Consequences Of The Skirmish At Lewis Farm, March 29, 1865

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The men of the 1st Brigade fought until their ammunition was nearly gone, wavered, retreated, nearly broke, re-formed, and obeyed the order, almost the plea, to hold for just a little longer until artillery came up to support them. “Hell for ten minutes and we are out of it!” Chamberlain shouted. The artillery arrived in time. The 1st Brigade won the day.

Chamberlain in The Passing of the Armies , his memoir of the last campaign of the Army of the Potomac, wrote of the events of March 29, 1865: “The day and the field are ours; but what a day, and what a field! As for the day, behind the heavy brooding mists the shrouded sun was drawing down the veil which shrined it in the mausoleum of vanished but unforgotten years. And for the field: strown all over it were a hundred and fifty bodies of the enemy’s dead, and many of the hundred and sixty-seven of my own men killed and wounded.”

It was at Lewis Farm that Chamberlain suffered the benediction of the last of the six wounds he received in the Civil War. A mini» ball passed through his horse’s neck, struck the leather case and brass mirror in his breast pocket, followed around two ribs, and exited at the back seam of his coat. He appeared to all to have received a mortal wound, but he had not—quite—and soldiered on. He was awarded a brevet commission of major general for his gallantry on Quaker Road. That night Colonel Sickel of the 198th, also severely wounded, said to Chamberlain, “General, you have the soul of the lion and the heart of the woman.” It is a tribute that could not be more bizarre to me if one Neanderthal had made it to another a hundred thousand years ago.

On the next day the Union forces resumed their advance, and the Confederates did their often suicidal best to stop them. The Army of the Potomac won the collision called the Battle of Five Forks. On the second of April Grant ordered a general assault and seized the defense works of the Army of Northern Virginia all along the line. Petersburg fell, and Richmond in turn. Lincoln, traveling in the wake of his army, entered the Confederate capital on the fourth of the month. He would die ten days later.

 

The Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia set off on a footrace for the mountains, a race won by the Yankees. As one of Lee’s officers galloped up with a flag of truce, a cannonball struck the 185th’s Lt. Hiram Clark, the last man to be killed in the Army of the Potomac. Grant and Lee met at Appomattox Court House and, after a brief consultation, signed the terms of surrender on the ninth of April.

Grant bestowed on Chamberlain the honor of receiving the formal and actual surrender of the arms and colors of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the war Chamberlain became governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. He died in bed at the age of eightyfive. It was 1914, and my father’s war was just beginning.

All that was and is for Sarah, her son, her grandson, and me incidental to the wounding of Pvt. Elisha P. Crosby on March 29 and his death two days later, just nine short of the surrender. When did he fall? At the beginning, at Gravelly Run? At the peak of the battle? At the same moment as his glorious general was wounded? Anticlimactically, in the dusk after the battle was over, victim of a stray bullet or a last gesture by a poor loser? While advancing? While retreating? Perhaps while snatching up the regiment’s colors from a fallen comrade (perhaps from Benton H. Wilson, the color bearer of the 185th, whom Walt Whitman knew). Or perhaps while cringing behind an inconveniently permeable bush.

Elisha was hit in the right hip. Neither horse nor leather case nor brass mirror intervened. There was no Confederate artillery along Quaker Road, and so we can be nearly certain that he was hit with one of Captain Mini»'s balls, a lead chunk that splayed out on impact and did not pierce but rammed forward, obliterating distinctions of artery, vein, nerve, muscle, and bone.

He was dragged from the field during battle or picked up later and carried by stretcher as carefully as tired men stumbling over broken ground in the dark could manage. The first stop would have been the field hospital set up at the Spain House about a half-mile down Quaker Road from Lewis Farm. Elisha’s wound would have been one of those the surgeon J. A. Lidell recalled as “involving bones or some of the larger articulations. . . .”

Walt Whitman wrote of such a hospital:

Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood, The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill’d, Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating, An occasional scream or cry, the doctor’s shouted orders or calls, The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches, These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor. . . .