Tuesday, December 19, 2017

In chaos of battle at Burnside Bridge, a glimpse of humanity

Private George Washington Lafayette Ard and his Georgia comrades defended the bluffs beyond
Burnside Bridge on Sept. 17. 1862. (CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)

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Amid the horrors of the Civil War, we sometimes find acts of kindness. Perhaps the best-known is the story of Sergeant Richard Kirkland -- the "Angel of Marye's Heights"-- who aided wounded Federals as they lay in front of the infamous Stone Wall at Fredericksburg. But there are many other examples of soldiers comforting wounded enemies on Civil War battlefields, including at least two at the Battle of Antietam.

Post-war image of
George Ard.
While Bela Burr lay with a bullet wound in his ankle in the 40-Acre Cornfield -- no-man's land the night after the battle -- the parched 16th Connecticut private was given water from a canteen by a Georgia soldier named J.M. Norton, who risked getting shot by sharpshooters. After the war, Burr's Antietam story became the subject of a poem, "Forty Hours on the Battlefield or the Foeman Friend."

And then there is the story of George Washington Lafayette Ard, a 28-year-old private in the 2nd Georgia and former overseer of a plantation along the Chattahoochee River. While defending the bluff above the "lower stone bridge," -- better known as the Burnside Bridge today -- on Sept. 17, 1862, Ard was wounded in the thigh and right arm. Left behind by his retreating comrades, he asked for aid from a Union officer, who brought four soldiers to carry the wounded Rebel to safety.

"Wounded, bleeding, suffering as I was, it was a rare sight to see thousands of well-fed, well-clad soldiers occupying the ground just abandoned by the few ragged, hungry Confederates," recalled Ard, of Toombs' Brigade.

Ard lost his wounded leg -- it was amputated by a Union surgeon -- but his life was saved. In this remarkable account published in the Athens (Ga.) Weekly Banner on July 26, 1892, the Confederate veteran tells of the kindness of men in the Union army at Antietam -- and of a bond forged with one of them that lasted well after the war.   It appeared under the headlines "An Old Veterans Story" and "An Empty Trouser Leg Emphasises His Story -- Mr. Ard, of Lumpkin, Tells of His Treatment." (Hat tip: Laura Elliot.)

We copy the following from the Macon Telegraph, which will be read with interest by many of the old soldiers.

"Where did you lose your leg, Mr. Ard?" I inquired.

George Ard's Antietam account appeared in
the Athens (Ga.) Weekly Banner
on July 26, 1892.
"I lost it," said the old soldier," at Antietam Creek, or rather Sharpsburg, on the 17th of September 1862. If you will listen, an old Confederate soldier will talk." I listened and thus ran his story.

I belonged to the Second Georgia, Toombs' brigade. I was on the extreme right of a few of us who were attempting to prevent Burnside from crossing the lower stone bridge. The fight was on; a ball passed through my thigh, and, while lying on the ground wounded, another ball passed through my right elbow joint. Our forces retreated and the Federals rushed across the creek. Wounded, bleeding, suffering as I was, it was a rare sight to see thousands of well-fed, well-clad soldiers occupying the ground just abandoned by the few ragged, hungry Confederates. The contrast struck me. A regiment of Federals halted near where I was lying. The officer made his men a short speech, which was cheered. Amidst this, I beckoned to an officer near me and requested that he would drag me on the other side of a tree hard by. He at once stepped back to the line and brought four men, who gently picked me up and placed me behind the tree, hastily spreading a blanket for me to lie upon. I requested to know whom to thank for the kindness. The reply was, 'We belong to the Ninth New York Regiment, Hawkins' Zouaves.' These four men hurried back to their places, and the command came from head of column, 'forward, march,' and Burnside's corps passed by.

Very soon an army surgeon came near me. I called to him. Fortunately, I was a Mason, for he was one. He said his name was Humphries, [George Humphreys] surgeon of the Ninth New York Regiment. Dr. Squires [Truman Squire], his assistant, was with him. I asked the surgeon if he could give me any temporary aid, remarking that he had as many of his own across the creek as he could attend to. His reply was that he was under as many obligations to me as to any man. He said he had been a surgeon in the Crimean War. He examined my wounds. He administered chloroform, and when I became conscious my leg was off and my arm bandaged.

In that fix I lay behind the tree. The shot and shell from the Confederate batteries were felling treetops and tearing up the ground all around me. Just before night, the firing ceased and the assistant surgeon, Dr. Squires, returned to me and stitched up the flaps of the amputated limb. There I spent the long night. My sufferings, mental and physical, were agonizing. The weather was hot. Loss of blood created thirst. Nearby, I could hear the rippling Antietam mocking me as I called aloud for water which came not.

After the Union army fought its way across Antietam Creek, a wounded George Washington Ard
 was aided by Federal soldiers.
As a last resort for water I used the grand hailing signal of distress. Some Yankee soldier heard my cry and filled my canteen with water from the creek.

The next morning about sunrise, an ambulance came for me, sent by Dr. Humphries, and took me some two miles to a farmhouse, where Dr. Humphries most tenderly cared for me. He brought a young man who he called Mac and said, 'Mac, I commit this young Georgian, and others to you.'

In some two weeks, we were removed to a field hospital. My friend Mac continued to wait on me as long as I remained, until the 24th of January, 1863. A nobler man than Paul J. McLocklin never lived. While in the hospital, I became acquainted with several members of the Ninth Regiment, and was under the charge of Dr. Humphries until he left for the front, and Dr. Squires was put in charge. In time, I was moved to Frederick City, and I missed the men of the Zouaves.

On the 16th day of May, 1863, I was taken from Frederick City to Baltimore, thence to Fort Norfolk, thence to Fortress Monroe. Here I was transferred to a large steamer, the "Willow Leaf," and the guards on board were Ninth New York men. I was rejoiced. One-legged and maimed I was troubled to know when I reached City Point how I should climb the hill to reach the train that bore the exchanges to "Dixie," but the Ninth New York Zouaves saw me through on board the train.

After the war, Mac and I kept up a correspondence for many years. His letters ceased to come. I wrote again "to be returned to Lumpkin Georgia, if not called for in ten days." The post master at West Winsted, Conn. wrote back, "Your friend Mac died a few months ago." In the meantime, we had exchanged photographs and for years his picture has been hanging upon the wall in my bedroom. If I had money, I would go to Athens, for I want to see the men of the Ninth New York Regiment as I would my own Confederates.

Marker for Paul J.McLocklin in Forest View Cemetery in Winsted,  Conn.
POSTSCRIPT: Two years after the war, Ard married Sarah Whitten, the daughter of a preacher. The veteran supported his wife and four children as tax collector in Stewart County, Ga., a position he held until his death in 1904. Ard, a brief profile published in 1913 stated, was "one of the best known and most highly respected citizens" of the area. His bond with McLocklin was also noted: "This strange friendship between two soldiers of the opposite armies was continued by correspondence until the death of the Federal soldier."

Surgeon Humphreys of the Hawkins' Zouaves also survived the war. He died in 1898. Squire, the man who probably amputated Ard's leg, continued practicing medicine after the war. In a newspaper account of his death in 1889, he was described as  "one of the veteran physicians and surgeons of the Southern Tier, and one of the ablest and most distinguished."

Only 18 when he was enlisted, McLocklin survived a wound at Antietam and was discharged for disability on Feb. 17, 1863. After the war, he settled in Connecticut, where he joined the local Grand Army of the Republic post. He died on Oct. 23, 1880, and was buried in Forest View Cemetery in Winsted, Conn.

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  1. A wonderful story of friendship born from the horrors of war. It gives me hope for the future in this divisive age we live in.

  2. "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..." Matt 5:44