Excerpt from "Reminiscenses of Finch Hollow"
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by Arthur E. Crocker
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Tom Hayes was appointed fuel agent for U.S. military railroads of Virginia, and I from that time reported to him. We went to White House landing by boat, and I established camp near Savage Station and resumed the business of sawing wood for the engines used on the road between White House and the front.
Savage Station was four miles from Richmond and less than one mile from our outposts. There were stirring times.
McClellan's army of 200,000 men were occupying a fortified front line perhaps twelve miles long, and were busy extending "parallels" still further to the front, making corduroy roads and bridges in the rear and fighting every day. Cannon and mortars were throwing shells every hour along some part of this line. The battle of Fair Oaks was fought within half a mile of my camp and a field hospital was established within a few rods of my tent. Wounded soldiers were brought on stretchers to this hospital, and arms and legs without number were amputated here during the day and thrown out in a pile near the surgeon's awning.
The next day after the Irish Brigade had driven the Confederates back within their fortifications, I visited the field and saw many trees, some the size of my body, which were literally torn to splinters by rifle bullets, and in our five-acre corn field I could walk from one end to the other, every step on a dead man. Terrible is war! We became accustomed to blood and carnage and were not visibly affected by the sight of dead or dying men.
During the war and after the seven days' fight we moved with the army to Harrison's Landing on the James, half a mile below Carter's landing and opposite City Point.
We finally stole our way onto a hospital boat and got back to Washington and Alexandria, which was ever afterwards our headquarters. McClellan's dilatory policy on the peninsula lost him the confidence of the authorities at Washington. He was superseded by General Pope, who gathered a large army at Warrenton, Culpepper, and along the Rapidan. I was at once sent to Callett's Station, but after a few days Jackson came into Manassas Junction, burned several trains of cars loaded with supplies, destroyed Bull Run railroad bridge and others in the vicinity which compelled Pope to fall back. The second battle of Bull Run was fought and lost.
The second day of this fight I was priviledged to overlook almost the whole field from the heights at Manassas, - the incessant roll of the artillary, the continuous firing of a quarter million rifles, the swaying back and forth of the lines of battle at either side would gain a temporary advantage, which lines could be traced for miles by the rising smoke of battle and the cloud of dust raised by the advancing troops of Longstreet as he hurried through Thoroughfare Gap fifteen miles away to the assistance of Jackson.
All these sights and sounds of that afternoon were so indelibly impressed upon my mind that memory will keep them fresh and accurate till my last day on earth. As soon as Longstreet's 20,000 fresh troops added their cheers and force to the tired troops of Jackson, Pope was doomed. He was routed at once and driven in great disorder towards Washington.
McClellan was recalled and a few weeks afterward fought the battle of Antietam.
After this battle the Army of the Potomac resumed its old quarters of the preceeding spring at Warrenton and quiet reigned at the front for many months. I was again sent to Burks Station and my duties were greatly increased. "Contrabands" as they came into our lines were provided work about the different camps, and by Christmas time 600 of them were with me. A train of 100 army wagons was also sent to me and I, a boy, had charge of the whole camp. Another large force of these contrabands was employed by a contractor, cutting wood of the Lee, Marshall and Robinson estates, covering hundreds of acres and extending on either side of the railroad between Burks Station and Acotinck Creek bridge.
My business was to haul this wood to the railroad, load the greater part of it on cars - five or six train loads each day - for shipment to our yards in Alexandria and Washington; also to prepare wood for the engines at my station. These were busy times for me. Jack Richards was my assistant. Jack Sayer came down to take charge of my commisary department, and many other men from Finch Hollow and the River District were employed in responsible positions in my camp.
Silas B. Tyler, afterwards my father-in-law, had charge of the books and was paymaster for J.W. Potter, the wood contractor. In addition to my duties, managind and directing this whole camp, I organized a night school for such of those ignorant blacks as wished to learn to read and write, and took great pleasure in observing thier quaint ways and listening to their plantation songs and conversation.
They were well fed and housed in huts of their own construction and every pleasant evening hundreds of them would gather around a large fire to sing and dance and enjoy themselves in their own way.
A happier lot of mortals I never saw.
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