1899 January 12, The Bradford Star (Towanda, Bradford County, PA): Exciting Scenes at Bethesda Church


How Maj. Gore1 and a Member of the “Bucktails” Alone Captured Eight Johnnies.

EDITOR STAR: While in Buffalo at the National Encampment, G. A. R., I met an old “Bucktail” on Main street, and after a good hearty handshake he said he had not met me since we captured the prisoners at Bethesda Church, which vividly recalled that little episode to my mind, and at your request I will now give my recollection of the event.

The 30th day of May, 1864, was the date fixed upon by the powers that be at Washington for the “muster out” of the Pa. Reserves.

The morning of that day found us in the vicinity of Bethesda Church; the 6th regiment was ordered forward as skirmishers and crossed over and beyond the Mechanicsville road, when we met Hill’s corps advancing in line of battle. I ordered the line to fall back to our reserve, keeping up a brisk fire; Colonel Ent was here wounded and the command devolved on me. We continued to retire, the enemy advancing under a brisk fire, until we reached our main line; here was a lull in the firing, the enemy apparently reconnoitering, giving us an opportunity. to throw up a slight breastwork of rails. About the middle of the afternoon the enemy advanced in force, charging across the field in our front; we reserved our fire until they were about 300 yards from or line when we opened a galling fire, and with such terrific effect that they were forced to retire, leaving their killed and wounded on the field.

The regiment had been at the front the night before, so we did not draw our rations with the balance of the brigade; it being now about sundown and everything quiet along the line, I sent back word to our commissary that we could now receive our rations and to send up a wagon and issue them.  While waiting for this to be done I received an order from General Crawford to take my regiment and skirmish over the ground, hold the whole field if possible and pick up the rebel wounded and count their dead. I rode over to his headquarters telling him the condition of my men regarding rations, and that they had bad no rest the night. before and asked him to send some other regiment; but it was no use, we had to go out with a promise that we should be relieved as soon as we got the ground.  Well, to be brief, we started just as the commissary wagon arrived, and it was pretty pretty tough for hungry men to march away from their rations and go into a fight at 10 o’clock at night; but army orders are inexorable and we had to submit. We advanced and soon ran up against their skirmishers, but we pushed them back into the woods border-ing. the battle field, gathered up the wounded, about 75-as all who could crawl had got off after dark and before we occupied the field.  I counted 92 dead in our immediate front. I reported to General Crawford, and at midnight the regiment was relieved by the “Bucktails,” but I was ordered to remain in charge of the line. Everything was quiet the balance of the night.

Confederate Prisoners of War, Fairfax, Virginia.  Library of Congress.
Confederate Prisoners of War, Fairfax, Virginia. Library of Congress.

At the dawn of day we began to look for the enemy.  They had fallen back from where they were when we stopped firing the night before; so I went out beyond the line on a reconnoissance in force all by myself. I soon discovered that the enemy had withdrawn from that vicinity. I then thought I would go out as far as the Mechanicsville road, where we first met the enemy the day before and see if I could find any of my men, having lost 19 while falling back.  In looking around I picked up a In looking around I picked up a rifle belonging to the Heavy Artillery regiment, which was on our left, and was searching the cartridge boxes of some dead artillery-men for cartridges, (as the gun was of a different calibre than our’s) when I was joined by a “Bucktail” lieutenant. At this time we discovered a couple of Johnnies in front of a log house across the road and a little below us. We thought we could capture them easily enough, to we called for them to come over to us. They readily complied, as they were as much surprised as we were. A few minutes later, as they came out into the road, soon more men in gray filed out from behind the house ail armed, making eight to two. My comrade says: “Major, I guess we have bit off more than we can chew.” I said, “Well, we are in for it, we have got to get them or they will get us; it is a question between Libby and Washington tomorrow, and I am expected in Washington and have made all arrangements to go and do not like to change my plans.” All this time they were advancing toward us; the house was about 15 rods from where we stood. I pulled my pistol around in front where it would be handy, made a big dis play of my empty gun, the lieutenant drew his sword, and I then ordered them to throw down their guns. They did not obey as quick as I thought they ought to, as I was in somewhat of a hurry; so I repeated the order, adding that it they did not I would order my men to fire.  Fortunately, there were some bushes just behind us, and no doubt they imagined them full of “Yanks,” so down went the guns onto the ground and I felt relieved as that move equalized a little more, and with my five shooter Libby did not appear as close by as it did a few minutes before. I was very polite to them, however, bid them that move equalized a little more and with my five shooter Libby did not appear as close by as it did a few minutes before. I was very polite to them, however, bid them good morning and asked what they were doing there. They said they were getting breakfast, so promised them one as soon as I got to the rear, formed them in front of us and started for our lines, where we soon arrived and were greeted with innumerable questions as to where we got our “Johnnies.” On being informed that we surrounded them they were satisfied, if the rebels were not, and were very much surprised to find that they had been captured a quarter of a mile beyond our lines. On arriving there I found an order relieving me from outpost duty, so I accompanied my prisoners back to headquarters and saw that they had the promised breakfast.  And I, well, I was in Washington on time.

Athens, Pa., Jan. 2, ‘99.2

  1. Major William Henry Harrison Gore, 6th Pennsylvania Reserves
  2. The Bradford Star (Towanda, PA), January 12, 1899, pg. 4