What I Saw at Stone River

By Col. J. B. Dodge

December 28th. Reveille sounded at sunrise; got up and found myself feeling very comfortable. The enemy had entirely disappeared from our front. Have received orders to stay where we are to-day. It is a clear, bright, pleasant Sabbath. Plenty of rations have been issued to the men, and they are apparently as gay as larks. Many of them are washing their clothes; all cleaning their guns, and before night all will look like soldiers again, instead of looking like the muddy, dirty crowd we have been for the last three or four days. About ten o'clock General Willich passed us, going to the front with his brigade to make a reconnaissance and ascertain where Hardee with his corps had gone to. (It has been Hardee's corps that we have been fighting.) In the afternoon a general inspection was had, fresh ammunition issued eighty rounds to each man filling their cartridge boxes and pockets, and we are ready for anything. Gen. Willich returned about dark and reported that Hardee had withdrawn his entire command to Murfreesboro. The bridge across Wilson's creek in our rear, has been built to-day, and our trains are now all on the south side of that stream. There will evidently be trouble for some one soon.

December 29th. I received orders at day light to be ready to march at eight o'clock. That time found us marching back towards Triune, where we halted for some time, until Gen. Sheridan's and Gen. Jeff. C. Davis' divisions had filed off onto the "Balle Jack" road, a road running across the country from Triune east to the Wilkinson pike a road running in a northwesterly direction from Murfreesboro, and about ten miles distant. I was ordered now to remain here until the ammunition and supply train had passed, and then I was to protect the rear. There was an escort of two or three Tennessee cavalry regiments to guard the flanks of the train. There was no enemy in sight, except occasionally a few of their cavalry would make a little dash, evidently to see what they could do if they had a chance; but they were sent flying back by our cavalry. The day was bright and pleasant, the air cold and bracing, and after the trains had passed we marched leisurely along. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon we came to a narrow creek, there was no bridge and the men crossed on a couple of foot-logs. This takes some time, and while sitting on my horse seeing that the men crossed with as little delay as possible, my attention was called to the fact that there was a squad of cavalry around a house some forty rods distant, and that it looked as if they were plundering it. I immediately rode up to the house and found an old grey-bearded man, probably about seventy-five years old, a very fine-looking man too, pleading with the captain of one of the cavalry regiments before referred to, a fine-looking man about thirty years of age. There were no soldiers in the house; but three white women and two or three colored ones were as busy as they could be carrying everything they could out of the house and piling it up in the yard, all crying as if their hearts would break. I asked the captain at once what the matter was. His answer, in language and manner, was delivered with an eloquence I have never seen equaled, tears streaming down his face at times, and at others he rose to sublimity in his description of the wrongs that had been perpetrated on him and his. It was addressed to the old man, and I can only give the faintest outlines of it. Said he, "Less than two years ago I had a happy family a wife, a boy four years old, and a smiling, infant girl. I owned that farm over yonder (pointing to a beautiful farm in sight); I had a lovely home; I had my horses and cattle, everything a man could wish for; I was born and brought up here within sight of where I stand now; I owed no man anything. We had agreed among ourselves when Secession was first talked about, that each one should be protected in his opinions; that if you looked at secession in one way and I in another, neither of us should be molested. I trusted in your honor. It had been better for me to have trusted in the honor of a treacherous Indian, a wolf, or a hyena! What did you do? Night after night, when you should have been at home and asleep, you were counselling with the enemies of your country; stirring up the feelings of discord and strife in the breasts of those who were in favor of rebellion against those who differed from you, and finally you boldly announced that no Union man should live in this valley, and preparations were made with your knowledge and consent to assassinate me. A man who, although differing with me in politics, shuddered at the thought of deliberate murder, betrayed you and saved me. I tried to conceal myself in the neighborhood until the storm would blow over, but it was of no use. I was compelled to fly, thinking that you would not injure my wife and innocent children. But I did not know you then! I do now! That night, in the dark and rain, my wife was driven out of her home, forbidden to enter the house of any one in the neighborhood where she had been born and always lived, for no other crime than that her husband was a Union man. Taking the baby in her arms and leading the boy by the hand, she dragged herself to Nashville, twenty miles from here. Where now is that home of mine? My wife and children are in the grave. Those solitary chimneys mark the place where my house stood, and I am desolate and alone. I have prayed for this time to come more earnestly than I ever prayed for my soul's salvation; I have dreamed a thousand times of this moment, I knew it would come; I have thought I would kill you when we met, but that would be a mercy to you. Now, by the eternal God, you shall have a taste of what I have had!" Then shoving the old man, who had been standing there perfectly speechless, roughly to one side, he called out to his men, a dozen of whom were standing around, eager and fearfully excited witnesses of this strange scene, "Boys, throw everything that has been brought out of that house back in again, except what wearing apparel the white women can carry in their arms, then set fire to everything that will burn on the plantation!" I had no disposition to interfere, and rode silently back to my command. As the smoke commenced rolling out of the windows and doors, both above stairs and below, I could but stop and wonder at the spirit that was developed by that fiend Secession. These people had no earthly interest in breaking up the government as it was. It was a purely agricultural community. The plantations were not much larger than our northern farms. They had but few slaves, and in that kind of communities they were well treated, in fact treated more as members of the family than anything else. They were out of the rush and turmoil of active life, and it seemed that they had nothing to do but live a happy Arcadian existence, free from all strife and bitterness. Yet, here it was, that with more absolute ferocity than I ever had seen evinced before, rebellion appeared to have taken its most cherished abode. I soon overtook my regiment, and near Riggs' X roads the train was parked and we pushed on and overtook the troops in advance. About 9 o'clock we filed off the road and formed in line of battle in an old cotton field. The mud was deep, the night cold and raw. We were directly in front of the enemy, and consequently could have no fires, and to crown all our discomforts it commenced raining again and continued to do so until nearly day-light. To make the matter better with me, I took another ague chill just after we had gotten into line, and my teeth rattled for half an hour equal to the castanets of a first-class "end man" in a "nigger show." Col. Hurd, Captain Lawton, Company A, Thirtieth Indiana, and I secured luxurious quarters on the ground under an ambulance. As we laid lengthwise of the ambulance, it was a pretty tight fit between the wheels. In consideration of my having the ague, I got to sleep in the middle, and really got a pretty fair night's rest, the only drawback there was about it was, there was a sick man, a surgeon, and the ambulance driver right over head in the ambulance. The sick man would complain that the driver was crowding him; the driver would pour out a volley of oaths that would have raised the hair off of a mule, and then the surgeon would go for the driver. This round would be repeated every half hour. With these trifling exceptions we had a comfortable night. Up to this time, although we had done a good deal of skirmishing and had had a great deal of shooting done at us, still our division had not a man wounded. We had escaped wonderfully so far. Judging from the angry growl of artillery, and the occasional sputter of musketry to be heard not a mile in our advance, it will be impossible to do so much longer.

December 30th. As soon as it was light all were stirring. The storm ceased about three o'clock, and the men at once set about preparing their morning's meal. We had to remain here until nine o'clock, and if any person that has never tried it thinks it is comfortable standing in mud half way to his knees for three or four hours, he had better try it on a cold, raw day and see how it is. Finally we moved out on the Wilkinson pike and started for the front. Our progress was slow, as Sheridan, whose division was in advance, was meeting with stubborn resistance. Jeff. C. Davis' division was next, and was moving up on Sheridan's right, then came our division, Johnson's, and after crossing Overalls creek a good-sized stream that, at this time, was pretty high and moved up on Davis' right, and all pressed forward. It was stubborn, hard fighting, the rebels falling back sullenly and disputing every inch of ground. The country is slightly rolling, interspersed with cleared farms and strips of heavy timbered land. The cotton fields are almost impassible owing to the ground being soft and saturated with water. The roar of artillery, and the rattling of musketry, gradually increased in volume until it sounded as if the battle had actually begun in earnest. Finally, about half past three o'clock, our division that up to that time had been moving up on Davis' right and rear, and acting in reality as a reserve, was ordered to take a position on the extreme right and develop the strength of the enemy in that direction. That looks like business! We immediately started, and marched rapidly through a piece of timber, then across a large corn field until we had reached Davis' extreme right, when our brigade wheeled off square to the left, thus forming a continuation of Davis' line, our right resting on a road running northwest from Murfreesboro, called the Franklin road, and about two and a half miles from Murfreesboro, which was in plain sight. General Willich's brigade marched straight ahead until it reached our right, when he halted and remained in that position, thus our front was to the south and his to the west or nearly so, it being his business to protect our flank and keep the enemy from getting in our rear between us and Overalls creek, which was about eighty rods distant. When we swung into our position, Davis was having a very hot fight on his hands. Right in our front was a dense cedar thicket not to exceed twenty rods in width, then a corn field on a low strip of ground probably forty rods across, then a gentle rise, the top of which was occupied by the enemy as far as we could see. There was a battery in our front that had a commanding position, and was enfilading Davis' line with murderous effect. Our advance had not been noticed as yet by the enemy, owing to the cedar thicket behind which we were. Edgarton, before the line was fairly in position, got permission to "lift the hair off of that battery," as he expressed it, and in a moment he had his six guns in position on the Franklin road, close to the angle formed in the line where Willich's brigade joined on to us, and in another moment a volley of shot and shell for all six pieces were fired at the same instance was hurled into it. It was awful. Two guns were dismounted, a caisson exploded, and four horses, and I do not know how many men, were killed or wounded. What there was left got away from there in short order. Edgarton had "raised their hair" for certain. The firing after this gradually ceased along the whole line, and in an hour's time all was still. Baldwin's brigade of our division had been left at Triune with orders to rejoin the division when relieved by some troops that were on the way down from Nashville. It arrived in the evening and took a position in our rear as a reserve, near Gen. Johnson's quarters. The Seventy-ninth Illinois of our brigade is on the other side of Overalls creek guarding an ammunition train. My regiment, the Seventy-seventh Pennsylvania, and the Thirty-fourth Illinois, each furnished a heavy detail to picket our front, so heavy that, in order to make a sure thing of it, Lieutenant Colonel Housam and I concluded to put our entire regiments on the line, except fifty men of each regiment held as a reserve. One thing that has often puzzled me has been solved to my satisfaction to-night what becomes of the robins? The cedar thickets to which reference has been made, is literally alive with robins. It resembles in every respect a regular "pigeon roost," except that I think they have no nests. There are positively millions of them, and the men gather them as ruthlessly and as easily as the robins do the cherries in the summer time up north. They are very fat, and although I have always thought that I would just about as quick eat a piece of a baby as to eat a robin, and have had a positive hatred for every two-legged brute that would kill one. I have managed to dispose of a half dozen very comfortably. The men catch, or rather gather them off of the cedar bushes, dress them with astonishing quickness, fasten one of them on a stick or the end of a ramrod, hold it over a bed of hot coals hid in a crevice in the rocks for we are so close to the rebels that we have no fires in sight for a few moments, sprinkle a little salt on it and you have a delicious morsel that makes a wonderful addition to the "hardtack" supper we would otherwise have to put up with. The reserve of the regiment were busy all night in cooking robins for themselves and their comrades on the skirmish line. I think the robins from up north come down into this country where the winters are mild, and the cedar thickets furnish them with shelter and food. The night is clear and cold, only star light, no moon, and a transparency of the atmosphere that enables a person to hear astonishing distances. Colonel Housam and I went along our skirmish line together about ten o'clock, and from one point we had a full view of the rebel forces as they were moving into position; could hear the commands given and see the men preparing their suppers. Bragg is clearly moving the larger portion of his army in our immediate front and to our right, and we think he will strike us on the flank and rear with a force that we cannot withstand. At dark there was no enemy further to our right than Davis' right. A citizen that has just come into Colonel Jones' Thirty-ninth Indiana lines (he is on the skirmish line in front of Willich's brigade) says that "the troops that have moved in our front is Claiborne's division and McCown's division, he hear them say was to move in on the left of Claiborne's division, and that there was a large body of cavalry moving around still farther to our right and rear." The man was sent back under guard to General Rosecrans. If the general heard his statement he has paid no attention to it as yet, at least that I am aware of. I am satisfied that our line is too long and thin, that we ought to be at the Wilkinson pike, a mile to the left of where we are; but another day will disclose whether I am right or not.

December 31st. After trying for two or three hours to get a little sleep, which was almost an entire failure owing to the cold, I gave it up about five o'clock in the morning and went out to the picket line; found every man alert and on the lookout; had part of them relieved and had them get their breakfast, which took them but a very short time, then they took their places and those who had stayed on the line got theirs. The reserve was also got up, and after getting their breakfast were ordered to stand to their arms. The weather was moderating a little and about day light a dense fog settled down on the low ground in our front, as perfectly concealing the movements of the enemy as if it had been a brick wall. Finally day light appeared and we anxiously awaited either the attack of the enemy or orders to advance and attack him, which it would be, we could not tell as yet. At half past six o'clock Captain Lawton heard some noise in front of where he was stationed, and he got up on a rail fence behind which my line was stationed. He called to me, as I was but a few rods from him, and said, "They're coming!" I sprang up on the fence from where we could see over the fog, it having settled down close to the ground, and there they were! It was a magnificent, but fearful sight. Their lines extended as far as we could see in the dim light, it must have been a quarter of a mile beyond our right and sweeping on so as to strike Davis and Sheridan towards the left. Not a gun was fired; but they were coming in heavy columns, six lines deep in front, then an interval of perhaps fifty yards, and then another line of the same overpowering weight. I sprung down, and leaving Colonel Hurd in command, ran along the line of the Thirty-fourth Illinois and notified Colonel Dysart who commanded it of the approach of the enemy, from his position he had not been able to see them yet. His line was in splendid order. On my way back to my reserve I passed Edgarton's battery, and was surprised to see that at least one-half of the horses were gone and those near the battery were not hitched up. I called to him that the enemy were on us in force. He at once ordered his men to "fall in," and commenced loading their guns. All this had happened in less time than it takes to write it. Just then our skirmish line poured a volley into the faces of the enemy, at a distance of not more than ten paces. Beyond killing and wounding I do not know anything as to the number, it had no more effect than if they had fired against a stone wall. Their first line delivered a withering volley and surged onward. I got to my reserve and started to move up to the front; but before we could get there the rebel line was swarming over the fence, literally shoving my men back by the sheer weight of their columns. Among other that were killed at this time belonging to this county were Daniel Walker and Nathaniel M. Roberts, both of Company B of my regiment. Both of them were first-rate soldiers and died fighting bravely at their post. Walker, without doubt, killed the rebel General Rains. He was killed not more than fifty feet directly in front of Walker, and just before the order to "fire" was given by Captain N. N. Boydston, he told a comrade of this that he was "going to hit that officer," pointing to Rains who was urging his command on in gallant style. Corporal John C. Hathaway, of Company C. Thirtieth Indiana, was also killed here at the first fire. A peculiar circumstance in connection with his death leads me to speak of it. Sometime during the night he hunted up a comrade of his and said to him: "We are going to have a great battle to-morrow; I shall certainly be killed. Don't interrupt me in what I am going to say." He then went on to give him minute instructions as to his business matters at home; gave his comrade all the loose valuables and papers he had with him with instructions as to their disposal, and then went back to his duty fully believing that on the coming of another day he, full of life and lusty manhood, would be a lifeless corpse. There is a sublimity in the courage that enables a man to perform his duty as he did under such circumstances that cannot but challenge the admiration of all. When I met my line coming back through the cedar thicket, the rebels were within ten feet of them, still surging on. I went to my horse that was standing close by tied to a tree standing there with distended nostrils, glaring eyes and crouched down almost to the ground as striking an illustration of terror as I ever saw. Colonel Hurd's horse was close by in the same condition. We untied them amid the liveliest demonstrations of pleasure on their part and mounted. Our line fell back in good order out of the thicket and across a narrow road in rear of our position, perhaps twenty rods, expecting to find some support. The enemy in front had halted and commenced firing; but so high that it had no effect of any consequence. In the meantime, McCown's (rebel) division had swept around, brushing Willich's brigade out of the way as if it had been a cobweb, although it made a gallant stand; but no troops in the world can stand an attack from overpowering numbers in the front and on the flank at the same time. Edgarton's battery had been captured. Edgarton was wounded and captured while lying on his back between his guns, fighting to the last. His men actually fought with their gun swabs, when all else had failed until they were taken.

Northern Indianian Thursday Mar. 4, 1875 front page

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