The Diary of Isaac Rathbun - 86th New York Infantry Regiment

Co. D 86th NY Volunteers
Aug. 23, 1862-Jan. 20, 1863
Lawrence R. Cavanaugh, Ed.*

* Mr. Cavanaugh, a native of Binghamton, and a veteran of World War II, is a charter member of the Mount hope Historical Society.

Washington D.C. Sat Aug. 23, 1862: The 86th NY Volunteers leave Washington and Georgetown to take the field. We received orders to march in the forenoon. Continued, 3 PM. We were on our way to Alexandria. We took the boat at 8th St. and went down river and reached Alexandria after dark.

Alexandria, Sat., Aug. 23,1862: We landed at the wharf at Alexandria and marched up through town until we reached an open field. We then deployed in close column, halted, stacked arms and spread out our blankets in the open air for a nights rest. Pretty cool for us, but I slept good.

Sun., Aug. 24, 1862: We woke up this morning feeling much better. We ate a very early breakfast of bread and meat that we had left in our haversacks. We then ran about for a short time, but soon the orders came for us to move. We fell in line, took arms, and commenced our march for Sun. We marched about four miles and reached a place called McCloud Mills. We did a little counter marching, and at last we came to the ground designed for us by the General. We then stopped and made arrangements for something to eat. We stayed there until about 6 P.M. when we marched to the cars and loaded up.

McCloud Mills, Va., Sun., Aug. 24, 1862: At sundown we were all loaded up. The 86th and the 63rd inclusive, which now composed Gen. Pietts Brigade of Gen. Sturzes Division of the army of Volunteers, commanded by Maj. Gen. Pope. Soon after sun down the two trains started. We did not know where we were bound, but the prospect was we were going to join Gen. Pope near the Rappihenae.

Warrentown, Pa., Mon Aug. 25, 1862: After riding over a very rough railroad from sundown last evening to one o'clock this morning, we landed our well-shook bodies on a little flat surrounded by railroads, hence the name of the place, Warrentown Junction. We found ourselves in the midst fo the army of VA. In our present position, we are 8 miles from Warrentown, and about 12 miles from Rappihenae, and about 16 miles from Fredericksburg. Our boys are in good spirits. Some are glad to be in the field again. We had a little rest in the forenoon after sticking up tents, and in the afternoon we had a little regimental drill. We did pretty well for us.

Warrentown, Pa., Tues. Aug. 26, 1862: We had a company drill in the forenoon and a battalion drill in the afternoon, and we moved our tents to a better place. The army is moving in every direction. There appears to be something in the wind. There has been skirmishes along the river for several miles, but no heavy fighting. ________

Warrentown, Pa., Wed Aug. 27, 1862: Jackson has played a trick on us. He is reported to be in our rear. The Bull Run bridge is burned and a large train of cars at Bristown Station, near Menessis. The rebels have taken a large amount of commissary stores and have destroyed what they did not take around the vicinity of Menessis. We had but few men there, and they came with a large force of cavalry.

Our regiment, with the rest of the army, received orders towards Menessis as we marched about 5 miles; and then we were ordered back to where we started. It was pretty warm and my knapsack was pretty heavy and I was bushed for the first time since I was a soldier; but we all went back to the old camp and stayed the night.

Warrentown, Pa., Thurs. Aug. 28, 1862: The orders came again this morning to move toward Menessis. We then packed knapsacks and put them in a pile near the railroads and left two men to take care of them. The cars soon came along and the knapsacks were loaded on them. We did not expect to see our knapsacks again and we did not want to if we had to carry them.

Though we were ordered up at 2 o'clock this morning, yet we did not get started until about 8 o'clock. I was on guard all night and did not feel very good, but I marched much easier without my knapsack. We marched toward Menessis. Our Brigade was the rear guard of the whole army.

(Camp near Warrentown Junction): We marched and rested and marched again until we got within 6 miles of Menessis. We had a slow job of it to keep in the rear of the wagon trains. We finally stopped at last, about 10 o'clock and spread our blankets for rest and sleep. We heard fighting off near Bull Run nearly all day, and the prospect was that we were to see some soon.

Camp near Menessis, Aug. 29, 1862: This morning we prepared breakfast. We had half rations of crackers and by 8 A.M. we were on the march again for the Junction.

We reached Menessis about noon and had a real rest. We then started for Gainsville and got there before sundown and the returned to near Menessis for night.

Sat. Aug. 30, 1862: The news this morning is that Jackson is going towards Centerville. There has been some heavy fighting but we do not know the result. We received orders again this morning to march towards Centerville. We had half rations of crackers for breakfast and prepared for the march.

We passed Menessis on our way to Centerville. We came to a stream called “Bull Run” and made a halt for a little rest. We made a little coffee and soon received orders to go forward. We reached Centerville about 12 noon, and there we stopped for a few minutes and took a view of the country. We could hear firing and see smoke of a battle or a skirmish progressing about 4 miles distance near the old Bull Run battlefield. We could hear cannonading nearly all day. We soon received new orders to march.

We then went off in a western direction toward the enemy. We marched a pretty good pace, and at 5 P.M. we halted in sight of the battlefield and about a half mile in the rear of our advance on a hill which overlooked the whole field. We were then placed in divisions and sat down to rest. We used our time in making fires, steeping coffee, and frying meat for our supper. The last supper we ate vey soon.

We were in this position but a little while when we could see that the rebels were trying to flank us on the left. We soon saw one force moving toward the left, but few minutes had passed before we received orders to leave our situation and move toward the left. Our Brigade then went to the left. We were then formed in a line. In a few minutes we were ordered up to the front. We then moved up in front.

We marched up a litttle rise of ground, and as we reached the summit of the hill, about 40 rods from the edge of a piece of woods where the rebels were formed in a line just ready to charge on two of our batteries. As we came in sight, the rebels fell back to the woods. We were then ordered to fix bayonets and forward double quick. Down we went towards the woods. At the same time the 63rd infantry were ordered to the right to support the batteries.

Sat. Aug. 30, 1862 (P.M.): The 86th went on alone towards the woods cheering and yelling like so many Indians. At the same time the rebels had batteries on our right and left, and their infantry in front concealed in the woods. We were then under a terrific fire by both batteries and infantry. The railroad iron began to whistle around us pretty well.

The first accident that happened to our company was a shell burst, a piece of which struck James Cooper from Hornell in the neck. A few paces further and a shell struck between the two men standing to the left of me. It struck one man's gun and burst knocking down 3 men, Cpl. McIntoch, Cpl. Palmatier and Josiah Shaver, but did not stop us. We went in at a quick jump but a few paces when I found myself on the ground. A musket ball had struck me in the right side close above the hip. It pierced through and lodged in the back. That stopped my fighting then. The company went on and so did the regiment.

They went to the edge of the woods where they were ordered to stop and commence firing. The order was promptly obeyed, and the rebels received a fearful and rapid fire for a considerable time from the Enfield guns of the 86th N.Y. State Volunteers.

As soon as I was shot, I tried to get up, but could not do it then; so I laid still for a few minutes. While lying there, 4 or 5 shells from the enemies guns burst directly over me. Some pieces hit me. One piece hit me in the leg, and one piece went through my blouse and shirt sleeve above my elbow, but none of them hurt me very badly. After lying there a few minutes, I tried again to get up. I succeeded this time, and I took my gun and equipage and started back best I could. I had gone but a few rods when a soldier that had been pretty badly scared came up to help me. I went with him a few rods and another came to help me. I soon got down out of sight of the enemy guns when I laid down to rest. After lying a few minutes, I could not get up, so they took my rubber blanket and spread it out and carried me about a half mile to the rear and left me in the dooryard of a house on a little hill. I laid there through the night.

Soon after sundown, two or three of our company came to the same place I was. They were slightly wounded. They said that our army was falling back towards Centerville. I was soon examined by the surgeon. When he found the ball in my back, out, very near the skin, he cut it out with a dull instrument, which did not suit my conscience. After that I was covered up with a rubber blanket from one of the boys from our company, and I laid there until daylight.

Aug. 31, 1862: Sunday morning when the boys that were with me, all that could walk, left toward Centerville to find our company. Soon after they were gone, the rebels came up and took possesion of the hospital. They marched out all that were not wounded and took them over to the stone house near the battlefield. After I had gotten pretty wet, they carried me out of the yard into a old hog pen, in company with about a dozen more that were badly wounded. We laid through the day and had nothing to eat. The rebels came and talked with us. They were rejoicing over their victory, but they were sick of the war.

Bull Run, Mon Sept. 1, 1862: This Monday morning we find ourselves yet as prisioners and with nothing to eat. This morning Gen. Roger E. Prior came to see us. He appeared to sympathize with us and he would report our condition to Gen. Lee and use his influence in getting something for us to eat, but that was the last we heard from Gen.Prior.

Through the day there were nearly all of Longstreet's and Gen. Ewalls forces marched by the place where we were lying. They stopped very often to talk with us. They were all sick of the war and wished it could be settled, but they were determined to fight as long as they lived before they would be ruled by the Yankees. They seemed to think that we were fighting for negroes or something else while they were fighting for their homes. They acknowledged that our troops were brave, and some of them did not know that they could conquer us; but they would fight until they died. Others said they would go over to Washington to see us in a few days, and they would go up to Philadelphia and take dinner with the ladies up there. They would go to Harriburg and many other places. I told them they would find plenty of men in Washington for the President had called out 600,000 new men. They did not seem to like that very well, but thought they could stand all the men we could bring before them.

Through the hospitality some of the rebels, we received two crackers a piece. They said they had nothing to eat themselves, but there were too many men there for them be without anything to eat. Our men suffered very much for the want of something to eat. They could not get water enough to drink. There were few nurses.

Bull Run, Tues., Sept. 2, 1862: This morning I tried to get up and succeeded in getting on my feet. After I had got up, I felt much better. I could walk around considerably. My wound was pretty sore, but I got out of our pen and walked around a little. I found some bad looking men. There had 15 died of their wounds since they were brought there. Afternoon, all that could walk, went to the stone house near the battlefield and were paroled to be sent out with our ambulances and a flag of truce which came in this morning to the battlefield. I was one of the number that thought I could walk to our lines.

We were paroled by order of Gen. Anderson and with a train of 37 ambulances we started for Centerville at 2 o'clock P.M.. There were about 20 of us on foot. Some wounded in the arm, some in the legs, and some in the body. There were many of them badly wounded. My side was very sore, but when I was standing up straight, I felt quite comfortable. We went very slowly and stopped quite often.

Centerville, Sept 2,1862: But we reached Centerville a little before sundown. There we were stopped by a Secesh guard. They detained us until after sundown and then were were ordered off to the left to Gen. Jackson's headquarters, about 6 miles over very rough road and up and down some very hard hills. The wounded in the wagons suffered severly for some of them had broken limbs and many were seriously wounded.

We reached Gen. Jackson's headquarters after a long and tedious march. There we were kept about 3 hours until we got very cold, for the night was quite cool. Here we finally succeeded in getting a pass from Gen. Jackson to pass across their lines. After receiving this, we started back towards Centerville on a very dark night.

Centerville, Wed. Sept. 3, 1862: We reached Centerville at 1 A.M. and then we had to stop until daylight. We built a fire and laid down, and before sunrise we were up and on the march again. When I got up from the ground, I could hardly stand. I was so chilled through. Before we started, however, we were treated with a little hot coffee which our citizen friends succeeded in getting for us.

We then started on our road to Fairfax Court House, stopping occasionally to rest and get apples and peaches to eat. We reached Fairfax Court House by noon. There we found Gen. Lee's headquarters and a large number of rebel cavalry. We were detained there a few minutes and then sent on towards Falls Church with an escort of cavalry.

We reached our lines before we got to Falls Church and bid goodbye to the rebel flag to welcome the stars and stripes. We went to Falls Church and then to Gen. Pope's headquarters. We were then sent to Alexandria after a very long and tedious march. We finally arrived to a resting place. Many of them that were on foot gave out before we got there.

Alexandria, Wed. Sept. 3, 1862: The men in the ambulances were distributed in the different hospitals in Alexandria. Those that were on foot took supper at the General Hospital and then we were put on a boat to stay for the night. I took my rubber blanket and laid down and had a good rest.

Alexandria, Va., Thurs., Sept. 4, 1862: In the morning we received some hard crackers and coffee for breakfast and stayed there until 10 A.M.. When the boat was full, we started for Washington. We had about 300 on board. Some were sick and some wounded. We were all hungry and tired and many of them could not walk.

Washington, D.C., Thurs Sept. 4, 1863: we reached our new made hospital in the afternoon. Our situation was on the place known as the Coshein Farm and Harwood Hospital situated about 2 miles north of the city near the soldiers home. We were put in tents lately stuck up on the green grass. We fared very hard for the first few days; however, we soon got along some better after the things began to come from the sanitary commission.

After I had been in the hospital a few days, I went down to the city. There I heard from the boys in my company. There were 13 men wounded in Co. D, but none killed. There were 65 wounded in the 86th and 13 killed. We were very fortunate in coming out so well from the dangerous position we were placed in on the field of battle.

Washington, DC Oct. 1862: I enjoyed myself quite well while in the Harwood Hospital. I made frequent visits to the city and occasionally I saw some boys in my company. Our hospital contained about 3,000 men. We were all in tents. A great many of the patients were men that were worn out by hard marching. We had about 200 wounded in all this place. The remainder were sick and worn out men. My wound gets along finally. It is getting almost well. I and feeling very well and enjoying a degree of spiritual grace.

Washington DC, Nov. 1862: After a period of two months, I was ordered with about 200 men to leave the hospital for another one further north. We received orders in the morning to be ready at 12 noon to leave. Twelve o'clock came and we soon loaded. After some delays, we started for the foot of 9th St. which place we reached before sundown. We were loaded on the Star which took us down opposite Alexandria where we went aboard the steamship “Daniel Webster.” We stayed on board the Daniel Webster this evening and in the pleasant morning of Thurs. at daylight, we were pleasantly sailing down the Potomac with orders to report at Portland RI.

We had on board in all about 450 men besides the ships crew. The soldiers were many of them very sick. I was one of the strong ones. We had a very pleasant day while sailing down the still waters of the proud Potomac.

Nov. 2,1862: We came into the Bay in the afternoon and at evening, just after the sun went down, we had passed the sight of the last point of land in the blue waters of the Atlantic. We retired in our own well-crowded cabins to pass the night in dreams. In the morning we woke up finding the waters troubled with a strong wind from the northwest. We did not go very swiftly for the wind was already quite strong.

On Board the Daniel Webster,Nov. 6, 1862: This morning we began to realize the effects of the rough sea for our stomachs were riled and we began to vomit very frequently. Too often to eat a big breakfast from our bread and coffee. The wind increased through the day with fogs and rain enough to make us feel miserable. The wind and storm increased through the day and the water was very rough. The boat began to ship water and before dark the main deck was wet and running with water. The vessel began to pitch and tumble very rapidly. We were obliged to keep hold of some solid post or we must measure the deck with our wet bodies.

In the evening the vessel had shipped such heavy seas that her wheel houses were both broken in, the air pipes knocked down, and the vessel was strained so badly she began to leak very fast. There were two steam pumps kept in motion all the time and the water was increasing. The coal bins were filled and one engine room. The water was into the depth of 3 ft. One fire was out entirely and the other almost out, still the wind was increasing. The fireman left their posts for the water was too deep for them. The sea appeared in mountains and the waves washed even as high as our smoke stack. The vessel had shipped seas in front of her hospital cabin in front was almost washed down. The left it and went down in the hold. The fire was kept up by the engineer who went and took the place of the firemen. We were apparently buried in the water a part of the time, but although the ship's crew had nearly all given up, yet we kept along.

We were aroused by the alarm of fire in the evening. The smoke was coming from the engine and to all appearances, the ship had caught fire; but it was a false alarm. We soon found out from whence the smoke came. The engineer was burning tar and the smoke had found its way up through the machine. The wind kept increasing until about 12 o'clock when the sky became lighter and the roar of the wind was less fearful. We lay on deck and all over the vessel trembling with cold and dripping with water, but we began to see some hope of light and land again. For although the vessel was wrenched and tipped from parallel to perpendicular, the wind was going down and the sea was getting no worse.

Sat., Nov. 7, 1862: Morning came and the sun arose in a clear sky, and it was never more welcome to the reckless soldier. The sea was not quite so rough. The old boat then commenced going, and we could see the Daniel Webster going through the big waves very slow but sure. This morning the sailors are signing and whistling as cheerfully as ever they were, and the soldiers talking of different attitudes they were placed in through the night. One man was standing in the wheelhouse and a wave came and struck the starboard smashing in the little room he was standing in and carried off the planks and took him to the chain railing where he was lodged. The first that he knew was that he was very near over board and was clinging to the port side of the railing. Another man, one of the ship's crew, was in front when the boat dipped a heavy sea. It threw him nearly off the boat when he struck near the wheelhouse. It nearly broke his arm and bruised him up very badly.

The old boat looked very clean this morning and was well broken up. This morning the pilot sounded the depth of the water and found that we were near land somewhere. We supposed it to be the Jersey shore. We then made for New York for it was unsafe to go any further than that place with the boat as badly broken as it was. At 12 noon we were in sight of land; the Jersey highlands. We were then going pretty good speed. We reached the Bay about 2 P.M. and at 5 P.M., we cast anchor in the middle of the river before Castle Garden where we remained for the night. A cold night for we had nothing to sleep on but the wet deck and our wet blankets over us; but we got some satisfaction for we were very tired. In the morning we ate a warm breakfast brought to us from the Castle Garden, and in the forenoon we were taken aboard another boat and carried to East River where we were landed. Once more on dry (or wet land) we were carried to a hospital in the east part of Cebtral Park, known as the St. Josephine U.S. Army Hospital, once used as a Catholic Nunnery and chapel. We here found a good place with plenty to eat and good attendants. The Sisters of Charity were helping to take care of the sick. It takes some time to get over the sea sickness which troubled me. I have a bad cold in the ear and my teeth ache.

Nov. 11, 1862: Today I was detailed as nurse in one of the wards in the hospital known as U.S. Army Hospital, Central Park, N.Y. Frank Hamilton, Seargeant in charge.

U.S. Army Hospital, Central Park, Dec. 12, 1862:I listened to a sermon from Psalms V:7, but as for me, I will come into thy house.

Jan. 1, 1863: I was mustered for pay this morning by the mustering officer from the city.

U.S. Army Hospital, Central Park, N.Y., Jan. 13,1863: I was discharged from the service of the U.S. because of the wound I had received in my side and my right lung was affected.

Jan. 16,1863: I went to the pay master's office and received my pay and ran about through the city until Friday night.

New York City, Jan. 18,1863: I started for home on the night express train at 5 P.M. I reached Elmira after some delay on Sat. morning about 3 A.M. While going through Adrian, the train came off the track breaking 8 cars and turning the engine over into the ditch. Another train came down from Cornell and took us up to that place where we arrived at 3 P.M. I reached home Sun. morning.

Jan. 20, 1863: The folks were all well, and the old creek looked quite natural; but I missed many of my old friends.

Steuben, N.Y., 1863: Some have payed the department of nature, some have moved away, and some have gone to join the army. I am left with a hole in my side, out of employment, don't know what to do with myself or where to go. A pity indeed!

[Transcribed by Beth Richards]