Dramatic Incident At Fort Mchenry
In the winter of '62-'63 our Regiment was removed to Fort McHenry, where
Confederate prisoners of war were detained. General W. W. Morris, an old
regular, commanded the Brigade (Headquarters were there) and Colonel
Peter A. Porter (whose monument is at Goat Island, Niagara Falls)
commanded the Post. We were carrying there about one thousand
Confederate and political prisoners. A large percentage of them were
Early in '63 our Regiment was ordered to the front by way of Harper's
Ferry. When we arrived at the Ferry I was the first officer detailed for
a two-days' turn of picket duty on Bolivar Heights.
Harper's Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and
Shenandoah rivers. The Potomac cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains
there. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal runs along the north bank of the
Potomac, rugged mountains enclose it, presenting an alpine appearance.
Here the "John Brown raid" began. It was formerly the location of one of
the great national arsenals. When encamped there in '63 the Regiment was
in tents on Camp Hill; the officers were quartered in a building which
had been the home of the officers of the arsenal.
Our Regiment, nominally a heavy artillery regiment, was thoroughly
schooled in the heavy tactics and also as light or field artillery and
infantry; able or qualified to be used in either arm of the service with
equal facility. The order to proceed to the front was hailed with
delight, duty in the field being a panacea for garrison bickerings.
Later the regiment was moved to Halltown, encamped on the Miller farm,
and threw out pickets. I was on first detail there. I learned how to get
a fair sleep on top of a "herring-bone" rail fence. My proclivity for
"prying into things" manifested itself there. An attack was expected, so
our regiment slept on arms, anxiously waiting; it became tedious. I
asked permission to reconnoitre alone, and was permitted. In the dark I
sneaked out about a mile, and listened; three or four cavalrymen came
whirling down the road as if riding for life; they roused the regiment.
They were blood stained, but upon examination the blood was found to
have come from one of their own horses. Such scares and mistakes were
frequent, especially with fresh troops. I was in a dilemma to get back
into line without being shot, but it was accomplished. The regiment was
ordered back to Baltimore for garrison duty.
I was detailed to convey prisoners away many times. Once I took ninety
odd Confederate officers to Johnson's Island, Sandusky, Ohio. Among them
was Lieutenant General Pemberton, who had commanded at Vicksburg, and
who had, on July 4th, surrendered Vicksburg with thirty-seven thousand
men, fifteen general officers and sixty thousand stand of arms. I was
surprised at the great number of "Copperheads" we met in crossing Ohio.
My exhibition of Confederate prisoners was treated as a first-class
circus; it "drew" the "Copperheads" and they flocked to the stations
along the route to express sympathy and admiration. What was a
"Copperhead"? I will try to tell you: he stood, relatively, as the
Tories to the Revolution. They were composed of several elements; some
wore so greedy of gain they wanted no war that might interfere with
their finances; some were too cowardly; some were too partisan
politically, really thinking their fealty was due to those who were
fighting against an administration nominally representing an opposing
political party; all of them forming a mass to be influenced by
conspirators who were pursuing an intelligent purpose to destroy the
Union; just such material as was needed by Vallandigham, Seymour,
Andrews, Morgan and Lee to help their projects of further disruption.
What became of them? They sank out of sight when the Confederate cause
was lost. Naturally they were scorned by the men who had fought for the
Union. As time goes on, they and their work is being forgotten. Future
historians may be more kind to them than we who suffered because of
them, but it is not likely that the descendants of any Copperhead will
claim public honors for their anti-Union forbears.
I am reminded of an incident that was told widely through the armies:
When Lee's army reached York, Pa., on the way to Gettysburg, these
Copperheads went out to meet the Confederates, and assure them "how they
had always loved them." The Confederates wanted tangible proof of this
love; they demanded that one hundred thousand dollars in gold be paid at
once; else the town of York would be burned. Now, wasn't that unkind!
but lovers must ever be ready to prove, you know.
On our way home we had a railroad smash at Mifflin, Pa. I was curled up,
asleep in my seat, but received only a scratch on my forehead. I crawled
out of a window and helped recover bodies from the wreckage.
Fort McHenry is an historic spot. The scene described in our "Star
Spangled Banner" was dedicated to it. It was its ramparts Key referred
to in his first verse. In 1812 the fort was garrisoned by one thousand
men under Major Armisted, to guard Baltimore from an attack by sea.
September 13th, 1814, the British admiral, with sixteen heavy war
vessels, opened bombardment upon the fort. Its guns failed to reach the
fleet till some of the vessels approached nearer. He met so warm a
reception that they withdrew, badly damaged. A force of one thousand men
landed to surprise the fort in the rear, but they were repulsed. At
midnight the firing ceased. Next day the fleet withdrew and Baltimore
was safe. During the bombardment Francis Scott Key, a prisoner on board
the British fleet, wrote the "Star Spangled Banner."
I shall never forget July 4th, 1863. The crucial battle of the war,
Gettysburg, was being fought. Meade had just succeeded Hooker in command
of the army. Anxiously the wisdom of the change was being watched by
every soldier. It was my fortune to be detailed as officer of the guard
at Fort McHenry that day. Guardmount is always an inspiring exercise,
for then troops are carefully inspected and instructed before entry on
their tour of duty. Fort McHenry is an ideally beautiful spot, situated
on the point of a peninsula formed by the confluence of the north and
south forks of the Patapsco river. The spot is loved by every American.
A picture, a combination of events, produced the most strikingly
emotional effect upon me. We were formed on the exact ground overlooked
by Key when he wrote:
"Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
I was trying to examine arms. Our Post Band, the 2d Artillery Band, one
of the grandest in the service, was playing that soul lifting piece. The
north fork of the Patapsco was filled with transports, carrying bronzed
veterans (I think the 19th Corps), who were hurrying to Gettysburg, and
these boys were yelling for twice their number; cheers upon cheers. On
the balcony of one of our prison buildings was a prisoner of war, a
lineal descendant of Francis Scott Key, overlooking the scene. And I
thought of our flag over yonder to the northwest, forty miles away at
Gettysburg. Yesterday and day before we had listened, straining our ears
to hear the guns. Was our flag still there? Had our boys with Meade
stood fast against the lion of the Confederacy, or had the Stars and
Bars been flaunted victorious upon the battle ground? God knows how our
hearts were strained in those hours. And when I heard the cheers of our
soldiers upon the transports and thought of Francis Scott Key and how he
had watched to see if Old Glory still waved, my eyes were blinded with
tears. I had to suspend my inspection to dry them. I was not alone
affected; there were many. Such tears one need not be ashamed of; they
are not evidence of weakness. An army of men inspired by such emotions
would be best to avoid.
I shall never forget the relief which came to our anxiety the next
morning (July 5th), Gettysburg was ours. Lee was started back to
Virginia. Vicksburg, too, was ours. Indeed, crucial was the day, July
4th, 1863. Every one of our ninety millions of united Americans should
ever give thanks for the events of that day.