Alfred S. Roe's Moment of Capture

John Hartwell

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The moment of capture must always have been traumatic for any soldier. Often it was violent, or desperate, or perhaps even anticlimactic. Private A.S. Roe described the start of his "Trip with the Confederates" in his own characteristic often humorous, matter-of-fact style.

Roe’s 9th N.Y. Heavy Artillery (serving as Infantry) had been scattered and nearly overrun at Monocacy:

“To tell the truth, I didn't realize that we were whipped effectually. I knew that things were mixed, but I confidently expected to find an orderly line somewhere which would stem the tide of retreat. Had I known then, as I afterward learned, that our general officers had for some time been making their way towards Baltimore, using for their trip the train standing on the track, I think I should have taken much longer steps. … There were so many men all about me that the idea of running had not once entered my head. In fact, running from a field of battle did not comport with the dignified manner with which I thought troops ought to withdraw from a situation where they had been whipped. Another time I should have known better; but one must have experience in war as well as in anything else.

“My bump of curiosity, coupled with an acquisitive faculty, was the cause of my ruin or capture; it's all the same thing. Anything lying around loose was, in those days, accounted legitimate plunder. An exceedingly plethoric knapsack lying by the roadside tempted me beyond resistance. Had I realized the nearness of the foe, I would have thrown away my own burdens and have made haste from that locality. But all this is hindsight; what I lacked then was foresight.

“The knapsack was a rich one. It must have been the property of one of the hundred day men who made up a part of the defending force, for no man who had had any experience in marching would have tolerated for an hour such a load. The owner, too, was a Dutchman. This I knew from the German Bible and other literature in it. He also chewed tobacco, as I inferred from the large plug of ‘Navy’ which it contained. I helped myself to an excellent pair of stockings and to the tobacco, already wondering with what one of the boys I would trade that, and for what, when my investigations and meditations were rudely interrupted with, ‘Look here, Yank!’ Looking upward, I found myself gazing into the mouth of a six-shooter, held in the hand of a stalwart cavalryman. Resistance was out of the question, at least so it seemed to me. In fact, I was too much surprised for anything else than unconditional surrender.

“A prisoner! One-half the meaning of that word I had never imagined, much less realized. ‘Let's have your money; d*mned quick, too,’ were the greeting words of my captor. At this I produced an old weather-beaten purse that a man belonging to an Ohio regiment had thrown away some weeks before. Its contents were just thirty-five cents in scrip. The disgust depicted on the cavalryman's face at this exposition was most intense.

"’Is that all you've got?’

"’Every cent,’ was my reply

"’Well, keep it then. It isn't worth taking.’

"Small though the amount was, I was nothing loath to do this; for with us, at the front, considering the infrequency of pay-day, money was money. This small remnant was some remaining from enlistment; for no paymaster had ventured near us. In fact, I never saw any of Uncle Sam's wages between January, '64, and March, '65, and then it came in the way of commutation for rations not eaten while in the hands of the rebels. However, I had no watch, nor other valuables, so I did not net my captor very much.

“The number of the captured appeared in its full magnitude when we were all brought together in and about a barn-yard near by. Misery likes company; but knowing the smallness of the force that had been sent to oppose the rebels, it easily seemed to me that few could have escaped — save, perhaps, the officers who had taken the train.

"A captured man's feelings are hard to describe. For myself, at the time, the predominant one was that of shame. I was constantly saying to myself, 'If I had done thus and thus,' but no amount of regret nor of retrospect softened the prospect before me. Near me were the bodies of men slain the day before. Some I recognized, and I had permission to look about among the dead to find, if possible, bodies of friends.

"The day was Sunday; but there was little of home observance of its sanctity as we filed out and began our first march under rebel direction. As we started southward, I took a farewell glance at the scene of the previous day's fighting. On every hand were lying the bodies of those who had fallen. From these, in most cases, the clothing had been stripped, and the stubble having taken fire, the flame was scorching the unconscious remains. Those sad, upturned faces! How imploringly they seemed to look! Boys there were who thus suddenly 'saw life's morn decline.' The bullet had sought alike the young and the old, and here they were lying, soon to be
'In one red burial blent.'​

"One last look I took at these sights, and an intervening hill shut them out forever."

"Vale Monocacy!"
Alfred Seelye Roe’s narrative is extracted from his memoir Recollections of Monocacy. His story is continued in From Monocacy to Danville, or, a Trip with the Confederates.
 

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John Hartwell

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#3
He was quite the story teller, good stuff.
A. S. Roe was a very good writer. Wrote a a few regimental histories (9th NYHA, 5th, 10th and 39th Mass. etc), & several other books (ACW, local history, travel, etc.) Did a lot of lecturing, and many of his talks were published as pamphlets.

His complete online works (mostly ACW)
 
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