One of the "Crazy Delawares" Captured at Chancellorsville
The 2nd Delaware Volunteers, the first three-years regiment raised in the state, was not solely a Delaware affair: three of its companies (B, D, and G) had been raised among the German population of Philadelphia while Co. C had been raised in Elkton, Maryland. The balance of the companies was raised around Wilmington, Delaware, with a large and vocal Irish contingent among the volunteers. The regimental flag carried the regimental nickname of “The Crazy Delawares,” a name given them by their brigade comrades for their reckless bravery at the Battle of Antietam.
Serving among the “crazy Delawares” was Adjutant Charles J. Smith (also spelled as Smyth) who enlisted with the Elkton company as a lieutenant in 1861 and by the spring of 1863 had been appointed as adjutant of the regiment. On May 3rd, 1863, he was ordered to lead a detachment of 75 men to the skirmish line where the confusion of combat among the dense growth of the Wilderness led to roughly half the men, including Smith, being swiftly captured.
“At about noon there was heavy fighting on our right; our detail was under a fierce fire of shell and bullets for, I should judge, an hour or more; the sharpshooters hit several of my men, one from Co. G and one from Co. B, when suddenly some men were seen running from our right to the rear. My men wanted to do the same but I drew a bead on the leader and threatened to shoot him if he did not return which he did. I had no orders to fall back and therefore told them it was time to run when I said so. The 66th New York officers then told their men to fall back; my men being mixed with them also fell back, no doubt many of them reached our lines safe; but Lieutenant Jones, 36 men, and myself to my knowledge were taken prisoners, together with many officers and men of other commands including Brigadier General William Hays and staff, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, first and second lieutenants to the number of 136. My sword I surrendered to a lieutenant in the 4th Georgia,” he wrote.
During the Chancellorsville campaign, the 2nd Delaware was part of Colonel John R. Brooke’s Fourth Brigade of General Winfield S. Hancock’s First Division of General Darius N. Couch’s 2nd Army Corps.
Upon his exchange, Smith wrote this lengthy letter describing the campaign and his brief experiences in the Confederate prison camp system. Adjutant Smith’s letter first appeared in the May 30, 1863, edition of the Cecil Whig published in Elkton, Maryland.
American House, Annapolis, Maryland
May 25, 1863
I thought a few lines from the 2nd Delaware would be very acceptable, so I think it my duty to let you know our whereabouts with a few items of our doings, etc. prior to our capture. The regiment left camp near Falmouth on April 28th at 6 a.m. for the right; marched some two hours then we supposed we would encamp for the night; raining all the afternoon; left camp at 9 p.m. for fatigue duty; 1,000 men threw up breastworks opposite Rebel batteries which were in sight; almost finished our part when relieved at 10 p.m.; arrived at old campground 12 midnight.
April 29: Left camp 2 p.m., marched some six miles and encamped in the woods for the night; our regiment worked hard, though heavy details were made all around.
April 30: Left camp at 8 a.m., marched three miles through the mud; then regiment was then detailed to dig the pontoons out of the mud, assist in laying them, etc. The first bridge was completed by 12 midnight without our forces being molested; after all the troops having crossed, our regiment working hard; it was ordered across at 8 p.m. marching until 11 p.m. when we arrived up to our new lines; many prisoners were captured and conducted to the rear which gratified us all.
May 1: Remained in camp in quietness until noon when heavy cannonading commenced in our front; all ready, waiting for orders; received orders at 1 p.m. to go to the front; did not get engaged; after remaining there some two hours we were sent to the rear for purposes not known; infantry were engaged and many wounded on both sides; at dusk our brigade was ordered to the front; we supported the pickets and skirmishers all night; the Rebels shelled us from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and though they had good range of us, not a man was hit; we were relieved at daylight but only to make a flank movement.
May 2: Made the move in the woods to the left and formed in line of battle awaiting the enemy’s approach; 7:30 a.m. heavy cannonading commenced on our right; our division and brigade batteries were engaged; we immediately threw up breastworks, dug rifle pits, etc. all along our lines; at noon most of the regiment was sent out on picket; pickets and skirmishers firing all the afternoon; the Rebels shelled our breastworks but did us no damage; remaining portion of our regiment lying in the works, awaiting the enemy advance; our pickets were engaged off and on all day; the enemy advanced in force trying to carry our works but were repulsed every time; our regiment lost two men wounded.
|A period view showing the tangle of thickets and trees characteristic of the Wilderness and Chancellorsville.|
May 3: Sunday morning-shortly after daybreak I was ordered on picket with Lieutenants Ephraim Jordan (Co. C) and Henry H. Jones (Co. K) and 75 men; I had command of the detail; after reporting and forming on the left of the 145th Pennsylvania Volunteers by order of Major Scott, I was informed by the Lieutenant Colonel commanding the regiment (William P. Bailey) that we were the reserve, but in a few minutes firing commenced on our left and I was ordered to send one third of my detail in; I immediately did so in command of Lieutenant Jones.
In about ten minutes after firing commenced in my front, I was ordered in by Lieutenant Colonel Bailey; I advanced my men in line and before coming to the rifle pits, deployed them, the sharpshooters firing close and quick on us. Here Lieutenant Jordan of Co. C was shot in the breast while in the act of sitting down; he walked off the field; at about noon there was heavy fighting on our right; our detail was under a fierce fire of shell and bullets for, I should judge, an hour or more; the sharpshooters hit several of my men, one from Co. G and one from Co. B, when suddenly some men were seen running from our right to the rear. My men wanted to do the same but I drew a bead on the leader and threatened to shoot him if he did not return which he did. I had no orders to fall back and therefore told them it was time to run when I said so.
The 66th New York officers then told their men to fall back; my men being mixed with them also fell back, no doubt many of them reached our lines safe; but Lieutenant Jones, 36 men, and myself to my knowledge were taken prisoners, together with many officers and men of other commands including Brigadier General (William) Hays and staff, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, first and second lieutenants to the number of 136. My sword I surrendered to a lieutenant in the 4th Georgia. A captain of the 66th New York by that time came up when a private stepped out to him and said he wanted his sword, the captain told him he could not have it but that he would give it to his captain, at which the private took hold of him with his left hand and struck him a stunning blow with his right hand, felling him to the ground; all this was done in front of his regiment, officers and men looking at the brute without saying a word, and the poor fellow without anything or anybody to defend him.
|General William Hays|
We then took up our line of march for Richmond with the disagreeable odor of Rebels at our sides in the shape of guards, but blackguards they were; reaching the plank road, we were hurried up and greeted by ‘Here comes the damned Yankees, kill them!’ ‘How’s Fighting Joe?’ ‘Has he crossed the river?’ Marched some five miles and encamped for the night; we passed over the battleground which our forces held an hour or two previous and such a sight I never before witnessed; the killed and wounded were actually lying in heaps, the Rebs two to our one; our grape and canister had done their work.
May 4: Started at daylight via plank road for Richmond; did not walk fast owing to some being sick and wounded; encamped early to start again at dusk; started and marched about two miles with cavalry guarding us; they sent out scouts; one in a short time came flying back and spoke in secret to the officers; we were halted and turned back; the reasons for their doing this was that they came across some of our cavalry; had they kept on, I have no doubt that we would have been recaptured; nothing to eat, as the Confederates stripped our men of nearly everything.
May 5: Started about 9 a.m. for Guinea Station; nothing to eat; bought some ginger nuts at $1.50 per pint; arrived at Spotsylvania Court House about dusk; officers and men were confined inside the yard with guard on the outside; we were subject to snarls and yells of the Rebels until bedtime.
May 6: Was awakened early for another start; officers were treated well by those in charge of them, furnished gratis with a drink of peach brandy Capt. Beck of the 44th Georgia had us in charge; arrived at Guinea Station at 2 p.m. with nothing to eat; our men suffering for food, God knows how the Rebs stand it as they had nothing for some time; the roads were lined with Confederate wounded- never saw so many; the ambulances, wagons, etc. were going to and from hospitals continually; commenced raining in torrents shortly after our arrival, we poor devils without any shelter and full of dust; very few had any shelter at all; at night, 20 of us with one guard had the liberty to leave the camp to hunt up shelter; all succeeded except another and myself; had we known the road, we could have made our escape; at last we went into a hospital, sat up out of the rain, drank a canteen of whiskey a steward stole for us and returned to camp early.
May 7: Were told we would start early in the cars for Richmond, but they were loaded with wounded; stormed nearly all day and was bitter cold; at 4 p.m., the officers were ordered to fall in for the cars to Richmond; raining very heavy; stood waiting at the cars to get in until 11 p.m. when ‘all aboard’ was cried; one half then returned to camp to stand in water ankle and waist deep in places; we received that afternoon, I forgot to mention, one pint of flour and about a quarter pound of salt horse; made lead cakes and had a meal for the first time since our capture.
May 8: Officers aboard the cars for Richmond; the poor men had to foot it, notwithstanding many of them could have ridden; arrived in Richmond at 5 p.m., streets crowded with Confederates who threw many insulting remarks at us such as ‘Damn Yankees,’ ‘Got to Richmond at last,’ etc. Was conducted into Libby Warehouse and by 8 p.m. all hands were searched; such as coffee and sugar they confiscated, all money over $10 was also taken; names registered once more (making the sixth time), and then consigned to different rooms and floors; nothing to eat as usual; it was pretty clean considering the bunks were two here and there.
|Colonel John R. Brooke|
May 9: Slept tolerably well; 9 a.m. half allowance of fresh bread for two meals was brought to us with some flitch. Many Confederates visited us during the day; a captain (a minister) had prayer at 5 p.m. which was a very appropriate one for us as prisoners of war, our rights, country, Union, etc. Some visitors garbed in brilliant Confederate uniforms through ignorance or contempt talked aloud.
May 10: Sunday-all well, the same rations as usual, which was really barely enough for one meal; we slept the greater part of the time to forget hunger; one officer remarked ‘Oh, that I only had an end of my mother’s dishcloth to suck at! How much better would I feel!’ Had divine service at 10 a.m., full attendance without being disturbed; sang Union hymns, etc.; after that was over, looked at the ladies, I was looking out when an officer below cried out ‘Keep your damn Yankee head in there if you do not want a ball put through it!’ I complied with his ungrateful request, giving him a hateful smile; not having enough to eat, sent out for bread, coffee, eggs, etc. at outlandish prices; ground parched corn labeled ‘family coffee’ at $1 per pound; eggs $2 per dozen, one half rotten. In the evening, our men arrived afoot and a war-worn dirty looking set they were, but not half as hard as the Confederates, and nevertheless I saw with my own eyes those sneaking Butternuts take the clothing from our dead men’s bodies and their shoes before they were actually done kicking.
May 11: All well; received eggs and sugar at $1.50 per pound and black at that; Confederates visited us during the day; in the evening, had prayer, singing patriotic hymns; during the morning, we received the Rebel papers (1/2 sheet for 20 cents) announcing ‘Jackson’s death,’ the paper bordered and lined with heavy deep black.
May 12: Arose early, quite refreshed; received the morning papers denouncing the Yanks, resolutions on the death of Stonewall, stores to be closed, Confederate Home Guards and strangers invited to join in the procession from place to place; the Yankees will not have the chance of seeing him go to hell; received half a loaf, 3 cents worth of bread for the day, ½ pound of liver to be divided between four hearty men; potatoes selling at $16 per bushel, flour at 20 cents per pound. Nothing of interest transpired during the day; bought 3 cent loaves of bread, 3 mouthfuls at 15 cents each; shaving, with a wash yourself, 25 cents, prayer in the evening; retired about 9 p.m.;
May 13: All hands awakened by a Confederate sergeant and told to prepare as we would start for City Point at 3 a.m.; coffee was cooked and the last meal eaten we supposed at 3 a.m.; no one came with the good news to ‘fall in’ so we took another nap; slept till 9 a.m. with no signs of a move; started at 3 p.m. and marched three hours in pitch darkness, mud, rain, thunder, and lightning; encamped after marching 16 miles but only for a rest as all were much fatigued.
May 14: We started early; ate a good meal at Petersburg, Virginia and treated tolerable; citizens quiet, except one old man who was in second childhood or something else and urged his little one to strike every officer who passed with a Secesh rag; arrived at City Point, distance 32 miles, in 15 hours; seven flag of truce boats were there awaiting us, also some 500 Confederates exchanged; got on board the S.R. Spaulding at 3 p.m.; nothing of note but good accommodations, plenty of food with champagne to rinse it down.
May 15: Breakfast at 8 a.m., more for 50 cents than in Richmond for $10; stopped at Fortress Monroe an hour or more for orders; passed several of our own and English men-of-war, and two of what are called ‘devils;’ passed a prize schooner loaded with cotton in tow of a gunboat.
May 16: Arrived in Annapolis, Maryland at 6 a.m., officers boarding at the hotels, awaiting accommodations at Camp Parole; ordered to report daily at 9 a.m. The men are at camp, some 11 of the Big Elk Rangers who were unfortunately captured with me are here; all are well and hearty and join in sending their respects. I am very sorry indeed that Lieutenant Jordan met his death there as he was one of the bravest in his country’s cause, and always did his duty without flinching.
Letter from Adjutant Charles J. Smith, Co. C, 2nd Delaware Volunteer Infantry, Cecil Whig (Elkton, Maryland), May 30, 1863, pg. 2
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