Chase, Peter S.
Age: 18, credited to Weston, VTVITALS
Birth: 03/25/1845, Jamaica, VTADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Alias?: None notedDESCENDANTS
Prospect Hill Cemetery, Brattleboro, VT
Check the cemetery for location/directions
and other veterans who may be buried there.
The Vermont Journal, May 11, 1923
Old Soldier Tells Experience
In writing this article my young readers may think 59 years a long time ago. The things of those stirring days were so indelibly stamped on my mind that they are as readily recalled as though they happened but a few months ago. I am not going to pose as a hero for I was only a private soldier in the ranks of the Old Vermont brigade. My story of what I saw heard and experienced is no more than hundreds of others had to pass through. It is not my purpose at this time to give any details of this great battle or comment upon the results, but to tell my simple story of what I saw and experienced during my weary journey from the great field of battle, over the rough and almost impassible plank road to Fredericksburg, Va. I don't wish to convey the idea that my part of the sufferings was any more than that of many others, but to show to the young that every soldier's life.
In those days when men were in the great whirlpool of death fighting for American freedom I was a lad in my teens. Yet I fought, bled and suffered the same as any private soldier for the same great cause. I am going to tell of some of the things that happened in my regiment, the Second Vermont, and the part that Co. I took on May 5, 1864.
In the morning our regiment with the rest of the brigade marched up to the old Wilderness Tavern and halted a few hours, then moved across the old pike to where the Brock road crossed the plank road. At the same time the rebels were coming down the plank road driving our cavalry before them. The Vermont boys were there, but none too soon. It will be remembered that history gives this position held by General Grant to be the key to the whole situation. And it also appears that the Vermont boys were selected as the only men who could be entrusted with such an important place. Of the bravery of the men in those trying hours Vermont may well feel proud. Soon after they were placed in line of battle General Hancock and staff were seen riding up the Brock road at full gallop. As he came up the plank road and in front of the Second Vermont he made a sudden halt and inquired, "What troops are these?" "The Vermont brigade" was the response from many voices. General L. A. Grant, commander of the brigade, stepped forward and received orders to advance. General Hancock well knew that upon the bravery of the Old Vermont brigade for the next hour depended the safety of his corps, if not the whole army. Every soldier knew that there was business close at hand, although everything along the entire line was quiet. Almost immediately the sharp command rang out, "Fall in," and we were ordered into the battle and marched until within about 150 yards of the enemy. At the same time the rebels opened a murderous fire of musketry upon us. We pushed forward until within about 100 yards of them before returning the fire, it being supposed that the Third Vermont regiment was in front of us. At the same time the sharp rattle of musketry all along the line, told us that the struggle had begun. The brush and small trees were so thick that we were unable to see the enemy even while standing at so close a range. During the progress of battle Lieut. Col. John S. Taylor came down the line. He stopped at a wood road that ran nearly parallel to the line of battle. The shower of bullets came up that road like a swarm of hornets. He stopped at my side, shook his head but made no attempt to cross. Col. Taylor ordered Captain D. S. White of Company I to send a corporal and 16 men to deploy on the left side of the road. Corporal Albert A. May started with the men to cross the road. The corporal was the only man to cross and he fell across wounded in the leg. All the rest were killed or wounded before they could get over the road. About this time Col. Newton Stone had come back to the regiment after having his wound dressed. He was soon after instantly killed while passing to the right of the line cheering his men by his example of bravery.
Many brave soldiers had fallen all along the line. The groans of the wounded and the dying men were heard on every side, but the fight went on. During this time I had been thrice wounded, once in the neck, once in the right leg, both slight or flesh wounds, and the third being a compound fracture of the left thigh. Sergeant Fred A. Fish, better known through the regiment as "Uncle Ben," bound up my wound to stop the flow of blood. Doubtless I would have bled to death had it not been for his prompt action. He was the last man to leave me, fired the last gun and bade me good-bye. I never before nor have I since parted with a friend without saying a parting word. My heart rose but my lips were silent. Those who have parted with a friend on the field of battle can imagine my feelings. Almost instantly the rebels were pursuing our men with that peculiar yell which was no music to those of us who were compelled to stay behind. Their ranks were thin but there were less of them to return an hour later. It was in vain that their order to halt was given. They were going back to their line and they did go. The regiment lay along the Brock road that night. The list of killed and wounded shows how desperate was the fighting. Company I went into the fight with 63 men and come out with a loss of 33. Of this number four were killed outright on the field. These are some of the sad scenes of the first days of fighting in the Wilderness 59 years ago. Just before dark a new battle line was sent in and formed on nearly the same place that we were driven from. During this time I had seen both sides advance as victors, and also retreat as beaten foe. The grandest thought to me at this time was that victory was on our side and that I was once more inside the union lines. I was where my friends could find me. And it was not long before I heard the voice of Corporal E. W. Prior who came in with others to look after the wounded. If ever a boy was glad to see his friends I was one. As soon as they could go back and procure a detail they returned and took those of us who were unable to get back without help. Corporal Prior and his men took me on a half tent to carry me back to where the Brock road crossed the Plank road. This was the commencement of my journey to the hospital. I was eager to bid adieu to the scenes of the battlefield. Think of four men carrying a man with a broken thigh for about one-half mile through the thick brush in the dark. The corporal had a short candle which he lighted to help on the way but when the rebels saw the light they began to fire on it. The balls whistled so near us that it made us feel rather uneasy and he was obliged to conceal the light under his coat. They soon had me out on the plank road where the ambulances were taking the wounded back. There he laid me down and bade me good bye.
Yes, it was the last good-bye to me from three of those noble, brave, loving friends, for on the 12th of May at Spotsylvania in that great whirl wind of death Elmer G. Holmes, George A. French and Ira D. Clark were all killed in battle.
During the night I was taken into an ambulance and carried back to the old mining mill. The sun was just coming into sight when they lay me on the damp ground without a blanket even under or over me. Hundreds of others about me were no better off or cared for than myself. I had not laid here long before I had a very bad chill. The doctor gave me some medicine and I soon felt better. During the early forenoon I was taken into the surgeon's tent and laid on the amputating table. I had expected to loose my leg. A large pile of amputated limbs lay just outside of the tent and in sight, and the thought that I was to give one leg to that ghastly heap was disturbing. It took all the courage out of me and I begged them to spare my leg. "We will not take a hair more than we are obliged to" the doctor said. I took the chloroform and was soon lost to the world. They removed a large part of the musket ball which split while passing through the bone. The other part was taken out about six weeks later. I was then taken to a large tent where I remained during that day. That night the tent was taken down. The next day was quite hot and as I had nothing to shade me from the hot sun it was very uncomfortable.
During the day a soldier from one of the other regiments brought me a canteen of water and then sat down beside me and told me his troubles. "There were three of us brothers in one company, he said and we were all wounded the first day. I received the slightest wound in the head. One of my brothers died last night. I went out and dug his grave and buried him. Since then I have been out and buried the foot of my other brother in the same grave."
They were hurrying the wounded back towards Fredericksburg, Va. During the afternoon it became known that all of the wounded could not be moved so that those who could stand the journey best would be moved first. I was very anxious to undertake the journey for there was a report that those left behind would be taken prisoners. It was just before dark that an officer rode up to the surgeon in charge and said, "Here are 13 ambulances, do the best you can with them. There is not another empty wagon in the whole army to be had." It was not until the 12th one drove in that my long watched for chance came. I rode all that night over a very rough road and did not get any sleep or rest. The 8th was Sunday. I find this entry in my diary. "This morning in the ambulance near Piny Creek church we drove out towards Chancellorsville and then on towards Fredericksburg." They brought us into Fredericksburg about 4 p. m. I had seen the city several times but it never looked so good to me as at this time. I had been nearly two days and nights in an ambulance over a road almost impassable, through fields and over ditches. Several times when the train stopped they took out men who had not the strength to endure this dreadful journey. They had answered to the call of death; their torture was at an end. There were hundreds who followed on foot. Many a brave soldier walked the whole distance with an amputated hand or forearm in a sling. Those having two good legs did not stay behind. The suffering which men endured in those two days will never be told.
On the morning of the 10th a surgeon with two helpers came into the room to dress the wounds. The worst treatment I received in all my army service was from that man that called himself an army surgeon. He seemed to be void of all feeling for humanity and seemed to delight in torturing wounded men as much as a savage. After the splints had been taken from my leg and I had been rolled about for his inspection I was carried across the room on a blanket by two men. When I begged to have the splints put on my leg so to keep it in place he ordered them thrown out the back side of the house. During the afternoon one of the nurses brought them back to me and also some bricks which we placed around my foot and leg. After we got it into shape the best we could I realized for the first time that there was virtue in the soft side of a brick. The night of the 11th was one of great pain and long hours were passed without sleep and day was one of a struggle for life. That evening as Dr. William Sawing of the Second Vermont came through the room caring for Lieut. John J. Bane of the same regiment, a member of Gen. L. A. Grant's staff; I called him to me and told him my story. It was his kind hands that fixed me up, gave me a quieting powder and spoke cheerful words and I passed through the night very nicely. "This is not my place in this room. I am very tired. I have amputated 100 limbs today." he said. Many were the kind favors and nice things to eat and drink that he sent me by my friend Peter Mulligan, while I was in the city of Fredericksburg. On the 12th it was decided that five in this room were to have their legs amputated. There was nothing pleasing to those of us who discussed the results that would follow. We did not wish to take a part in any of this business. On the 13th one of our number was taken upstairs in the morning to have his leg amputated. He was soon brought back without the operation being performed. Tears were in his eyes and he was broken down with grief so that he could not tell what the trouble was but we soon learned that the doctors thought mortification had set in and it was useless to do any more for him. The poor fellow's greatest desire was to write a letter home to his wife and children but he was destitute of anything to write with. He was soon provided with writing material and sat up and wrote his farewell message to those who were so dear to him. Those words penned while his eyes were dim with tears would also bring tears to other eyes as they were read at home. Very soon two surgeons came in to look after the rest of us. The result of the counsel over me was that there would not be more than one chance in a hundred for me if amputation was performed and as I was young and in good health and I might pull through with good care. I took the one chance that youth afforded me and now 59 years after I tell my own story.
May 14th I had my leg put in a box, the most comfortable way it had been fixed. The 15th was Sunday and I was feeling quite comfortable. The 16th was a day of rejoicing for us all as the supply train came in and we received more and better rations. Up to this time our bill of fare had not been elaborate. The 17th I received a very delightful treat. I was taken from the floor and put on a rough board bunk and one of the sanitary commission gave me a white shirt in exchange for mine that I had worn ever since I had left camp. I think it was the most lively garment that I ever parted with. Our genial friend seemed to take great delight in making the lively exchange. The 18th the weather was quite warm and the flies became more and more troublesome every day, owing to the odor that arose from the wounds, and one was obliged to exercise great care to keep them from his wounds. Many a poor fellow lost his life from this cause, not having strength to keep the vermin off.
About this time Governor Smith arrived with a force of doctors from the state to look after and care for the wounded men. One of those noble men Dr. Adams from the town of Brighton, was assigned to our room. He was a welcomed guest for he had not been overworked as our army surgeon had been for two weeks, and we now had good care for our wounds were dressed every day. The 20th our new friend from the state was with us early in the morning with his nurses ready to dress our wounds. Five of us with fractured thighs were there. Our friend who wrote his farewell letter home to his wife and children was with us as chipper as any of us. It was proved by cutting the ball out of his leg that it was the blood settled under the skin and not mortification as at first supposed. It was know by measurement that we all had a leg from four to four and one-half inches short, a lap fracture. We were made to understand that it was simply necessary to pull those legs back into shape. How was it to be done? That the doctor had the muscle to do it none of us doubted. Who would be the first to have a leg pulled? None of us were anxious to try our bravery. I was the youngest, therefore they were all willing to give the boy the first and best chance to show how much grit he had left. This was the way it was done. My bunk was just the right height and as I lay under an open window I threw my arms over my head and clasped my fingers under the window sill outside. The doctor took hold of my ankle, put his foot firmly against the end of my bunk and with one strong pull brought the bones together into place. A shock passed that caused me to loosen my grip, but the job was done. The pain that shook my whole frame was severe. Could I have given vent to my feelings in sighs and tears it would have been a great relief, but my boyish pride would not permit me to do either. The other four did not have so good a chance as I did so they had to be held by two men.
The doctor was obliged to pull several times on each of them before he could get the bones back into place. The operation must have been terribly painful. Our wounds had become very tender, even to the touch, but we nerved ourselves for the occasion trying to excel each other in courage.
The 21st was a quiet day with us with talk that we were to be moved back to Washington to the hospital. The 22nd, Sunday, we had a short sermon by one of the chaplains. All the wounded who could walk or help themselves in any way had been taken back to the boat. We were anxious to get to some general hospital. The 23rd was the day we were to be taken to Washington so we were carried out into the large front yard. I lay there all day and that night waiting to be taken into and ambulance. They were long hours to wait, but I had been learning patience. I had a new experience that night. My pain was quite severe and by deceiving the nurse I got a second dose of morphine which came near being my last. I fell into a stupor, perfectly free from pains with a very silly feeling without power to smile or even open my eyes. I knew all that was being said and done all night. The 24th I lay waiting to be moved and just at night I was taken out and put into an ambulance and taken across the river to Falmouth and placed on a flat car where I remained until morning. I had been there several times before. Once on a cold night in December, 1862 as wounded soldier, having been wounded on the 13th by a musket ball in the left breast and a gun shot wound through the left hand, but I was able then to care for myself. Now it took two men to move me. Give a wounded soldier his legs and he will always take care of himself. On the morning of the 26th the cars were run up Aquia Creek during a very hard shower so we were soaked through for we had nothing but a woolen blanket to protect us. At last we were put on a steamboat and taken up the Potomac river to the city of Alexandria. During all this time in the handling of my leg had been broken over and was out of place and as the bones rubbed against one another as I was being moved about it began to tell on what little nerve I had left. They took me out of the steamboat on a stretcher and carried me to the Mansion House hospital and here I received my first bath and a change of clothes, and was placed on a real bed with feelings that I was at my journey's end.
What I experienced during those 21 days was a lesson to me that man must stand firm in the fight for life with his trust in God in the hour of danger. It takes courage to fight alone as every good soldier well knows.
I now had arrived at my journey's end and make a halt for rest.
Peter S. Chase.
Co. I 2nd Regt. Vt. Vols.
Contributed by Cathy Hoyt.