- Historic Sites
Asa Smith Leaves The War
AN AMERICAN HERITAGE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT Edited and with an introduction
February 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 2
Here we stacked arms, and proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. There had been considerable fighting about two miles to the right of our position, where Stonewall Jackson was trying to cross White Oak Swamp, and shortly alter this the firing grew very heavy in that direction.
In the course of an hour or two, skirmishing commenced in front of McCaIl, followed very quickly by heavy firing of both artillery and infantry. In a little while it appeared to be nearer, and we were called to arms. VVe were formed behind a worm fence on a side hill, and in a few minutes a battery came galloping up and took the position previously noted by General Hooker.
Before long the Pennsylvanians began to approach us at a run, and attempted to break to the rear. We gathered in all that we could and reformed them (or part of them) in our rear. Very soon the enemy’s artillery opened and quickly got the range, the shells bursting in the air just in front so as to send the pieces directly among us. This continued for some time while the advance forces were being driven. Without any warning there came a sudden, sharp crack followed closely by others, and the screeching of shell from the battery in the rear. The guns were so near that it seemed as though our ear drums would burst; but in a few moments we became somewhat accustomed to the sounds, and minded them very little.
The enemy’s shell flew thick and fast, and there were some close calls. One piece came down and grazed the side of my left shoe, partly burying itself in the ground. As I stooped and got hold of it, the Captain saw it, and said, “A miss is as good as a mile, Corporal,” and I felt the same way about it.
About this time the enemy got into long rifle range, and began firing. From their position in the bush they could see us, while themselves hidden. The Colonel, wishing to hold his fire and keep the men steady, began to practice them in the manual of arms. (Some years after the war, I heard General Hooker tell the Massachusetts House of Representatives of this, saying that “he had never seen it better done on parade.”) The enemy began to climb the rising ground toward our position, and the Colonel ordered that no man fire until he gave the command, when the front rank was to fire, then the rear rank, after which we were “to load and fire at will.”
The men were at the highest pitch of excitement, but so well disciplined were they that this order was obeyed to the letter. Then the men began to cheer (the gray trousers could now be seen below the cloud of smoke, as they steadily approached), when the Colonel said, “Remember the State you come from,” whereupon the adjutant called for “three cheers for the old Bay State,” which were given with a will.
General Hooker approached the front and said, “Give them hell, boys,” and the fight was on.
The ground on the side hill in front was clear of trees for some little distance; but on the right of the road in front of the 2nd Corps the woods came well up to the line. On our left front was an orchard of apple trees (apparently), and sharpshooters were concealed amid the branches and had kept up a steady fire from the first.
The Johnnies climbed the hill with a rush, causing the line to waver for a moment, then it closed up and gave them a murderous fire.
Just as the shock came, I turned my head to the right to speak a word of defiance in the ear of Corporal William E. Eldridge, and before it was turned square to the front something hit me. It felt as though an immense timber had struck me end first, with great force. It was not painful; but seemed to partly daze me. I did not fall, but dropped my rifle and put my hand to my chin, and found that it felt as though torn to pieces. Lieutenant Meserve saw me and told me to go to the rear as soon as possible. From the direction that die ball came, I am of the opinion that it was fired by one of the sharpshooters in the trees.
I started for the yd Corps field hospital, which was established in the Willis Church, a small building on the Quaker Road (so called) leading to Malvcrn Hill. It was but a short distance in the rear, and the nearest way was through the wood and was marked by small hospital flags at intervals. On my way I found two or three small, coarse towels which evidently had been thrown away by some soldier, and used them to try to staunch the hemorrhage, which was quite severe.
On arriving at the field hospital station, I found several surgeons busily at work, with men wounded in apparently about every conceivable manner. The operating tables were made from the seats of the church, placed upon empty beef or pork barrels.
I got a seat beside a young rebel who was shot in one foot and waited for a time, but as nobody came to my assistance I went outside and found D. Harris Clark of Co. B, who was on detail and was an old acquaintance. He found a young New York surgeon and prevailed upon him to attend to my case. Upon his coming (as I could not talk) I made him understand that I wished to know if I would recover, upon which he shook his head and said, “Doubtful.” And, after a short interval, “I have seen men recover who were hurt as badly as you are.”
This was not very encouraging; but somehow hope was strong and I made up my mind to try for it.