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"THEN LET THE HURRICANES ROAR"
“FROM ARLINGTON TO ROCKVILLE”
On Tuesday morning, the Regiment marched from the railroad depot to the “Soldier’s Retreat” in the city of Washington. There they received their first breakfast of Army rations in the field, consisting of salt “junk” (beef) and black coffee. After breakfast the men roamed the streets of Washington, until near noon when the Regiment was marched from the Soldier’s Retreat to the famous Long Bridge across the Potomac. Once across the river the Regiment moved southward being, ordered to Fort Ward. After a slow march of about three and one half miles, they were ordered in to a field in the vicinity of Fort Richardson on Arlington Heights. Their original orders to Fort Ward were changed and they remained in the field, near Fort Richardson. They were now almost halfway between Washington and the city of Alexandria.
The 13th New Jersey had as its neighbor on this field another new regiment, the 107th New York. The 107th would remain a constant companion to the 13th N. J. for the next several weeks and was brigaded with the 13th as a part of the l2th Corps one-week later.
On this same day (September 2nd) President Lincoln along with General in Chief Halleck, held a meeting with General McClellan, who since the previous day was placed in command of the defenses around Washington. Lincoln informed McClellan of the sad condition of the Army which was in full retreat from the second battle of Bull Run (Manassas). The roads leading into Washington were crowded with stragglers, deserters, and the main body of troops seeking safety from the advancing enemy. Lincoln instructed McClellan to collect the stragglers and to place the defenses around the city in the best possible order.
The President then directed McClellan to go out and meet the approaching Army and to take command of it. This verbal order from Lincoln was the only one by which General McClellan was put in command of the entire Army, including General Pope’s command, the Army of Virginia. Pope’s Army of Virginia then passed out of existence and became part of the Army of the Potomac. Pope’s defeat at Bull Run (Manasses) had, as of September 2nd, 1862, altered his military career.
After arriving on the fields of Arlington Heights, the 13th Regiment along with the 107th N.Y. was directed to dig rifle pits and was instructed in how to fight in them. The work on these defenses continued daily as it was believed an attack on Washington might take place, though Lee’s Army was known to be moving towards the fords of the Potomac north of Washington.
The view from the 13th’s campsite northwards towards Washington was superb. The Capital building with its dome still unfinished rose prominently above its surroundings majestic in the glitter of the morning light. In the evening when lights were in the windows it created a flickering image the men would long remember. The Washington Monument, less than half-complete, looked like a giant stump rising out of the marshes. To George and Henry Harrison these were places and scenes they had only heard about and they had hopes of seeing them with more leisure, but no troops were permitted passes to visit in the city.
Situated between the 13th’s campsite and the city of Alexandria was several veteran New Jersey Regiments recently returned from the Peninsula Campaign. The troops of the new Regiment would often visit these veteran regiments to swap stories of the recent campaign and the latest news from Newark. The main topic of conversation was the recent death of General Phillip Kearny.
Kearny, a popular career soldier from New Jersey, was killed a few days earlier (September 1st) at Chantilly, Virginia. Kearny had accidentally passed behind enemy lines while reconnoitering. It had been raining and it was difficult to see. General Kearny rode right up to a group of Confederates asking about one of his regiments. Once he and the enemy realized his mistake he was ordered to surrender but he turned and tried to escape hugging the neck of his horse and keeping a low profile. A shower of shots was directed at his back and he was not more than thirty paces distant before he was struck down. Later on members of a Confederate cavalry unit under a flag of truce returned his body. Though Kearny was dead there were no signs of any bullet wounds. Upon close examination by Union surgeons it was found that a bullet had entered Kearny’s rectum injuring most of his vital organs as it traveled the length of his body. Kearny’s sad and somewhat humiliating death angered the New Jersey soldiers.
The veteran regiments presented a striking contrast when compared to the new recruits from Newark. The 13th Regiment had been issued all new equipment and uniforms just several days before. Everything was new and shiny. The veteran units were clad in scanty raiment’s and carried only what was essential. The new boys could not understand the cause of the veteran’s laughter as they viewed the 13th’s encampment.
The cause of their laughter was soon revealed, however, when one of the veterans remarked: “Well boys there all very nice, but you’ll wear the shine off and be glad to do with less before you get through with this business”. (5)
During their stay on Arlington Heights the new men saw for the first time the long trains of wounded coming in from the battlefield of Bull Run. It was with a strange sickening feeling they looked upon the mutilated bodies of the wounded being conveyed to hospitals in Washington. Those new men who had treated their journey and arrival in Washington somewhat as a holiday soon realized their three years enlistment was not to be only pleasant victories. Ahead of them lay untold hardships and an enemy whose abilities obviously had been underestimated. These scenes on Arlington Heights made conscious the dangers to which they would soon become familiar.
While in camp all sorts of rumors began flying as to the Regiments future movements. After having put their hopes in many conflicting reports from various “reliable” sources, the men were left confused. With a sense of anticipation they continued their work on the defenses.
On Saturday morning, September 6th, the Regiment was ordered to break camp and to be ready to move out in the afternoon. Before Company D broke camp George Harrison wrote a brief note home to his family in Centerville. He enclosed a ten-dollar bill. In his haste he addressed the letter in pencil not being able to locate a pen. After posting his letter he continued to make ready for the march.
In the late afternoon the Regiment marched northward through Arlington towards Georgetown. It was night when the Regiment re-crossed the Potomac over the Aqueduct Bridge into Georgetown, moving in a northerly direction. The Regiment then marched eight miles and halted for one half hour before pushing on.
This first nights march was to become a long remembered experience for the new men of Co. D. The Regiment was marching towards Rockville, Maryland to join the 12th and 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac already in that vicinity. Rockville was some twenty two miles distant from Washington and the men were expected to make good time. The new recruits were not prepared for such a long and tedious forced march. They were fully equipped, wearing new shoes, and the standard woolen uniforms. As the night wore on the men began to tire, their feet aching and sore. They had marched almost continuously since morning with only short rests.
Finally, near one in the morning of Sunday, September 7th, after sixteen hours of marching, the Regiment was moved off the road into a field of clover. The men stacked arms and quickly selected locations upon the ground eagerly seeking sleep. George Harrison settled under a large White Oak on the edge of the field hoping to escape the dew. The entire Regiment was asleep within a few minutes.
Not more than an hour passed before the Regiment was aroused from their slumber by the sound of a drum. Sergeant Major Johnson ordered the men to form again in the road. After forming up, the Regiment was marched one mile further and was ordered into another field where they remained until sunrise. The men later learned they had been ordered to change location to allow an artillery train passage. It had been one week since they had left the cheering crowds back home in New Jersey.
After breakfast on Sunday, September 7th, the Regiment formed up and with a “hurrah” resumed the march. As the Regiment marched the day turned blistering hot. There still remained another twelve to fifteen miles to Rockville and they were expected to make haste. Soon the heat of the march began to take its toll. Men began falling out in small groups, then in squads along the roadside.
The heat had become unbearable. The men were soaked with sweat, thirsty, tired and covered with dust. The reason for this exhausting march was an attempt to head off the Confederate forces approaching Leesburg and Harpers Ferry. General McClellan wanted to put a body of Union troops north of Washington to protect the rear approaches to Baltimore and the Capital.
What remained of the Regiment after this torturous march finally reached the vicinity of Rockville near five o’clock p.m. Only two hundred of the Regiments total nine hundred thirty seven men had completed the march! The Regiment then went into camp about two miles north of Rockville. During the night the remainder of the Regiment straggled into camp.
On Monday, September 8th, the Regiment moved out of the Rockville area at 6 a.m. Near 9 a.m. they were ordered into a line of battle. The men now expected to see action. As some of the Companies began to form into line the order was passed down to go into camp! There was a sense of relief as the men began to make camp. One soldier later recalled: “Although there was no enemy within forty miles of us we were formed in line of battle to go into camp.” (6)
As the men prepared to make camp, sometime after 9:30 a.m., George Harrison sat down and began writing the following letter to his brother William Henry back home in Centerville:
“Dear Brother, The
Thirteenth New Jersey Regiment has re-crossed the Potomac and marched about
five miles and a jolly old march we had. We started at dark on Saturday night.
We had three days grub given us which composed of all the sugar, coffee,
crackers, smoked beef and boiled meat. We marched about eight miles before we
got the order to halt. We rested half an hour and then advanced onward in a
northwesterly direction in the state of Maryland. We halted a bout one
o’clock on Sunday morning and marched in an open field to spend the rest of the
night in sweet
merry dreams. I slept close to a white oak tree in order to
escape the dew as much as possible. I had scarcely got in deep slumber before
I was aroused by the noise of the drum which signalled me to fall in and
pursue my journey. We marched about one mile and then halted in another field
and slept till sunrise, got some breakfast and then pursued on with a hurrah.
We marched till noon and then halted and rested till very near night. But one
thing I could not help noticing and that was‑that our largest ablest
bodied men fell out, and the regiment did not muster five hundred men. We
marched two miles further on and then halted once more to rest, the heavens
for our shelter. We had a fine nights rest and in the morning we pursured our
march and about nine halted as we expected to be drawn up in line of battle
and have a chance to make our fourty rounds of lead somewhat lighter. But not
so as we expect to pitch tents soon. There has been four pigs brought in camp
today and a number of chickens. Thus lives the soldier and a gay life it is
and no mistake. If the government does not bring this war to close with the
fresh six‑hundred thousand troops they never will. You cannot form any
idea how many troops I have seen pass regiment after regiment division after
division. And cannon without number. I sent one letter home previous to this
with ten dollars inside. It was directed with a pencil and I have felt kind of
doubtful whether it went through or not. I now understand that we are going to
march again in the morning. To what place I do not know. I have seen a great
deal in a short time more than you have seen in your life. Who wouldn’t be a
soldier. Tell Court* that I wish he was along and that I will ‑write as
soon as possible which will be next mail perhaps. The sun rises natural here
and it is no warmer than it was in old Jarsey (sic). I worked three
days in the entrenchments in Virginia soil while I was there the rebles was about four
miles from us but where they are now I do not know.
George R. Harrison
Company D 13th
*Probably Courtlant Condit, a resident of Centerville
The movements described in George Harrison’s letter prove to be accurate descriptions of the 13th’s known movements. It accounts for the time from their arrival on Arlington Heights to the day of September 9th when the letter seems to have been written.
From George’s use of the future tense it appears the letter was written some time after the halt at 9 a.m. He states “About 9 a.m. halted as we expected to be drawn up in line of battle”. This statement corresponds with the statement made on page 6 under note (6), which was made at a regimental reunion thirty four years after the war; yet, it corresponds with the statement made in George Harrison’s letter. His next comment: “We expect to pitch tents soon” indicates an uncertainty as to the plans of the Regiment. A few paragraphs later he then states “I now understand we are going to march again in the morning” indicates he had learned of this information as he was writing the letter. The use of these phrases implies his uncertainness of events and they create the impression he was relating the latest available information, as he heard it, in his letter to his brother.
By these statements it seems the letter was written after the nine a.m. halt; started near 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. and finished before they went into camp. One discrepancy concerning the letter is in the date of the letter itself. All events related in the letter correlate in time with the known movements of the 13th Regiment except for the date; it being one day in advance. This might be explained as a simple mistake, his being unsure of the exact date, or he may have dated the letter just prior to posting it on the following day (September 9th),
In any case the letter substantiates events known to have happened by official records and it provides a few more details as to distance and time, and includes his contemporary viewpoints on the matters at hand.
During the afternoon of September 8th, thirty-two wagons carrying the regimental equipment began to arrive. The Regiment would spend the remainder of the day and night in their present location.
On Tuesday, September 9th, just after the Regiment had set up camp, they received orders to move out immediately in “light marching order”. The wagons were reloaded and turned around. It had been decided thirty-two wagons of Regimental equipment was too much and would slow the troops and hinder their movements. The wagons were ordered back to Washington. At this point the men turned in their knapsacks, now fully realizing what “light marching order” meant. A guard unit was detached to protect the sick being left behind and to guard the baggage train. This would be the last anyone was to see of their equipment. Somehow, in the shuffle, the Regimental equipment and much of the men’s personal baggage was lost and never recovered.
Just before noon on September 9th the march resumed. By nightfall the little town of Middle Brook was reached. Here the 13th along with their neighbors from Arlington Heights, the l0th N. Y., joined General Gordon’s 3rd Brigade, William’s lst Division of General Banks “Old Corps”, the 12th. General McClellan’s order assigning the Regiment to this command had been received on the 6th, the day they left Arlington. The 13th and the 107th were both perfectly new Regiments, but had been Brigaded with the veteran 2nd Massachusetts, 3rd Wisconsin and the 27th Indiana. These veteran units ranked among the best fighting regiments in the Army.
The 2nd Corps, under General Sumner was also with the 12th Corps at Middle Brook. As the Brigades and Divisions massed, the men could sense the fight they had been waiting for was soon about to happen.