6 - WAR
War was declared on the 15th of April. On the 20th of April a Company was organized in Warren. Anxious though I was to serve my country, I was to be denied the opportunity of being among the first to go to the front. I was turned down because of being one-half inch too short - being five feet five, and one-half inches in height. The anxiety and interest of warfare's was above all else the following year. When the call for three hundred thousand more volunteers came in April of 1862, there were no restrictions or requirements which barred any able bodied man, or boy, from sixteen to fifty years of age. Our Companies were K and H, and were raised in June and were mustered in May, but they did not leave for service until the 1st of August.
The call was made for the 96th Regiment when we were mustered in, but owing to the slowness of volunteers to respond to the call for the 96th, our departure was delayed until August. During that time our Company drilled every day under Captain Champion. He was a middle-aged man and had considerable experience in the militia. His salary was two hundred dollars per month and he provided his own food and clothing and accoutrements. I had no trouble at getting a furlough every week, so I reported at least once a week to my home.
We were provided with Belgian rifles which we soon decided were worth more as scrap iron than as weapons of war. In our target practice I soon experienced the worthlessness of the beech-stock-rifles. At a target four hundred yards distance, I missed it by four feet and got knocked down. So we very soon concluded that we need not aspire to sharp shooting in such practice as these afforded. After shooting a few shots our shoulders were so sore that we were unfit for further practice. Our departure for the front was delayed four days by having such guns. Our Colonel went to Chicago to see headquarters regarding the guns and succeeded in having arrangements made for other weapons. Soon we were supplied with new Enfield rifles, and they were splendid guns.
Our Company was with the 96th Regiment and four other regiments at Camp Douglas, at Rockford, on the Rock River - it was a very beautiful place. On the 13th of August I asked our Colonel to go home to attend to some important affairs of the home before going to the front. "Well, you can't go! we are under marching orders now", he answered very firmly. "But I must go" I said, "I shall be back tomorrow morning without fail." He said nothing in answer to my supplication, and so I took his silence of the moment for consent. So that evening found me in Warren, on my way, home expecting to get a horse there and ride quickly out to the farm. But Major Barton asked me for two and half dollars for the use of a horse. I said to him to "Go to Hell", and started out afoot - and I never walked ten miles so quickly in my life as that night.
Seeing three of my nearest neighbors, I got our business affairs fixed up all right - got three-hours sleep and bading my wife and children farewell, started back to Warren on foot again. The moon shone serenely and beautifully upon a peaceful scene. I shall not try to describe my thoughts and feelings as I walked those weary miles. Of course, I wondered if I should ever see those familiar scenes again.
I arrived at Warren in good time for the train bound for Rockford. Upon arriving there I boarded a wagon load of guns bound for Camp Douglas. We all had a couple of rounds with our new guns, and pronounced them okay. Before the gun box was opened, the Company elected me as Commissary Sergeant, so I had the pleasure of distributing the new rifles to the boys - and quite naturally, I picked out a good looking one for myself, and it proved to be a good one.
On the evening of the 15th of August, we started for Chicago on a special train drawn by two engines. There were twelve cars in the train which took the whole regiment, but they were all crowded. Our guns and the officer's horses were in the stock and baggage cars. At Chicago we had supper and also drew five days rations. That night, after supper, our special train left for Cincinnati. Our first stop was in Indianapolis where we had breakfast. About nine o'clock the same day we reached Cincinnati. While here I went to the hotel where General Nelson was killed by Jeff C. Davis that morning. The Army of the Cumberland declared that it was a good thing for them that General Nelson was killed, because he was so cruel and tyrannical.
That same day, at three o'clock, we crossed the Ohio on a pontoon bridge which was made by the Pioneer Corps. In crossing this bridge there were many of the boys badly frightened on account of the sway it caused by march step. The army was very quickly given "Break step! to break step!" This relieved the situation a good deal. We landed at Covington, a town of about five hundred population. From there we marched out to Camp Harger, about two and a half miles from town. Our time was spent fortifying the place.
It was here that we had our first experience at soldiering. We made our coffee and then had supper after which we wrapped in our blankets and lay in the open field upon the ground. It is amusing to me now when I think of how much afraid most of the boys were of catching cold by sleeping that way. The next morning we woke to find ourselves none the worse for it. We had expected to sleep in the barracks but instead of that we found a five hundred acre field for our place of lodging. It was a very pretty field. The wooden rails which had surrounded the field had been carried away for fortification purposes.
The next afternoon I was detailed with twenty-four men and a Lieutenant with six men to go back to Cincinnati after thirteen teams of mules which were in a corral outside of the city awaiting us. There was only one in each team, of the whole lot, that was broken. When we finally succeeded in getting the thirteen teams, three days had passed. We surely had the most strenuous time in getting these green mules into their harnesses, we had six mules to each wagon, only one of each team was broken. Then when we crossed the pontoon we surely did have a mighty interesting time. It was necessary for pontoon soldiers to cross with us to keep the crowding the mules from the side of the bridge. Upon arrival at camp we quickly came out in the same field we occupied. That night was far from a peaceful one for us as it was disturbed by the loud braying of the new arrivals.
We had thirteen wagons for the use of the regiment, six mules to each wagon. These wagons were loaded with tents and provisions, arms and etcetera. The capacity of these vehicles were supposed to be six tons, but they were seldom loaded to over four tons, and sometimes it was impossible for the six teams to pull over two tons in the awful roads we had to go over.
It was necessary to make another trip to Cincinnati for our tents. When we were through with this trip I told the Colonel that I had had all the teaming I cared to do. The Colonel and myself were old friends so he was not adverse to pleasing me when circumstances would permit it. He had been a doctor of medicine but being too lazy for the strenuous life that profession demanded, he became a lawyer, and a good one. He was a very large man and had a voice of tremendous power. After we had been in Camp Harger five days, we were ready to move on. In the meantime there had a been a battle between "Fighting Joe Hooker" and Bragg near Lexington. The Confederates were fighting from behind the stone fences and gave our boys a rather hot skirmish until our artillery commenced to play upon them.
Then it was the confusion with grades. They said that there was as many killed and wounded by the stones of their own fences as there were by Confederate bullets. The whole regiment was moved to Sandersville, it was reported that Morgan was to join Bragg so our move then was to cut him off. At Sandersville we stayed about a week, here we lost our first man - George Bryan of Company H. He was sick only a few days with a fever and he was the youngest of three brothers with us. We were ordered on a forced march to Perryville which occupied three days and nights. During that time we had, perhaps, not more than five hours sleep. When we arrived in Perryville, Joe Hooker's division and four brigades was lined up for battle. We were famished for water but Hooker appealed to us for patience to wait a little longer. He said, "Now boys, let's beat them or fall back fifteen miles to water". Our regiment was then ordered to the left wing to hold the gap. Morgan was expected to come up on the right wing but he did not arrive for the reason that our cavalry had intercepted him at Kentucky River.
The hottest fire was directed upon Hooker in the center, and Hooker had the artillery directed upon Bragg's center, which worked havoc upon the Confederates. After darkness the battle made a continuous flash. Finally Braggs's men gave away before Hooker's driving fire. Hooker then drove the enemy beyond the creek and past Perryville. Close upon Hooker, our regiment fell into the creek famishing for water. Many of the youngest boys, especially, almost killed themselves in drinking too fast and too much. Fortunately, not one of our company was even wounded in the engagement. Not surprising because we knew the heavy fire was upon the center. Bragg lost many more men than we did. His men fought stubbornly and well.
Our wounded were all taken back to the hospital at Harrodsburg, ten miles in our rear. A beautiful turnpike road all the way. Every available wagon was pressed into service to take the Confederate wounded also to Harrodsburg where they were put into the Church to be used as a hospital. Many of the Confederate wounded procured for in Perryville where there were many of their own people. Our loss was very slight as compared with the enemy. We made such a spirited attack that they had become confused and for that reason more quickly defeated.
We remained at Perryville a little over a month in getting a nice long rest. At this time I was sent out with a party of forty eight men from Harrodsburg to gather up munitions of war from the natives and also the horses and mules which were lost during the time of battle. About every other day we sent a big wagon load of guns, swords and accouterments which had been left by the enemy. When we were nearly through with the expedition, a lieutenant was sent out by the Colonel to report to me to do with as I could best use him. Of course, this was very humiliating to the poor fellow - a lieutenant to report to a sergeant for duty. But he took it very gracefully and I got fairly good service of him, but we were much amused at his undoubted cowardliness, which was afterwards proved at the Battle of Chickamauga. We kept him in our service for a couple of days or so.
We were ordered to see as that the proper burial was made of the dead on the battlefield. Here a gruesome sight met our gaze as we came upon the Confederate part of the field. They had been ordered to bury their dead decently upon a knoll in the center of the battlefield, but we had found that they were buried where they had fallen. Many of the bodies were merely covered with dirt being heaped upon them, instead of being in an excavated grave. Here we found hogs eating the dead bodies which had not been buried beneath the surface. When we upbraided the natives for their scandalous neglect of duty, and ordered them to take the hogs away and keep them locked up, they replied very indignantly - "If that is to be done, you do it yourselves, as you are the ones who killed the men."
I immediately dispatched a messenger to headquarters for orders as to how we should proceed against the people who had refused to obey the orders of the victors. The order came "shoot every hog you see on the field". The order was soon put into execution. The order worked most satisfactorily - the hogs being cleared off the battlefield before we shot very many.
Among those of the Confederates killed in the battle was a Colonel, a Kentuckian. He had two of the most beautiful horses in the country. These horses, I learned, were secreted on a farm about four miles from camp in a spur of the Blue Mountains. So I took six men, all of us mounted, and we went after the horses. We had no trouble to find them as we had been directed. The first party we saw upon our arrival at the place was a Negro slave. I said abruptly to him, "I want those two horses you have here of the Colonel,s". He said, "Well you,ll not get those Uncle Sam horses, those are Rebel horses!" The slave answered rather defiantly.
We soon got the horses and on the way back with them we suddenly discovered that we were nearly cut out by a party of bushwhackers who were striving hard to intercept us. There appeared to be about twenty five of the enemy and there were only six in our party, so we realized that our safety depended upon our ability to run faster than they could. We all had good horses, but we mounted the Colonel,s and drove our steeds ahead of us, one of which was a mule. We were astonished to see the way that mule could run.
When we arrived at a curve in the road beside a big boulder, we stopped until our pursuers came within easy range. None of them appeared to have guns that could equal ours, but what they lacked in range they made up for in nerve, as evidenced in the way that they pressed upon us. We fired at the leaders in the chase and when the smoke cleared away, four of their horses ran passed us with empty saddles. We had killed one of them and wounded three. We immediately put the spurs to our horses and rode on with all of our might while the rest of the party pursued us, and firing their guns at us as they galloped in hot pursuit. But their weapons, being shot guns, they failed to hit us on account of the distance we kept in advance of them.
Upon arriving at a point about a mile from camp we were relieved in a squad of our troops coming to our rescue. They had heard the firing and surmised what was taking place, and hurriedly came to help us. They opened fire at the bushwhackers as soon as they came in view from the curve on the road. But none were killed as they turned and made a hasty retreat. We didn,t pursue them fearing there might be a trap laid for us.
In our expeditions we secured eighty four horses and mules which were turned over to the Quarter Master. We understood that all of the horses which were not branded, he sold and kept the proceeds. We were entitled to two and a half dollars for each horse. The animals should have all been turned over to the Wagon Master to recur his needs.
For two days following this dangerous experience with the bushwhackers, we were busy preparing to leave for Harrodsburg where the regiment was stationed. There were also parts of the 92nd Illinois and the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. The Cavalry was used to guard the wagon train provisions and supply wagons. There were as many as fifty of them in a train sometimes. The country was full of bushwhackers who were laying event surprises to seize upon. When they succeeded in capturing the supply trains they would hold them until Morgan's men arrived to take them away.
There were many of these trains captured. Sometimes they just robbed the train and let the men go on their way. Others would be shot down like dogs. Our orders were "don,t bring bushwhackers into camp". Nothing further was necessary to be said. We understood what the order meant. When they were taken before our Provost Marshal the fate of the wretched fellows was almost sure to be as severe as being settled by their captures - they were taken into the woods and shot.
We left Harrodsburg to go to Danville, Kentucky, to guard three turnpike roads or capture any Confederates who might be passing over with supplies or recruits. Here we were to remain all winter. It was near the last of November when we arrived at our destination. The cold rains were falling and our surroundings were very dismal. Nearly all of our brigade was stationed in this vicinity. Morgan had made his headquarters at Danville which was his home. This was very rich country situated near the middle of the state.
Our winter,s work consisted of scouting. Sometimes word was brought into camp that Morgan was near but we never saw him during the whole winter. On one occasion we went to Lebanon, about forty miles distance to save the town from Morgan, who we heard, was to take the town to burn it. Two regiments were sent to the defense of the town. We could see nothing of Morgan when we arrived there. Our first night spent there was in misery. Our blankets were wet, which made them uncomfortable coverings to sleep under. Perhaps one half of our guns would have misfired had we had occasion to use them owing to their being so wet.
The next day we returned to Danville. Here we tore down a couple of old houses for which to remodel our quarters. We built a wall of boards about four feet high and then fastened our tents to the top of this, which made much more room for us. I made a fireplace in our tent which gave us a great deal of pleasure and comfort. Some of the boys built their fires in the middle of the tent and it caused them much annoyance by the smoke.
When the weather permitted, we did a great deal of drilling. To pass the idle hours we played "Old Sledge", "Seven-Up" and "Euchre" a good deal. I spent considerable time in writing letters for several of the boys of our company. We had many good musicians who gave us a great deal of pleasure by their talent. Occasionally some of the wives of our men came to visit. There was a large and comfortable tent for the accommodation for the brave and anxious women who traveled hundreds of miles to see their husbands or brothers.
The Major,s wife was with the regiment always. She was a noble one, as all the boys would testify to. Many a sick and worried soldier were cheered and strengthened by her presence. A considerable number of the boys received boxes from home which contained things for pleasure and comfort.
During the winter an amusing experience occurred to several of us. There was a generous reward offered for the capture of Morgan, so everyone was on the alert. One night there were eighteen of us on picket duty to guard the two turnpikes entering Danville which converged about two miles from town; the Cincinnati and Louisville turnpikes. The eighteen men on guard covered about a mile. Our orders were: let no one pass without giving the countersign.
We stayed at Danville until February, when we broke camp and went to Louisville where we got rid of our supplies, which we were not immediately in need of, to the Quarter Master. The second night out on our way to Louisville we went through a little town named Clayton. Here we could not get to a place to sleep or to lie down. The whole country was thoroughly soaked and the roads in the most disagreeable condition. As we walked through the town, we saw a vast number of beehives, so later several of us returned to make a raid on those tempting hives.
The next morning we continued our journey to Louisville experiencing much discomfort by the mud. At the end of the second day we arrived at Louisville, a nice prosperous little city. From here we went down the Ohio river, to the mouth of the Tennessee River, where three gunboats were ready to take us up the river. The first place we reached was Fort Donelson. We arrived there just in time to save it from Morgan's Cavalry and Van Dorn, who were attacking the fort. It was the second Battle of Fort Donelson. A Michigan regiment was defending the fort, the regiment being commanded by a Colonel. Our gunboats opened fire on the enemy resulting in awful havoc. We soon had them routed. After firing three volleys the battle was over without any loss of men on our side.
The next morning we continued on our way to Nashville, stopping at Danville to throw up breastworks. Instead of going on to Nashville, we stayed here until about the first of May, busily engaging in the fortifying of this important post in the defense of Nashville. We cut down thousands of trees to build breastworks. Besides this work we mounted heavy artillery. It was while here that I was offered the Lieutenancy in the Pioneer Corps, but I had faithfully promised to stay with the boys of the company and not leave the regiment, so it was I felt compelled to decline the honorable, and more lucrative position.
We also dug about three miles of trenches which were about three feet in breadth and about four feet deep, piling the dirt just high enough that a man could conveniently shoot over it. Our brigade comprised all of the troops which were here at this time. The 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry was one of the regiments. Each regiment did picket duty one day then off duty two days and the fourth day we worked on the trenches. The 19th Wisconsin was composed nearly entirely of Norwegians. The 92nd Illinois and the 40th Ohio were the ones who did most of our visiting with.
While we were stationed here the Confederates had trapped a regiment of our division - a Michigan regiment which had gone to reconnoiter on Spring Hill. As soon as we heard the firing we prepared to move as soon as we received orders; and we did soon get orders from General Baird to proceed to the relief of Spring Hill. We went on the double quick for about ten miles. When darkness came upon us the rain was falling in torrents, and the men were so tired when we encamped for the night, that many of the men lay in their blankets asleep until the water, streaming in rivulets, ran into their faces. It was an awful night for us, all together with the contemplation of battle in the morning, which we expected would be renewed.
About four o,clock in the morning a man from the enemy,s lines came to us. He was a doctor, a surgeon, in the Confederate Army. He gave us a truthful account of the battle. Our men were badly routed. He said, "I have shot and killed our commanding officer for an unpardonable crime. I found him in the act of ruining my home, and took the law into my own hands, and shot him on the spot. You can see him in my home where I found him, if you go there." He said it with an air of satisfied vengeance.
Early in the following morning we pressed on to relieve our defeated comrades, many of whom were scattered in confusion. About five hundred had been taken prisoner. We all were suffering from exposure to the cold rain. When we reached the scene of battle, the enemy had just crossed the Duck River and burned the bridge, which was all ablaze when we arrived there. We found about thirty badly wounded upon the field. Some not so severely wounded, had escaped to the town where there were enough Union people to provide them with the proper care. We next went back to Franklin where we stayed until about the first of May. From there we went to Brentwood, which is about halfway to Nashville, where we erected fortifications. This was considered quite a strategic point. We had control of the railroad this far, and so, kept a way of communication with the folks at home.
When we had our fortifications completed we were ordered to Triune where Van Dorn and Morgan were making things quite lively. Here we sent out a scouting party to hunt for Morgan, but they passed him without seeing him, secreted in a ravine.
The next morning we were startled by the whistle of a shell as it landed in camp, but luckily no one was hurt by it, though it did plow up Company C's street quite badly. I was out on picket duty when this excitement took place. A few minutes later our commanding officers passed us and were holding a short consultation in an exposed place. After saluting them properly I said, "Colonel you are in an exposed place there, another shell is liable to land any minute". Colonel Baird quietly looked around and quite serenely answered, "Oh no, I guess there,s not much danger here". His words were a little more than said then another shell buried itself in the ground beneath his horse. We dug it up and found that it was a six pounder percussion shell. They had evidently become exhausted in their supply of caps, for in this shell was a cedar plug driven into the butt.
Very little time elapsed then until we cleared ourselves of the exposed position. We soon had our artillery playing on the enemy, driving them out by a charge of the 2nd Indiana Battery. We remained there for a week or more. From here we were ordered to Estill Springs to guard a high bridge across a tributary of the Duck River. It was a bridge made of hewn timber of the vicinity. Estill Springs had been a very famous watering place where three distinct kinds of water bubbled forth, and so was famous for medicinal qualities.
It was blackberry time when we came upon this scene, and oh, such berries I have never seen again! We had three men captured here, who had gone beyond a safe distance from the camp and got into the hands of the bushwhackers. They were sent to Richmond where all the Union prisoners were kept at this time. Our regiment was detailed for duty here alone, and we remained at Estill Springs for about two weeks. While here we didn't come in contact with the enemy. They were trying to get to Hoovers Gap in eastern Tennessee. The rest of our troops were trying to flank them, but the enemy became wise to our plans.
We got orders by courier to make a forced march to Hoovers Gap where Rosecrans was concentrating as fast as possible. We had about eighteen thousand troops there at that time but later were increased to forty thousand. A most remarkable incident occurred while we were in route; we had marched for two days and about midnight of the second night, while we were asleep, not having had over five hours sleep a night the night before, we were sleeping very soundly and we were startled by a most unusual noise, as though a thousand chains were hurled through the air between our line. Everyone jumped up and grabbed for his rifle, but we could see nothing because it was dark as pitch. Whatever it was seemed to pass through our regiment as fast as the fleetest horse could run. It was always the deepest mystery to all of us what it could have been. The superstitious knew it was a bad omen. The affair excited every man in the regiment in an unusual degree.
The rains had made the roads almost impassable for wagons of supplies and the artillery, but we finally arrived at Hoovers Gap, which was not a town nor Post Office, but a pass in the mountains, and it was this strategic pivot point for us to hold. When we arrived here, we had breakfast the first thing. Then our picket line was thrown out. I had a post of sixteen men to look after. For five hours I experienced one of the most miserable times of my life. It was impossible for me to keep the men awake, though constantly going back and forth among them. Finally I felt compelled to notify headquarters of this condition of affairs, and the word came back, "you must keep them awake by some means".
That day I ignored the orders and discipline; instead of having pickets to go duty three hours with six hours for rest, I had them duty one hour and rest one hour alternately. In speaking to the Colonel of this most trying situation, a month or so later, he said "Well, it was a very nervy thing to do but undoubtedly the wisest way" and he freely forgave me for this act of insubordination.
About four o,clock an orderly came along at full gallop calling "call in your men as fast as you can and to headquarters for a double quick". Rosecrans had attacked Bragg. We double quick'd for about a mile and then deployed in line of battle. When we proceeded about a half of mile, then we were ordered to lie down. Now the bullets were singing about us and we could hear the enemy's commands between volleys. The bullets passed over our heads by perhaps twenty feet. The enemy were on higher ground with a little ridge intervening, this made it more difficult to hit us. One of our regiments were in advance of us and laying as flat as we were; not an officer even being above that position. Suddenly an artillery shot went over us which was the signal for the advanced regiment to raise and to shoot. It was a Michigan regiment, all having sixteen-shooters. At their side was an Indiana Regiment with Spencer five shooters.
By this time the enemy appeared at a distance of about 150 yards in their front, three lines deep. The first volley from our men in advance shattered their lines but did not stop them. The second volley followed in quick succession with awful havoc. Then the enemy turned in confusion. Then a third volley was fired at them while they were all huddled together like sheep. The havoc upon them was awful.
In the retreat, we kept up the fire and gathered up many prisoners on our way. We hadn,t gone very far when we ran into a massed battery. Then we were promptly ordered to return. In the meantime, a brigade of cavalry, under Stewart, was coming rapidly down the beautiful valley to flank us on the right. We were suddenly startled by the most awful thundering noise which sent terror to every man in the field. It was such an awful, unusual noise to us, but our terror was soon turned to joy when we saw Colonel Wilson with about 2500 cavalry come thundering to our right to protect us from Stewart,s cavalry as it came down the valley with terrifying swiftness. The manner in which Wilson slung his trained Tennessee men into a line was one of the prettiest moves I ever saw in the whole war. It surely displayed the thorough training they had by their fearless and able leader.
On came Stewart,s cavalry in a terrifying rush, while everyone of us waited in absolute silence. When they arrived within 400 yards of Wilson's lines, Wilson rose in his saddle to his full height, stretched out his sword arm to his full length, and he shouted in thundering tones, "Go for em! Go for em boys! Give em hell!!" Then a deafening shot went up from the division as they charged upon Stewart,s cavalry. Wilson's men didn,t fire a shot as they rode upon them. Stewart,s men couldn,t face the awful charge of Wilson, so they turned and fled in complete confusion as their horses leapt and fell over the rail fences, while their riders were mowed down right and left. The scene was awful to behold.
A regiment of infantry opened fire upon our cavalry, but with little damage. Their firing was soon stopped by our infantry on the right wing. Wilson continued to pursue the retreating enemy beyond our sight over four miles. In the whole engagement our forces lost about 500 in killed and wounded.
We were ordered to guard the prisoners which in place occupied a beautiful plantation. I was detailed as one of the number to make a record of the prisoners who numbered about 500. One of the experiences we had with the prisoners was in finding them so deplorably illiterate - that is, there were a great number of them so. Even some of the officers were hardly able to read and to write. In questioning one of the troopers I asked him where he enlisted, and under whom? He replied "Well, I don,t know what ever that means, I was just conscripted." We found out later that he had hidden himself for weeks in an attempting to avoid conscription. At this time he was about fifty years old.
Our prisoners were all taken to Murfreesboro. While on our way there, as we passed the homes of some of the prisoners, the women pleaded piteously for us to stop for only fifteen minutes with their husbands, fathers, and brothers. But this, of course, we were not allowed to do. The misery we were compelled to endure on this trip was awful. The rain fell in torrents the whole night through and we were completely tired out, though myself and one of my comrades managed to find shelter on a porch in Murfreesboro. The next morning the roll call was made to see if we had lost any prisoners in route. We found that we had made the journey without the loss of a single man.
Our troops pursued Bragg towards Bridgeport. Our first direct point was a tunnel where we rested a day. Then we went to Shelbyville. Here we stayed and rested about a week. This part of Tennessee was quite strong in Union sentiment so we enjoyed a very peaceful time while in this part of the country. It was a beautiful country. Winter wheat fields stretched far into the beautiful valley. Bragg had left two regiments to help the natives seed the fields. But none of these fine fields were ever harvested. Our men destroyed them all, as sad as it may seem.
We stayed here eight or ten days, then we pushed down towards Bridgeport. We stopped to guard the fort for several days. I was at the fort one day with twenty eight men. We could plainly see across the river, the enemy, as they were preparing for some kind of action. We were all sitting on the bank of the stream watching the fish in the water when suddenly we were surprised by the ping of a bullet and its splash in the water close by. The Lieutenant was putting himself in a rather exposed position and I remarked that a sharpshooter had been shooting at us for some time. It was no more than said that a bullet struck in the bank a few feet below where we stood. "Well, haven't you thought of returning the fire?" he said, quite impatiently. "No", we said, "we had orders not to shoot until Lee started to cross the river." "Well, I,ll give you orders to shoot", he quickly returned. I used my 1000 yard Enfield rifle on the fellow who had been tormenting us. I suppose I disabled him for he gave us no further trouble.
The following day we saw a Confederate on an island a little below our position. He stood behind a tree only protruding his head enough to call to us, "now you-uns not shoot, will you? We won,t, we just want to trade with you. We've got a lot of tobacco, we want to trade for salt and coffee and hard tack... and we mean it. Now, if you-un want to trade, bring it over here." One of our boys, whom we all knew of his daring nature said, "Let me go, I,ll swim over with a load." At first we were very much opposed to his going. But after being reassured from their envoy that there would be no harm come to him by them, we loaded our man with salt and hard tack. He returned with tobacco enough to last our company for a month. We remained here for about ten days until the enemy moved on towards Chattanooga and Chickamauga.
The determination of our forces was to force Bragg to a big engagement before cold weather. Our first orders were to proceed to Rossville Springs across the river from Chattanooga. We went one way around Lookout Mountain while General Thomas went the other way. We remained here only a few days waiting for General Thomas to arrive at his destination. The Rebels planned to whip our division and then catch Thomas before he could get to his selected situation. The third day a dozen regiments or so went out on reconnaissance. We were crossing Chickamauga Creek when we were suddenly surprised by a Rebel outpost firing a volley into us. The only one of our men hit was one in "D" Company. He was sitting leisurely upon a log when a stray bullet went through his head. He was in the very rear of the regiment.
Company A was dispatched to skirmish with the enemy until we could cross the creek and follow them up. We drove the Rebels back about a mile when we ran into a massed battery. They had six pieces of artillery in this battery but in some unaccountable way they failed to hit one of us. Miraculous as it may seem, the man who was shot through the head was taken to the hospital in Chattanooga where he recovered and later returned to his regiment.
Saturday night we retired to Bethel Church when our whole regiment was put out on picket duty. The balance of our brigade relieved us the next morning, and the whole day there was fighting going on. The enemy had batteries in houses in the woods, and were concealed from us. But finally they were located by our glasses, then a discharge of artillery was poured into them. One of the houses being smashed to pieces. This manner of dealing with them was quite effectual. They immediately fell back beyond the reach of our fire. By this time it was nearly dark so we advanced to do picket duty again while those who had been on the firing line all day retired for supper and a night,s rest. About three o,clock in the morning we could hear the Rebels moving, so I sent in a report to that effect. When three scouts were sent out to watch their movements, we were relieved from picket duty; this was at daylight.
At about nine o,clock we received orders by courier from headquarters to move at once at double quick for the battle, and we double quick'd the seven miles of distance breaking only twice. The last half of distance we formed in the line of battle. The last mile and a half we were under fire of shell from the enemy, but the only man hurt was a Lieutenant of G Company - a shell took off one of his cheeks. He was on the extreme left of our regiment. It was more surprising that there were not more killed, or wounded, in that skirmish.
Our ploy was to keep the Rebels back from the gap where General Thomas was to come through. Our artillery was firing over our heads keeping us covered with smoke. We passed through the open fields and into a wooded country. On the way we passed the 4th Regulars which were getting ready to charge the Rebels. When we met the 40th Ohio regiment, we were commanded to halt the front pace with a yell. We drove the Rebels back a half of mile to their battery, but they were mowing us down frightfully. In four minutes us we lost twenty of our Company "H".
When we arrived at about one hundred yards from the battery, they opened on us with grape and canister, and with awful havoc. Captain Pierce, upon looking around, saw our men retreating pell mell down the hill. He shouted, "God, Sergeant, look where the men are!" Then we turned in a hurry. Captain Pierce was quite athletic and he surely did keep me hustling to keep anywhere near him. I could have played marbles on his coattails all the way down the hill.
I expected every moment to be the last one for us on this earth. My left hand comrade was hit in the head by a shell which completely opened it, spattering his brains and blood all over me. It was too horrible for words to describe.
When we reached the foothills, we reformed and right oblique'd for a short distance driving the Rebels back. By this time, the regulars were ready to make a charge. Had they had made the attack with us, as they should have done, instead of going through so much red tape as they did, we could have taken the battery and have avoided the awful slaughter of our men. We cursed them roundly for it, and their Colonel declared that he would put us all under arrest for it. Then we threatened to shoot him if he didn,t shut his mouth. He promptly complied to our request... or demand.
We charged until we drove the enemy nearly off the field, and it was here that I had another narrow escape, my gun stock being splintered by a shell. In a few moments later my cartridge box was shot to pieces, and it was nearly full of cartridges - about forty of them. I then stepped behind a tree to see what damage was done to my hand, and found it full of splinters. The Captain seen me do this said, "Sergeant, is your hand ruined?" "Oh no", I said. He said, "Whoa, what can you do without a gun?" he said, after pulling out the biggest of the slivers.
I soon found another gun by the side of a big, dead Rebel, who laid nearby. It was a sixteen shooter Henry rifle. My greatest trouble then was to get the belt to fit me. When I took my place in the company again, the boys all wondered how it was that I was popping away so fast.
Not long after this, a sharpshooter got a bead on me, and put a bullet through my headband, and the bullet grazing the crown on my head. This happened while I helping to carry Captain Esby, who was mortally wounded, from the field. Before we had gone far with him he said, "Lay me down, boys. I,m dying. Sergeant, take these things from my pocket, send them to Molly, and tell her that I died like a man" - Molly was his wife. In a few seconds the brave good Captain was gone to the great beyond. We drove the Rebels back over the hill, pursuing them until darkness came upon us.
An incident of the battle, that affected our company very disagreeably, should be mentioned here. Our First Lieutenant was shot while running away, presumably by one of our own men. There were two or three who declared that he would be shot in the first engagement. He was so thoroughly disliked by all of the men for his mean cowardice. We suspected one who had to do the knapsack duty; which was to drill back and forth from the guardhouse to the Colonel,s tent with fifteen pounds of stone in a knapsack. It was a deplorable affair, but such things happen in warfare.
We hadn,t had a mouthful of Moot's food since morning. When I took my knife from the scabbard, which hung at my side, a bullet dropped at my feet. It had been deflected by the knife in the scabbard and which undoubtedly saved my life, or at least, a severe wound. After the excitement of the battle was over at the end of the day, I found that in looking myself over, that I had been hit by shells and bullets seven times during the engagement of the day. I felt very much inclined to believe then that if a man is borne to be hung, he never would be shot to death.
My next work to do was in being detailed to take three prisoners back to a point about halfway to Crawfords Springs where there were about five hundred of the wounded. We found the surgeons busily engaged in operating upon the poor fellows. They had been laid on doors taken from nearby old houses which served as operating tables. We were nearly starved so when we found the Colonel,s horse that had been killed, we slashed off the best chunks of meat we could, and in a short time had it roasted and ready for supper. After having satisfied my hunger somewhat, I tried to help the doctors in all the ways I could. During the whole night we carried water from the creek to relieve the awful suffering of the wounded men. Their wounds had to be kept wet that they could be endured. When their wounds did become dry, the sufferer,s agony was awful to behold. The ambulances and all the vehicles to be found in the surrounding country were pressed into service to take the wounded to Chattanooga, which was only four or five miles distance, during the whole night.
Churches, hotels and schoolhouses were used as hospitals. Here I saw Colonel Smith's wife, who was constantly with the regiment, take off her white underskirt and use it for bandages after the supply was exhausted, where she was assisting in the care of wounded.
If we had had reinforcements the next morning, we could have driven the Rebels from their position, but as it was, I got something infinitely better than the excitement of battle...four hours of the soundest sleep I ever had in my life - I do believe. This I was privileged to have in the Colonel's tent. It happened in this way.... I went to the Colonel and I said, "Colonel, I am almost dead ,and I must have some sleep. Can I get a place to lie down in your tent?" He replied, "Good God Sergeant, yes indeed you can do that. I heard that you have worked all night in helping with the wounded." "Yes", I said, I hadn't had a wink's sleep the whole night. He said, "You go to sleep in that bunk and I'll see to it that no one disturbs you."
We had about ten thousand men on the skirmish lines between ourselves and the Rebels. In all we had about forty seven thousand to the Rebel's eighty thousand men, so we retired to Chattanooga.
All day Monday we were strengthening the fortifications of Chattanooga, some of which the Rebels had made. We didn't learn until Monday night, upon the return of our scouts, that the Rebels had been greatly reinforced and were planning to attack Chattanooga the following day. We were in a very precarious position for battle. Not a ranking officer in our company who was fit for duty after our battle with 5th Georgia. That night at six o'clock we had inspection which showed that we had only twenty-three men who could answer the roll call. Company C had only fourteen and one Lieutenant. There were four companies of different regiments, in all, one hundred forty-eight men sent to the Mission Ridge to hold that point against the enemy.
We arrived there about six o'clock in the evening and everything was quiet all night. Shortly after daylight, while I was out reconnoitering, I could hear the morning drum call of the Rebels. I immediately reported to the commanding officer what I had heard. I was soon set out with vedette's to place on the outer line of our positions, to guard against any surprise attack. One of our company, Jim Forsythe, was placed upon the outer-most position, gave him instructions, and had hardly turned to leave him when something caused me look around at him again before leaving. And as I did he raised his gun to shoot; when a shot rang out from a different direction, and our brave boy fell dead, pierced by a bullet. Our skirmisher was partly hidden by a boulder on the side of the ridge, it was the work of but another moment for four of our pickets to send the adventuresome Rebel to the happy hunting grounds.
Then Wheeler's Cavalry immediately proceeded to come for us when they heard the shooting. When they got within range of us, we poured one volley into them, whereupon they retired beyond the range of our rifles in great haste. We could see that there were about fifteen hundred men of the Rebels who would undoubtedly proceed to dislodge us before long. In a short time the 18th and 21st Mississippi Regiments came out upon us as skirmishers, but before this I said to our Commander, Captain Mayer of the 20th Ohio, "Captain, there is no use of us staying here against such a force as would surely come against us. We have not the least chance with our forces, we will be killed like rats in a trap." He replied, "Well, Sergeant, that may be so but you know our orders.... to stay till the battle is lost, or we are driven out." "Yes", I agreed, "but under the circumstances there would not be the least bit of sense in doing such a thing.
It would be murderous to try and resist them with our handful of men. I was not satisfied with the decision of the Captain, so I went to the Lieutenant with the same complaint. He said "well you know of the Captain's supreme command here"; but I felt that this would be our finish. We had forty seven rounds of ammunition to repulse two regiments who were now approaching us. For two hours we fought them as skirmishers, shooting everyone who exposed himself to our deadly fire. Our orders were - "hold your ammunition till you are sure of your man". At last our ammunition was exhausted. Wheeler's cavalry was preparing to flank us while the infantry was to charge us. We hurriedly held a council of war where we decided to raise the white flag as the best way out of our trouble". We had killed and wounded about two hundred. Forty eight laid dead within 200 yards of our position. We lost only one man, the one who was killed on picket duty before the battle began. When the Rebel Colonel come up to us he said, "What? Is this all there is of you?" He added, "You can't say that this is all of you for sure. Where's the rest of em?"
To make matters worse for our captors, we had all broken our guns before they got to us. I had a sixteen shooter which I regretted very much to lose. But better that than let the enemy to get it. They were very much chagrined for what we had done, but notwithstanding, they treated us very well; much better than we expected. They made out a descriptive list of us as prisoners. Each officer was ordered to make a list of his own men. While this performance was going on we were very closely watched that we would not purposely neglect any part of the report.
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