THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY IN VIRGINIA
-BREADBASKET FOR THE CONFEDERATE ARMIES-
The following is an excerpt from the book, My Life in the Irish Brigade, by Private William McCarter. He joined the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers in August 1862 at twenty one years old, along with my great-great grandfather, William J. Burk, in Philadelphia. McCarter was in Company A, while Burk was in Company C. The 116th had a little over 300 troops in it at this time.
McCarter's journal wasn't officially published until 1996, even though it is a wonderfully moving, and thorough collection of day by day life in this infantry unit. Also, reading it and knowing a long gone relative was experiencing the same circumstances has made the book come alive for me.
After a small skirmish at Snicker's Gap in northern Virginia, the regiment headed south to Warrenton, November 9, 1862 . . .
The March to Warrenton, Virginia
Warrenton is a small town, between 50 and 60 miles southwest of Washington. Prior to the war it had a population of about 2,000 souls. The town sits on high and commanding ground. Yet at no time during the war did it elicit any special attention from either the Union or the Confederate Armies as a military post worth holding. It contained some quite neat and comfortable houses, at least from outside appearance, as well as a church. I noticed these structures while passing through the town. We were ordered not to occupy the place. Its inhabitants, like every other Virginia town that we saw, consisted of women, children and old men only.
At 3 p.m., we were again ordered forward. After marching through the town to a spot one half mile south of it, we were ordered to break ranks, stack arms and pitch tents. This was joyous, glorious news for the poor, footsore, weary and downright tired soldier. Everyone was covered and pasted from head to foot with mud, dust and dirt. Thus, after two weeks of roundabout marching from Harper's Ferry to Warrenton, we were again permitted to enjoy a few days of rest and repose.
But before quitting this little Virginian town, I must relate the kind of greeting or reception extended to our troops by its inhabitants. Our reception in Fairfax Courthouse and in Charlestown was anything but cordial and agreeable. But our reception in Warrenton took the premium, laying the others "right out in the shade." As we filed up the main street of the town, my own regiment in the lead, we were greeted with hisses and groans from the women standing in doorways and crowding the windows of houses. They yelled as we passed along, "There goes the damned Abolitionists. Kill them."
Nor was this the worst. Upon reaching the center of town, we were assailed by a shower of missiles, including stones, brickbats, chunks of firewood, bottles, shoemaker hammers, and pieces of coal. They were all thrown at us by the hands of these fair Virginia damsels, aimed from windows.
The men fairly boiled with rage. But we dared not return the insults under penalty of imprisonment by court martial. This we received due notice of before entering the town. We were further instructed that should any of the inhabitants go even so far as to fire upon the troops, the fire could not be returned without orders from the commanding general.
Before reaching the end of the town, several members of my regiment had received severe cuts and bruises from these flying missiles. My colonel [Dennis Heenan], riding at the head of his regiment, narrowly escaped stopping a shoemaker's hammer thrown at him from a window. The hammer struck his horse, nearly knocking out one of its eyes. I was struck on the back of the head myself with a lump of coal. It severely cut me, leaving me with a sore head for ten days afterwards. We, however, pushed on and reached open ground. after pitching our tents, we rested, recovering from the painful experience of the "Secession ladies" in Warrenton, Virginia.
WILLIAM McCARTER AFTER THE
MODERN VIRGINIAN HOME
Appearance of the Shenandoah Valley
Our line of march took us through the heart of this beautiful, fertile and picturesque valley. It was called "the Garden of Virginia." The journey revealed to me in a most painful and impressive manner the ravages and desolation of this terrible and cruel war. The farms and fields were much larger and appeared to have been better cultivated than any other in Virginia. But the fields that formerly had borne millions of sheaves of golden waving grain laid blank and bare with scarce a vestige of verdure or vegetation visible. Beautiful orchards of Virginia's choicest fruit trees laid prostrate, cut down by the axe of the soldier or torn to pieces by cannonballs. Fire, that ever constant and faithful ally of bloody war, had left his mark at almost every step. Heaps of ruins and burned, blackened walls marked the sites where beautiful country residences and peaceful homes once stood. During the entire march, I only saw three decent houses which bore no mark of injury. From one of these we received the first friendly greeting or evidence of friendship and goodwill from white people.
This house or cottage, for such it really was, presented a remarkable, neat, comfortable and quiet appearance. It sat about 20 yards off the road where our troops were passing. It was surrounded by a porch, in front of which was a tastily laid-out little lawn and garden containing small trees and blooming autumn flowers. The sight reminded many of the boys of their own sweet homes and friends then far away in the North.
As the regiment approached this place, two apparently young and pretty women, clad in black (I saw nothing else in Virginia) slowly emerged from the door. They supported between them an aged and very feeble-looking lady wearing the old-fashioned Scotch or Irish widow's white cap. They advanced to the edge of the porch and, as regiment after regiment passed by, the young ladies gracefully greeted them by waving their white handkerchiefs, while the old lady could be distinctly seen weeping.
This was a most touching scene, something so unexpected in a country where the Union soldier was so much despised and hated. Yet even here, away down in the "Garden of Rebel Virginia," we had friends who cheered for us. Thank God for it, although it was the only thing of the kind that I ever saw in the enemy's country during my life in the army. These kind ladyfriends received a warm response. Seventeen hundred heads were at one time uncovered---seventeen hundred caps waved in the air, and from seventeen hundred loyal hearts and mouths went up cheer after cheer, accompanied by the roll of our drums, for our isolated well wishers. The occasion was one ever worthy to be remembered by every member of the Irish Brigade. I frequently think of it with unmingled pleasure and inexpressible delight.
THE 116th PA VOLUNTEERS JOINED NEW YORK'S 63rd, 69th, AND 88th REGIMENTS IN SEPTEMBER 1862.
TOGETHER, THEY WERE CALLED THE IRISH BRIGADE, ALTHOUGH THE 116th WAS MORE PROTESTANT
THAN ROMAN CATHOLIC.
THE 116th FOUGHT IN 33 BATTLES AND SKIRMISHES, ALL IN THE STATE OF VIRGINIA. WILLIAM
McCARTER WAS BADLY WOUNDED AT FREDRICKSBURG, DECEMBER 1862 AND WAS DISCHARGED
MAY 12, 1863. WILLIAM BURK WAS WOUNDED AND TAKEN PRISONER AT THE BATTLE OF PETERSBURG
ON JUNE 22, 1864. BOTH RECEIVED PENSIONS AFTER THE WAR. PITTANCES IS MORE LIKE IT.
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