Appointment with a Wilderness destiny, part 2

The regiments of the 3rd Brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Joseph J. Bartlett charges west across Saunders Field toward Confederates defending the distant treeline in midafternoon on Thursday, May 5, 1864. The 20th Maine advances somewhere in the two lines of Union infantry. (Harper’s Weekly)

The enemy was close, way to close for comfort in midafternoon on Thursday afternoon, May 5, 1864.

Sgt. Charles H. Haynes of Ellsworth and Co. E, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment stood with his comrades inside the treeline along the eastern edge of Saunders Field, a large opening amidst the scrub-entangled Wilderness in central Virginia. He figured the distance across the field to the western treeline was “about 2/3 of a mile,” a long ways for Union soldiers hauling their rifles and other gear.

Advancing at Saunders Field with Co. E, 20th Maine Infantry, Sgt. Charles H. Haynes entered the Confederate-defended woods and promptly caught two bullets that shattered his left leg. (Courtesy Photo)

The order “to charge across the field” came at 3 p.m., and away the 20th Maine and other regiments went. “The charge was made in heavy marching order, hence was very tedious,” Haynes recalled.

After reaching the edge of the woods we came in contact with rebs in front and on our right flank[,]” with lead “bullets coming thick and fast,” he remembered.

The Company E lads had barely entered the woods. “Before I could … fire, I received two balls through my left leg[,] breaking it short off about five inches below the knee,” Haynes later recorded in his diary. “Another ball [went] through my right leg in about the same place but without injuring the bone.

I fell as soon as wounded and cut off my boot and bound my leg up as quick as possible for the blood was running out the whole bigness of the wound made by the ball,” he described his self-administered first aid.”

A Napoleon 12-pounder displayed at Saunders Field depicts the two cannons of Battery D, 1st New York Artillery, lost to counterattacking Confederates on May 5, 1864. Just a while earlier, the 20th Maine and its brigade had charged from left to right across that section of field beyond Route 20. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The news for Haynes went from real bad to far worse as he staunched the bleeding. Confederate troops threw attacking Yankees back across Saunders Field. A Co. E lad tried to help Haynes stand, “but I could not stand it to go,” he admitted. His friend somehow got Haynes to “a good place” where “I laid down.”

A National Park Service information placard shows where V Corps, which included the 20th Maine Infantry, attacked at Saunders Field on May 5, 1864.

Moments later Confederates swirled around him. “I was a prisoner,” Haynes said.

Both sides hurled artillery rounds across the field around 5 p.m. Not until four hours later did Confederates carry Haynes to the roadside (of modern Route 20, also known as Constitution Highway) and lay him on “a good bed for me to rest on during the night.” His captors “have given me cool water,” Haynes recalled.

The grassy mound curving through the terrain at the western edge of Saunders Field represents the remnants of Confederate earthworks left over from the Battle of the Wilderness. The 20th Maine boys may have crossed the earthworks near this point. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Kept awake by cold and pain, he lay beside the road until noon or so on Friday. “I was … carried to Locust Grove (distance three miles) and layed (sic) down beside a house or rather Robertson’s Tavern,” Haynes said. Bounced around inside an ambulance, he suffered as his leg throbbed and ached.

My suffering during last [Friday] night was very great both in pain in my legs and [with the] cold,” Haynes would record in his diary for Saturday, May 7. Although aware his shattered left leg must be amputated, “still I feel quite smart this morning,”

Around 4 p.m. “I was put upon the table for the purpose of having my leg amputated,” he wrote.

A captured Union surgeon, a “Dr. Donnelley,” did the surgery “assisted by a rebel surgeon[,] both of which are called very skillful,” Haynes learned afterwards. “They gave me cloriform (sic) and I was soon in the land of dreams.

When I came to myself[,] my maimed limb was gone [below the knee] and all done without my knowing any thing about it,” Haynes realized. “After cleaning up my person, I was taken to the next room and layed upon the floor.”

The stitches split open on Tuesday, May 10. “My leg is all open so that I bang it about the marrow will all run out of the bone[,] which will cause death unless my leg is taken off again above the knee,” Haynes worried. “I do not think that I am strong enough to near another amputation.”

He would not.

Before leaving the field hospital in the Wilderness, Haynes had a final duty to perform.

“”I feel … very sorry to part with my leg and to be obliged to leave it under the sod of Old Virginia,” Haynes told his diary. “All there is left for to say is good bye maimed leg, it pains me to the heart … to leave you here for you have been … a punctual friend in carrying me through all the duties while fighting under the old flag.

Adieu, but not to be forgotten,” Haynes said.

Charles Haynes would go into captivity via Orange and Lynchburg, and his stump would gradually heal. A train hauling Union prisoners “packed into a car as thick as men cow stow” brought Haynes to Richmond on Wednesday, August 31.

We were called at three o’clock [a.m.]” on September 1, “got breakfast and went on board [a truce] boat” at 8 a.m.” and stood down the James River under a truce flag at 10 a.m., Haynes said.

Hours later, he was a free man.

Source: Diary of Sergeant Charles H. Haynes (a copy is in the author’s possession)

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.