Editor’s note: This is the 400th post published by Maine at War
Was it something in the apples the 19th Maine boys stole? Was it because they joined a mob in raiding a “friendly” sutler?
Or was it simply a lucky shot by a Confederate gunner?
Whatever the reason — bad luck, divine retribution for sins committed on the march, or well-aimed enemy artillery — Confederate Maj. Gen. John Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart killed a 19th Maine soldier on Thursday, June 25, 1863.
Commanded by Col. Francis Edward Heath (a hard-bitten combat veteran), the 19th Maine Infantry belonged to the 1st Brigade (Brig. Gen. William Harrow), 2nd Division (Brig. Gen. John Gibbon), II Corps (Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock). Late June 1863 found Heath and his boys tramping north across Virginia as the Army of the Potomac chased Robert E. Lee and his Confederates, headed for Pennsylvania.
Camping at Centerville in Fairfax County on Friday, June 19, the 19th Maine lads — they simply could not help themselves — promptly got into trouble. “The boys had a good time in joining in a raid on a sutler belonging to one of the Massachusetts batteries,” explained Pvt. John Day Smith of Co. F.
Only a month back in uniform from Confederate captivity and lacking an official job with the Army of the Potomac, Brig. Gen. William Hays “ordered two guns and a small force of infantry into position to disperse the mob,” said Smith.
Before the artillery-toting provost guard arrived, “not only the ‘mob’ but the contents of the sutler’s tent had been ‘dispersed,’” he said.
Heading out at noon Saturday for Thoroughfare Gap, the 19th Maine boys carried a lot more tobacco out of Centerville than they had carried in, Smith noticed.
“The march took us across the old Bull Run battlefield,” he reported. “Parts of human skeletons were seen protruding from the ground and splintered trees were upon every side.”
The 2nd Division plodded on past sunset. “In the darkness the boys … stumbled over stones and into ditches,” Smith said.
Upon falling into a ditch, one wag proclaimed, “Boys, here’s the gap. I’ve stopped it up!”
Finally bivouacking around midnight, the Maine boys rested “four days … in the vicinity of Thoroughfare” Gap, Smith noted. Raiding local orchards for “small” green apples that “were very palatable” when cooked, the 19th Maine lads bolstered their diets with other foods that “the farmers in that locality unwillingly contributed.”
With Gibbon’s division bringing up the rear, II Corps “left Thoroughfare Gap” on June 25, Smith said. “Proceeding quietly on its way,” the 19th Maine marched through Haymarket in Prince William County. No one paid attention to “a lofty eminence to the right and rear,” Smith remembered.
At 1 a.m., June 25, Confederate cavalry brigades had “with noiseless march moved out” from a camp “near Salem Depot,” J.E.B. Stuart reported. “As we neared Hay Market, we found that Hancock’s corps was en route through Hay Market for Gum Springs, his infantry well distributed through his trains.”
Stuart was trying to pass east to ride around the moving Union army, and Hancock, Heath, and the 19th Maine were in the way. As he had at Harrison Landing the previous July, Stuart introduced himself to his enemies rather than wait quietly to gain a better advantage.
“I chose a good position” atop the hill noticed by Smith “and opened with artillery on his passing column with effect, scattering men, wagons, and horses in wild confusion,” Stuart reported.
His well-handled horse artillery “disabled one of the enemy’s caissons, which he abandoned, and compelled him to advance in order of battle to compel us to desist,” Stuart said.
From that “lofty eminence … came bursting shells into the midst of our Brigade and we lost one man in our Regiment, Israel D. Jones, of Company G, the first soldier in the Regiment killed by the enemy,” Smith reported.
“In less than ten minutes from the time that Mr. Jones was chatting cheerfully with the man marching at his side, he was buried by the roadside and left to sleep his last sleep,” Smith said.
The 19th Maine boys tramped on toward Gettysburg.
Sources: John Day Smith, The History of the Nineteenth Regiment of Maine Volunteer Infantry 1862-1865, Great Western Printing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1909, pp. 62-64; Maj. Gen. John Ewell Brown, Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 27, Part 2, Chapter XXXIX, pp. 692-693
Brian Swartz can be reached at email@example.com. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.