Memories of War Times

Personal Reminiscences of Happenings That Took Place From 1861 to the Grand Review

by Reub Williams

Do we know what a land
God hath placed in our hand,
To be made into star-gems or crushed into sand?
Let me feel that our race,
Doomed to no second place,
Must glitter with triumph or died in disgrace!
That millions unborn,
At night, noon and morn,
Will thank us with blessings or curse us with scorn,
For raising more high
Freedom's flag to the sky,
Or losing forever the Fourth of July!
---Will Carleton

How much, oh, how very much is expressed in these very few words from the gifted and always patriotic poet, Will Carleton. It presages what may come to this great nation, unless its people firmly resolve to stand by it as one man, and resolve that come what will, the Nation given us as a heritage by the sturdy fathers of the Revolution, thought that wise, patriotic, brave leader, George Washington, shall not perish from the earth. The signs for some time past have not been encouraging. A restless spirit seems to prevail among some of the people, of the large cities especially , and there also seems to be a growing disregard for law rampant in the land that bodes no good for the Great Republic, unless there is a free and a full return to the wise principles avowed and set forth in the immortal Declaration of Independence upon which the Nation was founded, and thus far has been preserved. In this series of articles the author has on several occasions alluded to the subject, and as he does not desire to be a "prophet of gloom an disaster," nothing farther needs be said at this time than to caution one and all to be on their guard to preserve this Nation and its constitution at any and every hazard, as it came from the hands of its framers.

Following the removal of the three corps from Sherman's left to the right, and the sanguinary battle of the 28th of July, came the withdrawal of the Twenty-third and a portion of the Fourteenth corps, both of which took up positions on the right of the ground covered by the battle described in my last sketch. For several days the troops that were engaged in the great struggle referred to occupied pretty nearly the same ground on which the battle was fought--the line, however, being moved forward in order to escape the foul odors that pervaded for more than a mile in every direction, and which with the hot weather was almost unbearable, by even those men with the stoutest of constitutions and poorly developed olfactories. However, an incident occurred after the troops had established themselves as far away from the loud-smelling field as was possible, that pleased every man in my regiment and many others in the brigade. Lucius Barber was a sergeant in K company of the Twelfth and had written to his sister at Fort Wayne to send his company a barrel of onions. She was the daughter of the late Myron Barber of that city, who died only a few years ago, and in compliance with her brother's request--she was but a mere lass at that time, she concluded to take up a subscription--there being many men and two full companies in the Twelfth from Allen county--to pay for a quantity of that loud-smelling vegetable that would be worth while, and it was while encamped at the point just stated that sixteen barrels of onions came to my address. It made me wonder if some one back at the North had taken me to be a sutler and had consigned to me a quantity of onions to dispose of, on a percentage. Sergeant Barber, however, soon explained the matter, and it is a fact that nothing that could have been sent the men by their friends at home that would have pleased them better than just these onions. Men who never ate onions before took to them "like a duck to water," and it was not long after the first few barrels were opened until the fumes of both cooked and raw onions so permeated the atmosphere that men came from other regiments to buy the vegetable, led to the right spot by the scent alone.

The sixteen barrels of onions were judiciously distributed, the hospital getting a generous share of the vegetable, and I can only repeat that Miss Barber more highly pleased the boys in the field by her generous gift of onions than even that great institution, the sanitary commission, ever did to the thousands of me that were supplied with the delicacies so liberally and generously sent out clear through the war by that celebrated association that expended millions of dollars, the generous donations of a patriotic people during the great struggle for the Nation's life. the gift and thoughtfulness of Miss Barber was so fully appreciated by the recipients that I thought it my duty to indite a letter of thanks to the young lady, and send it to her at her home in Fort Wayne. So I "blocked out" a letter of thanks as well as I knew how and had it copied by that expert penman, the late Marsh H. parks, of this city, who could come as near making ordinary writing look like steel engraving of a very high order as any one I have ever known, and sent it to the young lady, and the letter so pleased her aged and patriotic father that the latter had it framed under glass and kept it as a memento of the war, hanging on the wall of his home in the "Summit City," and no meeting him since the war, he would almost invariably speak of the handsome letter received by his daughter from the Twelfth Regiment.

Another incident came under my own eye, while the troops occupied this ground and that was that the battle was fought over a field that contained a monument raised by a father to the memory of his son, who had been killed on the field of the first battle of Bull Run. What is more the monument was despattered by the marks of bullets from both sides, it having been repeatedly hit by friend and foe alike during the bloody fight of the 28th of July. It is to be presumed that neither the father of the dead soldier, or any of his relatives or friends, could have even dreamed when that monument was erected to a soldier who had fallen in the first struggle of the war away up in Northern Virginia, that within three years would be fought on the identical ground away down in rural Georgia, a battle far more disastrous in killed and wounded than was the one in which the young man was engaged, when the messenger of death called for him on that far-away field that opened up the long war. Incidents like this shows to some extent how wide was the field of battle over which the war for the union extended, and it should be remembered that the distance from where the young man fell and where his monument was erected by doting parents, does not half cover the extent of the field of operations during the greatest, grandest war of modern times.

While there was not a moment during the war that the Union side lost faith in the final outcome, yet it is no more than fair to say that a feeling of gloom pervaded a large portion of the people of the North at about this period although it never showed itself in the army. The delay in the capture of Atlanta, after Sherman's army had reached it s outworks was made the most of by "copperhead orators and newspapers, and it is a fact that the Democratic national convention held in Chicago in 1864, pronounced the "War for the Union a failure," in resolutions passed by that body at just about the time that Atlanta was ready to surrender. Nevertheless, there really was a period of gloom at that time confined it must be remembered wholly north of the Ohio river and fostered to a great extent by the members of "The Knights of the Golden Circle," a treasonable organization that the closing months of 1864 exposed and made its traitorous objects and aims public further particulars of which will be given in these sketches, when the period is reached in the general run of these "War Memories." That this organization protracted the war; that it furnished information to to the enemy; that every member of the "Inner Circle," after taking the oath required by the order in that particular degree, was in every sense of the word a traitor to his government, is a fact that cannot be truthfully contradicted, as will be shown in its proper place.

General Sherman among all of the higher commanders of the Federal army was in all probability the least affected by adverse circumstances and never permitted it to swerve him from whatever course he had marked out. In fact, there never was any special cordiality existing between the General and the large number of correspondents the leading newspapers kept in the field to furnish news, and this was illustrated by the fact that he summarily dismissed B. F. Taylor, the war correspondent of the Chicago Journal--the man who penned the splendid description of the battle of Missionary Ridge which has already appeared in these sketches. Mr. Taylor had joined General Sherman's headquarters at Huntsville, but a short time previous to the assembling of the western army at Chattanooga, expecting to act as a correspondent throughout the Atlanta campaign that everybody knew was to begin shortly. In about his first letter to his paper Mr. Taylor made the remark that "General Sherman's army now rested with its right at Huntsville and its left at Knoxville, Tenn." General Sherman considered such a publication as "giving information to the enemy" and said there were plenty of opponents of the war ready, anxious and very willing to furnish the Confederates with all possible information concerning the movements of the army as well as anything else that would be of value to the Confederates. At any rate, General Sherman so considered the matter and dismissed Mr. Taylor as a correspondent from his army. Those who have perused his wonderful pen-picture of the battle of Missionary Ridge can easily perceive what a great loss the western army sustained in not having Mr. Taylor's brilliant and facile pen to describe the skirmishes, battles, marches, etc., pertaining to the operations during the Atlanta campaign, and which the army would have had from its beginning until the fall of that city, but for the publication of that, to him, very innocent remark as to the location of Sherman's forces, and perhaps the too hasty decision of the General; for with an army the size of the one he assembled the information could not have been of much value to the enemy, had they known even the location of every regiment in it. After the war I had a talk with Mr. Taylor concerning the affair and he told me that he had greatly grieved over the fact that this order forbade him to accompany the western army, and that it was his greatest desire to be with it, he regretted more deeply that he had been deprived of the privilege of being with the troops from his own and adjoining States.

It was following the battle of "Ezra Church" while the army lay in its intrenchments, closely watching the enemy who occupied a similar fortified position, that General Sherman organized a cavalry expedition to move around Atlanta, and if possible to destroy General Hood's only remaining railroad connection with the South, or anywhere else in fact. One of the cavalry commands was placed under General Stoneman, and if I remember correctly the other was commanded by General Garrard, or it may have been General Kirkpatrick. The idea was for these officers to join their forces after getting south of Atlanta, which would give them a sufficient number of troops to put up a strong fight at any point. The two forces failed to make connections one with the other, and the consequence was that neither one was of sufficient strength to boldly carry out the original plan. General Stoneman did advance as far as Macon, Ga., where he found a much superior force of the enemy and was forced to retire, and in falling back, himself and quite a large part of his command were captured, while those who escaped were so badly scattered that they were incapacitated from making a successful raid. For two weeks perhaps more, the men who escaped capture came back to the main army in squads of four or five, two or three, and sometimes singly, worn out for want of food and ragged from constant night travel. Among these were Colonel James Brownlow, who commanded an East Tennessee Union regiment of cavalry, and who was the son of the noted Methodist minister of Knoxville in that State and known all over the country as "Parson Brownlow" the long-time editor previous to the war of "The Knoxville Whig." He was about as forlorn looking a specimen of manhood when he came into our lines as one could imagine. He was a gallant and brave officer, but he was--notwithstanding his great physical development--a completely "used up man." This I know for I saw him soon after he arrived at Sherman's headquarters.

It was during the period of this cavalry raid that was probably the most trying to the enlisted men of any part of the Atlanta campaign. The enemy in front of the position my men occupied were very strongly fortified and the lines were so close together that the pickets had to be changed after dark to keep from being seen and picked off. I presume that the enemy was forced to employ the same tactics and at any rate, while no special engagement occurred here for some time, yet the daily loss of men killed and wounded by the picket-firing was growing in number to such an extent that it acted on the nerves of many of the men who lay behind the works. It was unsafe even to look over the top of the intrenchments as some one of the enemy was sure to take a shot at any head above it and even though it may have only hit the head-log or dirt nearby, it had the effect to worry the men in the trenches who would far have preferred to have formed up for a charge to take the enemy's works and have the affair over with instead of this steady-growing loss of life from day to day. It was at this point that the enemy had a strong picket-post near a peach tree and from this fact it became known in our lines as "the peach tree post." I remember that General Harrow, our division commander, along with Colonel Wolcott, commanding the Second brigade, visited me one afternoon, and in walking along the lines I called the Generals attention to this post and told him that for the past four days we had an average of two per day killed or wounded from that post alone. "Why don't you destroy it," he remarked. "I don't like to take the responsibility of sending the sufficient number of men required to certain death in order to accomplish it," I replied. "Call for volunteers and let them try it," said the General. After Harrow and Wolcott had departed, in thinking the matter over and of the steady loss that had been occurring by the musket-fire from this post, I concluded that perhaps it would be best, and sent for Sergeant Jack Mankin, one of the bravest, safest and most reliable among the non-commissioned officers in the regiment; told him what the General had said and asked him if he would lead the party to capture the post. "If you will let me pick my own men, certainly," said Jack. Of course, permission was given and late in the ensuing night, Sergeant Mankin reported with ten men ready and willing to make the dangerous attempt. Silently as ghosts they climbed over our intrenchments, nearly opposite the Confederate post, and after they had formed along the works, in a a very low tone Jack gave the command and with a rush they were soon forking the enemy out of the grave-like protection the "rebs" occupied and were just as briskly bringing them back into our lines. The result showed twenty-two captured men --one of them a First Lieutenant. Alas, the capture cost us two men, William Shaffer of Company G, and David Vanskike, of C company, both of them as brave men as the Union army contained. It was a heroic bit of work. The post was known to be a strong one and the ten men were fully aware of the great danger in the undertaking. The next day General Harrow sent a very complimentary letter to Sergeant Mankin and his men, and it was worthy of a larger reward, for the Confederates were never permitted to reoccupy that post again and an end came to the constant loss of life on our side from the "peach tree post." After Atlanta had fall, myself and the late Marsh H. Parks went over to "peach tree post," and I can say that it is to be regretted the tree was not cut down and taken North for some war-relic museum, for from half way up the tree down to its very roots it was fairly filled with bullets from the side facing the Union troops. Bullets stuck out of it in every conceivable shape; others were buried in the wood and properly preserved, it would have made a decidedly interesting war relic. Sergeant Mankin was a resident of Huntington, this State, the last I knew of him.

Northern Indianian January 7, 1904

Back to YesterYear in Print