June 23 Gettysburg Campaign: Hurry Up and Wait.

Franklin Horner and his comrades get the order to be ready to march at a moment’s notice and to have three days’ rations in their haversacks. Coats and other superfluous equipment are packed in boxes for storage. Camp rumor doesn’t agree on where they are going, just that they are to be ready.

Thomas Ware and the men get up early expecting another hard day’s march. At 10:00 a.m. they get the order to wash, clean up and rest this day, which brought “considerable rejoicing in the Brig. [Brigade].” That night they were read orders from commanding general Robert E. Lee himself. General Orders No. 72 instructed the men to respect private property and civilians; that only appointed certain officers to requisition supplies from locals and to pay market price for them; and gave general guidelines on how to handle civilians who refused payment or concealed supplies from the Confederates. Ware and his men know that these orders would only be issued if they were leaving Virginia and heading into Maryland.

A review of his records shows that Franklin Horner was what one would call a seasoned combat veteran. On June 26, 1862, he came under hostile fire for the first time: “…three O p.m. heard musketry got into rifle pits…O the firing becomes general Shot are flying thick along our heads.” It appears from his use of the present tense that he is writing these words while under fire. The next day “…about four O clock, our men fired first then they gave us a volley and we returned it….” Sometime this day, he was captured and sent to Belle Isle in Richmond.

Early in the war there was a prisoner exchange system that allowed soldiers to be “traded” for prisoners of the enemy. Exchanged prisoners signed paroles saying they would not take up arms again—a pledge that was impossible to enforce and rarely adhered to.  Horner was exchanged and, within three weeks found himself in the Battle of Second Manassas where, on August 28, 1862 they “…got into line…marched about five mile when our advance was fired into and three men wounded and one killed.”

The Battle of Antietam, for Horner, started with the heavy fighting through the South Mountains of Maryland on September 14, 1862: the Division “stormed the mountain.” Then, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, and a creek named Antietam, he was part of the opening fight through the infamous bloody cornfield on the morning of September 17, 1862.

The most costly battle for Horner’s company was Fredericksburg, VA, December 13, 1862. They lost their Captain Andrew Bolar and eight enlisted men killed or wounded.

In his records he is listed as wounded at Antietam, yet he never mentions it in his diary. On September 19, 1862, his unit is marched through the battlefield. They witness the decomposing dead as they camp in a field nearby. He states, “I am not well.” September 21: “I can scrsely[sic] walk” and reports as not being fit for duty. September 23 he writes that his health is good, but on September 30, his handwriting is obviously wavy: “I am not very well to day make out my monthly returns have some trouble getting it right.” This all leads me to believe that Horner’s wound at Antietam may have been what he considered minor, and visiting a field hospital, with its groaning, screaming, bleeding, cursing clientele and waiting in line seemed too much. He may have dressed it himself, and come down with blood poisoning, or some other disease from being near the decomposing bodies. He was lucky to have survived.

Antiseptics were virtually unknown during the time of the American Civil War. Pasteur and Lister didn’t do their work until the late 1860s. A typical scene at a field hospital would go something like this: A surgeon, who had been amputating arms and legs for 24 hours straight, would have a young man with a gut wound placed on his table. He’d explore the man’s gut with his bare hand (and we all know what we have in our guts!) and, having neither the time, nor the expertise to perform internal surgery he would proclaim he could do nothing for the soldier and have the orderlies carry him to a corner of the barn. The next young soldier would show the surgeon a flesh wound in his arm. The surgeon would wipe off his hands on his stained apron, poke around in the man’s arm with his fingers, wrap a quick cloth bandage that had fallen on the straw and manure covered barn floor around the young man’s arm, and tell him he’ll be better in a week. What happens: The soldier with the gut wound, with a little luck, survives because the surgeon didn’t do much; the soldier with the flesh wound suddenly feels his temperature skyrocket two weeks later and is dead of blood poisoning within a day.

Mark Nesbitt Ghosts of Gettysburg Quote


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