A long ride in that hot atmosphere gave me a thirst of the most terrible character. Making a detour to the left of the road in a vain search for water, I fell behind the column as it marched slowly along. As I moved again to the front, I passed scores of men who had fallen from utter exhaustion. Many were delirious, and begged piteously for water in ever so small a quantity. Several died from excessive heat, and others were for a long time unfit for duty. Reaching the spring which gave its name to the locality, I was fortunate in finding only the advance of the command. With considerable effort I succeeded in obtaining a pint cupful of water, and thus allayed my immediate thirst.
According to the custom in that region, the spring was covered with a frame building, about eight feet square. There are very few cellars in that part of the country, and the spring-house, as it is called, is used for preserving milk and other articles that require a low temperature. As the main portion of the column came up, the crowd around the spring-house became so dense that those once inside could not get out. The building was lifted and thrown away from the spring, but this only served to increase the confusion. Officers found it impossible to maintain discipline. When the men caught sight of the crowd at the spring, the lines were instantly broken. At the spring, officers and men were mingled without regard to rank, all struggling for the same object. A few of the former, who had been fortunate in commencing the day with full canteens, attempted to bring order out of chaos, but found the effort useless. No command was heeded. The officers of the two regiments of “regulars” had justly boasted of the superior discipline of their men. On this occasion the superiority was not apparent. Volunteers and regulars were equally subject to thirst, and made equal endeavor to quench it.
Twenty yards below the spring was a shallow pool, where cattle and hogs were allowed to run. Directly above it was a trough containing a few gallons of warm water, which had evidently been there several days. This was speedily taken by the men. Then the hot, scum-covered pool was resorted to. In a very few minutes the trampling of the soldiers’ feet had stirred this pool till its substance was more like earth than water. Even from this the men would fill their cups and canteens, and drink with the utmost eagerness. I saw a private soldier emerge from the crowd with a canteen full of this worse than ditch-water. An officer tendered a five-dollar gold piece for the contents of the canteen, and found his offer indignantly refused. To such a frenzy were men driven by thirst that they tore up handfuls of moist earth, and swallowed the few drops of water that could be pressed out.
In subsequent campaigns I witnessed many scenes of hunger and thirst, but none to equal those of that day at Dug Spring.