The Story of Chicamauga

As Told By an Eye-Witness

By J. B. Dodge

After lasting about fifteen minutes, during which time we must have lost 500, in killed and wounded, and the enemy as many more the fighting suddenly ceased, and the enemy withdrew guides were furnished us and we moved on at a lively pace. The woods on one side of the road, and the rail-fence on the other was on fire caught from exploding shells and with the heat, and screaming of shells, and pattering of bullet-firing still following along dow the line, behind wich we were marching, made it to say the least, very uncomfortable. It is not so trying to be a day in a fight where you see no one but the enemy where you have a chance to give as well as take hard knocks, as it is to be fifteen minutes in the rear with the wounded streaming past you, and men being shot around you with no chance to reply. While going along in this way a cavalry-man, an orderly, probably of some officer rode up to one of my staff, and started to ask a question, when a bullet struck him in the side of the head, killing the poor fellow instantly. But we at length got out of range and rejoined our division that had just received orders to move in on Gen. Thomas' left, and relieve some of his troops that were being hardly pressed. My brigade was formed in rear of the other two brigades of my division as a reserve [and] away we went. Fifteen minutes march across a large corn-field and into a piece of oak openings, rolling ground, and with occasionaly [sic] a pine-tree scattered around, and we halted. No enemy in our immediate front, but off to our right it was evidently "red-hot." In a moment I received an order to take the officer who handed it to me, as guide and go to the relief of Gen. who was being hardly pressed. We marched by the right flank, perhaps a quarter of a mile, when we arrived on the ground. The line was instantly deployed, and the command given to Fix-bayonets, Trail-arms; Forward Double-quick march! A determination could be seen on every countenance to "do or die" to drive the enemy or die in the attempt. I had formed my line thirty or forty feet in rear of Gen. and was hidden from them and the enemy, by the thick under-growth. When the command, march! was given it seemed that every man was bound to reach the enemy first. If it had not been for the most strenuous exertions on the part of the line officers, I fear that it would have degenerated into a foot race to see which Company or Regiment reached the enemy's line first. As our line bounded over ' line, (the men were lying down) he and his men were thunderstruck. They would have done the same thing had they been in our place, but it was so utterly unexpected by them and such a relief, that the first thing they did was to give a hearty cheer, and then follow up as fast as they could. Just at this time my horse was killed, and as he fell, he threw me, I never could tell how far, but when I got on my feet, the men without orders, I guess, had charged bayonets, and the rebels were flying. My men suffered severely from their (the rebels) artillery-fire. We captured five pieces literally bayonetting their men while trying to work them.

It was no time to make a fuss about a cannon or two, and after the rebels had fallen back entirely out of the way, and all was quiet, we heard a terrible 'hallabaloo' away in our rear. Men hurrahing and yelling, as if they would split their throats. Just then a man came up that had went back, by permission to look after a wounded comrade and some one asked him what the matter was said he, with an inimitable air: "Oh, a lot of d-- fools back there found them reb's cannon we run over a while ago, I told 'em to come up a little nearer the front and maybe they could get one without takin' it second handed." I found that there was none of our own troops on the right of our line for some distance, and Col. Rose, with his Regiment was sent to reconnoitre and report on the situation. He came back in an hour and reported that it was over a mile to the next troops, but that the ground was impracticable a large part of the way for the movement of troops. Gen. Johnson, reported to Gen. Thomas the situation in front that my Battery the twentieth Ohio covered the bridges across Chicamauga creek, and that there were no rebel's in his front on our side of the creek. Gen. Thomas, immediately ordered a division to support Johnson, but owning to some misunderstanding they did not reach us until after dark and done us no good. We lay in this position until nearly dark, in a piece of rather open woods but little undergrowth, with a large open field on our left and a "sedge" field on our right and front. The three Brigades of our Division were in line, Baldwin on the left, Willich in the centre and my command on the right.

This "sedge" spoken of is a course heavy grass that grows densely on old worn-out fields that are turned out to commons a common sight in the south, by the way. Just before dark, a very heavy force of rebels struck Baldwin's Brigade in front and on the flank. I ordered my Battery to throw some shells into this sedge field so as to set the grass on fire as it was rapidly getting dark. It was all in a blaze in a few moments, and by its light we saw the rebels moving around to my front and right, a few shells were "placed where they would do the most good" among them, and the Battery which had been in an exposed position was ordered to the rear. Some of the horses were wounded and became unmanagable, and Capt. Davis and Lieut. Butler and McGowan, of my staff were wounded while helping to remove the guns, which were all saved. Butler and McGowan were left on the field and were captured. By this time it was very dark, the light from the burning sedge had gone down, the fight had swept along our front almost annihilating Baldwin's Brigade, who had made a most gallant fight, badly crippled Willich's and then we took the concentrated storm, from right, left and front all at once; there seemed to be no escape, nothing but to stand and fight against hopeless odds each soldier answered to the description of the poet."No heed he gave to the flying ball, No heed to the bursting shell, His duty was something more than life; And he strove to do it well."

The woods were lighted up almost as light as day with the flash of musketry, and the bursting of shells no sound could be heard, except the continued roar of musketry, and the peal of artillery. Simonson's fifth Indiana Battery, and the twentieth Ohio Battery, were some little distance in the rear, and they performed a terrible work of destruction by landing their shells in the masses of the rebels over our heads. Finally the rebel commander in our front gave the command to "cease firing" and it was promptly obeyed on both sides. The rebels had come to the conclusion that they were firing on their own men, and at once commenced to reform their line, when it was discovered that we were all mixed up together. Our line and the rebel line were not over twenty feet apart, and we were saved to a great extent, from the fact that they were on ground three or four feet higher than we were, their shots going over our heads, while their loss was terrible, because almost every shot of ours told. I went to work as quietly as I could to withdraw my men. In the darkness I run across Col. Buckner, who thought he had his Regiment all right, and said that he had just spoke to Col. Rose not ten feet from where we then were. I went in the direction he gave me but could find nothing of Rose. Just then a couple of men came along, and I was about to speak when one of them made a remark by which I ascertained that he was a Rebel Division Commander, and the other, one of his Brigade Commanders. Here was a fix, and I was about to try and persuade them to accompany me to my quarters, when a rebel column moved up and took a position across the line on which I had been traveling. I had strong objections to being captured just then, and concluded that I would not be. The woods were full of troops in every direction. Hardee's corps was moving rapidly on to the very ground I was on. The ground was literally covered with dead and wounded rebels, the latter uttering loud shrieks of pain as the moving troops unknowingly would step on, or rudely jostle them. Hospital attendants were moving every where, carrying the wounded to the rear altogether the show was very gloomy. I sat down by the foot of a tree to await circumstances. Just then two soldiers came by where I was, and one of them happened to step on my feet. They were hospital attendants stopped and asked if I was wounded. I uttered what I hope was a pardonable untruth, and assured them I was. One of them put his hand on my shoulder, putting his hand on my shoulder-strap, when he started back and said "Why Jim, he's a Fed. officer!" They wanted to know "where I was wounded" and I told them "in my leg." They carefully raised me up. I had my revolver in my sword-belt, and as I came up on my feet by a sudden, and unexpected motion to them, threw them forward, at the same time drawing and cocking it. They were directly in front of me, and so close that I could touch either of them. I told them in a low but firm voice who I was, explained how I had come where I was in a very few words, and told them that they must take me into our lines, assuring them that I would kill one of them at any-rate, or both if possible, if they made any noise or done anything to betray me, as I would rather die than be captured in that way. They concluded to obey my orders. We must have went a quarter of a mile right along a rebel line of battle, turning out a number of times for officers and others that were moving around, but we finally reached our lines, and I was safe. I promised to give them a statement, of how they were captured, to save them from being branded as deserters, but an hour afterwards some of my own men captured and held Major Inspector General on Gen. Bragg's Staff, with two orderlies, to whom I explained the matter in the presence of my captives, and made it all satisfactory. When I got back to my command I found the remnant of it under command of Col. Buckner about ready to fall back to the line the rest of the army occupied; which was immediately done. The rebels following us up closely, but making no attack. Then without fires or anything to eat, we threw ourselves on the ground, to seek what rest we might get, and dream of to-morrow for all knew that we had had but a foretaste.

Capt. Davis who had been wounded early in the evening had refused to leave the field, and when I got back he hunted me up, and as he had managed to pick up a blanket we thought we were well fixed. I helped him to get down by the root of a large oak tree, and then I sat down by him drawing the blanket over us and tucked it up the best I could. The night was wretchedly cold (there would have been frost if it had not been for the wind which blew all night) and not five hundred feet from where we lay the ground was strewed with wounded men, belonging to both armies; that it was impossilbe to rescue, as they were between picket lines of the two armies and the poor fellows laid there with no cover over them and shivered and shrieked with pain, and called for water so that it was impossible for any one, unless he had a heart of stone, or was utterly exhausted, to sleep. Davis would fall into a doze and fall over of course in such a direction as to pull the blanket off of me. Then I would wake him up getting him straightened up, and my share of the blanket, (I by some means claimed a proprietary interest in it) and then I would fall over and he would wake me up to get his share; finally after what seemed an endless night, day dawned, and everything was forgotten in the throwing up a line of breast-works, frequently consisting of mere piles of rails. We had no tools, except a few axes, so bayonets and knives were used to dig dirt with when they could be used, and in the course of a couple of hours we had something that might be called a defense. To our surprise the rebels made no attack to our front until ten o'clock. It is but right to say here that in the arrangement of troops on this morning that my Brigade was placed next to the extreme left of our army. Gen. John Beatty's Brigade, being on my left, and Gen. A. Baird's on my right, both belonging to Thomas" Fourteenth Corps. About 8 o'clock the battle opened on our right quite distant however, and gradually rolled along towards the left. At 10 o'clock they made a desperate attack along the whole left, which was repulsed after a bloody fight, during which our loss was comparatively light, the rebel loss was awful, owing to his attacking in masses, while we had the advantage of the ground as well as works, which enabled our men to fire more deliberately, and with greater certainty. In our front the ground was open and descended gradually for fifty or seventy-five yards when it descended quite rapidly some twenty yards further to the bottom of a little ravine and then ascended rather sharply to a level with the ground immediately in our front, the consequence was, that their columns where invariably broken before they could ascend our side of the ravine, and this saved the army. All day long they made charge after charge to gain our position, their best troops were thrown in and led recklessly to slaughter in order to gain this point. Through an unfortunate mistake, they had succeeded in breaking our line on the right now if they could roll up the left and get control of the Rossville road that led to Chattanooga, they could capture the whole of Rosecrans army, and there was nothing to hinder Bragg from marching to Louisville. But Thomas was there. Well does he deserve the title of the "Rock of Chicamauga". To describe the slaughter of rebels on the left, is but simply a repetition of the description of the first attack. In one charge four Brigade Commanders and one Division Commander were killed so close together, that a wounded rebel officer we captured, afterwards, told me they could have all been covered with a soldiers blanket, where they fell. In the meanwhile our right was being gradually, but slowly drawn back. Longstreet's Corps, that had been sent out to Bragg from Virginia and had told Bragg's troops that they would "show them how to eat up Yank's" had been sent around to try to gain the Rossville road from the right, but they met Wilder with his Brigade armed with Spencer rifles, and were literally swept from the field, and Stedman, coming up just in the nick of time saved our line of retreat. About five or perhaps four o'clock, the order was passed along the line to each Regimental Commander to watch, and when the Regiment on his right had got ten paces to the rear of the works that he should order his command back and reform at the Ringgold road, one hundred rods in our rear, or as near it as possible. In a few minutes all had left the works and in a moment almost, Rebel Batteries were playing upon us from the rebel side of the works we had just left. We had to cross a large corn field in which there were a number of dead trees standing, and we had to pass near them and under them. A solid shot struck one of the largest of them knocked the top off and killed four men by falling on them. I was diverted at a little thing that occured just as I reached the high rail-fence between the corn field and the road. The troops were flying through on the double-quick, a wide gap in the fence, I thought I would climb over so as to hinder no soldier, when there struck in just ahead of me eight or ten nicely dressed officers, evidently some officer with his staff they stopped and looked at the ffence an instant when a rebel shell passed close to us, struck the ground right under the fence, and exploded, leaving not a vestige of the fence, but the air full of rails and cast iron. I naturally winked a few times and when I looked around I could not see a trace of that crowd of officers, and better than all, not one was hurt so but that he could get away, at any rate. Talk about partridges disappearing in the leaves! These fellows beat all the partridges that ever existed. We crossed the road and continued on up a rather steep hill, the southern end of Missionery Ridge, and formed along its crest. Regiment, Brigades and Divisions had of course became inextricably entangled, but the men fell into line, regardless of everything else, so that there was a fight, or an honorable retreat. We held that position until after dark, the enemy apparently being too much exhausted to do more than keep up a little Desultory firing, which was promptly returned, but amounted to nothing. We then fell back about three miles I think, to a position near Rossville, and utterly exhausted and worn out, threw ourselves on the ground to get what rest we might.

At day-light the different commands were assembled, placed in position and at once commenced throwing up a strong line of entrenchments. We stayed there until about midnight, when our trains being safely pushed to Chattanooga, and everything out of the way, we quietly withdrew to that place. As a single illustration of the fatality that would occur to small parties. I went into the battle with Five Staff Officers, and Six Mounted Orderlies. Every Staff Officer was wounded except Capt. E. P. Edsall, my Adjt. General. And three of them were left in the hands of the enemy, four of the Orderlies were killed, and the other two severly wounded. Lieut. Douglas Phelps of Company D. Thirtieth Indiana, while on this charge came on two rebel officers who in order to get out of the way had halted behind a pile of rails lying in the woods. He commanded them to surrender. For a reply, one of them fired his revolver; Phelps instantly shot him dead. The other officer then fired at Phelps, killing him, but as he was falling he fired again, and the second rebel fell dead also. Lieut. Lash, of Company F., had a similar fight with two rebels, over a large log. Lash was lively enough to kill both of his men, and escaped unharmed himself, but these things I fear are invidious. You can made no destinction where all were heroes. One or two little incidents showing the courage of a woman may not be out of place. "Uncle Johnny Turchin," as he was almost universally known, commanded a Brigade in the Fourteenth Corps. He was an accomplished engineer officer in the Russian Army, was engaged in the defense of Sevastapol during the Crimean War, and came to this country after its fall accompanied by his wife, who is the daughter of an officer high in rank in the Russian Army, and was born and brought up in a camp. She always accompanied her husband on the field. At Chicamauga, on the 20th, about noon she concluded to go to the rear and get something for the General to eat. As she was returning on her horse, carrying a small covered bucket in one hand containing some coffee, a rebel rifle shot came along and ruthlessly tore a hole through it, letting the coffee escape. Although there was a storm of bullets flying around her, she stopped, threw up her hands in amazement and disgust with the remark: "There, vot vill Shouny do now; de mean rebel's has spilt his coffee! What "Johnny" did do was to fight like a tiger. During the battle Mrs. Turchin discovered an amunition train that was going to the rear, and had to cross an open field under the rebel fire. In doing so the officer in charge became demoralized, and was rapidly getting his train entangled. She immediately rode up, ordered the officer to get out of the way ordered the teamsters to get into line, enforcing her commands with her pistol, and then coolly riding ahead, selected her rounte and took the train to a place of safety.

And so the battle of Chicamauga ended. It was a drawn battle. The rebels held the battle-field, but were too badly crippled to derive any advantages from it. The stake fought for was Chattanooga. We held it. In order to retain it, "Mission Ridge" had to be fought, Chicamauga gained, made Mission Ridge possible. It was a battle in two acts, and both were well played. As to the plan of the battle it is not my business to criticize, even if I were able to. It seemed to me then, and does now, that our line should not have been more than half as long as it was, that it was too thin and attenuated and rendered just such an accident as did happen to the right, when it was cut in two possible. I have endeavored to give such a description of the battle, and the movements of the command to which I was attached, and of the occurrences that came under my own observation, as would give a general idea of the movements preceeding and during a great battle. It had always seemed to me that the general idea was, that when the commanders of two armies got ready to fight they simply moved their armies up facing each other, and poured shot and shell into each other until one side or the other was unable in the parlance of the prize ring, to "come to time." If I have suceeded in making a single person appreciate more fully the terrible sufferings, privations and labors, and more than all, the heroic courage of those who offered their lives as a sacrifice, that the Union might live, my end is attained.

Northern Indianian Thursday Feb. 11, 1875 front page

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Ft. Wayne Gazette did Col. J. B. Dodge of this place the honor to republish in that paper, the first part of his "Story of Chicamauga" taken from the columns of The Indianian. (more)

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