Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Second Manassas: 'A stream of blood spurting a foot'

(Click here for my interactive battlefield panoramas of Antietam, Cedar Mountain, Chickamauga, Gettysburg, Harris Farm, Salem Church, Spotsylvania Courthouse and more.)

                  A portion of the Unfinished Railroad Cut at Second Manassas battlefield.
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On a spectacular April day, the morning after a hard rain, I trudged by myself about 3/4 of a mile through muddy fields, a patch of woods and over a small stream to look at a large ditch. Peaceful and unremarkable today, the Unfinished Railroad Cut on the Second Manassas battlefield was the scene of death and destruction on a large scale on Aug. 29, 1862.  Perhaps the most horrific account of the fighting there comes from John H. Worsham, who, as a 23-year-old private in J.R. Jones' Brigade, helped stop a Union attack at the railroad embankment. As Rebels counterattacked, they came under artillery fire, killing at least four men in Worsham's 21st Virginia regiment.

Wounded in the left leg in 
1864, John Worsham was left 
permanently disabled. 
(Photo courtesy Robert Caudle)
"The striking of one shell sounded like "a thud on my right, as if one had been struck with a heavy fist," according to the post-war account by Worsham, who was horrified by the result:
"Looking around, I saw a man at my side standing erect, with his head off, a stream of blood spurting a foot or more from his neck. As I turned farther around, I saw three others lying on the ground, all killed by this cannon shot. The man standing was a captain in the 42nd Va. Regt., and his brains and blood bespattered the face and clothing of one of my company, who was standing in my rear. This was the second time I saw four men killed by one shot. The other occurred in the battle of Cedar Run, a few weeks earlier. Each time the shot struck as it was descending -- the first man had his head taken off, the next was shot through the breast, the next through the stomach, and the fourth had all his bowels torn out."
Wounded in the left leg at the Third Battle of Winchester on Sept. 19, 1864, Worsham was left permanently disabled. He was 81 when he died in 1920, 56 years to the day of his wounding in Virginia. While the physical toll of the war is clear, one wonders about the mental effects on men such as Worsham and others who witnessed up close the terrible mangling of their comrades. Post-traumatic stress disorder was largely unknown during most of Worsham's lifetime. So, we're left to wonder: What did John Worsham see in his nightmares?

The Groveton monument near the Unfinished Railroad Cut was dedicated
 by Union veterans in June 1865.

1 comment:

  1. Probably more nightmares than dreams.