safe distance from us. We were in General Robert Cowdin's
brigade, which comprised, in addition to our own regiment, the Fortieth
Massachusetts, the Twenty-second Connecticut, the One Hundred and
Forty-first New York, and the Sixteenth Virginia Battery.

Company B had a fund of one thousand dollars which was raised by the
patriotic citizens of Pawtucket and Central Falls for the purpose of
enabling the officers to procure for the members of the company, among
other things, some articles for the table when we were in camp which were
not to be found on the government "bill of fare." In consequence of this
"company fund" we had a greater share of "extras" than any other company
in the regiment while we were encamped in the vicinity of Washington.
Among those "extras" were milk for our coffee and tea (fresh when it could
be obtained, and condensed at other times); writing paper, envelopes and
stamps; a copy of the Washington "Daily Chronicle" for each mess, and a
weekly pictorial paper; blacking, oil, sand paper, emery paper, polishing
powder, soap, matches, green apples, tallow candles and other delicacies
of the season. The extra candles were used on special occasions, such as
the reception of friends from home, and so forth. Naturally enough the
members of the other companies looked upon us at times with envious eyes.
The historian of the regiment writes thus of Company B: "Their company
fund was large, their friends with money many, and their visitors, who
always remembered them handsomely, numerous." We did, indeed, have quite a
number of visitors from home while we were encamped near Washington, and
I can assure you that their visits were always occasions of great pleasure
to us. Later they became like angels' visits, "few and far between."

The first death in our company occurred at Miner's Hill, and the funeral
ceremonies were deeply impressive. The ambulance containing the remains of
our dead comrade was preceded by an escort composed of the
non-commissioned staff of the regiment, (the deceased having held the
position of regimental hospital steward,) and sixteen men of Company B, in
command of the first sergeant, accompanied by the drum corps. The officers
and men of Company B followed in the rear of the procession. Arriving on
the parade ground, the coffin was taken from the ambulance and placed on a
stretcher, when appropriate services were performed by the chaplain,
consisting of prayer, the reading of scripture, and brief remarks, after
which three volleys were fired and the remains of Jacob S. Pervear, Jr.,
were replaced in the ambulance to be conveyed to Washington and thence to
the home of the deceased in Pawtucket.

In the course of his remarks, the chaplain used the following very
appropriate poetical quotation:

  "Ye number it in days since he
    Strode up the foot-worn aisle,
  With his dark eye flashing gloriously,
    And his lip wreathed with a smile;
  Oh, had it been but told you then
    To mark whose lamp was dim,
  From out those ranks of fresh-lipped men,
    Would ye have singled him?

    *       *       *       *

  "His heart, in generous deed and thought,
    No rivalry might brook,
  And yet, distinction claiming not,
    There lies he--go and look."

The occasion was of a very mournful character, and it was not without
effect upon some of the hardest men in the regiment, for young Pervear was
greatly beloved by all.

One Sunday, when instead of going to church I was doing picket duty on the
line of the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad, I halted an old man who was
riding along in a dilapidated two-wheeled vehicle, to which was attached a
still more dilapidated horned beast which, apparently, from time
immemorial had served for its owner all the requirements of a horse. In
answer to my inquiry whether he was a Union man, the old fellow gave me
the following reply: "Stranger, I was born in the Union; I have always
lived in the Union; I have always loved the old Union, and I love her
still; I have always voted for the old Union; and, stranger, when I die,
whether I go to heaven or hell, I shall stick by the old Union!" All
doubts as to his loyalty having been dispelled, I grasped him warmly by
the hand, and, whispering in his ear, said, "Old man, _stick_!"

Perhaps I should have stated ere this that in addition to my duties as a
soldier, I combined those of a "war correspondent." My letters were
generally written in the evening in my tent, lying prone upon my face, the
light being furnished by a dripping tallow candle which was stuck into the
top of a bayonet whose point was inserted in the earth. Here, under such
circumstances, I criticised the conduct of the war, and directed campaigns
as best I could. I mention this fact at this time because the incident
just related has already appeared in print.

An incident which has not appeared in print, but which made a deep
impression upon the "family men" of the regiment, occurred on a beautiful
Sunday afternoon while on dress parade at Miner's Hill. General Robert
Cowdin, the brigade commander, was frequently an interested observer on
these occasions. At the time to which I refer, he was accompanied by a
lady friend from Washington, who held by the hand a beautiful little boy
of four or five years of age. The sight of the little fellow, particularly
when he let go his mother's hand and ran about and shouted in his childish
glee, so affected the men that it was almost impossible to preserve a
steady line and secure prompt obedience to orders. Men whom I had seldom
or never before seen exhibit any emotion were moved to tears by the sight
and the remembrance of dear ones at home, and many of them were heard to
say that they would willingly part with a month's pay just to take the
little fellow in their arms for a moment, while a Pawtucket man, who had a
wife but no children, said he would give all his bounty money and throw
the "cow" in, just to kiss the little fellow's mother--_for his wife's
sake_. The order to "march off your companies" cut short other equally
complimentary expressions concerning the mother and her darling boy.

One of the most ludicrous events which occurred in our regiment was on a
very dark night when the "long roll" sounded for the first time. We were
at once ordered under arms, it being whispered among the "knowing ones"
that we were likely to have a brush with the enemy before daylight, while
the officers knew it was only to "break in" the men, to see how they would
behave in the time of actual service. There was a hurrying to and fro of
officers of all grades; signal lights were swung here and there in
response to similar signals which could be seen quite a distance away; the
surgeons were overhauling and sharpening their instruments and filing
their saws and getting out large quantities of lint and bandages; all
orders were given in a whisper, and everything betokened speedy and
decisive action, the time having come for our men to cover themselves with
glory--or shame.

In Company B there was an Irishman named Mike Cassidy. He was an old man,
and when he got into line it was evident that he was sleeping soundly when
the order fell upon his ears to "turn out," and that he had not been able
in the darkness to find his entire wardrobe, or if he found it, that he
did not have time to get properly inside of it. But he had his old and
trusty musket, with which he had often declared he could alone whip the
whole Southern Confederacy if they would only give him time. Time was
what Mike most needed. He always had time enough, but it was "behind
time," save when the order was given to "fall in for rations." But it
happened on that particular night some member of his "mess" whose musket
was without a tube or nipple upon which to put a cap, had appropriated
Cassidy's to his own use. I seem now to see Cassidy as he appeared in line
on that dark night trying to put a percussion cap on that nippleless gun.
Comrade, did you ever swear? Do you think you ever heard anybody swear?
You should have heard Cassidy. He swore vengeance upon all of his
comrades, and declared that if he was killed, his ghost would forever
haunt the man who stole the nipple from his gun. "Here I am," he
exclaimed, "with no nipple on me gun, and the whole dommed Confederacy
right on us!"

In the midst of all the excitement which he occasioned by his vociferous
tones and profane explosives, the order came to "break ranks," and poor
Cassidy was the laughing-stock of the whole company. I believe he forgave
the rank and file for what he termed the "sell," but he said he would
never forgive the officers--and I am confident that he never did.

A large number of the members of the Eleventh regiment reënlisted upon the
expiration of their term of service. Cassidy was, I think, among them. But
be that as it may, a very funny story is told about his trying to get a
pension on account of some real or fancied injury received while in an
engagement. The chief of the board of examiners asked him where he was
wounded. Mike placed his hand on his left breast and said, "About here,
sor." The examiner exclaimed: "Why, man, if you had been hit there you
would have been killed on the spot, for the bullet would have gone right
through your heart!"

"I know it, sor," replied Cassidy, "but, bejabers, me heart was in me


All were in high glee and the mythical goose occupied an elevated position
when we "broke camp" and left Miner's Hill. The intelligent contraband who
used to visit us every morning to dispose of his "baked fried pies" was
promptly on hand to collect the small sums from the boys which still
remained unpaid; and after the line had begun to move, another darkey, who
had been doing the washing for a large number of persons connected with
the regiment, and one of whose customers--presumably an officer--had
failed to meet his obligations, kept up with the regiment for a mile or
more, running along the line from one company to the other, peering into
the faces of all, and shouting at the top of his voice, "_Some gemman here
owes me free cents!_" The only satisfaction he got was that he would be
paid when "the cruel war was over."

The Eleventh regiment saw but little service in the field. Our regimental
colors bear the names of no battles in which we were engaged, although we
took part in several very lively skirmishes, and for an entire day stood
in line in a broiling sun, expecting every moment to be ordered to take
part in a fight which was going on directly in front of us, across the
river at Suffolk, Virginia. The roar of the artillery and the rattle of
the musketry saluted our ears from morning until night; the ambulances
passed by us all day long with the wounded and the dying, and some of our
men who were on guard at the hospitals, which comprised the churches,
rendered assistance as nurses. As matters turned, however, the rebels
retreating, the services of our regiment were not required. But had they
been, there is no reason to doubt that the Eleventh would have acquitted
itself in such a manner as to have done honor to the State which sent it
into the field. One who knew the Eleventh regiment well, writes as follows
concerning it: "I feel warranted in saying, without fear of contradiction,
that no State sent into the service during the war, any better regiment,
in everything that goes to make a good regiment, than this nine months'
regiment; and I do not hesitate to say here and everywhere, that in the
character of the enlisted men, in the fidelity with which they performed
every duty, disagreeable as well as agreeable, it had no superior."

But while little opportunity was given the Eleventh regiment to acquire
distinction in the field, yet it performed a service which, while bringing
no renown to the regiment, was as important as it was disagreeable, and
which subjected not only the men but the officers to very many unpleasant
experiences. I now refer to the arduous duty which the regiment performed
at the Convalescent Camp, midway between Washington and Alexandria. Here
we found between ten thousand and fifteen thousand old soldiers who had
been discharged from the hospitals in and around Washington, waiting to be
sent home or back to their regiments. Long lines of ambulances went back
and forth every day between the camp and Washington, carrying those to
whom transportation to their homes or regiments had been furnished, and
bringing from the hospitals others to take their vacant places. The camp
was in a very filthy condition when we arrived there, and the men greatly
demoralized. Of course our appearance as a guard over these old soldiers
was anything but welcome, and they were not slow in acquainting us with
the fact. For a time it seemed as if only the most extreme measures on our
part would prevent such insubordination as we should be unable to
control. Our duties were not only very disagreeable, but they were
performed at that season of the year when mud was for the most part of the
time nearly knee-deep, and frozen feet were no novelty.

Here, day by day, our eyes witnessed the terrible effects of war upon
human life. Men who had been wounded in battle and were recovering from
their injuries were hobbling about on canes and crutches, while wounded
arms were supported by various ingenious devices. Some had lost a leg,
some both legs, some an arm, and some both arms. Others had an eye gone,
an ear torn off, a jaw which had been crushed into fragments. The wounds
were of every conceivable sort, and in every part of the body, from the
crown of the head to the sole of the foot. They had been shot in the head,
in the face, in the neck, in the shoulders, the arms, the legs, and the
feet. They had been shot through the chest, through the lungs, through the
hips and through the thighs. While here and there, gathered in small
groups, were victims of disease contracted in camp or on the march, whose
looks plainly indicated that they realized that there was but a step
between them and death. In recalling these scenes even at this late day,
my heart sickens as those pale faces and gaunt forms again rise up before
me, and I thank God that "the cruel war is over."

An entire paper might be written of the experiences--grave and gay--at
Convalescent Camp. For the most part of the three winter months that we
were there, the time passed away very slowly, and all were anxious for a
change. Before we left, the external appearance of the camp had been
greatly improved, and the convalescents generally had become reconciled to
our presence among them, and less inclined to "run the guard" than at
first, a few object lessons as to the sure results of such doings on their
part causing them to regard "discretion as the better part of valor."
However, candor compels me to say that when we left for Suffolk, no
regrets at our departure were expressed by the convalescents, and as we
passed through the camp on our way to take the cars for Alexandria, their
taunts and jeers came near provoking an unpleasant collision, which,
however, was happily averted by the coolness and firmness of our officers.
Whatever else concerning the war an Eleventh Rhode Island man may forget,
you can be sure that it will not be his unpleasant personal experiences at
the Convalescent Camp.

Permit me to relate an incident that occurred there in which I bore a
conspicuous part, and which has afforded me much more amusement since than
it did at the time.

As I have already remarked, while we were on duty at the Convalescent
Camp, time hung heavily upon our hands, and quite a number of the members
of the regiment who had "influential friends" in Washington obtained
furloughs to visit home. Among those who sought the autograph of Drake
DeKay, by whom all furloughs were signed, and whose signature looked as if
it was written with his thumb about a month after a buzz-saw had got its
work in on the first joint, was the "raw recruit" of Company B. Others
received their furloughs, but mine tarried. I began to fear that my
"influential friends" had "got left"--at home. One afternoon, as I was
sitting in my tent ruminating as to how I would surprise my friends by
coming home unexpectedly, particularly my family, and as to how I would
spend my time while there, an orderly from the colonel's headquarters came
to our first sergeant and told him that the colonel wanted him to send a
man there immediately. Our first sergeant knowing that I expected a
furlough, and being willing to have a little fun at my expense, told me
that the colonel wished to see me at once. Getting myself together in the
best style I could at such short notice, and expecting to receive my
furlough and start for home by the evening train, I speedily reported
myself at the colonel's quarters. Judge of my great surprise when, instead
of the colonel stepping to the door of his tent with the coveted furlough
in his hand, and politely requesting me to accept it with his compliments,
and wishing me a pleasant visit home and a safe return, the aforesaid
orderly informed me that the colonel wished me to go to the blacksmith's
and keep the flies off his horse while he was being shod. I obeyed orders
as a matter of course, the flies were kept off, the horse was eventually
shod, my furlough never came, and my ways of spending it at home were
never realized. Such are the fortunes of war. The private soldier
proposes, and the officer opposes--that is, as a general thing.


"Jumping from the frying-pan into the fire," the most of us thought when
we reached Alexandria, after leaving the Convalescent Camp, and found that
we were to be furnished with transportation to Norfolk on the old steamer
"Hero," which, as the "Argo," ran between Providence and Rocky Point long
"befo' de wah." We thought our accommodations could never be worse than
they were when we landed at the "Soldiers' Retreat" in Washington, but had
a rivalry existed between the two concerns, the "Hero" would have most
effectually distanced its competitor. It seemed, indeed, as if extra pains
had been taken by somebody to make our condition as uncomfortable and
unsatisfactory as possible. A cold rainstorm was prevailing when we went
on board the steamer. There were no sleeping accommodations whatever for
the men, and even the floor of the cabin which the officers occupied was
covered with sheets of boiler-iron, strewn helter-skelter here, there and
everywhere. The decks, where the men were huddled together like sheep,
were covered with mud and water several inches deep, our clothing was
damp, the air foul, and everything about as disagreeable as it could well
be. If we had been left in the starch over night we could not have been
more stiff the next morning than we were. Yet few complaints were heard,
the men generally preferring almost anything to longer remaining to guard
sick and disabled soldiers, especially where our room was better than our

In course of time--that is, very slow time--Norfolk was reached, and when
transportation could be obtained we piled into freight cars and were soon
on our way through the famous Dismal Swamp to Suffolk. Here we found the
Fourth regiment, and the reception which the boys gave us was next to
getting back to Rhode Island itself. I will not attempt to speak in detail
of what was done at Suffolk by our regiment. It was the pleasantest place
which we visited while we were away from home, and the service being more
active than any which we had previously performed, it was more congenial
and satisfactory to the men. Our camp was delightfully located, and the
occasional sharp skirmishes which we had with the rebels, who were just
across the Nansemond river, together with numerous expeditions to the
Blackwater and thereabouts, served to keep the regiment in good condition
and remove all apprehensions of demoralization because of inactivity.

There were a large number of Union troops at Suffolk before our arrival.
The weather soon became very hot, and previous to their departure the
deaths were numerous. Daily the solemn processions wended their way to the
populous city of the dead. The funerals usually took place in the morning
just before sunrise, or at night just after sunset. I seem now to hear the
dirges played by the bands, and the volleys fired by the soldiers over the
graves of their dead comrades.

Upon my return home, I learned that among those in the rebel army while I
was at Suffolk was a young man who learned his trade with me in the
"Chronicle" office in Pawtucket, and who went to Alabama several years
before the "late unpleasantness." At the close of the war he returned to
the North and again became a loyal citizen.

On one of the expeditions to which I have referred, the Eleventh regiment
marched to the extreme front, three miles from Blackwater bridge, throwing
out Company F as pickets one mile in advance, who were soon engaged by the
enemy, and a brisk skirmish ensued which lasted until dark, when
hostilities ceased for that day. On the following afternoon, while three
of the companies of the regiment were picketing the front, they were
attacked in a spirited manner by six companies of a Mississippi regiment
deployed as skirmishers. Company B was sent forward as a support, but soon
deployed as skirmishers. The firing continued several hours, the enemy
being steadily driven back, leaving their dead on the field. Several
prisoners were captured. Obeying orders to fall back to Windsor, the
picket companies acted as rear guard. On this expedition the regiment was
absent from Suffolk eleven days, and was attached to the division under
command of General Corcoran. This was the nearest approach to a
hand-to-hand encounter with the enemy that the regiment had during its
term of service, and the two Pawtucket companies occupied the most exposed
and conspicuous positions.

It was at this time that Lieutenant Thomas Moies came near being shot by a
man who belonged to one of the companies of the Eleventh which were in the
rear of Company B. The affair to which I refer occurred just in the edge
of the woods, between daylight and dark. Lieutenant Moies, with an old
straw hat on his head, and in advance of his men, was cautiously crawling
along on his hands and knees in the underbrush up to the enemy's line.
Having satisfied himself that the enemy was falling back, he rose up, and
a member of Company C observing his hat mistook it for the head-gear of
one of the rebels, as their uniform always lacked uniformity, and
immediately fired. Fortunately for Lieutenant Moies, and to the great joy
of the entire regiment, the man who fired failed to obey the stereotyped
order to "fire low," and the misdirected bullet went over the head of our
esteemed lieutenant, and his valuable life was spared.

Since this paper was prepared, Lieutenant Moies has been "mustered out." I
knew him well as a neighbor and as a soldier. Together we slept on the
field with the same starry canopy for our covering, and together on the
weary march we shared the scanty contents of the same haversack and drank
from the same canteen. For him, "war's glorious art" had no allurements.
He loved his quiet home and the peaceful pursuits of life, and when he
gave himself to the service of his country it was because, being a true
patriot, he felt that its claims upon him were greater than those of
family and friends.

  "Wife, children and neighbor,
  May mourn at his knell;
  He was lover and friend
  Of his country as well."

His rank in the service, when measured by the army standard, was a
subordinate one, but had his shoulders been covered with eagles or stars,
he could not have been other than the same quiet, unassuming
citizen-soldier that he was, winning by his modest demeanor, sterling
integrity, and kindliness of heart, the esteem of his brother officers,
and the love and affection of his men. I know whereof I speak, when I say
that no officer who went from Rhode Island was more respected and beloved
by his command than was Lieutenant Thomas Moies, and by none is his death
more sincerely mourned than by those who served under him in Virginia in
1862-3. Such was the man--such was the soldier.


Elsewhere I have spoken of an "unconditional surrender" Union man whom I
overhauled while on picket duty on the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad.
All southern men--and women, too, as to that matter--were not so loyal as
that old man was, as is shown by the following incident which occurred on
the morning of our arrival in Suffolk. While marching down the principal
street we were halted for a few minutes. Immediately all the doorsteps of
the houses were appropriated by our men to their own use. My doorstep
belonged to a house which had all the appearance of being occupied by one
of the "first families." Presently a well dressed, intelligent looking,
elderly lady appeared at the door and inquired what regiment ours was.
Before time was given me to reply, a comrade who was sharing the step with
me, said, "One Hundred and Eleventh Rhode Island!" She then asked, "Is
that in North Carolina?" To assist her in locating "Little Rhody," I
remarked that Massachusetts was its nearest neighbor, presuming that all
southerners knew where the "bottled up" hero of Dutch Gap belonged when
at home. Having straightened out her geography, which seemed considerably
mixed, she then wanted to know what we came out there for. I told her we
came to fight for the Union. With considerable fire in her eye, and
vinegar in her tone, she replied, "They tell me you've come down here to
fight for the nasty niggers; and if I were a man, I would resist to the
death before _I_ would do such a thing!" Here the conversation was
suddenly interrupted by the order to "fall in," and I left the old lady
soliloquizing upon the causes which led to the war, and its probable
result to both North and South. Whether she had confounded Rhode Island
with Roanoke Island by reason of the similarity of names, or whether our
sudden appearance in front of her residence had caused her to lose her
reckoning generally, I am not sure. Possibly she was not up in geography.

We had our pastimes when in camp. While we were at Suffolk it was not an
uncommon thing just after supper to see the men of Companies I and K
(commonly known as the Young Men's Christian Association companies)
holding prayer-meetings in the open air and singing revival melodies at
the ends of their streets, while the men of the other companies, at the
ends of their streets, would be dancing to the music of a violin or banjo,
or singing songs of a less spiritual character than those of the
Y. M. C. A. companies, all having a good time in their way, and neither
infringing nor trespassing upon the rights of the others, although some of
the men in the regiment, I feel compelled to say, were not the embodiment
of all the Christian virtues.

While we were in winter quarters on Miner's Hill, the religiously inclined
men of the regiment erected a log chapel in which to hold services in the
evening and on Sundays. No church bell summoned them to worship, but a few
taps of the drum or a few notes from the bugle, or, better still, the
singing of some old, familiar hymn learned in boyhood in New England
homes, served as a "church call," and from every part of the camp the men
came to reverently worship the God of battles. I like good church music,
but believe me when I say that I would not exchange the memory of one of
those grand old hymns which "the boys" used to sing with "the spirit, and
the understanding also," at their meetings in that old log chapel, and
into which they threw their whole souls, for all of the so called
"classical music" which I have since heard rendered by grand organ and
artistic quartette on two continents.

One Sabbath while we were in Suffolk, a special service for the soldiers
who were on duty there was held in one of the churches, the chaplains of
the various regiments officiating. The house was filled to its utmost
capacity,--the galleries, the aisles, the pulpit steps and the
vestibule,--while many were unable to find even standing room. At the
close of the sermon, officers and men knelt together at the same altar,
their confessions and supplications ascending to a common Father, and,
irrespective of distinctive creed or belief, partook of the Lord's Supper,
realizing as never before the truth that "God is no respecter of persons;"
and to one at least of that company of reverent worshipers, the Master's
words, "This do in remembrance of ME," had a deeper significance than ever

Religious services were also held at the Convalescent Camp, for there were
some faithful Christian men even there who did not forget their religious
vows when the fortunes of war called them away from their homes and
accustomed places of worship. At one of the evening meetings in the large
tent, which was filled to its utmost limits, an invitation was given to
those present who were striving, as "soldiers of the cross," to render
faithful service to the Captain of their salvation, to raise the right
hand. In response to the request, a large number of hands were raised. It
occurred, however, to the leader of the meeting that some were there whose
right arms had been shot off, and to such he gave opportunity to raise the
left hand--and there were quite a number raised. But the most affecting
sight was when a few men who had lost both arms in battle, and had only
stumps remaining, rose to their feet and gave evidence of their loyalty to
their Lord and Master. Such men could well sing at the close of the

  "God of all nations! sovereign Lord,
  In Thy dread name we draw the sword;
  We lift the starry flag on high,
  That fills with light our stormy sky.

  "From treason's rent, from murder's stain,
  Guard Thou its folds till peace shall reign,
  Till fort and field, till shore and sea,
  Join our loud anthem, PRAISE TO THEE!"

I used to be greatly amused at times at the kind of literature which
reached us when in camp from kind friends at home who were solicitous
concerning our moral welfare. Sometimes it was very evident that a book or
tract smuggled itself into the package sent which had never been "passed
upon" by any member of the Christian Commission. Just think of placing a
cook-book in the hands of a man who had been living for months on
hard-tack and salt junk, with no prospect of a change in diet for months
to come!

I am reminded, in this connection, of an incident which occurred in one of
the hospitals in Washington. A kind-hearted Christian lady passed through
the wards one day distributing religious tracts. She placed one in the
hands of a young soldier who was occupying one of the numerous cots. As
she turned away from him on her mission of love, she heard him laugh. The
good woman's feelings were hurt, and retracing her steps she mildly
rebuked him for his seeming rudeness and ingratitude. He begged her pardon
and assured her that no discourtesy was intended, and remarked that he was
amused by the inappropriateness of the title of the tract she had given
him, "The Sin of Dancing," when both of his legs had been shot off.


In common with soldiers generally, the _ménu_ of our company was somewhat
limited in variety, and the dishes served did not materially differ from
day to day. Sunday, however, was an exception to this general rule when we
were in camp. In accordance with the time-honored New England custom, on
Sunday morning we had _our_ "baked beans." If we did not always remember
to keep the Sabbath day holy, we certainly never forgot that it was the
day for baked beans; and I sometimes thought that the appearance of that
article of food on Sunday morning served us better than a Church calendar
or the "Old Farmer's Almanac" could have done as a reminder how the day
should be spent.

Our cook had a novel way of cooking or baking beans. He soaked them in the
usual style, parboiled them in a large kettle, and then put them in a
deep, iron mess-pan, generous slices of pork being placed on top of the
beans. A hole was then made in the ground a foot or two feet deep and the
bottom well filled with live coals, and on top of the coals was placed
the iron mess-pan with its savory contents. Upon the cover of the pan was
then placed more live coals, and the whole covered with turf well tamped
down. This was done on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning the beans
came out of their improvised oven piping hot and in no wise inferior to
those which furnished the staple article of the Sunday morning meal in so
many New England homes.

Burns tells us that "the well-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft
agley." On one occasion it occurred that we encamped one Saturday
afternoon on an old battlefield, and as it was known that we were to
remain there over Sunday, our cook began the usual preliminary work
whereby he was to furnish the company with baked beans on the following
morning. It so happened that at the spot where the hole was dug in the
ground an unexploded shell was buried a little farther down, and after the
live coals and the bean pot had been deposited in the earth long enough to
form a mutual acquaintance and become warm friends a loud explosion was
heard, and immediately the beans took an upward tendency and the air was
completely filled with them, confirming the assertion of Artemas Ward
that the "festive bean, when baked, is a _very lively fruit_."

The spring of 1863 was particularly favorable to the development of
typhoid fever, and a good many men in our regiment were in the hospital
with that disease. The surgeon ordered a gill of whiskey to be served to
every man daily, and as an inducement for him to "put it where it would do
the most good"--at least in the surgeon's opinion--he was told that he
would not be excused from duty if reported on the sick list. The whiskey
was usually taken by the men and put into their canteens with the water,
but in very many cases it did not take such a roundabout way in reaching
its destination. In my "mess" was a good, orthodox, prohibitionist deacon,
a man whose example I was told before leaving home that I could
consistently follow in all things--especially in _spiritual_ things. One
day he remarked to me that he had observed that I did not take my ration
of whiskey when it was dealt out. I told him that I had not felt the need
of it. He replied that he was very much afraid of the typhoid fever, and
had no scruples in regard to the taking of a little whiskey as a
precautionary measure, and if I was going to continue to refuse to take
my ration of it, he wished I would let it be poured into my canteen, and
he would turn it into his own when we got back to our quarters;--"only be
careful," said he, "that there is no water in your canteen." After that I
allowed the whiskey to be poured into my canteen; but the good deacon's
argument as to its being a preventive for typhoid fever was so convincing
that I did not allow it to be transferred to his.

As is well known, a wide and almost impassable gulf of difference exists
between the officers and the rank and file in the regular army. But I had
not been long in the volunteer service before I discovered that
considerable difference existed even there between the private soldier and
the officer. To illustrate. While in Suffolk there happened to be an "r"
in the month. Walking along the principal street one day, I espied in the
window of a restaurant a card, upon which was printed or painted in
letters of large dimensions these two words: "STEAMED OYSTERS." Visions of
Pawtucket and Providence river bivalves immediately came up before me, and
I then and there resolved to have a good square meal of "steamed oysters,"
even though it should pecuniarily impoverish me. So, entering the
restaurant, I seated myself upon one of the unoccupied high stools at the
oyster bar. And here I will remark that I could not have felt the
importance of my elevated position any more if my blouse had been covered
with shoulder-straps. Presently the proprietor of the establishment
presented himself, and eyeing me with an air of indifference almost
amounting to contempt, he asked me what I wanted. I replied, "Steamed
oysters." I confess I was somewhat surprised and considerably "down in the
mouth" when he informed me that he couldn't sell steamed oysters to a
private soldier. My suggestion that he might overcome the difficulty by
_giving them to me_, failed to secure the much-coveted bivalves, and I
retired from the restaurant a sadder but wiser man than when I entered it.

As I remarked at the outset, there was considerable difference between the
private soldier and the officer even in the volunteer service; and this
was, as I have shown, particularly true as to which one should eat steamed
oysters. But the line had to be drawn somewhere, I suppose, and so at
Suffolk they drew it at steamed oysters, and, unfortunately for the man
who was serving his country at thirteen dollars a month, he "got left."


While the Eleventh regiment was in service only nine months, and was never
in action as a full regiment, yet it lost in that time two colonels. A
certain fatality appeared to await those who were sent to take command of
the regiment during the early part of its term of service. It seemed at
one time as if the regiment was raised for the sole purpose of giving
those who were to become colonels of other Rhode Island regiments an
opportunity to perfect themselves in battalion drill and other military
movements before assuming command elsewhere--a sort of stepping-stone, as
it were, to something which was considered more desirable. There was, for
instance, Colonel Edwin Metcalf, who went out with us and who left us to
take command of the Third Rhode Island. Then there was Colonel Horatio
Rogers, who came to us from the Third regiment and remained less than two
weeks, leaving us to take command of the Second Rhode Island. The next to
put in an appearance was Colonel George E. Church, who had previously
served as lieutenant-colonel of the Seventh Rhode Island. He remained
with us until the expiration of our term of enlistment.

It is not within the province of a private soldier--more especially a "raw
recruit"--to criticise his superiors, and consequently I will not attempt
it, notwithstanding this is the "piping time of peace," and all fear of
the guard-house has forever vanished. I will say, however, that all of the
officers named had their peculiarities, and that our lieutenant-colonel
was peculiarly peculiar; and yet I believe him to have been every inch a
soldier--at any rate, there was no such word as fear in his dictionary. He
was in command when the regiment came the nearest to being in an
engagement, and I fancy I see him now, mounted on his horse and riding at
the head of the column, wearing a moth-eaten blouse and an exceedingly
dilapidated straw hat, with a very black "T. D." clay pipe stuck in his
mouth, the bowl downwards. He looked more like the "cowboy" of modern
times than the pictures of military heroes which I used to see in my
school-books when a boy. This was our lieutenant-colonel--John Talbot
Pitman. He had good "staying qualities." He never threw up his commission,
nor did he die. He remained with us to the last, and rose considerably in
the estimation of the men after his appearance at the head of the regiment
at the time I have just mentioned. Men everywhere--especially
soldiers--admire pluck. Our lieutenant-colonel had pluck, even though at
times his heart seemed somewhat lacking in tenderness. He never winked at
any breach of discipline on the part of an officer or a private while he
was in command of the regiment. If at times he appeared to have too little
consideration for his men, he never failed to exact the fullest measure of
consideration for them from all others.

Colonel Metcalf, as I have stated, came to us first, and was the first to
leave us. Universal regret on the part of officers and men was felt when
he took his departure for Hilton Head.

Colonel Rogers did not remain with us long enough for us to learn to like
him or dislike him. He came to us "sp'ilin' for a fight," his heart's
desire all the time he was with us was to fight, and when he found that he
couldn't fight the rebels with us, he began to fight the War Department
for a "change of base;" and in order to have peace within our own borders,
and in response to a very general demand on the part of the loyal North
for a vigorous prosecution of the war, coupled with a declaration on the
part of certain northern newspapers that no further delay in pushing "On
to Richmond" would be tolerated without a satisfactory reason being given
therefor, the authorities at Washington compromised matters by sending the
plucky colonel to the Second Rhode Island regiment, where he "honored his
regiment, his State and himself by his gallant deeds." It is, however, but
simple justice to the Eleventh regiment to say that the men were hopeful
that Colonel Rogers' vigorous and persistent efforts with the War
Department to relieve them from the disagreeable duty which they were
performing at the Convalescent Camp would be crowned with success. Service
in the field was coveted.

Colonel Rogers was a strict disciplinarian. The surgeon of the regiment
was a great lover of horses. It was said of him, before he entered the
service, that if he was sent for in a case of expected immediate death,
and he had an opportunity while on the road to trade a good horse for a
better one, he would always let his patient take the chances.--I do not
wish to be considered as authority for the truthfulness of this
assertion.--One Sunday morning our company was ordered to report in front
of the colonel's "markee" for inspection. While the inspection was going
on, the colonel stood in front of us, and just a little to his left the
surgeon and quartermaster, it being just before divine service, were
driving a horse trade. Naturally enough this attracted the attention of
the men, and it being noticed by Colonel Rogers, he exclaimed in that
melodious tone of voice so characteristic of him: "_Eyes to the front; you
wa'n't ordered down here to inspect the quartermaster's department!_"
Colonel Rogers was, indeed, peculiar.

In an excellent paper which was read by Captain Charles H. Parkhurst, of
Company C, at a recent reunion of the Eleventh regiment, he thus
contrasted Colonel Metcalf and Colonel Rogers:

"Colonel Metcalf, as a rule, commanded without saying anything about it.
When Colonel Rogers commanded he couldn't help saying something about it.
No one seeing Colonel Metcalf off duty, or un-uniformed, would have
suspected that he had any command, while the most casual observer looking
at Colonel Rogers, even when asleep, would instinctively know that even
then the colonel, at least, thought that he was in the exercise of

Our last commanding officer, Colonel Church, was a thorough soldier and,
like Colonel Rogers, whom he succeeded, a strict disciplinarian. He was,
apparently, a favorite with the officers of the regiment, but his ways
smacked too much of the regular army to have ever made him popular with
volunteer soldiers. It is, however, due Colonel Church to say that while
under his command the regiment attained a high degree of proficiency in
all that characterizes good soldiership, and won for itself much praise
from those who were even superior in rank to its colonel.

Speaking of the peculiarities of Colonel Church, for he had them too,
perhaps nothing created a greater dislike for him on the part of his men
than the severity of his discipline in regard to very small matters. To
illustrate: The sending of a man to the guard-house because in his
exasperation he so far forgot himself as to raise his hand to brush a fly
off of his nose when on dress parade, was not relished. It might have done
for a holiday, but not in time of war. At any rate, that is the way the
boys looked at it.


Suffolk was our last regular encampment. From there we went to Yorktown,
expecting to take transportation home, as our term of service had nearly
expired. After remaining there a few days we were, very much to our
surprise, ordered up the peninsula. Somebody evidently made a mistake in
his reckoning, for when we arrived at Williamsburg, only twelve miles
distant from Yorktown, we were ordered back, an order which was not
reluctantly obeyed, although had there been urgent need for the regiment's
services for a longer period, I feel sure that they would have been
cheerfully rendered.

Upon our return to Yorktown we once more pitched our shelter (or "dog")
tents, and made ourselves as comfortable as we could until transportation
was furnished. Finally we embarked on the steamer "John Rice," and after a
three days' sail arrived in Providence on the afternoon of the sixth of
July, 1863, just nine months to a day from the time we left Rhode Island.

The reception of the regiment by the patriotic citizens of Providence was
as generous as it was hospitable. The Pawtucket companies (B and F)
reached home just before six o'clock, and were welcomed with the firing of
cannon, the ringing of bells, and other demonstrations of respect and
kindness. After the warm greetings at the railroad station by friends, the
band meanwhile vigorously playing "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," and
other popular airs, a line was formed, (the escort comprising the Home
Guard and officers of the Light Guard,) and moved through the principal
streets, including a march to Central Falls and back. It was a proud day
for the "raw recruit" and his comrades. In marching through the streets of
both places, cheers and the waving of handkerchiefs testified the delight
of the multitude at our safe return. On arriving at the old Armory Hall in
Pawtucket, where, nine or ten months previously, so many of us had
enlisted, and which never looked so well to us before, a bountiful
collation was partaken of, and then, with good judgment on the part of
somebody, the companies were dismissed without being compelled to listen
to speeches from those who, for "prudential reasons," remained at home.

The second death in Company B occurred on the evening of the first day out
from Yorktown. Frank M. Bliss, the "drummer boy" of the company, had been
sick several days with typhoid fever in the hospital at Yorktown, and his
recovery was considered hopeless when he was carried on board the steamer
by his comrades. The deceased was a son of Captain Albert Bliss, of
Pawtucket, and a young man of excellent qualities. He was very anxious to
serve his country in some capacity, and being only eighteen years of age,
and not physically able to carry the load of an infantry soldier he
enlisted as a drummer, and did good service in that capacity. His remains
were tenderly borne by a detail of his comrades from the steamer to the
home of his afflicted parents, and what in so many other homes was a day
of great joy on account of the return of loved ones, in theirs was a day
of deepest sorrow, for the loved son and brother whose return had been so
long joyously anticipated came not.

The regiment was paid off and "mustered out" of service in Providence on
the thirteenth day of July, 1863. It left Rhode Island a little more than
one thousand strong. It came back numbering eight hundred and
thirty-eight enlisted men and thirty-eight commissioned officers. During
its absence it lost sixty men by discharge, and seven others by death.
Fifty-five of its members were left behind in various hospitals, and
twenty-five sick men were brought home on the steamer. It is a remarkable
fact in the history of the regiment that not one man was killed in an
engagement with the enemy during its entire nine months' campaign. It is
doubtful whether this has its parallel in any other regiment which entered
the service during the civil war.

But there were many other things which the soldier had to do besides
fighting. One thing all had to do, namely, _obey orders_, and when that
was done, the soldier had done all that was required of him, all that he
promised to do when he enlisted. The entire regiment never appeared in
line once after we left Providence, so many of the men being detailed for
various kinds of service, such as hospital nurses, ambulance drivers,
wagoners, and so forth. But, comrades, whatever the service performed by
our regiment, it should be esteemed honor and distinction enough for any
one of us to have it said of him, "_This is the country which he helped to


I have thus imperfectly, and to myself at least very unsatisfactorily,
sketched the nine months' war experiences of a "raw recruit" of the
Eleventh Rhode Island regiment. Whatever has been said, if anything, which
shall provoke criticism, be assured that "naught has been set down in

As was said by one whose words I have already quoted, "the men composing
the Eleventh regiment compared favorably with those of other regiments
which went from Rhode Island." Some theories, however, in regard to what
constitutes the best material for soldiers were upset by the results of
our nine months' campaign. In my own company, for instance, the majority
of the men were recruited from the professions and the counting-room. But
before leaving home it was deemed best by the officers to enlist a few men
upon whom they could rely to do the fighting in the event that the classes
to whom I have referred should show the "white feather" in the hour of
trial. Consequently a few "roughs," or "toughs," or "bruisers," or
"scalawags," were introduced into the company. With what result? Just what
every intelligent man should have known at the outset. They were
absolutely good for nothing when we were in camp but to furnish the
company's quota for the guard-house, and when an emergency required their
services they were either drunk or in the hospital by reason of their
excesses. They were, indeed, "invincible in peace and invisible in war."
The best men at home proved the most serviceable in the field. And this I
believe to be true not only of our own company and regiment, but of all
the troops who entered the service of the country.

All soldiers have a regimental pride and affection. It would sound equally
as strange to hear a man not speak well of his mother, as to hear a
soldier not speak well of his regiment. The rebel General Hill tells of an
Irish soldier belonging to a New Orleans regiment whom he found after the
second day's battle at Gettysburg lying alone in the woods, his head
partly supported by a tree. He was shockingly injured. General Hill said
to him: "My poor fellow, you are badly hurt. What regiment do you belong
to?" He replied: "The Fifth Confederit, sir; and a dommed good regiment
it is." The answer, though almost ludicrous, well illustrates a soldier's
pride in his regiment.

That the Eleventh did not accomplish all that the men composing it
expected it would when it left Rhode Island is admitted. But that it did
its full duty in the obedience of every order, who will deny? As another
has so well and truthfully said in regard to the regiment, "it had not the
ordering of its own destiny. It went where it was ordered to go, and
performed the duty to which it was assigned, and left no stain to sully
the fair fame and honor of the State or country." While it is true that to
some regiments better opportunities were furnished to achieve distinction
and renown than to others, there is no reason to suppose that the Eleventh
Rhode Island would not have done equally as well under the same

I am not insensible to the fact that during the war, and for some time
after it was ended, a feeling was entertained by some of the men who first
went out in the three years' regiments that the patriotism of the nine
months' men was stimulated by the bounties which were offered. In Rhode
Island, so far as my knowledge extends, the largest bounty paid any one
person was one hundred and fifty dollars. Would any old soldier,
especially if he has a family or others dependent upon him, consider the
sum mentioned compensation in any adequate sense to induce him again to
become a target for rebel bullets? It cannot be denied that there were
some men--unworthy the name of soldiers--who were induced by the offers of
bounty money to enlist and take the chances of "jumping" the bounty, or of
desertion, but by far the larger proportion of those who enlisted after
the bounties were offered, did so because they were then enabled to leave
those who were dependent upon them for their daily bread in such a
condition as to keep the wolf of starvation from the door in their

Every man who, from love of his country, left home and friends to defend
the honor of the old flag in the hour of its assailment by traitorous
hands was a true patriot and deserves well of his fellow-countrymen, and
whether he served for a longer or a shorter period, or whether his service
was performed in the army or in the navy, on land or on sea, he has, by
the faithful discharge of his duty, honored the State which he represented
far more than it can ever honor him, and of him a grateful and
appreciative people will unite in saying, "WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Raw Recruit's War Experiences" ***

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