"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
General Meade assumes Command. -- Gettysburg. -- Following the Enemy. -- We reenter Virginia. -- The Professor's Excuse for Lagging. -- He could not rob the Dead.
THE army of the Potomac was rapidly concentrated in and about Aldie, from which place General Hooker, still in command, moved his columns down in pursuit of Lee's army, which was rapidly advancing through Maryland upon Pennsylvania, to carry out his scheme of retaliation, and to encourage the great peace party, which he imagined then existed in the North, but in which he eventually found himself woefully mistaken.
We passed rapidly through the several towns and cities of Maryland, and on reaching Frederick City, Md., learned that Hooker had been relieved by General Meade. We were followed by the good wishes of nearly all the inhabitants, and on the morning of July 1 crossed the Pennsylvania state line, close upon the rear of Lee's invading army. The same night we arrived at Hanover, Pa., and encamped within a few miles of the memorable field of Gettysburg. The next day our regiment was sent on picket on the extreme right of the line of battle; but we were called in, later in the day, to participate in the great battle that was then raging; but as night was advancing, we were not prominently exposed.
The position of the regiment was changed to the left on the 3d and 4th, and we were engaged in a heavy skirmish with the enemy in front, and succeeded in maintaining our position, though opposed by a heavy force. The position where they were placed was of great importance to the success of General Meade's plans; and the general opinion was, that if the right of Lee's army pressed their attack on this wing, the Ninth, unless strongly reinforced, would be annihilated. In fact, the regiment moved forward to their position with a sort of misgiving that we should have very hot work, and that to escape without terrific loss of life would be next to a miracle; but even this did not lessen the ardor of our brave boys, and they took their position and firmly maintained it.
The terrible onslaughts of Meade on Lee's front were of that powerful nature that demanded all of the enemy's strength to resist, and before he could well turn his attention to other sections of his elongated front, the battle had been decided and the invader ignominiously beaten; the other regiments of our brigade, detached from us, and more immediately in the midst of the fight, were terribly cut up. They fought with great gallantry, and in the midst of the dire conflict the murmur ran through their lines, "Where's the Ninth? Why have they been taken from us?" But the Ninth, solitary and alone, held their place in a distant part of the field, and they asked, "Where's the rest of our brigade?" The dividing of the brigade, the regiments of which had so often met the enemy side by side, caused much dissatisfaction.
It is not for us to present a picture of the terrible field of Gettysburg. We fear a true and faithful account can never be written, or the many tableaux of that panorama of brave deeds, indomitable courage, or of carnage, destruction, and terror, can be depicted. The vacant chair in many a home, the seared spot on many a heart, the epitaph for many a grave, may be read in the now familiar name, "Gettysburg;" while, towering above it all, it forms a monument to Meade's genius, which will last even when the great shaft that there commemorates the dead had crumbled into dust !
General Lee, having evacuated his position and commenced his retreat, was closely followed up by our army. On the 5th of July, Kilpatrick's division of cavalry, which had been sent out early in the day, returned, and reported that Lee's army as making for Williamsport. We therefore immediately moved by way of South Mountain, passing through Boonsboro and Temblinstown, and soon came upon the enemy in position a short distance from Williamsport, his left within a few miles of Temblinstown. Here General Meade, no doubt, expected Lee would give him battle: he therefore proceeded to strengthen his position by such fortifications as were necessary, and awaited Lee's preliminary movements. No sign, however, indicated the enemy's intentions during the night of the 13th; on the next day, on our skirmishers being deployed, and gradually contracting their lines about Williamsport, they found it to be evacuated.
Thus was the second Maryland campaign ended, and with losses equally disastrous, if not worse than the first to the audacious Rebels.*
The army of the Potomac, on the 17th of July, inspired by the success of Gettysburg, proceeded to pay back the compliment by an invasion of their own, and crossing the Potomac at Berlin, Maryland, they entered that barrenest of all barren states, Virginia.
We had one of those odd characters called an "Irish hedge schoolmaster" in the regiment. He was technically called the "Professor," and we think our trans-Atlantic friends will recognize him as a type of the ancient genus. Be his officers ever so watchful, the professor generally managed to fall out when the regiment was approaching an engagement. He did this at Gettysburg; the day after the engagement he rejoined his company, and was accosted by the colonel with, --
"Well, sir, how came you absent from the ranks?" The professor threw himself into position, and, having given the customary salute with considerable dignity, delivered the following characteristic explanation: --
"When within about two miles of this historic field, I fell out by the road-side for the purpose of recuperating my exhausted energies. After five hours' unruffled slumber I awoke, startled by the roaring of many batteries of artillery, and, colonel, in the weakness of my judgment, and under all the painful circumstances, I deemed it prudent to remain in the rear."
The colonel was so stunned by this lucid and grandiloquent explanation, that, to this day, no punishment for this dereliction of duty has been inflicted on the prudent professor.
During the first day of the battle our men were somewhat short of provisions, the wagons being some distance in the rear. After we had lain down at night, one of our fellows, more hungry and wide awake than the rest, rose, and approached a dead soldier that was near, by whose side lay a well-filled haversack: kneeling down by the body, he opened the haversack and saw, revealed by the clear light of the moon, a goodly feast of "flour rolls," looking temptingly brown and nice, which the poor fallen soldier had purchased on the march, but had not had time to eat before he was engaged in his last fight. One by one, our boy transferred them to his own haversack, and then he rose to move away. He moved about two paces, and suddenly stopped. Pausing a moment in seeming meditation, he turned round to where the dead soldier was lying, his pale face revealed by the moonlight. Our fellow kneeled gently down by his sid, and one by one he took the rolls from his haversack, and placed them in that from which he had taken them: carefully drawing a blanket over the face of the dead man, he passed slowly away. The poor fellow was too conscientious to despoil the dead of his food, although himself very hungry.* The result of the campaign may be briefly stated: the defeat of the enemy at Gettysburg, their compulsory evacuation of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and withdrawal from the upper valley of the Shenandoah, and the capture of three guns, forty-one standards, and 13,621 prisoners, and 24,978 small arms collected on the battlefield. -- Extract from General Meade's Official Report.
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