part of a volume entitled Fifteen Years Ago: or the Patriotism of Will County by George H. Woodruff
Submitted by Merryann Palmer, email@example.com, to whom every reader should be grateful.
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"We have come now to the memorable "assault on Kenesaw" the 27th of June, when our division was moved to the right, and made a charge on the enemy's works in front of the line occupied by Gen. Stanley's division. Other charges were made in other parts of the line, all of which were unsuccessful. But that of our division was the severest. Our regiment was in the hottest of it. The division charged in solid mass, and found the enemy posted behind heavy earthworks with an abatis of brush in front, and three rows of sharpened stakes driven in front of their works, so that our men could not pass without stopping to pull them out; and to stop while making a charge is almost certain death. With grape and canister raking our boys both in flank and front, nothing but a depression in the ground kept them from being annihilated. Capt. Bowen and Major Hammond with the colors rallied about 150 men just under the hill, after the main part of the division had fallen back, and sent for entrenching tools, and would have made good their position within 60 yards of the enemy's works. But instead of sending them tools, Gen. Wagner, commanding the brigade, thought it wiser to order the Major to bring the men in. When they got back behind the entrenchments they found the rest of the brigade forming their lines, and the belief current that the Major, Capt. Bowen, and the men, had been killed, and the colors lost, and their return was an agreeable surprise. Our color-bearer, Michael Murphy, carried the colors within ten steps of the rebel works and brought them safely away again." In this charge which was equal in daring and hopelessness to the famous "charge of the 600;" and which now at least, in the cool distance, seems to have been uncalled for, and made without adequate promise of compensating good, and which Gen. Sherman labors somewhat in his report to justify, - the assaulting column suffered so severely as to draw tears even from the eyes of the enemy. For, as an eye witness relates, (one of the officers o the 100th) "The rebels sent our men word that the woods were on fire, and we had better come and take care of our killed and wounded. Lieut. Bartlett went with a detail of men, and while thus engaged conversed with a noble looking captain of the rebel army, who, as he looked upon the scene, said, with tears rolling down his cheeks, 'This is awful, awful - but we had to do it.'" In this assault, the severest in which the 100th was ever engaged, the regiment lost three killed and 16 wounded, as in list below. Among the valuable lives lost that day was Gen. Harker, commanding one of the brigades in our division, a man and an officer greatly beloved, not only by his own command, but by all who knew him, and who only four days before had shed tears over the remains of our colonel. The following graphic description of the assault of the 4th corps was written immediately after by the correspondent of the "Cincinnati Commercial," and is so truthful and interesting that I cannot forbear copying it entire.
"The 4th and 14th corps, the staunch center of the army, were called upon to give fresh proof of their valor to-day. These two corps, though originally in front of Kenesaw, had been pushed by the converging advance of our army to the southward of that frowning peak. The noble 4th corps, though by heavy odds the heaviest sufferer of the army, was the one of the three from which the assault was demanded. The boys were tired of heavy skirmishing; it had grown tedious, and lost its excitement, and I believe when they were apprized that their corps was to furnish two or three assaulting columns, they received the intelligence with a quick interest - nothing more. This thing of killing and being killed, had become an every day affair. Every platoon in the corps had bled freely since the campaign opened. They felt probably, as all veterans must feel, some apprehension, for the result of an assault upon a heavily fortified enemy, but none for themselves. Early in the gray of the morning, the preparations for the assault commenced, the first symptom being an unusually early breakfast. There was no evidence in the movement or bearing of the men, that they were so soon to essay "the deadly imminent breach;" though they must have been conscious that the task laid out for them was one which none but men hoping to meet death would covet. Between 7 and 8 o'clock the lines were formed. Newton's division, consisting of Generals Wagner, Kimball, and Harker's brigades, being selected as the storming parties. Kimball's being on the left and somewhat retired, to act as a support of the other two. Wagner's held the center, and Harker's the right. Wood's and Stanley's divisions of the 4th corps furnished supports on the flanks of the assaulting brigades, but they were not seriously engaged, and their loss is trifling. Assault of Wagner's Brigade
"This splendid brigade, composed of the 40th Ind., 57th Ind., 97th Ohio, 26th Ohio, 100th Ills., and 28th Kentucky, was thrown into columns of regimental divisions, thus giving the brigade a front of two companies, and a depth of 30 lines. The advance regiment was the 40th Ind., commanded by the fearless Blake. The column was formed in good season, and during the brief respite that ensued before the word "charge" was given, the men rested silently in their places, and no one could have guessed from their undisturbed faces, that all the latent gallantry of their natures could be aroused, and lashed into a fury of heroism during the next ten minutes. Here was a man carefully replacing his shoe and tucking away the strings; the proposition that "forlorn hopes" should be well and tightly shod plainly expressed in his movements. Letters were torn and crumpled and thrown furtively aside. Doubtless miniatures came from their hiding places for a moment that morning, but such things are done in the army in profound secrecy. The soldier hates a scene, and none more than the purely sentimental variety.
"At half-past eight the men spring to their feet at the word fraught with death to many. Thirty consecutive lines of blue leaped forward with impetuous strides making their way through the scattered trees and underbrush in splendid order. Before them on the crest of the ridge was the silent, and to the sight, the untenanted convex salient of the enemy's works, for which they were aiming. They neared it rapidly, their enthusiasm rising with every step, and their hearts rising high as each indistinct object grew plain, as the slopes of the parapet became a mere furrow over which it seemed they must go. ut the next moment the gates of hell opened in their very faces! A close, concentrating blast of musketry swept over the front line, leaving it indented, but unwavering! With the momentum of a mighty river, the brigade swept on until but two hundred paces - a mere stone's throw it looked - divided the assailants from the assailed. The musketry of the enemy died to a mere pattering - muskets must be reloaded, and this fact sometimes looses battles. But palisades and abatis must be passed; and with the next rebel volley fired, as the fearless 40th Ind. reached a point within a hundred paces of their works, came a more awful thunder! Squarely in the teeth of the inspired brigade opened a battery of six guns, belching forth grape and canister, every shot ploughing through the devoted ranks, and the thick fume of their guns enveloping the interval of ground over which our brigade must pass. Every ball from those guns infiladed sixty men, the column of attack as I have already said, being thirty lines deep. The front lines shattered to pieces, slackened their furious onset, which brought those in the rear, jamming up in one confused mass of men - confused - but still bent on their fearfully grim and bloody task. It was intended when the head of the column reached a point within pistol shot of the enemy's parapet, to deploy into a column of regiments. This was no longer feasible, for organization was lost, and the whole column was a tightly closed surging mass of men, ragged at the edges - but all moving one way - toward the enemy! The rebel battery fired a second volley, completing shattering Wagner's column, as a column, the cannon blowing aside every animated thing in their front. Masses of men moved to the right and the left of the range of the battery - still bent upon one object. Many struggled up within twenty yards of the enemy's works, some penetrated the lines of the palisades, and abatis at their base, and a devoted few planted the foot of a color-staff on the slope of a parapet! But the assault had failed - failed heroically in less time than I have taken to relate it. For nearly an hour portions of the brigade held points within fifty yards of the enemy's line, but all such were thinned out by the deadly rifle men, who nearly secure himself, was at liberty indulge in the uncommon luxury of gloating over a foe, before firing with cool, deliberate and unerring aim. As the remnants of the brigade started back, long lines of rebels swarmed from their trenches, pursuing rapidly with infernal yells. They soon swarmed back, and faster than they emerged, when our reserves opened on them with a withering fire of small arms and artillery. The brigade fell back to the line vacated in the morning, leaving over two hundred killed and wounded. The proportion o officers lost was larger than the average, and here, as elsewhere during the assault, an unusual number were hit in the head. Wagner's brigade left winter quarters last spring, nearly 2000 strong, but it was reduced to half that number, - over fifty percent. having been killed and wounded during the campaign. Gen. Wagner fought, where he always fights, at the head of his brigade, and his escape from hurt is most miraculous. Two or three hours after the assault, his men were bustling around their camps, making their coffee, having already exhausted conversation on the great topic which the morning had furnished. 'D--n the assaults in column,' I heard one remark as he punched the blaze under his coffee, 'they make a man more afraid of being trampled to death by the rear lines, than he is of the enemy, they might do on a marble floor.'
"His comments would offend Jomini and Monticella, but the speaker as a member of one of the advanced regiments in the assaulting column had a clear right to speak his mind."
In reference to casualties in the 100th, an officer of the regiment says:
"Three star soldiers were killed: to-wit: Sergt. Thomas Bleber, Co. G, Wm. G. Parks, of Co. B, and little Johnny Sarver, of Co. H, who are worthy of more than mention. Sergt. Bleber had earned the admiration of the regiment by his bravery in battle, and by his honorable bearing in camp. Wm. G. Parks was for a little while a wagoner, but at his own request had been returned to the ranks. At Resacca when shot and shell flew thickest, a volunteer was called for, to carry orders from the line of battle to the picket line. Parkes stepped out of the ranks, received his orders, put his gun to right shoulder shift, and walked erect, and deliberately to the place assigned, while the minie balls were flying thickly around him. In the ranks he developed the noblest qualities of the soldier."
Of Sarver we have spoken elsewhere.
"After this charge our regiment returned to its position, and remained until July 3d, with but little worthy of note. Both skirmish lines began to get weary of the incessant exchange of shots, and had their little treaties of peace enabling them to get out of their cramped rifle pits, stretch themselves, exchange papers, and trade off coffee for tobacco. If either side had orders to fire, they gave fair notice "Get into your holes yanks," or, "Go home Johnny," was the word of warning, on hearing which the pickets would creep into their holes again and blaze away.
"July 3d found the enemy once more withdrawn from our front, and we moved into Marietta, a rather nice town where the Georgia Military Institute was established. This was the southern West Point, where men had been educated for the rebellion. It consisted of a large building in the form of the letter "E," situated on the crest of a hill about a mile from the town. It had a beautiful lawn in its front for a parade ground. The view from the top of the college building is a magnificent one. Gen. Sherman once visited this place as a commissioner to examine the claims of certain Georgians for horses lost in the Florida war.
"On the 4th we moved to Stanley's left, formed in line again, and had some fighting at Smyrna Camp Ground, and two of the regiment were wounded.
"On the 5th we marched slowly in the heat and dust, camping near the Chattahoochie river. We saw the rebel pickets on the other side and supposed their whole force had crossed, but found that we were at the extreme left, and had reached a bend in the river, while it receded to the right, and they were still there behind works.
"July 6th. Went up a high hill and got a sight of the goal of our campaign. The smoke of the foundries at Atlanta was plainly visible. On the hill we saw the remains of a man hanging from a tree. The flesh was black and dried on the bones and the feet had dropped off with the shoes. It was probably the remains of a spy. This place was known as Vining's Station. Here it was expected that we should get some rest, but picket duty, changing camp, etc., prevented our getting settled before the 8th, and at day light next morning, orders came for our division to move immediately, leaving camp standing. So judging that we were going but a short distance, perhaps to make a charge, no one took anything which was not positively needed. But we were marched all day through heat and dust, 18 miles to Rossville. There we forded the Chattahoochie, which was quite wide. The scene would have made a good picture for an illustrated paper. The men took off their shoes and pants, and making them into a bundle hung them upon their bayonets, and waded over. The river bottom was full of small slippery boulders, and frequently some unlucky wight would slip and go in all over, bundle, gun, and all, when a shout and a roar would go up from the rest of the men. The division was across about dark, and took a position on a high hill. Next morning lines were established and breastworks commenced. Towards evening part of the 16th corps came up and relieved us, and on the 11th we recrossed to Rossville. This was a very pretty little town, and had contained two cotton, and one woolen factories, but they had been burned by our cavalry, as one of the necessary war measures. By this act some three or four hundred girls had been thrown out of employment, and they were sent by our military authorities to Marietta, and afterwards to the north.
"On the 12th we returned to Vining's Station, and next day crossed to the south side of the river.
"On the 18th we again started towards Atlanta, moving three or four miles and camping near Buckhead Cross Roads. There was considerable skirmishing all day. On the 19th we advanced to the north bank of Peach Tree creek. Here the enemy held their ground very tenaciously, but on the morning of the 20th some of our forces succeeded in getting a footing on the south side, and the battle Peach Tree creek was fought."
As of other battles, so of this, we attempt no general description. It was one of great importance and virtually gave us possession of Atlanta. Hood, who had lately come into command of the rebel armies, and was making his maiden fight, had he succeeded in breaking through the "gap" after which he was feeling in force, the success on his part would have been fatal to Sherman and the union army. Happily, however, this was prevented by very hard fighting, in which our regiment had its full share.
"Our corps (4th) lay between Hooker's 20th on its right and 23d Scholfield's on its left. The 4th corps was in command of Howard, the division, of Newton, and the brigade was at this time in command of Col. Blake. I state this in order that the reader who may see the general descriptions of the engagements will be able to know where our Will county regiment was.
"Our division crossed the creek in the morning of the 20th, ad commenced immediately to throw up temporary works, the 100th Ill. and the 57th Ind. being on the extreme left of the skirmish line. About noon the regiment was relieved and ordered to bivouac in the rear for refreshment and rest. But they were not allowed to rest long. Col. Blake, of the 40th Ind., who was now in command of the brigade, told Maj. Hammond (in command of the 100th), that it was believed that the rebels were evacuating Atlanta, and it was very desirable that the works of the enemy in our front should be charged and carried in order to feel of the enemy's strength. The order was given, and with a cheer and a bound away went the boys, and drove the rebels from their rifle-pits into the woods and out of sight, and the boys of the 100th fondly imagined that they had gone into and perhaps through Atlanta, and that the 100th would have the honor of being the first regiment to enter the city. While we were feeling our way along indulging in these anticipations, we were suddenly struck with an avalanche of rebels, five lines deep, full of powder and whisky, yelling like devils. A retreat was ordered on the double quick, and we fell back across the creek where we reformed and were soon ready for them. Meanwhile our artillery on the north side of the creek opened on them with a murderous fire and drove them back. Gen. Thomas who saw the aim of the enemy, sent us word to hold the position at all hazards a little longer, and he would send us help. No help came, but we held the position. Hooker's corps was very heavily engaged at the same time on the right of the road, and repeated charges were made on him, and also on the rest of our corps; but the enemy was repulsed each time with great loss. In falling back across the creek we lost one man captured, Michael Calahan. We also had one man killed in the engagement, John Hay, of Co. I. Three men were also wounded, James Coplantz, of Co. K, slightly; Martin Fishbaugh [sic., Fischbach], of Co. C, and Albert Chamberlain, of Co. C. Capt. Lynd, of Co. C, was sunstruck and sent to hospital. Adjt. Horne was also sunstruck but soon recovered.
"Corp. Hayes was mortally wounded while he was carrying ammunition to the 42d Ill., who were about giving away for the want of it. He was a brave soldier. During the first part of the engagement, while the regiment was across the creek, out of sight, Gen. Newton rode up to gen. Thomas and said "I have lost the 100th Ill., my best regiment." "Oh, no" says thomas, "I have them over there fighting in splendid style."
"On the 22d, when the left wing of the army under the lamented McPherson, was hotly engaged, the rebels kept up a continuous fire from a large fort upon our lines. Solid shot and shell flew thick and fast. One shot fell in Co. D, and killed wm. Dundore, of Plainfield, and carried away the entire calf of the leg of Nelson Platts, of Plainfield. At the same time a shot struck in close proximity to "the hole" in which Surgeon woodruff and Charley Jukes, (musician and stretcher bearer), were snugly ensconced, throwing the clay and gravel upon them in such force, that they supposed they were hit by the fragments of shell, and that their time had verily come. The doctor calls out to Jukes, "Charley, I'm killed now, I know I am," to which Jukes replies, "So am I, good-bye Doc.!" But after a few moments, not dying so fast as they expected, they jumped up and found that they had life enough left to fix up poor Platts, and take him from the field to the hospital, where his leg was amputated, which resulted in his death at Chattanooga, in September following. At the same time John C. Lang, of Co. D, received a severe bruise in face and abdomen, and James Murphy of Co. A, was wounded in lower jaw.
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