My experience embraced three years of service, twenty-two battles, and ten months in different Southern prisons. I enlisted as a private soldier the twentieth day of May, 1861, in a company that was raised in my native town of Wrentham, and composed almost entirely of schoolmates and acquaintances. The following June, together with nine other companies from adjoining towns, raised in the same manner as our own, we were organized into the 18th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment, with James Barnes of Springfield, a prominent engineer, for our colonel. He was soon promoted to command a brigade.
Our fortunes were soon cast in with the Army of the Potomac. The 18th Massachusetts Regiment took part in all its marches, and was present on every battlefield of that army. I was always present with my regiment till the event which is recorded below.
General Grant took the Army of the Potomac under his personal observation in April, 1864. The third day of May following we started for Richmond for the fifth time, in a little different manner than ever before, as the sequel shows. Two days later, soon after noon, we entered the first fight of the campaign, the battle of the Wilderness.
My company, I, were deployed as skirmishers. Our forward movement was soon stopped by a volley from the concealed enemy, which brought down Charley Wilson, one of the first victims of General Grant's campaign.
This volley caused us to move back. We found our division drawn up in line of battle, with knapsacks and all unnecessary baggage stacked in a heap, and a guard detailed from each company to watch over it. The preparations did not seem to indicate that our generals apprehended much of a force in our front, but expected only a small skirmish. We were soon ordered to advance upon the enemy, which we did by moving slowly through the woods and underbrush, keeping our line as straight and compact as possible, about half a mile, when a dropping fire of musketry began.
The nature of the battleground was such that artillery could not be used to advantage, though I noticed upon the turnpike to our right that two pieces had been planted so as to command the road, but they were not used, as I shall explain, till nearly night.
The dropping fire did not check our advance. The order to charge soon rang along the line, and our slow advance broke into a double-quick and a run. The firing was rapidly becoming heavier and occasionally told upon our men, dropping one here and there, seeming to make no particular selections. Our line soon became very much disordered, owing more to the underbrush than to our reception at the hands of the enemy. One brigade of our division was two hundred yards in advance of us, hotly engaged upon the top of a wooded knoll, while the brigade to our right was nearly half a mile in our rear. The enemy, no doubt seeing this disorder, took immediate advantage of it and pressed us harder than ever, when the order was passed along the line to fall back and re-form. We did so in part, but did not succeed in connecting with the brigade upon our right.
Again we charged through the brush upon the enemy, driving them more than half a mile, causing our line to become still more disordered and scattered among the brush, and again we were ordered to fall back and re-form.
The afternoon was very hot; the young growth of forest was so thick as to shut out any breeze that might be stirring outside, and the trees had not yet leaved enough to afford any shade. The powder smoke was stifling, causing exhaustion and extreme thirst. Some few were sunstruck, or completely overcome by the heat and smoke.
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