by Reub Williams
A sudden shock which shook the earth, 'mid
vapor dense and dun,
Proclaimed along the echoing hills, the conflict had begun;
While shot and shell athwart the stream with fiendish fury speed.
To strew among the living lines the dying and the dead!
Writing as I am wholly from memory, with not the scratch of a pen before me in the form of a diary, it would not be at all strange if I am wrong sometimes in my dates; but never more than a day or two, I am confident, and I deem it best to say right at the beginning of the Atlanta campaign I only intend to give the salient points and the incidents that occurred during the slightly more than a hundred days that elapsed before the Federals entered Atlanta, which came under my own eye. I have often remarked to old soldiers in conversation about that every-memorable campaign that there was scarcely an hour during its entire continuance in which a man could stand upright without being in danger of being hit by either a bullet intentionally fired at him or by a stray shot from the enemy. The only occasions when the Union soldier was free from such a danger was when the Federal lines would move up following the Johnnies after they had yielded the position they had occupied, generally caused by General Sherman's flanking tactics. At such times it was possible to march a few miles without coming in contact with the enemy; but the general reader of these sketches should bear in mind that the enemy previous to giving up point after point during the progress of both armies on their way to the same objective point--Atlanta-- the one falling back continually and the other pursuing , that the Confederates in many instances had prepared fortifications which they could occupy and be under-cover while the Federals had to find their way up to such positions slowly developing the line their enemy had fixed upon, and this had to be done carefully as General Johnson was a vigilant, careful commanding officer, and it was difficult to catch him unprepared to meet his aggressive foe, whose greatest desire was to catch the Confederates "in the open," when they were making such a movement as described. Referring to the preparation of works built by the confederates in their rear preparatory to falling back, on several occasions the Union army came across lines laid out by General Johnson's engineers but never completed owing to the quick and vigorous pursuit made by the Federals compelling them sometimes to go further to the rear than they first anticipated and making it obligatory for them to adopt another line of defense rather than the one contemplated.
In my last article, the reader will remember that I left off at the time my brigade was ordered to prepare to march at 2 o'clock in the morning. A staff officer from Logan's headquarters was promptly on hand to conduct the troops to the point they were to occupy. In obedience to the order to be ready to march at that hour, the men had been aroused in ample time to prepare their breakfasts in advance of the hour to break camp, and they set forth with alacrity and in buoyant spirits. The campaign was then just opening--in fact was a new thing to many of the men participating in it--and an impression even then prevailed that as the campaign had opened so auspiciously it would only be a short time until we would be knocking at the gates of Atlanta. Few there were, indeed, either of officers or men who dreamed that it would be fairly into the fourth month ere the contest which had already been so auspiciously begun would be closed with victory, and the objective point in our possession. Such was the case, however, and many, very many of those who marched out so willingly; so full of patriotic vigor and so confident of success on that early had to lay down their lives for the country and the nation they loved; while many others were to be sent to the rear almost daily, maimed and broken, to become inmates of the hospitals which the forethought of the gallant Sherman had prepared at various points in the rear, stretching back it may be said at that time from Chattanooga to Louisville, while it also became a daily duty for us to bury our own and the enemy's dead. Under the lead of the staff officer alluded to the brigade moved to the position that had been assigned it by General Logan. I found the First, Second and Fourth divisions of the Fifteenth corps lying along the Rome road--which here ran nearly north and south and the brigade which I commanded was placed on the extreme left of General Harrow's division and my own regiment, the Twelfth, forming the left of the brigade. I remember that I was ordered to join on to General Osterhaus' division, and did so and was also directed to throw out a heavy line of skirmishers to join those already in position, my brigade owing to having to march a greater distance, being the last to arrive. Taking along an orderly I rode out into the woods to see that the skirmish line was well placed, and I was greatly surprised to find it so near the main body of troops, the ground in front being heavily timbered with much underbrush. I decided that the skirmish line was not sufficiently distant and I rode on outside of the line and in the direction of the enemy. I had gone but a short distance and was passing a great oak tree with two Confederate skirmishers behind it. I was close enough to one of them before I discovered them to have grabbed his gun with my hands, and I could also see that he was wonderfully excited, and had a clear case of "buck-fever" and nothing but the latter saved my life on that occasion, I fee sure. He banged away with his musket, bringing down a shower of small limbs and bushes all about my head, but before he could recover I had turned my horse and given him the spur, and followed by my orderly both of us got back to the main body, when I told the officer in command that so far as I could see the skirmish line was sufficiently distant for comfort!
It was in the afternoon--perhaps 1 o'clock--when the order was given to move forward, each division in line, and soon the troops penetrated the woods that lay in their immediate front driving the Confederate skirmishers before us quite easily, and soon afterwards came to open fields. Moving through the latter the enemy opened on the Union lines with artillery, doing so some slight damage. The skirmish line was pushed across the open fields and up the ascent beyond, the main body following; the enemy hurrying away with his artillery having decided to give up the outer line of defense and close in upon the town of Resaca. After a short halt at the point where the Confederate artillery had been stationed, the bugles again sounded the advance. Soon after the troops began this last movement the rebels opened up with a murderous and vigorous fire from a battery posted on a hillside beyond an open field. the brigade was halted in a clump of timber, but my own regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Goodnow, advanced into the open ground where it suffered considerably and I ordered it to retire a few rods in order to secure the cover that could be given by the timber and from which they could just as effectively return the fire of the enemy. Again the line was moved forward over the open field to another strip of woods in which the troops could secure the aid that timber always furnishes. It must be remembered that General Harrow was in command of the First division, the one to which my brigade belonged. It is always difficult to keep a long line in close order, and in moving through the timber a gap had grown of considerable dimensions in the main line, caused by the unevenness of the ground and the undergrowth in the woods. There was great danger, I thought, from this gap, so if it was discovered by the enemy, they might and probably would take advantage of thrusting a couple of regiments into it and thus would be able to fire into one or both of the exposed flanks. I rode over to General Harrow and informed him of the gap that seemed to me to be growing constantly wider, and the conversation ended by his peremptorily directing me to move right straight ahead even pointing to a knoll that he directed me to move with the right of my brigade resting upon or near it. The fulfilling of such an order could not have any other effect than to widen the opening, unless the other troops were directed to close upon mine. However, orders must be obeyed and I pushed forward as directed. On reaching the knoll at which I was ordered to rest the right of the brigade, I discovered that the troops were right in front of a six-gun battery of the enemy, stationed behind strong fortifications.
Here was a dilemma for which I was not responsible, but the enemy on discovering us, opened up with every one of the six guns; fortunately, however, firing over the troops. I directed the men to lie down and there they remained until they ran out of ammunition, and at about 1 o'clock that night other troops had been brought up from some point where they were disengaged and closed the gap of which I had informed General Harrow had been made, and at the time it was done. At the same time the brigade being out of ammunition was relieved by the second one of the same division and as the troops were withdrawn, I met General Harrow and I frankly told him that the loss would not have been so heavy had he corrected the constantly growing gap of which I had informed him at the time. He got quite angry and so did I, and as my brigade had lost heavily I told him that he was responsible for the large portion of the dead that lay out there in the front. This angered him and he threatened to put me under arrest and so we parted there in the dark on the battle ground, with bullets still raining around us like hail. General Harrow's treatment worried me greatly. The loss in the brigade I commanded was the heaviest of any one of the three belonging to the First division and this was my first battle as a brigade commander. I did not sleep well the last part of that night, and at daylight, I mounted my horse and road over to General Logan's headquarters and told him everything that had occurred between myself and General Harrow, including, of course his threat to put me under arrest. His reply and instructions were for me to "go back to my command and conduct myself as if nothing had occurred'" that he was "after General Harrow's scalp, at any rate, and he thought he would get it before the campaign was over!" I might as well add right here that Harrow was maneuvered out of his position after Atlanta fell by breaking up his division and creating a new one for General John M. Corse, the hero of Altoona Pass! So far as I know, General Harrow never again commanded troops in the field after the disposition referred to was made, and he was killed in a railroad accident in the south part of this State directly after the war closed.
The loss of the brigade was very severe, indeed, owing to the fact that the enemy could and did enfilade the advancing line on both flanks because of the opening gap to which I have persistently called the attention of General Harrow--so often, I might say that he was irritated by my demand that it should be closed. My own regiment being on the left flank of the advancing troops, suffered to a greater extent than either of the other three. Major Baldwin of the Twelfth had his horse shot under him just as the troops came under fire of the first entrenchments that had hastily been constructed by the enemy. Marsh H. parks, of this city, the adjutant of the Twelfth, likewise lost his horse in the same way, and at very nearly the same time; but the especial incident that was out of the usual was in the death of Captain Thomas N. Peoples--a good officer and an upright patriotic citizen, who had been married but a short time before his enlistment. during the entire previous winter so pleasantly spent in the beautiful camp at Scottsboro--a camp previously described as the handsomest and most comfortable one that came under the writer's notice during the entire war--Captain peoples conceived the idea that he would be shot in the next battle in which he might take place. This presentiment held him in complete thrall and he adhered to it at all times. Myself and his brother officers did everything in their power to disabuse his mind of the delusion, but he persistently held fast to the belief; and this idea was entertained for two or three months preceding the opening of the Atlanta campaign. all kinds of arguments were made to induce him to yield the presentiment. At first his brother officers made sport of the idea, but seeing that this did no good, they proceeded to argument and this failed also; so that when the march began he persisted in the belief that he was to be killed in the first struggle with the enemy and it was only a few days before the battle of Resaca that I met him and asked him if he still entertained the presentiment. "Yes, Colonel," he replied, "I feel that I am to be killed in the first fight that takes place, and if anything, I am more firm in the convictions than ever before." He did not seem to be in the least dejected, and so far as those near could observe he was just as lively and apparently as happy as ever.
At the head of his company in the approach to the fort mentioned, and just before the brigade encountered the terrible fire of the enemy he said to sergeant B. F. Perce of his own company: "I shall be killed in this battle, but I am ready." As the captain and sergeant lay down near each other and while in the act of raising his head to look about him, a ball from an enemy's musket struck him squarely in the center of the forehead and passed entirely through it. After darkness had set in, his body was carried to the rear by Sergeant Perce and others, where the blood was washed away and prepared for burial, so well as could be done with the facilities at hand. At midnight, what remained of a noble, patriotic, earnest man was committed to the earth. chaplain M. D. Gage officiating in prayer and a touching reference was made of the young wife in her far-away Indiana home, over the bereavement of which she would learn a short while later. I have spoken more fully of this special case of presentiment for the reason that it was so well known in the regiment, and was so well attested by dozens of witnesses. Presentiments of the kind were quite numerous during the war days, and I heard of many of them but this particular one came under my own observation so closely; I had known of it for at least two months previous to the denouement, and I had talked to Captain Peoples on the subject on so many occasions that his death occurring so nearly like he said it would affected me and others who knew of it very greatly. His death too, caused a deep depression in the ranks of the members of the regiment for the Captain was a man very highly respected by the men and officers of the Twelfth, and it was several days before this depression wore away in the exciting scenes that were just beginning and of which it may be said that the battle of Resaca was "the rising of the curtain."
It can be said that both the Union and Confederate armies had been concentrated at or near Resaca, Ga., and following the struggle to which I referred so briefly, the commanding officers of each side were engaged each as best he could and both seeking to find some weak spot in his enemy's maneuvers and be ready to take advantage of it should any occur. The day following the first contest of the two armies at Resaca was spent by General Sherman in bringing up General Hooker's corps that had been fighting the enemy at Rocky Face and Buzzard's Roost. General Johnson's division of the Fourteenth Corps was held in check for a short time by the concentration of a very heavy force of Confederates in his front, but Hooker's advance with the Twentieth corps coming up in the very nick of time enabled the Federals to not only drive back the enemy, but to recover the lost ground and to bring on a severe engagement in which each side lost quite heavily. The same evening General Morgan L. Smith's division of Logan's corps charged a very strong position of the enemy in his front and drove the Confederates from their hastily prepared works. The latter smarting under their loss, as well as for the importance of the position in the line from which they had been driven made a heroic effort to recover Confederates suffered severely but to the lost ground, and in doing so, the Confederates suffered severely, but to no purpose. My brigade was ordered up to the support of General Smith's division in this attempt of the Confederates to recapture the works from which they had been driven, but its services were not needed as Smith's division had reversed the works they had taken from the enemy and was well prepared and perfectly competent to hold what their gallantry had won.
On the left, the troops under "Fighting Joe" Hooker, resumed the battle early the next morning during which time the Sixteenth corps under General Dodge was ordered across the Oustenella, (Oostanaula River) quite a considerable stream to threaten the Confederate commander's communications while at the same time General Schofield's forces moved around our left flank in the hope of getting to the rear of the Confederates. To checkmate these movements General Joe Johnson on the night of the 15th of May, withdrew a portion of his army during a savage front-attack made by his center. About midnight he moved his lines forward as if intending to bring on a general battle by assaulting the Federal works. A fearful cannonading at once began, accompanied by the steady roar of musketry. For more than an hour this continued accompanied by the yelling and cheering of troops on both sides; the roar of the artillery and the still louder rumbling of the bigger guns, but when morning dawned, it was discovered that General Johnson had withdrawn his entire force giving up Resaca to the Federals. The skirmishers of the Twenty-sixth Illinois, of my brigade, were the first in the town, and assisted in the capture of two fleeing guns from a belated battery.
Warsaw Daily Times October 17, 1903
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