Sergeant Lord Byron Green's Civil War - Part One
In the decades after the Civil War, Lord Byron Green wrote column after column for the newspapers of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. The native of Benton Township, Lackawanna County had a unique flair in his writing style - insightful and shrewd but also entertaining, self-deprecating, and quick with a joke. Green called himself a "chronic digressor" when his stories left their assigned track and meandered elsewhere.
One of the topics "L.B." returned to time and time again in his articles was his service in the Civil War with the 107th Pennsylvania. He rose through the ranks from chronically ill recruit to sergeant major within the regiment in his service from 1862 to 1865. His service in the war left him with strong opinions about the failed rebellion and those who led its armies, especially Robert E. Lee. In his writings, this opinion becomes abundantly clear.
An unidentified sergeant in the US Army. As yet, we've not been able to locate a photograph of "L.B." Green. (Library of Congress)
In the late summer of 1897, Byron began writing a personal memoir of his Civil War service for publication in the Scranton Republican. He begins with Chapter 1, an essay that appeared in the July 27, 1897 edition of the Republican. His first writings on his service detail his recruitment, the reasons he signed up, his initial (sickly) service in the US Army, and emotional scenes he witnessed in the aftermath of the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August 1862.
We will be sharing more of these accounts in future columns here at PennCivilWar.
REMINISENCES OF THE WAR.
The Green Volunteer’s Army Experience.
Motives for Enlisting Not Purely Patriotic
No Patriotism to Spare, When Tested by the Fire of Battle.
Written for The Republican.
In April 1862, I was engaged in the mercantile business on a small scale, with limited means at Fleetville, Pa., and feeling oppressed somewhat with business cares, domestic duties and strained connubial [marriage] relations, the latter owing largely as I now think, to my own folly, and cherishing a strong desire for the overthrow of the Rebellion, and the preservation of the Union, I volunteered to serve three years or during the war, was mustered in and assigned to Company C, One Hundred and Seventh Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers…
An appraisal of store ownership in Luzerne (which then also included modern Lackawanna) County in June 1861.
When I went into the army in 1862 I honestly thought that the war would be short. I vainly imagined that all the government needed to crush out the rebellion in three months at the most, was a few thousand more men like myself. Had I then known that it was going to take three years of desperate fighting the chances are that I would not have been in it. I hardly think that my stock of patriotism would have been equal to the emergency.
Of course, when in the spring of 1861, the dark war cloud which had for several months hung suspended in our national horizon, suddenly burst with the deafening crash of a thousand thunderbolts, filling loyal hearts with dire dismay, and threatening seriously the dissolution of the Union and the dismemberment of our government.
The bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861 (LOC)
My soul was moved and my heart fired with a sentiment of loyalty and some of patriotism, but which, I frankly confess, became less fervid before had been in the service of my country six months. And yet I can never forget the peculiar sensations produced in me by the information that the usually placid waters of Charleston harbor had been disturbed by the roar of rebel batteries, hurling solid shot and shell against the fast crumbling walls of Fort Sumpter. The rumbling roar of rebellious thunder startled the civilized world, and caused the citadels of freedom throughout our own beloved land to tremble from foundation walls to turret tower. The tocsin of war resounded from Maine to California, and from the rock - ribbed shore of the Atlantic to the Pacific slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The rolling drum and bugle blast summoned brave and loyal men from all over the loyal North to the rescue of the imperiled government.
What a heart - sickening, soul - saddening sight was here presented to the astonished gaze of all mankind. A million of men armed for the fray, all citizens of the best government on earth, sternly facing each other in hostile array, eager to imbue their hands in fratricidal blood, looking each other full in the face, ready to waste, destroy, kill and trample under foot all barriers to their onward progress, and all this in a civilized nation of the same origin, language, institutions and laws; a nation professing Christianity in the latter half of the nineteenth century - adoring the same God, through the same Redeemer.
Each drew the same man - slaying sword, and sighted the same death - dealing rifle, and while ardently beseeching the God of their fathers through the medium of holy prayer to grant them the victory, boldly, yea bravely, faced each other in mortal combat. Presupposing, kind reader, that you have carefully read the history of that most terrible civil war, the lurid light of which lighted up the waters and flashed over the hills and valleys of the disunited states of America for four long years, I will silently pass by all those interesting events pertaining to the war which occurred from its inception up to the time that your humble servant offered his services to his highly respected Uncle Samuel for three years or during the war. But, again I digress. Well, perhaps I am a chronic digresser. If so, I need the kindly sympathy and broad charity of all The Republican readers, for which I here and now devoutly pray.
To resume: At Harrisburg I passed muster and crawled into a suit of army blue, although the examining surgeon came very near sending me back home on account of my disfigured left leg, caused by a fever sore thereon when 14 years of age. But I proved to him by several of my sound comrades that I could march with them all day, and he finally squeezed me through.
Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, where Byron and his comrades in the 107th Pennsylvania assembled in 1862
The first year of my service I hardly saw a well day, but securing a position in the quartermaster's department, I managed to keep out of the hospital and worried along with the boys. But more than once during that first long year I wished that the surgeon had sent me home from Harrisburg. But I never cherished that wish during my last two years' service.
At Hall's hill opposite Washington, I was initiated into camp life. There I drew rations, sipped poor black company coffee and slept on the ground in a funnel - shaped Sibley tent.
Our advance on Richmond in the early summer, the frequent crossing and re-crossing of the Rappahannock river, the home - sickness produced by forced marches on stormy nights, the frequent skirmishing with graybacks among the Virginia pines and inside of our pantaloons and woolen shirts, and our first experience under fire at Cedar Mountain, I will pass briefly by, pausing simply to say that at Culpepper Court House the day following the battle between Jackson and Banks at Cedar Mountain, I witnessed an exhibition of patriotism on the part of a beardless boy worthy of note.
The Cedar Mountain battlefield in August 1862
Ambulances loaded with wounded men from the battlefield were being brought in, and I, in common with many others of our regiment, was detailed to assist the wounded into the hotel, and church where they could in turn have their wounds dressed by the attending corps of surgeons. We filled the hotel, in one room of which the necessary amputations of legs and arms were being performed. Then the church, having been filled, we laid the poor fellows on the grass plot outside of the church.
Among the latter was an 18-year-old boy belonging to an Ohio regiment, I think, who had been shot through the left side in close proximity to his heart. He was a noble specimen of young manhood. Above medium height, with large blue eyes, high forehead, broad shoulders, full breast, and full smooth face, he certainly was one of the comeliest young men that I ever saw in the army. We laid him gently down upon the green sward, improvised a pillow for his head as best we could. At his request I gave him a drink of water from my canteen, for which he with weak voice said: "God bless you, comrade, for your kindness."
Hospital scenes like this one from June 1862 were commonplace in the months leading up to major medical reforms
I then went back to the ambulance with other comrades for the last man of that unfortunate load, and that ambulance was the last one to arrive from the battlefield. The solitary inmate sat leaning up in one corner of the ambulance. As we approached him I said "Where are you wounded, comrade?" No reply came from those mute soldier lips. They were closed lit the silence of death. We carried him out and the pioneer corps took him in charge for burial.
Culpeper, Virginia in August 1862 - site of this sad story and vast hospital for the wounded of the Battle of Cedar Mountain
Instinctively I turned in the direction of my young western soldier friend, for whom I felt a deep interest. Just as I approached the spot where he lay, one of his comrades came up and bending over him, said, "Charley, where are you wounded?" The dying boy soldier, with pale face and pallid brow, opened his closed eyes, recognizing his comrade, evidently by his voice, since his eyes seemed sightless, he with a labored effort placed his right hand upon the left side to indicate the location of the fatal shot, and then faintly said: "James, raise me up."
In compliance with the request, his friend raised him gently in a sitting posture, and while standing on his knees, rested the wounded soldier's head upon his breast. After a short pause marked by heavy breathing, there came from the white lips of the young hero, in a whisper: "James, did we defeat Jackson yesterday? Was it a victory for us, or were we defeated?" James replied, "We drove Jackson back and gained the day." A flush came over those pale cheeks, his eyes were raised heavenward, and from his eyes a ray of brightness beamed, and while a halo of human glory seemed to suffuse his face, he said in a tone of voice audible several reds away: "Thank God. Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes. Tell mother I tried to do my duty, and died happy."
His head drooped, his eyes closed, and in less than a minute, James held in his arms the lifeless form of his dead comrade. All around that sacred, sorrowful spot could be seen trickling tears coming from the eyes of strong boys and muscular men. Alas for poor Charley, a frail - looking boy of 16 years. His flowing tears and choking sobs were evidences of the anguish that pierced his youthful heart. For one I did not sob, I did not sigh, I simply squalled. The scene was sufficiently affecting to melt a heart of stone. That was an instance of patriotic devotion to his country and its flag, on the part of that youthful hero, even before he had reached the meridian of his manhood, worthy of emulation, and which ought to be canonised in the hearts of his countrymen, and chanted in song and in story through all the coming ages of this our glorious republic.
In my next letter I will give the readers of The Republican a few details of my first early army life and a description of the Battle of Antietam.
L. B. GREEN. Fleetville, Pa., July 2, 1897.
Chapter 2 is coming next.