Memories of War Times

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

by Reub Williams

Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Dream of fighting fields no more--
Sleep the sleep that knows no breaking,
Morn of toll nor night of waking.
Soldier, rest! Thy work is done,
Think not of the rising sun,
At dawn to assail ye,
here no bugles sound "reveille."
--- Sir Walter Scott

What a scene that was, following the nearly all-day battle of July 22, 1864! Of course, all the troops engaged in that wild struggle who had come out of it with their lives and free from wounds, were wearied almost to the limit of endurance. many of them had gone "on the double-quick" to the more dangerous points where after assisting in repelling the onslaught, had almost immediately been called to other endangered places, so that when the day's great fight closed by the retiring of Hood's forces within the defenses of Atlanta, those engaged throughout the day were so wearied that they were ready to sink to rest at whatever point they may have been, when the announcement came that the battle was over and the strain of conflict had been lifted from their shoulders and the trying responsibilities of their officers were past, temporarily at least. Late in the afternoon of the day, the Twenty-sixth Illinois regiment of my brigade, which had been sent early in the morning as re-inforcements for the Seventeenth Corps, something over a mile to the left of the position that I had been left to defend, which was described in my last sketch, returned worn and weary, the members of all three of the regiments were directed to seek the best position possible around the old frame tannery to which I have already frequently referred. The building was quite a large one, and I had directed that a burial party should go out and bring in all the dead Confederates they could find for burial, not a great distance from the building. The seriously wounded of the enemy had previously been gathered up and brought in over the works and it was to provide these with at least something better to lie on than the bare ground, that I ordered a detail to tear away all the boards from that building to procure material for those who could not walk, to lie upon, and I presume that the tearing down of the old tannery caused the different opinions among the party that was responsible for that most excellent and life-like picture of "The Battle of Atlanta," that several yeas ago was placed on exhibition at Indianapolis.

I am well acquainted with and quite familiar with Theodore R. Davis who had much to do with the designing of that picture all through its construction. Preceding and during the Atlanta campaign, Mr. Davis was the regular artist correspondent of Harper's Weekly. Nearly all of his articles for that journal were illustrated by himself, and it was Mr. Davis who sent the picture of the handsome and elaborate camp of the Twelfth Indiana Infantry at Scottsboro, Alabama, constructed by the men of that regiment when they went into quarters following the Battle of Missionary Ridge, which appeared in its columns shortly after the camp was fully completed, and it was he also, that sent the very correct picture of the capture of that body of Confederates in a sort of a wooded island, a mile and a half east of the end of Kenesaw Mountain and although I wrote an article on the subject directly after the cyclorama was thrown open to the public, it may be well to allude to the point here in these "war-memories." After it was decided to locate the cyclorama of "The Battle of Atlanta" at Indianapolis, a company was formed, as the enterprise involved no small expense, and of course a special building had to be provided for it. This was done and a corps of artists were gotten together under charge of Mr. Davis, if I remember correctly, and these, with a number of surveyors, went to Atlanta for the purpose of getting material of every kind so as to have the great picture historically correct. It was about this time that I received a letter from Mr.. Davis as did many other officers connected with that portion of the struggle, and which was described in these articles last week--asking the color of the horse I rode; the kind of equipments, and whatever other information I could give them in aid of having the forthcoming picture as absolutely correct in all its detail as is possible in a painting on a scale so large. In giving him the information I alluded to the big tannery that stood very hear the line of works occupied by my brigade, and directly in its rear, and not more than a hundred and fifty yards distance. I was surprised at receiving within a few days a second letter from Mr. Davis making the statement--that quite a number of officers who had command of troops on that identical ground declared that no such building existed on the day of the great fight. Of course, I was astounded. Mr. Davis declared that for himself he could not say anything as to the statement as to whether such a building existed there or not on July 22, 1864, but that fully a half dozen officers--some of them commanding regiments on that day--were firm in their assertion that no such building existed there at that time.

Knowing so well as I did, and as every man in all the three regiments I commanded on that day that such a building did exist, and so far as the immediate rear of my own position on that fateful day to many, the building as I had described to him was not only there, but also that it was a conspicuous figure in the landscape in the immediate vicinity of and only a short distance to the rear of the precise position where my own troops had so successfully stemmed the oncoming line of Hood's veterans--not a single one of the enemy having reached within a hundred feet of the intrenchments behind which the Federal line was formed, until after the enemy had broken the line and poured through the railroad cut, to which I have so frequently referred, and which was nearly a quarter of a mile distant from the right of my line. Of course, I wrote Mr. Davis repeating the statement that a big tannery building did exist there, but it took a full month of correspondence before the question was finally settled that the building did exist, and formed quite a feature in the great picture. I allude to this incident to show how frequently people differ in their view of the same field, and to what an extent these differences may sometimes reach, in the manner that different people look at the same thing. But for Mr. Davis' letter to me asking for other information, besides the color of my horse and its equipments the cyclorama of "The Battle of Atlanta: would have been incorrect in one of its salient features; for it is a fact that the re-inforcements that were hurried to the point of danger when the Confederates broke the line at the railroad cut, actually had to break their line of formation in passing the big tannery building. The fact that I had it torn down to get the boards for the uses already stated may have deceived some of these officers who averred that there was no building there; but as no attempt had been made to tear down the building for its lumber for the purposes given until it was growing dark, even this excuse for not observing so prominent a feature of the scene was not a very substantial one. However, I was glad afterwards that Mr. Davis had asked the question and was finally convinced that I was correct--else the cyclorama would have been without a tan-yard when it was the intention to depict a scene where "tannings" were numerous.

My mind frequently reverts to the horrors of that night following Hood's defeat on the 22d of July, 1864. Over a hundred and fifty wounded men had been brought inside of our intrenchments, and a corps of a half a dozen surgeons and hospital stewards labored all the night through with men wounded in every conceivable way; sometimes an arm hanging by only a shred; others with broken legs, others with musket shots straight through their bodies, and in fact, there were scarcely any two whose injuries resembled each other. Worn out as I was, it was after midnight before I could close my eyes in sleep for the rest which I so badly needed, and which the cries and groans of the severely wounded and the dying prevented me from securing, until I, too, fell asleep in spite of the horrors of a night I have remembered ever since "After the battle," the scene is one that will haunt the spectator for as long as he lives and it was so with me in this particular instance to a greater extent perhaps than other similar scenes that came under my eye. Both armies were so completely tired out that it was scarcely necessary to place pickets between the contending forces. This was done, of course, but neither side--even had the opportunity for surprising the other advantageously occurred--was in a condition to take advantage of such a situation from sheer weariness, and inability to do more than the soldiers of each side had already done that day, even despite the old saying that "there has never been a time when soldiers were so utterly worn out but that they could have added a little more effort if required.

Several weeks ago in these sketches I alluded to the immense strain which came to a superior officer in time of battle and referred to the fact that even the brave and gallant Logan at times so felt this daily strain to such an extent that the tension on his nerves prevented him from securing the sleep so necessary under such circumstances to keep even his stalwart brain and frame from breaking down under it. Let the reader imagine the situation for General Logan on the 22d day of July, 1864. Here he was in the early morning, in command of a single corps--that of the fifteenth--but all at once, in the twinkling of an eye, the bullet from the musket in the hands of an enemy to the nation, laid low the commander-in-chief of the "Department of the Tennessee," and instead of the responsibility of a single corps, as quickly as the word could be spoken, General Logan found himself in command of three corps, and a part of the fourth one. Here was responsibility, assuredly! Not only had his command increased in a moment more than threefold, but the whole body of these corps were at that moment closing in a death grapple. Surely , he must have felt in a wonderful degree the additional strain that was placed upon his shoulders that day caused by the effect of that single rifle shot! Knowing General Logan so well as I did, I never ceased through all that storm of battle of thinking of the great responsibility that had come upon him; but never did man acquit himself more creditably under such a heavy load of responsibility as did General John A. Logan on that day, and in "my mind's eye" I often see him now in that wild flight, so splendidly and so faithfully depicted in the cyclorama to which I have alluded as he rode along the line of this soldiers, the boys cheering him as he sat upon the coal-black steed he so often rode--man and horse precisely suited for such a day and such an occasion; the flight so rapid that his staff was strung along behind him for a quarter of a mile in the endeavor to keep up, but hampered only by the limit of the speed of the respective steeds that each one bestrode. It is not hard for a soldier of "Black Jack Logan's Corps" to conjure up such a picture of the man, even with no "cyclorama" near at hand.

Following the battle of the 22d of July there came days of more leisure. that is not a good word, for there was seldom leisure for either side when two such armies as that of Hood's and Sherman's were close together. the "wear and tear" of two such bodies of men in close proximity could only result in loss of many lives even though no battle was in progress, or a more than ordinary affair--save that of the respective picket lines--was going forward. Both sides were keenly active; each watching the other like two gladiators pitted one against the other as was so often the case in the Colliseum at Rome, in the olden days, and each seeking to obtain whatever advantage the situation might develop. The skirmish line was always active and many lives were lost, and many wounds have been carried ever since the day described as "The Battle of Atlanta." such was the situation until the evening of the 26th day of July when an order came to the Fifteenth corps to be ready to march at daylight on the morning of the 27th. Of course, the men in my brigade, on learning that they were to move at an early hour the following morning were fully aware that there "was something in the wind." Soldiers always seemed to be not only ready, but very willing to undertake any new move, no matter how dangerous the undertaking might be, and I was not surprised to learn that the men were ready to march, having breakfasted very early in anticipation of a move that no matter how perilous they were eager to participate.

Previous to the moment that was now to be undertaken, General Sherman had directed that defensive works should be built by the Twenty-third corps, through which he intended and expected to withdraw all the forces that had occupied the eastern portion of Atlanta, and which had been engaged in the struggle of the 22d day of July leaving that corps to defend the line while he used all thee corps to extend his lines on the extreme right of the line of this whole army, as it was then confronting Atlanta. The withdrawal of the Federal lines from the left commenced at a very early hour on the 27th and steadily continued until all the troops of the extreme left were inside the fortified line the Twenty-third corps had provided for the purpose and to secure safety during the ticklish movement of withdrawing an army from the front of an active foe--always a difficult thing to do. It fell to the lot of my brigade to bring up the rear, and as the Confederates very soon discovered the attempt at withdrawal of the Federal forces in their front, active pursuit was at once begun.

General Morgan L. Smith, as the ranking division officer--following the assumption of the command of the Army of the Tennessee by General Logan, occasioned by the death of General McPherson--came into command of the Fifteenth corps, and when this movement began it was very plain even to the enlisted men that the command of a corps was too big a thing for him. In other words, the death of McPherson, and the advancement of General Logan to his place as commander of the Army of the Tennessee, had compelled General Smith to "bite off more than he could chew," and it was not long after the withdrawal begun until the new General had the fifteenth corps into the only trouble it had ever known. I have already stated that I with my three regiments was bringing up the rear of the forces that were being withdrawn; and, of course, as soon as the Confederates discovered that the Federal line was falling back, they pushed out a strong body of men in pursuit. General Smith rode up to me--and I want to say, to tell the truth--he was considerably frustrated--more, perhaps owing to the responsibility of command a full corps than otherwise--directed me to place a regiment behind an already fortified position in order to hold the advancing enemy in check. As my own regiment was the nearest I directed it to take up the position selected by General Smith, and leaving them there, the march of the Federal troops continued, I going on with the other two regiments of my brigade. We had proceeded about a mile and a half, as near as I could estimate the distance, when I caught up with General Smith and his staff. I asked him if he had ordered the regiment forward that he has directed to be left to stay for a time the onward march of the Confederates. "Why no," he said. "Haven't they been ordered to rejoin the forces yet?" "Not that I know of," said I, as I dashed back to bring up my own regiment that had been left there, if not already captured by the orders of our new corps commander. Racing my horse at full speed, I soon covered that mile and a half and with all haste withdrew the Twelfth from a position in which they would have been surrounded, most probably, within the next twenty minutes. Taking my place at their head, it was not long until they rejoined the corps which, but for my question as to whether they had been returned or not to General Morgan L. Smith, every one of them might have been captured by the pursuing Confederates, for there was no assistance for them within a mile and a half. In the excitement of the moment he had entirely forgotten that the regiment had been left behind temporarily, in order to delay the enemy for a short time, at least.

Warsaw Daily Times December 19, 1903

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