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Chapter 1: the raid.

  • Sherman in front of Atlanta.
  • -- the raid. -- sleepy guards. -- pontoon boats. -- rebel camp Surrenders. -- in the enemy's land. -- Palmetto in Ashes. -- a running fight

While Sherman's army lay in front of Atlanta, he determined to send his cavalry on a raid to the enemy's rear, to destroy their railroad communication. So, on July 27th, 1864, General Stoneman moved eastward to pass around the flank of the rebel army, and General Ed. McCook, at the same time, started to pass around the left.

McCook's command numbered about 2,000 men, well mounted and equipped, of which the writer was one.

We all knew the nature of the mission on which we were sent, and felt that it was [14] difficult. For it is not easy for two thousand men to go behind a hostile army of sixty thousand, and do any damage, andget back.

Early on that bright, hot July morning, the bugle called us into line — an inspection was made, and all lame horses or sick men ordered back to camp. We consoled those who had to stay behind with the promise that we would bring them a plug of tobacco when we came back. When we came back? We shall see.

Thus relieved of all that would encumber us, we moved out on the road and started westward. We crossed the Chattahoochee at Sandtown, and passed down on the west side about twenty miles to the vicinity of Campbelltown, when the command was ordered to rest under cover of the woods, and scouts sent out to find a place at which to cross the river. The different scouting parties returned with reports that all the fords and ferries were fortified and guarded by rebel infantry.

About midnight we again mounted, and under cover of the darkness, with no sound [15] but the tread of our horses on the sandy road, we crept down the river about five miles farther, to an old, deserted ferry. Two companies were stationed at this point, and they had a picket-post on our side of the river; four men and an officer were on guard, but thinking the Yanks were far away they had set their guns against a tree, built a little fire to smoke off the mosquitoes, and were quietly snoozing when our scouts crept up, moved the guns from the tree, and then, with their own guns cocked and ready, waked up the pickets and told them to keep very quiet, as we wished to cross the river without disturbing any one.

We halted on the river bank, our pontoon wagons were ordered up, and we had two boats made and launched in a few minutes.

For many of our readers, I will state that the pontoons taken by the cavalry on their raids were light frames that could be put together or taken apart in a moment. When the frame or skeleton was put together, a cloth of thick canvas was [16] stretched over it, fastened at the corners, and it was ready to launch. The material for a boat twenty feet long, six wide, and two deep, could be carried in a very small space.

Four companies crossed, and deployed along the east bank; the rest drew up in line on the west shore and waited for day. As soon as it was light enough, the troops on the east side surrounded the rebel camp, and they surrendered without firing a gun.

Preparations were at once begun for crossing the river, but it was almost noon before the entire command was across.

From here the pontoon wagons were sent back under a guard. Our prisoners were turned loose because we had no way of taking care of them, and we started rapidly across the country in search of the Atlanta & West Point railroad.

When we left the river, after seeing our bridge taken out on the other side, we recognized that we were no longer a part of the great army before Atlanta, but a detached brigade in the enemy's land, with [17] a powerful army between us and our campground. The news of the raid would spread like a prairie fire; we would be headed off, followed up, and harrassed. Our safety lay in rapid movement.

We traveled well that afternoon. At about eight o'clock, in the midst of a thunder shower, we came upon the railroad near the town of Palmetto.

We deployed a skirmish line and moved on the town. A company of rebel cavalry fired one volley and fled, and we posted a heavy picket to prevent surprise, and went to work. The rain ceased by the time we were fairly at work, and the stars came out.

We tore down the telegraph wire, wound up a quarter of a mile of it, and sunk it in a pond. We tore up as much railroad track, made fires of the ties, and piled the rails on them, so as to heat and bend them.

There were a half-dozen freight cars on the side track, and a large quantity of bacon in the depot, and four or five warehouses filled with baled cotton near the track. These were fired-and what a terrible [18] fire they made! The whole town and surrounding country were lit up by the red glare.

The clouds overhead reflected the light and shone like red sunset. The fire became so hot that no one would pass along the street. It spread to adjacent buildings. The citizens were seen scampering in all directions. Even women — some of them in their night clothes, with white, scared faces-flitted from alley to street and from street to alley. Palmetto at sunset knew that there was war in the land, but she lay down secure in the feeling that she had a grand army in front of her to defend her from invasion. Before midnight she realized that war-destructive, terrible, cruel — was in her midst. The next morning arose upon a blackened ruin. It was the track of war.

A little before midnight our work was done, and we swept out of town toward the east. Just east of town we passed a plantation where two or three hundred negroes, of all ages and sexes, were sitting on the fence watching the red glare of the burning [19] village. The light was bright enough to make everything distinct. As we rode by, one old “aunty” raised her hands toward heaven and cried aloud, “Bress de Lord! De jubilee hab come!”

At about three o'clock A. M., we came upon a large park of army wagons; we were told that there were eight hundred of them. Hood had sent them back there to have them safe. We took the mules, burned the wagons, and turned the drivers loose.

At about seven o'clock that morning we struck the Macon railroad near Lovejoy station, where we expected to form a junction with Stoneman, who had started around the other way.

We treated this road like we did the other; captured and destroyed a train of cars, and sent out scouts in all directions to feel for Stoneman.

Some of our scouts came back to tell us that there was rebel cavalry near us. Some did not come back at all. No word or sign from Stoneman could we get. We feared [20] he was in trouble, or “gone up,” but we wanted some word.

But as evidence multiplied that the Johnnies were thickening around us, we all became impatient. Croxton and Brownlow were chafing like caged tigers. They felt that waiting was fatal. (I have always believed that Croxton could have taken us out of the scrape.) But McCook was loth to leave without first learning the fate of Stoneman.

About two o'clock P. M. he gave it up. By this time the rebs had surrounded us, and were just waiting to see how we would try to get out. We skirmished with them for an hour, feeling their line on the west and south, and losing five or six men killed. We then massed our forces, and charging up a ravine, broke their line and fled; and all that afternoon, and the night following, we had a running fight, they crowding our rear the whole time.

Whenever they would get too close, one or two companies of our command would be deployed to skirmish with them. This would cause them to halt and form for [21] attack, and thus give us a little time. True, these companies were often captured, but they were sacrificed to save the rest of the command.

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