Sunday, July 6, 2014

“I Made Some of Them Bite the Dust”

It is rare to find a letter from a Civil War soldier where the writer admitted to killing someone. Undoubtedly, each and every soldier understood that it was his job to make the enemy “bite the dust,” but few of them ever said so specifically. Why did so few admit that they participated in the act of killing? Surely, Victorian sentimentality prevented them from writing about certain unspeakable acts that they perpetrated. Also, during a battle, thick, white smoke choked the air, preventing ordinary enlisted men from seeing the people they killed. In short, written statements that describe killings are hard to find.

However, I have found a few. Here is one that I find interesting. It comes from Private Enos Bloom, a nineteen-year-old soldier from Company K, 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, commonly known as the “Bucktails.” On the evening of June 30, 1862, Bloom found himself involved in the swirling Battle of Glendale Crossroads. (Now, before anyone tries to call me on this: Yes, I know that nearly all of Company K was captured four days earlier at Beaver Dam Creek. However, Private Bloom was one of only eight men from that company who escaped capture. He was one of only four men from Company K to participate in the Battle at Glendale.) So, what happened to Bloom at Glendale? During the fight, he became detached from his regiment. Two Confederate soldiers tried to capture him. Although he was outnumbered, somehow he managed to kill both of his assailants.

In July, he wrote to his father, William. He said:

I stopped behind the first tree I came to and thought I would fight a little on my own hook. I fired 18 rounds at them when they were not more than 150 yards from me. I made some of them bite the dust. Two of them started to take me prisoner. I did not see them until they came up, when I shot one of them. The other ordered me to give up and throw down my gun, but I put a cartridge down it when he drew up to shoot. I told him not to shoot, I would give up; and as he was coming up I put a cap on my gun and still held [it] at the hip; when I let the rammer fall to the ground he was no more than five steps from me. I did not sight the gun, but pulled the trigger. He jumped about two feet high and hollowed ‘My God I’m shot’ and fell to the ground dead. I then saw them coming up over the hill and had to skedaddle.

Obviously, two factors made it possible for Bloom to kill his adversaries face to face and live to tell the tale. First, because of the unusual nature of the battle, Bloom found himself fighting on his “own hook.” Had he been fighting in line-of-battle with his comrades, probably he would not have had the opportunity to confront the gray-coats face-to-face. Second, Bloom seemed to cut a few corners with standard loading procedure. He loaded from the hip and even dropped his ramrod. This enabled him to shoot, reload, and then shoot again before his second assailant could react. Without these two factors, Bloom would never have been close enough to see the people he killed. Or, quite probably, would have surrendered rather than test his luck.

In any case, I find it odd that Bloom admitted these killings to his father. I wonder what made him so forthcoming with the details. Was this attributable to the bravado of youth? Did the incident shake him so deeply that he just had to tell someone to get the confession off his chest? Or, was he a rare “born killer,” a man who spoke confidently of killing? One wonders.

Bloom survived the war, mustered out in 1864, and died in February 1928. According to his obituary, he was the second-to-last surviving veteran of the Bucktails.


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