A Nickels Saved

Darkness ended the fight at Ream’s. Confederate Generals A. P. Hill and Henry Heth had managed the battle brilliantly. Nightfall ended the fighting. Federal reinforcements were rushing forward. With no reinforcements of his own to be had, Hill disengaged his troops, withdrew northward to the defensive perimeter around Petersburg, and the Weldon Railroad remained under Federal control.

On the battlefield, hundreds of small, private battles went on. In History of the Fourteenth Regiment, Connecticut Vol. Infantry, Charles D. Page included this account of Sgt. Henry Lydall (Company F). Lydall tells of his own fight to escape the battlefield, and of his dedicated service to one of the regiment’s officers. (I have made a few minor edits to make it more readable.)

In the afternoon of August 25th, 1864, during a charge upon the Confederate batteries on the battlefield of Ream’s Station, our advancing line suddenly broke and retreated. Overwhelmed by the terrific fire that was raining down upon us, and being slightly in advance of our main line, I suddenly realized that our forces were on the retreat. I was left almost alone, and it seemed to me as though the whole fire of the enemy was directed at me. Realizing at that moment the wisdom of the old adage that “discretion is the better part of valor,” I immediately hunted for cover, which I found in a deserted rifle-pit a short distance to the rear.

Here I found a comparatively safe, but unpleasant shelter, where I was compelled to lie flat until the shadows of night concealed me from the view of the enemy. When peering forth I could see the flickering lights of many lanterns, and I knew that the human vultures were at their unholy work of robbing the dead and wounded. I crept from my place of concealment and began making my way cautiously over the field without knowing which way to go, when suddenly I heard a call from a comrade who had fallen wounded in two places. I stopped and made him as comfortable as possible with the means at hand, cutting cornstalks to make him a bed. Since he was suffering terribly from thirst, I started out in search of a spring that I knew to be somewhere in that vicinity.

Rounding a hill or knoll where I supposed the spring to be I found myself in the midst of quite a force of the rebs and a prisoner of war. Not forgetting my own terrible thirst, I managed to work my way through to the spring and was filling my canteen when I felt a hand upon my back. Turning with the expectation of seeing a rebel guard, I was delighted to find not only a Union soldier, but a member of my own company. Comrade Pardee and I determined to attempt to escape under cover of the darkness. Guessing as nearly as possible the direction necessary to seek for our forces, we worked our way cautiously over the battlefield until we came to the breastworks we had assisted in throwing up that day.

A voice called for assistance. Stopping to investigate, we found it came from Captain Nickels, Company D, who lay wounded, shot through the leg and unable to move. To add to his misery the rebel cavalry had been there and robbed him of hat, coat, watch, money and other valuables, and only desisted from taking his boots because, in trying to remove them from his wounded limb, they caused him such intolerable suffering as to touch the heart of even a rebel cavalryman. As if to add still more to the poor Captain’s suffering, the rain began to pour down in torrents, and not being able to carry him, we made him as comfortable as possible with our rubber blankets to protect him somewhat from the inclemency of the weather.

We started out, hoping to get assistance that we might return and bring the Captain within our lines where he could be cared for. We had proceeded perhaps two miles in the direction he had pointed out to us when we met Adjutant Hincks and another comrade. They had heard Captain Nickels was left on the field and were coming back in search of him. With them we retraced our steps and brought the wounded man to where our ambulance train was stationed. Adjutant Hincks left me to take charge of the captain until we should reach such a place as he could be attended to by the surgeons.

But the end of that night’s hardships was over, for after the ambulance had started, it went over stumps and stones and uneven ground, making such a thumping and jostling, that Captain Nickels was unable to endure the pain it caused. I was compelled to procure a stretcher and, with such help as I could procure from stragglers, I tramped along through that whole night. Sometimes I would be without help and would be compelled to wait. I accosted weary stragglers as they passed, imploring them to give the Captain a little assistance towards safety and the treatment he so much needed.

Fourteen weary miles we tramped carrying the wounded man that night, through woods and swamps and over rocks until, just as day dawned upon us, we reached the hospital tent, more dead than alive, and left the brave man to the tender mercies of the surgeons.

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