Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
New Market Battlefield Event
New Market Battlefield State Park
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New Market, Virginia
May 19-20, 2001
North of New Market, Vir.
May 21st, 1864
Once again our God has permitted me to live through a fierce battle. I will take this opportunity to provide you with some particulars that you will not find in the papers.
Our company had arrived here in the valley after a long hard forced march far south up the Shenandoah valley on Friday afternoon. The valley at this point is quite sublime, with rolling fields, and grand shear walls. We arrived in sight of Mount Jackson, south of Massanutten on the plains and meadows to the right of the Valley Pike. We went directly into camp at the rear of the army, where our battalion was posted. The 3d battalion assignment found us in the company of the 63d Pa as first company, 148th Pa as second, the old 8CV as third company, and the 43 NY as fourth company. We all are formed as the 54th Pennsylvania. We threw off our bedrolls and erected our shelters quickly, as the impending clouds were threatening. And it was not long before the heavens gave forth, first to a welcome rain, which lasted a long time, and became a constant pest. We got up some wood, and a small fire, prepared our rations in the rain, and for the most part spent the night in pairs, chatting in our shelters, getting ever so wet. And as the night proceeded, so stalled the storm, and continued to soak all of Gods world around.
The morning could not come fast enough, as the dripping in the faces was not conducive for sleep, and a sun rise would be a welcome relief. At the appointed hour of 7 oclock, revielle was sounded to find half the battalion already up and trying to get the wells of water that were fire pits the evening previous to come up once more. Roll call and morning report were immediately executed, and the boys set to getting some breakfast which for me consisted of salty pork, potato, onion, hard crackers, and coffee. The next event was to get the company formed for a weapons inspection which was conducted by rotating orderly sergeants, and went well. The battalion was soon called into line, and then joined the brigade dress parade at 9 oclock. Then Colonel Liamo marched the entire brigade to a large meadow, where individual company drills were conducted, followed by reforming the battalion, and the obligatory battalion drills. All along there was a constant rain, and the tall grass was quite wet, so you might imagine that we were wet to the bone. A very singular condition develops at the point where a man can no longer get any wetter or inconvenienced by rain, and so it is no longer important. After the drills, we were returned to camp for a cold dinner, mine consisting of a couple apples, cheese, hard crackers, and coffee.
It was not long before the battalion and the brigade were called out once more. We were formed and dresses, and then headed out in column of companies to the south for some time. We would pass along the fields and meadows, crossing the fences as they came, and using the lanes where practicable. After several miles, we were halted and put into line, where we stacked arms, and rested. After a fashion, our cavalry appeared on our right flank, and the other brigades formed on our left. It seemed that the rain had slowed to a mist, and that the sun might appear, but did not materialize.
After a brief rest, the rebel pickets could be seen approaching to test our strength. Our skirmishers also went out to meet them, and the contest was on. Soon, the rebel skirmishers were withdrawn as the full brigade line of battle approached. They opened on us in force, and we replied with more, to which they began retiring, and continued to draw us forward. We pushed them along, and through a barnyard and farm and back out in the meadows. They would push and pull, and the fighting was hot and fierce, at times at close range. Once pushed beyond the last snake fence past the farm place, the rebels settled into line, and sort of gathered their breath, as did our boys. During this brief reprieve, men of both sides were sent forward to help the wounded caught between the lines back to the safety of their own ranks. In this course of events, some insult was received, and our Lt. Col. ordered his guard to shoot the men. This being done, was to "have witnessed a murder", and so the rebels thought. They immediately answered with a battalion volley, and a charge. They came on so fast, that we could not retire in order, and their right wing got onto our left flank, and rolled it up. Many were casualties, and many more were captured, including the survivors of our company. They were caught by the 5th Texas, but owing to the men not being able to locate their officers, they "paroled" us on the spot, and we returned the compliment. We rallied on the battalion, and marched back to our original camps. The rains had indeed stopped for a time.
Shortly, the orders came for our 3d battalion to break down camp, and be prepared to march at 7 oclock p.m. This was done with some minor grumbling in the ranks, and the column moved out at precisely 7 for the front. Where we disengaged in the battle along the front, was now the sentinel line that we were to maintain for the next 12 hours. The picket posts went up, and the fires started. I was able to get up some hot supper of canned meat, potatoes, and onions, and it was surely relished.
The line of sentinels was extended perpendicular to the ridge and cliffs dropping off to our right. There was a fine view from this plateau across the north branch and valley. It is quite sublime, and a good strategic anchor for our lines. We divide the night up into 4 reliefs, each battalion company taking a turn. Our third company drew the first relief, and so was instructed as to the deployment, the countersign, and the particulars of the guard. We conducted two rotations of the guard during our time, and were relieved by fourth company. Our boys mostly collapsed into their beds in total exhaustion. During the third relief, the rains returned once more. We slept heartily, and the morning brought special orders exempting us from formation, dress parade, and the other daily customs until noon. But, of course, our battalion then received orders to break the forward picket camp down, and return to the base army camp at 11. oclock, which was accomplished in short order.
Once back in our old spot, no one rushed to erect the camps, since it was still early, and no orders had been given, so the arms were stacked, and the equipment piled. The major called for a ring of men to be formed, to contain a fair and honest wrestling match between two private soldiers who had become combative.It was "Mongo" versus "Bonzo", and the Lt.Col. was present to judge a greco-roman wrestling match, best of three. As the boys in the ring cheered, the plates of money were circulated, and the contest began, it was Bonzo who gained the first pin. Then the second round commenced, and the pin was awarded to Mongo. In the third and final decision, it was once again Mongo, and he was declared the winner. My bet would have been on Mongo as well as he is taller, and equally strong. Bonzo was a surprising, since his legs were very strong, and they were better matched than I imagined. Whatever beef they had between them seemed to have been resolved in this public forum, and the major insists that is how all issues between the men shall be likewise resolved.
Almost as soon as the fight was concluded, the drums started beating assembly once more, and once again, the battalion and then the brigade was formed and marched south. We once again went into line, and prepared to meet the enemy, which only took a few moments to occur. The rebels were advancing fast upon our lines, and were not inclined to stop their drive. The 1st West Virginia went forward on our left flank, then the 33d Mass. on their right. They quickly became heavily engaged, and used up a good amount of ammunition. They were being pushed back, and began to yield. They started to retire, and the rebels went after them. We as the 54th Pa. advanced on the rebel center and engaged their attention and focus, while the 1 WV and the 33Ma make good their withdrawal. We stood in and received a hail of lead, and when too hot, we retired in order by the right of companies to the rear, would reform our lines, and continue to stall their push, while costing a considerable loss. We made the stand and the orderly retirement four or five times prior to our truly being out of ammunition. The word was passed, and the medical corps gathered several handfuls from the wounded and passed them around. We braced for the final resistance, while the other two regiments made good their retreat. The rebel line lurched forward once more, reforming in the meadow past the the farm. On they came, and it looked like a company of cadets were in the lead as they pushed on towards our artillery on the center. As the rebel line overcame the guns, the crews escaped, and we gave one last battalion volley, and then retired by the right of companies, and picked up the pace, as the rebel lines were closing on our heels. We also made good our get away but for the heavy tolls on our ranks. In our company, we lost Pvt. Reid, we saw him collapse in a heap as he was crossing the second snake fence, we set help to him, but he was left behind. We know not of his disposition at this time.
I am most heartily tired, and sore in the feet and legs. I am still soaked through to the bone, and simply must wait for the sun to make an appearance before I will dry. Such is the soldier's duty, "All in three years". I do not know if we will turn and stand down the valley, or if the rebels will bother to advance, but for now the situation is that we are heading north, and are not being pursued. The local citizens are surely happy to see us go. Once we have an established camp, I will take pen to paper and write you a longer treatise, but for present I implore you to write to me, as I have not had a letter from you in about 12 days. The last was of the 4th instant, having arrived in five days. Tell me all the news, large and small, that I would hear if I were there with you. We believe here that this war cannot continue much longer, and the rebels surely are showing signs of exhaustion, but not here locally. The papers all show them putting heroic stands against lop sided odds. That shall not last. May we gain the right to see this war to an honorable end.
Your humble and obedient servant,
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.