A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/Opening of the Atlanta campaign
Opening of the Atlanta Campaign
Our Regiment reached Tullahoma on April 30, to find that the rest of our Brigade had already gone to the front. We started out on the next day to join them, and on May 4 crossed the Tennessee River at Bridgeport. On the 7th we passed over the battle-field of Chickamauga, where signs of the conflict were still everywhere in evidence. On the night of the 8th we crossed the mountains by way of Nickajack Pass, and joined our Brigade at daylight the next morning. This passage over the mountains was interesting. The night was extremely dark and perfectly quiet. The men in charge of the wagon train had placed lighted candles on the rocks along the road, at intervals of about a hundred feet, in order to guide themselves and those who came after. These were still flickering when we came along.
Our march to Atlanta was now well under way. The enemy continually fell back, and in most cases without offering serious resistance. The three armies of General Sherman, marching in parallel lines, seemed to be able to carry everything before them. On the 10th we again crossed the mountains at Snake Creek Gap, going into camp on the other side until the 13th. On the night of the 10th we were visited by a tremendous wind and rain storm, which blew down our tents, and raised the water in the creek so high that we had to move our camp or be drowned. At about this time, also, an order was read to the troops announcing the great success of the Army of the Potomac in the opening battles of the final campaign against Richmond.
On the 14th we were moved to the extreme left to support General Howard, who was there engaged with the enemy. We arrived at about sundown, just as the Confederates were driving in a brigade of the Fourth Corps and threatening to capture a battery of artillery. As we moved forward in line of battle, ready to receive the advancing enemy, General Williams called out to the fleeing soldiers of the Fourth Corps to get back out of the way, for he had a division there from the Army of the Potomac that would protect them. All of which goes to show that even major-generals are human, and when they get a chance like to exult over their rivals. We checked the advance of the enemy without much trouble.
At about noon on the 15th, General Butterfield, with our Third Division, moved forward to attack an earthwork and a four-gun battery, which the enemy held in his front. We moved forward on the left to support him; and encountering little opposition at first, advanced somewhat farther than the Third Division. We took position in the edge of a woods, where we made use of a rail fence and some logs to build a breastwork in anticipation of an attack, which the skirmish firing in front warned us was coming. We soon had sight of the advancing enemy. A few volleys from us, however, and they broke and ran. In a short time they again came up, with a new line. We disposed of that almost as quickly as the first. A third time they repeated the attempt, and again we beat them back.
Now came the order to pursue. My Company, and the companies on my right, moved forward about two hundred yards in the woods. Suddenly we found that we were on the flank of a Brigade that was still stubbornly fighting with troops of the Twenty-Third Corps and the left companies of our Regiment. They were in a peach orchard, the nearest of them not fifty yards away. I hastily wheeled my Company, and Company H to the left, and opened fire. At such short range, and in such a crowd, every shot must have counted. The Confederates did not wait for much, but skedaddled as fast as their legs could carry them.
Just as the last of them were disappearing from sight, I saw a man in Confederate uniform come running toward my Company, hatless, but with gun in hand. I supposed that he was coming in to give himself up. He came within twenty yards of us, then apparently noticed for the first time that we were Yankees. He immediately started to run back. I called to him to surrender, but it only increased his speed. Finding that he did not stop, two of my men fired at him, and both hit him. He fell dead almost instantly upon the field. I went forward then and examined him. He was a mere boy, not over twenty years of age. In his pocket we found his order, not two weeks old, from the conscript officer of his district, notifying him to join the army. I have seen fields of battle in front of our Regiment, covered over with the dead, without experiencing the pang of regret that I felt for this poor lad who, scarcely out from home, and too frightened and confused to know what to do, thus sadly met his fate.
The loss of our Regiment in this fight was one killed and thirty-one wounded. Many of the wounded subsequently died, among them Reverend John M. Springer, the Chaplain of the Regiment. When drafted in 1863, he had been a Methodist minister in Monroe, Wisconsin. Believing this to be a call of duty he had refused to allow his church to secure a substitute, and had reported at Madison for service. When our Regiment was about to leave Wisconsin for the front, after the veteran furlough, we officers had been introduced to him in the Executive Chamber at the Capitol, where we had assembled on the invitation of the Governor. When sent for, Springer had been found doing sentinel duty before the gate of Camp Randall. We had elected him Chaplain, and he had joined us at Fayetteville as soon as he could secure his discharge as a private. On the morning of the battle, when the prospects seemed good for a lively fight, he had come to me and asked for a musket and some ammunition, for he did not wish to be lurking in the rear while we were in danger at the front. At my suggestion, he had previously posted himself in the tactics, so I now told him to take the place of a Lieutenant in my Company. He was the first man hit, and died in the hospital a few days later.
By a strange coincidence, our picket found on the field in our front the dead body of the Chaplain of the Georgia Regiment with which we had been engaged. We were told by some of the wounded prisoners that he had been shot in coming up to recover the body of his son, a captain in the Regiment, who had been killed early in the fight.
In this battle, for the first time in my experience, Confederate soldiers who might have escaped came in and gave themselves up as prisoners. I think as many as forty did this. They were all thoroughly discouraged, and the same feeling seems to have run through their whole army, for they were more quickly and easily beaten than I had ever seen them before.
It was understood on our part that in order to give the Army of the Tennessee time to get below Resaca and cut off their retreat, we were not to push the attack against the enemy. They were too quick for us, however; the next morning they had abandoned Resaca, leaving behind them six heavy guns and large quantities of provisions and ammunition.
On the 19th we came up to them again at Cassville, where we drove them into their entrenched lines and occupied the town. We expected a fight in the morning, but once more they were gone, this time across the Etowah River. After a rest of four days at Cassville, we again went forward, crossing the Etowah on a pontoon bridge without resistance.
On the 25th we had nearly reached Dallas when we were turned back to assist General Geary, who had encountered a division of Hood's Corps, entrenched on the Marietta road to our left, at a place called New Hope Church. On our arrival we found that Geary's Division had already pushed back the enemy's skirmishers until the latter were thought to be in their main line of works, from which position we were ordered to drive them. The country was heavily timbered, and underbrush so obscured the view that it was impossible to see in any direction more than a few rods. When we came within sight of the enemy we found that a six-gun battery was posted a little in front of their line of infantry. The latter awaited us behind a breastwork, evidently hastily constructed of logs and earth, nevertheless affording fairly good shelter. As soon as we came within range, the battery opened on us with round shot and shell; then, as we came nearer, with grape and canister. But we pushed steadily on until we were less than sixty yards from them, when we halted; for we had lost so many men, and had become so disorganized in the march through the timber and brush that the impetus of our charge was gone. The regiments on both sides of us had already done the same. We sheltered ourselves as well as we could, behind trees and fallen timber, and opened fire on their battery, receiving a hot fire in return from their infantry. We succeeded, however, in driving off the Confederate gunners, and prevented the cannon from being worked for the remainder of the day.