Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

"Forward!" was the word when day
Dawned upon the armed array.
"Fallen!" was the word when night"
Closed upon the field of fight.
"Hurt, my boy?" "O, no! Not Much!
Only got a little touch?"
"Wonder what the folks will say
When they hear the news to-day!"
----H. H. Vanmeter

Very early on the morning of July 22, 1864--so early indeed, that it was not fully light--it was discovered that the Confederate line in the immediate front of the Fifteenth corps faced from Atlanta directly on the east, had been evacuated during the night of the 21st, and this withdrawal of the enemy's forces in our front had been effected during the heavy picket-firing that continued with more or less activity during all of the latter part of the night. I rode forward with an orderly to what was the Confederate intrenchments the night before, and found the entire line on both sides of the railroad that led out of Atlanta directly to the east wholly evacuated. With all possible haste I dispatched staff-officers,one to General Logan and the other to the division commander, General Harrow, with the information and within a very short time I received orders to move forward and occupy the late Confederate works by "reversing" them, and within a very brief time we had converted the rebel intrenchments facing outward from Atlanta into a very excellent protection facing inward. Of course the troops that moved forward to this new line consisting of practically all of the Fifteenth corps, were considerably surprised at this movement of the enemy. It was plain to be seen even to those ignorant of the movement of large bodies of troops under the existing circumstances, that there was "something in the wind." What that "something" was, the Federal command was to learn later. At present all of the troops that had been ordered forward to occupy what was the Confederate line the evening before, were engaged in strengthening their new position and it did not take long to face the earthworks the other way. while each of my three regiments were engaged in this feature of the work I determined to inspect the region lying between the new line and the city of Atlanta; and so taking an orderly with me, I rode out in the direction of the town. It was a wooded slope between the works and the suburbs of the town, the trees standing in rather "open order," making it all the easier to see an enemy and to prevent surprise and capture.

I am confident that I rode a full mile towards Atlanta from the works that the troops where then engaged in "reversing." On one occasion Orderly Ruff--that was his name, and he still occasionally writes me from Kansas--suggested there was considerable danger in getting so far away from supporting troops, and I am only relating the incident to show how thoroughly the Confederate forces had been withdrawn during the preceding night. Those who have visited Atlanta since the war or during the time the city was occupied by the Union army previous to the beginning of "the march to the sea," can tell how close I was to the city better than I, when I tell them that I went clear past a match factory located near the railroad in the suburbs of the town, for I have never been over that particular ground since that morning, although in 1870 I visited Atlanta and rode over most of the battlefields of that day. The withdrawal of Hood's troops, it will be seen by this incident, must have been en masse, for in that morning's ride of considerably over a mile, neither party the orderly nor myself met or even saw an enemy. Of course, closer up to Atlanta there were regular forts, built long before there was any special need for them, and it is presumed that all of these forts were fully manned at the time of which I am speaking. We rode leisurely back to our own line and I had reached my own command when shortly afterwards very heavy artillery and musketry firing began away off on the left and rear of where my brigade lay. This heavy firing was so steady and constant that it was easy to know that our troops away to the rear and south were engaged with a heavy force of the enemy. Very soon after this heavy firing occupied our attention, a staff officer rode up to me and in a low tone of voice announced that General McPherson was mortally wounded, but that it was requested that the information should be kept from the main body of troops as long as possible. Of course, I was greatly shocked. I had been personally acquainted with him during the operations around Vicksburg, and he was one of the most genial, pleasant, agreeable and sociable among all the higher officers I had ever met, and besides he came from a short distance from where I was born, and I had made it a point when off duty to visit his headquarters quite often. The officer who had conveyed this disastrous news, had scarcely more than left, when another staff officer from Logan's headquarters rode up with an order for me to send a full regiment of reinforcements over to the left and that he would conduct it to the position where it was desired. I fixed on the Twenty-sixth Illinois to send, and I did this very reluctantly, for the reader will remember that the One Hundredth Indiana of my brigade was back at Marietta, and this detail only left me two regiments to fill the space of considerably over a quarter of a mile of earthworks.

The situation that called for reinforcements from the right to the left was about this: I have already stated that the Sixteenth corps was held in reserve at Decatur, a village on the railroad about six miles east of Atlanta, and as soon as it was ascertained very early in the morning that the Confederate forces had been withdrawn from the front of the Federal army facing the town from the east, General McPherson at once decided to place that corps on the extreme left of the entire Federal line and was riding at its head when the Confederate troops under General Hood, that had been withdrawn from the line mentioned, had in the night-time been moved clear around the Federal left. The Sixteenth corps was swinging along the road with that army gait that attracted so much attention at the Grand Review held at Washington City, became the stride on the march was so different from that of the Eastern troops, when all at once they were assailed by Hood's veterans, and although completely surprised, yet they soon got into fighting trim, and it was while placing the troops in position that General McPherson received his death-wound and died shortly afterwards. From this first attack until about 1 o'clock p.m. the fighting was not only fierce in places, but it was such a battle as had never occurred during the war either before or afterwards; for it is a fact that during the day, whole brigades and divisions fought from one side of the earthworks for a time, only to leap over them to repel an attack from the other side. The struggle was kept up in that way till after the hour named, and as for myself and the members of the two regiments that were left to occupy a line that four could not fill in the early morning, it began to look as if our army was getting the worst of the struggle. The heavy fighting had drifted toward the left of the position held by my troops, when all at once at something less than a quarter of a mile from the left of my line I could see what I took to be about two brigades of Confederates getting ready to charge our works in their front. The "Johnnies" came with a rush; charged right up to the line and as a portion of the enemy overlapped the defenders about seventy-five or a hundred-perhaps more-broke over our line, and after getting inside the Federal intrenchments seemed to know not what to do. I detached two companies of the Ninetieth Illinois and pushed them down upon this body of men that had broken through; I rode down to them and commanded them to throw down their arms and surrender. As there seemed to be no one in command of them they decided to obey the order and surrendered at discretion. I learned afterwards that this detachment of prisoners were started for Camp Chase the same night, an illustration of the speed that prevailed in railroad matters where there was no "time-tables" to interfere, and a simple order meant much in the army.

With the exception of this incident the readers of these sketches should bear in mind that my reduced brigade remained idle during the great deal of the fighting that had been going on near and far to its left, and it was but shortly after making the capture of the men alluded to that a corporal came in from my own front, well in towards the town over the identical ground that myself and orderly had ridden over in the early morning, with the announcement that the enemy was bringing troops to that point and were engaged in forming them into line. At once I sent a staff officer to find General Harrow and give him the information I had just received. The corporal had scarcely left me on his return to his picket post, when another soldier arrived bringing the news that more troops were assembling in my front, and that they were forming a double line. I sent out additional staff officers to find General Harrow, and later sent still another one, but all returned without success, and two of them were again sent to hunt him up. The last word I received was that the Confederates had formed five lines deep and were evidently about ready to move upon the Federal line, which, of course, included my position. The railroad to which I have alluded several times, passed right through the Federal works in quite a deep cut. On my side of the railroad was Captain DeGrass' battery of twenty-pounder Parrots. They occupied the summit of the ground that made the deep cut of the railroad necessary; and then, between the battery and my own right was a regiment belonging to General Morgan L. Smith's division, the remainder of which was all on the opposite side of the railroad from my troops. I had taken the precaution to send word to Captain DeGrass that he might expect a charge from the enemy and also informed the Commanding officer of the infantry--an Ohio regiment that lay between my command and the battery. Such was the situation when the charge came. The Confederate force had the advantage of being in timber, until they neared the works behind which my own command was placed; where the ground was clear for perhaps a couple of hundred feet. The Confederates came with a rush, but they were completely checked at the edge of the woods. I had sent my horses to the rear and had them hidden behind an old tannery that stood there during the day of the battle, so that I was on foot and near the center of the two regiments. During all the way, I never saw the enemy more completely repulsed than on that occasion. Not a man reached the works during this assault and the enemy was literally mowed down as with a scythe, in front of both these regiments.

Right here I must relate an incident that came under my own eye, because I was nearby and witnessed it and can bear testimony to its truthfulness. While my regiment lay at Scottsboro, Alabama during the previous winter, I had enlisted several young men whose home was in that State. One of them--the one to which this incident relates--had been fairly well off before the war--or rather his father had, but the latter had died--and if I remember correctly there were five slaves belonging to the estate, all of them but a boy of 12 or 14 years of age having run away. The young master of this boy did not know what to do with him. He was a very bright colored boy, but full of fun, and it was easy to see that he was a favorite of his young master, and I told him to keep him in the regiment and make him useful, if none of the superior officers made any objection, and they wouldn't I felt sure, unless somebody complained to them. So, when the Atlanta campaign opened, I frequently saw the little colored imp getting wood and water for his young master when in camp and often carrying his knapsack or gun when on the march. The owner of the boy was only a few feet from me when the assault alluded to above came, and as I happened to glance at the young Alabamian, I saw a black hand handing him a cartridge. The boy was sitting on the ground biting cartridges and handing them to his master just as fast as he could fire them, and he was enabled to shoot at a much more rapid rate by this assistance of the little negro boy. It was not often, surely, that a Southern-born man fought on the Union side during the "War for the Union" with his own slave to assist him. the young man came home with us to Indianapolis where he was paid off, after the war, and when I bade him good-bye there, the boy was still with him, but I am sorry to say I have never heard from either one since.

The enemy had been so handsomely repulsed in my own front that myself and men were rejoicing greatly, never dreaming that the rest of the line over on our right at the deep cut had not fared so well. None of the troops or myself even thought of disaster, and "the boys" were already making jests out of the various matters witnessed by them during the fight and repulse, when all at once came a volley from perhaps a thousand men fired straight into the backs of both of my regiments, at fairly close range. The Confederates had captured two of DeGrass' guns and a large body of the enemy had surged right through the deep railroad cut and had then turned their muskets upon my two regiments. There was only one thing to do and that was to form a line at right angles and facing them, but the enemy certainly outnumbered my force, more than three to one, and was constantly increasing, thus compelling us to yield ground. I ordered the Ninetieth Illinois to quickly form behind the big tan-yard building already referred to, and as soon as they did this, I would have my own regiment, the Twelfth, join their line. this was done, but I lost many men from that unfortunate fire, all the more grievous because we had so splendidly repulsed the assault made upon us direct, that we felt that this loss was occasioned by some one else's fault. To make matters worse, a Federal battery well over to our right and of course on the opposite side of the railroad, seeing the rebels running through the railroad cut, and my own troops being hidden by the great number of Confederates between my troops and the battery, opened upon the latter, no doubt killing and wounding many of them, but every shot and shell passed right along our own line and even though there had been no enemy there, these shots of the artillery would have compelled us to get out from behind our own works and form another line. I have often thought since, that those shots from our own guns aided the enemy considerable on that day, but it was one of those accidents that sometimes occur in the excitement, the thunder, the roar and the crash of battle, and which, at times, is difficult to avoid.

However, assistance, that if General Harrow could have been found might have been sent sooner, was coming and with a rush the Confederates were forced back and over the lines they had left during the previous night, and the chase was kept up until the enemy re-entered the town, out of which they had come in the morning to drive the invader from the field, and as Hood is represented to have said, to drive Sherman's army back to Chattanooga. The fight for the recovery of the works was over before dark and that big day's work formed the ground work for the cyclorama of "The Battle of Atlanta," which some years ago was placed on exhibition at Indianapolis and which was a very correct picture of the battle, a picture that never failed to thrill the spectator, especially if he had been a participant in the great struggle of the 22d of July, 1864. My two regiments suffered severely on that day, nearly all the loss occurring by the Confederates breaking through the lines at the railroad cut, after they had repulsed those in their own front so handsomely. Henry Weaver, a Lieutenant in I company, and Lawrence Parks of F were both lost on that day, the former mortally wounded and dying later and the latter dying the same night, from the effects of five wounds, received at different times. He was a splendid soldier and a brave boy--a brother of the late Marsh H. Parks, of this city and was buried the same night by torch light. Weaver lived until some time the next day if I remember correctly, and was well known in the vicinity of Oswego, this county.

Warsaw Daily Times December 12, 1903

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