Wondering in the Chancellorsville Night

Many regimental histories from the post-war era must be studied with a healthy level of suspicion since some writers were prone to exaggeration and self-aggrandizement in their memories, and Major St. Clair Mulholland of the 116th Pennsylvania (Irish Brigade) is no exception. However, a level of historical questioning should not prevent a reader from taking a moment to appreciate a well-written moment or an almost lyrical description in the memory saga.

Mulholland offered a particularly vivid image of the night of May 3 in a Chancellorsville trench with his regiment. It had been a day of death, and it was a night of no rest as sharpshooters watched and fired. Men began to wonder about other worlds, perhaps in similar ways to our own wandering thoughts toward eternity on lonely, silent, now-peaceful battlefields.

Meteors at night, eastern United States (Public Domain)

The night of the third was one to be long remembered, the enemy making continual demonstrations, the Union soldiers vigilant, awake and watchful. A lovely, cloudless night it was, with the planets quietly glittering in the azure above. General Meagher, in full uniform, walked up and down the brigade line. The men of the regiment lay, musket in hand; Sergeant Detwiler, dozing, now and then, with the colors tightly grasped. The men were tired, sleepy and dazed for want of rest, which they could not get on account of the frequent alarms.

Every time the boys slumbered, the sharp crack of a parrot gun or a crash of musketry would awaken them with a start, so the majority of them lay awake quietly chatting, some of the morrow, others of home. One group, lying on their backs looking up to the heavens, began talking about the stars.

“Wonder if the people up there (in the stars) go to war.”

“Wonder if they have parrot guns.”

“Wonder if they allow foraging.”

“Wonder if the commissary gets up in time when the rations is out.”

“Wonder if they have sutlers and if their government allows them to charge three dollars a bottle for bad whiskey.”

And so the long night passed and another day came. A long beautiful spring day, with the sharpshooters vigilant….



St. Clair A. Mulholland, The story of the 116th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry. War of secession, 1862-1865. (Philadelphia, 1899.) Accessed through Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/21012466/ Pages 147-148 of PDF.

1 Response to Wondering in the Chancellorsville Night

  1. My Great, great grand uncle 1st LT. Elahan Botkin
    from Kentucky. He died in 1863.

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