Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Dumb, Ugly Confederate

In the three previous posts, I examined the fighting at Rappahannock Station, a bloody engagement that occurred on November 7, 1863. That fight cost the bluecoats 419 casualties. It is important to remember that this was not the Army of the Potomac’s only engagement on that fateful day. Farther southeast, another Union column made its way south, advancing on Kelly’s Ford. After a short fight, the Union troops took possession of the river crossing, and both columns united at Brandy Station.

Not many accounts describe the battle action at Kelly’s Ford, but one incident is worth mentioning. It involves a Confederate prisoner taken into custody by the 3rd Corps. According to the men who captured him, he was really dumb and really ugly.

Okay, you may be wondering why we should care about a dumb, ugly Confederate. Believe me, there is a point here. But first thing’s first. Here’s what happened.

At noon, November 7, the vanguard of the 3rd Corps—Col. Regis de Trobriand’s brigade with three additional regiments attached to it—arrived at the north bank of the Rappahannock River. Two North Carolina regiments belonging to Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Ramseur’s brigade—the 2nd and 30th—sat sprawled on the low ground on the south bank. Eager to get his men across the river, Col. de Trobriand ordered his men to secure the crossing point. He deployed one regiment, the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, as skirmishers atop the river bank’s high bluff. Arriving quietly, the Union riflemen ducked behind trees and cautiously observed their enemy. Looking down, they beheld an unobstructed view of the North Carolinians’ position. Sergeant James M. Matthews jotted what he saw in his diary, “Johnnys were scattered around permiscuously on the opposite side and horses and cattle [were] grazing as if no Yanks were near. . . . The enemy were seen playing cards and employing their leisure time in diverse ways along the line.”

Although the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters deployed in a timely manner, the other regiments from de Trobriand’s brigade did not. Eventually, after an hour’s delay, the Confederate pickets became alerted to the Sharpshooters’ presence. They scurried to their rifle pits and opened fire. For the next hour, the North Carolinians and the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters blazed away. Finally, at 3 P.M., de Trobriand sent in his assault troops. The 1st U.S. Sharpshooters led the way, plunging into the river, followed by the 40th New York, the 20th Indiana, the 3rd and 5th Michigan, and the 110th Pennsylvania. Taken in the flank, the two North Carolinian regiments gave way and fled.  However, a larger number of North Carolinians simply threw down their weapons and surrendered. Altogether, de Trobriand’s men captured about 290 Confederates.

Although he had seen most of his brigade ensnared, one dumb-struck North Carolinian refused to surrender. He was a skirmisher who had spent the first phase of the battle firing at the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. Instead of fleeing for his life or throwing up his hands to surrender, this unnamed fellow ducked behind a small stump. Unfortunately, the stump did not provide him much cover. He crouched behind it, somewhat like a frightened ostrich, buttocks in the air, hoping the Union soldiers would not notice him.

From their lofty position, the Sharpshooters could see the cowering Confederate and believed that they could kill him in an instant. However, none of them wanted to spill more blood, so the U.S. Sharpshooters called to the North Carolinian, inviting him to surrender. They shouted to him many, many times, but each time, he refused to answer. One of the U.S. Sharpshooters, Private Wyman White, wrote, “We peppered the stump, trying to make the fellow understand that we could wing him, but he gave no sign that he saw the danger he was in. He would just move a little at times when our bullets hit the stump.” Eventually, the U.S. Sharpshooters reasoned that the man “had no brains,” which explained his unwillingness to comprehend his dire predicament.

Finally, one intrepid officer ended the charade. Adjutant Charles H. Foote stripped off all of his clothing and accoutrements—with the exception of his hat and pistol—and swam the river. Naked, Foote approached the cringing North Carolinian and convinced him to surrender. Exactly what Foote said is unknown, but whatever it was, he persuaded the frightened North Carolina soldier to throw in the towel. They swam back across the Rappahannock and the U.S. Sharpshooters gathered around, intent on interrogating their captive. Private White was not terribly impressed with what he saw, and he found some of the prisoner’s words disturbing. He wrote:

The boys collected around the prisoner and fired questions at him. He said he was from North Carolina and that he was drafted for the second time, having served in one campaign before. Then he was sent home for awhile to raise corn. But a few weeks previous they came for him again. The man was deformed in his lower limbs and one of his hands was badly out of shape. All that was not enough to keep him from serving Jeff Davis. The poor fellow’s legs below his knees were about four inches over the proper length. He was very tall and almost a skeleton, being one of the lankiest of southern lanks. With a grip on the skin on his neck, one might run around him once or twice without letting go. The fellow was about the color of a bacon rind and his hair was down to his shoulders. He was considerably frightened  but came out of his fright when he was served with coffee and hardtack by the boys. He was taken to the rear and probably sent north as an object lesson to the loyal people of that section, an inkling of the strength of the Southern Confederacy at the time.

White’s description of the dumb, ugly Confederate captured at Kelly’s Ford is interesting, and not merely because of its humorous (and somewhat mean-spirited) portrayal of the southern captive. I find it illuminating that the U.S. Sharpshooters crowded around the prisoner to learn his life story. The Union soldiers did not dismiss the North Carolinian as a waste of conversation. Indeed, Private White even found the man’s tale so interesting that he filled the pages of his diary with the lurid material quoted above. Further, White did not attribute the prisoner’s unpleasant appearance to substandard grooming or to poor eating habits. Instead, he blamed the Confederacy for taking the man him from his peaceful pursuits and then overusing and underfeeding him. To White, the prisoner’s ill-looks and apparent ignorance did not impose a censure upon the people of North Carolina, but it revealed “an object lesson” in the tyranny and desperation of the Confederate cause. In the end, White found it satisfying to blame the Confederate government for the prisoner’s stupidity and ugliness.

This is no surprise. It is often easier to blame the enemy government than to blame the individuals who fight for it. For soldiers, such an outlook makes war palatable.

"The lankiest of southern lanks."

This map by Robert Knox Sneden depicts the Union movements against Rappahannock Station and Kelly's Ford. Note the Confederate position on the southern bank of the Rappahannock--near the bottom of the map--where the ugly North Carolinian was found.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“Let the Enemy Waste their Ammunition in Killing You!”: The Army of the Potomac at Rappahannock Station, Part 3.

In the last two posts, I offered accounts from the Army of the Potomac’s 6th Corps to describe the action at Rappahannock Station. For this one, I intend to rely on an account from an officer in the 5th Corps. It describes an interesting situation, a death threat gone unfulfilled.

Although historians often remember the Battle of Rappahannock Station as a fight between the 6th Corps and Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division, in fact, Union regiments from other corps supported the assault. As the 6th Corps’ two brigades prepared for their epic attack, the 1st Division, 5th Corps, formed on their left and stretched a line of skirmishers across their front. To the immediate left of Col. Peter Ellmaker’s brigade, on the other side of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, sat one of those 5th Corps regiments, the 118th Pennsylvania. Captain Francis A. Donaldson commanded Company H. The moments before the battle captivated Donaldson. Taking time to look to his right, he beheld the awesome sight of Ellmaker’s brigade as it poised for its assault. On November 9, Donaldson wrote about what he saw:

It was an indescribable spectacle, grand, stirring, impressive, and from my position in the centre of two corps, I gazed upon a pageant such as was never before seen by me, and a sight never to be forgotten by any one who beheld it. Upon our right was Colonel Ellmaker’s brigade, 6th Corps, in mass, and it appeared that the whole division was also heavily massed; certainly they were in several lines deep and close together. The burnished arms and every bit of metal on this splendid mass of men glistening in the nearly setting sunlight; the colors and lines so well dressed, and the faces of men aglow with excitement, the ceaseless riding back and forth of mounted officers giving final orders made the blood tingle in my veins with a sense of admiration at the picture. . . . Yet the glow [of the sun] was on them also, its golden rays sparkling on the mica dust covering their uniforms made them appear as though they were profusely powdered with gold dust. In fact the whole landscape was covered with a golden glory.

Although Donaldson briefly admired the golden grandeur of Union troops drawn for battle, his mind suddenly shifted to different sort of image, the memory of threat delivered by a violent, insubordinate soldier. The troublemaker was Private James Shields, age twenty-five, an Irish-born sailor, described by Donaldson as a “big brawny fellow.” Shields had a bad habit of drinking to excess. He often became drunk on Jamaica Ginger, his favorite liquor, drinking whole bottles of it in just a few minutes. Donaldson remembered that Shields, when sober, was “quiet and inoffensive, and being a handsome soldierly fellow would have made a name for himself.” But in liquor, he was “a veritable devil incarnate.” On October 17, 1863, just three weeks earlier, Shields had asked Donaldson if he could have permission to leave camp. Donaldson replied that he did not trust Shields, who had given him much trouble on account of his intemperance. When Shields walked away muttering that he would just leave camp anyhow, with or without permission, Donaldson rose from his seat and called back to Shields, warning him that if he did so, it would be his last offense, as Donaldson swore he would kill him.

Within an hour, a report arrived at Donaldson’s tent that Shields was roaring drunk, “disgracing the regt. by unseemly language and conduct.” Donaldson ordered Shields arrested and thrown in the guard house, but in the ensuing struggle, the Shields threw off his captors and grabbed a musket from the stack of arms. In haste, Donaldson arrived on the scene, grabbed a musket off the stack, and tried to club Shields with the butt. Donaldson wrote, “He was so very powerful that had he been sober he would have finished me in no time.” When he saw an opportunity, Donaldson swung the musket and clubbed Shields on the head, felling him with a sickening thump. Blood poured out of Shields’s motionless body and the regimental surgeon confirmed that Shields had suffered a skull fracture. For several hours, Donaldson endured the quiet abuse of his men, who accused him of being a black-hearted man-killer.

The next day, when passing the 5th Corps ambulance train, Donaldson noticed that Shields had survived his wound. In fact, Shields appeared to be on the way to a full recovery. “He was perfectly sober and sane,” Donaldson wrote in his diary, “and his head was tied up in bandages.” Donaldson spoke a few words to Shields, not expressing any remorse for what happened—not for hitting him on the noggin, anyway—but instead Donaldson told Shields that he would do his best in future days to quell Shields’s bad habits, his intemperance and insubordination. This conversation did not please Shields, who, according to Donaldson, “made but one reply and that to the point—in the next battle he would remember me, a threat that gave me clear insight into his character.” Donaldson’s expression grew stormy, and he replied that he would keep Shields’s threat in mind should he return to duty. The angry captain sauntered off, not expecting to see Private Shields ever again, but he remarked in his diary, “At all events, come what may, I am glad he is alive.” Donaldson was happy not to have a fellow soldier’s blood on his hands.

As it happened, only twenty days later, Shields returned to duty and both he and Donaldson found themselves in line-of-battle at Rappahannock Station, calmly waiting for the order to advance. As captain, Donaldson occupied the far fight of his company, and Shields being the tallest man in the company, stood next to Donaldson. As the Union artillery thundered and as the stretcher-bearers took out their implements, Donaldson’s mind suddenly drifted away from the golden glow of the sun to the thought of Shields’s threat. In his diary, he remembered how he dealt with it:

Whatever made me think of his threat just then I cannot say, but I did, and I turned and looked at the fellow. He was as calm as a May morning, perfectly cool and rigid, in fact a splendid looking soldier. He appeared not to notice my scrutiny, so I said to him, ‘Shields, do you remember threatening me when I visited you in the hospital?’ I had drawn my pistol at the thought of him, and was deliberating what to do. He said he did. ‘Well,’ said I, ‘I think you will have enough to do in a few minutes to protect your own life without attempting mine. I could shoot you down like a dog if I chose to, and be justified in the act, but you are not worth the exertion. Let the enemy waste their ammunition in killing you, for I won’t!’ I then dismissed him from my thoughts as the word came to move forward.

Both Donaldson and Shields survived the fighting at Rappahannock Station, although their regiment was only lightly engaged. In December, Shields requested a transfer to another unit, and he went to the 5th Massachusetts Battery. The next time Donaldson saw Shields, he was being punished by the officers in his new unit, who had lashed him, spread-eagle, to the spare wheel of one of the cannon, a painful, humiliating retribution often used by artillery units to discipline incorrigible soldiers. Apparently, this convinced Shields that he did not have what it took to be a soldier. In January 1864, Shields deserted. Authorities eventually captured him, tried him for desertion, and saddled him with a dishonorable discharge.

It is interesting to consider the thoughts that flitted across a Civil War soldier’s mind when he prepared for battle. In this case, there was something in the beautiful golden sunlight at Rappahannock Station that triggered Donaldson’s mind to remember the death threat that awaited him. I do wonder what, precisely, in the unholy melding of war and beauty made Donaldson think of Shields at that precise moment. In any event, he dealt with Shields’s threat in his own bold way, and by so doing, lived to tell the tale.

Captain Francis Adams Donaldson, Co. H, 118th Pennsylvania, fretted that one of his soldiers might kill him at Rappahannock Station.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Overwhelmed, But by a Smaller Force: The Army of the Potomac at Rappahannock Station, Part 2.

In the previous post, I examined the Union attack at Rappahannock Station from the perspective of an officer in the 6th Maine, a regiment that formed part of Col. Peter Ellmaker’s brigade. In this post, a Union officer from the other brigade involved in the attack, Col. Emory Upton’s, shall narrate.

As dusk settled on a bright, cloudless day, November 7, 1863, Upton’s brigade formed up at the front-right of Brig. Gen. David A. Russell’s 1st Division, 6th Corps. Colonel Upton lined up his four regiments, the 5th Maine and 121st New York in the first line and the 95th and 96th Pennsylvania in the second. As the soldiers stood poised in golden twilight, they could see the successful charge of Ellmaker’s brigade occurring off to their left, carrying the earthworks held by Col. Archibald Godwin’s North Carolina brigade.

Soon, Col. Upton came galloping along the line, telling his soldiers that they must charge the earthworks in their front, which contained the infamous Louisiana Tiger Brigade from Stonewall Jackson’s old division. Captain Cleaveland J. Campbell of Company C, 121st New York, remembered that when the news passed down the line, murmuring went up from the men. He wrote, “But the long line of rifle-pits is still filled with the famous (in southern hearts) Louisiana Tigers, carrying on their banners, the name of every battle field from West Point to Bristol, in which the Stonewall Division has taken part, for they were the pet brigade of the misguided enthusiast Jackson. They knew the ground thoroughly, until now they supposed themselves able to hold a position against twenty thousand men; almost total darkness has fallen upon the scene.” Indeed, the situation looked daunting. The two lead regiments contained only 568 officers and men. If they charged, they would have to overtake 1,400 Louisianans, all of them secure inside  the walls of a well-made fort.

At a distance of 275 yards from the Confederate line, Upton’s brigade loaded their muskets and changed their pace to the double-quick. One hundred and forty yards beyond that, the men unslung their knapsacks and fixed bayonets. They moved swiftly. In about five minutes, the two lead regiments, the 5th Maine and 121st New York, had taken the outer Confederate rifle pits without firing a shot, and wrote Captain Campbell, “thanks to the darkness with [only] slight loss.”

When it became clear that the Louisiana brigade intended to shift to its right and retake the earthworks lost by Godwin’s men, Upton decided it was time to attack. Turning to the soldiers of the 121st New York, Upton shouted, “don’t fire a shot; if they fire at you, lie down; there are three lines of battle behind; let them march over you, and storm the works.” Captain Robert P. Wilson, of Upton’s staff called out, “Forward, every lover of his country.” Major Andrew E. Mather of the 121st cried out, imploring the soldiers to remember the dead from a previous battle:  “Remember Salem Chapel!”

Thus encouraged, the two regiments surged across the last bit of deadly ground. They stormed the parapet, and much like Ellmaker’s brigade, found themselves amid swarms of angry rebels. Captain Campbell narrated the assault in a November 20, 1863, letter to the Cherry Valley Gazette:

This time they were crowded with the enemy, but confused by their recent change of front, supposing as they afterwards strongly expressed it, that ‘all hell was corning,’ and thinking that their only chance for mercy, lay in non-resistance to our over­whelming force, over fourteen hundred rebels surrendered to five hundred and  sixty-eight loyal men, and throwing down their arms begged for that quarter, which the Louisiana brigade is charged with having often refused to the unfortunate prisoners they have taken. The left of the 121st was swung around to the river, cutting off all retreat, and nothing remained but to gather the spoils. They were even beyond expectation. As the result of less than an hour’s engagement, the 3d brigade had captured a fort, four pieces of artillery, a battle-flag, and many prisoners.

The trickiest part of the whole affair was getting the Louisianans to throw down their weapons and surrender. A few minutes earlier, Ellmaker’s brigade had penetrated Godwin’s line only to face a bloody hand-to-hand fight complete with stabbings and bludgeoning. The Louisianans put up considerably less resistance. The brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Harry Hays, fled as soon as Upton’s men entered the works. As Campbell humorously put it, “The rebel General Hayes, unfortunately escaped, having important business to transact on the other side of the river, just after the commencement of the attack.” The next senior officer, Colonel David P. Penn, lacked the stomach to put up a fight.  Col. Clark S. Edwards, commanding the 5th  Maine, invited Penn to surrender. “In manner somewhat peremptory,” explained Campbell, Penn asked time for deliberation. Edwards refused his request. “Not a moment,” he said, and called up his provost guard to take Penn into custody whether he liked it or not. “Then here is my sword,” replied Penn, handing it to him. Edwards asked Penn if the other Louisianans were surrendered on account of their commander raising the white flag. Being as unhelpful as possible, Penn replied, “I am no longer in command. You must ask the new commanding officer.” In any event, Upton’s brigade captured the remainder. Campbell, who helped corral the Louisianans, wrote, “So each surrendered for himself, and very anxious each was to do it,—and very much mortified was each, the next morning, to learn that they—the invincibles—behind entrenchments, had surrendered to a force of less than half their number.”

Although effuse with praise for his regiment, his brigade, and for Col. Upton, Captain Campbell marveled at the unpredictability of the whole affair. Two small regiments had captured a brigade three times their size and with minimal losses. He opined:

There can scarcely be a question but that the two regiments were saved from annihilation by Col. Upton’s masterly handling of his small force, and by the skillful manner in which he conveyed to the enemy the idea that they were to be overwhelmed. No words of praise are too strong to be applied to the gallant men, who, that night, so distinguished themselves by their cool, determined courage. The loss so slight, (about two hundred in the 3d Brigade, and only sixty in the 2d,) in comparison with that, in so many hard-fought, but fruitless struggles, does not obscure the victory of the living with the blood of the dead. Those who survive will cherish the memory of that proud moment of their lives, and those who fell will be still more honored for having taken part in the glorious struggle in which they met their deaths.

More amazing, Upton’s men had spared their foe a grisly fate by convincing them to surrender. Indeed, a small force could, at times, be overwhelming.

Captain Cleaveland John Campbell commanded Company C, 121st New York Volunteers, at Rappahannock Station. He is shown here as colonel, 23rd U.S.C.T. 
Here is the Civil War Trust map from the previous post. You can see the assault by Upton's regiments along the west side of the map.
Colonel Clark S. Edwards, 5th Maine, negotiated the surrender of the Louisiana Brigade at Rappahannock Station.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

“The Only Relief Seemed Our Continuous Yell”: The Army of the Potomac at Rappahannock Station, Part 1.

This post is about screaming, swearing, and killing. In battle, those things tend to go together. A Union officer from Maine tells us why. Here is his story.

On November 7, 1863, Adjutant Charles Amory Clark was having a rather bad day. In the morning, he was nearly captured by Mosby’s Rangers. At the time, Clark’s regiment was encamped at Warrenton, Virginia, and while there, a friend of his, Captain Solomon Wright Russell, Jr. of the brigade staff, wanted to visit a woman he was courting, Anna Ashton Dixon, who lived outside of town. Shortly after the two officers visited the Dixon farm, Mosby’s men showed up, catching them far from their regiment. Clark and Russell beat a hasty retreat, with Clark remembering, “We had a narrow escape from Moseby’s men, one of whom in a blue uniform, stood looking into our faces as we rode away.”

The day continued to get worse. Next, Clark’s horse was killed under him. After a thirteen-mile march from Warrenton to Rappahannock Station, his regiment, the 6th Maine, deployed as skirmishers. While directing the skirmishers into the fray, carrying out the orders of Brig. Gen. David A. Russell, Clark was abruptly dismounted by a Confederate bullet and had to make his way back to the line on foot, “only too glad” to do so, he later wrote.

Finally, at dusk, Clark learned that high command wanted his brigade to spearhead an attack against a Confederate bridgehead at Rappahannock Station. About 2,000 Confederate soldiers from Maj. Gen. Jubal Early’s division sat entrenched on the north side of the Rappahannock River, defending a pontoon bridge, the only stable structure for miles in any direction capable of supporting the Army of the Potomac’s heavy equipment. The army commander, Major General George Meade, wanted to get across the river and reach Brandy Station. Some Union troops would have to clear the path and seize the bridge. It fell to two brigades, Col. Peter Ellmaker’s and Col. Emory Upton’s, to do it.  Clark knew that his no-good, very bad day was about the get plenty worse.

Adjutant Clark’s regiment, the 6th Maine, formed the front rank of Ellmaker’s brigade, its left flank anchored along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. As the golden autumn sun began to set, the divisional commander, General Russell, rode along the line, causing the Maine soldiers to raise a cheer, all of them apparently eager to try their hand at besting Early’s rebels. Russell’s regimental commanders gave out specific instructions. The men were allowed to load their rifles before the charge but were not allowed to cap them. The officers told their men not to fire a shot until they had penetrated Early’s entrenchments. It was a chilling proposition. The bluecoats had to cross no-man’s-land by a single gallant rush, with no way to return fire. Although numbering only 321 officers and men, the Maine regiment’s cheer reverberated loudly. Clark recalled, “Probably so small a number of men never before made such an uproar.” After a short cannonade, General Russell sent the infantry forward.

Immediately, four Confederate artillery pieces began throwing projectiles into the tightly-packed Union brigade. Clark remembered the nail-biting moments of the 6th Maine’s charge:

The fire which was opened upon us as we swept forward was simply terrific. It is impossible to describe it. The sensation with me was, that the air was so filled with bullets that it was heated to a high degree of temperature, and scalded my throat and lungs when inhaled. Men were seized with the wildest transports of rage and frenzy. We seemed to me marching against a blind, inscrutable force, which defied all of our efforts to reach it or grapple with it. The only relief seemed our continuous yell, which every man kept up until the fortifications in front of us were reached.

The men of the 6th Maine broke over the Confederate earthworks like a crashing wave, followed closely by the regiment behind them, the 5th Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the two regiments had lost their cohesion in crossing the field. Further, Confederate artillery and rifle fire had felled many bluecoats. The 6th Maine lost thirty-eight killed and 101 wounded. To Clark, the situation looked dire: “We entered the enemy’s lines attenuated and scattered, a handful here and there, among swarms of the enemy.”

There was only one way to win this fight. The soldiers had to scream and curse loudly. Shrieking like a banshee, with sword drawn, Clark plunged his weapon through the bowels of a Confederate soldier. Everywhere, hand-to-hand combat became the order of the day; one soldier from the 6th Maine stabbed two Confederate soldiers with his bayonet and brained another with the butt of his musket. Clark witnessed one terrible clubbing up close. As several Confederate soldiers moved to stab him, over the parapet emerged the gigantic form of one of the 6th Maine’s sergeants. Although Clark never identified the man, he called him “the most devout Christian I have ever known. He was our ‘praying sergeant,’ and every night before he slept, no matter where he might be, or who might be present, he never failed to address the throne of grace in solemn and earnest prayer.” On this occasion, the religious sergeant forgot his Christianity and began skewering and braining Confederates left and right, punctuating his eviscerations with a host of epithets. As Clark described it, “he came up with an infuriated yell, and with profanity which was fierce and appalling, he aided with bayonet and clubbed musket in speedily dispersing the enemy around us.”

In all, the shock of the 6th Maine’s charge did the trick. After only a few minutes—although it seemed like ages to Clark—the Confederate line gave way to a precipitous rout, with Early’s troops scrambling south across the pontoon bridge to safety. The other regiments from Ellmaker’s brigade, the 49th Pennsylvania, the 119th Pennsylvania, and the 5th Wisconsin, added their weight to the assault, and in short order, Clark was beside himself with joy. Having experienced so much bad luck earlier in the day, he was surprised to see a Union victory occur so suddenly. He wondered, “Why they recoiled from their entrenchments none of us have ever been quite able to understand.”

But just as the shouts of battle died down, Clark’s bad luck caught up to him. As he was standing upon a rifle pit, a Confederate ball struck him on the left leg, rolling him off his perch. Stung by the sudden pain, he admitted that he fell to the bottom of the pit, “with a confused feeling of rage and utter helplessness.” Some soldiers from the 6th Maine came to Clark’s assistance and placed him on a stretcher, but while being carried to the rear, they found Captain Russell, the officer that Clark had accompanied to the Dixon farm that morning, lying wounded. Clark insisted upon giving up his stretcher, telling the men to place Captain Russell on it instead. With another man to act as a crutch, Clark proposed to hobble his way to the field hospital. Clark survived his wound, although it led to his eventual discharge from the 6th Maine in February 1864. He recovered and returned to the service as a brigade staff officer for Brig. Gen. Hiram Burnham. Clark died in 1913.

As of November 8, 1863, the day after the battle, Clark’s road to recovery was just beginning. But unlike the previous day, November 8 started auspiciously enough. While Clark was lying wounded in the field hospital, the Christian sergeant who had scattered the Confederates so vigorously during the battle came by to apologize. Apologize? Clark was confused. The sergeant was deeply contrite, he remembered, “[he] implored me to forget the awful frenzy that had taken possession of him when he fought the foe at such close quarters.” Affably, Clark accepted the apology, but he had to have known that the sergeant’s profanity was the right thing at the right time. Like the sergeant, Clark had also screamed and yelled during the attack. When faced with the awful task of killing Confederates face-to-face, loud obscenity was the only thing that got the 6th Maine out of its sticky situation.

Lt. Charles Amory Clark, 6th Maine Volunteers, stabbed a Confederate with a sword at Rappahannock Station. He was shocked when his sergeant apologized for using an obscenity at the same battle.

This sketch by Alfred Waud depicts the Union troops from David Russell's 1st Division, 6th Corps, overrunning the Confederate earthworks. The scene is looking east. The river and pontoon bridge can be seen at right in the background.

This map from the Civil War Trust depicts the Union deployment at Rappahannock Station. Take note of Ellmaker's brigade along the west side of the railroad. The 6th Maine spearheaded that attack.

This Alfred Waud sketch depicts the aftermath of Rappahannock Station, Nov. 8, 1863. Note the Confederate earthworks in the background and the Union soldiers from Ellmaker's brigade parading around their captured battle flags.