A Soldier’s Diary

Frances Hagadorn, Company K, 125th New York Volunteers

Francis and his brother William joined Co. K in Schaghticoke, Renssellear County. Francis was only 16 when he musterd in as a Drummer. ” Col. Willard concluded to have buglers only so I received a bugal.”  Francis discovered that his “lungs were too weak” for a bugal so on Sept. 9, 1863, “I gave up the bugal and took a gun”. The following is a diary entry from his experience at Harper’s Ferry.

Sept. 11th  We arrived at Harper’s Ferry about daylight. Willie and I hired a boy to show us a hotel. We paid for the boy’s dinner. Willie and I paid ($1) one dollar for breakfast, dinner and supper. We slept on top of the baggage in the car. At Martinsburg the regiments slept on their arms.

Sept. 12th, Friday At 3 a.m. the regiment took p the line of march to Harper’s Ferry (distance 22 miles), accompanied in the march, the 65th Ill Inf., 12th Ill. Cav and and Illinois Battery. When about 4 miles from Harpers Ferry, the troops were formed into line of battle, but the forces seen approaching proved to be union troops, the 8th N.Y. Cavalry, which came from Boliva Heights, to meet us. The rebel forces, under the immediate command of General Jackson (“Stonewall”), were following close after us. About 7 p.m. we were led on the field of Harper’s Ferry. In front and east of us were Loudon Heights, with the Shenandoah River between us an the heights beyond. To the left and north of us was Camp Hill, below which and to the left was the village of Harper’s Ferry. Beyond toward Maryland Heights, between which and Loudon Heights, the Shenandoa (ind. “Daughter of the Stars”) meet the Potomac (Ind.-“Place of the Burning Pine”) meet and move eastward. Their junction regarded as a great curiosity and an object truly grand and-magnificent. The eye take in at a glance, the (?) torrent foaming and dashing them; the picturesque top and sides of the mountains, the gentle and winding current of the river below the ridge presenting, altogeather, a landscape capable of awaking the most delightful and sublime emotions. Just behind us were Bolivar Heights. The last named, with camp hill, the village and Maryland Heights were in our position. Here were stationed the 32 Ohio and 2 companies of the 39th N.Y., with a few Maryland troops who had fallen back to this position from the advancing enemy. On the morning of the 12th, the 126th N.Y. was added to the force. Col. Dixon H. Miles was in command of all the Union Forces. General Julius White, who led the troops from Martinsburg, waiving his seniority in favor of Colonel Miles. This officer had been ordered on the 15th of August by General Wool, then in command of the department including Harper’s Ferry, to fortify Maryland Heights. This he had refused or neglected to do. He knew the importance of the position, for he had served here in the May previous. On the evening of the 12th he visited the Heights and consulted with Col. Thomas H. Ford who was directing at the front. When he retired he left word with Col. Ford, that if he found that he must withdraw he should first spike the guns. But no adequate effort was made to put the position in readiness for an assault. Our regiment (125th) was ordered out on picket. My brother and I were left with the other guards under Lt. Picket, in charge of the baggage at the R.R. Depot. When off guard, my brother and I went out (sight seeing), to visit the U.S. Armory, that was established in 1789 and in the fifties was brought into notice by John Brown’s raid. On the 12th I was on guard all night. John McConki of (my) Co. K. 125th N.Y. Vol. Inf., while on picket, told the Officer of the Day that he could not pass his post unless he said “Bunker Hill” which was the countersign. He was known as “Bunker Hill” afterwards.

Sept. 13th Our Regiment, at daylight, returned to camp. We had hardly eating our breakfast before firing commenced. The rebels under Mclaws advancing up the heights, from the east, a feeble, broken resistance was followed by the spiking of the guns, and rolling them down the hill, the union forces were withdrawn to Harper’s Ferry, leaving Maryland Heights to the rebels, and with it the master of the situation. About 9 a.m. while we stood in knots watching the rebels running out of the woods on the opposite hill, that we were shelling, they opened fire upon us. The first shell took ____the head off of a horse, and killed a calavryman. We cought up our things and skedaddled down the hill, through a ravine and up to the re doubt, southward of Bolivar Heights to support the 6th Illinois Battery. In the afternoon of the 13th, from a tree top of Louden Heights, a rebel flag was waved, signaled to Gen’l Jackson, west of Bolivar Heights, that the investment of the union forces was complete. We slept on our arms all night without blankets or overcoats. Picket firing was kept up through the night when a running down the hill a rebel shell passed over my head and started down the hill in front of me, my officers hollered to me to stop, but I could not until I tripped and fell, the next moment the shell strucked a tree and exploded.

Sunday, Sept. 14th It was a beautiful day. In the morning the rebels were seen advancing. Col. George L. Willard passed along our line asking the men “are you ready to fight them?” The response was “let them come on.” The enemy did not come within firing distance, and we were soon relieved by the 3rd Maryland, and marched back to camp for breakfast. On the open plain Rev. Dr. Barlow, our chaplin was conducting a divine service (10:30 a.m.) when the rebels batteries on Loudon Heights sent their first shell at us, which fell in front of the Colonel’s tent, but did not explode. There was a scampering of them (?) parked near us. By order of Col. Willard, the regiment fell back in hasty forms (?) to a ravine in the rear of our camp and near Bolivat Heights. Some of Jackson’s forces advanced against this point but were driven back by the 3rd Maryland. Our men were placed in support of a battery. One of our men picked up a grape shot that was rolling slowly toward him, which he quickly dropped as it was hot. After dark, we were sent south of the battery on Boulivar Heights. It was a cold night and our men suffered severely, as they were destitute of their overcoats thrown away on the forced march from Martinsburg. That (14th) Sunday night the cavalry was with us, under Colonels Arno Voss and Davis, cut their way through the enveloping line and reached Greencastle, Pennsylvania, capturing on the way a large rebal train of over fifty wagons.That night the entire beleaguered force might have escaped the net entangleing them. If cavalry could make their way out, surely infantry could have done likewaise, abandoning, if need were, the guns.

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