Union army withdraws.–Diary of Josiah Marshall Favill.

[December 15th]

Early Monday evening the commanding general concluded to withdraw, and the troops were ordered to recross the river. During the day the ambulances were kept busy transfering the wounded from the town to Stafford and as soon as it became dark, the artillery parked in the streets, crossed over, followed immediately afterwards by the infantry. Long, dark lines filled every street, converging near the bridges, and with rapid strides the men stepped briskly out. Luckily for us, the night was pitch dark, the wind howling dismally through the streets, swinging the doors and shutters of the deserted houses upon their creaking hinges in a most depressing manner; but it prevented the enemy from observing our movements, and so was especially welcome. Out in front, just under the guns of Marye’s hill, lay our Fifty-second regiment Colonel Frank in command, keeping up a bold front, occasionally exchanging shots with the rebs. Under cover of this line, all the troops in rear had been withdrawn, and they were now alone upon the field. By midnight most of the troops had crossed over and Zook with a crowd of officers sat on horseback near the head of the bridge, keeping a watchful eye in rear as well as on the bridge. Our brigade brought up the rear, and was just about to cross when Mitchell came along and directed that an attempt be made to withdraw the Fifty-second from the front. It seemed altogether likely the enemy would discover our movements sooner or later and whenever they did so the regiment was doomed to capture. The colonel directed me to undertake the task of withdrawing the regiment; that meant to ride alone through a deserted town, to scramble over a field of battle covered with hundreds of dead men and strewn with muskets and encumbrances, in a night so dark that nothing could be seen, was surely an unpleasant duty, but saying good bye. Without even an orderly I turned and galloped through the street towards the railroad track. Most of the houses, although completely deserted, were still lighted by candles left by our men, and all the doors stood open, creaking and groaning in the midnight darkness. I soon reached the railroad, and following it, went into the depot, from near which we originally made our exit to the attack. Here I dismounted, groped about for several minutes for something to fasten my horse to, stumbling over a big pile of dead men, and at last found the fastening of a window shutter, the very thing I wanted. Billy did not like the idea of being left alone in so lonesome a spot, and whinnied and stamped provokingly; groping my way by the big doors, I passed out towards the battlefield; near a small house close to the brick kiln, where a dog rushed out barking furiously, I stopped for a moment till all was still, then hurried along again, groping my way over the prostrate forms of dead men, sometimes on a run, at others, creeping and picking my way as best I could, amongst the numberless muskets with fixed bayonets, etc., that covered the ground. Many times I was obliged to lie flat down and peer ahead, to get my bearings, at others to avoid the musket balls, as every little while the rebel lines opened fire, and in fact a scattering fusilade was kept up all the time. After many efforts, changing direction first to the right, then to the left, I stumbled on the line of living men lying flat down, hardly distinguishable from the dead without stooping, and was never so delighted in my life before. The men were equally glad to see me, or more accurately, hear my voice, for the darkness was so intense that no man’s face could be seen; the men were full of anxiety, fearing we might abandon them, and quickly passed the news of my arrival along the line. I moved cautiously towards the center, where no man spoke above a whisper, and soon ran into Colonel Frank, who hugged me, squeezed my hand, and was beside himself for joy. He presented his canteen, familiarly known to all his friends, and after taking a good drink, we arranged the plan of withdrawal, which was to muffle canteen cups and dishes with the blankets, face to the left, and march straight for the railway cut, which we knew was not far distant. Everything was to be done quietly, the men following their file leaders without word of command. These arrangements being concluded, the officers and men were notified, and in a few minutes all was ready for the movement. Two or three shots were fired in different parts of the line, to let the rebels know we were still there then quickly the line stood up faced to the left, and at a tremenduous speed, stepped out and reached the cut without attracting the enemy’s attention. Once on the railroad, we soon reached the depot, where I found my horse. I was quickly on his back, and at the head of the column moved through the silent streets to the bridge, where the engineers were eagerly awaiting our arrival. Without loss of time, the regiment moved across. As the last man stepped on board the bridge, I bade the engineer officer in charge good bye, and followed the regiment, the bridge itself disappearing like magic, and before I reached the Stafford side half of it was taken up and all access to the other side barred. I put spurs to my horse, and rode directly to headquarters, where all but Green, my man, were fast asleep. He took my horse, and in a few moments I too was “in the shadow of the earth,—sleep, nature’s soft nurse, the mantle that covers thought, the food that appeases hunger; the balance and weight that equal the shepherd with the King, and the simple with the wise.”

Diary of a Young Officer–Josiah Marshall Favill (57th New York Infantry)

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  • Fritz Steiner

    LT Favill was a courageous young officer who had foreseen the debacle that Ambrose E. Burnside had created with his stupid battle plan (<—you should excuse the word). It was somehow fitting that he was sent to successfully rescue the last Union force remaining on the field.

    • skedaddle

      I agree. It certainly is an interesting snippet from the war.

  • Khloe

    Very interesting post. Gives a clear picture

  • Fritz Steiner

    I can hardly wait to read LT Favill’s take on “The Mud March”, Ambrose E.’s fitting swan song as Commander of the Army of the Potomac

  • Jade

    I m agree becouse certainly is an interestingggggggggg………….. snippet from the war.