The Journal of Sgt. Daniel Hart: 1828-1864
by Dan Culpepper
We used to ask ourselves why we were here. Here in the war, that is. I used to wonder whether or not it was worth it all. The marches, the harsh conditions, and the losses. We had all lost someone, friends, fathers, brothers, and sons, some of us more than others had. We asked ourselves, “Was it worth it all? In the end, did it even matter? Who would remember our names? For what did we die?” I used to ask myself these questions, but then I stopped caring. My life is now a day-to-day struggle to the end, when this cursed war is over or my life is taken from me. My cause is lost, my family gone, my dreams have died, and the only hope I have left is to live another day, sleep another night, fight another battle, and hope to see the sun rise.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 18, 1862
Winter was coming quickly; in fact it was already here. However, we had yet to feel the lonely, cold and harsh winds that would soon sweep over the hills. One of the privates asked me when we would receive our winter supplies, which happened to be the very question I was on my way to ask the captain. “We’re heading towards Fredericksburg now. All the supply trains will be headed there for the troops to come and get what they need. We’ll be there in a couple of weeks.” Discomforting to say the least. Many of the boys didn’t have coats, and it was getting colder by the day. I had stolen mine from a wounded Confederate in our last battle. We tried to save his life, but he didn’t have a chance. He was just another casualty of war, nothing more. We’ve marched a good fifteen miles today and hope to get another ten before nightfall. Scouts say all clear ahead, so I just might rest easy tonight. That is always a rare occasion, but gratefully welcome.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 21, 1862
Patrick Harper and I have been together the entirety of the war. Soldiers tell themselves not to make friends. Any day they or their friends could be dead. Yet there was something about Pat that wouldn’t let me do that. Reserved in a way, the Irishman is the best damn soldier in the Confederate army. Beast of a man, he has his own savage gun with a caliber so strong no man but he can fire it, and if some poor Yankee gets too close, he gets his head bashed in by the butt of Pat’s gun. It’s these kinds of soldiers that make you proud you’re on the right side of the battle. He and I had been through Bull Run over a year ago. Stood right behind Jackson himself, we did. Pat’s a great soldier, but a better friend, there is none.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 22, 1862
Today we came into a small farm town west of Fredericksburg and will be staying the night here. Captain Sharpe gave us the night off so long as we were back in ranks by morning. Pat and I got our dinner and a pint, after which I fell in love with a beautiful farm girl who I quickly forgot the name of and he found a bottle and some woods. Pat’s wife Molly had vigorously instructed me to “Keep my Patrick clean of drinking and out of any woman’s arms while y’all are gone away.” I’m fixed on enforcing one of those. Keeps everyone happy.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 22, 1862
This has been the coldest morning all year. I woke to snow breezing itself into my tent, completely ignoring the inhabitant who was currently occupying the warm dwelling. I quickly dressed, donned my boots and stolen coat, to find I was one of the first awake. Pat was cleaning his beast of a gun while Perkins warmed his hands by the fire. Dawn was breaking as he handed me a steaming plate of eggs with dry hardtack, a welcome luxury at this hour in any weather, but especially this morning. Captain Sharpe came and told us to wake the men. He wanted to reach Louden today, a mere twenty miles, but in these conditions it would be slow going. Those without coats bundled in whatever they could, broke camp and formed ranks.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 28, 1862
We did in fact reach Louden, but not until late that night. A grievance to us all, during the march we had lost one of the wounded to the cold. Just another casualty of war, he was. Unlike the last town, we were made to set camp and stay there. Pat and I were sneaking out of the camp with hopes of a good time when we saw the scout. We looked up upon the ridge and saw him in the winter moonlight atop a horse. The mare trotted down the hill as we ran towards it. As we did, the rider slumped from the saddle and hit the ground with a thud. Pat scooped the boy up and carried him back to camp, where I immediately informed the Captain. The exhausted boy – no more than sixteen – relayed his story. Impatiently, Captain Sharpe demanded the point.
“Burnside’s got himself an army of Yankees, hundred thousand at least. Cavalry, artillery, infantry, all headed directly towards Fredericksburg. They’ll be there in about a week. Burnside’s eager, he wants battle.” Pat froze at his post. His family, wife and two sons all lived in Fredericksburg, and there was limited resistance between them and Burnside’s army. Captain Sharpe said he would issue orders in the morning. Neither Pat nor I slept much.
Sgt. Danny Hart, November 29, 1862
First thing in the morning, we broke camp in record time. The boy had died sometime during the night. Just another casualty of war, he was. Perkins was immediately dispatched with the information to General Lee’s headquarters south of Fredericksburg. Captain Sharpe ordered the rest of us to begin our march toward that town. We went double-time as much as possible, making good time. The wounded we left in good care at Louden. We couldn’t afford the weight, and time was pressing. We still had two full companies in the battered regiment. We would use all we could at the battle. Scouts reported Union troop movement in the hills. We hoped to pass quietly under the monster.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 1, 1862
We heard them before we saw them. Coming from just outside the woods, we heard their clatter. Sharpe gave the order for silence, and Pat and I climbed the ridge. We looked down the slope at the four full companies armed and in our way. We quickly fell back to the captain and gave him our estimates.
“With this ridge, well placed shots, and the element of surprise, we should be able to whip ‘em,” I offered. Captain agreed and we split into the companies. I was on the left with Pat. Captain Sharpe and Lieutenant Taylor on the right. The surprise was perfect, the shots accurate, and soon the entire Yankee force was scattered. We ran into the camp and fought off the rest of them. We salvaged what we could. Many of the boys got their first coats. Then the cannon rang out, and I was unconscious.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 2, 1862
When I awoke, I found the true hell that is this war. Aside from gashes and a bit of shrapnel in my shoulder, and a splitting headache, I was fine. But as I gazed at the scene before me, both a white-hot anger and a deep sorrow filled my heart, and I fell to my knees. I cried in anguish as I saw the lifeless bodies of my regiment strewn about the now peaceful scene. The canister had been blown into the mass of us. When I saw the mangled, shredded body of Lieutenant Taylor, I knew I should be dead. Several more soldiers lay dead. I checked for signs of life, only to find more death. I found Captain Sharpe face down in his own blood, a saber wound across his throat. The Union Cavalry had come over the hill and slaughtered what was left of my regiment. There is only one word to describe myself. Rage. I searched desperately for Pat. I found him, his back against a tree. I counted seventeen Yankee dead around him. My heart leapt when I saw he was breathing.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 2, 1862
The pale face and painful breaths of the Irish beast was enough to soften the heart of any man. The Confederate sergeant had many wounds about his body. He stared into space, no moans or cries of pain escaped him. He sat, proud and strong, the strongest man ever to walk this hallowed ground. I ran to his side, looked him over and sighed. I knew there was nothing I could do for him.
“Leave me be. It’s my time to ride,” he whispered. A slow trickle of blood left his lips. He coughed, and a blood clot landed on my jacket. This was not going to be painless. “I can’t make it anymore, you’re the only one who can help me. Get to Fredburg. Get Molly and the boys out of there. The town’ll be burned to the ground. You’ve got to get to them fast.” He coughed again and tried to stand. Snow began to fall again and I felt the chill of winter. “This hatred will take everything from us, but in the end we are just another casualty of war.” I nodded, and looked around me.
“At least you went out with a bang,” I told him. He died laughing. He left me with a charge. With nothing left here for me to do, nowhere else for me to go, I will head for Fredericksburg.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 3, 1862
I have been running for five days now. I have no food, and my water is limited to what I can find. I am exhausted and weak, my shoulder has become painfully infected, and I have a serious cold. I am twelve miles from Fredericksburg, but I see a farmhouse in the distance. I will seek shelter there, I don’t know if I can last another night out in this cold, in this hell of a winter. My only thought now is of Perkins’ eggs and hardtack.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 8, 1862
The residents of the farm have taken me in. Rather the slaves have. A woman named Sarah is taking care of me, nursing my wounds. They have fed me well even with the threat of invasion at their doorstep. After I am rested, I will continue the last ten miles to Fredericksburg. I hope to beat the Union army there, get Molly and the children out through the southern side of town where the Confederate troops will be moving in. Once behind the lines, they’ll be safe.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 9, 1862
I have completely underestimated the position of the Union troops. The army led by General Burnside has camped on the far side of the river. Infantry, cavalry, artillery, all ready to seize the city and destroy General Lee’s army on the other side. One hundred and twenty two thousand strong. General Burnside was eager for battle after Mcllean’s recent demotion for cowardice. I swam the icy river by night and entered the West Side of the city. Confederate troops buzzed about the town setting up barricades, destroying bridges, seeking sniper positions, and constantly moving troops. I moved quietly out of fear. I could easily be mistaken for a spy or tried for desertion. It’s about 4 a.m. now, but I must continue to the East Side and find Molly.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 10, 1862
The morning was cool, the air brisk. I could see my breath as I shivered in my hiding spot. I could hear the movement of artillery from both sides. All hell was about to break loose. I will never forget the first shot. The Union artillery fired a volley into the midst of Rebel defenders, and subsequently pounded the town with ball, canister, and musket. I ran, with explosions all around. I ran, through splinters, fire and blood. I was only two blocks away from Pat’s house when the Union crossed the river. The town itself was becoming a massive battle for survival.
I entered Molly’s house at the same time the Yankees did. My only weapon was a knife, so I made quick use of it, fending off the first two. When a cannonball destroyed the back of the house, the rest of the Yankees went with it. I found Molly and the two children upstairs. She immediately recognized me and followed me out of the crumbling house. We ran through the streets, one child over my shoulder, one running between us. We reached the field outside of town and ran for our lives, Union soldiers at our back. It was then I saw a most beautiful sight: the sun’s golden beams pierced the morning fog, and there standing tall was a row of Confederate artillery. High on a horse sat Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army in all its strength. We ran, reached the Confederate lines, and collapsed.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 11, 1862
I saw Molly and the children onto a refugee train headed south. She was in tears over the loss of her husband, but was happy to be alive. I assured her he had fought hard to the end. It was at this time that I realized why I fight. It’s not for land or power, nor for riches. It is not for the thrill of battle, or for glory and honor. It’s about the soldier standing next to me, the people I effect, the children who will have to deal with our mistakes. No one may remember my name. But they will remember why I fight. The brotherhood that we share, the blood that we shed, all for a freedom I will never see. That is why we fight. That is why we die.
Sgt. Danny Hart, December 15, 1862
I found this journal on a dead rebel. Just a skeleton actually. Must have died at Gettysburg. Think I’ll keep it, even though it might be offending the dead or something. Who cares. He was just another casualty of war.
Pvt. Jeb Sanders, May 9, 1865