'Diary of a Soldier' is based upon the Civil War writings of Sergeant Maletiah L. Calkins of the 136th New York Infantry Volunteers. Sergeant Calkins gives full accounts of the regiment's activities from Sept. 14, 1862 to June 21, 1865 through the ferociously bloody battles such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, to the final battles against Johnston's seasoned soldiers.
Reprinted by B. Conrad Bush, this book would add to your Civil War collection and greater insight to this rural western New York regiment who fought so bravely.
Transcripts of passages from
WYOMING COUNTY NEWS
136TH NEW YORK INFANTRY
Compiled by B. Conrad Bush
Burnside's Mud March February 1863
At 5 next morning all were ready, but no call came to fall in, and
it was still raining hard. -Daylight came on and revealed to us battery
after battery getting into position, in vicinity of camp, to protect the
laying of the pontoons across the river. But it was slow, heavy work, for
the rain had already taken out of the ground what little frost there was
in it, and had made the "sacred soil" just soft enough for the guns and
caissons to sink to their axles in the mud. ****We only knew, that "Burnside
was stuck in the mud" with his whole army. The second morning came, and
now it was generally conceded in our camp that the attempt to cross the
river now, was to be abandoned; and an examination of the army for a single
mile back from our camp would satisfy any one that to advance any farther
was utterly impossible. Our whole pontoon train and a great part of the
artillery was stuck fast, with the axles of their carriages, many of hem
almost buried in mud, and resisting the attempt of six or eight spans of
mules or horses to move them forward.
April 29, 1863 - first enemy fire for 136th NY -
Today we had our first salutation from the enemy. In the afternoon while marching along unsuspicious of any danger, a piece of artillery was fired at our right from the edge of a piece of woods a half or three quarters of a mile distant. A shell came screaming over our heads, soon followed by another which fairly waked the boys up. then came another, and another, in all probably a dozen. One came so close as to hit the fence and passed between the music and the first company; we were badly scared but no one hurt.
May 2nd & 3rd
We lay Saturday night from 11 o'clock till the first faint light
of Sunday morning on the slope of a hill behind one of our batteries. Shot
and shell came screaming over us, but we were so tired we slept soundly.
We fell into line and started Sunday morning none too soon. With a rapid
step we passed over an open space, soon to be the theater of a most awful
conflict. As we passed down along our lines all was in motion; the infantry
was rapidly forming into line of battle, the artillery was taking position,
and just before we reached Gen. Hooker's headquarters, nearly opposite
to which we filed off to the right, the ball had opened.*** About 10 o'clock
orders came for us to go to the front and take a hand in. We were marched
up so close that shot and shell came with their now familiar tones over
us, halted and were supplied with ammunition so that each man had sixty
rounds, again drawn up in line of battle when we were ordered back to our
sheltered position. A little afternoon the fire slackened and soon had
entirely ceased, and we breathed more freely and easier
Gettysburg July 1-3, 1863
Written July 4 -"This is the fourth day of the fight at this place.
We followed Lee's army up and began the fight on the 1st. The 1st Corps
was some three hours ahead of us, and the rebels drove them back until
we came up, with all our artillery and checked them. The 1st and 11th Corps
were the center in line of battle. On the 2nd they tried to break both
our wings, but we held them. In the night we were reinforced heavily, and
at day light on the 3d the fight began. At 10 o'clock our Company was sent
out as skirmishers, and remained out till 2 P.M., when the artillery opened
on both sides, we being between the two armies. Such heavy firing I never
heard. It continued for one hour, and when it stopped we saw the rebels
coming in four lines to take our center. hey drove us in until we got within
about 40 rods of the regular battle line, when our artillery opened with
grape and cannister, shooting over our heads. That checked them, and when
reinforced we charged on them, and they gave way and run; some throwing
down their arms, and giving themselves up. I do not know how many prisoners
we took but a good many. Our loss is heavy.
A second account of Gettysburg
We reached Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg, and from the eminence distinctly saw our troops drawn up in line of battle, while on the opposite side of town the 1st Corps and the 1st and 3d Divisions of ours were hotly engaged.
We were drawn up in line of battle and expected every moment orders to go to the front. Our troops were falling towards where we lay, and soon were in position around us. We took our position in the road leading from Gettysburg to Emmitstown, behind a stone wall, which place we held till the close of the fighting.
Thursday there was heavy fighting on our left and right. -Our regiment was in as skirmishers all day, two to four companies at a time. Just after dark there was very severe and heavy firing to our right, and we changed our postion to support the 73rd Pa., who were behaving badly.
Friday our regiment still acted as skirmishers. We had very little
firing till about 1 P.M., when the rebel batteries of more than a hundred
guns opened simultaneously on our lines, and were replied to by more than
an equal number of our town. The cannonading was truly terrific. We lay
so that the shot and shell from both sides passed over our heads of burst
around us. The screaming of shells thro the air cannot be described. This
artillery firing lasted for a couple of hours, when it ceased and the rebs
marched out in strong force to attack us. They presented a splendid sight!
In an open field, almost in front of us and in plain sight, they formed
in two lines of battle, each a mile and a half in length, and on they came.
Suffice it to say they were literally cut all to pieces, or taken prisoners.
Our (the 136th) skirmishers were just on their left and did good execution.
On all hands is the cool bravery and daring of our regiment mentioned in
terms of the highest praise. -We have no cowards amongst us. Some of the
men in our Company fired as many as seventy rounds in the skirmishes of
the 2d and 3d. The loss in the regiment is 17 killed and 89 wounded.
Battle of Lookout Mountain, Tenn Oct. 28, 1863
Our brigade was formed as follows: On the right was the 73d Ohio,
centre 33d Mass., on the left our Regt. Forty rods up a steep slope covered
with timber and brush, was a brigade of rebels. On these were the three
regiments I have named to charge, drive them off the ridge they were on
and hold it. Our Col. gave orders for our regiment to advance as quietly
and as lively as possible, not a man to speak a loud word or fire a gun
until he gave the order; then he gave the command, battalion forward! and
into the woods, in the darkness of midnight, they rapidly and steadily
moved forward; down past our men, were being brought the wounded of the
33d Mass., for before they had half reached where the rebels lay, they
had, by their firing and shouting, as had also the 73d Ohio, imprudently
disclosed their lines into which the rebs poured a murderous volley, over
their heads whistled rebel bullets, and up the ascent and directly in font
of them was a line of fire from the rebel lines, yet for all this they
never for a moment wavered. When within two or three rods of the rebel
lines our Col. gave his order, Fire! and the flame and leaden hail poured
forth along the lines of the 136th, then forward, double-quick, charge
bayonets! and in an instant our boys gained the crest and the rebs were
flying in wild confusion, leaving guns, cartridge boxes, hats, caps, axes
and shovels to mark their track.
Chattanooga, Tenn Nov 1863
The reb's pickets and ours are only five rods apart - a small creek
divides them -they on one bank and we on the other; there they stand with
gun in hand, but all on good terms, for we trade coffee for tobacco with
them, and on the sly exchange papers. They come down to the water's edge
on one side and we on the other; there we will sit for hours after washing
together in the same stream, and talk of the war on friendly terms. They
say they are sick of fighting, for they are satisfied that it will accomplish
them nothing. Their actions at least show it, for every night some of them
ford the creek and come into our lines.
Lookout Valley, Tenn, January 1864
Yesterday one of my comrades and myself got a pass and visited "Lookout."
We had a big old climb getting to the top I tell you. The mountain is 1600
feet above the river (the Tennessee) that runs close to its base. The sides
are very steep and rocky for about two-thirds of the distance when it rises
in an abrupt slope to the foot of the rocks that forms the summit. These
are about 60 feet perpendicular, and are some in the line of "stones."
On the way up we passed several graves of our men that were killed when
Hooker stormed the mountain. Some of them had been disinterred, by friends
I presume. At the foot of the rocks we found a ladder, and by this means
reached the top. There are two earthworks for cannon, one for one and the
other for three pieces. From the point back the surface rapidly widens
into a beautiful, level "plateau," covered with a fine growth of trees.
At a distance of half a mile is the town of Summerville, a place about
as large as Peoria. It was used as a summer resort by the wealthy men of
the South, and is a pleasant, pretty little place. It is guarded, and I
understand our folks contemplate making it a hospital. It will make a splendid
one. About half way between the "point: and the town the rebs had
a strong breastwork thrown across. The point itself is occupied by a Daguerrotype
Artist, who has a good run of business. This mountain is rightly called
"Lookout." From its summit can be seen four or five distinct ranges of
mountains. It is said that four or five different States can be seen, but
I doubt it some, though the scene is a vast one. The position was of immense
importance to the rebels, for all our movements must have been plainly
visible to them.
Resaca, Ga. May 1864
One week ago today (Sunday) we had some hard fighting at Resaca.
Two weeks previous to this date we marched from Dogwood Valley -Sabbeth
afternoon - and drove in the outside line of the rebels at Buzzard's Roost.
Other troops came and occupied the positions we had taken, and we marched
to the right. We came upon the enemy Friday afternoon, the 13th, and took
position on the battle line, but did not have much to do that day, nor
the Saturday following; a few only were hit on the skirmish line. There
was much heavy firing Saturday to our left, and early Sunday morning we
marched to the left flank about 5 miles and the whole division pitched
in. -Some of Howard's men had been driven here the day previous and were
reinforced by a part of our corps just in time to save a position and their
artillery. We drove the enemy out of a line of breastworks on the hill
and followed them down the other side and took position on another hill
farther on. Here we were exposed to a fire from breastworks on the front
and a flank fire from a fort on our right. We had just received orders
to fortify the hill and hold it all hazards, when the rebels formed in
front of their works and thought to dislodge us with the aid of a brisk
fire from the fort. As they came on, our Colonel called on us to advance
and fire. -Among the first of the boys to respond was Charles Welton who
stepped fearlessly forward saying, "Come boys, let's give it to 'em." A
few moments afterwards he fell mortally wounded. We soon had them in the
retreat. As I was in the act of withdrawing the rammer after loading the
gun, I was struck in the right side over the bowels. I thought at the time
the ball went through my body, but such was not the case; but if it had
the average force I should not be alive now. the reb must have spilled
a portion of the cartridge in pouring it into his gun, as their balls generally
go through when they hit. A man named Shrouder in our company was shot
through his body, the ball going through his knapsack and making twentyeight
holes in a tent folded inside, besides going several time through a shirt
and some little articles
July 12, 1864 Vining, Ga.
We are now in sight of Atlanta and the enemy are on the east side
of the Chattahoochee. From our camp can be seen the spires of the churches
in Atlanta, and from the tops of trees, houses and trains of cars are visible.
We have had a tedious time in getting where we are now, for the Rebs have
disputed every inch of defensible ground from Dalton here. And they have
found plenty of strong position in a country admirably well adapted for
defense. Northern Ga. is, as one may say, a succession of mountain ranges
covered with heavy timber, and a thick undergrowth. Very little of the
country is cleared. The standing timber affords material for the best kind
of breast works which are quickly built, and the undergrowth when cut down,
makes an almost impassable abattis. The rebels have not been slow in availing
themselves of all these advantages and whenever they have been obliged
to abandon one strong line of works, they have had another equally as strong
to fall back into, and in this way they have compelled us to feel every
inch of our way. Our advance has been continually skirmishing since leaving
Resaca, and at night when we have camped we have almost invariably been
in line of battle, and most of the time we have built breastworks. Joe
Johnson has conducted his retreat with great ability. I cannot learn that
he has lost any of his trains, or any amount of stores. I have only seen
one small lot of artillery ammunition that he has abandoned. We are now
however getting quite a good many prisoners, mostly deserters, but up to
the time of leaving Kenesaw Mountains very few came into us; those that
have come in, all tell the same story; that nearly the whole army would
desert if they dared to. Every precaution that can be, is used to guard
against desertion. Today we are picketing one side of the Chattahoochee
and the rebels the other side. From the state of feeling existing between
the pickets, a stranger wo'd suppose that peace had been declared, for
the pickets of both sides bathe at the same time in the river, bandy their
jokes, trade coffee for tobacco. There is a mutual agreement, that while
they are thus picketing neither party is to fire on the other, and this
understanding is strictly adhered to; none of us believe the Rebellion
is to be put down by shooting each other on picket. On the skirmish line
something like the following dialogue will take place after a turn of sharp
firing: One of our boys will call our and say, "Johnny I want to make some
coffee, will you stop shooting until I can make it?" The answer will be
"Yes if you Yanks won't shoot till I can cook a corn cake." "agreed" say
both, "its a bargain." Our boys will straighten themselves up from behind
their skirmishing pits and the Johnnies will do the same. The truce will
last perhaps for half an hour, when some one will call out, "Look out Yank
(or Johnny) I'm going to shoot." Then on each side will be seen lively
times getting down behind the pits, and when all are down a dozen shots
or more will be fired in rapid succession, the first ones high enough to
go into the tops of the trees.
Battle of Peach Creek, Ga. July 20, 1864
On the 17th we crossed the Chattahoochee, and the 20th we crossed Peach Tree Creek. Our Division -the 3rd of the 20th Corps - filling up a gap there was between Geary's Division, the 2d of our corps, and Newton's Division of the 4th. As events proved we were none too soon in getting into position, for we were hardly formed before the rebels made a terrible onslaught on our lines. That they were repulsed with great loss in every charge they made, you already know. The 136th took many prisoners, and the colors of the 31st Mississippi (rebel) regiment. For the amount of fighting our regiment did, our loss was very slight indeed; two killed and nine or ten wounded will cover our entire casualties for the day.
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