Friday, September 4, 2015

“Death Awaits Him”: The Photographs of the 93rd New York, Part 4.

In the last three posts, I’ve profiled the combat debut of the 93rd New York at the Battle of the Wilderness. Let’s return to that regiment and to that battle in part four.

As the 93rd New York formed for action on May 5, 1864, a short dialogue occurred in the ranks of Company F. Captain John Bailey turned to Sergeant Adoniram Judson Gibbs. He said, “I have an impression, a premonition that I shall be killed in this battle. I shall not come off this field alive.” Gibbs tried to cheer him up, but Bailey would hear none of it. He shook his head and told him that death was certain. Gibbs remembered the next few moments:

As we were drawn up in line, at the crossing of the Brock and Orange plank roads, and ordered forward into the woods, Company F, Capt. Bailey’s company, had the right of the regiment. While marching through the woods, and approaching the ravine, so soon to be the scene of a fierce conflict, he called me to his side. ‘Take your place as file closer, Sergeant, and see that every man is in his place and does his duty,’ said he. Noticing that he appeared nervous, dejected and very pale, I tried again to change his thoughts and direct them in another channel, but he only shook his head. I was partially rewarded, though, by seeing a look of heroic and settled determination overspread his countenance, and I remember thinking, ‘Perhaps he will shake it off.’ We received the shock of battle. Capt. Bailey fell, mortally wounded. I ran to him and gave him a drink of water. As soon as he could speak he exclaimed: ‘O, Sergeant! This is my last.’ I then understood the meaning of the changed look in his countenance. It meant, ‘I lay life down for the cause.’

Gibbs remembered the death of Captain Bailey for the rest of his life. Thirty-one years later, Gibbs joined a committee of veterans that collected stories for a regimental history. He made sure to mention the above incident. Gibbs remembered Bailey’s final moment, and not because his captain’s death premonition had preceded it. He remembered it because, before the battle, Captain Bailey felt fear, just like any soldier in the 93rd. Yet, Bailey chose to confront that fear directly. Gibbs explained: “He was a hero in the true sense. The soldier who marches to his fate in the performance of duty, though firmly impressed that certain death awaits him in the performance of that duty, is a hero.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Here is a photograph taken by Timothy O'Sullivan at Bealton Station. Captain Bailey, the officer who had a premonition of death, is seated at the far left. He is holding a bottle.


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