Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Thirteen dollars a month for standing as targets
For heaps of cold lead and old iron and steel.
But Grant says we are better for what we endured then,
And we can't make a point on the General's deal!
We ate "salt horse" and hard-tack in all kinds of weather,
Some rations we drew and some others stole;
But still, my old chums, we will always remember
The old coffee kettle that hung on a pole.
---War-Time Lyrics

The fall of Atlanta occasioned an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm all over the North that was seldom exceeded during the entire war. It was, indeed, a great victory from the standpoint of military achievement, aside from the issues at stake, and fully showed that General William Tucumseh Sherman was one of the world's great soldiers. From the hour the campaign opened until its close the Federal army was compelled at all times to act on the aggressive, while the enemy invariably fought from behind intrenchments, many of which were prepared before the campaign opened. This was a tremendous advantage in every conceivable way. The Federal army was always compelled whenever an assault was determined upon to make it "in the open," while its enemy lay behind well-built works, an advantage so great that only those who have had an experience in the difficulties to be overcome can fully appreciate. Of course, there is and cannot be any doubt but that General Sherman could have captured Atlanta by direct assault at the crucial moment; but like the wise General he was, he knew that such a course would cost many valuable lives, and hence he resorted to the maneuvers that so completely deceived General Hood, his antagonist, behind the works and forts which surrounded the town, and looking back to the particulars of the few days, preceding the fall of "The Gate City," it is almost laughable to perceive how wonderfully General Hood was deceived by General Sherman's splendid moves on the chess-board of war; and now, even forty years, almost, after the stirring events that occurred "away down in Georgia," it is a wonder that General Hood could possibly entertain the idea--which he did to such a degree as to permit a "jollification ball" over the supposed retreat of the Union forces. He seemed never to reason the case, that with such an army as General Sherman possessed, "retreat" was simply out of the question, but permitted himself to be fooled by following the Twentieth corps back to the Chattahoochie river, where his advance found the corps strongly intrenched, and presenting such a front as to make the pursuers believe that the entire Federal army was at that point, or engaged in crossing the river, when in fact all but the Twentieth corps of General Sherman's army was at that very moment surging around Atlanta on the west, and had already destroyed several miles of the Macon railroad--the only road of the kind left to the Confederate army. The manner in which he was enlightened that instead of a retreat the Federal army was making an advance and had fully severed his only communications with the outside world was shown in the dispatches from General Hood sent to the officer in charge of the Confederate mounted force west of Atlanta, were distinctly shown in my last article, wherein I gave the import of the orders sent him leading up to the alarm created when through his scouts from various directions he ascertained that the Federal army--all but the Twentieth Corps--was already south of Atlanta and the capture of the town a foregone conclusion--indeed it was a question with the Confederate commanding officer whether he himself and the troops under his immediate command could escape.

I have already stated that I had gone into a very pleasant camp at East Point, the railroad station three or four miles west of Atlanta, and as mine were the first troops to arrive there my reaching of East Point must have been almost coincident to the Twentieth corps, under General Slocum, taking possession of the city. The following morning, accompanied by a portion of my staff, I visited the town and called on General Slocum and informed him where I had been directed to go into camp, and I am sure that up till that moment he did not know that any of the troops that had been at Jonesboro were so near him. The town presented a most forlorn aspect. Everything was in a dilapidated, torn-up condition, and the effects of the siege could be seen on every hand. Even at that period, I thought that Atlanta in its general appearance looked more like a Northern town than any other that I had thus far seen in the South, and in 1870--five years afterwards--I visited the place and rode all over the city and visited all of the battlefields in which myself and troops had participated, I was confirmed in the decision to which I had arrived on first sight in early September, 1864. In 1870 Northern money was pouring into the town; the new Kimble House had been opened--at that time one of the finest hotels in all the South--and business was exceedingly lively. The principal lines of railroads were soon placed in running order after the war, and Atlanta was a thriving place, indeed, and is now one of the most important inland towns in the South. The five years that had elapsed from the time I first rode down its streets had worked a transformation, indeed.

Within a day or two all of General Sherman's army that had been operating at Jonesboro and Lovejoy had assembled at Atlanta and all of them had gone into camp in such a position as to make its defense easy such occasion require it. There was a station a few miles south of Atlanta on the Macon railroad known as "Rough and Ready," an appellation that was conferred on General Taylor following the Mexican war. The Confederate forces established an outpost at that point, and it was there that a detail of enlisted men from many Federal regiments was made to go there under a flag of truce, while officers of Generals Sherman and Hood arranged an exchange of prisoners, such at least, as had not been taken to Andersonville, or any other of the stations where prisoners were kept. The truce lasted several days and I remember that from our side the very finest-looking officers and men formed the detail, and in fact, they did present a handsome appearance as they left for the point designated. It was at this time that the division to which my brigade belonged was broken up, in reality to let Gen. Harrow off from active service in the field, as the reader who has been perusing these "memories" will remember was hinted at by General Logan in a conversation with myself on the night following the battle of Resaca. I afterwards ascertained, and what is more, it was proven by the fact that a new division was formed to which General Corse, afterwards the hero of "Altoona Pass," was placed in command, and what is still further proof, General Harrow never held a command in the field after the fall of Atlanta. It was soon after the capture of that place that I applied for a leave of absence, a favor that I ever afterwards wished had been refused, for--it being granted--I going home at that time, prevented me from making "The March to the Sea," and resulted also in compelling me to serve on that wearisome--to me at least--"Military Commission" that tried "the Indiana conspirators"

Lieutenant-Colonel James A. Goodnow, of the Twelfth Indiana infantry--my own regiment--had also secured a "leave of absence" and accompanied me back to Indiana along about the middle of September, 1864, thus leaving Major Ed D. Baldwin in command of the regiment. If, at that time, I had had the least inkling that General Sherman had determined to make the trip that has since become historical the world over, "Sherman's March to the Sea," I surely would not have applied for a leave of absence, for I would rather have been along with the men who made that astounding trip--a march totally at variance with all military tactics as every civilized nation up to that time had construed it, the art of war, than have visited my home--pleasant though it was to do the latter--than to have missed being with "the boys" who cut loose from Atlanta and plunged into the vast pine forests that lay between the point in the mind of its originator and which proved so successful--not so much in hurting the enemy outright as in the destruction of railroads, bridges, etc., and showing to the world the hollowness of the Confederacy. There was only one real fight during the entire march and I was always proud that my own regiment took part in it--an important part, at that--and in which it showed the great value of the lessons it had received in the days upon days of drill it had received from its earliest formation up to the time the war was more than half over. This battle is known in history as that of Griswoldville, and was fought by colonel Wolcott's Second brigade of infantry and twelve thousands of the Georgia militia which Governor Brown of Georgia assembled to the defense of the State and especially its capital, were stampeded.

Of course I am compelled to rely upon Major Baldwin and the men belonging to the regiment for the details of the story of that fight, and, briefly told, it was about as follows: All of Sherman's army was moving in the direction of the seacoast, but at what point it would reach its destination was even at that period of the "march to the sea" still uncertain. Governor Brown of Georgia who at that time was on "outs" with Jeff Davis, the president of the Confederacy, in consequence of the Governor having made a demand for all Georgia troops in General Lee's command to be sent to the defense of their own State, but was refused, had assembled all the men and boys left in the State, and as militia, had gathered--it was stated at the time--fully twelve thousand of this short of troops to defend the capital of the State from the on-coming Yankees. It was no part of Sherman's plan to stop and fight these raw levies and his army passed on its march to some point on the coast. Wolcott's Second brigade had been detailed to guard the rear of Sherman's army, and all at once found itself assailed by this entire body of militia. A brigade in the Fifteenth corps at that point in the war and on that march could not have numbered more than 1,500, at the most 1,800 men and a "hurry order" reached the rear of Sherman's marching column for re-inforcements and my regiment--the Twelfth Indiana infantry--was selected to go to Wolcott's assistance. this required a retrograde movement of from three to four miles the whole distance being made on the "double quick." On coming up with Wolcott's sorely pressed brigade Major Baldwin halted the regiment and after ascertaining where they were needed to be sent, the regiment went forward by companies into line with orders for each company to fire as fast as they reached the front line. This led the Confederate militia to believe that the woods were alive with "Yankees," and as each of the ten companies reached the line discharging their muskets as fast as they reach the front, the militia broke and fled, and it is said, never stopped until they reached Macon, twelve miles distant. I speak of this incident to show the value of drill and having a regiment under full and complete control in the hour of battle. It will be seen that each company was magnified by the enemy into at least a regiment, and it at once took fright at the swarm of Yankees that were coming and hence, ran away, when it is a fact that not over 400 of Federals were in the entire body that caused the Confederate stampede. Colonel Wolcott, after first thanking Major Baldwin and the Twelfth for coming to his relief, at once started to rejoin the rear of General Sherman's marching troops, while the enemy never stopped till it reached Macon, although it so greatly outnumbered the Federals that sent them flying in the wild race for their home.

It was during General Sherman's occupation of Atlanta that the oft-perused correspondence between himself and General Hood took place, and during the continuance of the time that followed the capture of the town. General Hood grew indignant over the order of General Sherman that all its citizens must leave the place, and sent him a very emphatic note condemning in almost insolent language the order for the citizens of Atlanta to vacate the town. It was during this correspondence between Hood and Sherman that the latter used the expression that "war is hell, and you cannot refine it." I may not have in this sentence the precise words used by General Sherman, but the meaning is contained in the quotation. The point he made was that a military necessity compelled him not only to depopulate the town of its inhabitants, but that as he was going to destroy a goodly portion of the city as a military necessity, and therefore he was only acting humanely in ordering them to vacate a town that would be largely destroyed when he left. The discussion between the two commanding officers was very generally criticized all over the country, the "copperhead" press abusing General Sherman almost like a robber and a pick-pocket for adopting the course he pursued.

After the fall of Atlanta very many officers and enlisted men were given leaves of absence and furloughs, and among these were myself, who was given a twenty-day leave to revisit my home, from which I had been absent from the previous November and this was in the closing days of September. Lieutenant-Colonel Goodnow, of the Twelfth had resigned and went home on the same train, leaving the regiment in command of Major E. D. Baldwin, who died about fifteen years ago in Kansas City--the same individual already referred to who led the regiment to the relief of Col. Wolcott's brigade spoken of above. There were so many officers and men going home that it was difficult to catch a train, especially so as the cars used were mostly freight, there seldom being more than one passenger car to each train and many of them had none at all. We left Atlanta after it began growing dark and as far back as Chattanooga the train passed over the same region through which the Federals fought over almost every mile of ground. Lieutenant-Colonel Goodnow and myself had secured a freight car and with our numerous blankets had formed quite a good bed on the floor by combining the blankets possessed by each. I remember that the cars had passed Kenesaw Mountain, and both of us occupied the floor on the west side of the train so that we could look upon the scenes of the operations up till the 3d of July. We remained there for some time and then both of us lay down side by side on the blankets referred to. There were other occupants of the car with whom we were not yet acquainted. On top of the train was the Tenth Kentucky infantry, which had been ordered to some station north of Atlanta--perhaps Altoona Pass--and as they were only going a short distance the enlisted men occupied the top of the cars, filling them up the entire length of the train. Of course, these men were fully equipped and were being sent northward to perform guard duty. It was nearly dark when the train passed Kenesaw and soon afterwards night closed upon us so that it was useless to try to scan the country through which the train was passing, and I remember that I soon fell asleep. The next thing I knew was a sudden jar and Colonel Goodnow and myself, blankets and all, were sliding towards the side door of the car.

My first thought was that the cars had been thrown from the track by a Confederate raid, and my very next was the regiment of troops on top of the cars. Of course I had no authority over the regiment, but if my conclusion that the cars had been derailed by the enemy was correct, the emergency for the case led me to order the regiment down off the cars and to form in ranks along the west side of the train. By this time either the engineer or the fireman came near the spot where I was standing, each of them carrying a torch, so that the men of the regiment could perceive that I was an officer, and every man in it obeyed my command just as though it were my own regiment, and in an exceedingly brief time they had formed their line, loaded their guns and I had sent two companies to scout, one on each side of the road. Just as I had ordered the two companies to look for the enemy, if there was one, I saw a gray-headed man getting down the steps of the only passenger car the train contained. As he wore the eagles of a Colonel, I asked him if he was the commanding officer of the regiment. He replied that he was and I informed him what I had done. "All right," said the old gentleman, not at all offended that I had assumed command of his troops, but apparently glad of it, for he thanked me very kindly for the course I had pursued. The accident was plainly caused by the enemy. The track had been tampered with, but with the exception of two cars which had been derailed, no special damage was done, the engine having passed over the obstruction without leaving the rails. The two cars--one of which we occupied--ran up the side of the bank in a way that tipped them sideways to about thirty or forty degrees, and this was what created the sliding motion of Colonel Goodnow and my own bed and thus thoroughly awakened me. An examination of the surroundings showed horse tracks on both sides of the road, but the mischief was presumably done by a small party of Confederates, who on seeing the troops so well prepared, doubtless slipped away in the darkness. Such at least, was the idea of the Kentucky Colonel, whose place I had assumed for a few minutes for the reason that I was at that time young and vigorous; had my clothes on and fortunately the accident tipped me out of the car just at the right time to become the commanding officer of a Kentucky regiment as well as one from Indiana, although no order for such a state of affairs was extant.

Northern Indianian January 28, 1904

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