Army of the Potomac Surgeon’s Diary: Antietam to Chancellorsville
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“I rode in company with the President & Staff to review the others…”
Excellent-contentdiary with daily entries, written by Assistant Surgeon Robert W. Elmer of the 23rd New Jersey Regt., covering his service from September 26, 1862 through July 1, 1863, when he was mustered out. Includes post-battle observations of the Antietam battlefield. Elmer recounts accompanying President Lincoln on his review of the Army of the Potomac on April 8, 1863, and the subsequent bloody combat experienced by General Sedgwick’s VI Corps in the Chancellorsville campaign. Elmer writes on May 3, 1863, as Sedgwick drives General Jubal Early’s skeleton force off of Marye’s Heights in the Battle of Salem Church, an important side engagement during the Battle of Chancellorsville, “The batteries of the Rebs on the hills above Fredericksburg were captured about ten oclock. Our forces then marched through the city & followed them up on the Plank road to Richmond about three miles were there was another severe engagment in which a greater number of our men were killed & wounded than previously. I was kept very busy till late in the evening dressing the wounds. Laid down at night in a field of wheat & slept like a rock till morning.” [CIVIL WAR]. ROBERT ELMER.
Autograph Manuscript Signed. Diary. September 26, 1862-June 11, 1863. 46 pp. 4 ½ x 3”.
“[9/29/62] The regiment went into Washington and lay on the streets all night. There were a number of other regiments in the same column...Slept on a step the best I could... [10/2] The As. Surg. Hetzell remained in Washington to come overland with the ambulances & teams. Surg. Cook got left so I had sole charge to day but having no convenience for the sick, they were taken to the hospital... [10/6] The Colonel was suspended today on charges of drunkenness & ill usage of officers... [10/7] There are a great many sick with diarrhea, measels & colds & c. The worst cases are all taken to the U.S. General Hospital & all who are unfit to march tomorrow are also taken to the hospitals... [10/10] Rode Dr. Cooks horse over the late battlefield at Sharpsburg. Saw terrible destruction. Church riddled, fences & trees shot & c. Graves of many had fallen in battle. The friends removing the bodies of some... [10/11] Dr. Cook is under arrest for drunkenness... [10/16] Heavy cannonading has been heard all day in the direction of Harpers Ferry. The surgeon received a hospital tent today & so we cleared up our tent a little...A petition was sent to headquarters petitioning for the restoration of Dr. Cook to the regiment on oath. To day he was restored & Col. Cox also... [11/2] It does not seem at all like Sunday. Heavy cannonading heard all day beyond the mountains... [11/15] Dr. Hetzell & I rode over to Warrenton ... had the pleasure of riding to New Baltimore behind Gen. Sigel & staff... [12/4] I was left to take charge of the sick & get them into the ambulances. There were some twenty five or thirty & not ambulances enough to carry them so that I had a great deal of trouble. What remained of them started on foot but could not get further than the court House... [12/11] The regiment was among those which crossed the Rappahannock below Fredericksburg & met the enemy & after considerable skirmishing for two days they recrossed the river with a loss of 64 in killed wounded & missing... [12/20] This morning ambulances & teams came to remove the sick & tents to their regiments & much to my joy I loaded them all up & sent them off ... [1/1/1863] There was nothing particular going on except the men were served a ration of whiskey. Dr. Cook got a gallon & drunk a good share of it himself & as a consequence was somewhat boozy ... [1/20] I had 220 patients in charge & making them comfortable & finding something for them to eat was as much as I could attend to. The storm continued for several days. Made the road so bad the army was obliged to return so that on Monday 26th I broke up Hospital & all returned to their regiments…[4/2] The 6th Corps was reviewed today by Gen. Hooker.... [4/6/]The cavalry of the Army of the Potomac was reviewed today by President Lincoln. Dr. Hetzell & I rode over & had a good view of all. The greatest sight of cavalry I ever before saw.... [4/8] The 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th Corps (Infantry) were reviewed today by the President & family near Gen. Headquarters. After the 1st Division 6th Corps was reviewed Dr. H & I rode in company with the President & Staff to review the others... There were in the neighborhood of 100,000 troops out in line... [4/29] Our division reached the river & commenced crossing in the pontoon boats at daylight. The 1st Brigade was the last to cross & I was in the last boat. The Rebs were strongly entrenched on the heights above the river but were soon driven off. Three or four wounded on our side... [5/3] The ball opened this morning in earnest. The weather is very warm indeed. Fighting was done in earnest. This morning all along the line our forces gradually advancing. The batteries of the Rebs on the hills above Fredericksburg were captured about ten oclock. Our forces then marched through the city & followed them up on the Plank road to Richmond about three miles were there was another severe engagment in which a greater number of our men were killed & wounded than previously. I was kept very busy till late in the evening dressing the wounds. Laid down at night in a field of wheat & slept like a rock till morning. Joe Woodruff was wounded in the forehead this afternoon... [5/4] I had nearly finished my breakfast when I was saluted by a rebel shell from our rear. It came too close to make my position pleasant so we gathered up our goods & left on double quick.The Rebs had got in our rear & were firing on our forces from every direction. This caused a little commotion & we were advised to fall back towards the river where a pontoon bridge had been laid. The fighting was pretty severe in the morning & then lulled till towards night. Myself & squad went over the river & staid on the side of a hill till near five oclock when we started back to join the reg. about 1 1/2 miles distant. We had got within sight of it when cannonading opened on both sides & fighting continued very sharply all along the line till late at night. Our forces found it necessary to fall back across the river which was done during the night in good order... [closing entry:] Arrived in Beverly N.J. Thursday June 11th about 6 oclock- the men put up in the baracks in the old camp ground. I went to Bridgeton Friday night glad to get home again Returned to Beverly Saturday night. Was back and forth between Bridgeton & Beverly several times before being mustered out. Was mustered out on Saturday June 27th and paid off on Wednesday July 1st 1863-”
Robert Elmer was an Assistant Surgeon in the 23rd New Jersey Regiment, which served a nine-month enlistment in the Army of the Potomac. It was recruited from Burlington County, New Jersey, and trained at Camp Cadwalader in Beverly, just missing the Battle of Antietam. It joined the New Jersey Brigade, in the 1st Division of General John Sedgwick’s VI Corps. Captain Forrester Taylor of Company “H” of the 23rd received the Medal of Honor for rescuing two wounded soldiers under heavy fire at the Battle of Salem Church.
Transactions of the Medical Society of New Jersey (1871), p. 146.