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Civil War Diary

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Part 9: Into the Valley

The great aspect of the American Civil War for a historian is the fact that many soldiers wrote diaries or sent letters home to loved ones, describing their experiences during the War Between the States. It is in their words, that I want you, the reader, to understand what they went through. Their words are all that we have left of their exploits during the Civil War. Albert Hunter was commissioned as Second Lieutenant during the early winter months of 1861 and he had experienced his first baptism of fire at Hancock, Maryland in early January of 1862. Now, Lieutenant Hunter will tell us, in his own words, what he experienced in the Shenandoah Valley during their first battle against General Stonewall Jackson.

"In the spring, notes warlike, began to fill the air and camps, and we were detached to Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley for our first blood in battle. In March we were ordered to Winchester, Virginia as part of General Bank's Division. We had been there a month, perhaps, and all seemed quiet. General Banks with the troops, but a couple of regiments of Infantry and about 200 hundred cavalry left the place in command of General Ben S. Shields. In twenty four hours after they had gone General Thomas Jackson attacked the place."

"Just about sunset our pickets were driven in, and in less time than it takes me to tell about it, a half a dozen six pound solid shot came ricocheting into the suburbs of the town, and if they would have taken the town, for our troops were all on the other side a half mile out. But in a very short time all we had confronting Stonewall's advance, General Shields as his habit must go to the front, to see for himself. He had not been there for more than fifteen minutes when a shell busted over his head and a piece of shell fragment struck him in the arm and broke the small bone in his forearm. General Banks refused to be taken back, but went into a small house to have his arm bandaged up, he stayed up all night until the close of the battle, then turned over the command of the field to Colonel Kinball."

"During the night we got all available forces into position and at day light the "mill" began. Colonel Kinball handled a small force, he had well. General Shields had the highest house in town for headquarters and could see much of the maneuvering. Orderlies reported to him every few minutes and together they managed to drive Jackson back, and when night came we had men three miles from town. The cavalry did not do much fighting, but watched the flanks and reported the position of the enemy. When night came we were preparing to camp on the line of battle, when Colonel Kinball rode along the line, and I can hear him just as he passed each organization, saying in stentorian tone that the rebels certainly heard "Boys our mission here today was to lick them and damn them we did it." We had no rations along, and we concluded to make the best of it for our whole company to go picket a mile or two out on the road to the west. This compelled us to do without rations or forage until morning."

"Early in the morning we heard wagons and artillery moving, but no firing. We did not know what this meant. We were not relieved, and stayed at our post until the sun was nearly two hours high. We were hungry, and our horses need fed. We finally agreed to leave our post and go to the battlefield and see what was up. When we arrived there the army was gone. We learned that before daylight Jackson commenced retreat up the Valley toward Strasburg and Colonel Kinball was in hot pursuit. We hurried back into camp, supplied our own and our horses demands and started in hot pursuit of the army, which we over took at Middletown some 16 miles up the Valley from Winchester, and also found General Banks with part of the men he had taken away. We reached Cedar Creek, appearances indicated that a wagon train belonging to Jackson's force was standing among the bushes at the ford, and we could see a battery on the hill beyond apparently guarding what ever might be there."

"A squadron of the Ringold Cavalry and our company were ordered to charge down the hill to the creek and capture whatever was there. At the word of command away we went at full gallop. 1st Lieut. W. B. Morrision and myself in command, Capt. John Rener delayed at Middletown for some purpose. We had not gone a hundred yards before a six pounder went screaming just over our heads, and I shall never forget the simultaneous obeisance the whole column made. If a rod had been fastened to each head and pressed at a given signal and all obeyed at the same instant it could not have been more perfectly performed."

"One shot after another followed in rapid succession knocking the dirt out of the stone fences on the side of the road and covering us with dirt and dust. When we got to the creek, we did not find anything to capture, but saw a company of infantry dodge behind a bank expecting to give us a raking cross fire as we passed, but after finding the stream, we called a halt. The shells fell thick in the water. I shall never forget the shower of water thrown over me by a solid shot falling close beside me. We returned up the hill through a field, and as soon as our elevation brought us in sight of the battery, they hurried us by plowing the ground around us very liberally, with shells."

"Job Mority of our company, came to me after the affray was over and said "I never was scared so bad in all my life, I got as weak as a dish rag. I don't care for bullets but I can't stand dinner pots."

"In our hurry leaving Winchester, and thoughtlessly, we did not take any rations or forage along, and forward evening we found we were to camp on the banks of the creek, but company "C" had an innate propensity for taking care of themselves. It did not take many minutes to discover a flock of sheep in a neighboring field, and not much longer to convert one into mutton, which with a few "hard tack" made a fine supper, and the corn cribs and haystacks of the farmers around supplied our horses. Sometime during the night, the quarter master arrived with provisions, before daylight we were supplied with hardtack and bacon which many of us ate raw, started after Jackson. He made a stand on Fisher's Hill but not very stubborn, and we followed nearly to New Market, where we were ordered to return."

"On the morning after the first days fight, when we came in from picket riding over the battlefield of the day previous, we saw our first dead men lying over the field. It made quite a different impression from what I had expected. It just seemed as if it was, and ought to be the natural and the right thing to be, and I did not have that peculiar dread, or awe when looking at the dead."

"We lost about 10, the rebels about 125, and two or three hundred wounded. I recollect one dead man lying in the woods that seemed to have been struck on the shoulder by a descending cannon ball, which almost literally annihilated him, what was left looked as if it would go in a pick basket."

"Our company had no casualties, I went into that battle expecting to do big business. I buckled on my saber, one or two revolvers and carbine strapped over my shoulder, but it was the last time I carried a carbine. Officers are expected to see that others do the most of the fighting and direct how it is to be done, rather watch opportunities and only defend themselves, except in a charge when everyone is expected to bow his own rod in carnage to glory."

"The female portions of the citizens of Winchester were generally very vindictive rebels, some spit out of the windows on Union soldiers, severely threats were made against them, but none carried in effect. A few, a very few were loyal there at the core and it took bravery to be loyal there at the time. I have visited some of them, but have forgotten their names. The lady that gave General Sheridan information, and to whom the General gave a gold watch gave me several meals when I was a prisoner, sometime afterwards, in the town. We remained in Winchester for some time doing scout duty, and occasionally exchanging shots with the enemy."

Part 10: The Invasion of Pennsylvania

Read Captain Hunter's full personal account of the war between the sates.

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War