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						175
		A Battle Field.

[newspaper clipping continued: first column]
to the scene of the fight.  The weather had merci-
fully changed, and the sun shone, sultry and cloud-
less, though the roads retained their yesterday s
appearance, being mere channels of mud of more or
less liquidity, bordered everywhere by a dense
growth of forest.  Through this mud came the march-
ing soldiers; in it, mules, wagons, horses, and riders
struggled onward, often to the irretrievable  mir-
ing  of the animals.  I saw men and beasts muddied
from head to foot, their faces undistinguishable, in
consequence of falls; and one poor mule abandoned,
and literally buried in filth.  Making what progress
I might, and retracing my steps to the ex-church, I
gained the road I had been unable to discover last
night.  I knew now that a battle had been fought, some
thousands of men killed on both sides, that we had
taken a Rebel fort and many prisoners, and were in 
possession of Williamsburg.
  The new road proved worse than the other, hence
where it made a circuit I was glad to quit it and to
strike into a comparatively excellent bridle-path cut
through the pines.  First, however, I passed huts,
negro cabins, all converted into hospitals, full of our
wounded.  I will not descant upon what I saw there; 
enough of pain is yet to speak of.  Suffice it to say
that everything was done for the poor fellows that
humanity and the circumstances of the case admitted
of.  All along the bridle-path and the execrable road
 now only navigable by the exercise of the utmost
caution and occasional detours into the woods I
passed soldiers, sitting, standing, lying, walking,
carrying stretchers containing wrapped up human
forms.  These lay very quiet, generally, and the
bearers were as tender with them as women.  But
sometimes there were dreadful stains upon their
wrappings, fragments of bloody rags that it sickened
the soul to contemplate.  Is it not worth while to
know what war is, that we may duly estimate the
awful responsibility of originating it?  I will tell
enough, but not all; that were too terrible.
  The battle-field at length.  Emerging from the
thick woods by a deep gully or ravine, with con-
tinuous pools, almost forming a creek; behind, an
elevation covered, for the space of half a mile on
either side of the road, with the stumps of felled
trees.  [unclear word] not these alone, but their trunks, lying
in every conceivable direction, amid the pits, bushes
and undergrowth.  Suppose a bed of mud three feet
deep, into which an army of Titans have hurled an
overthrown forest, confusedly; fancy, beyond this
chevaux de frise, a wide open area, three miles in
extent, commanded by the earthworks of Fort
Magruder, the whole landscape closed in by the
encircling woods, now rich in foliage and this is
the spot.  Amid these trees, these stumps, up to the
open, our men fought upon that dreadful day, amid
the ceaseless rain, the scarcely less continuous storm
of bullets and a feu d enfer from the Rebel artillery
for eight long hours.
  The battle had raged fiercest to the left of the 
road.  I have heard Gen. Hooker (one of the bravest
of brave men, left undeservedly to face the onset of
eight times his number) say, incidentally, that here
the field was lost and won four distinct times.  It
might have been lost altogether but for the timely
arrival of Kearney.
  To return to what I saw.  In the outer rim of the
forest, amid the stumps and fallen trees, the
bodies of slain men, and those yet alive, lay thick,
the wounded being in process of removal.  Friend
or foe, Rebel or Unionist, there reclined on the wet
earth, on beds of leaves, on blankets, stretchers or

[newspaper clipping continued: second column]
coats, awaiting their turns.  It was a piteous thing
to see their upturned, suffering, patient eyes, seeking
those of doctors or responsive to the looks of
sympathy bestowed alike on comrade or recent
enemy.  The abominable road forbade the approach
of ambulances, hence the wounded had to be con
veyed on stretchers, sometimes for a mile or more to
any and every building that could be used as a 
hospital.
  Muskets, canteens, haversacks, soldiers  clothing,
caps, torn fragments of rag, were scattered all over
the field.  I counted eight Rebel corses behind one
log.  Most of them wore an expression of counte-
nances indicating hatred, ferocity.  One had been
killed in the act of biting of the end of a cartridge 
his tongue protruded.  Another s teeth were set fast,
as in a grin of defiance, which death had petrified.
A third had his musket gripped fast in both hands,
and a hideous wound in his forehead from the
fragment of a shell.  A fourth lay with one leg torn
off at the thigh and the other shattered.  But why
continue the grisly catalogue?
  The faces of our dead presented a remarkable con-
trast most of them looked absolutely tranquil.  I
saw but few bayonet wounds; our soldiers were
principally slain by rifle bullets.  The average of 
physiognomy between them and the Rebels will not
admit of comparison.
  This was well exemplified by the faces of the
prisoners temporarily confined in their own barracks
in the rear of the rear of the fort.  I visited at least
half a dozen of the huts, talking with and observin
the inmates.
   The hardest-looking crowd, Sir, that ever you
saw in your life!   Such was the characterization of
an officer in charge and a just one.  Clad in home-
spun, rendered almost colorless by long use, with
but the rudest attempt at uniforms; gaunt, sunburnt,
stolid and savage, they stared at you with a kind
of latent ferocity and apprehension perfectly inde-
scribable.  In it, too, there was a latent simplicity,
the simplicity of ignorance.  Single-natured, utterly
unlike the many-sided denizens of the North,
with all their individuality flowing into
one narrow channel, embanked so high
by ignorance as to exclude the light of humanity,
reason, and justice; not in Dahomey or Ashantee
could their leaders have found such blind unreason-
ing tools to do their miserable work.  To survey
them was to understand the rebellion, to see it all
as in one dreary panorama, stretching, aye, even
from the Border-Ruffian prelude on the Kansas and
Missouri prairies, downwards.  I thought what
would Kidd, Blackbeard, Morgan, have given for
such fellows as these!  Walker had such, but not
enough of them.
  Here and there you encounted a better face 
that of some tall lad, honest and kindly, but educat-
ed to that fanatic hatred of the Yankees which sup-
plied the fuel to the devastating fire of rebellion.
Such a one, hearing me comment on there being but
one South Carolinian present, inquired,  Wonder if
he s a fanatic, Sir?  adding, with a curse on the Pal-
metto State,  if it hadn t ben for her we should
never have been here now!   The speaker was a
Virginian.
  It is said they bayoneted our wounded, sometimes
in their blind fury not even sparing their own.  I m
afraid it is true.  I know that one of our wounded
officers had a finger joint cut off, that the wretch
who did it might possess himself of a ring he cov-
Page
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen: page two hundred and one
Description:Newspaper clipping written by Gunn for ''The New York Tribune,'' regarding the aftermath of the Battle of Williamsburgh.
Date:1862-05-08
Subject:Battle of Williamsburg (Va.); Civil War; Fort Magruder (Va.); Gunn, Thomas Butler; Hooker, Joseph; Journalism; Kearny, Philip; Medical care (U.S. army); Military; New York tribune.; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Prisoners of war (Confederate)
Coverage (City/State):[Williamsburg, Virginia]
Scan Date:2010-06-17

 

Volume
Title:Thomas Butler Gunn Diaries, Volume Nineteen
Description:Includes Gunn's descriptions of his experiences as a war correspondent for ""The New York Tribune"" in Virginia while traveling with the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsular Campaign; the Siege of Yorktown; the Battle of Williamsburg; his departure from Alexandria on the steamer Kent; the ruins of Hampton, Virginia, after it was burnt by John B. Magruder; touring the gunboat Monitor; the death of Fitz James O'Brien from a gunshot wound; Jim Parton's temporary separation from Fanny Fern; and seeing Robert E. Lee's house in Virginia.
Subject:Civil War; Gunn, Thomas Butler; Journalism; Marches (U.S. Army); Marriage; Medical care (U.S. Army); Military; Military camp life; Peninsular Campaign (Va.); Prisoners of war (Confederate); Siege of Yorktown (Va.); Slavery; Slaves; Travel; Women
Coverage (City/State):New York, New York; Washington, District of Columbia; Alexandria, Virginia; Hampton, Virginia; Yorktown, Virginia; Williamsburg, Virginia
Note:Thomas Butler Gunn was born February 15, 1826, in Banbury, England, and came to New York in 1849. During the Civil War he worked as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and the New York Evening Post. He returned to England in 1863, and died in Birmingham in April 1903. The collection includes twenty-one volumes of his diaries, including newspaper clippings, letters, photographs, sketches, and various other items inserted by Gunn. Diary entries date from July 7, 1849, to April 7, 1863, and include his experiences with the New York publishing and literary world, his descriptions of boarding houses, his travels throughout the United States, and his experiences traveling with the Federal army as a Civil War correspondent.
Publisher:Missouri History Museum
Rights:Copyright 2010 Missouri History Museum.
Source:Page images, transcriptions, and metadata of the Thomas Butler Gunn diaries have been provided by the Missouri History Museum.