by Reub Williams
Oh, glimpse of clear heaven,
The Father's old fallow, God-seeded with stars;
Thy furrows were turning
When plow-shares were burning,
And the half of each "bout" is redder than Mars!
---B. F. Taylor
Looking back to the unobstructed passage of the Union army through Snake Creek Gap, as recorded in my last article, I am even yet greatly surprised why the Confederate forces failed to make a stand at a point so important to them; fur the passage of Logan's troops through that gap in the mountains in and of itself compelled the Confederate commander, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to hastily give up Dalton, the strongly fortified point on the main line of the railroad leading from Chattanooga to Atlanta, for it enabled General McPherson's entire command to pass through the gap, and mass itself in the immediate vicinity of Resaca, and by the mere threatening of his communications with Atlanta, let along the fighting of what might have been a great battle, to hastily let loose of his strongly fortified position at Dalton. The gap was six miles in length and a comparatively small force of Confederates at its north end could have held a much larger one at bay, owning to the nature of the ground and the impossibility to operate on either flank of its defenders owning to the height and ruggedness of the mountains on both sides of the gap, thus preventing the assailants from getting in the rear of the troops that certainly should have been there to at least impede the progress of the Federal forces. I have never since the war, in all the histories I have perused come across any account of the reasons why Snake Creek Gap was left so wide open; so much so, indeed, that it almost seemed like an invitation on the part of the Confederates to take advantage of their own very grave blunder. It is true that General Kirkpatrick drove a small force of Confederate cavalry clear through the six-mile gorge, but he did so with scarcely a check, although at the south end he was quite seriously wounded himself by an accidental shot from a Confederate skirmisher.
When we remember that this was a deep gorge clear through a range of mountains, and that Gen. Joe Johnston's army could readily be flanked by the Union troops being in possession of this gap, and of his strong position at Dalton, the point where he had his headquarters ever since the battle of Missionary Ridge in the closing days of the previous November, and had strongly fortified his position by forts on commanding eminences, and breastworks connecting his entire front and even with additional entrenchments in the rear in case the front lines were carried, it is still a mystery to every Federal officer and soldier in Logan's corps when he remembers the ease with which the formidable position, and one so essentially important for the safety of the Confederate commander at Dalton, why it was left so wholly undefended. It is true that the Confederates had cut down a good many trees, felling them across the road--a very narrow one for teams and easily obstructed--yet this had either been so hastily and hurriedly done that our pioneer corps, marching at the head of the column were able to rid the wagon track at the very bottom of the gap so rapidly that the steady tramp of the infantry was impeded only a few minutes at a time and yet with intelligent and vigorous effort, the whole six miles could have been so seriously obstructed that it would have taken at least a full day instead of the long hour required to "negotiate" the gap.
I have already mentioned in my last sketch that I met General Kilpatrick, who commanded a division of cavalry just as we completed the march through the gap. He was lying down in an ambulance, and I rode up to him, and having met him on several occasions previously, I asked him if he was badly hurt. He replied that he did not think that his wound was serious, but that being through the shoulder, if I remember correctly, he said, it would so cripple him in the active duties that were then expected of him that he thought it best to go at once to the hospital at Chattanooga and have it healed as speedily as it could be done; and there is no better time than just now for me to say that he did just what he said he thought was proper; went into the hospital, secured the very best of skill to be had, and had his wounds healed as quickly as possible. In this he was successful, for he returned to his command before Atlanta fell and for a short time the brigade I commanded on the extreme right of the infantry of Sherman's army connected with a detachment of General Kilpatrick's cavalry. The south end of the gap opened out into a comparatively level region and on that evening I remember the troops were fairly deluged with a down-pour of rain that set all the small streams and gutters into an uproar as they tore down from the mountain sides in their effort to find level ground; and it was at the close of such a dashing shower that an incident occurred that may be worth relating. At any rate it created considerable merriment among the men who saw it. I had been ordered just as my command debouched from Snake Creek Gap to move into the more level country, and was given directions by a staff officer from General Logan the direction in which the troops were to face. It was then getting late, when the soldiers began their move to the point designated for the bivouac for that night. On reaching the point and while they were engaged in stacking arms, along came a woman, wild with fright, leading a small boy, with two larger ones following, and screaming at the top of her voice. On seeing the men stack arms--one of the regiments of the brigade doing so right in front of her home--she had interpreted the movement as an impending battle, and with her family was endeavoring to seek a place of safety. I stopped her and endeavored to soothe her the best I could, but it took some time to convince her that the battle she anticipated would not be fought right there and the probabilities were that none would be undertaken, at least in that neighborhood. I asked her where she lived and she pointed to quite a large old-fashioned hewed-log house, and I at once decided that it would be better all around for me to make my headquarters in her home through the night, as all the camp equipment we had was wringing wet and in a condition difficult to handle. She was elated with the idea, and she had probably heard enough about the war to learn that it was generally safer around the headquarters of an officer than elsewhere, and as the aroma of coffee could already be detected on the air, owing to the fact that some of the troops had been sufficiently long on the ground to prepare their suppers and she no doubt suspected that wherever there was an officer's quarters there would be coffee--a beverage that she had long been without--I asked her to show us the way to her home and myself and staff took up our quakers for the night with the fist native Georgia woman we had thus far seen.
The cook at my headquarters--a Frenchman, but the way, who had learned his trade in far-away "Paree,"--himself and Adjutant Ed Davis being the only two members of the Ninetieth, Indiana who were not Irishmen. "Theodore," as we called him was a splendid cook--artistic, in fact, and like many of that nationality, was able to fix up really palatable dishes out of the most meager supplies--soon had supper ready, and it was a good one, too. Delicious coffee, broiled ham and quite a variety of canned fruits, with condensed milk for the coffee, the only thing lacking a really good meal was the absence of bread, the inevitable "square cracker" with a piece of mica in the center, taking the place of the old article "like mother made." After the men folks were served I told the woman that she could reset the table she had furnished and herself and children should sit down to their own supper. She had almost wholly recovered from the nervousness occasioned when she had formed the opinion on seeing the troops go into camp that a battle was to be fought there and then; not seeming to remember that it would be difficult to arrange a struggle, unless an enemy was nearby, and at that time the Confederates were certainly five miles distant. It was pretty well understood that when not on active duty my headquarters was generally a sociable and often a merry place, and so it became on the night that I refer to. Many of the citizens of Warsaw will remember Captain Lem Hazzard, who was among the early ones to enlist from Koscisuko county. He was assistant quartermaster on my staff, and now lives in Missouri, as was the late Captain Ed. H. Webster following the war a prominent resident of Kansas City, who died a few years ago. I had surrounded myself with a very genial and companionable set of young men for staff duty, and after the woman and her children had concluded their supper, and the lady had cleared away the dishes and has set the table out of the way, the whole party was ready for any sort of merriment that might turn up. The children along with their mother had betaken themselves to bed in the second story. After prying around for a time, Captain Hazzard had come across three or four suits of Confederate uniforms which he found in a room leading off from the dining room and had suddenly made his appearance clad in Confederate gray. His appearance was so changed, indeed, by the substitution of gray for blue that on first sight he was really taken for Confederate soldier until he broke out in his natural tone of voice.
The discovery of the uniforms of the enemy suggested further search and two more uniforms and three muskets were found which had been concealed in a closet. How to account for them in this house was discussed pro and con, but the probabilities are that General Kilpatrick whose troops were the first to push through the gap may have charged them so rapidly that they stopped with the woman, who had already informed us that her husband was in the army under General Johnston and they had hid their guns, and by assuming citizen's garb, had passed themselves off as residents of the neighborhood. Others thought that they may have been a scouting party; but as the guns were the regulation old-time Springfield musket, "calibre 69" this idea did not receive any more advocates than the one who suggested the idea. However, the finding of the uniforms and muskets led to other things, and the big lower floor of the house was converted into scene of merry-making. Larry McCarthy, of the "Ninetieth Ireland," being a splendid singer, leading off with one of the late patriotic songs that had but recently made its appearance up North and had become "all the go." Captain Ed Webster, among the latest to leave school preceding the war, recited Patrick henry's forensic effort in the Virginia House of Burgesses, just preceding the Revolutionary war, and did it well, too; and so the hours flew away with first a recitation, then a song until it was after midnight when it was thought best to take some rest in order to fit the party for the duties that the morrow might bring. It was about 1 o'clock, and while Marry McCarty, who had a great number of songs at his command, was in the midst of a rollicking Irish ditty, that a heavy knock came at the front door, which an orderly opened and in came an officer on Logan's staff, and inquired for colonel Williams. I was standing right next to him, and I should have stated before, that several Confederate uniforms had been put on by those most prominent in giving the impromptu entertainment of the evening, and I could readily see that although he knew me almost intimately, yet he did not recognize me in my "new clothes." I asked him what was wanted, and as soon as he heard my voice he burst out in a loud guffaw from which he could scarcely recover; but he was finally able to deliver his message, which was that my brigade should be prepared to move, promptly at 3 o'clock and that a staff officer from General Logan's headquarters would be present to show the way. The incident very fairly illustrates the suddenness with which orders came to the soldier, and often the short distance there is from the sublime to the ridiculous, the old saying being reversed in this instance, the ridiculous occurring first.
As soon as the staff officers could shed the paraphernalia they had assumed for the occasion, one each was sent to the commanding officer of each regiment of the brigade with the order from headquarters to have the ready to move promptly at 3 o'clock. The whole night had been wet and disagreeable and showers of rain were frequent, each time the clouds clearing away with every indication that the rain was over, but only to return again in a short half hour, and again and again deluging our immediate locality with heavy down-pours. Promptly at the hour of three in the morning myself and those whose places were about me were ready to move and although not of the party had more than an hour's sleep and even that no doubt much interrupted, all were ready to take the road. The noise and confusion caused by the getting ready to leave the house had aroused the woman and she had arisen and come down stairs to see us off. This reminded me that I ought to at least leave her enough supplies for the need of herself and children for a day or two, and I directed the driver of the ambulance that carried the headquarter's rations to leave her a ham and a coupe of pieces of side-meat, with a plentiful supply of hard-tack--I was always willing to give away hard-tack--with a pound or so of coffee and a "quarter of tea." The woman appeared to be and doubtless was deeply grateful for the gift, for to tell the truth I very much doubted whether there was enough food within five miles of her home the next day to furnish herself and children with a full meal except as it might be coming from the Federal army carried in haversack or wagon; for when the army left her vicinity there would be no place for her to go and consequently I made the gift quite generous. Very many times did I do similar acts during the war and since it is over I know I feel all the better for having done so. There never can be a proper estimate made of the starvation and suffering that comes to a region through which a devastating army has marched and this was a feature of the war that I learned at an early part of the struggle--consequently the destitution that followed the march of a large body of troops, appealed to my humanity so strongly that I very often left supplies to needy ones.
The almost bloodless passage of the Union troops through Snake Creek Gap had the desired effect, for no sooner was Resaca threatened by the Federal troops than the Confederate General Joe Johnston ascertained that he might give up his strongly fortified position at Dalton, or he would have an army of no mean size thrust between his own and Atlanta, the principal point he was defending, even through the Georgia city was at that time nearly a hundred miles distant. One of the reasons why the Confederate General may not have given that attention to the defense of the gap may have been that General Sherman's disposition of this troops had enabled him to hold his enemy so closely in his grasp, that he could not let go for fear of bringing on a general engagement with the Confederates and the latter in the "open" instead of behind the entrenchments they had labored so industriously all through the past winter to erect and strengthen. A strong fight was put up by both sides by the center and left of the Federal army, and the tenacity with which General Sherman showed in holding on to "Rocky-face Ridge" and at "Buzzard's Roost" and other points to the left of General McPherson's Army of the Tennessee, which was already passing through Snake Creek Gap almost un-impeded goes to show that General Johnston gave up Dalton just as soon as he could--in a partially safe manner--let go of the position during all the preceding winter he had expected to hold. As soon as he yielded Dalton, it was very plain to be seen that he would concentrate his retreating troops at Resaca. When I met General Kilpatrick at the southern mouth of Snake Creek Gap, as has already been alluded to, he declared to me that if he had had a brigade of infantry support when he came out upon the more level ground surrounding the village of Resaca, he could have easily captured the town; and if given time to have fortified it he could have held it as long until reinforcements were sent him. This would have cut Johnston's army off from Atlanta and placed the railroad in the hands of the Union forces, the only road of that kind he had between his army and Atlanta--and would have placed the Confederates in a very serious position indeed. As a consequence General Johnston yielded Dalton and hastily concentrated his forces at Resaca.
Warsaw Daily Times October 10, 1903
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