The Great Battle of Gettysburg

By Dr. Max R. Terman
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2009, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s 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 in line.

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 horsemen.

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 left.

“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 horizon.

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 them.”

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.

Gettysburg at 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 butternut.

“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 sky.

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 backing up—now!”

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 the basement.

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 tablet.

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 addresses.

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 incredulously.

“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.”

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 wormlike travels.

“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 think.

“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 responded.

“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 passed.

“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 desk.

“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 and Isaiah.

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 tell ya.”

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 to him.

“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 the choice.

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 be made.”

“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 Seth.”

“Well, the Reb officer didn’t take it that way.”

“Why didn’t you speak up, Seth?” I asked.

“Why didn’t you, Hiram? Everybody pushed….”

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).
Max Terman’s blog.

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 home.

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