Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers
Company A, Inc.
Battle for the Tracks
New England Railroad Museum
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June 23-24, 2001
north of Washington, DC.
June, 24, 1864
The old Eighth and soldiers from contingents such as the 119th NY and the 2d Conn Heavy Artillery have been concentrated at this railroad station, on the way back to the seat of war from home furlough and detached duty for enlistments. We are arranged in a plethora of tents along the siding here waiting for the trains to carry us further south, and back to our regiments. It is a small town where this station is, and several mills and manufacturing establishments dot the road and the river that it follows south.
Upon arriving here, several more of our regiments have come in on the occasional trains running, but the traffic here is not great. There are several towns folk about, but we have been warned not to be too friendly here so close to Virginia, and in a border state.
Upon the next morning, the boys here were called out for roll, I personally drummed right out of my tent, and went about getting up some breakfast after that. The camp was inspected, and then we had a drill. It seems that the command always likes to drill away the hours, regardless of the time or location. An idle soldier is a bad soldier I presume. The boys take it well, and get back to the camp in short order.
In the forenoon, all the troops here were called out and paraded in full gear. We had our weapons issued and inspected at once. This was unexpected since most of us assumed that we would draw our equipments once back with the regiments. We were marched over the tracks, and onto the platform, where after a good long time, the train came up from the south, passed the station, was turned on the siding, and then pulled back into the station heading south. We boarded at once, and made ourselves comfortable, thinking of the long trip ahead. However after only about ten minutes, the train was brought to a stop and the men ordered off for a work detail on the tracks. We worked for a bit, placing new ties down, and fixing the ballast on the curves. We then retired to the east into the woods to protect us from the onslaught of rain.
Back at the station, another train had left, including most of the civilian traffic south, with but a few officers and men aboard. They continued along their way right past our work details to the waves and cheers of both the soldiers and passengers. As best can be determined, there must have been some trouble down the line, for after about an hour, the train was heard returning north once more.
Suddenly there was a rustling in the woods, as a company or two of rebels appeared in the clearing, and a small battery was positioned aiming down the tracks in short order. The train rounded the bend, and the cannon opened on them, bringing the train to a short and quick halt. One company of the rebels came out of the woods, went into line, and fired a couple warning vollies at the side of the train, then went in squads to board each car with a lot of excitement. They entered the train, sought out all the Union soldiers, and took them prisoners. They were pulled off the train and tied up. Later accounts told of several citizen traitors who assisted the rebels in capturing our boys some with concealed pistols, others with hatpins. It was also determined that the rebels were companies of the 1st Maryland, CSA, and from the 7th Tennessee.
Seeing and hearing this attack from the woods, we were ordered to take arms, and went on the attack. The rebels were surprised by our proximity, and turned their attention to our infantry, such that most of the prisoners were able to escape and make for our rear. There were some piles of ties along the road that were used for breastworks, and the rebels attacked trying to push us away from their prize. The fighting was close and severe. Several times both they and we were able to advance, but were repelled by the intensity of the fighting. The rebel gun was firing canister at short range, adding to our casualties. As we were running low on ammunition with no reserves, the rebels launched a foolish mad dash for our lines. We were prepared and met them with concentrated vollies. They were mostly killed, and the rest broke and ran back into the woods from whence they came. We were able to gather up our wounded and return to our liberated train, and ride back to said station.
One there, we recuperated for a bit from the exertion of the battle, and after a time were provided with a fine pig roast large enough to "feed and army". It was first rate, and enjoyed by all. It was accompanied by potatoes, corn, rice, and apples. Yet, being wet, tired, and well fed, the bulk of the boys retired shortly after dark, and well before tattoo was sounded.
The morning came up once more, and we all turned out for roll, got up some breakfast once more, and had the Sunday inspection. We were excused from drill this morning so that the boys could attend meeting. While some did, others took the time to have a grand round of pitching horse shoes, with vigor and delight. It seemed that every scoring combination imaginable occurred during the competition.
It all seemed like a dream, in that this days following events paralleled those of the day before. We were inspected and marched to the platform once more, only this time to wait for an inordinate time for the cars which were quite late in arriving. Once more on our way, today we knew that it was a work detail, back at the same location. One there and off the cars, we once more put and placed replacement ties along the road for about a hundred yards. Once more we retired from the woods, only to be chagrined by the same band of rebels pouring out of the woods once more, with the battery to try their hand for the train once more. Around the bend came the next train, the gun opened, the train stopped, the rebels boarded, prisoners were taken, and we were obliged to make the rescue attempt once more. We came into line on the same ground as the day before, and counter attacked the rebels with vigor. They had their blood up, and came at us like daemons. They seemed to have confirmed in their hearts that the train was to be theirs, and they fought with abandon. It was soon apparent on our side, that the casualties sustained were starting to reduce our chances for victory. We were ordered to stand and hold, but they once again overran our position, and drove the line back. In the first rebel advance, I was hit in the thigh, and went down. I could hardly move, and when the rebels advanced over me I lay quite still. Right near me was one of our company, but I did not know if he was alive or dead, since he did not move or answer my call.
Our boys were decimated, and the survivors routed. It was then that the rebels returned to the field and the train to assist their wounded. It took no time in a couple of the rebels to spot my new issued shoes, and they had a little conversation like this. Here is a nice new pair of shoes. Those will not fit you. Yes they will they will do. This feller dont need them no more. And the one started tugging and pulling at my shoes. They were double knotted, and not coming, so the other one said Come along, there are more that will be quicker to take off. This one said, No, that these right here were worth the work, and at that point, he yanked them off me one by one, dragging me along the ground to do it. Then off he went waving his new prize, looking next in Federal haversacks for food. Once their wounded boys were tended, they took a closer look at our casualties, and helped each one onto the train as prisoners, many of us shoeless by this point, and we all boarded the train, and puffed off down the tracks, leaving behind many Union dead on the field.
We are back at the station in a short time. It seems that the place is now under rebel control with sympathizer support, and that they are all working to try to fill the train with supplies and stores and steal the whole affair down the tracks, over the river, and into Virginia as the spoils from their raid. If they do not hurry, a fully equipped battalion will soon be dispatched after them and catch them while still in Maryland.
We prisoners are hoping for paroles, but there has been some talk of sending us to Richmond. They have fed us, and treated us well. I was surprised by a rebel that recognized me, and in a short while, came to me, and returned my shoes. I suspect that he had taken them thinking me dead, and when he saw otherwise, had a touch on conscience. I will write with news as soon as we know our fates. I pray that you receive this letter, and that I am able to contact you again in the near future.
Eighth Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, Co.A, Inc.