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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Major Gen. Crittenden in his report says of this little affair, "And the counter charge and capture of twenty-five of the enemy by a company of the new regiment, the 100th Illinois, when charged by the enemy's cavalry, are worthy of special notice." Gen. Wood also refers to the exploit in his report, mentioning the fact also that twelve horses and equipments were taken.
The adventure supplied the officers of the 100th, with extra horses, and made all the boys, especially Co. G, feel pretty good.
The regiment encamped at Stewart's Creek, where the enemy had tried to burn the bridge, but did not succeed. The next day was Sunday, and the regiment remained quiet. The enemy's cavalry could be seen across the creek, and the skirmish line kept up some firing through the day. Monday, the division was not in front, but moved slowly along the pike. It was however a brisk day in the front, and the noise of artillery and musketry could be heard nearly all day, but not much damage was done, not more than 150 killed and wounded in the entire army. Late in the afternoon the division was thrown into line on the left of the pike to support the advance, but nothing was done. The brigade went down to the bank of Stone River, and as it was dark, stacked arms, and all hands were preparing to camp for the night, when a sudden whistle of bullets, and rattle of musketry, gave notice of the presence of the enemy, and the regiment moved back and to the left, and went into camp. No one was hurt, although some of the bullets were imbedded in the rails which the boys were gathering for their fires. The whistle of the locomotives in Murfreesboro, about three miles distant, could be plainly heard, and the boys wondered whether the rebels were leaving, or being reinforced. They found out which it was in due time. Next day, (the 30th), the regiment was called up at four o'clock, and by daylight had breakfasted, and was in readiness for anything that might turn up; but the day passed quietly with the brigade. The General, (Rosecrans) did not wish to bring on an engagement, as McCook's corps was delayed, and had not yet come up. While riding over the field, superintending the placing of his forces, his chief of staff was instantly killed, his head being shot clean off.
On the evening of the 30th, everything being in readiness, orders were given to put out all the fires along the line, and that everything should e kept as still and secure as possible, allowing the men ample time to rest. Johnson's division of McCook's corps was ordered to advance as near as possible, without revealing its position, and to lay on their arms through the night, with a heavy picket force in advance, and if not attacked by nine o'clock next morning to advance upon the enemy. Next day the sun rose clear and beautiful upon the last day of 1862 - alas! It proved to be the last day of life to many a soldier on either side.
The enemy did not wait to be attacked, but opened the ball themselves very early, with their usual tactics, attacking Johnson on our right, with three divisions, and rushing on with such force and rapidity that they were upon him almost as quickly as the pickets, to which the enemy had paid no attention. Johnson made a desperate resistance, but two of his best batteries were soon taken, though bravely defended, the men being bayoneted at their posts, and he was obliged to retire before the massive columns of the enemy, and his worsted men, though as brave as any who ever carried muskets, turned and fled, resistance being unavailing. Meanwhile Davis' division vainly tried to form, and assist in staying the progress of the enemy, but they were in a cedar brake, where one-half of a regiment could not see the other, and the terrific yells of the rebels, which could not see the other, and the terrific yells of the rebels, which could be heard above the roar of cannon, so terrified our faltering force on the right, that they were driven over two miles, leaving their dead and wounded thick upon the field.
Thus ill-fared the day upon the right. Let us look now at the center, in which the Will county regiment bears a part. About nine in the morning, the regiment was ordered to fall in on the double quick, which was done promptly, although the men felt, notwithstanding the cool and seemingly careless air of their colonel, that all was not right. The regiment was formed in a cedar grove, and very soon the noise and rattle of the musketry drew near, and the wounded began to pass by, leaning upon their fellow soldiers, or carried on stretchers. Regiment after regiment, brigade after brigade, and division after division, was seen filing by to take their positions on the field. Generals, colonels, and their adjutants ride along the lines and get their men into position. Wagons are moving rapidly, and bullets are whistling by all the time.
Not long does the 100th remain idle spectators. It has a part to play now with the brigade, in the fierce conflict which is to be known in history as one of the fiercest and most memorable. They move now in one direction, and now in another, and then halt in a cornfield where they are dressed on the color line, and then ordered to lie down, lest a rebel battery should get the range and open on them While here, a regiment in sight falls back in disorder, and its colonel seizes the colors and tries to rally them, but succeeds only partially. But the sight has no effect upon the 100th; it looks on with indifference. The 3d Ky., being ordered to the right of the railroad, their colonel, McKee, meets a glorious death. But the major, though twice hit, sticks bravely to the regiment. The sound of musketry comes nearer. The 100th is in danger of being flanked. It is ordered to change its position to avoid this new danger. It comes upon another regiment, which proves to be the 110th, Co. Casey's. The me exchange cheers as they ascertain that two Illinois regiments are together, and feel inspired with new strength and courage. This position must be held, for it is one of great importance. After a little, a regiment in the rear is withdrawn, and the two, 100th and 110th are left alone. They move forward to the edge of a cotton field. The enemy try hard to dislodge them, but here they lie, hugging the earth, while they are treated to a brisk cannonade, and our own batteries are replying over them. What terrific music! The shrieking of shells, the thunder of artillery, the crash in the tree tops overhead; and here thy lie, unable to do aught but hold on - the most trying position in which men can be placed.
But now the order comes to "fall in," and just as they are doing so, a solid shot comes along which takes off the head of Giles L. Greenman,of Co. K, and strikes Lieut. Worthingham, of the same company, in the breast, killing him instantly. Five poor fellows yielded up their lives at this point, and about thirty were wounded. The regiment is moved across the railroad, when knapsacks are unslung, and it is formed along the railroad. Meanwhile the bullets fly thick and fast, and with telling effect upon the ranks, and one after another of the men limp by to the rear. They lay down on this line. Soon an American flag was seen in front, and a regiment marched in by the flank, on the south side of the cotton field, and it was, of course, supposed to be one of ours, as they had on U.S. overcoats. But soon the boys saw the "butternut," and gave them a volley. They went over the fence, and down the hill, like a lot of sheep. Lieut. Mitchell, of Wilmington, here receives the wound which proved mortal three days after. The men lie and listen to the grim music of the shot and shell flying over their heads, and cutting the cedars, anxiously waiting for the result on the field at large. They know that the right wing has been discomfited; they have heard the exultant shouts of the rebels while they have driven from point to point.
But meanwhile Rosecrans has not been idle. Seeing that the fate of the day would depend on the center, he has ordered up all the available batteries, and placed them along the railroad, so as to cover the only ground upon which the enemy can charge with any hope of success, while the brigades of infantry are placed in front and rear. The sound of the battle now comes nearer and nearer, and louder and louder, until the cedar swamp is enveloped in smoke, and over all the noise and tumult of battle, the yells of the pursuing rebels are heard as they drive the broken and disordered ranks of the right wing in their retreat behind the center corps. On came the enemy, flushed with success, through and out of the woods, over the open ground, never dreaming of the reception they are to meet. One rebel flag after another is seen waving defiantly, until they are too many to be counted; on they come, yelling their unearthly yell, expecting to sweep all before them. Our forces are silently awaiting them - a solemn, ominous silence - for a few brief moments only, and then a little puff of smoke is seen to rise from full fifty pieces of artillery, followed by a roar and a shock as of an earthquake; a continuous roar for thirty minutes, and when it ceases, and the smoke rolls off from the field, nothing is seen of all that proud array of advancing, and till then victorious rebels, but a few scattered battalions plunging pell-mell into the cedar thickets, from which they had a little before emerged so buoyantly. Our artillery follow up, and fire upon the retreating enemy. It was a grand, a glorious site. Our batteries drove them back over nearly the same ground over which they had driven the right wing. Scarcely had this advantage been gained,when Palmer's division began to shell the woods, killing great numbers of them. Irritated at this, the rebel commander ordered a charge across a field in plain sight. They came on, a brigade eight rows deep with fixed bayonets in splendid style. But our boys stood their ground, and gave them such a reception as made them falter. Their officers tried to rally and lead them on again, but our grape and canister mowed them down, and a few well-directed volleys of musketry finished their repulse. They turned and fled, our men pursuing them until getting into range of their artillery, they fell back to allow ours to reply, and thus was now kept up an artillery duel until darkness closed the scene.
At dusk, when the regiment fell back, the colonel noticed that one man in Co. C did not get up with the rest, and when an officer went to see the cause, he was found dead, killed instantly by a piece of shell, and so quickly that he had not stirred, and the man who lay next to him did not know it. This was John Hopkins, of Homer. The regiment lay all night on their arms. After dark, a detail went out to the front in command of Lieut. Williams, with an ambulance in charge of Surgeon Woodruff, and here found the enemy taking care of the dead and wounded, our men mingling with them in a friendly manner, both sides taking care of and assisting the wounded of each army.
Here occurred a little incident worth relating. John O'Kief, of Co. I, went out with the boys on the battlefield, and shortly after was heard coming in, and yellowing out as he passed the pickets, "Don't shoot, don't shoot, it's John O'Kief on a d--d good rebel horse." He came in riding a very fine horse, with saddle and bridle and a large pair of saddle-bags, which seemed to be well stuffed. He at once looked up the colonel, and told him that he had brought him a fine horse. The colonel inquired where he got it. O'Kief replied that he got it on the field, and that it was a rebel surgeon's. The colonel's sense of honor would not allow him to accept of the present from O'Kief; but, instead, he ordered him to take it back to the surgeon, with the compliments of the colonel. O'Kief did not like the colonel's view of the matter, but he had no choice but to obey, and accordingly took the animal back to the rebel surgeon, who was equally surprised and gratified at recovering him, and sent his name, residence and regiment back to the colonel, with the assurance that if he, or any of his officers or men, should be captured by his command, they should be well cared for. But our surgeon at Chickamauga did not get quite so generous treatment, as we shall see in due time. But before O'Kief returned with the horse, the major of the 100th, whose conscience had become somewhat dulled by the cravings of his stomach, confiscated the contents of the rebel surgeon's saddle-bags, which were found to consist of cold chicken, ham, biscuit, etc., etc., which, with the colonel's aid, rapidly disappeared, "-- like the snow falls in the river, A moment white, then gone forever."
The 100th regiment fared much better than could have been expected. Up to this time, only 10 were killed and 30 wounded, and nearly as many missing. Some other regiments lost 50 per cent of their men. Six men from each company were detailed for pickets. Says one who was of this number: "It was a terrible night. The constant groaning of the wounded that lay within a few feet of us, the ghastly upturned faces of the dead which lay in our path, made the relief which came after our six hours' vigil, doubly welcome. And this was our New Year's eve!"
January 1st, 1863, dawned upon the field of Stone River, as well as upon the rest of the world. But what a strange New Year to the men of the 100th regiment! To those who had survived the carnage of yesterday, how different from any other New Year, whose light they had ever hailed! And how much greater the change to those who had gone where years no longer divide existence!
At 3 o'clock in the morning, the regiment was relieved by another, and moved back a little. It had held an advanced and exposed position all night, without fire or blankets, and the relief was welcome. The men anticipated a breakfast, but no rations were issued. Here they lay in the mud all day, but were permitted to build fires. There was no fighting of any amount done, both sides seemed willing to rest. At night the regiment was ordered into a beautiful cedar grove, and anticipated a good night's rest; but the men had scarcely got into a doze, when the order came to "fall in," and although so tired and sleepy that they could hardly keep their eyes open, or move, yet the boys obeyed the unwelcome order, and relieved another regiment, on the other side of the railroad, and were once more drawn up in line of battle. They can see the rebel picket fires burning brightly, but are allowed none themselves. They were in a cornfield where the mud was so deep that they could not lie down, and they could only rest by leaning upon their muskets. Some, however, became so fatigued, that towards morning, they lay down in the mud, and the weather growing colder, they could hardly tear their blankets from the frozen mud in the morning. It had turned very cold, and many of the wounded suffered much, some having hands and feet frozen. The morning too was accompanied by a wind that seemed to go through the frame, e and make every one shake as in an ague fit. When the morning haze has cleared away, the long lines of the enemy can be seen moving to the right and left, some of them mounted, which are conjectured to be artillery. While the 100th, which has occupied the front all night, is being relieved by another regiment, the enemy seeing the movement open upon them. Getting into place as quickly as possible the men lie down, without being very careful to select their beds. And now, the thunder rages again, worse if possible than before. And here they lie, trying to keep from being seen by the enemy, whose sharpshooters are concealed in the cedar thickets. These became so annoying that a body of skirmishers are sent out about 10 o'clock to dislodge them, which they succeed in doing, though many a poor fellow falls before their deadly aim. But our men did not flinch, and were reinforced. The enemy then direct their artillery fire upon them, and they fall back to give our batteries an opportunity to reply. And then followed an artillery duel between Loomis' Michigan battery, and Stannard's Ohio battery on our side, and the rebel batteries. Our regiment is lying in the mud between, without any protection. Soon the rebels get the range of Stannard's battery, and it is soon put hors du combat, all the horses being killed, and many of the men. But they rally, and draw the guns off by hand. Fifty per cent of the men of the battery are killed or wounded. The Loomis battery had guns of longer range, and being further to the rear, and behind a hill, are not so much exposed, and they keep up the fight. The bursting of their shells in the ranks of the enemy could be seen to scatter them like autumn leaves. But the enemy got the range of the 100th, and solid shot came ricocheting past them. Shells bursting, and grape falling thick around, make the place hot and uncomfortable. Geo. H. Atkins, of Co. K is killed, his right arm being torn from his body. The battle seems to be renewed. From the woods on the right, and in the rear, cheering is now heard, and soon a magnificent spectacle is seen. A division bursts from the timber, and sweeps into the open space behind the 100th; with colors flying, horses proudly prancing, the lines move steadily and firmly forward. A battery comes dashing along with them. An officer with hat off, urges on his men. This is Rosseau - the game cock of Kentucky, as Prentiss calls him. The battery is soon ready for action, and now the fight rages fiercely. But it is not long before the enemy is silenced. But here in the mud, for by this time the ground has thawed, the 100th regiment is obliged to remain, while the forenoon passes away, and part of the afternoon, with little fighting except by the sharpshooters on either side.
While this advantage had been gained in the centre, two brigades of VanCleves' division, crossed Stone River, and sent from the main body a small force to reconnoitre, with orders if attacked to fall back on the reserve, which was concealed behind some brush work. They obeyed their orders, and were met by a large rebel force before which they gave way, steadily at first, but being hotly pressed by superior numbers, they were forced to retreat behind the reserves, closely followed by the enemy. At this juncture the reserve sprang up, and a couple of well directed volleys checked the rebels and held them back.
And now the battle rages again, and blood flow freely. The rebels outnumber the union force, but they hold their ground until Negley sends them help. When reinforce, they make another charge which forces the enemy to retire. From the point occupied by the 100th, every movement could be seen, both of our troops and of the enemy, and alternating feelings of joy and fear filled their minds, as the one side or the other, seemed to be getting the advantage. But soon a man comes riding furiously along the ranks in the rear -like John Gilpin, hat off, and coat tails flying behind him. He shouts a few words which the 100th cannot hear, but they know that it is good news, for the boys throw up their caps, and give volley on volley of cheers. Soon the word reaches our boys, "the enemy is being driven," and they are to follow them. Up they jump to their feet, and are moved over to the left. But the fighting has ceased, and they pass on crossing the ford, which they were guarding the other day, and here they stumble upon the dead, and hear the groans of the wounded and dying, but they are mostly rebels. After various manoeuvres they are anchored at last in a hollow, and allowed to rest, and build fires for the night. And, despite the groans of the suffering, despite the rain now pouring down, the tired men sank down to a sound sleep, until the next morning, when they awoke to find themselves in a grave yard, the corpses still unburied. The slaughter here must have been terrible. The wounded have been removed durin the night. How ghastly the dead men look, their faces washed by the rain!
Private Bolton who was one of those whose lot it was to go upon picket duty on this night writes thus of the scene:
"The battle field, what a sight was here! Behind almost every tree was the lifeless form of some poor soldier, mostly rebels, and strewed over the ground were legs and arms, and mangled bodies, masses of flesh and bones, so mutilated that not their own mothers could recognize them. Some yet living, having lain out in all the rain and cold, - no one to care for them, and dying alone amid the crowds of dying and dead. The trees were literally full of bullet holes. Guns, knapsacks, canteens, blankets and haversacks, were scattered all around, and the soil was cut upwith the tracks of horses and artillery. The whole made a picture on which I hope never to look again.
"Both of these days, Dec. 31st and Jan 2d, we were constantly exposed to the most galling fire, and that we came out with the loss of so few men, was greatly owing to the care and judgment of our colonel. In the midst of the heaviest fire, when shot and shell flew thickest, he would pass up and down the lines ordering his men to lie low."
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