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Monday, December 15, 2014

The 16th New York at the Battle of Eltham, Part I

 Excerpted from,
-From Bull Run To Chancellorsville,The Story of the Sixteenth New York Infantry together with Personal Reminiscences By Newton Martin Curtis, LL.D. Brevet Major-General U. S. Vols.
G.P. Putnams Sons, New York & London


AFTER landing at the head of York River, the regiment marched a short distance, and stacked arms. After supper was over, the members of Company F were engaged in general conversation when Edwin R. Bishop, a lighthearted and fun-provoking man, rose from the ground and interrupted the conversation by saying,"Boys, if I should fall in the next battle, as I now believe I shall, I wish you would bury me under this tree, where I indicate by these lines." He then proceeded to mark with a pioneer's spade the outlines of a grave. Immediately Corporal George J. Love, a very sedate man, rose and picking up the spade which Bishop had used, said, "I would like you to dig my grave beside Bishop's, but please dig it with more regularity than his crooked lines indicate; I am the son of a sexton and have helped to dig many." He then proceeded to draw a parallelogram, dropped the spade, and sat down. Then Peter G. Ploof, a lad of twenty, much beloved for his boyish, winsome ways, picked up the spade, and said "If I fall, dig my grave here beside Love's, and do it as we dig graves at home. Please follow the lines I make for you." He drew the lines of the coffin used in those days, wider at the shoulders and tapering toward the head and foot. Conversation was resumed, and no further attention was paid to the incident.At three o'clock the next morning. May 7th, Companies F and G were ordered out to the picket line, where, at 9 a.m., they met the advancing lines of General J. B. Hood's brigade, of Whiting's division. These companies could not stay the progress of the overwhelming force brought against them, but they made a manful resistance until the artillery was brought up and made ready for action; they were then ordered back, with 17 per cent, of their number among the killed and wounded. Three members of Company F were killed, — Bishop, Love and Ploof, and their comrades, in paying them the martial honors due the gallant dead, gave to each the resting place he had selected on the night before the battle. Beside them were buried Mummery, Seabury and Waymouth, of Company G.
Corporal James Cook of Company F, whose leg was broken by a musket ball, was left on the field during its temporary occupation by the enemy; a Confederate soldier took his watch, purse and a Masonic ring. His call for help brought to his side a Confederate Mason, who caused Cook's property to be restored to him, filled his canteen with water, made him as comfortable as possible, and on leaving, said, "we are enemies in honorable warfare, but on the plane where your disabilities have placed you the laws of humanity and charity prevail." Of the members of Company G, Seabury was found alive, but lived only long enough to tell his comrades that the Confederates had been kind to him, and had done all they could to make him comfortable; Waymouth had evidently been killed in the act of reloading his musket; Mummery's body was found in a pool of water with the throat cut. Great indignation was felt by all, and General Newton, in his report of the battle, referred to this case and others of less savagery, in terms of severe condemnation. That Mummery's throat should have been cut, when his wounds were mortal, was a mystery which remained unsolved until, in February, 1869, I visited Texas. On the steamer, crossing the Gulf of Mexico to Brazos de Santiago, I fell in with two Texans who were in Hood's brigade, and in this battle of West Point. I questioned them about the battle, and asked them to recall any unusual circumstance connected with it. "There was nothing unusual," the spokesman said, "we found out there that the Yanks would fight, and were not to be driven with pop guns, as we were told when we joined Magruder's army at Yorktown." The other man added, "That was the place where we cut the Yank's throat." He went on to tell of the action, of their occupying the ground which we held at the beginning of the engagement, and said, "one, who was severely wounded and unable to stand, opened on the Confederates with a seven-shooter, every shot of which killed or wounded a man. It was thought that a wounded man, whose unit of battle had been driven from the field, and who thereafter continued the fight on his own account, deserved to be summarily dealt with, so we cut his throat."
It had been learned, after Mummery's death, that he had disobeyed orders in not turning in his pistol, at Alexandria, and that he had confided to a comrade his purpose never to be captured alive, but to inflict all the injury possible on the enemy. There are many cases reported, where disabled men have continued to fight after the opposing forces occupied the ground, and, in nearly all instances, they became the subjects of summary treatment; a case of this kind occurred in the late war with Spain, when a wounded Spanish officer shot Lieutenant Ord, and was promptly dispatched by a volley from Ord's company.

-To Be Continued-

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