Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

When freedom calls in thunder tones,
Far sea to sea replies
And God the cause of freedom owns
And thunders from the skies.
The highest law is freedom's word,
And where her sons have bled
Each wind-swayed reed becomes a sword
To strike oppression dead.
Holy her cause and he who fights,
Contending for a clod
Where freedom mourns her ruined rights,
A Hero is to God.
---Frank L. Stanton

After the Twelfth Indiana Infantry was recruited up to the maximum number, 1,040, the regiment was detailed to picket the Potomac River from Harper's Ferry up to Williamsport. This necessitated the breaking up of the command as a body, and the stationing of the various companies at different points along that historic stream. The headquarters were at Sharpsburgh, Md., a town located a mile or more from the river with Shepardstown on the opposite side in Virginia. At some points two companies were stationed, and at others only one. Four companies and the newly recruited band were held at Sharpsburgh, while companies E and K were sent up the river to what was known as Dam No. 4.

The Ohio and Chesapeake Canal ran along the eastern shore, and this important public enterprise was supplied with water by dams built across the Potomac River, and at each of them a portion of that stream was diverted into the canal. As the canal ran through a mountainous country of necessity, these dams were numerous. I think their full number was twenty-two, and all of them were built of stone and were of the most durable character and of course had to be unusually strong for the Potomac sometimes rose as high as fourteen feet in twenty-four hours; so that with the rush of such a body of water, it is easy to perceive that in order to withstand a flood these dams had to be not only durable but exceedingly strong and well-built in every way.

At the very beginning of the war, it was a favorite idea of the Confederate authorities to destroy these dams--some of them at any rate. They reasoned that the principal supply of coal for one thing was furnished Washington City by this canal and to destroy its usefulness as a feeder to the Federal capital was a pet measure with the Jeff Davis' government. The destruction of a few of the dams that supplied the canal with water would be all that was required, and in order to carry out this idea a full division of Confederate troops, as early as November, 1861, under the command of "Stonewall" Jackson occupied Winchester. He sent a brigade to Martinsburg, Va., and held that point quite close to the Pennsylvania line about the time that Companies E and K of the Twelfth Indiana took up their station on the Maryland side to protect and defend Dam No. 4; so that very soon after arriving with the recruits, I found myself, along with Captain Draper of Company K, assigned to this duty, with major Henry Hubler in command of the two companies with the addition of Company A which was stationed about a mile and a half below us on the river, to prevent a surprise by the enemy fording the river below the dam where of course the water was shallow.

This was the situation on our side, when all at once major Hubler received intelligence from a Union man on the Virginia side, that the rebels were preparing to attack and destroy the dam, the structure that it was the duty of these three companies to guard. The federal troops had only been in their position near the dam for a short time when this news was received from citizens and of course the approach of Stonewall Jackson with a full division of troops caused no small amount of flurry on our side of the river and it was with considerable trepidation that authentic information in addition to the news already possessed by Major Hubler that the dam was to be destroyed by the reception of a letter from a prominent gentleman by the name of Resin Shepard the family of whom Shepardtown was named, and who was known as loyal to the Federal government.

During the night of the 10th of December this letter came, having been smuggled over the river to Major Hubler, commandant of the Dam No. 4 post, which contained the information that Jackson's full division was really on the way to attack the dam. Mr. Shepard was an out-and-out Union man, but the pressure of the rebel forces under "Stonewall," and the continued roaming about that section of Virginia of Ashby's Confederate regiment of cavalry, mostly raised in that neighborhood, compelled him to keep very quiet in whatever he did. He was already suspected of being in communication with the Federal army under General Banks, whose headquarters at that time were at Frederick, Maryland. Shepard had a brother whose feelings were so entirely enlisted in the Confederate cause that the report was very general on our side of the river that he had uniformed and equipped a full regiment for the Confederate army with every requisite except muskets and it is more than probable that the story was true. I had it myself from several Union Virginians who had visited our camp at the dam.

Both these men were well off and in espousing different sides they only showed how families were divided in the earlier part of the war. This was not only so in the South, but prevailed to a greater extent in the North than was generally known, especially among the "Border States," where relatives lived on both sides of the Ohio River, and on each side of that imaginary division known as "Mason and Dixon's line." Quite often during the war I have had persons ask me after their capture if I knew of this or that person who lived at Indianapolis or Lafayette, or whatever the point might be, they claiming them sometimes as relatives, sometimes mere acquaintances, but anxious to hear from them.

Shepard's letter was carefully worded so that if it fell into the hands of a Confederate soldier it could not be traced to its author, as it was signed by a fictitious name previously arranged between himself and Major Hubler, when the troops first took up their station at the dam. Of course, the news of the advance of the rebel troops created no small amount of excitement in our camp, composed of troops that had never yet met an enemy, and early on the morning of December 11, 1861 every Federal soldier on our side of the river was up early and scanning the opposite side for the appearance of the enemy.

As the day wore on the impression began to prevail that the whole thing was a ruse; that no enemy was near, and that no intention to destroy the dam existed in the minds of any save those on the Virginia side, actuated by fear or false reports. This absence of an enemy that was reported, even in writing and from a man of known Union sentiments, could not be reconciled. Major Hubler was confident that Mr. Shepard, whom he had met two or three times, was not intentionally deceiving him. His reputation in the section of the country in which he lived for truthfulness and honesty was too well substantiated to believe there was any deception about the matter.

Finally believing this, he decided to send a squad of men over the river above the dam on a tour of investigation, and I was ordered to take command of the scouting party. We had a row boat above the dam, and the scramble to join the party was very great. Nate B. McConnell still a resident of this city was crowded out just as the boat pushed away from the shore else he would have born his part in the ill-luck that afterwards befell the party. The boat was so small that even the seven men that got away were crowded in the shaky, leaky affair. As it was, Sergeant James McGuire, Oliver Hubler, Timothy Robbins, Robert S. Richhart (who afterwards became the Captain of a company in the Twelfth Indiana Cavalry) and Lemuel Hazzard, who became Captain of I company of my own regiment after it was reorganized when its term of a year expired, with a man from K company whose name I cannot recall, and Henry Wescot, who in like manner became the First Lieutenant of I company on the reorganization composed the scouting party.

The orders were to be very cautious and careful for the reason that if we should happen on a squad or a company of Confederate cavalry, there would be but little chance for escape. The party was instructed not to go farther than a mile from the river and to be very watchful. On the opposite side of the Potomac was an extraordinarily high and steep bluff--probably a rise of two hundred feet or more. By zigzagging, this bluff could be and was scaled. On reaching the top, where there was an old-fashioned "worm" fence, the party stopped for quite a time engaged in scanning the surrounding country, much of which--all of it indeed, except the bottom of several ravines which ran into the Potomac River--could be readily seen from our vantage point. Nothing was in sight having the appearance of an enemy. It was a bright but cold morning and at one time I saw something glisten, and at once surmised it to be the glint of a gun-barrel, but as there were two Negroes with a team gathering corn fodder I at once concluded that what I had seen and thought might be a gun, was the sun shining on the bright wagon-tire.

There was a hewed log house in an open field a few hundred yards inland, and where--as we had previously known--an old lady and a young woman made their homes. this home was surrounded by a wheat field, and was very soft, the growing crop being a couple of inches high. I had determined in my mind not to go further than to this house, and in obedience to order return to the river. On reaching that point and inquiring of the woman whether any Confederate soldiers had been seen in that quarter, and receiving a negative reply, I order the men to fall back to the river. About this time Tim Robbins concluded to see if his Springfield rifle would carry a ball into a little cross-road village called "Hard-scrabble." It only contained a general store, a blacksmith shop and when the Federal government held sway-a post office. The gun had scarcely been fired when a party of at least fifty mounted men made their appearance, emerging from a ravine that had kept them hidden until the officer in charge concluded to see what the firing of the gun meant.

Of course I ordered the men to retreat as rapidly as possible back to the fence from whence we had overlooked the country, on reaching the summit on the Virginia side, and I am confident that the party would have made the few hundred yards to the fence but for the fact that all of us sank to our ankles in the soft ground, thus not only impeding our speed, but making it a very laborious breath-consuming race. As we had gone past the log-house a short distance, I was confident that the officer in command concluded that there was a body of soldiers inside the house, and on turning my head I discovered that he had taken time to dismount and was conversing with the inmates. Hit it not been for this I am sure the party would have been captured sooner. As it was, a few of us got quite near the fence we had left and it was our intention, if we did so to roll down the bank as best we could, and thus permit our own two companies to stop the pursuit at that point by volley after volley from the other side of the river.

Unfortunately the soft ground wearied us to such an extent that of sheer necessity our speed was relaxed to such a degree that we were headed off when some of us were within a couple of rods of the fence. Besides the officer in command of the Confederates now fully assured that he was not leaving a hidden enemy at the house, came up and by his presence pressed the pursuit to a greater degree of speed. It was men on foot against others on horseback, the difference being almost wholly in favor of the enemy, and it is not at all surprising that we were overtaken. Henry Wescot--who afterwards fought in the reorganized Twelfth, and was mortally wounded, dying of lock-jaw at the hospital after the battle of Richmond, Ky.--would have lost his life at that time, I feel sure. He was leading us all in the race, when a Confederate soldier coming from another direction--by this time squads of Confederates, hearing the firing, were coming in from every side--rode right up behind him, unslung his carbine and was about to blow his head off, when I hollered his name. He turned and took in the situation so quickly that the soldier's fire went wild and before he could do anything more the entire part was surrounded and surrendered.

During all the race for the fence, shots were fired at us not only from the pursuing party but from other detachments of six, ten or a dozen or more and bullets struck the ground in many places. At the onset we returned the fire of the first party we saw, and at least two of the Confederates were knocked out of their saddles, one of whom was severely wounded in the breast, as I could plainly see. The horses of both were flying over the field, of course, riderless. The distance with which the Springfield musket would carry was well illustrated on that occasion. The troops he had left on the opposite side of the river could see the advance of the Confederates through the ravines long before my party could do so, and Major Hubler ordered them to fire, scarcely believing they could be reached; but it is a fact that although the distance from the firing lines on the Maryland side could be scarcely less than a mile, yet the balls from the muskets of our own men fell not only among the immediate troops that were pursuing us, and of course amongst us as well. Afterwards in the Atlanta campaign, a volley from the rebels, also using the Springfield musket, as was afterwards ascertained, carried over a mile and mortally wounded a man, the distance being measured after the "Johnnies" fell back. These pieces may have been and doubtless were, elevated to a considerable extent when fired in both instances.

The entire party, of course, was captured and as soon as we surrendered, it was easy to see that Stonewall's division had reached the vicinity, for very soon all of Ashby's entire regiment of cavalry had assembled around us, consisting of over a thousand men. On coming up, Col. Ashby directed a Captain by the name of Baylor to detail a detachment of fifteen men with himself in command, and take the prisoners to Martinsburgh, Va., where a brigade of Confederate infantry was stationed, and as the party was conducted through the village of Hard-scrabble we found at least two brigades of Confederates there, with probably twenty newly built boats, evidently to be used to transfer a portion of troops to the Maryland side in the hop of surrounding and capturing Major Hubler's command. There were also four guns. These were to be used in shelling the Federal camp across the river and to attract the attention of our side while the Confederate infantry crossed in boats above the dam while Ashby's cavalry forded the Potomac below it. The plan was a good one and I have always been satisfied in my own mind that but for sending my party across the river in the forenoon prevented a capture by surprise, for it was not Jackson's intention to cross that day, but to make a night attack.

This having been frustrated, the rebels put in their time on the 11th in firing into our side with both artillery and musketry fire and then abandoned the attempt in the evening and Major Hubler had also received reinforcements. In the meantime Captain Baylor conducted us prisoners to Martinsburgh, where we arrived a short time before dark. Since the war I met Captain Baylor at Kansas City and we talked over war times with great satisfaction both of us having commanded brigades in the after years that followed.

Warsaw Daily Times January 17, 1903

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