Letter from James H. Masten, to his Father, from Munson’s Hill, September 5, 1862

Sept. 5, 1862,
Camp Bucktail, Munson’s Hill –

Dear Father: Yours of Aug. 13th has been received. I suppose you would like to hear from the Bucktails on the war tramp.

Well, we left Harrison’s Landing, James river, on the __th of August, in a steam transport bound for, we did not know where. We came to Fortress Monroe and laid there three days for rough weather. We had a good look at the fort, with its rows of guns and the famous water battery – the Union and Lincoln guns – two of the largest chunks of iron I ever gazed upon.

Well, we left Hampton Roads and landed at Acquia Creek on the 20th, about noon; got on the cars and that night we were back on our old stomping ground at Fredericksburg; laid there that night, and the next night about 12 o’clock, during a rain storm, the Bucktails’ bugle sounded “Fall in.” We jumped up, rubbed our eyes, buckled on the cartridge box, slung our Sharp’s over our backs (by the way, we use Sharp’s celebrated breech loading rifles, good for a rebel at 1000 yards) and were in line ready for a tramp, long or short – away we went through the rain, mud and dark until near day light, up the Rappahannock river when halted for a rest, and a small piece of pork and a couple of crackers.

After a rest of two hours or so, we fell in again and marched on by the Old Eagle gold mines, that before the war paid $30,000 a year; now the shafts are filled in and it is dried up. Up the Rapidan to Rapidan Station, where Sigel and Jackson were having a game of rotten balls across the river. Sigel drove back the rebels and burned the railroad bridge, station and everything that was burnable. We went on up the river, we – McDowell’s corps, on the east and Jackson on the west side, both armies bound for Manassas plains; it was nip and tuck, to tramp, tramp, day and night. We ran ahead of our supply train and were seven days on three day’s rations.

On the 28th, about noon our regiment, (the advance) ran on Jackson’s rear guard. We were marching up the pike. Our introduction to him was by half a dozen shells from a masked battery on a hill on our left, whistling over our heads and bursting amongst the 7th P.R.V.C., right in our rear, killing 3 men and four horses and wounding seven men. The Bucktail Rifles ran out on the left and in two minutes we had a line of skirmishers nearly half a mile long moving up the hill to see what Mr. Rebel had there that made such a muss, and Battery B, 1st Pa. Artillery getting in position sent them a few shells and then Mr. Bucktail moving double quick, the rebels limbered up there guns and were off.

All that afternoon we heard heavy guns to our front. We marched on until about 12 o’clock at night, when we found we were right in the rear of Banks, who had been fighting all the afternoon against twice his force and held his ground. Before daylight the Pennsylvania Reserves were out in line of battle; the enemy was hid in the woods, and his batteries masked. “Here, Bucktails, hunt him up.” We were deployed as skirmishers at intervals of 4 paces, so as to rally quick if their cavalry should make a dash on us. About 12 o’clock we found the coons in the woods on a hill; they opened on us with their sharpshooters; they were in some bushes well covered and we out in the open field. The firing was good and checked us for a moment, but we walked into them like a thousand brick and drove them out of an old house back through the woods, when we were ordered by Gen. Reynolds, commander of the Division, to fall back. We lost here 25 or 30 wounded. Some other division, I don’t know which, relieved us.

The next morning we advanced again as skirmishers, on to some ground that King’s division had lost the afternoon before; a good many of our wounded still lay on the field which was held by the rebel sharpshooters. Well, we went at them like a hungry soldier at a piece of soft bread and moved them off the field down through some woods and across another field; then part of the boys came back and we began to carry off the wounded men. I tell you it was a hard job. Most of the wounded were of the 14th Brooklyn Zouaves; they had laid on the field all night. The rebels would give them no water and had taken off all their shoes and nearly stripped them. We had no stretchers nor ambulances, so we took our blankets and laid the soldiers on them, and a man at each corner carried them to the hospital about a mile and a half.

By 2 o’clock P.M., our boys had silenced the sharpshooters and a big fight was going on on our left. Our regiment, about 100 strong, came back and went in with the 1st Brigade, Brig. Gen. Mead, and charged bayonets, right into the smoke and dust where you could not see anything, but hear bullets whistle; shell and solid shot came whooping. Gen. Reynolds snatched up a color that had been shot away and rode along the lines; says he, “Now boys, give them the steel, charge bayonets, double quick.” And away they all went like so many mad men. The rebels did not stop to meet us but broke and ran. Soon the wind lifted up the smoke and not a rebel was to be seen, except

. . . . [Here, the microfilm copy of the Warren Mail, containing and entire section of Masten’s letter, was unreadable]. . . .

but one limber and two caissons. The battery gave them double charges of grape and canister and the infantry support poured into them and piled them up in heaps; but they came on heads down and arms at trail and took the battery. They paid dear for it, for their men were piled up one on top of the other, some places three or four deep. They seemed like mad men.

I am sure that we can whip them every time; our men are good, but the Generals planning the battles are ____. Our men won’t fight under McDowell, for we expect to be whipped when he commands. Nothing will do the Army of the Potomac but George B. McClellan. We have got him again at our head, and the boys console each other by saying, “well, old George is running the boat again; things will be all right.” Every soldier has confidence in McClellan and confidence is half the battle.

There are a good many new troops here. You can tell them from the old ones; the new troops have on clean clothes, long hair, and a knapsack weighing about a ton. The old volunteers is a black, dirty, tanned up, hair cut close to his head, and his knapsack consists of one blanket. His canteen slung over his back at all times; he goes poking round and don’t care for nobody; he has seen the elephant.

Your Son, J.H. Masten.1

  1. The Warren Mail, September 20, 1862