Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Yank, Reb pickets swap newspapers
BY LARRY ALEXANDER, Staff Writer
The continuing story of Lititz cavalryman Aaron Eugene Bachman, from his personal diary. January 1863.
Returning from leave in Lititz in January 1863, Private Aaron Bachman of the 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry found his unit 35 miles south of Frederick, Md., pulling picket duty along the Monocacy River.
It was February, and he was fighting off a severe cold, contracted after sleeping in a wet tent after it had been torn down "by a lot of toughs who had a rough and tumble fight," he wrote. Bachman added that had it not been for the care given to him by his friends, he would've ended up back in the hospital.
"I preferred the firing line to the hospital," he wrote.
Now he was out in the weather again, riding a mile-long picket line in the bone-piercing cold of the night. Once he thought he heard a child crying in the darkness, but found nothing. In the morning, he discovered "a big owl sitting in the grass." The farmer who owned the land explained that "owls frequently play such tricks."
Another dark night Bachman saw what looked like a man kneeling and pointing a musket at him, ready to fire. He was relieved to find it was just an old tree stump.
Across the river from the 1st Pa. Cavalry was posted the Confederate 52nd Virginia Cavalry, and at night the two sides often exchanged pleasantries and information. This fraternization was not at all uncommon between outposts in a war that often found brothers, cousins and neighbors fighting on opposite sides.
Bachman wrote that the rebels waved a newspaper and called over, "Hello there. Have you any papers to exchange?" When the Yankees replied, "Yes," they were asked which papers.
"The Philadelphia Inquirer," was the answer, citing the popular northern daily newspaper. "What do you have?"
Bachman said the Rebels called back, "The Richmond Clipper." (His memory here seems faulty. No such newspaper existed, according to a Richmond Historical Society research librarian. Quite possibly, the paper was the popular Richmond Dispatch.)
The rebels then called, "Will you let us come back if we come over?"
"Yes," the Yanks called back. "We are old soldiers. We will let you go back."
Five rebels crossed the Monocacy in a small boat, Bachman wrote, where men in blue "had a hearty handshake" with those in gray. Newspapers and tobacco were exchanged, and men who had recently been shooting at one another discussed the war situation.
"We held these exchange visits three or four times while I was on duty at that point," Bachman wrote.
Not long afterward, Bachman's unit left camp, riding several miles downriver. Confederates had seen them leave, and sent 300 men downstream in flat-bottomed boats, intent on setting up an ambush on the road the Yankees would travel.
Luckily, one of Bachman's comrades, Corporal John H. Johnson, ran into a black man who warned him of the ambush, saying the rebels will "kill every one of you sure." The Yanks wisely turned back.
After returning to camp, the same five rebels who had earlier crossed the river to exchange newspapers, crossed again. One asked the Yankees where they had gone, saying, "We followed, but failed to find you." Bachman's men didn't reveal that they knew about the ambush.
"The strange part of it was that the men who were so friendly the day before, and the day after, would have killed us had they caught us in ambush," Bachman wrote.
A day later, the Yankee colonel and seven men met Confederates in the woods and were fired upon. Two Union cavalrymen were killed.
The next day Bachman was part of a detail sent to retrieve and bury the two bodies.
Bachman recalled a conversation with a captain from the 52nd Virginia Cavalry, who told him, "Two years ago I would have shot any man who would say anything against the Unites States. But today I would do the contrary."
Bachman replied, "Just wait two years longer and you will again be under the same flag."
"No, never," the Confederate officer answered.
Turning over their riverside camp to another unit (which was later overrun and captured), Bachman's unit moved on.
While on reconnaissance, possibly in late March or early April, Bachman and about 20 of his comrades spotted a lone mounted rebel "on a small, lean horse" and gave chase. The fleeing man soon dismounted and hid. Bachman and John M. Algier began searching for the enemy soldier.
"The fellow had crouched behind a fallen tree near the edge of the woods and had leveled his gun at me when John ordered him to surrender or die," Bachman wrote. "He came out and surrendered. I was certainly grateful for my friend, John, for he undoubtedly saved my life."