Editor’s note: In light of Veterans Day, this month’s Courier-Herald editions will include excerpts from a local Civil War soldier’s diary. To keep with the authenticity of the diary, misspellings have been kept in place, as well as words and phrases that would normally not be printed. This is part four of four.
Corporal Theodore Hill Jr. is nearing the end of service in the Civil War, and so far, has managed to stay relatively unscathed.
Though the Civil War was a bloody affair, some civilians came out to watch battles, as Hill will soon recount.
One of the most famous occurrences of this was during the first Battle of Bull Run, when spectators — including, amazingly, U.S. Congressmen — showed up with sandwiches and opera glasses, expecting a quick victory. Unfortunately for them, the Union was handily beaten, and spectators had to run for cover.
There was a poem written about this event, published in the Boston Herald at the time. Here are the first two stanzas:
“Have you heard of the story so lacking in glory/ About the Civilians who went to the fight/ With everything handy, from sandwich to brandy/ to Fill their broad stomaches and make them all tight.
There were bulls from our State street, and cattle from Wall street/ And members of Congress to see the great fun/ Newspaper reporters (some regular shorters)/On a beautiful Sunday went out to Bull Run.”
June 1, 1864: At twelve last night we’re called to march at one. Started out at daylight. They said we are going to Cold Harbor. Marched until one before we got near out destination. The day was hot and dusty, marching very severe.
We relieved Calvary upon arrival and formed a line of battle. The rebels were here in good numbers and at five we made the charge. The pits were gained, but the troops gave way in some places and we were forced to give up a portion of the ground gained. We lay in the road all night. Threw up a rifle pit and lay all day firing. Buried many tonight, two of our men hit by our own bullets.
June 2: Did not get relieved last night and spent the night in the rain. At midnight we drew rations and at four, ordered to charge. The 2nd corps did not meet with success as the distance of the charge was too far. We then moved a little to the right and into the third line of battle where we lay yet. We lost more men today.
(The next night:)
While eating supper tonight something struck me on the head resulting in a deep cut about half an inch long. Don’t know whether it was a spent ball or a piece of wood knocked from a tree.
(The next day:)
While eating dinner I was struck on the leg with a spent ball. Some firing today and about six, a flag of truce went out to bring off the wounded and bury the dead.
(A “spent ball” is what we would now call a bullet. During the Civil War, the ammunition many soldiers used was called a Minié or Minni ball. This ammunition was easier to pack into a firearm than other bullets at the time, allowing for a faster firing rate.)
June 5 – 7: Turned out at four, stood in line half an hour. It was very quiet during the night and all forenoon. Both sides were exposed to view and the evening papers were exchanged between the lines. This is forbidden by the officers. But in the morning the rebs were talking with our boys and at about ten they told us we had better lay low and at the same time dropped into their holes.
Soon after shots were exchanged and heavy firing all day. Were relieved by the second division at dark. But soon routed again and sent back to the front. This is hard on the troops but the officers seem to think one day’s rest out of nine is sufficient.
(According to the original 1969 Courier-Herald article, soldiers started pinning their names to their uniforms for the purpose of easy identification. Union casualties at Cold Harbor were estimated at 55,000. Hill’s regiment is now sent to the James River.)
June 15: The bridge is finished and troops and trains have been crossing all day. There is a small fleet here in the river and it looks quite home-like. We are to sail aboard a transport which will take us to the city front.
(The city referred to is Petersburg, where a siege of the city lasted from June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1965.)
Last night at around 12, we arrived at the railroad station. Got our supper and went to tearing up the track. At daylight we set fire to the piles of ties we had pulled up. We placed the rails on top of the piles and the fires could be seen for miles.
We were called at 3 a.m. to march again. Arrived at rifle pits around 7. We are in a very bad position being in an open field and all is covered with four or five inches of dust forcing us to stay, if we stayed at all, in the dust. The weather is near unbearable being so hot and dry.
July 4: This has been the first 4th spent in the service that our regiment has been off duty. July 4, (1861), were parading the streets of Portland. July 4, ‘62, were in line of battle at Harrisons Landing. July 4, ‘63, at Gettysburg and today near Petersburg. The day has been quiet and bands playing on all sides.
Has been comfortable today and I finally drew clothing this afternoon and washed my body for the first time since I left winter quarters. Felt so good to change my clothes, having not been able before as I lost my extra clothing these long days on the line in the “Wilderness.”
July 10: Last night at nine the bugle sounded the General’s call, we packed and at 11, were off for Maryland. Arrived at six and went on board the steamer “Columbus” and at dark we steamed out.
July 12: (Arriving in Washington D.C.) The president was up to the front this afternoon the rebels being a short distance away. Also many of the citizens are out to see the fighting.
July 13: This has been the day I have been looking forward to for some time. We have been relieved and tomorrow at 8 a.m. we leave for home. The fifth left this afternoon and the balance of the regiment marched at one. The rebels left in front of this position last night and the troops have come in after. ‘Tis said the railroad is cut in several places between Washington and Philadelphia. We lay now at Brightwood Park. Just give miles from Washington and just in sight of Fort Slocum.
July 14: Started from Brightwood Grove at six this morning and reached the city at about seven. Stopped at the soldiers’ rest home and got a pass and went to the Smithsonian Institution, patent office, the capital and other places. Turned in my gun and equipment this afternoon and am now ready to leave for home.
July 15: Lay around the barracks most of the day. Went to the city once or twice and up to the capital. At one, we fell in and went to the depot to get on board the cars, but they were full so had to go back and wait for the non o’clock train.
July 16: Arrived in Baltimore at about 1 a.m. and were marched to the soldiers’ rest home where we got breakfast and lay down on the sidewalk until morning. We lay here all day and expect to go tomorrow by water. Have been up to the city today. ‘Tis a very pretty place and regularly laid out.
July 22: (Arrives in Portland, Maine) We expected some kind of a reception and was not disappointed. They reinacted the old 4th of July ‘61 with one exception. They also had a dinner for us. Started from Portland at ten last night aboard the steamer “Lady Lang.” Arrived at Bangor at 12. Stopped at the exchange til ten then took the stage for Machias.
July 24: Arrived at Machias at four this afternoon and found everything about as I had left it four years ago.
Aug. 2: Since my arrival at Machias, I have beglected my diarty but have busied myself in making calls and visiting my friends. Spend last week at home or what I call home, but it is a home no longer as in four years I have moved a lifetime away. I expect to be mustered out by August 12.
(According to the original Courier-Herald article, Hill moved west, married, raised a family and moved to the Plateau. He died in Buckley in 1925 at the age of 87.)