Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Pennsylvania's Emergency Men

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

September 19, 1862: 2nd PA Emergency Militia (J. Witmer)

Read the previous day here.

We awoke feeling very chilly and damp in consequence of the very heavy dew which fell during the night, but after a tin cup full of hot coffee felt much better and were ordered into line, and marched off to get our knapsacks. Uncle George and I then took a walk down through the town, and he returning sooner than I did found Uncle Hugh there, who had been over the battle-field the day before. He left however before I came back. So I did not see him. We were then marched down through the town and out into the fair ground about one mile south of Hagerstown on the Williamsport Turnpike. I was put upon guard at the gate to stay two hours but it was three, before I was relieved, about 1 o’clock P.M. Scouts came riding in from Williamsport bringing with them a parcel of contrabands and extra horses, stating that the rebels were crossing into Maryland at that place; about half past one o’clock after a hasty dinner we were formed into line, and ordered to load our muskets which you may be sure we did with dispatch. We then marched out and took our position in line of battle about three miles from Williamsport, on a hill in a ploughed field on the east side of the turnpike, here again I regret to say some of our regiment skedaddled; subsequently a regt. of Maryland volunteers (3 year men) who were encamped there were formed in line on our left and the 3rd Militia on our right. Thus we stood awaiting events. We remained by our arms nearly all evening, and just before dark the danger apparently over we stacked muskets and rushed for a neighboring hay stack to get something to lie upon as we had not yet been in the service long enough to bring our minds to lying upon the ploughed ground. We sent a couple of men in to our old camp to bring out some coffee after which we lay upon our arms, [“for the night” scratched out] not knowing what was to happen. We heard artillery firing until after dark, after a little while we stacked arms and bivouacked for the night. during the evening all the farmers in the neighborhood left their homes with their wagons loaded with their movable articles. Expecting I have no doubt that their farms would be a battle field, before morning.

            About midnight we were aroused, and ordered to take our arms quietly, making as little noise as possible. The excitement ran pretty high, as we expected the rebel vanguard to be upon us at any moment. In fact the excitement was so great that a few more skedaddled; as we stood there in line. Every one peering into the darkness we had twenty additional rounds of cartridge given us, which we fully expected to use before morning. We looked in vain however, for the sun rose, and found us still in the same position, and the enemy not in sight. During the night we had a despatch [sic] from General McClelland [sic] (or purporting to be such) read to us stating that he had reliable intelligence that the enemy about 1000 strong with one piece of artillery had crossed into Maryland at Williamsport, that he intended to send a force of 2,000 infantry, four squadrons of cavalry, and a battery of artillery. Which were to arrive as soon after day light as practicable, and that it would be well for General Reynolds to co-operate, with his militia, so that the whole rebel force might be captured. Of course we were jubilant at the idea of capturing some rebels, especially as there were only about one thousand of them. All excitement however died away before morning, and we began to doubt whether the rebels had really crossed the Potomac or not.

- John Witmer

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