Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Battle of the Wilderness - May 6

Day two of fighting in the Wilderness witnessed some of the Civil War's most desperate combat. The following account was left by Private Henry H. Frary, a former farmer who had been drafted into Union service 10 months before. Frary was a member of the 97th New York Infantry, which was in Gen. Henry Baxter's Brigade, Robinson's Division of Warren's (pictured) V Corps.

"On the morning of the 6th, firing began as the first light of day showered through the trees. Soon after sunrise a charge was ordered along the whole line covered by the 5th corps. As we drove the enemy from the line they had occupied the evening before, we could see the evidence that our fire had been effective as there were dead men laying all about. Just in the rear of a large tree were six bodies fairly piled one on another.

Just before we reached the plank road, I was struck by a spent ball on the left knee, cutting through the pants and flesh, striking my knee cap, cracking it, and causing me to measure my length on the ground. On getting up, and finding that I was all together, I continued on with the line. We struck the [Orange Plank] road at an angle and wheeled slightly to the right, still driving the enemy. Men on both sides were falling, either a question of a little time when we would entirely destroy each other. Finally we came to a halt as we reached a line of their works and they opened up a battery from front and right oblique on us, at close range, with terrible effect. One shell which exploded just to my right caused three deaths and three others were wounded. Two of the dead were twin brothers by the name of Fisher.

Just after that, as I was with right knee on the ground, resting left elbow on left knee, and aiming my Enfield at Johnny standing at the right end of our ambulance, a shell exploded above and so close to my head that I heard that rending of the iron of the shell. A piece of it struck my gun on the stock, knocking it out of my hands, and hit the side of my shoe as it reached the ground. At this same instant, I felt that my whole left side was torn out. It was one awful terrible agonizing sensation as though all creation had fallen upon me, crushing and tearing my body apart, piece by piece. My first thought was that the piece of shell had gone through my body. The concussion from the shell had partly thrown me back so that when I straightened up partially, the blood gushed out of my mouth and nose as though pumped.

My captain ordered two men, W. H. Gray and Columbus W. Ford, to carry me back to the rear and stay with me. We started back, they carrying me as best they could, by holding me up under my arms. That was agonizing to me so begged them to lay me down so I could die in peace. Even then I was wondering that I could be conscious when I was torn open as I supposed I was. They sat me down by the side of the road. We could see and hear shells come tearing down the road and through the woods. I was still bleeding from nose and mouth. With others' help they boys carried me back a ways. When I was becoming faint, I begged them to lay me down, which they did. I bid them goodby as my vision dimmed, supposing that for me it was the last of earth. Thoughts of my wife and children back at home came to mind. With a mental power that God would care for them, I became unconscious. The boys returned to the company and reported me dead. In the field report of those terrible days, I was so reported. (While being carried back, Gray had unbuttoned my clothes and found a bullet sticking about half way our of my back and found a hole in my neck.)

Toward sundown I recovered consciousness so far as to understand that I was yet in the land of suffering and living."

Realizing one's mortality while on a battlefield must have been terrifying. Perhaps Frary hoped for death to ease the pain of his terrible wounds, but somehow he survived, spending the next nine months in a military hospital.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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