Note: The following is a
second excerpt from the recently published novel
Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War
by Max R. Terman and appears here through the courtesy of the
author. (The first excerpt was
Andersonville’s Whirlpool of Death.) Private Hiram Terman was
captured at Gettysburg, sent to Andersonville—and survived! What
would that have been like? Based on over ten years of research, Max
Terman, Hiram’s descendant, revisits the camps, battlegrounds, and
prisons and writes as if he were Private Terman of the 82nd Ohio
Infantry in this fact-based, first person account.
In this excerpt, Private Terman
and the 82nd Ohio make their way with the 11th Corps from Emmitsburg,
Maryland to Gettysburg, where on July 1, 1863, they engage the
Confederate army that had invaded Pennsylvania. After the
embarrassment at Chancellorsville, they yearned for redemption and
honor. What happened was unthinkable.
As we followed the First Division
troops, it became clear that we would be slowed down by the wagons
and artillery. Our officers then directed us onto the Taneytown Road
to Gettysburg, a town about thirteen miles away. This route was two
miles longer but was unimpeded by slow wagons. Amidst on and off
showers we hurried on slipping and sliding on the muddy road and
slugging through swollen streams and marshy lowlands.
When we crossed into Pennsylvania
our bands started to play and cheering citizens gathered along the
road. The Pennsylvania regiments dipped their flags and cheered
loudly for their home state. The scene sent chills down my spine and
my heart raced within me.
About 11 a. m. we heard the first
faint sounds of artillery up at Gettysburg. The battle was under
way. Where would we come in? What would we be asked to do? The
clouds rumbled and rain came down hard. The ammunition in my
cartridge box, was it staying dry? Should be all right, I had
wrapped it in an oilcloth when I packed this morning.
“On the double, men, hurry. The
battle is on and you are needed!” yelled an officer on horseback.
Our officers constantly urged us
on, to close up ranks, and increase our pace to a run. Men fell out
but were quickly met by members of the Provost Guard and herded back
A man who had fallen started to
swear and resist the guards, claiming to be “all used up and
couldn’t go on”. An officer approached him, pulled out his pistol,
placed it at full cock, and ordered the soldier back in line.
“Get up or I will shoot you!”
yelled the officer. I raced by and was soon too far away to hear
what happened but I did not hear any pistol shots. My legs ached, my
head was dizzy, and my sides felt like they had been stabbed but I
continued to run, and run, and run. Oh dear God, give me strength.
I watched the feet of the soldier
in front and mechanically placed one foot in front of the next, not
thinking, just going forward, the sounds of canon growing louder as
we raced toward Gettysburg.
About a mile from Gettysburg we
mercifully stopped. Beside us was a grove of ripe cherry trees. Some
men dropped their knapsacks and gawked at the trees, licking their
lips between gasps. Instantly a mounted officer came up and shouted,
“Halt, no time men, no time for that. Get back in your ranks!”
Grumbling and swearing the men stayed in line, frequently looking
back at the trees bent over with their red fruit.
Around noon another cloudburst
opened up on us. I tried to catch the water running down my face
with my tongue but the small amount garnered was just a frustration.
As we came up the Taneytown Road, I could see the town of Gettysburg
in the distance, a long blue line of soldiers flowing down its
streets. The sounds of battle became louder.
Suddenly the sun emerged like a
spotlight, piercing the clouds, highlighting the landscape. From our
ridge, we surveyed the town and the rim of hills to the north of
Gettysburg. White puffs of smoke dotted the hills as cannons fired
from the wooded slopes. We ran by a gathering of officers where men
and horses scurried about carrying messages. We then descended the
slope into the town.
Citizens lined the streets, some
with buckets of water, others with loaves of bread and cakes. We
kept running, our officers shouting, “For God’s sake, men, hurry,
the enemy is coming down on us from those hills!”
I spied a man with a bucket of
water and a cup. He was an older man with a round face framed by a
white beard. “Here young man, take this!” I grabbed the cup, gulped
down the water and threw the cup back to him. Coughing, I kept
running. The knapsack on my back sunk into my numb shoulders.
A young woman with a loaf of bread
came into my view, about twenty yards ahead. Her eyes met mine and I
reached for the bread. My hands went right through her arms and I
knocked her backward. “Sorry!” I yelled and looked back as I bit
into the bread and continued jogging. She waved and yelled, “God go
with you soldier!”
As we went through the town, wagons
and artillery were everywhere. The First Corps was on the hills and
ridges to the west of town. The smoke and roar of battle rolled in
from that direction, engulfing us.
As we ran on, some cavalry officers
yelled, “General Reynolds is killed! General Reynolds is killed!”
Reynolds commanded the First Corps and was highly regarded, one of
the best generals we have—or had. Stunned officers surrounded the
We headed for the north of town, came to a slight rise and then ran
down to an orchard where the blue lines of our brigade were
gathering. We were off to the left of the major road that went north
out of Gettysburg.
To our front and left were a group
of our cannons unlimbering and preparing to fire on the Rebel
batteries positioned on a rise called Oak Hill, about a mile away.
To our far left, the storms of battle raged, the sounds rolled over
us in smoky, pulsating waves. Our officers told us to stop and rest.
“Drop your packs here boys, pick ‘em up later.” The officer was
Captain Costin of our company. Dropping my load felt good and relief
flowed through my aching muscles.
Seth dropped his knapsack and began
to hunt through its contents. “Better hang onto your oilcloth,
Hiram—we may not make it back here.” I immediately pulled out my
rubber blanket, rolled it, and slung it around my shoulder, tying it
off at my waist. I checked my neck to see if my metal identity tag
was with me. It was. I felt it anxiously with my fingertips as I
checked the chaos around me.
Our band began playing a spunky
tune called The Yankees are coming. Cheers emerged from the mass of
blue troops now tightly packed in this orchard of fruit trees. The
roll was called. Band members went to the rear to help the ambulance
corps. “Now I wish I would have listened to my mother when she
wanted me to play the trumpet,” murmured Seth as the band members
“Terman?” yelled Captain Costin.
“Here!” I proclaimed, relieved that
I was able to speak in the excitement. All around me, men were
kneeling and praying.
My view here was much more expanded
and panoramic, even more than on Henry Hill at Second Bull Run. In
front of me in clear definition were farms, roads, fences, and open
plains. I saw the encircling ridge around the west, north, and
eastern boundary of Gettysburg.
Looking to my right in the open
fields, I noticed lines of blue troops forming columns and deploying
in lines of battle. A small creek snaked its way along the far right
In the distance, I saw lines of
gray soldiers appear on the horizon and march down the slopes toward
us. The Confederate batteries on Oak Hill began firing. I saw the
distant belches of smoke, heard the muffled explosions, and cringed
as shells screamed through the air and fell among us. “Oh God, it
begins!” exclaimed Isaiah.
A cannon ball bounced along the
ground and hit a soldier to my right. His leg with the shoe attached
spun through the air like a boomerang, landing against a cannon
wheel. The mass of blue gasped. Isaiah, Seth, and I dropped to our
hands and knees, rising again when we saw others standing
unflinching near us.
The severely wounded man twisted
round and round on the ground, emitting but one short scream before
succumbing. Another four men off to my right fell in sequence as
another cannon ball bounced through our ranks.
“O God, be with us,” whispered
Isaiah as he watched the horrid scene. Officers walked among us
calling, “Stay calm, boys, there is no safe place—one spot is as
good as another!”
“The hell it is,” muttered Seth as
he looked around. “God help us here in this spot!” I looked at
Isaiah, surprised at Seth’s reverent reference to God.
Our battery in front of us fired
back at the Confederate cannons. The sound deafened our ears,
causing them to ring. I saw the shell explode in the distance near
the Rebel guns on Oak Hill. We all began to breathe a little easier.
Our respite ended as Rebel guns to
our right now began firing. Again, the shells exploded and plowed
through our ranks. The screaming of the wounded produced a wave of
absolute fear and I could barely breathe. I dropped to the ground
and clawed at the mulch around an apple tree. Seth and Isaiah were
lying close beside me, our faces frozen in fear.
“Get up you men, orders to move are
forthcoming!” Ashamed, all three of us stood, adjusted our hats, and
tightly gripped our rifles.
Ahead of us to our front and left
we could see enemy troops approaching in a line, then retreat back
to their former positions. Cheers erupted. “By God, the Johnnies are
retreating!” yelled a man off to my right. Groups of men lurched
forward, spurred on by the retreating line of Confederates. Seth
grabbed my arm and leaned close. “That does not look right. Why
would the Rebs be backing off already? We’re not even going at
Krzyzanowski, our brigade commander
rode by and yelled. “Stay here men! The enemy is trying to lure us
out from our supporting lines and destroy us by pieces! Stay put,
don’t move until ordered!”
To our right in the open fields in
front of a building used for the poor and destitute of Gettysburg
(Alms House), hundreds of soldiers were now fully engaged with the
advancing Rebel troops coming from the north and east.
Horses pulling cannons rushed up
and groups of Union soldiers ran this way and that. Suddenly bullets
flew among us and men fell randomly. I was inexplicably calm as I
waited the turn of the 82nd Ohio to move forward.
A brief thought passed my mind. I
was a witness to history. The scene before me was horrible and
awesome at the same time. Thousands struggled with each other, the
battle lines surged back and forth, and the sound was deafening. The
god of war raged and strutted in front of me.
To my far right, a brigade left the
main battle line and isolated itself just as we had been warned
against. Kriz, our brigade commander, started yelling. “What is
going on up there? Why is that brigade advancing? That is just what
the Rebs want, to get us out from our supports? Who is that?”
An officer to his side reported.
“Those are Barlow’s men, sir, they must be trying to take the rise
ahead of them.” Astonished, Kriz rode off no doubt looking for a
superior officer. We were still packed in columns in the orchard,
ready to advance.
mid-afternoon on July 1, 1863. The 82nd Ohio was in the
Krzyzanowski brigade. (Map by Hal Jespersen,
Soon our Colonel Robinson appeared
in front of us and began shouting. “The 82nd Ohio will move up to
that open field to the right and form the left flank.” He rode his
horse in front of us oblivious to the whistling Minnie balls that
now filled the air. Our brigade advanced in tightly packed columns.
I felt the elbows of Seth to my left and Isaiah to my right. We
reached a fence that the men in front of us had torn down. Next we
crossed the road and out into the open plain.
Enemy cannons on our left and right
fired at our advancing blue lines. The exploding shells spread us
out like a spilled bottle of ink. The scream of a shell passed over
my head curling my spine. Soon, as before in battle, a quietness
enveloped my being. I left the present and was now behind a mule
plowing the field north of the barn back in Rome, Ohio. My feet
continued to carry me through the enveloping curtain of smoke, my
eyes burned, but still I saw the plow blade break through the rich
Ohio sod. I was there and here at the same time.
Another shell came over my head and
exploded beyond me. The force flattened me against the Pennsylvania
soil. Rocky, not as much topsoil as in the Buckeye state. The roar
of battle rolled over me. I was here not there. Through a cloud of
smoke, I saw the feet and legs of hundreds of advancing men in
“Deploy to the right company F,”
yelled one of our officers, pulling at his horse, which refused to
move. We ran behind another line of soldiers firing directly into
the lines of the enemy. Through the gaps, I saw the faces of
individual enemy soldiers and heard their shouts.
“Let them have it boys!” An officer
to my right shouted as he raced along waving his sword. A volley
left the line in front of us and the gray columns disappeared in a
rolling wave of pulsating black and gray smoke. White flashes
erupted that then turned black as they unfolded against the azure
The line in front of us dropped to
the ground. I awaited a clear shot. Isaiah was on my right and Seth
to the left, both of their faces black and their eyes were red,
blood shot from the acrid fumes. We all looked like blackened demons
from the fires of hell.
Now for some reason I dropped to
the ground—Isaiah and Seth followed my lead. The enemy fired a
volley and the pulse of lead whizzed over us like an invisible
train. I briefly saw the mule in front of me back in Ohio along with
scenes of the house, barn, and my father’s face.
No time for that now. Must get off
a shot. I rose to one knee and peered through the haze. As the smoke
rolled away, I saw the enemy line. They were only about seventy-five
yards away. I saw their battle flags, could even read the words. I
took aim at a soldier off to the left of the battle flag and fired.
The smoke from my gun obscured the result. A bullet went through my
right sleeve and passed in front of me to the left.
We were flanked on the right! Oh
God, no! A red stain appeared on my sleeve and I wondered if I was
hit. The arm still moved and I reloaded. Seth and Isaiah now took
aim. Seth fired to the front and Isaiah faced to the right. In front
of me an officer, one of the few still mounted, rode with his head
bent down close to the horse’s neck. He was yelling at one of the
German regiments. All around us men began to leave individually,
then in groups.
The order to retreat came to our
brigade. “Retreat boys, we’re flanked. Retreat!” Seth started
yelling “Like Chancellorsville! Like Chancellorsville! Let’s start
Forming a triangle, we retreated,
me firing first, then Isaiah, then Seth. We came to some fence rails
and a slight depression in the ground where the three of us gathered
close together. The touch of elbows brought comfort.
My gun loaded, I awaited the
appearance of a target. A Rebel soldier, thin and barefoot came into
view. I fired and he fell back, his bare feet in the air. Another
enemy soldier stopped, picked him up, and retreated through the
smoke. Seth yelled, “Let’s go, head for the town!” We alternated
between running backward, and jogging sideward.
Eventually we reached the orchard
where we first formed up. I looked for my knapsack and saw Seth
spitting out paper from a cartridge. “No time for that Hiram, keep
loading and firing! Leave the pack, we need to get through the town
and up the hills to the south!”
From here, we ran down the street
to where an Ohio battery was preparing to fire canister into the
onrushing Rebels. The officer in charge of the battery of four
cannons yelled, waving his arms. “Hurry up boys, get behind us!”
After we passed, the cannons fired.
Amid screaming and unearthly yelling, enemy soldiers literally
disintegrated in front us. The air now reeked of the acrid smell of
blood, burnt flesh, and exploded bowels. The cannons now retreated
in leapfrog fashion, like us, loading and firing in sequence. This
slowed the advance of the enemy troops but they were all around us.
Their piercing high-pitched yells and southern drawls mixed with the
shouts of northern soldiers to create a Babel of noises.
Soon Seth, Isaiah, and I were
running down the main street that we came in on as a brigade. Troops
from the retreating First Division and our own corps were now all
around us. It was hard to move through the mass of men. I saw a few
of the 82nd Ohio but not many.
A private from company F came by us
and ripped the crescent moon from his uniform. “First
Chancellorsville and now this, I don’t want to be with the 11th
anymore.” As he turned from us, he fell forward; a ball exited his
chest splattering blood. A Confederate sharpshooter on one of the
rooftops shot him. I dropped to the ground.
Isaiah darted to the left and
yelled, “Let’s get to one of the side streets.” Seth and I followed
him to an alley behind a large brick building. Dead and injured
horses and mules were everywhere, some squealing and crying in
agony. The alley was filled with smoke and it was difficult to see.
We cautiously walked down the alley
until we saw a tall fence beside a white house. “We need to get to
that hill that we passed coming into town. I bet that is where we
will rally again,” said Seth as he searched for an opening.
However, there was none. We had
come to a dead end blocked by the house and its fences. Seth looked
around like an animal in a cage, trying to guess our next move.
“We have got to go through the house! Head for that porch and lets
go through the door!” Isaiah and I leapt upon the wooden porch; our
steps upon the worn boards sounded like a muffled drum. The door was
locked. We pounded on the door shouting, “Union soldiers! Open up!
Union soldiers! Open up!” Seth kicked at the door. We could hear
rustling in the house and the sound of feet descending stairs into
Suddenly a squad of ten Rebel
soldiers appeared, coming around from the other side of the house,
their rifles pointed at us. We were trapped. The bore of a musket
barrel was huge as I looked down the gun of a Rebel soldier with a
floppy hat, scraggly beard, large nose and growling sneer.
“Throw down your guns and surrender
you damned Yankee sonsabitches!” yelled the Rebel officer at the
head of the group. As I dropped my rifle, it thudded to the porch
floor in front of one of the Rebel soldiers. Good thing the hammer
was forward or it would have gone off.
A chill now descended from my head
to my stomach, causing a sick feeling, almost nauseous in its
effects. The thought of leaping off the porch and running crossed my
mind but my legs refused to obey. I was in a state of paralysis
until Isaiah touched me with his elbow. His lips were moving in a
silent prayer. Seth glared at our adversaries, turned to me, and
exhaled, “O God help us!”
Soon, another group of about fifty
Union prisoners joined us. Enemy soldiers with bayonets prodded them
along. A Confederate officer on a big spotted and gray horse rode
up, stopped, and slowly looked us over.
With a reserved and calm voice he
asked, “You’uns all enlisted men? No officers?” We shook our heads
yes and I started to calm down a little. “Well boys, I am afraid you
are out of the war for the time being. We’re going to take you to
the west of town to a field and put you with the other prisoners
from the day’s action. You’ll have a lot of company, we gathered up
quite a bunch of you blue bellies.”
With this, he rode off and we were
moved to the side of the house. The Rebel soldiers formed a circle
around us, each holding his rifle at the ready. They studied us
intently, especially our shoes. Seth, Isaiah, and I were at the back
of the group by the house, near a cellar window.
I looked down through the window. I
saw a young woman with some children hiding in the cellar. She
looked at me with fearful eyes. I urged her to come closer up to the
window. She cautiously came up until I was looking straight down at
her. She silently opened the window a crack. She looked familiar.
Was this the same woman I nearly knocked over as we came into
Gettysburg? What were the chances?
“Ma’am, could you take our
addresses and let our folks know that we have been captured?” She
nodded her head as she instructed one of the children to fetch a
pencil and paper. Soon, a toe-headed young boy arrived with a
One of the enemy soldiers came up
and surveyed the situation. He looked at me and then at the young
woman in the cellar. Haltingly I addressed the rather stocky soldier
with a thick reddish beard.
“We’d like to give her our
addresses, let our folks know.” Looking again at me and then at the
cellar window, he mumbled, “Go ahead, shouldn’t hurt nothin’.” He
then walked to an officer who also nodded his head.
“My name is Hiram Terman. I am from
Rome, Ohio.” Isaiah gave his name and hometown next, then Seth. Ten
other soldiers were able to give her addresses before the Rebel
soldiers ordered us to move out. A look of disappointment came over
the faces of those not able to get the young woman their names and
As we walked through the west parts
of Gettysburg, we passed houses with people looking out the windows.
Many of the buildings were damaged and some were burning. Isaiah,
searching for hope, waved to some of the frightened citizens. They
looked back at us pitifully, half waving. Seth erupted angrily,
breaking a long silence.
“Isaiah, stop that waving at folks. We aren’t exactly conquering
heroes here. Tarnation, what are you thinking?”
“Seth, this ain’t the end of
things, just a new chapter. Have faith; we will make it out of here.
Bet we will be exchanged before noon tomorrow.” Seth looked at me
“Good Lord, Isaiah, don’t you know
that Lincoln’s Proclamation put a sour note on all that? The Rebs
and us are starting to hold back prisoners. You got a good chance of
rotting in a Rebel prison!” Isaiah looked at me in disbelief. I
swallowed and turned to Seth.
“Aren’t they still giving prisoners
paroles, Seth? They did at Chancellorsville, didn’t they?” Seth
placed his hand on the back of his head and grimaced.
“Hell, I don’t know, I sure didn’t
plan on getting captured so I ain’t exactly up on the latest on
this.” A soldier to our back spoke up. Turning to him, I could see
the tower of the Lutheran Seminary off to our right.
“ They are sending men to Richmond
and holding them there is what I hear.” A guard then came by and
told us to stop talking, to “hush”. We trudged along, hunger and
thirst now cramped our stomachs and swelled our tongues.
As the sun went down, we crossed
over Seminary Ridge into a lower plain. The night air settled low
and strong with the smells of the day’s battle. The pungent odor of
gunpowder mixed with the putrid smell of rotting bodies from
hundreds of dead men and animals.
As we walked through the fields,
darkness descended. We came upon rows of dead bodies lined up by
burial crews. Their torches and lamps moved across the landscape
like huge fireflies in the developing night. Many of the
torchbearers were slaves.
One of the nearby guards spoke to a
comrade. “Lee’s headquarters are right over thar, up towards the
Chambersburg pike. I wonder what the old man is planning for
tomorrow. Think we will attack or move off toward Washington? The
Yanks got a mighty strong position up on that hill south of town.”
His friend shook his head and
replied. “General Lee ain’t goin’ to retreat, you know that! No,
we’uns are going to be right here tomorrow!” After saying this, the
Rebel soldier turned and looked to the rear. Rifle shots pierced the
night air and the long column suddenly halted.
“Down on the ground you blue
bellies!” hollered a guard. Immediately we crouched low, unable to
see in the growing darkness. After a while, the column resumed its
methodical pace. Soon the whispered rumor came down the line that
some men tried to bolt into the night and were shot by the guards. I
turned to the man behind me.
“Anybody make it?” The man
stoically shook his head. Seth and Isaiah leaned in to hear. “He
says that they were all killed.” I had thought of trying to escape
but now the risks became more real.
Isaiah wondered aloud. “If we might
be paroled, doesn’t make sense to risk it, does it?”
We descended to an open field with
hundreds of Union prisoners lying on the ground, surrounded by
burning torches and Rebel guards with bayonets. Off in the distance
near Lee’s headquarters a Confederate band played the hymn “Rock of
Ages”, its well-known pure notes tumbled down on the field of
prisoners. A guard with a grimy face addressed us. “Now don’t you
boys move or get up or you will be shot”.
“Can’t we even get up to relieve
ourselves?” yelled an irate Union soldier.
“It will be the last crap you take
if you do Yank!” replied another gruff-looking guard, laughing.
Isaiah, Seth, and I found a spot near a rock and laid down to rest.
A wedge of clouds approached from the west, penetrating the black
slate of twinkling stars.
Periodically, shots sounded in the night. I hoped that soldiers were
not relieving themselves for the last time.
Fear mixed with shame. Once again,
the 11th Corps had retreated before the onslaught of the Rebels. We
had fought bravely, holding on until the very end, especially the
82nd Ohio. Again, we fell prey to the bold moves of the enemy and
the poor decisions of our generals.
We figured we were west of
Gettysburg beyond Seminary Ridge. What would happen to us? What
would happen to the Union Army? Would we be paroled? Sent south? We
spent an uneasy night as prisoners of war.
A bright sun introduced the morning
of July 2, its golden rays illuminated the farmer’s field filled
with men forced to lay on the ground without moving. Seth, Isaiah,
and I were some of the lucky ones. We had kept our oilcloths as we
went into battle. We also had canteens and were able to sip on water
from time to time. Others had not eaten or had a drink since going
into battle. Their pleas for help for the most part fell on deaf
ears, the guards merely repeating “Stay down you damn Yankee”.
The presence of a stream nearby and
the smell of slaves cooking corncakes for the Rebels almost drove us
mad. Unable to resist the pleas of those nearby, Seth, Isaiah, and I
shared what little water we had until it was gone. Soon we too began
to feel the heat of the rising sun. We used our oilcloths to provide
shade, allowing all who could fit to shelter with us.
As the sun reached its zenith, so
did our miserable pleas. Off to my left I saw a canteen stretched
toward a guard. “Please, in the name of God, get us some water from
that stream over there!”
One of the guards moved forward,
collected the canteens and went to the stream. When he handed them
out to the thirsty prisoners amid the low uttering of “God bless
you”, his comrades also began gathering and filling canteens.
The guard who brought us water was
older and had a large mole on his forehead. He looked familiar.
Second Bull Run, the Dump. I looked at him for a long time, even
stared. “Sonny boy, what you lookin’ so hard at me for?” You’re
alive because of me gramps. I doubt if he recognized me. At least he
was now bringing us water.
About mid-afternoon the sounds of
battle intensified around the rocky hills south and north of town.
“I bet they are hitting us on our flanks,” said Seth. Clouds of dust
gathered and blew over us gradually moving off to the north. Our
guards were relieved that they did not have to enter the coming
battle. “Jediah, I sure am glad we’re here with these Yanks. I got
no hankerin’ to charge up those rocky hills. Them bluebellies have
got to be dug in like coons up thar.”
About mid-afternoon the sounds of
battle intensified around the rocky hills south of town. Soon lines
of wounded Confederates came into tent hospitals set up close to us.
Many new Union prisoners were brought into the yard that gradually
widened its borders to accommodate the expanding numbers. I
estimated that over three thousand prisoners were in the field now.
We tried to get news from the new
men about what was happening but the guards kept us on the ground,
prohibiting movement. “I have got to find out what’s going on!” said
Seth, looking around at the growing numbers of prisoners.
The battle raged long into the late
hours of the afternoon and then died down. The artillery and
musketry ceased with the increasing darkness. As the crowd of
prisoners grew, we found ourselves in the middle of a growing mass.
Seth crawled all over the yard,
trying to edge closer to every prisoner that came into our area,
moving like a lizard to hide his movements. Eventually he slithered
back to us. He looked up at me surprised to see me standing.
“Seth, the Rebels are letting us
stand up now.” Undaunted he stood up and gave us the news of his
“The damned Rebs tried to turn our
flanks but the boys held! The boys held! Meade is still up there and
Lee’s boys had a real twist put on them! They lost a lot of men
mainly because we was dug in on good ground!” Forgetting he was a
prisoner, Seth looked ecstatic. “Our generals got the high ground,
like the Rebs at Fredericksburg. We held!”
Isaiah closed his eyes after
hearing the news. “Praise the Lord, thanks be to God.” Seth slapped
him on the leg “Amen, brother, amen!”
The evening of July 2 was
punctuated by the smells of increasing decay of the dead from the
first day of battle and the cries of the newly wounded, both in the
hospitals near us and out on the fields of battle. Although our own
miseries were overshadowed by what we saw around us, we wanted to
know who was winning and what that would mean for us prisoners.
Isaiah considered what he had heard.
“I think the Rebs really took a
loss today. I bet Lee will get back south to save what’s left of his
army.” Seth shook his head.
“Isaiah, do you really think that
Lee will leave Meade on the field and retreat while he has any army
left? He’s won every battle they been in, beat us mostly in case you
don’t recall!” Isaiah’s comment about Lee moving south caused me to
When the Rebs do leave, what
becomes of us? We are prisoners here and I don’t want to go some
hellhole of a prison in Richmond.” Seth came closer to me.
“One of the boys from Coster’s
brigade said the Rebs were giving paroles right on the battlefield.
All you had to do was say you won’t take up arms against them
anymore and you can walk off with a signed parole paper and go
home.” Isaiah and I savored that thought for a moment before I
“But that doesn’t jive with what
our generals tell us about prisoner exchanges. The Rebs won’t
release Negro soldiers and now we won’t exchange the Johnnies. I’m
afraid we may have to go south with these Rebs.”
A breeze blew by us and brought in
a horrible stench that caused us to lower our faces close to the
ground in an effort to breathe. Seth rose after the disgusting odor
“If that’s the case, we need to
escape. There has to be some chances with all these men. The Rebs
can’t watch us all the time.”
Before lying down, we looked around
at the fires burning bright around us. A strong guard was posted and
I saw no easy avenue for escaping. The clouds coming in from the
west were now thicker, billowier, like balls of cotton among the
stars. I tried to sleep but awakened with every move among the
guards. Oh Lord, how are we going to get out of here?
The humid air of the morning of
July 3 found the Confederate army still at Gettysburg. The guards
were still around us, thick as ever. In the distance, I could see
soldiers gathering and moving toward the woods to our south,
directly across from Cemetery Ridge.
While we were watching these
troops, some Confederate officers came into the confines of the
prison yard and began recording names and regimental rolls. Rumors
spread that the Rebels were going to give us paroles. I fell in line
in front of an officer at a desk and slowly moved forward. Finally,
I faced a distinguished looking man with a close-cropped beard and
wavy gray hair. He looked up at me and then at his paper on the
“Name and regiment please?”
“Hiram Terman, 82nd Ohio, Company
F,” I replied.
“Very well, please step forward, we
will call you with your regiment for the act of parole.” Thank you
Lord, I will be going home soon. I stepped away and waited for Seth
The process of taking names took
all morning. Soon after, the prisoners gathered in groups, each
addressed by a captured Union officer. The man addressing our group
was tall and thin and spoke with a distinguished manner.
“Men of the 11th Corps, I am here
to tell you not to accept the enemy’s offer of parole.” A murmur ran
through us. “Under current conditions, the Union Army will not
accept the validity of the parole document and you will be
immediately returned to duty. If the enemy captures you again, they
can execute you. Please wait on a proper exchange agreement to be
worked out. I repeat, do not take the enemy’s offer of a parole.”
A wave of confusion moved over us.
“Seth, what should we do?” Seth scratched his chin and rubbed the
back of his head. Off to my right, a man from another regiment
quickly made up his mind.
“By God, I am going to take the
parole. I’m too thirsty, hungry, and tired to walk all the way down
to Virginny to some damn Rebel prison!”
“Well, Dan, if the Rebs catch you
again, they’ll shoot you. By thunder, I don’t know what to do, I
Other men immediately gathered
around and said, “Hell, let’s take our chances!”
An officer of the 82nd Ohio began waving his hand and called us over
“Men, we have been an honored
regiment all through the war. We have often been the last regiment
to leave the field and have been appointed Provost guard because we
could be trusted and followed orders. I urge all of you to wait on a
proper exchange agreement.” After saying this, he left us and
addressed another group of men. Seth, Isaiah, and I immediately got
together. Seth spoke first.
“I think we should take the parole.
Who knows what will happen if we stay with the Rebs and wait. Most
likely we will be taken south to Richmond.” Isaiah, visibly
troubled, rubbed his neck, looked off, and turned back to us.
“I don’t agree, Seth. We have
always followed orders and done our duty. Honor is more important
than anything else. I’m staying. What about you, Hiram?”
I looked around me at the camp,
smelled the disgusting odor, and saw Rebel guards leading groups of
prisoners out of the camp. “You Yanks on the parole, over here.
Hurry up now!” I was not able to speak as I had mixed feelings with
A Rebel officer approached and
asked, “Will you men take the parole? Quickly now, we’re taking
prisoners down the road to the north to meet your officials.”
Isaiah stepped forward proudly and
proclaimed. “No sir, I for one will wait on the proper agreements to
“Very well, you men can return to
your places.” With this, the officer moved on and a guard marched us
away to the interior of the yard.
“Wait just a damn min….” Seth tried
to approach the Confederate officer but was unable to get around the
men moving back into the prison yard. Struggling against the tide,
he tried to yell but was unable to form the words, “ Ah, Ah, Ah” was
all that came out of his mouth. I, too, felt that a great
opportunity for freedom had just passed me by.
A vision of my getting on the train
at Salem and leaving my father flashed through my mind. A great
sadness settled on my shoulders and churned in my stomach as I moved
further into the yard. Seth and I watched the column of men who had
taken the parole march out of sight. “Look at all of them!”
proclaimed Seth pounding his fist. “There must be over a thousand of
them. Oh my, what did we not do”?
Seth’s anger grew and festered.
“Isaiah, what in God’s name did you do back there? That was our
ticket home and out of this hell! Why didn’t you ask us before you
made your grand proclamation?”
“I was speaking for myself, not you
“Well, the Reb officer didn’t take
it that way.”
“Why didn’t you speak up, Seth?” I
“Why didn’t you, Hiram? Everybody
Just then, one of the loudest
continuing explosions that I have ever experienced reverberated
across the landscape. For more than two hours, the Rebel batteries
fired shells at the Union position up on Cemetery Ridge. The smoke
rolled up over the ridge in front of us and settled over the
landscape like a huge gray blanket. Our eyes watered from the acid
air as we sat in dumb wonderment, unable to converse above the
constant roar of hundreds of cannons.
|The dead at
Gettysburg. (Library of Congress)
When the Confederate cannons ceased
a huge roar from thousands of men in the woods to our south filled
the air. Bugles blew, drums beat, and bands played. We heard the
noise but could not see what was happening over the ridge.
Our guards cheered and shouted.
“The attack is on! The attack is on!” They then growled at us, some
even spitting as they poked their bayonets at us. The old soldier I
spared at Manassas yelled, “Now you Yanks will feel the cold steel!”
Remembering how I let this fellow live at Second Bull Run, I
thought— friend, you should not even be here!
The noise of battle rattled on
through the afternoon. Musketry crackled and artillery shells
exploded, now mostly from the Federal lines. Rebel yells met Union
huzzahs. Gradually the sounds of battle waned as the sun lowered in
the western sky.
Smoke and haze smothered the
trampled field where we were lying. Ambulances and wagons carrying
wounded and dying men rolled into hospitals to our south and north.
Columns of slouching, moaning men passed us. Some shook a bloody arm
and cursed. “Wait till you bluebellies get to Dixie, you’ll pay, by
God, you’ll pay!”
The night of July 3 was filled with
misery for both the Rebels and us. We had not eaten since coming to
Gettysburg. My insides ached. The night dragged on accentuated by
the cries of the wounded all around us.
Just when my misery seemed
unbearable, a Union band across the hills played “Home Sweet Home”.
Every aching body and mind temporarily ceased its devotion to agony
and absorbed the sweet tones drifting through the night air. Oh,
what a day it had been and this sweet sound of a civilized humanity
helped assuage the bitter reality of a more savage one.
Hiram's Honor: Reliving Private Terman's Civil War
By Max R. Terman
Tesa Books 2009
About the author: Dr. Max R.
Terman is a professor emeritus at Tabor College in Hillsboro,
Kansas. He is the author of three books and numerous articles. A
scientist by training (see his Princeton University published book
Messages from an Owl), he lives in a solar earth-sheltered home on
fifteen acres of restored prairie (see his book Earthsheltered Housing).
About the book: Of Hiram's Honor, Dr. Terman says, "the first person narrative flowed naturally
from my research (and emotions) into a sincere reliving of my great
uncle’s journey through the Civil War. While Hiram’s records are the
skeleton and flesh of this resurrection, its soul and spirit comes
from stepping into Hiram’s shoes. I actually became my ancestor, a
Civil War Private. That is why I wrote this novel in the first
person.” Hiram’s story goes from Ohio to Virginia to Georgia; from
Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg, to the unmerciful
darkness of the prison camps at Richmond’s Belle Island and
Andersonville, and finally, finally--to the euphoria of release and
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