Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers

Company A, Inc.

Reconnaissance on the Rappahannock

May 12-14, 2000
Oak Ridge Plantation
Lovingston, Virginia
July 12, 1863
on the Rappahannock River
near Brandy Station, Virginia

Dear Friends,

Since I wrote to you last after the battle at Gettysburg, I was not sure what path this army might take. I can now write to you and let you know that we have followed the Army of Virginia into their home land and intend to force them to fight or flee. Our boys here with Company G of the 3d New Jersey have marched every day with the VI Corps to this place. It was determined to allow the columns to close up and rest a bit at this place on Friday. And so about midday, the regiment indeed did close up, the stragglers all accounted for, and we went into camp on a wooded hilltop about a quarter mile off the main pike here. Our company is made up of the best of boys from the 8CV, 20 Mass, 25 Mass, and 122 NY. We are under the command of Capt. Kurtz, Lt. Burbank, and Col. Kevin Airof the 28th Mass.

The companies were placed by the Sgt.Maj. at close intervals sprinkled in the woods below the crest of the hill. As we got there, dropped our gear, and started to get a little rest, the call to draw rations went up. I took the requisitions and 3 men to the headquarters area at the top of the hill, and to the Commissary there. As each company drew the rations, we waited. On our turn, I presented the Commissary Officer our requisition and a $2 bill. He thought that I was trying to bribe him for better rations, and called the guard, but I informed him that it was the pay for drawing our two officers rations, and so the $2 went into his pocket, and no more was said. The rations were plentiful, and included a large quantity of salt pork, about 30 lbs. for 28 men, and a massive ration of coffee. The hard crackers were drawn 10 to a man, although we were shorted on the count somewhat. We also drew a good amount of sugar, and even molasses and vinegar was available. Some potatoes and onions were counted out, and rice, but in short supply. We returned to the company, and proceeded to distribute the rations among the memn and immediately got it all cooked. The orders now came to be ready to move at any time, with only 15 minutes notice.

In about fifteen minutes, the orders to fall in came, and we were assembled on the abandoned road through the woods for a dress parade. The Colonel informed us of our situation, and reminded us that the 3d New Jersey had been in every battle in the Eastern Theater thus far, and that we were to see more action. The colors were trooped in front of the line with the battalion musicians, and all was ready. We were once again dismissed, and returned to our glades, wondering whether to lie down and sleep or just to remain packed for a move. There was a distinct sound of some sort of engagement over the hills about two miles away. It seemed like our cavalry had encountered the enemy, and a scuffle was underway. The Captain came back, and ordered a guard detail for the midnight relief, as he had been appointed Officer of the Guard. So it looked like we were to stay put for the night. As the sun went down, so did all the boys. Shortly after dark, the fires were down, and the camp was asleep. The sound of the cavalry skirmish faded away into the snoring of the tired soldiers.

The night was cut short by the Sgt.Maj. as he came through the camps about 4 oclock in the morning, and told everyone to be ready to move in ten minutes. That was all the boys needed to hear, and they jumped from their beds, and scrambled to gather and pack all their things. I for one could not find all my things in the pitch dark of a moonless night, and had to borrow some rope from Chris to put my roll together. I should have known better to keep a track on my gear so that I could get ready even if blind. Such is the endless lesson. We assembled on the same location as the parade, all nine companies of the 3rd called the roll, and waited for first light. As soon as it was light enough to see the ground around our feet, we marched off by the right flank, and towards the river. We proceeded down the hill to the run, and into the woods. We were the first company, so to us fell the distinction of the advance guard, so the first platoon was put into line, and the second followed at a good interval. We were accompanied by the Colonel on his fine mount, and we slowly poked forward. We came upon a small house before the river, and it had been razed. Around the bend on the wood road, we found the body of a man whom the rebel guerrilla partisans had no doubt hanged. The man was cut down, but the noose was still around his neck. He was quite dead, and for some time. He had been probably tortured to give information and refused, since he was quite bloody and bruised. The Colonel warned us that that would happen to any of us if we were straggling and caught by the enemy. This left a strong effect on many of the boys, and as they filed past the corpse, they closed up the ranks.

We proceeded across the river plain, and came into a squadron of cavalry stationed there, and their talk was with the Colonel for support, and where it was needed. The Colonel halted us at the ford, and heard them out. The cavalry was already across and up the hill in some force, but were having a hard time keeping the rebel pressure off the ford. The Col. then ordered the first three companies of us to immediately cross, gain the steep bank to the crest, and await orders there. The boys plunged down the bank in fours, across the river, and scrambled up the steep and muddy slope on the opposite side. A few of the boys were falling out from the exertion, but were pushed to keep up.

At the crest, the sight in front of us was striking. The hill we just climbed opened to a view of several knobs, with deep ravines between them. The entire area had been slash cut by the rebels, and all the debris burned. Much of the remainder of the trunks and branches lay all about. The area was nothing but ashes, dust, stumps, and brush. It looked like Hell itself, and was not at all settling. The rebels surely had cleared it to improve their field of view and fire, to best welcome us to their little part of Virginia.

Under Major Kelly's orders, Captain deployed us in line at the crest of the crossing hill, and we held that place as the rest of the three companies ordered across came over. They went into line behind us in column of companies. We fired a volley, and then were ordered to advance to the skirmish line being established by the cavalry dismounted to our front on the very crest of this first hill. The rebels were pressing in upon the flanks of that line, and they were spread at quite wide intervals. Captain Kurtz brought us up in line to the center of the skirmish line, and there we announced the arrival on the scene of the Union infantry with some perfect vollies demonstrating our firepower, determination, and strength. Then, we deployed in skirmish order on the center files, and established a stronger skirmish line there. The cavalry extended to the left flank, and were concerned about the rebels getting down into the ravine to the left, and coming around in our rear, so they fought hard to disengage and move that way. But the fighting with the pressing rebel skirmishers was within shouting distance, and seeing as both lines had good cover, the powder gave way to voices. And the amount of cussing and cursing that was exchanged was almost deadly. As the lines closed, in one last push by the rebels, a small rabbit was almost stepped on in between. The rabbit looked towards the grey soldiers, and in one desparate decision, bounded through our lines as if choosing the Union way. The rebels soon withdrew their skirmishers, and we were in full possession of the first hill. The cavalry left us then to secure the left of the line down in the ravine to prevent the rebels from turning our position.

We all took a knee or sat in place on the line, and let the rebels on the far hill see us plainly there. I finally got out a hard cracker and ate it, and determined to make a small coffee fire, having been up now for almost four hours with no coffee. And the fire was made, and the coffee upon it, when surely, the order to move to the right came. I stomped out the fire, and took my cup, and marched off to the right grumbling. Once our line was reestablished, I paced about four steps to the rear and began another fire. I got that one going, and put the cup on it, when the Lt.Col. came to me and told me to retire below the crest if I was to make a fire. So, once more I put out that fire, retreated, and built another. Three times is the charm, and soon we had coffee for me, Ed, and and the Captain. The Captain was pleased with the coffee, and sat on a stump and entertained a butterfly which landed on the back of his hand. I saw this as a sign that the Captain was to do good things today. In squads of two and four, the men on the skirmish line were relieved back to the reverse slope for coffee and breakfast, shade, and a little rest. We sent one from each squad to the creek to fill our canteens once more, as the day was turning desperately hot. The men were taking quite a beating from the sun in the open on this exposed hilltop. Water was the item of the day.

As I sipped my cup, I noticed a prisoner johnny sitting forlornly on a rock nearby, with a guard staring at him. There was no exchange between captor and prisoner, so I volunteered to ask johnny if he had any breakfast yet today. No, was the answer. And so even though I had been a little short on my cracker ration, I reached in my pocket, and pulled out a half cracker and gave it to him to eat. He thanked me, but had little more to say. After a few moments, the Col. came over and ordered the prisoner taken to the rear. He also asked the johnny if he had been given any breakfast, and he told the Col. that the men had given him about a dozen crackers. Now, that upset me, since I had given what I could spare, but he already had more than me. It was a case of being hoodwinked by a poor looking rebel, and I was bamboozled enough to fall for his pitiful demeanor. I was glad that he was marched off quickly before I could make a comment to him, for I was a little hot about it.

Eventually, around noon, the orders were passed that the second and third company were to move casually to the left, as if going for water, and we were to remain on the crest. We were to put up a few shebangs showing that we intended to stay. The other two companies were to launch a surprise push on the rebel right down in the ravine, hoping to punch through and gain a hold in that area of the field. While that was going on, we were to engage the enemy in the redoubt on the rebel left, to hold them in position and prevent them from reenforcing the attack. We continued to improve the breastworks on our line, put up some shade, and hold that place. The Hotel Syracuse was erected, and was the envy of all for its spaciousness, amount of shade, and good hospitality within. At about the appointed time, we did engagge, and the companies in the ravine on the left went forward. From our position we could see clearly that they were repulsed, and repulsed again. They tried about five of six attacks at various points along that front, but met resistance every time. Fighting uphill from the ravine could simply not be successful. They were decimated there on the left, and finally fell back to the cover of the woods on the other side of the road there. We consigned ourselves to holding the knob for a long time, and got more water and more intrenched. We all sort of got lazy and started resting more than we should when suddenly the cry went up "Here they come!" and we all looked out to see a line of rebel skirmishers coming at the run towards our position. We all scrambled to the works, and fired quickly into them. They were repulsed, and ran from whence they came, but if they had more numbers, we would have been overrun. This put the fury in the Captain, and he chastized the Sergeants for not being diligent, and never to let that happen again. Pickets were immediately advanced from our works to guard the places were we could not see the approaches.

Another hour or so passed, us staring across the ravine to our front at the rebels staring back, just out of effective musket range, and neither showing any inclination to move. This was nerve racking, and hot to boot. The orders came from the Major around 1.30 oclock to move a skirmish line forward about 10 rods to the front of our breastworks and engage the rebels to our front. To our immediate right front, there was a saddleback sort of ridge that easily connected our knob to the one that anchored the rebel left. We had a clear march to the rebel redoubt if we advanced in force. The rebel cavalry had advanced once more from their main line on the opposite hill towards us. The Captain lead us forward towards them, and we engaged them, and easily pushed them where we wanted. It was at that time that the Captain, the Lieutenant, and the Sergeants agreed that if we moved our left flank fast enough, that we could split the rebel line, thus cutting off the enemy in the redoubt to our right, capture them, and then wheel to the left and roll up the rebel left flank. But the skirmish work was hard and hot, although we had good brush and cover along the saddleback, the men were exhausted and sunstroke started hitting many of them. It was all the NCOs could do to push them forward in an organized skirmish. So, the rebels in our front retired to their lines, and we could see the courier come to the redoubt, and order its evacuation just before we could cut the line. They did get away, but we pushed forward, swung our wheel, and were now in possession of the crest of the second hill, and poised on the rebel flank.

Once again, the orders were to hold this place, and not to advance. It seemed that the Captain was expecting some reprimand for his actions. He determined to exploit the rebel weakness he perceived, and moved to this point without orders. He thought he would be subsequently cashiered. As we all told him of the brilliance of the decision, and tended to our casualties, he was not comforted. We started to protect ourselves from the brutal sun once more, and small shebangs were once more popping up. Some of the boys could not take it any longer, and collapsed in the heat. They were evacuated on blankets to the rear. Then we were sent back to our last position one platoon at a time to gather up the equipment we had left behind in the advance, and bring it up to our now advanced position. We seemed to be getting ready to defend the position at all costs, and be there for the duration when the Major came up, and congratulated Captain Kurtz on his expliots and daring, and that the Lt.Col. and Col. were quite pleased with the developments. We all gave a hurrah for our Captain and his success. So, we all went to making serious shelters from the sun for ourselves and the officers. Once rested, we began to prepare some fires and food, since it had been many hours since eating last. The daring of the Captain now recognized by the staff, it was fitting to name this place, and it was thus named "Baker's Hill" for the obvious sun parched reasons. And we all had a good portion of supper, when the sky was beginning to cloud over.

At first, the screening of the sun was the most welcome, and many were waiting anxiously for the relief of darkness. This cloud front seemed to be coming from over the Blue Ridge plainly visible to the West from our knob. The wind was stong from the south, so many thought that it would blow past us to the north, and miss us. Others sort of wished for it to come an cool us off for a bit, and others thought that we might want to move our little camp down off the very peak of the knob. After a time, we started hearing thunder in the distance, and lightning was seen. We determined to finish our meals as the top priority. Then things started happening very fast. The wind changed from a southerly breeze to a westery gale. The sky got very dark in a hurry. The command post sent up the regimental surgeon to our position and ordered us to get off the crest, get down the ravine, and into the abandoned barns there immediately. About that instant, the storm raced over the ground and up the hill to encourage us. The orders were shouted to "Company G, pack up, and move out, Now!" I never saw so many in the company move so fast, even in the face of rebel shot and shell. They cut down the shebangs, rolled up their rolls, scrambled up their accouterments, and fell in with record time. The Captain lead us at the double quick along the ridge and down the ravine. All along the way, the shear howl of a cyclone was around us, whipping up the ashes and dust of the ground, and slamming them into our eyes. We were about half way to the barns, when it opened rain upon us. The rain started in drips, then deluges. The lightning was all around us, and lighting up entire sky. As we got off the crest, and headed down hill, you could feel the winds screaming up the gullies as if channeled into our ranks. We all came huffing into the barnyard, and went right into the open dors of the closest barn as the storm howled around us. The hail stones began to pelt us.

In the shelter of the ravine and the barns, we found a good many rebel soldiers in the barns as well. It was a sort of soldier's cease fire as the weather battled us both. We found men from the First and Fourth Texas there, and they were quite pleasant to converse with. We passed several hours in the barn wondering when the storm might pass, or if it ever would. The thunder was deafening, and the lightning quite severe. Some of the boys even worried that the high winds might knock the old barns down. And the rain came down in torrents. About dark, or at least the normal appointed time for it, since it was quite dark already, the storm let off just a bit. At that point, Lt.Col. Burt formed our two companies from the hills and lined us up. We marched off towards the headquarters along the winding road through the ravine back towards the river. The march was quite hard now, since the road had been turned to a sea of slick, sticky Virginia mud, and the footing was about six inches deep. We struggled through the mud, with secured arms, and heads down, and got soaked to the bone. About half way to our destination, our brave Captain strikes up with the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and all hands join in. It was quite a stirring moment, when of course we sing of how "He has loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword", and all the heavens light up and surround us with the effect. In a frightful situation, our brave band saw the victory, and the protection of the Lord with us, and His granting of our victory on the ridge, and the survival of the storm on "Thunder Mountain". Once back to the headquarters, we once again gained the protection of some barns there, heard the staff debriefing, and were conducted to the cars from there, and departed this locale towards the west.

There have been but few casualties in this operation, save for those caused by the extreme heat. The land around here is however infested with ticks, and the boys are soaking them up at an alarming rate. At every halt, they are all scratching and looking into each others clothes, trying to avoid being built into an earthwork for one of these pests. I alone had pulled three off today, and more to come, I am sure. They are the worst, but I prefer them to the mosquitoes of the lower regions. And there is some sort of creeping crud, like a poison ivy that I think I have contracted from sitting about, but that too might pass in a short time. Please write to me as often as you can about the littlest news from home, and I will do the same from these parts. I will write when I know where we might end up next, since we are now ordered to cook three days rations, and that will mean a good change of base from here. I presume that the rest of the Corps and our cavalry will be sufficent to hold Bakers Hill and the rebels at bay here, since they are limited in strength, and they appear to be only a rear guard for the main rebel army. I do not konw if we shall push them more, but we have pushed them off these hills, and obtained a good secure crossing point on the Rappahannock for the rest of our forces in the area.

Your humble and obedient servant,
Seth Plumb

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