There was never any need of a detail when it was known that Lieut. Powell was to command. There was a beautiful girl at the house, whom the sergeant got to see, and with whose beauty he was it seemed, much impressed. It appeared that the matter rested upon his mind; and the next day, though a quiet man, he referred to her beauty in evident admiration, saying, "Boys that was a mighty pretty girl that we saw last night, and I have a notion to go back there.
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The regiment at this date received orders to proceed to Clarksburg, W. Jones, who was raiding the country about there generally. We marched through that old town of Charlestown, W. As showing the extent of the name and fame of John Brown, an incident is here given in substance, as related some years ago by the late Thomas Hughes, "Tom Brown of Rugby," then ex-member of parliament. He listened and soon discovered that the sound proceeded from a regiment of British soldiers crossing the bridge singing, "John Brown's body lies mouldering in the tomb," etc.
In writing about this occurrence he indulged in this reflection. That when such men as he should be forgotten, the name of John Brown would still be remembered. The lights were out, the streets deserted, the citizens apparently had retired for the night; and the town seemed wrapped in slumber.
There was nothing to disturb the quiet of the night, and the solemn stillness of all about, but the monotonous tramp, tramp of the soldiers as they marched; when suddenly the quiet was broken; Company A, at the head of the regiment struck up the song of "John Brown," and other companies taking it up soon all were singing.
It seemed as if the citizens of the old town were startled! Possibly they thought the spirit of John Brown had come back from the spirit world to haunt them. Then the moral atmosphere of our land was murky with greed, selfishness and prejudice.
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Men's understandings were perverted; they called wrong right, and preached it as a holy thing. It was almost true, that he had no friend, that dared proclaim the fact, and that none were so poor as to do him reverence. Then, too, there were distant rumblings of a coming storm, but the cloud on the horizon was no larger than a man's hand. The whole country was turned into a field of war. There were other soldiers on duty now. They were fighting to maintain the Union of their fathers, "shouting the battle cry of freedom," and every step they took was leading to the doom of slavery.
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Men saw things differently now; and while the men of the old Twelfth, like many others, gave a sort of superficial disapproval of the conduct of John Brown, deep down in their hearts, in these perilous times which were anew trying men's souls, they felt an admiration for the old hero who died bravely, in an insane attempt to free from bondage a despised race; and hence, they sang with gusto the John Brown war song, as they marched through that town in the Valley which will suggest his name for generations to come.
We got off the cars here, got our dinner and marched the same day to Clarksburg.
The Rebel Gen. Jones made no attack on the place. During this stay at this place, Mr. Nathaniel Wells, of Brooke county, brought tickets out from Hancock county, for the soldiers of the latter to vote. The next morning we took the cars at this place for Martinsburg, arriving there the following night; and in the morning following, we started on the march up the Valley Pike for Winchester, more than "Twenty miles away" arriving on the fifth at that place. We camped on the southwest of the town. Here at this time we drew shelter tents.
This appeared like getting down to business—looked like stripping for a fight. The near future was pregnant with events for the Twelfth; the time for the battle of Winchester under Gen. Milroy was not far off. And an important crisis for the entire nation in the progress of the war was almost at hand, involving the welfare of the country and the better interests of mankind generally; for the battle of Gettysburg, the greatest battle of the war, and the greatest battle ever fought on American soil—a battle which is now regarded as the turning point of the war, was about to be fought.
We sometimes wondered whether we should ever get into a battle.
It is safe to say that most of the boys were anxious to see, at least, one fight; and some of them were want to say somewhat boastfully, that they were "spoiling for a fight. There began to be signs of a coming conflict in this field of operations. The next day after our return to this place we had orders to lie on our arms the succeeding night; and the next night. Sunday, the seventh, at 10 o'clock three companies, D, E, and I, were sent out on the Strasburg road to reinforce the picket there.
The three companies stayed out till morning, when they returned to camp. Two days later the situation was becoming more threatening.
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Northcott were ordered out to support, at night, a section of artillery, which at the time was placed in position every night to be ready in case of an attack. This day, the eleventh, Major Pierpont gave us a farewell address, he having resigned as mayor, to accept the office of adjutant general of West Virginia. He left much to the regret of the Twelfth, being a general favorite. The next day the Eighty-seventh Pennsylvania with some cavalry and artillery went out the Strasburg road five miles, and ambushing a force of Rebel cavalry, they killed and wounded some fifty of them, and captured about forty prisoners without the loss of a man of the Eighty-seventh.
The boys of that regiment came back in good spirits saying, that they had "skunked them. They returned from doing that duty at 7 o'clock next morning; but before they got their breakfast, the whole regiment was ordered into line. After standing in line for awhile, we got orders to fill our canteens with water and get one day's rations in our haversacks; and about 11 o'clock we marched out on the Strasburg road. At the same time, cannonading commenced on our left, which told us the battle was on.
Here we were ordered to take off and pile up our knapsacks, which we did. The Rebels were advancing a heavy skirmish line in front; and soon were heard those peculiar sounds, the whistling of the minnie-balls, to which the men afterward became quite accustomed.
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So unaccustomed were they to the whistling sounds, that they began to question among themselves as to what they were, some saying that they were the sounds of flying bullets; others that they were not. An officer hearing the talk said: "Boys those are bullets as sure as you live. We held the Rebels in check in our front. After a while Adjt. Caldwell reporting that the enemy was flanking us on our right, Company A, under command of Lieut. Burley was ordered to form a skirmish line, and move to that flank to protect it. The force there, however, moving against us was too heavy to be kept back by one company of skirmishes; so the Colonel ordered us to fall back behind a small creek which position we held till dark.
We filed off the field by the left flank, and in doing so the right had to march the length of the regiment before gaining a step to the rear. It was while thus marching to the point of filing left to the rear, Lieut. Bradley, of Company I, was shot dead. We left our knapsacks in the woods, where we had unslung them. They, of course, fell into the hands of the Johnnys, who, no doubt, examined them with a good deal of interest.
This, our first engagement, was the only one in which we met with anything like a general loss of equipments. Curtis, then Captain of Company D, used to tell this anecdote concerning this day's fighting. There was an Irishman in his company whose name was Tommy Burke, who, like his nationality in general, was quick-witted and humorous.
During the fighting in the woods the hammer was shot off his gun, and about the same time he missed his haversack, Tommy believed—no doubt correctly—that it had been shot away too. Being thus completely knocked out as it were, he turned to the Captain saying, with reference principally, it is presumed to the loss of his haversack, "Captain, Captain, the bloody Rebels have cut ahff my supplies. At 2 o'clock in the morning, Sunday the 14th, we marched up into the fortifications, remaining there till 7 o'clock. At this time while in the fortifications, Lieut. Melvin of Company I, arrived from home, showing that the rear was still open till near that Sunday morning, at least.
We took a position behind a stone wall between the Strasburg and Romney roads, and about a mile from the main fort, which we held till ordered back. A little later two companies as skirmishers took position behind the stone wall we had just left. The left wing was held in reserve, while the right supported a battery placed at about yards from the Rebel lines. Our artillery did some very accurate shooting, knocking several holes in the wall behind which the Johnnys were, causing them, when the wall was struck, to scatter in a lively manner, and thus affording for the time being, at least, great sport for our boys, though they were quite worn out from want of sleep, having had little or none the night before.
Occasional shots from the enemy reached this battery. It was one of these that struck and killed Lieut. Beugough of Company F, who was lying sleeping at the time, being overcome by want of sleep. A half hour later the Rebels opened a tremendous fire with their artillery, which heretofore, during the day had been quiet, on our fortifications.
The whole force then fell back to the forts, the Rebels having shortly before this captured battery L, of the Regulars. Thus practically ended this day's fighting. However, our siege guns replied to the Rebel guns till about night, the roar of our heavy guns being deafening. Milroy climbed the flag staff, as he did, in order to get a view of the Rebel batteries, it may be, or to note the effect of our fire, the boys cheered him lustily.
A little later they opened fire from two eight-gun batteries on the northwest, hardly a mile from town; and forthwith Ewell's infantry swept up to and over our breast works, disregarding the fire of our guns, driving out the th Ohio with heavy loss, and planting their colors on our defenses.
Meantime, the city had been substantially invested on every side, and was now virtually lost; though an attempt to storm the main fort from the position first gained was repulsed. It is remembered that there was heavy firing from the fort, on the northwest side, as though the enemy was making an attack, but it never seemed quite clear that he was, as it was so dark at the time that an object could be seen but a short distance. Monday, 15th, Milroy held a council of war which decided to evacuate our force of all arms being only 10,, and not all of it effective, against a corps of 25, and more if necessary.
The artillery was spiked, the harness cut up, the axles and wheels sawed to pieces, and at 2 o'clock, the whole command began moving out to evacuate the fort, the soldiers hastily breaking some boxes of crackers conveniently placed for the purpose with the butts of their muskets, and putting some of the crackers in their haversacks, as they marched out. A mile or two from the fort, Gen. Milroy rode along the road past the men telling them to push along; that he wanted to get as far out the road as possible before daylight. The Twelfth was somewhere about the middle of the line.
Four miles from Winchester our advance was attacked by a division of Rebels holding the road in our front. It was at this time just breaking day. There was very heavy firing for about a half hour—heavier than at any time during the two proceeding days. It was just here where we left the pike, that Lieut. Northcott, getting separated from the regiment, was captured. We encountered no enemy until we got to the base of the mountain several miles distant. Here we were fired upon by some Rebel cavalry, from a road running along the base of the mountain.