Howard Huntington Baptism by fire, Brawners Farm, August 29th, 1862 Iron Brigade
I shall endeavor to describe the engagement and my sensations in this, my first battle.Marching hurriedly along the turnpike road leading from Warrenton to Alexandria, we passed through Gainsville some 300 miles back, and had just left Groveston behind, a village consisting of half a dozen small houses.We emerge from a piece of woods in the valley and were climbing a gentle rise near a ridge of the timbered ridge half a mile to the left of the road.I see some army wagons, the teams to which, lashed to a gallop, disappear in the timber, and I wonder what our wagons are doing there and why the drivers are in such a hurry--not dreaming of Johnnnies. In a short time, however, just as we reached the top of the hill we had been climbing, we were suddenly and rudely enlightened, for the rebs opened on us with their artillery. Atthe point where we found ourselves the road had been excavated, leaving an embankmentof about three feet high, of which we immediately made good use by lying down behind. Soon we heard musketry firing mingled with that of cannon, and a little later came the order to move up into the field. As we sprang up out of the road and over the fence in the field, here was the scene that met my gaze: A meadow sloping down in front of us for some distance, then as gradually rising until it reached the wooded ridge of which I have spoken,Slightly to the left on our immediate front and extending a long distance to the left of this ridge came a line of fire—it was then nearly dark—and much nearer to us and the road,Still on our left was another similar line of fire. We did not need to be informed these lines of flame were reb and union lines of infantry, and that hew fight was an exceedingly hot one.As soon as our line was formed we were ordered forward. We knew we were in for it.What were my sensations at the moment?It would be a difficult matter to describe them, possibly impossible to describe any of the accurately.I had a good many and they were varied. The first thought that came to mind was that the prospects for getting killed were getting bright, and the question I first put to myself was “Are you a Coward?”To this I without an instant hesitation answered “Yes… Should I run?”I must have been very pale. It seemed as if my blood had stopped circulating.Waves of intense heat flashed in quick succession through my entire being.I trembled so, I could with difficulty quit from dropping my musket, but I hung onto it because I realized I should soon have need of it if rebel bullets did not knock me out very early. My legs quaked so they would hardly support my weight, slight though it was.Should I Run?Although I could hardly move one foot before the other toward the enemy, I felt that if I were to head the other way I could beat the record.My mouth had, in an instant as it seemed, become dry and parched.I was suffering a terrible thirst.With trembling fingers I managed to get my canteen to my lips, and took a long draught.It did not quench the thirst by which I was consumed. Again the question presented itself to me, “Shall I Run?”Paradoxical as it may seem, I answered in the negative because I was too much of a coward to endure being called a coward by my comrades if I survived. In the meantime we were nearing the line of battle. We were to form on the right of the line.Now, in the growing darkness, I discovered a black mass was moving out from the timber in front, directly toward us.I will not be certain, but I shall always think my hair began rising at this time, or at least something that lifted my hair from my head, and I had to grab quickly for it or I should have lost it, but I caught it and pulled it down tight so it would not be liable to come off again. Just at this instant our Colonel’s voice was heard giving the command “Ready, aim, fire”.There wasn’t a suspicion of tremor in his voice, while I could not, I felt sure, utter an audible sound.That volley put such a damper upon the approaching line that they came no farther.They stopped, wavered for an instant, and as they heard our command “Forward” broke for the cover of the trees whence they had emerged. We moved forward and joined the battle line. Then once more came the voice of our brave old Colonel, which could be heard distinctly above the noise and din.“Load at will”.Just then came the thunder of artillery from directly behind us, and I was startled with the thought that the enemy was to our rear.I soon learned that it was one of our batteries throwing shells directly over our heads into the enemy lines. After we became actively engaged, in finding that I was not killed, nor even wounded, things began to look and feel more comfortable.My nerves became steady and grew cool.Believing that I should soon be hit, I yet determined to get as many shots as possible before it occurred, and so continued to be diligently occupied until the order was given to “Cease Firing”. The casualties in our regiment were found to number more than a hundred. It seemed strange that so many had fallen and I escaped.It grew to be regarded by myself later as a matter of course that I should come out of the battle unscathed. The battlefield of Cedar Mountain is a horrible sight. The Rebels did not half bury their dead, and their men naked and frosted (?) still lie upon the surface of the earth.The stench from the dead men and horses is awful.The battle ground bears evidence of a hot engagement. On the ground you will find the remnants of the clothing of the men; hats, coats, pants shoes, shirts, exploded shells. Accoutrements etc. lie in thick confusion. The trees and bushes are cut up with bullets.The ground in some places is covered with blood.
We lie in line where we fought, and I had dropped asleep.I suppose all the boys had done the same, as we were very much exhausted.But we were soon awakened and on the march, which had been so unceremoniously interrupted but a few hours before.
I would advise you not to let Sammy enlist.He is too young and would soon get sick and thus injure the government and himself.Get him to write me.Tell Emogene to write me.
Judge Howard James HUNTINGTON was born on 27 Jul 1841 in Mexico, Oswego, New York. He lived in Green Bay, Brown, Wisconsin. He entered the Army in 1861, and fought all through the Civil War. He was Sergeant Major of the 6th Wisconsin Regiment, of the Famous Iron Brigade. He was wounded at the battle of Gettysburg; also in the battle of Antietam. At the close of the war he entered the law department of the Michigan University. On his graduation he began practice in Baraboo. In 1873 he located in Green Bay, Wis., where he was a prominent member of the Brown Co. Bar. He was city attorney for a number of years. In 1887 Gov. Rusk appointed him County Judge to fill a vacancy, and he was re-elected four consecutive terms. He died on 24 Apr 1902 in Green Bay, Brown, Wisconsin.
Thanks to Mr. Gary Miller of Joplin, Mo. and Dr. Bob Dewel, Baraboo, for their contributions to this article.
Grousing Among Civil War Soldiers
By Bob Dewel
Has there ever been war in which soldiers did not grouse (or worse) about their officers, their outfit, their lack of purpose, or the fate that double crossed them into a soldier’s life? Conversely, isn’t it true that the closer the solder gets to purposeful military action, the more satisfied he is with his personal lot, dangerous though it may be?
This was true in the case of Howard Huntington, the Baraboo soldier in the Civil War (see previous article). At that time as he went into battle for the first time, his abject fear of being a coward was overcome by his loyalty to his outfit and the attitude of his fellow soldiers toward cowardice. He revered his commanding officer, and respected the opinions of his fellow soldiers, and his loyalty overcame his fears.
Let’s look, however, at his attitude on June 12, 1862, just two months before his first test in battle. He and the Baraboo group called Company A had been in the army over a year, and had yet to see military action, the defining act that justifies your purpose in submitting yourself to military discipline and, too often, military inefficiency. It is sometimes described as “Hurry up and Wait” by disgruntled soldiers.
Huntington rails against the 30 mile marches, mentioning the Southern heat. “I never before saw men suffer so much…beneath a broiling sun with their knapsacks as they trudged through the hot sand, until the road on either side was lined with soldiers completely exhausted.” He explains that the exhaustion is real, and that a soldier likes to keep up with his regiment, not fall behind.
On arrival at Catletts they learned the train had suffered a blown up bridge and was not available. Soon the entire Division moved, but was back at Catletts again in a day or so! Now they marched 15 miles in the rain, camping in a graveyard. He remarks about the company flag which had been donated by Sauk County citizens, and how it was revered, and accompanies them wherever they go.
Though they have been a year in service but no combat, he remarks that of the original 100 or so men, they are now reduced to sixty-five, due to nineteen on detached service elsewhere, seventeen discharged, and four who have died of non-combat wounds. “Had we been placed in more active service, where our movements were of a character to animate a soldier and inspire him in the propriety and earnestness of leaders, I am quite certain that the health of the entire army would have been much better, and the list of discharged would not have been swollen to such a surprising extent.”
“The ‘Baraboo Generals’, the enlisted I mean, are becoming dissatisfied and criticize in common with the whole department. They see not the fruits of their labor, and wonder why we have been playing soldier so long…parading before our capitol for a year, with white gloves and polished boots,...and lugged knapsacks on so many reviews that some may have thought it the ultimate object of the war”. He says that at one time they were within half a mile of two rebel regiments, but were not allowed to engage them.
I suspect that many modern servicemen from our recent wars, including WWII, have heard or expressed such sentiments, though often in more colorful soldier’s language.Officers generally allow their men to let off steam in this manner, knowing that when push comes to shove, the attitude will change and they will deal manfully with the matter at hand, the enemy.
Civil War Photo Album
Presented to the Sauk County Historical society by Mrs. Lizzie Fischer, Baraboo, Wis., widow of Lieut. Anton Fischer, 9th Wis. Vol. Infty.