Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
Burnside Bridge & Torch Light Tour
Antietam National Battlefield Park
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September 17-18, 2005
Sept. 18, 1862
in camp at the Burnside bridge
We have been in a great battle and the old Eighth has been bloodied terribly. We arrived at this point bivouacing at the base of the lower bridge across the Antietam Friday evening, and with all the pomp and ceremony that could be mustered after such losses as close to home as we have had, we marched into camp and set ourselves up on the banks of the creek. We put out a police guard that night, not so much as to protect us from the enemy, whom is said to have escaped across the Potomac, but rather t o keep other predators out and military order within.
The weather here is now pristine, warm days, cool nights, and clear skies. Nothing could be better for our spirits than to be able to walk the battle grounds in such pleasant weather. We awoke Saturday morning, and after a roll call went about the chores of breakfast, weapons maintenance, and then proceeded to drill. We started with a long session of manual of arms, building the confidence of our veterans back into a fighting body. We were inundated with the visits and queries of the citizens of the town and from all over the Union, having arrived here in little Sharpsburg to inquire as to the where abouts of their kin in the army, and as to the history and experiences of the Eighth in the battle.. We were pleased to communicate with them and our conversations were of every variety. We spoke to almost 400 citizens in the course of the day.
At the end of the day, we formed the company and were to sound retreat and lower our colors for the day. We came to present arms, when all the soldiers in the right platoon started whistling retreat. It was an exquisite priveledge to hear. We all stood at attention until the airs were still again. Then Shoulder arms, break ranks, march. The boys simply were not going to allow the colors to be retired without the customary honors, even if we did not have any field music present. They are the heroes and patriots of the Union.
Our company, about 20 in number at roll, were ordered to the north end of the battle field, and were placed in the Smoketown Hospital. This is a general hospital for convelescing the soldiers who were sick and wounded, but would return to their companies for service. Almost all severely wounded soldiers and those with amputations from the general hospitals have long since been moved to Baltimore and Washington, or send home. We were there under the command of one Doctor Hall, a Major surgeon, and the care of several volunteer nurses. Our boys were detailed to look after the supply needs of the hospital, loading and unloading boxes of supplies, and otherwise making the time pass by playing a little cards, sleeping, writing letters, reading tracts, or otherwise engaging ourselves.
There was one Sergeant in the hospital named Nathan, who periodically and most incessantly would whine and complain about his ankle wound. The nurse would insist there was nothing wrong, the bandages were fresh, he had no fever, and that there was nothing she could do. Nathan would insist that the pain was terrible, and that he wanted to see the doctor. Well, Dr. Hall would come, and look, and tell Nathan again there was nothing to be done, that it looked like he had been scratching at it, and that he ought to stop picking at the wound. Nathan insists that he has not been scratching, but some buffoon had fallen on the ankle, insulting the wound further. The doctor simply gives him something from his bag to help, and we all hope it was some opium that would give Nathan and us all a little rest.
There was a parade of civilians coming to the hospital looking for their sons and brothers in the army. One group of women from Carlisle appeared looking for their nephew from the 7th Pa Reserves. His name was "Billy Sykes". He was not to be found, and as the orderly checks the ledgers, he finds Billy has been sent off, and he escorts the women to that venue.
Just off to the east about a mile, there is the field office of the Quartermaster General, and his representatives there collecting and handling claims for compensation from the government for damages to personal and private property by the army during the battle. I have heard that Mr. Pry was there, and as a friend to Genl. McClellan, who had is head quarters at the Pry house, Mr. Pry was quickly taken care of. Mr. Mumma, whose house was burned to the ground, was a little more desperate, and then there was Mr. Piper, whose house was behind enemy lines the entire battle got a little heated over his reception.
All told, we were discharged from the hospital duty, and returned to camp. The moon was full, and casting shadows for a very pleasant evening and night. We were almost ready to turn out the lights, when we were sitting about the campfire. Then the strains of a tin whistle up on the bridge reached our ears, sounding Brahm's Lullaby. The musician sounded away several pieces, hymns, and then played an emotional rendition of Amazing Grace. Every man was silent, turning into each ones soul, studying our hearts, and our feelings for our selfs, our experiences, our friends, our families, and our fallen comrades. When the music stopped, we saw Nathan walk back into the camp, and go to bed. But not without a hearty handshake or two.
There came a black long hair cat through the camp that had caused some stir with our guard. In this moonlight there is quite a semblance of the fuzzy black tail to a skunk. Well, the cat was extremely friendly, so the boys named him "Burnside" and fed him freely. The cat visited each man and each tent in succession, and stuck around for quite some time. The boys talked of adopting him, and some talked about frying him. In the end, the cat departed our camp only when we struck it days later.
On the Sabbath dawn, we were all up again at roll call. We proceeded to get some coffee, and were immediately ordered back to the west of the bridge, and we retraced the steps of the Eighth during the battle exactly. We crossed over the ground, and felt the past come roaring into our minds. Our colors were flying on honor of those who fell or defended it. We marched across the battle field, and over the land that "from the creek with a hard name I cannot remember, rises hill upon hill up to the town of Sharpsburg." The oral history was recounted, and at last we arrived at the monument to the Eighth Conn. Vols at their point of farthest advance. We formed the company, stood for some photographs, and heard some appropriate words of prayer spoken by Nathan. We blinked back some wet eyes, walked around the monument a few times and returned to camp.
We took our time preparing some hot breakfast rations, and when orders to be ready to march at a moments notice and one days rations came, we took our camp apart, packed our bedrolls, and were ready to leave the battle field for the last time. It was a time of friendship, camraderie, and deep bonds. We moved to the north, and at this writing do not know where we will be stationed. Direct to Washington as usual. All the boys are well, including Nathan, but we dearly hope that all of the "Billy Sykes" of the army are found and reunited with their families again.
God bless you all at home, and from your affectionate son and brother,
Best love, Seth.
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.