Accounts of War

Jeremiah M. M. Gernerd

Jeremiah M. M. Gernerd (5) - Author of Heinrich Gernhardt & His Descendants“When the Confederate army attempted, in 1862, and again in 1863, to change the seat of war to northern soil, the people of the North more fully realized the desperate valor of the Southern people, the suspreme danger of disunion, and the necessity of prompt action to turn back the invaders. They, who were then old enough to remember the real situation, can alone understand the spirit and excitement that moved like a great and irresistible tidal wave over the Northern States. It was a day of dark forebodings. I was confident, as many were, that if whipping the South was more than a breakfast spell, it would soon at least end in a noon-spell. But two months later many who were so sanguine were fearfully alarmed and felt impelled to hasten away as militia to help drive back the invaders. I belonged to the 14th Pennsylvania Emergency. When we got near the front things began to look terribly warlike. We lay in line of battle for a number of days. Fortunately for the undrilled and awkward (but not ragged) militia, however, the out-flanked, but gallant battle-scarred Army of the Potomac, was soon on hand to cope with the emboldened Army of Northern Virginia on the fields of Antietam and Sharpsburg, September 16 and 17, and our erring brothers of the South were persuaded that the prudent move for them to make was to skip back across the Potomac into Old Virginia. But they went rather deliberately, as if they thought they had come North rather late in the summer to have a good time, and concluded to defer their visit until another season. And earlier the next summer they came. McClellan with his superior force might have won a very decisive victory at Antietam, but in justice to him it must be said that there was want of concert on the part of some of the corps commanders, and that the attacks on the Confederate positions were not made promptly and simultaneously as he had ordered. And yet many think that had McClellan vigorously renewed the struggle the morning after the battle, he could have destroyed the rebel army. Perhaps! McClellan, it is insisted, had decided to renew the fight, but he found his heavy guns almost without ammunition, and that 10,000 of his troops were stragglers among the hills. But I must not forget the militia. McClellan sent a letter of thanks to the Governor of Pennsylvania for calling them out. Though they did not share in the fighting, he said the moral support they rendered ‘was none the less mighty.’ I always shall thank McClellan for these kind and mighty words.

“While the 14th P. V. M. was encamped in a piece of woodland between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg, in advance of the other regiments of our division, a scout rode up to our Colonel one day and said that a strong body of rebel cavalry had the preceding night approached our camp and appeared to contemplate paying us a visit, and cautioned him to be on the alert, as he might be attacked at almost any moment. Shortly after the regiment was given a lesson on the formation of a hollow square, right across the road on which the cavalry was expected to come, and each company was instructed as to the position it was promptly to take in case of alarm. It was already dark when the companies scattered to their camping grounds and stacked their arms, forming a long line in the woods, and fires were lit and the men began to make coffee and open their haversacks. The pickets were on at their posts ready to give instant warning in case of any ill-disposed visitors. The scene under the overhanging foliage of the trees, the long line of stacked guns, and the busy campers, as seen by the light of many fires, was new, strange and novel to most of the men, as there were but few who had seen service. We soon felt at ease, ready to enjoy a quiet and restful night. Bang! Went off a gun in the directionof the enemy. Then another! ‘Fall in!’ ‘Fall in!’ the command ran quickly along the line. In an instant all was commotion, every man rushing to the stack that contained his gun. I remember seeing one man near me so confused that he could not think where he had stacked his, and in his awkward flurry to find it got in the way of the biggest man in the regiment, who was himself so madly excited and full of fight that he gave his poor bewildered comrade a kick that sent him flying nearly a rod. The scene for a few moments was one of terror, but of unflinching determination, and would have been a grand subject for a great painting. Quicker than I relate this soul-stirring incident the men were all in their proper places, and the hollow square was again formed. It is wonderful how quick men can act and do the right thing when under the spur of intense excitement. But not another sound did we hear, and by and by the very silence became painful and ominous. Did the Johnnies know that we were ready to receive them, and would they now wait until we were all asleep? I will merely add that we lay there on our arms under the pressure of suspense and uncertainty until morning, and then filed back to our places and—eat our breakfast. We had another such a fright a night or two after, when with the other regiments of militia we were arrayed in line of battle to guard the road leading from Hagerstown to the Potomac, but the Boys in Gray then also failed to come, and some of us were ‘mighty’ glad—that—the moral support we rendered was so ‘mighty!’

“In June, 1863, Lee, with a greater army and still greater confidence, again crossed the Potomac to invade the North, and great was the terror he again inspired, especially in Pennsylvania. Again I enlisted, for three months, in the 37th Pa. V. M.—again was honorably discharged, again never once heard the song of a rebel bullet, and again the militia rendered a ‘mighty’ service. The campaign of Gettysburg, as now termed, covered a great extent of territory, from the Potomac as far north as Harrisburg, and from the Susquehanna River down through the Cumberland Valley. Lee had his deliberately formed plans, and it was now the business of the Union generals to find out what they were, and when and where to strike and checkmate him. The duty of the militia was again to stand guard at certain points along the border and support the main army. Forty years have since come and gone, yet how vividly some of the sights then seen come to mind while writing of that trying period. As the 37th drew near where it first was placed on duty a body of rebel prisoners, who were being marched to the rear for safety, were halted on the side of the road to allow us to pass. They were a rough, dirty, defiant lot, and never can I forget the contemptuous manner in which they regarded, or pretended to regard, us militiamen. They sneeringly taunted us with such remarks as, ‘Say, Yanks, where are you-uns going with them guns?’ ‘What are you-uns going to shoot?’ ‘Give us a lock of your hair to take back to the gals you-uns left behind!’ ‘Bobby Lee will soon be around after you-uns.’ Some of us wondered with the consequence would be when we came into contact with an army of such irrepressibles with guns in hand and plenty of ammunition. The brave boys of the Army of the Potomac knew what the fearful result was on the 1st, 2d and 3d days of July, at Gettysburg. And the not less valorous Confederates will never forget either what happened to them, as the ride of war was then turned against them, never to ebb back again” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 189-192).

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