Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Could I marshall the eloquent tongues of our race,
That have thrilled down the ages since Eden was young,
And rally them hither to stand in my place,
With all their rare eloquence voiced in one tongue;
And should that gifted tongue here attempt to portray
The beauties, the glories these colors unfold,
The noon of the nation's millennial day
Would leave half the fame of "Old Glory" untold.
Shine on them, "Old Glory," shine on till the day
When earth's last oppressor lies under the sod,
Then fade, like the light of the morning, away
In the holler light of the kingdom of God!

To the still surviving veteran of the civil war the "signs of the times" are not promising. Knowing so well as he does, the great cost of preserving the Union, the "signs" are anything but encouraging. No one knows better than the veteran soldier the necessity for obedience to constituted authority, and the survivors of the war for the Union cannot observe with complacency the growing sentiment of disobedience to the laws of the country; the frequency of strikes, that in so many instances leads to violations of law and sometimes to absolute murder; the increasing number of lynchings wherein the few take the law into their own hands, and in several instances have committed far greater and certainly as horrible crimes as was the one which for an excuse men bound themselves together professedly to suppress. The veteran of the civil war, in fact, the survivors of all the wars in which this country has been engaged, feels that there is danger ahead and especially does he fear that the predictions made by the crowned heads and the aristocracy of the world, that "a republic cannot survive for any length of time," so freely uttered previous to and at the close of the Revolutionary war, when our present form of government was adopted, may come true if the lawlessness, the lynchings and mob-rule be not suppressed in all this land. The government bequeathed us by the fathers of the country, following the seven years' war for independence, has cost too much to be frittered away by the lawless portion of people to be found in every community and particularly exists in the large cities of this country. Having had three Presidents assassinated in the brief hundred years of the existence of this republic and the disregard for the laws that we, ourselves, have enacted for our own government added to the fact that lynchings have been on the increase and a well-defined spirit of disobedience to law exists in many places as well as an increase in that most detestable principle which actuates so many breasts, especially of foreigners arriving on these shores and known by the expressive term, anarchy, it is not at all strange that the patriotic people of this goodly land, and especially the ex-soldiers of the country, entertain a growing fear that the future does not augur well for this nation. Nothing is clearer than that the better element of the people of this country in all parties, in all sections, and in all communities, must declare themselves in favor of obedience to law and the order secured by so doing, if we are to preserve the liberties we have possessed since the Declaration of Independence.

My last article closed with a description of the position occupied by the brigade of which I was a member in one of the great battles of the war, and one of the war's greatest victories. General Bragg never ceased explaining both at the time and following the war, how it happened that his army was driven from a position so impregnable, and in a reply I remember reading and sent to his superior officer, President Davis, actually criticized quite adversely, his own soldiers for becoming panic-stricken to such a degree that after the flight began it was impossible to stem it. That might do for that body of soldiers that is contained in every army to some extent; but it was not true in either army as to the great body of men-the men, in fact, with whom lie the final wager of battle for victory or defeat; and well do I know that the right flank of the Confederate army fought gallantly all day long-and certainly during the more than four hours that the brigade to which I belonged lay in that open field for no other purpose than to hold an equal body or more fast in our front, there was never a sign of panic throughout the day. Chaplain M. D. Gage, in his "History of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry," issued directly after the close of the war, places the time that the brigade lay there "in the open" as five hours, and as he was at liberty to go where he pleased on such an occasion, looking after the wants of the wounded, he was more likely to give the facts. At any rate when the time was up, whether it was four or five hours, I received orders to fall back to the timber from whence the first advance had been made, and did so, the presumption being that we had acted as a target and a menace for the enemy long enough. About half a hour before receiving the order I heard the first volley of musketry from a point much nearer to Chattanooga than where Sherman's field of operations lay and this later grew into a steady roar. I remember that the thought came to me at the time we were retiring into the timber that as the struggle was so severe in the direction of Chattanooga, that our brigade was about to be ordered to move in that direction. This was not so, however, but the principal crashes of musketry came from Bragg's Confederates and were fired at the Federal lines then engaged in scaling the heights of Missionary Ridge, further down the line toward Grant's right, so wonderfully described in B. F. Taylor's article already given our readers and who was a close observer of the Federal advance to the summit.

I am confident that I can partially explain the comparative ease with which the Federals went clear to the top of Missionary Ridge. During every moment of the four or five hours that my own regiment and the Hundredth Indiana Infantry lay under that rain of shot, shell and occasional musketry, reinforcements were sent to the besieged hill in our front by Bragg without a break, and always on the double-quick. To the right of where we lay "in the open" there was a depression in the highway that ran along the summit of the Ridge. This road was plainly visible to us from where we lay in the open field, and not a moment during all that time elapsed that this road in plain sight to one and all of the members of the two regiments of the brigade on the right, was not covered with Confederate troops, hastening to re-enforce the second hill, which had been the scene of the struggle between Sherman's corps and the contending rebels all day. How many men could be sent in four hours in such haste as to keep that road covered all of the four hours, I leave the reader, or the old veteran, who may peruse these "War Memories" to estimate for themselves. Another cause for Bragg so madly reinforcing his right lay in the fact that the railroad leading to Atlanta, which passed straight through the tunnel between the two hills so frequently referred to, the one in the possession of the Federals and the other being fought for by them, was his only railroad connection with the South and it was a very necessary means for supplying Bragg's army, and he evidently thought that its preservation to his army was a very essential thing. Another point that no doubt led Bragg to hold on to this hill with a tenacity that induced him to deplete his right of soldiers to a very great degree was not ascertained till the next morning. At an early hour the orderly sergeant of I Company discovered that ___ McClure, a member of that company whose first name I cannot remember and who was on the skirmish line, was unaccounted for. A search had been made for him by his comrades to no purpose. He could not be found among the wounded or dead, and as no prisoners had been taken, his absence created an uneasy feeling all through the regiment. So, early the following morning I undertook to search for him myself, and with this end in view I had all the horses belonging to an infantry regiment mounted for a search party, but nothing whatever has been heard from him since. He was a son of Elias McClure of Silver Lake, who is still living, but his mother died several years ago believing to the last that her lost son would at some time make his appearance at the old home.

It was during this search for young McClure that I discovered additional reasons for Bragg so steadily reinforcing his right flank, and that was that right behind the second hill the one to which the rebels clung to so tenaciously in addition to it being on the main line of retreat immense quantities of supplies were stored in many cases corn being piled up in sacks as high as could be reached above an army wagon. There was ammunition and quartermasters' stores there by the acre, and it was from this point that the Confederate army occupying the whole length of Missionary Ridge clear around to Lookout Mountain was supplied, a railroad track having been laid the whole length of the Ridge and rations and other stores carried to them by an engine and a couple of freight cars, the track having been laid entirely on top of the ground with no grading, except to bridge some otherwise impassable point. All this great quantity of supplies and ammunition of war were threatened by General Sherman's attack, and although the Federal army was not aware of this large quantity of supplies so near them, yet Bragg was, and it was to aid in saving them that he massed so many men in front of General Sherman's troops, as a move on the latter's part to the extent of even a short half-mile would have enabled him to destroy them. Had he not done so the sweep up Missionary Ridge would not have been so readily accomplished as can easily be perceived if Bragg had retained the troops he sent to confront Sherman for the defense of the line further toward Chattanooga, where he had his headquarters. This, however, is still another illustration of the "hind and foresight of a gun" adage-the value of which is more readily discovered after the gun has been fired!

The men put in a dreary night following Missionary Ridge. The loss of the regiment had been very heavy. Several were killed on the skirmish dash across the open ground repeatedly referred to in this sketch, before they reached the "railroad fill" which gave them excellent shelter. The rebel skirmishers had come down the hill as far as the opposite side of the "fill" and it is a positive fact that the contending skirmishers, the Federals laid their guns on the rail of the road on their side, while the Confederates did the same on the opposite rail, neither one feeling safe in making himself a target by looking over to see what his opponent was about. The brigade suffered greatly in the loss of officers, Colonel John Mason Loomis and myself being about the only two field officers that remained unscathed when the fight was over. Colonel Timothy O'Mars, of the Ninetieth Illinois, was killed outright; his Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Stuart, of Chicago, an exceedingly portly man, received a ball that passed clear through him and yet, strange to say, did not even puncture an intestine, and still stranger, within two months he was back with his regiment and in consequence of the death of his Colonel, came into full command of the regiment Lieutenant-Colonel Gillmore, following the war, postmaster of Chicago, and during his term of office was drowned in Lake Michigan while taking a boat ride, was seriously hurt. The Adjutant of the same regiment was very badly wounded, a piece of a shell having struck him a side blow tearing away his sword-belt and lacerating his entire left side from the hip up to the middle of his ribs. Lieutenant Colonel Heath, of the One Hundredth Indiana was struck by the ricochet of a shell and severely hurt-so severely, indeed, that he never returned to his regiment. In fact, it was understood that every mounted man in the brigade was either killed or wounded-the latter more or less severe-except Colonel Loomis and myself, as already stated.

Following such a struggle, it will not be a surprise to the reader to hear that both men and officers were worn out. For my own headquarters I had a fly stretched in order to keep off the November dew, at a point very near the place that the brigade emerged from the timber to receive its baptism of shot and shell when the rebels first discovered us. "Big Ben," a former Mississippi slave, who came to me when we passed through Corinth, and whom I took into my service as hostler, only to become one of the most faithful of servants, who became so attached to me that whenever I was absent the big fellow-he was over six feet in height-would cry like a baby. "Ben" came home with me at the close of the war, I securing him work at Indianapolis at $3 a day and who, within five years, had got married and had a home of his own, he having bought a building lot in one of the Indianapolis suburbs. I have been reminded of "Old Faithful" in describing some of the scenes of that day for the reason that about as soon as "the fly" was stretched, "Old Ben" made his appearance with a frying pan on his back, two crackers rattling around in a very big haversack and about a pound of bacon without a streak of lean to be seen in it. He said: "I done know'd yo' would want somethin' to eat as the last yo' had was at fo' in the mawnin, en I's ben huntin' fo' yo' fo' two houhs." The bacon was fried, the crackers munched and I was grateful to "Old Ben" for even such a "stay" to a gnawing stomach. During the night I had received orders to have the regiment ready to start in pursuit of Bragg's army by 5 o'clock and that the commissary sergeants should have rations for the men provided before that hour. We were camped in what might be called the "Bottoms of the Tennessee," and at daybreak we discovered that the fog was so dense that one could not make out the figure of another person at six feet away. It was indeed, the heaviest fog I had ever seen and after the regiments had breakfasted in some sort of way and was got into line preparatory to the march, as much by feeling and hearing as from any other way, an orderly offered to conduct us, he said "out of the fog!" We started and had proceeded about a half mile when all at once the head of the regiment stepped right out of the fog into the brightest of sunshine one often sees! The fog seemed to have been cut off as though done with a knife, as one could stand with half his body in the sun and the other completely hidden in the fog.

It was right here that the Twelfth regiment received a high compliment for their conduct in the battle of the day before. An Iowa battery had been camped on the sunny side of the fogline and a sergeant, the moment he discovered that it was the Twelfth coming through the fog, called to the men of the battery and told them that "her comes the head of the brigade that lay in that hell-fired storm of shot and shell nearly all day yesterday. Boys, form up here in line and let's give the Twelfth three cheers!" And they did so, and with a will, too. There was not an officer of the battery present and this compliment coming spontaneously from the enlisted men was fully appreciated indeed. Quite a number of the Iowans marched along with the regiment for some distance and I could hear them saying that in lying there under those guns so long was the bravest act they had seen during the war. The line of pursuit followed up Chickamauga Creek and at the beginning the road was fairly good, and the men tripped along at a quick pace when they knew that they were following a defeated, completely routed enemy, the usual precautions when advancing upon a foe that at any moment may turn at bay, being scarcely necessary. The road was in the bottom of the creek, but along each side farm houses could be seen on the upper steppes. We had not gone much if any over a mile when one of the men who had been scouting ahead on his own account, reported that there were fifty or sixty rebels at the farm house just ahead. Halting the regiment I directed every mounted man to come to the front and after placing Major Baldwin in command of the regiment, with eight mounted men I dashed up to the farm house and before the enemy could reach their guns, which were stacked in the door yard, the eight were between them and their muskets and they surrendered at the word of command, not a shot being fired on either side or anybody even accidentally hurt. It was a bloodless victory, but it shows very plainly how badly dispirited were Bragg's troops over their defeat at Missionary Ridge. Before that fight no eight men could have so easily captured sixty-five-the name of our prisoners-among which was a brass band of fourteen pieces belonging to a Louisiana regiment, the St. Andrew's Cross battle flag of the regiment to which these men belonged being still in my possession.

Prisoners were not what we wanted as we marched southward from Chattanooga. Had we been going in the direction of that town, they would probably have been welcomed, for there we could have turned them over to the provost guard and thus had no more trouble with them. But these had to be guarded and to do this meant all-night duty, as well as day-time. However, after my men had divided some of their rations with them, and at the first halt had given them coffee the first they had tasted possibly in months, these men at war with one another the day before, now fraternized in a way that it was pleasant to see. It was not long, until the troops marching on the road occupied by us, our brigade being in advance, made the discovery that other Federal troops were joining in the pursuit on other roads, and after marching probably ten miles from the point of starting in the morning we could hear an occasional shot from some battery away over to our right. The effect of this was to accelerate the pace of the men, even though it may have been imperceptible to themselves. There is a curiosity about soldiers that is irrepressible and the men on the march that morning were very anxious to ascertain what sort of men were behind the occasional gun we could hear-whether they wore the blue or the gray; but when in the course of time the troops met two or three ambulances with wounded men in them, it was discovered that Bragg's rear guard, if he had one, was disposed to show fight and the ambulances and wounded very plainly showed that the rebs were in force sufficient to require all those approaching them to be somewhat careful in what they were doing. We afterwards discovered that the Confederates had taken up a very strong position at Ringgold, where they had massed two or three batteries, and the pursuing Federals had pushed up on them without sufficient caution and got badly hurt for their negligence, the Seventh Ohio Infantry coming out of the partial surprise without an officer for duty, every one of them having been killed or wounded. It was just as we received the news of the Ringgold affair that an orderly came from Gen. Hugh Ewing, our division commander, directing him to halt his command, to give them a rest and food, preparatory to a return march to our late battlefield and thence march to the relief of General Burnside, who is cooped up with his starving troops in Knoxville.

Warsaw Daily Times August 15, 1903

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