Accounts of War

Alexander L. Litchard

“Alexander enlisted Aug. 29, 1861, in Co. D of the 86th Regiment N. Y. Vol. Infantry, and after nearly two years’ service was honorably discharged on account of having inflammatory rheumatism. He was the greater part of the time detailed on patrol duty in Washington City, and on special service at Gen. Whiple’s headquarters. He saw something of the misery and devastation caused by war, but the only great fight in which he participated was the disastrous second Bull Run battle (Aug, 1862), in which Major General Pope failed to demolish Jackson’s army, as he had declared with overmuch self-assurance he would do, by a boastful manifesto at the commencement of the campaign, but in which he came very near having his own army destroyed. Pope charged his defeat to the failure of some of the subordinate commanders to support him at the proper time, according to orders, but he found public sentiment so much against him that he soon after felt impelled to ask to be released from the command. The loss of his army in killed and disabled was 11,000 besides being reduced by many stragglers from his ranks, and the Confederate loss was reported to have been 7,241, which is convincing evidence that it was a desperately fought battle. It was on account of Pope’s charges that General Fitz John Porter was, by a court-martial, sentenced to be cashiered. Fifteen years later the case was reconsidered by a board of army officers, and he was then exonerated. Some prominent army men finally became satisfied of his innocence, among whom was General Grant, who while President had even refused to reopen his case. But Alexander, and the rank and file, and the officers of the command generally, were convinced that if Porter had moved when and as ordered, the rout would more likely have been in the direction of Richmond.

“Alexander unfortunately lost a journal that he kept while in the army, which would have been useful now in furnishing data for a sketch of his service, and of recalling incidents of interest that occurred more than forty years ago. He distinctly recollects that at this ill-fated battle of Bull Run there was ‘something terribly wrong.’ His command, stripped of everything that could in any way hinder a forced march, was at Warrenton Junction the night the army was on the move to Bull Run. The station four miles above was crowded with cars containing clothing and supplies, including everything that belonged to his regiment. That night the rebels raided the station and burnt everything they did not appropriate to their own use. The next morning Porter’s troops brought up the rear. When they got up to where they heard the firing, not more than a mile from their line, instead of getting closer and taking a hand in the fight, they were countermarched, now here and now there, until about 3 P.M., when they were marched back to the old camp, and that night actually slept on the same ground they had slept on the night before. They then marched back again over the same ground, and finally got into the fight and did Pope some good service, just where Porter had been ordered to close the gap the day before. Alexander remembers well that the 86th was in the line on the extreme left of the Union army, and how they then made a furious charge on the enemy’s right, and drove him back, and held the ground taken until ‘Stonewall’ Jackson extended his right line with a strong force and flanked the brigade, and that it then became a matter of undoubted discretion to join in the retreat already in progress. Had Porter moved as ordered, at the proper time, Alexander thinks the historian would have had a more satisfactory story to tell of the battle, and is strongly of the opinion that good Honest Old Abe did just the right thing when he signed the finding of the court-martial that condemned him. Porter’s time, he believes, was to try to save the army when he had a good chance. What he did later was not enough to make amend for his failure, because, as A. L. says, ‘We nevertheless got a devil of a licking and lost hundreds of lives to no purpose.’ The loss in killed and wounded in his part of the fight was very heavy. Alexander’s division did the last hard fighting of the battle, covered the retreat, brought off a large number of the wounded, crossed Bull Run after midnight, burned the bridge, thus enabling the army to retire in tolerably good order to Centreville. His brigade reached Centreville by daylight, but was pretty badly used up. Many of the boys got estray [sic] in the darkness and in the jam of artillery and cavalry, getting back to their commands at all hours during the day. Col. Bailey, of the 86th, he remembers, had a very beautiful and spirited bay horse, sixteen hands high, that had been presented to him by his friends at home. When the firing began the animal became unmanageable and the Colonel concluded to lead his men on foot, so he dismounted and gave him to some one to take to the rear. He never saw the horse again, and never could tell into whose care he had consigned him.

“Alexander was not yet twenty years of age when he enlisted, but the war ended his school days, and on his return home he gave his time and thought to agriculture. He is one of the Executive Committee of the Allegany County Farmers’ Club, and sometimes writes and lectures on agricultural topics. In politics he avows himself a staunch Prohibitionist; his idea being, like Shakespeare’s that the ‘invisible spirit’ of intoxicating drinks ought to be regarded as a Devil—if not the biggest of all Devils. Who can deny that if all the inhabitants in this broad land entirely discarded liquor as a drink, they would be a greater, purer and happier people, and that millions would be spared from poverty, crime and drunkards’ graves? He is also a steward of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Rushford, but does not think that he has departed from the religion of his ancestors, Heinrich and Rosine, in any essential thing. During the past eleven years he has served on the Board of Supervisors, being the only Prohibitionist among the twenty-nine members. As the office is regarded as one of great importance in his state, this indicates that if our kinsman belongs to a very small party, he at least has the respect and confidence of a very large number of voters” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 232-234).

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