The experiences of those who marched, fought, and survived the trials and tribulations of the war are most profound when written in their own hand. Elliott Grabil of Company C, Seventh Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, who served alongside Company H of Warren and Company I of Youngstown shares with the readers a glimpse of life in the field. He covers a variety of topics often written about over the years since the war but the personal touch puts you a little closer to the reality of it all. Mr. Grabil was one of the lucky ones who survived the war without personal injury. When the Seventh Regiment left for the wilds of Western Virginia in the summer of 1861 none of the 1010 men knew what to expect. Many of them had never seen a mountain before let alone look someone in the face who was trying to put a bullet in them. Their lives were changed quickly and forever.
Reminiscence by Elliott F. Grabill
After the battle
The healthful, active soldier, so little is known of hospital life or of a battlefield after the engagement. It was not good for the morale of the service to see such scenes as they were presented. After the fight I went over the battlefields of Winchester, Cedar Mountain, Antietam and Gettysburg. Winchester was my first battle and my feelings were exceedingly sad. And at night I stood by and peaked in, with men on tables, and saw growing larger and larger heaps of hands and feet, arms and legs. And close at hand was the dead house rapidly filling up.
At Antietam I went to the cornfield, in front of the Shaker meetinghouse, through which our right had made a charge. The dead lay many on the field, some scattered, some in little heaps. And I visited the field hospitals in the rear and saw the surgeons there at work beside long tables on which lay the wounded under operation and others on the ground waiting their turn to come.
Cedar Mountain was brutal with summer heat. It was a drawn battle and each side held its ground denying to the other the securing of its wounded or the burial of its dead. Thus they lay watching each other for a day when at last there was a flag of truce to bury the dead. Badly wounded, lying there without food or water and without care of surgeon or nurse, had died. No one could be recognized. The dead thickly covered the ground but all were black with distorted features - in appearance all were exactly alike.
And, what always pained me to see on every battlefield I visited, the pockets of every dead soldier were turned inside out. This was common to all battlefields. Ghouls followed close at the heels of every battle to pillage the bodies of the dead.
At Gettysburg the morning after the battle I went outside of our entrenchments on Culp's Hill. The dead lay thicker there than at any other point of that battlefield. For acres the dead lay so thick that it was difficult to pick my way lest I should step up on their bodies. They were all dressed in the rebel gray and had the silo complexion and pinched features of the rebel soldier in the last days of the rebellion. A large burying party was at work. A wide and long trench had been dug and the rebel dead were being laid there in. No funeral rights; no friends to mourn. I felt sorrowful to think of all the sudden homes in the far South land where there were those who would mourn for the loss of loved ones who had died in the enemy's country and who forever more in memory would be the unknown dead in the North land.
The boys in White
Hospitals were throughout the north. But down near the Army front they were very numerous. Open spaces were covered by the great white tents. And thus it was at Fortress Monroe; and at City Point, near Petersburg, where the hospitals were laid in long lines as streets of cities, pulled by thousands of boys in white. Did not at first impulse expand pity upon them. No longer were they marching, enduring exhaustion, wearing ragged shoes and footless socks, clothing soiled and torn, weary and worn, longing soul for rest.
No; now they had good clothing again; soft bed with pillows; good food with Greenpeace that the far north furnished by the Sanitary and Christian Commissions, and they were ministered to by their agents; washed, cleaned they were again; their rags were thrown away or burned, and they were boys in white.
Soldiers of all kinds; were in all grades of condition, some recovering, some hovering between life and death, and some crossing over the dark river. Here and there was one suffering from great pain; in the eyes of another could be seen in an inexpressible, on honorable longing for home and loved ones. Personally, I never heard moaning or complaining. They suffered in silence and, heroes more or less fighting on the battlefield, they were heroes here in patients suffering.
Love of the Flag
You may wonder why an old soldier so loves the Flag? Is it so strange? They left home, loved ones, all that makes life here, to defend that Flag with their lives if the sacrifice were needed. Loved ones, home, country, all things most precious, symbolized by the Flag. The more they suffered, the more precious the Flag, the more lives were sacrificed in defending it, here it came to them. Present and starving at Andersonville, refused to disown the Flag and accept freedom if they would serve under the stars and bars.
Worshiping the f 010lag
The flag was most precious to returning prisoners. Comrades of my company, who had laid long in southern prisons, were exchanged at Salisbury, North Carolina. As the returning prisoners saw again the glorious Star-Spangled Banner, they sang and danced and laughed and wept as they kissed its sacred folds.
On the James, when a flag of truce boat came down the river to exchange prisoners, our boys with bared heads walked under the Flag and, in adoration silent or express, worshiped the most beautiful of all flags under the sun, The Red, White and Blue.
Oberlin College archives
A battery is two or more pieces of artillery, usually six or eight guns. An artillery duel is where a battery of one of Army fires at a battery of another, chiefly at the beginning of a battle with the forces are taking positions primarily to a fight. And they occur sometimes in a reconnaissance other arms of the service take no part except to look on and await the result.
While I was a member of the Seventh Ohio infantry, Knapp's Pa. battery was attached to our brigade, six or eight fine rifle parrot guns, manned by a splendid body of men. As a rule, they were victors in artillery duels.
I note now one that occurred at Chancellorsville. The Union forces were crossing the Rappahannock on pontoons and pushing out the plank Road near the Chancellorsville House when the rebs sent some shells down to the woods as feelers to see where we were and to learn whether we had artillery at hand. They soon learned, Knapp's battery galloped to position and unlimbered, and soon parrot shells went shrieking on their way to greet the Rebel battery.
The distance is sometimes so close as half a mile, sometimes much further, but good artillery soon gets the range and then it is exceedingly unhealthy in the vicinity of these duelists.
In this duel, they first had nothing for a target except puffs of smoke which indicated the point from which came the shrieking shells carrying messages of both. But that was enough as our battery soon hurled, in swift succession, answering volleys to the rebel challenge to combat.
I know nothing in battle to challenge admiration more than a well served battery of artillery. The horses themselves seem to be part of a complicated machine admirably work in unison of movement and concert of action. Commands are given in bugle notes, and horses seem to understand them as well as the men. Horses, in cases where their drivers have been dismounted by wound or death, rider less continue to make evolutions at the sound of the bugle.
The same is true of forces in the cavalry service. In movements in battle or the horses survive the writer, the horse will go through evolution after evolution as if a writer directed him. It is not strange for a cavalryman in a charge to see by the side of his horse a rider less horse also charging down upon the front of the enemy.
When a battery rushes to take a position and firing begins, get out of the way, just as you do in a city when a fire bell rings and the clang, clang of the fire alarm sounds on the air. They make such quick movements probably for a number of reasons, one of which may, because it is a beautiful thing to do. But the original reason for the celerity of the movement is probably the desire to avoid as much as they possibly can until they get into action, the sooner they will be firing shells or canister at the enemy and the sooner they may disable or destroy the opposing battery if it is an artillery duel.
Canon are rushed forward to position and unlimbered while the horses take position at the rear of the battery, caissons take their places some yards in rear of the guns. This is all done with great swiftness in a very short time the guns are roaring, venting for us in almost continuous stream of fire and smoke, shower or canister - shell for long-range, canister for an enemy close at hand.
Occasionally infantry would be forced loading and firing while lying on the ground, but artilleryman never. They are on their feet serving the Canon and carrying ammunition from the caissons and operate with their horses on the air which seems full of death bearing missile's.
At this duel I commenced to tell you about, our battery was greatly the superior. I do not now recall how much damage our battery sustained, but I remember most distinctly how the rebel shells roared in the air and cut limbs from the trees above our heads.
Bang, bang, bang, went our canon as fast as they could be served, and by and by a great explosion was heard in the rebel battery - a caisson, ammunition chest, had exploded, probably killing and wounding men and horses. Not long after, another rebel caisson exploded, the Union soldiers again loudly cheered, and the Johnny's retired with the remnants of their battery from that position; Knapp's battery had won that artillery duel.
Supporting a battery
This is a good time to describe supporting a battery. A battery does not go to the front in action alone. As a general thing they are not at the immediate front, but beyond them some distance is a skirmish line for a detachment of sharpshooters. To rush them up to the immediate front might possibly result in losing the battery, and Canon are costly to say nothing of the disgrace of losing guns that, on spiked, might not want to be turned on the men who had just been serving them. If the battery were alone at the front, a body of infantry concealed in a wood or ravine might suddenly charge and capture it.
A battery always wants infantry support. So, if you see a picture or an actual battery pounding at the enemy with no infantry inside, you may set it down that the battery has a support lying flat on the ground somewhere near the cannon. Sometimes the infantry lie on a line with a battery at its sides; sometimes in the rear of the guns; sometimes in their front. It depends largely upon the lay of the land, the design being to not expose the infantry in more than is absolutely necessary when they themselves are in action.
At Chancellorsville our regiment while supporting Knapp's battery, lay in its front close to the ground, each with his musket by his side ready to be fired in a moment's notice. Rebel shells went screaming over our heads, occasionally exploding and striking in our vicinity; and our battery kept up nearly and increasing fire, union shells of those shrieking over our heads going the opposite way toward the Johnny Rebs.
Sleeping in battle
So that between the two streams of shells with her continuous roar, sound grew monotonous. Besides we lay as close to the ground as we could flatten ourselves so as to be small as possible and quite still lest we should raise an arm or leg or head or something to be heard by the rebel shells sailing over us. And the hot sun was pouring down upon us. So, all things taken together, the mental and physical exhaustion from a long march and the night previous, the monotony of one kind of continuous sound, fixedness, of position lying under a hot sun, caused me in many comrades to fall into sound sleep in a battle. If I had been a pleasant dreams, I do not now remember them.
Gettysburg artillery duel
Memory brings to mind in vivid picture of the artillery duel on the third day at Gettysburg. This was the grandest artillery duel that ever took place on this continent if not in the world. After the fighting on the right in the morning, it had been silent for hours when, in response to a signal gun, rebels opened fire on our center in one grand course that they concentrated fire of 115 Cannon. The union chief of artillery at once massed together at that point attacked 80 Canon which promptly accepted the challenge and the fight was on. It was one grand symphony of sound. The infantry had no part in the brutal butcher. The artilleryman concealed only when the wind shifted and the clouds of smoke which veiled them was gone. 11 union caissons are blown up, and history says as each exploded with its burning shells miles of rebel infantry in line heard their exultation. In no great space 75 horses lay dead and many union batteries were disabled. Lieut. Cushing had but one gun left to fire, but he fired it up as he was expiring from a mortal wound. The fire had been on since one o'clock and now it was 3 PM when the union chief of artillery gave the order to cease firing. He has to let his guns cool before the rebel charge which he knew would follow the artillery duel. The cessation of Union firing convinced the rebels into thinking they had silenced the Union batteries and the way was open to a successful charge of infantry. Pickett's famous charge followed; the high tide of rebellion reached its limits and began to recede.