On Picket Duty
Before the Battle of Helena
by 1st Lieut. Albert G. Foster, Co. G
The following story was told by Albert Foster on the occasion of the 20th annual reunion of the 28th Regiment, held 26 June 1902 at Elkhorn, Wisconsin. It was printed in the proceedings booklet from the reunion.
You remember at the Battle of Helena our Company, Co. G, was ordered out on outpost the night before the battle, and were stationed on the picket line where the road leading around the foot-hills at Lamb's plantation crossed. Stationed with us was a Company of cavalry. At night we placed two pickets in advance of the main picket line, on our front by the deep gully. The bridge planks were removed and our pickets stationed close to the wrecked bridges. How little we comprehended what was soon to take place.
One picket's name was Jacob Goelzer, but I do not remember the name of the other. Just as it was beginning to grow light Goezler came running into our camp and reported that the enemy was approaching in vast numbers. Lieut. David Turner was in command of the company. All were quickly aroused and formed into line just behind the thick hedge fence on our front. We could see the enemy relaying the planks over the bridges and finally form in line just inside of the bridges. As they were forming Lieut. Turner ordered us to open fire on them. The fire was returned and one man, Leon King, was wounded in the knee, but no so severely but that he could retreat with us, which we were soon doing by command of Lieut. Turner.
As we retreated we deployed, spreading out fully half a mile. The enemy fired on us as they came, but their attention was taken for a short time with a camp of negroes who had camped just inside our picket line. How many of them were killed I never heard, but their screams were terrible and the shooting by the enemy at close range soon ended the scene.
Perhaps some of your will remember Harlan P. Wells, the youngest member of our Company. He was an old school mate of mine and I though much of him. On this particular occasion he was unfit for duty, but Dr. Smith did not see fit to excuse him, so he was with the Company. We had retreated about half a mile or so, when my conscience smote me. Where was Harlan? I looked the line over, running along half its length, and finally discovered him about twenty rods in the rear coming as fast as he could, but pretty well fagged out.
I ran back to him and told him to give me his gun so that he could get up into line, but he refused to part with it. He had drawn a pair of pants the day before which were much too long for him, and had rolled them up at the bottom and they, becoming unrolled in the damp grass, actually covered his shoes, making it extremely hard for him to travel. In his excitement he had not noticed this. I finally persuaded him to give me his gun, and to roll up his pants and then run ahead of me till we caught up with the line. The balls were flying thick about us, we being so much in the rear made a good target, but in time we reached the line and from then on he kept up with the rest, though I did not loose sight of him until we were ordered up again in support of Battery D.
Company G remembers well what a short time we remained on the second bluff where Battery D was to have been placed, but as yet had no cannon. You all remember the rebel yell when they were ordered to charge; how that firing ceased on their side but on our side was greatly increased. We were excited. Most of us had loaded and fired the third round since the yell. Looking about me I saw but two men, comrades George R. Church and James B. Lockney, the rest having withdrawn to the next bluff-top. Glancing over the bluff toward the enemy I saw them approaching in vast numbers and seemingly only about 100 feet away. Turning to the other two, I said, boys we must get, and down the side of the bluff we went as fast as our feet would carry us. We had just commenced to ascend the other bluff when the enemy opened fire upon us. Surely we were a target for many rifles, but the enemy being exhausted with their long uphill run, failed in taking aim and thus none of us were injured.