Let’s start out with a bang! By bang I mean a genealogy post that packs some serious punch. I have already done a significant amount of research on my family tree but I haven’t come close to finding as much information on most people as I have for my great, great grandfather John Bryant Castine. So, for this blog post I shall do two parts for the esteemed Mr. Castine. The first part shall document an account of his time during the civil war, taken almost verbatim from an article he wrote himself in 1917 for the Wilmington Star. The second post to come soon after will tell more about his life and family after the war. Both, being heartbreaking accounts, had a deep impact on me when I learned about his life. Difficulties and hardships remained a constant for John Bryant during his time here on earth. This strangely is the relative that I feel almost as if I know. Being able to read his own words and see photos, newspaper articles and even the records of his children make me feel as if I knew him in his past life. My sister and I had a chance to visit Wilmington, North Carolina where my second great grandfather lived. We even had the opportunity to visit his grave, where he was laid to rest in Bellevue Cemetery next to his wife and family. We left stones to show that he has been visited and that he is, even to this day, remembered.
“I am now in my seventy-sixth year of age and have passed many milestones of life since the war and many hardships since, and I hope when the last “taps” is sounded for me (and I feel it would not be long, for every year the ranks grow thinner) I will be ready to answer the call and go where hardships and trials are felt and feared no more.” JB Castine 14 May 1917
When the war began between the North and the South, he enlisted in the Confederate service in May of 1861. He was part of company D, 3rd Regiment of Infantry. His captain was a man named Edward Savage and the lieutenants were Cumming, Meares and Van Bokkelen.
He was 20 years old and like many others thought that War would be short and they would soon return home. John had a twin brother named Jacob. Both he and Jacob had walked 20 miles to Wilmington, North Carolina to join the company only to find that the company was already filled up. They left Wilmington and went to a place called Garysburg. From there, they went down on the Potomac River for a while to Goldsboro on the Weldon Road and stayed for about a month. Then they traveled over to Kinston Road for another month and then onto somewhere near Petersburg.
When he arrived back on the Potomac he became sick with a fever. He had been exposed from lying on the cold ground. He could go no farther and they sent them to the Fredericksburg Hospital. He remained there for a while, delirious with the fever. The doctor said that he would never get well.
John Bryant had become sick with typhoid pneumonia and the doctors told him that one lung was gone and the other badly decayed. He describes his stay in the hospital and the moment when Lieutenant Van Bokkelen’s father came to see him. The father had asked him if he wanted to go home and John Bryant replied “yes”. He stated he would be back for him in the morning and had nurses help him walk because he could not on his own. They gave him a remedy of a toddy and told him to drink it three times a day once he was at home and to eat the fattest meat he could.
When he finally made it home he was sick for a very long time but became well after a while. He was taken to his father’s house 20 miles into the country.
After being sent home the Army sent him a discharge and exempted him from all public duties but that didn’t last long. The recruiting officers had him running to town standing draft. So, he made up his mind; if he had to go back to the war he would go back to the same company. He enlisted again with his previous company. His brother was still there and he wanted to be in the same company with him but was not with him for long for he died of typhoid fever just eight days before the 7 Days fighting commenced.
John Bryant states that the “Lord saw fit to take Jacob out of the trouble and leave me here.” He missed his brother very much for they had always been together and Jacob always lead and John followed. John Bryant was not with his brother very much during his illness but was there to see him buried. They wrapped Jacob in a blanket and lowered him into a soldier’s grave near Richmond,Virginia.
John Bryant would fight with his regiment for the first time in the Seven Days fighting near Richmond. He was in every battle from the first day until the 7th and he was with the company at Mechanicsville and with them at Cold Harbor. The Mechanicsville battle was on Wednesday evening, Cold Harbor was on Friday evening, Malvern Hill was on Tuesday the 1st of July. There was fighting on Monday but they were not in it. They passed along where they had been fighting on their way to Malvern Hill.
John Bryant was wounded at Malvern Hill late in the afternoon of the first day of July. He was lying by the side of Lieutenant Van Bokkelen, when right on top of the hill a ball struck him. Van Bokkelen asked “Castine are you wounded?” and he told him “yes”. Then he asked if he was hurt much and John told him he did not know. Van Bokkelen ordered John better try to get to the rear if he could. John did not get up right away. When the line was ordered to move and when they arose John Bryant arose with them and went down to the foot of the hill and stay there until the fighting was done. It was then after dark that several more wounded showed up and after the fighting ceased they bunched up and started to make their way to the road. They went to a vacant house in a field and went to see if they could get any water to drink but did not get any while they were there. Cavalry passed and they didn’t know if they were some of their own men or Yankees. So, they kept quiet until they moved on. It was getting late in the night and they were at a loss to know which way to go but finally decided to go on the way the Calvary went. If they were Yankees and captured them, the would have to go with them. They went across the field and when they got near a road they heard soldiers talking in the woods. They did not know who they were and were afraid to say anything out of fear that they would be captured, but finally someone in the crowd hailed to know who they were. “We are as it were you, we are Rebs too.” was a response. Then they went in the road towards them and they heard someone coming. It was a dark night, but when he spoke John recognized Mr. Van Bokkelen’s voice. When they met he wanted to know if he was wounded and John was hurt very much. He told John to go about a quarter of a mile farther and he would see a church by the side of the road and for John to go back and wait until he came back and he would help me to the camp. Before John got to the church he began to feel weak and sick from the loss of blood. He stopped outside of the road and laid down and didn’t know how long it was before he got to the church. Upon entering, the floor was filled up with wounded soldiers and he found a small space to lay down. It was getting late, as the nights were short, and they have been marching and fighting and laying on the ground in the open for 7 or 8 days. They were all very much fatigued and when he would stop he would drop asleep.
There were only two of them there so they went to the camp. John had been at the church for two days and nights before he got back to the camp. There was a train that took them to Richmond and they went to a hospital called Richardson’s Hospital. It would be three days since he was wounded and nothing had been done for his wound except the water poured on by the doctor at the church. He was very weak and the hospital was filled with wounded. He saw a man there who had a wound on his mouth. For a bullet struck him under the lip and it came out just below his ear and knocked out several of his teeth. John stated the ladies there were kind to them. They came every day and brought them nourishment and assisted the doctors and dressed wounds. He was there 15 days until they gave him a furlough home. John was only home 60 days when he went back to the company. He wouldn’t get home anymore until the 12th day of July 1865.
He was in the Battle of the Wilderness and Winchester and Gettysburg and many skirmishes he does not remember, with names of places he cannot recall. He was with the regiment all the time after he went back from being wounded until he was taken prisoner. They had had some pretty hard fighting and at the Battle of the Wilderness they fronted a regiment of Zouaves and gained a victory and took prisoners. Before the Battle of Winchester, they marched all night to get around to cut off the Yankees retreat at Winchester. After fighting about an hour they disappeared. He never forgot the words of General Johnston. There was a high hill some distance from the company. General Milroy and his staff ran up the hill and someone said to General Johnston, “General the Cavalry is flanking us!” General Johnston, who was about 50 yards in the rear, sitting on his horse said “Let them come. Let them come. That is what I want them to do. Turn that battery on them.” Then he said “Be quiet, men, be quiet. I want them to think there is only a handful of you.”
John Bryant was not in the first days fighting at Gettysburg. He was on his way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He heard about 20 miles from Harrisburg they received orders to go to Gettysburg. General Lee had found the Yankees were coming another way so they turned around and marched back on the same road for a while. Then they turned in another road and marched all afternoon. By the time they were within twelve or fifteen miles of Gettysburg, they stopped for the night. The next morning after getting something to eat, they gave everyone a strong drink of some kind and put them on a forced march to Gettysburg. They reached their destination in the afternoon and the fighting was over and the Yankees had fallen back and fortified themselves on the height. The ground was covered with the dead both Yankee and Rebels.
While fighting in Gettysburg, John Bryant saw an amusing incident which showed that even in battle the opossums were in danger. The last day they fought there he had shot away all of the cartridges and went down the hill to wait until some more cartridges were brought from the front. While he was lying there, he got to looking at the tops of the trees noticing how recklessly the Yankees were shooting. Frequently the bullets from their guns would cut the twigs from the tops of the trees. While he was looking, he saw a large possum on a limb and he kept watching him and he saw him shaking one of his feet as if a ball had hit it. As soon as he got some cartridges, he went to the front. He didn’t know what became of that possum. He never saw him anymore but he never forgot how he looked shaking his foot.
That morning when they left the battlefield, John Bryant ran on vidette some distance from the main line but was left. When got out onto the field he could not see anything of them there and he went on and after he had gone half a mile he saw them again. He decided to sit down and rest a little while but soon saw five or six Yankees come to the edge of the field. He was so tired and thought he would let them take him prisoner as they were coming towards him but he decided not to bear that idea if he could help it and he got up and moved on and was soon back with his men.
On the following day, late in the evening, they marched and waded to their waists through a creek. They fought until about 10 o’clock with the Yankees then they ceased firing at each other and the line fell back about 50 yards. They called out to our company as videttes and put us on the line where they would have been fighting right between their line and the Yankees. Everything was quiet for the rest of the night. The next morning when it got light enough for them to see they began fighting with each other and kept it up until in the day when the line fell back a hundred yards or more. They called their company on vidette again. The next morning, just before their line retreated on the other side of Gettysburg, they entrenched and they stayed there all day. That night they had the men build fires up and down the line and put them on a forced march all night and all the next day until late in the afternoon. Some of the Yankees followed. They came within a mile of the river that evening and stopped until dark. They had to build up fires again and then they started to cross the river and had to wade through. The next morning they crossed into Virginia and it had taken them all night and part of the morning to cross. The men marched until 11 o’clock then they stopped and rations were cooked and ate. When they left Gettysburg to come back to Virginia they stopped about a mile or two out of the town and entrenched in case the Yankees should pursue and attack them. They would have some protection as soon as it was dark and they moved on and marched all night. The next morning after daybreak they stopped to rest a little.
Even fifty years later, John Bryant can never forget hearing the wounded soldiers on the battlefield after the battle ended begging for water. “I feel like I can almost hear the sound of their voices in my ears now calling…wat-er, wat-er… all night long you could hear that cry. I can never forget the ‘huzzahs’ of the Yankees when they made a charge nor the ‘Rebel Yell’ when the Rebs charged.”
John Bryant was taken prisoner at Spotsylvania early in the morning of May 12th 1864. His whole division, generals and all, were taken. Captain John Cowan was the captain of the company at the time and he was a brave man according to John. He did not look like he knew what fear was. Cowan encouraged everyone as long as he could but he felt we had all done what we could. John wrote that Cowan told them to lay down their guns.
They slept in tents on the ground and the blankets were scarce. The tents were put up in rows with a wide path for streets and the African-American guards would patrol the streets at night. When the drum would tap, the lights would have to go out at once and no more talking was allowed. If any talking was heard the guards would say “Stop that talking in there or I will make my gun smoke at you.” The rations were 12 soda crackers a day, a cup of coffee. Six crackers and a small piece of meat of some kind for breakfast and six crackers with a cup of bean soup for dinner. Sometimes it would be a cup of salt water. He was glad to get away from there.
John Bryant was taken sick for nearly a year after he got home from prison with chills and fevers. He was discharged from Elmira prison on the morning of the 5th day of July 1865 and went to Baltimore. He had to ride in boxcars with plank boards for seats and the car was filled with Rebs. They stayed on board all night and did not do much sleeping. They arrived in Baltimore the next day about noon. Some of the Yankee soldiers met the train and had them fall in line and marched them down to the river where there was a boat waiting to take them to City Point. They had dinner prepared for them in a building and marched them in to find plenty to eat for all. The citizens were very kind to the men on the way home. After dinner they were told they had better stay close if they wanted to get home. The boat would leave and if they were not there they would be left. A wagon drove up with white bread and apple butter and they gave out to everyone that would go get it. Another had straw hats and clothing to give to the Rebs. A lady stood on the sidewalk on a box with a handful of small bills of money giving out as many as would go and get it.
They boarded the boat that afternoon at City Point and traveled all night and didn’t sleep. They had dinner prepared and after a while an engine and a box car came and they piled in on top and all around wherever they could and went to Petersburg. There they gave them something to eat as well. They had to lie all night or walk 15 miles to make connections with another road to get to the train the next morning. Twenty of the men decided to make the trip for the nights were short and they did not get much sleep anyway. It took them all night to make the trip but they made it in time for the train and were very much fatigued. From there they went to Gaston and had to cross a river in a boat to get to another train to come to Raleigh. At Raleigh, they had to lie overnight on the ground in the open air but of course they did not mind for they were used to the rough fare. John Bryant rested well and the next morning a train came along around 10 o’clock to Wilmington and they got on, homeward bound on their native soil once more.
This was an account of the events that my maternal great-great-grandfather, John Bryant, had experienced during the war between the North and the South and was written by the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. He states he wrote this for the ladies to honor the “old veterans” and people who fought for what they thought was right. He thinks of them as the representations of the tried-and-true women of the days of 61 through 65. The women who had to bare hardships and dangers at home while husbands, fathers and sons were away in the army fighting. And he says they did well to fill their post and after the close of the war, when all that was left returned home, weakend from exposure and hardships, many sick in body and mind, to find their homes devastated and in ruin the women came to their aid and help them bare their burdens.
When I first read this article from the Wilmington Star it brought a tear to my eyes to think that a person I never knew went through such hardships during the war. And the hardships did not end with the war. In the next post, I will share with you what happened in John Bryant’s life after the war. His marriage and his children and the time he spent in Wilmington. Thank you for reading.