- Historic Sites
Asa Smith Leaves The War
AN AMERICAN HERITAGE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT Edited and with an introduction
February 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 2
About the time we got into position, we heard the rebel yell as they came upon our abandoned works, and knew that they would soon be upon us. Soon artillery and musketry fire began up the line of the railroad, nearer to Richmond, and very quickly came toward us; and shell began to come in our direction. We remained here under this fire for about an hour and a half, and did not see a rebel soldier, as the infantry in the neighborhood were trying to advance down the cut, thus being entirely out of our sight.
The infantry fire became quite heavy, and remained so for at least an hour. Quite a number of unexploded shell and shrapnel came over, but only one did any damage. I saw this one coming straight for us, but it was a little high and struck in the lines of the Pennsylvania 26th, killing a man. As he was lying on the ground it tore off one arm, one leg, and the foot from the remaining leg. The victim gave one shriek and died in a few moments.
After a time the firing ceased, and we were marched to the rear at a lively pace.
The roads were crowded with troops of all arms, making it hard work to move; but we were pushed unmercifully. After some time we reached Savage Station on the railroad, and found troops marching; through the village toward the James River. Every road was full, and all were hustling lively.
Great quantities of supplies were being destroyed here, one large warehouse being filled with clothing. All were burned.
On we went toward White Oak Swamp, through the narrow roads, through a growth of tall pine which shut out the breeze, while the sun’s rays beat upon us fiercely. The air was full of dust, so that it was impossible to tell the color of anyone’s hair or of his uniform. The pace was hurried, and we found ourselves getting short of water and becoming exhausted.
I staggered in the ranks, but did not fall out as did many. At last when it seemed as if I could go but little farther, I was refreshed by a swallow of vinegar kindly given me by a comrade, and struggled along until we reached the swamp, where in company with hundreds of others I got down upon my hands and knees and drank from the rut in the road, where men, horses, mules, guns, etc., had been passing all day.
No time was given us to fill canteens, and we pushed on through the swamp and over White Oak Creek, not coming to a halt till sunset, when we bivouacked in a field on the right of the road, the opposite side being occupied by the nth U.S. Infantry. Orders were issued to lie behind the stacks, and without tents, just unrolling a blanket, and holding ourselves in readiness to march at two minutes’ notice. As soon as relieved, I started after water for my tentmates as well as myself; taking canteens and dippers while they made ready to get supper, gathering wood, etc.
After going some distance I found a well near a house, but was unable to get water as the Headquarters Cavalry Escort had control of it, and no one else could get near it. Hearing of a brook at some distance ahead in a piece of woods I pushed on, and found it; but also found several hundred soldiers washing their feet in it. I followed their example; and after filling my canteens and dippers returned to the regiment just in season to find out that we should have to content ourselves with hardtack and cold water, as General Grover [Brigadier General Cuvier Grover, commander of the first brigade in Major General Joseph Hooker’s division of the Third Army corps] came along and ordered all fires out, saying that they would cause us to be shelled out within a half hour. (As I look back upon this day I do not see how we could have gone through it with so few stragglers. It was a terrible march.)
We lay all night behind the stacks, ready to move at a moment’s notice, and at daylight June 30 were aroused and ordered to get breakfast. So I skirmished around and traded some sugar for coffee, and we soon had hot coffee and hardtack for a meal. Shortly after eating, we were ordered to fall in, and were sent through the fields to where the Charles City road was crossed by one leading down from Richmond, and found the road filled with wagons headed for the James River, which were hurrying along as fast as possible. They were in single file, and no wagon was allowed to pass another. If anything broke about wagon or harness, the mules were detached from the wagon and it was pulled out of the line and burned, together with its contents. This procession was passing nearly all day.
The brigade was posted across the Richmond Road, and the division extended to the left with the ist Division (General Philip Kcarny’s) beyond that, while the 2nd Corps (General Edwin V. Sumner) joined us on the right. It did not appear that the officers feared an attack here, nevertheless about noon the line was advanced a short distance toward Richmond and posted on higher ground, the loth being in the advanced line of the division. It was understood that the Pennsylvania Reserves (Generals George G. Meade and George A. McCall) were in our front, and this was probably the reason for not expecting attack. General Hooker and stafl rode up an eminence in our rear, and after looking about, the General said, “This would be a good place for a battery; but I guess we won’t need it today.”