Monday, December 24, 2012

December 20, 1862:James Prall & the 31st NJ Regiment

In 1861, James Prall joined the Belvidere Infantry Company of the Warren Brigade of NJ Militia.  On September 10, 1862, Prall was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant of Company I (Belvidere Infantry Co.) of the 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment    (9 months service).   Prall served his full enlistment. After he mustered out of service, he purchased a country store in Delaware Station, Knowlton Township from John I. Blair.  In 1863, Prall was appointed Postmaster of Delaware Station.  He opened a post office in his store at 9 Clinton Street.

On December 20, 1862,  Lt. Prall wrote a letter to his brother from camp in Belle Plains, Virginia.  Dear Brother: I now on this Saturday afternoon seat myself to answer your long wished for letter which I received on Wednesday last.  I was very glad to hear from you as it was the first letter I received since we left Camp Warren and I was glad to hear that you was all well.  Now in the first place I will ask you how many letters you have received from me since we left there.  I have written three besides this.  We have not got any regulation yet about our mail and have not received but one mail mail since we came here but I think there will be some arrangement soon so that we will get our mail twice a week.   Now I will tell you how we have been getting along and what we are at.  I will be two weeks on Monday [December 22, 1862] since we moved where we are encamped.  Since we have been here our Regiment has been engaged in different ways.  Two companies is doing guard duty down at the wharf which is about one mile from our camp.  Two companies goes down to the wharf every day to unload Boats that comes in with Grain & Hay for the army.  One company goes out on picket duty and five companies is at work making and corduroying a new Road that was from a new wharf that we have built to where the main army lays our camp and has been to work and is at work now at the wharf and on the road. 

"I have been on duty every day until this afternoon and came to camp to get men and axes to go into the woods to cut some spikes for the wharf and I saw the colonel and he told me he would give me clear this afternoon as he thought I had done my share of duty. So I get clear and thought I would improve my time in writing to you as I suppose we will all have to work tomorrow. 

"Clark, the fighting at Fredericksburg had stopped again and I are afraid that we have had the worst of the Bargain.  We certainly did not gain anything and all say we lost it.   [It] is said that our loss was from twelve to fifteen thousand in killed, wounded and missing.  I have been goin over to see the army.  They have all came back this side of the river but I have not got away yet.  There has been lots of them over here to see their friends in our Regiment.  The whole army appears to be down on [General Ambrose] Burnside and say that if [General George] McClellan had have been there, they believe we would have had a victory with nor so heavy a loss.  McClellan is the man.  Yet in this army he is the man that has got the confidence of the men and he can do with them what no other general can.  It is possible that the army will not make another strike here again this winter.  When this war will ever close is hard to tell but I think it is doubtful if it ever can be settled by fighting.  They have good fighting men and good Generals to manage them and they appear to be more determined.

"May [Prall's sister],  It is now Sunday morning and I have got clear of going out to work this morning.  It is a fine morning and I suppose you are about getting ready to go to church.  I think I will go this morning.  I have not been to meeting for some time.  We have had very fine weather since we have been here only a little cold but not much storm that is what makes it so unpleasant here.  Elijah Burd [of Hazen] just came in.  He says I must tell you all that he is getting along all right.  He says when you have nothing else to do to write to him.  I have not received but one letter from home in four weeks now but we will get a mail today and I hope I may get one.  I got one from Geo. Prall this week.  I would write often home but the only time I have had has been nights and I have to write to some others too.  As long as I write once a week I think I do very well but I want you all to write as often as you can.  When I write to one I write to you all.  I will now stop again until this evening and see if we get any mail or not now.

"May, I just received the mail and Brown Clark's letter & one from Mary and Sam.  I was glad, very glad, to hear from you all. I also just received some of my butter & mangoes that I left at Mr. Swayze's which I are very glad to get.  The butter & mangoes & some bread & pies & some chicken he sent to Israel Swayze, he is in our Company, we will have a good time New Year.  That will do me as much good as the whole bag at Washington and are glader to get it.  I will get the balance of the butter now when I want it.  Elijah Burd wanted me to write father and tell him to get his folks to move there by you that he wanted them to do it.  I hope it will be so that father and Clark can get down this winter.  There is close by us I suppose about 2,000 Soldiers from all parts.  I must now close hoping to hear from you all soon.  I will write Mary as soon as I can.  Tell George I are glad.  I want all to write.  Happy New Year to all.  As ever, your Bro., James Prall."

Copyright 1999-2012: Jay C. Richards     

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 1862: 9th NJ Regiment in North Carolina

December 1862 was a time of battles for the Jersey Ninth.  On December 8, Colonel Charles Heckman, of Easton/Phillipsburg, was assigned independent command of a group consisting of the 9th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a detachment of the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and a battery from the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Artillery.  Heckman's assignment was to capture the railroad junction at Goldsborough, North Carolina.
On December 13, Heckman's force approached Kinston.  The bridge over the Southwest Creek had been destroyed, and a Confederate entrenchment had been set up at the site.  While Heckman;s artillery exchanged fire with the rebel guns, he sent three companies of infantry to cross the river to outflank the rebels.  The remainder of the infantry was to cross the river over a nearby mill dam.  The rebels ran from their fortification as the Jersey Ninth advanced.  It was reported that a Confederate officer had been heard yelling to his men, "There comes that Dutch Heckman! You had better save yourselves  while you have the time!"
Outside of Kinston, Heckman found a heavily fortified Confederate artillery battery, covered by swamp on three sides and the Neuse River on the fourth side, and which was overlooking a bridge leading into the town.  Heckman ordered the Rhode Island battery to set up its guns on a commanding position and fire on the rebel artillery.  With reinforcements from the 17th Massachusetts, the 99th Pennsylvania, the 52nd New York, and 89th New York Infantry Regiments plus another battery of artillery, Heckman ordered the attack on four rebel infantry regiments positioned in the woods outside of town.
When the rebel infantry was sufficiently moved away enough to allow Federal forces to approach the bridge, the rebel artillery abandoned their position and also ran toward the bridge.  After escaping over the bridge, with the 9th NJ and the 17th Massachusetts right behind them, the Confederate rear guard set fire to the bridge.  Unfortunately, the burning bridge took the lives of other Confederates who had tried to cross the burning bridge.  More than 400 southern soldiers were taken prisoner since they could not cross the bridge to Kinston.  Under fire from sharpshooters, Heckman's men extinguished the flames on the bridge before it was completely destroyed. 
Annoyed with the sharpshooters, Captain William Curtis and the 9th NJ Regiment's Color Guard ran across the smoldering bridge and into an earthwork at the end of the bridge and captured 50 rebel soldiers.  The captured flag was sent to the governor of New Jersey. 
Proceeding toward Goldsborough, Heckman's force fought its way through Whitehall on December 16.  The force set up camp eight miles from its destination.  The group had been ordered to destroy the tracks of the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad and the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad as well as a bridge spanning the river, which was 1/8 of mile in length.  After two hours of continuous fighting, Heckman's troops reached the bridge. 
Many of the men of the Jersey 9th volunteered to set fires on the bridge, which was still covered by enemy artillery and muskets.  Corporal James W. Green and Private Elias C. Winans, both of Company K, were selected.  After several attempts, and while under constant musket fire, the two men finally got a fire started with leaves and kindling.   Heckman's aide-de-camp Lieutenant Graham and Private William Lemons, of Company E, ran onto the wooden bridge carrying fusees [magnesium flares] to help get the bridge burning.  Soon the bridge was afire.  The four men ran back to their units.  The troops then destroyed railroad tracks. 
As the infantry began to leave the site, two brigades of Confederate troops advanced to attack Heckman's artillery batteries in the rear of the Federal column.  The infantry rushed to the aid of the artillery. The artillery crews set up their guns and poured grape and canister shot into the southern troops, forcing the rebels to retreat.  Heckman's command returned to Newbern, North Carolina on December 20. 
On December 22, Colonel Heckman finally received his commission promoting him to  Brigadier General.  the commission had been issued in Washington, DC on October 29, 1862 but did not arrive in North Carolina until December.  Heckman was assigned to 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 18th Corps.  His brigade consisted of the 9th NJ, 3rd Massachusetts, 8th Massachusetts, and 23rd Massachusetts Infantry Regiments.  On December 24, a new stand of colors [National & Regimental flags] were presented to the 9th NJ by the New Jersey Legislature.  The flags cost taxpayers $700.
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards                                            

December 1862: Battle of Fredericksburg (Part Three)

On December 12, 1862, Colonel George W. Mindil and his 27th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment were ordered to be the first to cross the newly constructed pontoon bridges  over the Rappahannock River to enter Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Guarding those bridges were the men of the 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment.   Not far behind the 27th NJ marched the men of Colonel Edward Campbell's  15th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment in the 6th Corps.  During the day the 27th NJ took up a position behind the Fredericksburg Gas Works in the second line of battle.  The regiment spent the day under fire from Confederate artillery batteries.

The men of Colonel Robert McAllister's 11th NJ Regiment were ordered to cross the Rappahannock River from Falmouth to Fredericksburg on December 14th. The 11th NJ relieved the battle-weary men of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  Two companies were dispatched to relieve the 26th PA Regiment's pickets. the pickets had exchanged fire with the rebels for several hours and sustained a loss of four men wounded and six men missing. On December 15th, the 11th NJ Regiment was ordered to cross the river back to Falmouth.
Reverend Alanson Haines, Chaplain of the 15th NJ Regiment, praised the work of Dr. Redford Sharp, of Belvidere, Surgeon of the 15th NJ.  "Doctor Redford Sharp, the principal surgeon, was most active and efficient.  Though detailed to the Division Hospital, he was able to do much for the wounded of the regiment brought to him, and was specially tender and careful of all under his charge.   He gave nearly five years to the cause of humanity in the army, and his name deserves remembrance along with the good and the brave."

On December 13, Sergeant Cicero H. Drake, of Belvidere, serving in the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was wounded in the leg by shrapnel.  He was transported by railroad to Washington, D.C. to Finley Hospital, 6th Ward.   Drake wrote in a letter to J. R. Butts, of Belvidere, "I am now comfortably housed in this hospital.  We have a warm room, good beds and good attendance. My wound is not a bad one, and is doing well.  Beside the hole made by the slug that wounded me, I have six ball holes through my clothes.  Our company lost, in killed and wounded, that I know of, 37 - perhaps not more than 6 or 8 were killed.  Among the killed was Charles Wallace, cousin to Isaac Wallace.  He was a favorite of mine, and I regret his loss very much.  William Divit [or Davitt], son of Matthew Divit, formerly of Warren County, was among the slain."

Many of the NJ troops returned to Belle Plain, Virginia.  Lieutenant Birdsall Cornell, of the 1st NJ Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, visited some of the Knowlton Township men of Company G, 31st NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment for the Christmas season.  Cornell wrote, "On Sunday, the 28th, I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting my old friends Captain B. F. Howey and Lieutenant James F. Green, Co. G, 31st N.J. Vols. and partook of their hospitality in the shape of a splendid dinner of roast beef, chicken, eggs &c., quite a rarity for a soldier to enjoy; Captain Howey, I am happy to state, is enjoying excellent health, but Green has been indisposed for some time, but is now improving.  1st Lieutenant [William C.] Larzelier, of the same company, is also in good health.  All the officers of this company enjoy the respect and confidence of their men to an unusual degree.

"The 31st Regiment, I learn, have had very arduous duties to perform since they came into the service.  While in Maryland, they were engaged in the construction of a Fort, and since having crossed the river into Virginia, they have been constantly employed , through all kinds of weather, in repairing roads, rebuilding bridges, &c. This is an unthankful service for a soldier, and it is very seldom they receive sufficient credit for it, as the movements of our armies depend very much upon the energy and perseverance of this class of men."

Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 1862: Battle of Fredericksburg (Part Two)

On December 12, 1862, the battle at Fredericksburg, Virginia was well underway.  Men from Warren County, NJ serving in many units within the Army of the Potomac were coming together for the battle.  Belvidere resident Sergeant Cicero H. Drake, was advancing with the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment toward the Confederate fortifications outside of town. His brother, Sergeant Levi Drake, of Blairstown, was wounded as they advanced together.

Drake wrote, "We had now gotten within full range of their guns, and we, for the first time, began to fire.  We halted, but the whole regiment squirmed like a snake.  We had now got within 75 yards of their first line of entrenchments and at this moment, their whole line opened on us a fire that no man could describe.  The balls flew like a storm of hail.  And at the same time, a heavy battery commenced a crossfire from the left, completely raked us from left to right, and poured into our ranks all sorts of death dealing missiles.  Not a man turned his face to the foe, but like veterans stood up and were shot down.  No troops in the world could stand such a fire, and again we fell on our faces.

"We lay perhaps for three minutes, but those three minutes contained the horrors of the ages.  On my left and right, at my side, lay a man shot through the breast by a grape, and on my right lay one terribly mutilated by a shell.  As we lay, I could hear those poor fellows praying and beseeching High Heaven for protection, while others were groaning and yelling  most vociferously.  All these, with the wild whir of bullets, the singing of grape  and the bursting of shells.  All these, I say, formed a spell of terrors that will never be forgotten.  At one time, I raised my head and looked about me.  I saw dead men and horses scattered in every direction over the field, while great pieces of railroad torn from the rebel batteries plowed the earth in our front and rear.  Again, we were ordered to up and charge.  At this time, we had lost many of our best officers.  Our fellows kept advancing and firing.  Most of them would fall on their backs, load, jump up and fire.  Our line became a little confused.  
"A young officer - I do not remember his name, where he came from or anything about him - sprang up in our midst, and with sword drawn, leading his horse, pointed to the woods and shouted, 'charge in the woods, on them, with your bayonets; I will go with you, my brave boys!'  His noble face, so young and boy-like, glowed with valor.  I thought if he could go, I could, and I followed him.  I fired quite a number of times, and my gun barrel got so hot that I could hardly hold it.  I dropped on my back, loaded, jumped up and was in the act of of placing a cap, when a shell burst near me, a piece of which hit me between the thigh and knee joint. I thought a forty-pound cannon ball had taken it, but on examination, I found that, at least, my leg was left. However, my fighting was done for that day [December 13], and I fell to the rear.  I got behind a clump of earth, lay down with other wounded, and watched the progress of the conflict.
"I saw our fellows steadily advance, and saw the enemy fall back, but they rallied on their reserve and fell on us in overwhelming numbers.  They got us started back, then, having a full opportunity, they played on us at an awful rate.  At one time it seemed like the gates of hell had opened, and all the furies of the infernal region were pouring a perfect stream of death into our ranks.  After laying on the field about half an hour, I hobbled to the hospital.  I could a dozen sheets more in telling you what I passed through after the battle, but I have not time.  But this I will say, our drunken doctors used us worse than did the rebels.  One man, of our company, was wounded about noon, Saturday, and lay on the field till Monday night.  It was found necessary to amputate his leg, and he told me that the surgeon that had operated on him was so drunk that he staggered during the operation."  [The appearance of drunkenness may have been the effects of prolonged exposure to ether, which was used as an anesthetic.]
Reverend Alanson Haines, Chaplain of the 15th NJ Regiment, who acted as a messenger between brigade and regiment during the battle, reported, "The rebel fire was direct and close, and the exposure of a little knot of men or officers would bring a shell just over their heads or into their midst.  Colonel Ryerson had ridden up the further bank and was seated on his horse, when a shell came directly towards him and seemed to explode      on the very spot he occupied. Doctor Oakley exclaimed, 'Harry Ryerson is gone!'  The smoke cleared away, and he was seen to ride on unharmed, having marked the coming missile and thrown himself down on his horse's neck just in time and far enough to escape."
Reverend Haines reported on the first death in the 15th NJ Regiment during the battle, "Mitchell Mulvey, Company G, was the first man of the regiment killed.  At the time, shots were being exchanged with the rebel pickets.  He was cautioned not to expose himself, but he exclaimed, 'Hush, don't tell a Jersey boy to keep back when the enemy is in sight!'  He had fixed his attention on a rebel sharpshooter who fired from behind a tree.  When, at length, the rebel exposed himself in firing, he took aim and fired.  the rebel was seen to tumble over, evidently killed.  At the same moment, Mitchell fell back dead, shot through the brain."
During the fighting on the morning of December 13, the 15th NJ Regiment was stationed along a railroad line keeping up musket fire on the rebels.  In the afternoon, the 1st NJ Brigade was forced back. A large number of soldiers from the 4th, 23rd and 15th NJ Regiments were captured.  Colonel Hatch of the 4th NJ Regiment, was wounded in the knee.  He died a few days later after his leg was amputated.  Sergeant Major John P. Fowler, of the 15th NJ, was killed, and Captain William Slater and Major James M. Brown were severely wounded.
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards            

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 1862: Battle of Fredericksburg (Part One)

On December 11, 1862, soldiers of the 7th Michigan Infantry Regiment, the 19th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment launched an amphibious assault across the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, Virginia. 
Warren County soldiers were on the march toward Fredericksburg.  The 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Robert McAllister of Oxford Furnace, was assigned to General Daniel Sickels division when it began its march to Falmouth, Virginia, located across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg.  Sickels' father had founded The Belvidere Apollo newspaper in Warren County, and young Daniel Sickels had for a time worked in his father's newspaper in Belvidere.
The newly created 15th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edward L. Campbell, of Belvidere, was assigned to the Sixth Corps.  The 15th NJ was ordered to proceed toward Fredericksburg. 
Second Lieutenant Birdsall Cornell, of Branchville, and the 1st NJ Volunteer Cavalry Regiment were one of the first Federal units to engage in the battle.  Cornell wrote to The Belvidere Intelligencer [formerly The Belvidere Apollo], "Our Regiment has the distinguished honor of being the first to commence the engagement on the left at the great battle of Fredericksburg.  We moved across the river early in the morning, and were thrown immediately to the front as skirmishers. In about an hour, the infantry came up and we were ordered to the rear.   Strange as it may appear, although we were under galling fire during this time, both of infantry and artillery, not a man was injured, and only two horses were killed."
Sergeant Cicero H. Drake, of Belvidere, had joined the 142nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment in Stroudsburg. He was wounded in the leg during the battle on December 13 and was sent to Finley Hospital in Washington, DC to recuperate. He wrote a letter to J. R. Butts, of Belvidere, while in hospital.  "On the 10th instant, we encamped near White Oak Church, three miles from Fredericksburg.  On the morning of the 11th, we were aroused at 2:00 by the long [drum] roll, and we started for the Rappahannock.  Shortly after, on our way, we heard the thunder of cannon in the direction of Fredericksburg and knew that the first scene of the great drama had opened - the bombardment of Fredericksburg.  About 9 a.m. we formed in line of battle in the woods, a mile or two from the town.  All day the fire continued, and about dark, the town was taken by a detachment of two regiments."
The Confederate troops had fortified the heights just outside of town.  A stone wall gave many cover from Federal rifle and musket fire.  The 15th NJ Regiment arrived at Stafford Heights on the morning of December 11.  Lt. Colonel Campbell was in command because Colonel Samuel Fowler was ill with typhoid fever.   While awaiting orders, the men of the 15th NJ watched the town being shelled by rebel guns.
Colonel McAllister's 11th NJ Regiment also arrived at Stafford Heights.  Pontoon bridges were under construction down on the Rappahannock.  On the morning of December 12, McAllister was ordered to have his men guard the bridges.  Campbell was ordered to have his men cross the river and prepare for battle orders. 
Sgt. Drake wrote, "On Friday, 12th, our forces crossed the river and took a position beyond. All this time, the mighty hosts of the rebels lay strongly fortified in the mountains back of Fredericksburg and directly in our front.  Although they were not a mile from us, and had a large army, that night not a sign of them could be seen.  No campfire, no noise, but all in that direction, silent as death.  The next morning (Saturday), we were led in the direction of the enemy.  The ground between us and the rebel works presented a level appearance.  As we came out in this open field, the lines were formed.    Our Regiment was on the left of the 2nd Brigade Pennsylvania Reserves, and in the 2nd line of battle.  After forming, we were ordered to advance, which we did, and took a position near to and in the rear of  our batteries.  Our batteries were placed on a ridge, perhaps a quarter of a mile from the enemy's works.  They had been shelling the enemy for some time. 
"Occasionally solid shot came whistling over our heads but doing no damage.  About 12, we shifted our position a little to the left.  This attracted the foe, and they opened on us with solid shot and shell.  We fell on our faces, everything, so as to escape the fire.  At the same time, the battery attached to our Regiment opened in return, firing right over our heads, and poured into the ranks solid 24 and 48 pounders.  Although we lay flat on the ground, their shot came unpleasantly close.  One cannon ball came so close to my head that I felt the wind from it  on my ear.  Sometimes I would look up and around me.  I then could see balls bounding majestically over the field.  They sometimes would strike a hundred yards front of us, throw up a sheet of sand, bound over us, and light perhaps fifty yards in our rear.  At this time, along the line, there was a perfect thunder of artillery. 
"Although we were on the left, we could hear the conflict rage on the right several miles off.  Between us and the rebels was a rise of ground hiding them from our view, but between this hill and them was a level field, occasionally cut by deep rifle pits.  On this rise, our batteries were planted, and in their rear, we lay.
"Soon after 12, the command, 'Attention, Battalion - Forward - Double Quick - March' was given, and we advanced to storm their stronghold.  When we reached the top of the rise before mentioned, we came to a deep rifle pit; we broke over this and formed beyond.  then the command, 'Fix Bayonets,' and the order for a grand charge across the plateau, but here they opened on us a most awful fire, but on went the 142nd; soon our advance was checked, and we were compelled to fall on our faces to escape total destruction.  Again we up and pressed forward.  Here I saw my Captain fall, and a moment after, my brother [Levi C. Drake, of Blairstown] fell by my side."
Copyright 1997-2012: Jay C. Richards