While doing some research the other day, I stumbled across a sketch that caught my eye. It seemed clever yet gruesome at the same time. Titled “Effects of a shell,” it appeared in the memoir of Sgt. Austin C. Sterns, Three Years with Company K. Sterns served in the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, part of the Federal I Corps.
During the Chancellorsville campaign, as Joseph Hooker moved the main part of the Union army toward “the interminable woods and swamps near Chancellorsville,” the I Corps initially acted as a decoy to hold the attention of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Stearns’ narrative—and the sketch that went with it—picks up as he and his comrades wait for their part in Hooker’s master plan:
Col. Root of the 94th N.Y. in observance of the day had called his men together and was giving them some good advice as to what would be expected of them in the campaign now opening.
I listened to him till he was through and then turned back to my regiment. He had but just dismissed them, before many had time to go away, when a shell came shrieking over, bursting in their midst, and I think killed and wounded twelve. Another followed, and another, in quick succession, and our regiment this time was the loser. Cap’t. Bush of Co. F was standing with his men around him when a shell came earing through, striking him in the side and killing him instantly. Lieut. Cordwell, who was sitting near, had his head blown completely off, and Serg’t Fay, also in range, lost his right hand and leg. Many of the boys who were cooking their supper tipped over their coffee pots, spilling their contents, and saying, “Why don’t they take us out of this.” The order soon came to fall in, and marching by the right flank we soon were out of range; none of our company were hit, if we except Cordwell, who had but lately been promoted.
Sterns’s memoir, edited by Arthur Kent, was published in 1976 by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. The quoted section and the sketch come from pp. 166-7.