"The Irish Ninth in Bivouac and Battle"
by Michael H. Macnamara
Summary Treatment of Poachers. -- An Unfortunate Rencontre. -- Our Valiant Pickets, Pedlers, and Hawkers. -- Rumors of a Move. -- Bull Run. -- Our Night March, and Speedy Return to Camp.
THOUGH close to the city of Washington, picket duty was strictly performed by the regiment, the lines extending about a mile from camp, the reserve being stationed near the house of the Washington banker Cochrane, a large and splendid mansion, on the right of Emmart's farm, in a semicircle of dense woods; and never was wood more thoroughly searched than that one, which daily underwent a clean scouring, the commanders of regiments, in the innocence of inexperience, thinking it the secret depository of rebel guns, and the general headquarters of the big spirits of the rebellion !
The residents in that vicinity treated our soldiers with the greatest kindness; and, in return, their property was carefully guarded, and their rights as citizens duly respected. One of the principal reasons which led us to suspect the near vicinage of traitors, was the shooting of two of the New York Fire Zouave regiment, which occurred in the grounds of Mr. ___, who resided near the house of Mr. Cochrane. It was afterwards ascertained that they had been committing depredations on the property one night, and the owner, not knowing them to be soldiers, shot them -- a fate they richly merited.
One morning, shortly after the arrival of the regiments at Emmart's farm, an officer was with his company, engaged in drill, and in passing a belt of wood, two shots were fired in rapid succession, and two of the men fell, one wounded in the leg, and the other in the shoulder. Two men were sent into the wood, but soon returned, stating that they could see no one, and giving it as their opinion, that the shots had come from the other side of the wood, from the camp of the Twenty-seventh New York Volunteers (Germans), who were out at target practice. As this seemed the most reasonable view to be taken of the case, the officer marched his company back to camp, and reported the affair to the colonel. But Colonel Cass would not divest his mind of the idea that the shots had been fired by rebel scouts, and as the colonel was looked upon by the regiment as the embodiment of military wisdom, his opinion was favorably received, and caused considerable excitement. Before we left that camp, however, the colonel was compelled to acknowledge, that if we desired to find rebels, we must move forward several miles, cross the Potomac, and picket the enemy's territory -- a movement we shortly afterwards made.
Our regiment greatly improved in discipline while encamped at Emmart's farm, and became much more conversant with picket duty, so that, in a little while, a pig or cow might pass them, perhaps, in the dark, without receiving a bullet in its brain for refusing to answer the "challenge;" though I must confess that when the Ninth had seen some service, and consequently were more accurate in their aim, when a pig passed them they seldom cried, "Who goes there?" but with malice prepence "nailed" the unfortunate porker without a word.
Every suspicious-looking individual in the vicinity of our camp, and every pedler, male or female, were unceremoniously seized by our patriotic fellows as spies, and transferred from department to department, until, finally, after having "gone the rounds," the unfortunate individuals found themselves, several weeks after, pursuing the same humble but honest occupation, in the same place, in the same clothes, and, seemingly, with the same vendible stock of goods, but this time under the safeguard of a pass. One cannot look back to these days of military verdancy without a smile. We, the scarcely fledged children of Mars, believed in the omnipotence of the sword, and had no sooner shed our citizen's coat than we looked with suspicion and distrust on every one who twirled canes, when, instead, we thought they should be manipulating muskets. These feelings and fancies, however, are natural to the opening career of the Republican soldier, and are easily eradicated by experience. The veteran looks back to them with mingled feelings of pride and mortification; therefore it is, that in the conduct of the American soldier there is nothing arbitrary or tyrannical; with experience he dismounts from his stilts, and never strives to reach an unbecoming altitude again.
The monotony of our life at Emmart's farm was soon destined to be relieved, for, upon the evening of July 20, 1861, orders reached our camp for the troops to be in readiness to move at a moment's notice, with three days' rations in our haversacks. Orderlies and staff officers could be seen riding rapidly in the direction of every regiment in our vicinity, and a very large force was encamped immediately around, for hours before we received our marching orders. Regiment after regiment were under arms, and soon defiling past our camp, -- stately columns so soon soldiers, soon to be weary, dispirited, and defeated, -- passed us all the afternoon, and the last regiment we saw march away was the Second New Hampshire.
The camp was rife with rumors. A great battle was soon to be fought, or was already in progress. Little we knew that the terrible and disastrous field of Bull Run was already lost to our arms, and that our magnificent legions were even then flying before a victorious foe.
Rapidly the Second New Hampshire defiled from the camp, and the sun was already disappearing behind the hills when the left of the regiment passed from view. Anxiously the Ninth, standing armed and equipped in the company streets, awaited the order to march. Our brave, muscular fellows seemed animated with deep enthusiasm; an intense longing to meet the foe pervaded their breasts. Their nostrils seemed to scent the blood of their dying countrymen as it poured vainly on the battlefield; and yet this enthusiasm was not vented in shouts and cheers, but exhibited in the alacrity which animated their movements; in the firm, solid grasp of their weapons; in the rapid obedience to orders as rapidly given; in the patience with which, when everything was ready, they awaited the order to move. Night was upon us when the order came. It was received with one wild, ringing cheer, and in another moment the shadowy outline of the soldiers could be seen moving swiftly from the camp. We marched fast until late into the night, with the full conviction that on the morrow we should fight, -- when, suddenly, a staff-officer halted the regiment, and desired to speak to Colonel Cass.
The result of this communication was, that the regiment "about faced," and we marched back to our old camp by the light of the moon, filled with chagrin and disappointment. The regiment was then formed in square, and Colonel Cass expressed to them his heartiest approval, and the pride he felt in commanding such men, whose alacrity and enthusiasm in marching to the field fully verified his most sanguine expectations. Well might Colonel Cass feel proud of such men. Their valor has shed glory on his name, on the land of their birth, and that of their adoption. The regiment was then marched to quarters, and in a little while the whole command was buried in sleep. The regiments which had marched away earlier in the day did not return. Had Colonel Cass received the order a few hours earlier, the Ninth would have been precipitated into the disastrous battle of Bull Run, and, though they might have shared the general defeat, they would have valiantly responded to the despairing cry of the immortal Sixty-ninth, "Where, O, where, is the Irish Ninth?"
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