That twenty-minute engagement of the pickets with the attacking
rebels was just in its final moments when our three-long breastworks
were completed. More dead with exhaustion and fear, than alive,
we collapsed in our modest fortress and prayed. Yet we never had
to make a stand at those log walls, for at the end, our pickets
held. Somehow they pushed the rebels back. The firing ceased.
For long minutes, there was nothing but the sound of men gasping
for breath, calling out in pain and wretchedness.
We took one rebel captain and twenty-seven men prisoners, having killed two and seriously wounded several. Our loss was two men killed, three men wounded, and fourteen taken prisoner. When the shooting stopped and regular pickets had been re-established, as well as a chain of guards along the line equal to a separate sentinel for every company, the men laid down and slept with their firearms, never knowing if the enemy might try another night attack. No group of western settlers ever endured an attack by blood-thirsty Indians that was more frightful.
But exhaustion over-rode our fears. Nothing happened and the men slept quietly until nearly daylight. Then all hands were summoned to reveille, to be in readiness, for it is most unwise to give an enemy the advantage of a dawn attack.
Signed a receipt from the quartermaster for an issue of spades, picks, picks handles and axe handles.
Saturday, May 28, 1864
This morning everything is reasonably quiet on our front. Shots have been occasionally exchanged by the pickets, but no damage has been done, so far as I know. constant and lively skirmishing goes on right and left of our Brigade. This has at intervals called forth heavy artillery. In this manner, the day is going by without anything more than the ordinary occurrences of this campaign - in which every day has witnessed a battle.
'After nine p.m.'
The enemy has mounted an attack on McPherson's forces. They were beaten off with heavy losses- thirteen hundred prisoners were taken. The following morning, three hundred dead were counted in front of our works. Many wounded were brought in during the night.
Our men, having lost sleep and been on constant duty, were very weary and sleepy. They had mostly gone to sleep. When the attack cam at McPherson's area, they were quickly roused and readied for an emergency. An attack was momentarily anticipated on our front - probably the weakest portion of the entire line. Though the men understood the necessity of vigilance, when no assault came on our front, many of them simply laid down and fell fast asleep - oblivious to the thunder and roar of cannon, and the clatter of musketry, all of which was part of the battle on our right. it raged with a hideous fury for all of an hour. Then all grew quiet, save the minor skirmish firing to which we have become so accustomed.
This day, for the first time in several weeks, we received mail from home. Most of the men heard from their families and many hearts were happy.
I had the good fortune to receive several letters from home, too, and although they contained nothing very new, or strange, I felt much better that formerly. I have often thought that none could appreciate a letter so well as a soldier on a campaign who has gone without mail for several weeks. Campaigning is actually monotonous, though a person might think a campaign like this would so occupy the mind as to give but little time to think of anything else. That is not the case. Soldiers become, in some measure, weaned off from home, but they never fail to think of bygone happy days.
Sunday, May 29, 1864
This being Sunday, everything is quiet on the lines. Even skirmish firing has almost entirely ceased. A person not acquainted with our attending circumstances would fain believe that two large and powerful armies stood face to face in hostile array and only about six hundred yards apart. This day nothing unusual has transpired and matters continued thus until well into the night.
Thunder of cannonading has been heard on our left and it extends for a distance of about one and a half miles. It is another southern night attack.
Sometime before dawn
In the engagement of a few hours back, if possible, the fighting was heavier than that of the previous night, though it did not last quite as long.
It proved much more disastrous to the rebels, than the attack made on McPherson. Tonight's assault was boldly made and in very strong force. Of course, it was met with more than the ordinary determination to repulse and drive back, which our men certainly accomplished with a light loss and terrible destruction to the rebels. The rebels left in our hands nearly two thousand dead and wounded, without having recovered a single foot of ground or having driven our lines from their position anywhere along the works.
Monday, May 30, 1864
Nothing more than the ordinary routine was had this morning.
There was occasional picket firing which was chiefly by our skirmishers
and it won a seldom reply from the rebels. They were too busily
engaged in fortifying the hills before us. It was quite apparent
from the sounds of chopping this morning and the many trees which
crashed, being felled.
At this time, my company, along with five others from the regiment, were detailed to relieve the picket.
We did this about nine in the morning without any molestation from the enemy, who probably did not discover our move. In this way everything passed off quietly, until about four o'clock in the afternoon. Then the Confederates opened on us with artillery, firing case shot at the skirmishers. This rattled through the timber like hail in a hail storm. But since our pickets had constructed rifle pits for the sake of safety, and took shelter in them, not one man was hurt in the affair, though a great many shots were fired at us. This occupied the course of an hour, then all became quiet again on our front and the night was spent in as much ease as pickets are allowed to have, or at least as much as could be expected for them to enjoy, when in easy musket range of powerful enemy.
It was a part of the plan of the General commanding, to evacuate the whole right of this line and move the troops to the left, then gain possession of the railroad. That would result in the establishment of rail communications with the rear. The southerners have been fearful of something like that and have closely watched our operations, wanting to completely foil General McPherson's move for last night, as it was the intention to evacuate the whole of the line before the enemy, of the Army of the Tennessee and of General Davis' Division - ours - which at this time reports to General McPherson.
Under cover of darkness, with silence strictly enjoined, every man was up, with his blanket folded and on his back; everything was ready to move immediately, only waiting for the proper turn in the succession of events. Suddenly, a tremendous battle opened on our right, in which the conflict raged furiously for about forty minutes. The rebels, however, were beaten off and quiet was restored along the line. That, unfortunately, was only of a short duration, because the southerners were determined to thwart our move.
They attacked three times during the night, all with the same result: they were forced back with heavy loss. But they accomplished their goal, for by compelling us to stand and fight, we were unable to pull out and so our evacuation did not occur. By this time, the enemy had evacuated Allatoona Pass and moved south. They were closely pursued by our forces to near Ackworth, from which place the Federal lines now stretched for a long distance in a direction nearly south. Almost our entire army was now in line, well entrenched and fortified. Every day, it gradually gained ground from the enemy, thought not driving them from their works. The northern and southern lines in many places are only about two or three hundred yards apart and heavy skirmishing is constant night and day over the main line of works. The proximity of the lines would not admit skirmish lines in front of ,, or between the lines.
Tuesday, May 31, 1864
This day was spent quietly, except for the ordinary aspect, which thus far has been one continued, incessant skirmish since the 7th inst. The enemy are apparently not losing a moment in the construction of fortifications on our front, with the evident intention of thoroughly guarding every approach to the Gap, leading through the mountains or hills. as it is in the intention of our forces to evacuate this part of the line, the enemy are allowed to move about their work without much molestation. they are anyway, out of musket range and the artillery is perfectly silent from some cause. This is quite unnatural, but probably ordered so for some specific purpose of which I am ignorant.
Since the evacuation plan is not as yet abandoned, every general officer as well as all the minor ones are busy in consummating some plan related to the successful execution of that move. It will be tried again tonight and will probably be managed without much trouble from the southerners, for they have already paid dearly for the trouble given us over the last few nights. While it is true that they have frustrated our evacuation once, it is also true that they can do it again. But I think they won't try, for that would be sheer suicide. They have surely learned something from their night attacks against us, for their loss amounts to more than three thousand men. I assume that the rebels are now willing to give us one night's rest, having convinced themselves that their forays have compelled us to abandon our plan to get out.
About six in the evening
A panic seized our picket line on the left and a general stampede took place. The picket line was composed of Companies A, F, D, and B. Company F was on the right with Company A in reserve. Company D was in the center and Company B was on the left. The whole line ran through a skirt of timber sufficient to afford cover for the men to move about from one post to another, without being seen by the rebels. The rebel lines were about five hundred yards distant from ours on the left and separated from our line by a large open field, which extended from about the center of our brigade line to some distance to the left of our line. It gave a full view for our skirmishers on the left to watch every motion of the enemy on our front, while on the right, where timber and brush was thick, nothing of the enemy's line could be seen - unless by accident, some man in moving about would momentarily reveal himself.
In this situation, everything proceeded quietly, with even much less than the ordinary amount of skirmish firing. then, when we least expected any trouble, some idiot rebel who happened to be strolling about in front of the lines, out of sheer cussedness, set fire to an old cabin on the front. it soon burst into a roaring blaze.
That, believe it or not, caused a panic, an outburst of 'hysteria', on the left of the line of Company B. In an instant, the whole company broke to the rear like frightened sheep, as fast as they could. The movement was immediately followed by Company D. Next rushed by Companies F and A, fleet as deer, for they were miss-led by the whole business and thought that the move was regularly ordered. They flew on the double quick - but only a very short distance.
I came onto the scene at that point and asked Lieutenant Loveland what the trouble was. he informed me that orders were to fall back. I had, at that point, no particular reason for doubting him. I could see that whole line on our left running away at top speed and some of them flying so far back so quickly that they were already leaping back across our main line of works! I had just been to our extreme outpost and narrowly missed being shot by one of the rebel marksmen. I spent a few tense minutes thereafter looking for him, hoping that I could manage a good shot at his rebel carcass. To do this, I had to take cover under some brush. This would afford concealment, so as to prevent him from getting the first shot, which might just do better execution upon me than the previous, missed one.
Remaining there for some minutes, I became convinced that my enemy had withdrawn. I therefore emerged from my place of intended ambush and moved along towards the left. It was near here that I found the grand skedadle in splendid motion and asked Lieutenant Loveland why. I have often seen our soldiers in delicate, dangerous positions, when they knew the situation was critical. They were equally as aware in this instance.
But I have never before witnessed such a disgraceful, cowardly stampede anywhere. A company of men almost universally govern their actions by that of their officers. I cannot but feel, however, that most, if not all, of this shameful affair is occasioned by the imbecility of Captain James P. Worrell of Company B. Their immediate commander notwithstanding, he hods a commission purporting to be given him for 'gallantry' at the Battle of Stone River, while every man in the 86th Illinois Volunteer Regiment knows that he was at no time within twenty-five miles of that bloody field. this does not strictly pertain to my Journal, yet I cannot but give it, to show the amount of willful corruption so often practiced to carry certain points. and as his promotion was from Sergeant to Captain, it became necessary for the Commanding Officer of the Regiment to give him an extraordinary recommendation, or our Noble Governor would not commission him or the First Lieutenant, who, by the way, is an able and efficient officer and one who was justly entitled to the position he was thus so willfully cheated out of.
At about eight o'clock - one hour after pickets were withdrawn - orders were received fro the whole line to fall back. this command was cheerfully executed by all, as none had any desire to be much further exposed, since the southerners were bound to very soon learn our real intention, and our critical situation. The whole line moved back totally unseen by the enemy - or at least the rebels did not avail themselves of an advantage which they could have very easily gained. The lines proceeded to the rear steadily and joined the balance of the Brigade which lay entrenched about one mile back. after a few moments of rest, the whole command moved back about two miles, having crossed Pumpkin Vine Creek. We made a short halt and then moved to the left and relieved a division of the 23rd Army Corps.
At that place, we were again exposed to the constant fire of rebel musketry, at about a distance of two hundred yards. That made it extremely hazardous to raise a head above the breastworks. Everyday, the inefficiency of our field officers becomes more apparent. What was one among the best regiments in service is now only becoming more and more inefficient from the want of confidence in the regimental commander. An eternal murmur of complaint greets the ear, when in hearing of the ranks, on duty.
After the stampede, all grew quiet for the night, during which all was still on our side. However, the rebels were very actively engaged in constructing their fortifications at the mouth of the Gap, in our front. The rebels evidently anticipated our attack. But it so happens that our forces were to weak and we could scarcely staked a good skirmish. Had to write out another clothing list today, to cover some new items transferred to us tom the quartermaster for the boys here in the field.
Wednesday, June 1, 1864
At midnight last night, the Army of the Tennessee began to evacuate this line. The movement was made by brigades successively from right to left. the scheme was entirely unperceived by the rebels, so far as I know. By daylight, most of the army had gone from our right. Accordingly, our pickets were called in at seven a.m. to the main works, preparatory to moving back. The main line had already proceeded back about one mile where a line of works had been constructed for defense, in case the enemy should realize our plan and attempt to gain any advantage by chasing our retreating lines.
Our thin lines stretch along g the whole length of the brigade line and consist of the 86th Illinois as well as two companies of the 52d Ohio, being but few more men than were really required to form a good strong skirmish line.
That is how we stand, opposed to the enemy's strong line and in momentary expectation of an attack in force by the rebels. if this happens, we will be undone. A complete Federal rout will occur and perhaps most of us, if not all of us, will be captured. Every man in the outfit knows that this is a delicate situation, perhaps the most trying in which we have ever been. My anxiety, and the anxiety of the other officers of the command, is quite plain to the men. I am sure we will not be misunderstood. And I am also sure that I and the other officers will not misunderstand each other. The enemy appears very quiet on our front and is apparently quite busy in building works on the hill which command the approaches to the Gap in the mountains.
Our orders to leave arrived after about an hour's delay, at 8 a.m., when all moved back on quick time and entirely unseen by the rebels. We joined the balance of our regiment about three miles in the rear of our old position. There, we lay approximately three hours and then moved almost three miles further to our left and relieved a division of the 23rd Army Corps. Then we were again under constant fire of enemy skirmishers, but our regiment was fortunate enough to be then on second line and thereby managed to get a little rest, which was desperately needed.
Many of the men have slept but little for five nights and several are quite unwell - some from dysentery and others from brief attacks of biliousness and intermittent fever.
Go to Page 7
Return to Scrapbook page