A narrative of service with the Third Wisconsin Infantry/With the Army of the Cumberland

With the Army of the Cumberland

After two days of this picket duty we were relieved by a Connecticut regiment and rejoined our Corps. We found that we were under orders to march the next day to Brandy Station, on the railroad. We did not know it at the time, but we were about to take our leave from the old Army of the Potomac, with which we had been associated since its organization. We had fought side by side in some of the hardest battles in the war; and had we been consulted in the matter, we would doubtless have voted to stay where we were, and help it to finish Lee's army. However, we were not consulted, and the necessities of war now called us to the Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga.

On the night of the 24th, we bivouacked at Brandy Station, where the paymaster worked all night paying off the troops, and where we saw the Eleventh Corps being loaded for Alexandria. The next morning we marched to Bealeton Station, where, after a wait of a day, we also loaded up and started. The cars were ordinary freight trucks, with rough board benches set crosswise, and the men were crowded in as thick as they could be seated.

We pulled out of Washington over the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, the trains containing forty or fifty cars each. As we approached the mountains the size of the trains was reduced to about seven cars; but on reaching the western slope, the old number was restored. We crossed the Ohio at Benwood, on a pontoon bridge. Another lot of cars was awaiting us on the opposite side, and we went on through Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, and Louisville. On this trip through Ohio and Indiana we were everywhere reminded that we were among friends. Our train stopped for a time at Columbus, Xenia, and Dayton, and it seemed as though the citizens of those towns could not do enough for us. At every station along the road great crowds of people were gathered, and cheered us as we passed along.

We stopped briefly at Louisville, then went on again through Nashville, and past the battle-field of Murfreesboro. We debarked from the cars at Stevenson, Alabama, on Sunday morning, just a week from the time we had started. We certainly were glad enough to be released after seven days and nights of railroad travelling, cramped up so tightly that there was scarce room either to sit up or lie down. Our arrival was none too soon. The long line of railroad from Nashville southward, had been practically unguarded, and the enemy's cavalry under General Wheeler succeeded soon after our arrival in tearing it up in several places.

We now had several weeks of racing up and down the railroad line, infantry after cavalry, and with the usual result. In the end, however, the road was cleared, with the whole "Red Star" Division distributed between Murfreesboro and Stevenson. Our Regiment was stationed at Wartrace, where there was a junction with a short railroad running to Shelbyville—the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. It was a curiosity. The cross-ties were about five feet apart, and the rails were of wood, surmounted by a running surface of light iron. Frequently the wooden rails would spread, and then there would be a wreck; in fact, scarcely a day passed on which there would not be an accident of some kind. Large details of men from our Regiment were set to work to bring the road in repair, and by Christmas it was in fairly good condition.

Shortly after we were established at Wartrace, I secured leave of absence to go to Chattanooga in search of my brother, who had enlisted in the Tenth Wisconsin. I had not heard of him since the battle of Chickamauga. My route was by rail to Bridgeport on the Tennessee River, then in a small captured Confederate steamer called "Paint Rock," up the Tennessee to Chattanooga.

The "Paint Rock" was loaded to its utmost capacity with hardtack for the starving Union men who held Chattanooga. The river route to that town had only recently been opened up by General Hooker, with the Eleventh Corps and the Second Division of our Corps. Previously it had been necessary to wheel all supplies sixty miles over a mountain road, where teams could scarcely haul the forage for their own trip. Even now the boats could run only to within eight miles of the city.

The fifty-mile river trip brought me at the end of the day to the landing at Kelly's Ferry. Then I had an eight-mile walk before me to the camps, where I arrived late in the evening. I soon found the regiment or the small remnant of it that I was looking for; but then I learned that my brother was beyond doubt a prisoner in the hands of the enemy.

I spent a day in visiting about Chattanooga. The enemy occupied a line from the Tennessee River, above town, to the point of Lookout Mountain below. At no place were they near enough to throw shells into the city, save from their heavy guns on Lookout Mountain. From these, shells came over all day at intervals of ten or fifteen minutes and exploded high in the air over either our camps or the city. So far as I could see, however, they did little damage.

Shortly after my return to my Regiment, I was detailed to investigate the killing of a negro by a white man, not far from our post. The evidence showed that it was a most unprovoked murder, and I so reported. The man was thereupon arrested and sent to the provost marshal at Tullahoma. I never learned what was finally done with him. The curious thing about the affair was the frank astonishment of the man that anyone should take notice of the killing of a mere "nigger."

Toward the end of November a large number of Confederate prisoners, who had been captured in the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, were being sent northward over the railroad. We often had conversation with them while the trains were stopping at our station. Some were still defiant, but most of them were discouraged, and many predicted that the Confederacy could not last six months longer. An unusually large number of deserters of all ranks from colonel downward, were also coming in, and they likewise professed to believe that the Confederacy was tottering.