Eyewitness to War: A Confederate Soldier’s Account of the Civil War | HistoryNet MENU

Eyewitness to War: A Confederate Soldier’s Account of the Civil War

By Cara F. Griggs
4/6/2016 • Civil War Times Magazine

‘I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up for a month’: Charlie Baughman’s Civil War.

Whether by luck or misfortune, Charlie Baughman did not witness the battles that are often associated with the experiences of a Confederate soldier from Virginia. Instead, he spent most of the war in southwestern Virginia—first with the 21st Virginia Infantry and then with the Otey Battery—anticipating battles but only occasionally experiencing skirmishes. His battery was transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia in 1864 and stationed in the trenches of Petersburg, but he was on sick leave during the most significant event in which his unit participated: the Battle of the Crater. He even forfeited the opportunity to be present at the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. Fortunately, the record of Baughman’s somewhat uncommon experiences has been preserved through 63 of his letters that are now a part of The Museum of the Confederacy’s Baughman Family Collection.

Charles Christian Baughman was born in Baltimore on August 8, 1842, the third of the five surviving children of Pennsylvania-born George Baughman and Louisiana-born Mary Jane Greer Baughman. In the late 1840s,the family relocated near Salem, Va. At the outbreak of the Civil War, they were living in Richmond.

On April 21, 1861, Charlie Baughman and his brothers Greer and George (the latter resided in Amite County, Miss.) enlisted in the elite F Company of the 1st Regiment Virginia Volunteers. The Baughman brothers did not have long to wait before their first encounter with the Federals. On May 31,Baughman described a skirmish with a Union gunboat on Aquia Creek: “We had a little fight here day before yesterday evening. In the morning we had captured a little sloop with two men, and in the evening a steamer hove in sight and made for the battery with the intention, we thought, of retaking the sloop. She fired two shot[s] at the battery before we answered, the first shot was a canister and passed over the heads of a company that was drilling on the beach, the other fell fifty yards short of the shore, then our battery opened its fire and continued firing until it was to dark to fire any more about there were 12 shots fired from our battery and 15 from the ship which they say is the Pawnee. We were at our camp when the firing commenced and got under arms immediately and marched to within half a mile of the battery so as to be ready if they attempted to land, our gunner says that three of his shots struck her, he is certain that a shell struck on her deck and killed some of her men.”

F Company was mustered into Confederate service as Company F, 21st Virginia Infantry, three weeks later on June 20, 1861.Seven days later, George Baughman resigned and eventually aided the Confederate effort through quartermaster work. Greer Baughman transferred to Company C of the Hampden Artillery Battery in July. Charlie Baughman opted to remain with his company, marched to western Virginia and became a part of the Army of the Northwest.

Like so many new recruits, Charlie soon fell ill. On October 22, Baughman wrote: “I left a week ago to-day to join my regiment and after traveling two days and making only twelve miles, I broke down and laid up at a house for two more days at the expiration of which time I put my Knapsack in a wagon which was coming this way and came back. Now dear Ma please don’t be alarmed for I only broke down from weakness having left here before I was able to carry my knapsack. I suffered very much too from a pain in my breast, when I walk far or exert myself much I cannot draw a long breath without very severe pain. When I got here I found that I had also the Yellow Jaundice which you Know is nothing at all….I think my dear mother that if you would come up here you might get me a discharge and if Minnie is well enough I should like very much to see you up here….” Several months later, Baughman received his medical discharge at Romney and left the regiment. If he had remained in the 21st Virginia Infantry, he would have become one of “Stonewall” Jackson’s Foot Cavalry and taken part in the familiar campaigns of the Eastern Theater.

Unwilling to remain a civilian for long, Charlie Baughman opted to reenlist in another elite Richmond unit—the Otey Battery—on March 24,1862.His opinions of his new unit, named after commander Captain George Gaston Otey, are evident in a letter of May 9, in which he discouraged his father from allowing his younger brother, Emilius, to join the artillery unit: “He wants me to ask Capt Otey if he will receive any more recruits, in a[n]swer to that I would say that Lieut Walker is in Richmond and receiving recruits but I would advise him not to join as Capt Otey is very strict and I Know that he would get into a fuss with him, Pa you Know Em’s disposition and if I were in your place I would advise him against joining any company commanded by a man like Capt Otey, and besides we are in a very bad country and I dont think he could stand it.”

The Otey Battery, like the 21st Virginia Infantry, was stationed in western Virginia, this time under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry Heth. The battery’s first significant engagement was at Giles Court House, on May 10, 1862. Five days later, Baughman reported on the battle: “We had a fight last Saturday at Giles C.H. and routed them completely and drove them six miles to this place which is on New River where it runs through a gap in the mountains, we had marched all night the night before the fight and were very much fatigued but as soon as the picketts commenced firing I felt as fresh as I ever did in my life, our gun was the first to open and the last gun that was fired, the enemys loss as reported to Genl. was about 150 in Killed, wounded & missing, our loss was very small none of our Co was injured.”

The Confederates did not always win their battles, however. On May 31,Baughman wrote to his brother Emilius: “You have doubtless heard of our defeat at Lewisburg on the 23d inst, we were certainly very badly whipped. I have heard bullets whistle before but never in the whole course of my life have I heard them sound as they did at Lewisburg.” General Heth’s failure to avenge the loss by avoiding a skirmish several weeks later did nothing to endear him to his troops. Baughman wrote in a letter of June 26: “You see that through the cowardice of Genl Heth we have made a most disgraceful retreat when we could not only have whipped the villians easily but could have retaken our artillery. The troops despise Heth and if we had our way with him would shoot him….Oh! if we could just get hold of them we would make them suffer for it. It will not be long before we will have an opportunity of fighting them again for [Colonel John] McCausland is not the man to ‘back out.’”

The autumn brought the Kanawha Valley campaign and the departure of General Heth, both of which Baughman welcomed. He wrote in a letter to his mother on August 11: “I think from all I can see and hear that we will make an advance movement down the Kanawha Valley very soon, I hope we will for I am very tired of staying in camp without anything to do except drill and stand guard.” Despite initial success, the Confederates ultimately lost the Kanawha Valley to the Federals.

For the remainder of 1862 and for all of 1863, the Otey Battery (which became Company A of the 13th Battalion Virginia Light Artillery in the autumn of 1863) did not participate in any major battles. Baughman wrote to his mother on April 25, 1863, “There is actually nothing to write about, everything looks so dull and disagreeable that I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up for a month.”

The Otey Battery finally left southwestern Virginia in May 1864 when it was transferred from the Department of East Tennessee to the Army of Northern Virginia. The unit moved east and took up position in the trenches of Petersburg, where it remained until November. The monotony of life in the trenches gave Baughman the opportunity to provide his family with frequent letters that detailed life in the military and opinions on the progress of the war.

On September 23—a couple of weeks after returning to camp following a two month bout with chronic diarrhea— Baughman took the time to describe for his mother what it was like to live and work in the trenches: “We get up in the morning at half past five, then draw straws to see who shall bring a bucket of water from the spring, which is in the trenches about two hundred yards from our gun, then as soon as the water is brought we all wash our faces and comb our hair and then commence cooking breakfast, we have our bread cooked in camp and the rest of our rations we cook out here ourselves, every two or three men have a frying pan and all of us have ‘coffee cups’ which are tin cups that hold about a quart, in these we boil our tea, coffee, potatoes, rice, beans, beef stews or anything else that we may have to cook: in the frying pan we cook our bacon, fry potatoes, apples &c. then after washing up the dishes we commence policing, or in other words, sweeping up the house and after everything is cleaned up, about nine O’clock, we Kill time the best way we can until dinner time, which is about four O’- clock in the evening. We finish eating and cleaning up by five O’clock.

“About dark they send to us for a working detail and those who are so fortunate as not to be detailed sit around together and talk and smoke until bed time, about 8 O’c’k, when all of us turn in to be wakened up by the guard at 5 the next morning.

“The working detail generally finish their labors about mid-night when they also go to bed.

“We have very little work to do in the day time on account of the sharpshooters, but at night they can’t see us.

“I am not subject to any of these details, being a non commish in fact I never work except when we have something to do at my own gun and then I take my share of it of course….During the day we amuse ourselves by watching the effect of our shells and [those of] the Yankees which are flying over us all day long, the Yankees never fire at our first line so we do not fear the shells at all they always fire at our second line which is three or four hundred yards in rear of our line.”

As the war progressed and the Confederacy found itself in desperate need of troops, the government contemplated enlisting blacks. Baughman weighed in on this issue in an October 23 letter to his father: “In regard to arming the negroes, I must differ with you….I am perfectly willing that they should be put into the army as wagon drivers cooks, engineers &c, but I never want one to fight side by side with me. The army would not submit to it, half if not more than half would lay down their [g]uns if they were forced to fight with negroes. I have heard a great many soldiers express their opinions on the subject, but have not heard a single one who said that he was in favor of it, in fact they were nearly unanimous in saying that they would desert rather than serve with them. I think that it is the worst measure that could be proposed and I hope that it will not be brought before Congress at all but if it is I hope and trust that its rejection will be unanimous. But if Congress does pass such a bill they will sound th[e] death Knell of the Confederacy.”

On November 1,Baughman mused over the upcoming presidential election in the North: “The line of election of President is near at hand and after a week or two we can form a better opinion as to the duration of the war. I hope that McClellan will be elected but am afraid that Lincoln has the Yankee Nation so completely under his control that he will force them to put him in again. A very short time will decide it now and in the meanwhile we must hope for the best.”

Lieutenant Colonel Edgar F. Moseley’s Artillery Battalion replaced the 13th Battalion in the trenches on November 6.Two days later, the 13th set up camp southwest of Petersburg, the Otey Battery occupying Camp Walker. According to Baughman’s letter of November 13,“We find the change from the trenches to camp very agreeable indeed, I enjoy taking off my shoes at night as much as any thing else.” The unit faced only skirmishes for the next few months.

On February 6, 1865, Baughman wrote to his mother that “[I]t is true that some of the men are discouraged and ready to give up but that feeling is not so widely spread… the great majority of us determined never to submit.” Despite his confidence, the Otey Battery surrendered at Lynchburg just after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and Charlie Baughman was paroled on May 16, 1865, in Richmond.

Following the war, Charlie Baughman remained in Richmond, married Harrisonburg native Williette Harrison Stevens and founded Baughman Brothers, Stationer and Printers. He also became active in Confederate veterans organizations as a member of R.E. Lee Camp No.1,United Confederate Veterans, and through attending reunions of the Otey Battery. Charles Christian Baughman died in Richmond on March 3, 1909.

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