"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Rectorstown. -- How to estimate Compliments. -- Wapping Heights. -- Warrenton. -- The Landlord played out. -- Beverly Ford. -- Our Camp. -- Arrival of Conscripts. -- We march for Culpepper.
INTELLIGENCE reached us the next morning that the left of the rebel column was but a few miles in front; and at an early hour the regiment resumed its march, and after bivouacking three times, at Oatland's, and Goose Creek, arrived, on the evening of July 22, at Rectorstown, Va., through which, we learned, the victorious Mosby had passed the day before. We marched through this wretched place next day, and found it to contain a few wooden houses, several diminutive pigs, and a number of sharp, surly women, who, from their unladylike gestures and remarks, seemed to hold ourselves and flag in profound contempt; little notice was taken of them, however, though considerable attention was paid to the "grunters," many of which squealed their own most unmusical requiem. As we marched on, snuffing up the fresh air from the hills adjacent, and scanning the beautiful scenery by which this consumptive-looking town was surrounded, about noon, we arrived near Wapping Heights, a short distance from Manassas Gap.
Wapping Heights is a great rocky mountain, the Shenandoah Valley on one side, and the Manassas Station on the other. It is entirely devoid of vegetation, and the surface so sharp and pointed as to do great injury to the feet of the cavalry horses that passed over. At Wapping Heights we found the enemy drawn up in line of battle. Next day we attacked them, and they retreated in considerable confusion across the Shenandoah, having received a whipping from our forces.
We then turned our steps towards Warrenton, Virginia, and after two days' marching we halted and encamped about three miles from the town of Warrenton, which was a fine enterprising place before the war, and contained a population of two or three thousand inhabitants, among them many men of enterprise and ability. It contains several fine churches, and a number of public buildings, which, though now in a ruinous condition, still show traces of considerable architectural beauty. The streets are wide, well paved, and bordered by neatly-laid brick sidewalks; many beautiful lawns extend from the fronts of dwellings to the street, neatly enclosed by iron palisadings, and abutting on well-kept gardens. Several houses were surrounded with tastefully arranged flower beds, and here and there nice, comfortable-looking arbors and roomy porticos; just the place one could comfortably enjoy one's self of a summer evening with a friend, a book, or a cigar. This place looked more like the northern cities and towns than any other place we have visited south. We went to the large hotel there, but could not obtain anything. When we asked for wine, the eyes of the landlord nearly started from their sockets, as, in a flurried manner, he assured us that such an article he had not seen for over a year. "Nor whiskey?" we insinuated. "Nor whiskey," he answered, mournfully. So, at our suggestion, he showed us into a private room, where we produced our "private flask," at the sight of which he started back as though a Paixhan gun was aimed at him. We reassured him, however, and he took the flask and drank. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and muttered, abstractedly, "Brandy." "Ay," said we, turning to leave the hospitable mansion, "it's brandy." Whether that libation had any unfortunate effects upon the long abstemious landlord, we are not aware; but we left him in such a fit of astonishment at beholding the liquor that we were fearful he would never again recover the full use of his faculties.
From Warrenton the regiment marched to Beverly Ford, on the Rappahannock, where we encamped, about fifty yards from the river. The whole army was concentrated in the vicinity of the river, which in this place is about twenty yards wide.
Our camp at Beverly Ford was a very handsome one, and, seen from the surrounding elevations, presented quite a picturesque appearance. The streets, being laid out with due regard to comfort and the army regulations, were studded on either side with fir trees, which served as a protection from the sun, the weather being remarkably warm: being situate on a hill, it was very dry, and the men were soon able to make themselves comfortable. The distance to the picket lines was about half a mile, and the duty, therefore, far from irksome. We passed many pleasant days at Beverly Ford watching the rebels, and resting ourselves after the arduous marching we had undergone.
While here we were obliged to witness the public execution of five deserters from the One Hundred and Eighteenth Pennsylvania Regiment.*It was a strange and affecting scene, and was felt remarkably by our lads, many of whom said, at the time, they felt more cut up at this sight than at all the battles and battle-fields they had seen. We trust we shall never be called to witness such a sight again, though we fully maintain the justice of the sentence.
Shortly after this our regiment received a detachment of conscripted men and substitutes, the result of the first draft, from Long Island. We had heard a good deal of the draft, and were naturally anxious as to the kind of men we should get, as we found the commutation fee was taken advantage of by many who ought to have volunteered. Their arrival caused our camp to be busy for a while, as they had to be drilled. Thus occupied, and with the kind of amusement incidental to our other camps, we passed away the time until the 15th of September, when, with the rest of the army, we moved forward, crossing the river at Rappahannock Station. Our men had by this time become at home with their new associates, who would listen with interest to our fellows, as they related their adventures, and in return would detail their own.* The same that so shamefully retreated at Boteler's Mills and Fredericksburg.
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