- Historic Sites
Asa Smith Leaves The War
AN AMERICAN HERITAGE ORIGINAL DOCUMENT Edited and with an introduction
February 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 2
The surgeon took a bandage and, passing it under my chin, pinned the ends together on the top of my head, and said, “This is all I can do for you now.” Then he ordered Clark to take my equipment oil and get a board and lay me upon it alongside the church, which he did, using my cartridge box and haversack for a pillow.
I lay on the side nearest the field of battle, and so near that very often the bullets would strike the building, but I was not struck.
The fight lasted some two or three hours, during which time I remained in this position, and later got up and sat on a plank placed between two trees near the road.
During the evening the surgeon and assistant surgeon of the regiment (Drs. Jewett and Whiston) found me and looked me over as best they could under the circumstances, and Dr. Jewett told me that he would operate in the morning, saying, “Keep up your courage; we’ll make quite a man out of you.” I suppose he did not mean to intimate that I previously had not been one. At any rate, it gave me more hope. Then he told Clark to take me into the little schoolhouse where I could sleep on the floor with other wounded.
Then the surgeons started off, and in a moment Dr. Whiston came back and put his fingers into my mouth; then he called Dr. Jewett, saying, “Doctor, his jaw is dislocated on the left side.” Dr. Jewett came back, examined it again, and reduced the dislocation. After the dr’s. departure, Clark took me to the schoolhouse where I found a great many wounded, among others Lieutenant Colonel Meacham of the regiment.
I lay upon the floor, suffering severely for want of water, and feeling very faint. Someone called Lieutenant Colonel Meacham s attention to me, when he handed me a small flask containing brandy and told me to take a little, but be sparing as it was all he had. After a time I got easier and must have fallen into a doze, from which I was awakened about 2 o’clock A.M. by hearing a call, “Get up and skedaddle; the Johnnies will be here in half an hour.”
I got out and met Dr. Jcwett, who ordered Comrade Clark and another man to carry me on a stretcher. This they attempted to do; but soon found it was impossible, as the narrow road was filled with columns of infantry and artillery, marching side by side and being pushed to the utmost by their officers.
I got up on my feet, and seeing a Massachusetts regiment (15th) passing I got among the color guard and attempted to keep up with them. As I was very weak I must have bothered them some, and one of them told me to get out, upon which the color sergeant rebuked him, telling him that “he might be wounded some time,” and told me to “stay with them as long as I wished.”
In the early forenoon we came to open ground, and in front was rising ground, a long slope, with buildings at the top: the now well-known Malvern Hill. On the right as you faced it was a deep ravine through which ran a small stream (Turkey Creek). This hill was about three miles from the James River.
When we came in sight, our forces were marching in every direction about it and forming lines of battle as fast as possible. Under ordinary circumstances it would have been a spectacle well worth seeing. But I was in a terrible condition, and left the 15th regiment and started up the hill by the road toward the river. When I had gotten about one third of the distance, the lieutenant in charge of a battery just swung into position across the road saw me; he came and advised me to get away as soon as possible, as there would be a fight there. So I trudged along, hungry and thirsty, with no canteen or dipper, unable to eat if I had food and barely able to swallow any drink, if I had been possessed of any.
The day was very warm and my progress was necessarily slow, as I had to stop for rest at short intervals. Quite a number of ambulances passed me; but I was not allowed to occupy one of them.
After some time the fleet in the river opened fire through the creek so as to protect our left flank, and threw a great many 11-inch shells over my head. These shells were known to the soldiers as “dutch ovens,” and sometimes were called “blacksmith’s shops.”
Some time in the afternoon I met Sergeant Matthias Brigham of my company, who was a townsman of mine. He was in charge of a squad of eight men who had been to the river with a wagon train. In the squad were two men of the company (Privates Geo. W. Risley and Perrin H. Benton) and I walked up to them, but none of them knew me. Taking off my forage cap, I showed them the number of the regiment and letter of the company, upon which one of them said, “My God! It’s Smith.”
After a moment’s consultation, these two asked the sergeant if they could go with me to the river, and he said that they were very tired and he was afraid they would not be able to get up with the regiment before night; but they pleaded and he consented, and we started on with one of them on each side holding me up.
After a while we reached a boat landing near a large house, which I was told was Aiken’s. The grounds were fenced, so that it was impossible to get to the river, as a guard was set.
My companions inquired for a surgeon, and presently a young man appeared, but did nothing for me, as he was one of a lot of young surgeons sent down to assist in the emergency, and had no instruments as yet, nor any supplies. He thought that it would not be long before some one could attend to me.