Fear Within – Sgt. Tyler’s Mine Run

Before moving on to other subjects, I believe you will find the following first-hand account of Mine Run by Sergeant E. B. Tyler (Company B) to be compelling and deeply personal, because it gives us a better understanding of the infantryman’s thoughts and emotions immediately before battle. This account was included in Charles Page’s History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, and it is quoted here in its entirety.

The writer recalls no more serious occasion in his army experience than at Mine Run in the flank movement of the Second Corps when the Fourteenth was lying in the first line of battle, with knapsacks again discarded, a sure sign of the desperate nature of the duty expected of us. Just in front of us was a narrow belt of woods running parallel to our line. This screened us from the view of the enemy. Going through these woods to our picket line, at the further side we could look across the level open fields and plainly see the strongly fortified position of the enemy. How defiantly their flags waved, how heart-sickening the well-wrought abatis in front of their works, for we were only waiting for the signal from the right to charge across the open field amid the shot and shell and canister from the artillery and deadly volleys from the infantry, hoping against hope that a few of our first line might join with the others in clambering through the abatis and gain the works.

This time there was no secret made of what was to be our special duty. No forlorn hope ever faced a more desperate prospect and the old Fourteenth was to be in the first line. We were to be the living, moving breastwork that might in some slight measure afford a little protection to the second, third or fourth line of infantry that were to follow, some of whom it might he hoped would scale the works and gain the victory.

How slowly passed the time and yet we felt sure that for many of us these were the final moments of our lives. Somehow we never for a moment surmised that the old fighting Second Corps would either refuse or be refused an opportunity to fight, no matter what the chances against them.

General Warren, with his staff, was riding up and down our line, going from point to point in order to obtain a better view of the enemy’s lines and works. The men were at rest near their stacked arms, ready to fall into place at the first signal and as General Warren, who was to give the order that meant life or death, rode by, how we scanned his face for some inkling of  purpose or some sign of encouragement. We saw the care, anxiety and burden of responsibility resting upon him apparent in his countenance, serious almost to sadness, yet to us it was inscrutable as the ancient rock faced Sphinx. His record as an able, careful commander was not unknown to us, and trust him we felt we could and must.

The men stood mostly by or near their guns, but a little liberty was given them, and once and again, singly or with a comrade or two, we stole out into the woods a few rods in front of us to calculate the chances of the assault. There seemed to be a fascination in looking over the open field. The rebel flag as it waved from its staff sometimes seemed flaunting only defiance to us, and sometimes in the changing lights and shadows of that winter morning, the staff obscured, the flag alone visible, waving and furling and doubling against the background of some darkening cloud, seemed like the friendly invitation of some spirit hand whose dainty beckoning lifted our thoughts to the great beyond.

Then back again to our guns, waiting, yet dreading to hear the signal given. A deep reechoing sound comes rolling down from the distant right, then another and another. The men sprang to their places, some perhaps with faces a little paler than usual, but never a man wavered or faltered. Determined to do their duty unto death, they stood and waited. But the order to advance came not.

The gunners stood by their pieces to send back to the right the answering response if the attack was to be made, as it was to be made simultaneously on the right and by Warren on the left, if made at all. But the signal guns on the left responded not. The minutes became hours and gradually it dawned upon us that the battle planned for us was not to be fought.

General Warren had weighed the chances, had counted the cost, had become convinced in spite of bravery and courage that never had and never should be questioned, that to make the attack on that stronghold with his one corps miles away from any support would be more the folly of a rash harebrained madman than a wise and considerate officer. It was no lack of confidence in his men. It is reported he said he did not doubt but what his corps could take the works, but he feared it would be at the expense of the almost total loss of the same. He could not assume the responsibility of the sacrifice and for once the lives and the limbs and smarting wounds of the thousands in the ranks outweighed the temptation this slight chance offered to add new luster to a general’s stars.

That day and the next passed, then came the retreat, one of the best managed and entirely successful in the carrying out of all its details of any in the history of the war. After the long tedious march, second to none perhaps we ever made, unless that day we made over thirty miles on our way to Gettysburg, thoroughly exhausted, we reached our old camp near Stevensburg and found our company losses consisted of one or two of our new men, whether  captured as prisoners or voluntary deserters, we were not quite sure.

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