John Hines was a Private in Company F of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry. He was described as a ‘rough, coarse, uneducated Irishman, with a keener nose for whisky than any other man living.’ He would be able to seek out the spirit even when it was thought there was none for miles, and often returned to camp drunk and quarrelsome- on such occasions the only person who could control him was his Captain, William S. Lincoln. When it mattered though, Hines was an invaluable soldier. He could be placed in any position of trust, and never shirked from battle. Thus it was that Captain Lincoln valued Hines as one of his best men as he urged his company forward at the Battle of Third Winchester, Virginia on 19th September 1864. (1)
John Hines was entering his last battle. He was about to receive one of the most feared wounds inflicted during the Civil War- a bullet through his intestines. Captain Lincoln was beside John when he was struck; the agonies he witnessed Hines endure were to haunt the officer for the rest of his life.
At one of those movements when, while at a halt, we were under a sharp fire from the rebels, but a short distance in our front, I heard and almost felt, the zip and dull thud of a Minnié ball, which struck Hines of my company in the groin, – passed directly through his body, and lodged in the groin of his rear rank man, Burnham. Both fell without a word or a groan; – both laid still, as if dead, for a few moments; – when Burnham attempted to crawl away on his hands and knees. Sending a man to his aid, I moved up to, and laid down by the side of Hines. The whole line was down in obedience to such an order. As I laid my hand upon his head, Hines opened his eyes, and recognised me. “I’m kilt, Captain! clean kilt entirely! take care of my money, please.” I took it from his pocket, counted it, and told him the amount. “Yes, Captain! I know! fourteen dollars,”- and closing his eyes again, he laid still,- quiet and peaceful as a child; not a cry, not a groan escaped him. I had in my pocket a flask, with perhaps a half pint of whiskey, which, knowing what work was before us, I had kept for some occasion like this. How I did hate to spare it! Not that then I actually needed it, but that I never was more dry; and hardly ever would a drop have tasted better! But like a hero, I rose to the occasion, and with the spirit of a martyr, devoted it to Hines. Child-like, he sucked till he drew the last drop; and with a fervent “God bless you Captain!” and a smile like a cherub, laid back, to all appearance indifferent to all earthly things. No cheer of comrade,- no yell of defiant foe disturbed him: ”But he lay like a warrior taking his rest”, With the roar of battle around him.
I don’t know how long he remained thus quiet and peaceful; but it seemed a long while, when, with no previous warning, he writhed and twisted in convulsive agony, and gave utterance to the most unearthly cries and groans. I tried to pacify him;- telling him that he would exhaust himself, and that his cries would have a bad effect on his comrades. I might as well have talked to a dead man. He would not be quieted; but, in the most heart-rending tones begged me to put him out of his misery! “I’ve been a good soldier, Capt.? Haven’t I?” “Yes, Hines!” “And never asked a favor.” “No, Hines!” “Then, Capt., dear! do me a favor now, and God forever bless you!” “Take your pistol, Capt.! and for the love of the holy mother, blow out my brains.”
The Bugles blew loud and shrilly the order to charge; and I had time only to lay him on a blanket, which was stretched over a couple of muskets, and send him to the rear. I never saw him afterwards, he died that night; but those yells of his ring upon my ears, at this distance of time, as loud, and piercing, as when uttered on the plains of Winchester. (2)
It is difficult to trace the history of this unfortunate Irishman. Lincoln noted that he had no known family and that his backpay could never be released. However his pension index card suggests that a widow sought to claim a pension in October 1882. What is known is that he lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he was enlisted and mustered in on 19th November 1863 at the age of 25. On the 1860 census three members of the Hines family are indicated as living in the city’s 5th Ward; Hannah Hines, aged 60, Dennis Hines, aged 25 and John Hines, aged 23. Presumably Hannah was either Dennis and John’s mother or a female relative. When did John leave Ireland? A John and Dennis Hines appear as passengers with a number of other family members aboard the Telassar, which arrived in Boston from Liverpool on 9th June 1848. There was no older male relative among the group, and it seems likely given the date that this was a family fleeing the Famine then raging in Ireland. If this is indeed the same John Hines, he was far from the only Irish boy to escape the ravages of starvation in his native land only to die a gruesome death on the battlefields of the American Civil War. (3)
(1) Lincoln 1879:363; (2) Ibid: 361-3 (3) Index to Pension Files of Veterans, Adjutant General 1932:619, 1860 Census, Boston Passenger Crews and Lists 1820-1943;
References & Further Reading
Adjutant General, 1932. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, Vol. 3
Lincoln, William S. 1879. Life with the Thirty-Fourth Mass. Infantry in the War of Rebellion
Wert, Jeffry D. 1997. From Winchester to Cedar Creek