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Diary of Rev. J. G. Law.

Battle of Belmont.

November 7th, 1861.—I have lived through an awful day. Have been engaged in my first battle. Reached Columbus early this morning. Everything was quiet, and I went to the river to see my mother, [176] who was on board the ‘Prince.’ There I met Colonel Smith,1 who ordered me back to camp as the gunboats had just commenced an attack on our batteries, and a large force of Federals were reported advancing on the Missouri side of the river. I had barely reached camp when the rattle of musketry and the booming of cannon announced that the battle had begun. Our regiment was ordered to to form in line and be ready to move at a moment's notice. One wild shout went up from a thousand throats at the prospect of meeting the enemy, and we were soon in line waiting with breathless anxiety for the command, ‘Forward march.’ Full two hours elapsed, the roar of cannon, and the rattle of musketry was incessant. We were beginning to fear that the Yankees would be whipped before we could cross the river, when a courier was seen to gallop up with an order for our Colonel—who turned to the regiment and gave the command, ‘Forward march.’ Never was a command more heartily obeyed. But as we descended the hill leading to the river, what a sight met our eyes. On the opposite shore we could plainly see the vandal hordes of Lincoln driving our men before them to the very brink of the river. The Confederates were apparently defeated, and were taking refuge under the river banks. The Federal flag was floating over the Confederate camp, and the enemy had captured our battery. At this critical juncture, our ‘big gun’ opened on them, and threw their lines into confusion. Under a terrific cannonade, we marched to the steamer and crossed the river under a heavy fire. General Polk crossed the river on the same boat with our regiment, and as the balls were falling thick and fast around us, a soldier said to him: ‘All right, General, we will have those guns turned in the other direction in a few minutes.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘You must retake that battery.’ But before we could land, General Cheatham had rallied our men, flanked the enemy, recaptured the battery, and was driving the Yankees like chaff before the wind. We joined in the pursuit of the flying foe, and chasing them for seven miles, came up with them as they were embarking in their boats. Our brave boys charged up to within fifty yards of their gun-boats, and in the very mouth of their cannon, poured volley after volley of musketry into the crowded decks of their transports. Their big guns belched forth their deadly vomit of iron hail, but with little effect, as our regiment came off with a loss of fifteen wounded and one killed. Their route was [177] marked with the dead, wounded, and dying, knapsacks, blankets, guns, overcoats, and dead and wounded horses. For seven miles the road, woods, and fields were literally strewn with the dead bodies of the Federals. It was a glorious victory, but dearly bought. Our loss was about four hundred killed, wounded, and missing; that of the enemy will approximate one thousand. Their force was about seven thousand. We never had more than two thousand and five hundred engaged at one time, and our entire force did not amount to more than six thousand. The battle commenced at 9 o'clock in the morning, and lasted until 4 o'clock in the evening. We recaptured our battery, took two hundred prisoners, and an innumerable quantity of overcoats, knapsacks, blankets, &c. I brought off a fine overcoat as my property. After we returned to camp, I walked down to the ‘Prince’ to relieve the anxiety of my mother, and carried my ‘trophy’ on my back. My good mother must have mistaken me for a live Yankee, but on my assuring her that it was 1, myself, her veritable son, in propria persona, she exclaimed, ‘John, take off that coat! I would not be seen with such a thing on my back.’ General Cheatham who was present laughed heartily, and said, ‘Why madam, I have a fine Yankee overcoat myself in which I expect to keep warm this winter.’ But mother could not be convinced that it was the proper thing for a Confederate soldier to be seen in a Yankee coat. And so in deference to her wishes and in accordance with my own taste, I think that I will hang my ‘trophy’ on the wall, and stick to the ‘gray.’ I trust that I feel some gratitude for the kind Providential care that has been around me during the day.

November 8th.—This has been a gloomy day in camp. All day long our dead, wounded and dying were coming in by wagon loads. Many gallant men fell in the bloody action of yesterday, among whom from the list of my personal friends, were Captain J. Welby Armstrong and Lieutenant James Walker of the Second Tennessee regiment. This regiment suffered severely. I recognised the body of Captain Armstrong, as we passed over a part of the hotly contested field. There lay the gallant soldier stark dead with his face to the foe. He fell fifty yards in advance of his company. Strange emotions swept over my heart as I gazed for a moment upon the prostrate form of my friend, and then hurried on in pursuit of the retreating enemy. Then came my friend from childhood, Jimmie Walker, with a mortal wound, going back to die. I could only greet my dying friend with one word, and then on to the slaughter of men. [178] This is the glory of war! Among the Federal prisoners are Colonel Dougherty, a Major, two surgeons, and many commissioned officers. I feel badly to-day from the effect of seven miles ‘double quick,’ but am devoutly thankful to our Heavenly Father for my escape from all bodily injury. I was exposed to a galling fire of grape and canister from the gunboats, and acknowledge the good hand of God in my deliverance from death. I prayed that He would be a shield unto me and give us the victory. My mother witnessed the engagement yesterday from the deck of the ‘Prince’ until the enemy's balls began to fall around the boat, when she retired to a house on the street, where I saw her standing on the balcony, with an expression of deep concern, as our regiment passed on its way to the river. Before she left the ‘Prince’, she saw the Confederates driven to the river. A lady who was standing by her side, cried out: ‘Do look, Mrs. Law, our boys are whipped; see how they are running.’ But mother replied: ‘No; they are not running, the poor fellow are thirsty, and are going to the river to get water.’ The idea of defeat did not once enter her mind.

November 9th.—Spent the day visiting the wounded in company with my mother. The Federals receive equal attention with our own men, and most of them declare their intention never again to take up arms against the South.

Sunday, November 10th.—Ordered to report at brigade headquar-ters, for duty on the staff of Colonel Preston Smith. Witnessed the amputation of a poor fellow's leg this evening. Dr. Bell was the operator. Have resolved to be more attentive to my religious duties, and begun to-night to read through the New Testament.

November 11th.—A cold raw day. The enemy were reported landing in force a few miles above here, and we prepared for warm work. A fearful accident happened this morning. Our ‘big gun’ burst, and killed ten men. General Polk barely escaped with his life.

November 13th.—Our prisoners returned from Cairo this evening, and say that the enemy will attack Columbus very soon. General Pillow's division commenced to move to-day, but for some reason, the order was countermanded. It is supposed that the threatened attack caused the retrograde movement.

November 16th.—After a cold rain last night, Sir Jack made his appearance this morning. Rode horseback before breakfast. A boat arrived from Cairo, under flag of truce. It is said that an unconditional surrender of the place is demanded, or a removal of the women and children. We are in daily expectation of a fight. [179]

Sunday, November 17th.—Heard a sermon this morning from the eloquent Haskell; also in the evening from an old ‘hard-shell’ Baptist.

November 19th.—Moved quarters to day. Have been very busy making our tents comfortable with plank floors. No dinner.

November 10th.—Spent the morning writing, and reading Tookes's Pantheon.

November 21st.—Arose early this morning; breakfasted by candle light, and rode two miles before sunrise. Solicited by members of Company H, Carroll's Tennessee regiment, to run for Lieutenant in their company. Received a box of good things from home, also a cot, two pillows, and a pair of spurs.

November 22d.—The Yankee gunboats came down this morning and fired a few rounds, but hastily retired on the appearance of the little ‘Grampus.’ Great excitement was caused in camp by a report that the enemy had landed in force, and were marching upon us, but it seems that Belmont is yet too fresh in their memory for such reports to be true.

November 23d.—Was agreeably surprised, while riding through Columbus to-day, to meet my mother. Dined with her on board the ‘Yazoo.’ She brought me two comforts. She returns to Memphis to-night.

Sunday, November 24th.—Our military authorities seem to act on the principle, ‘the better the day, the better the deed,’ as Sunday is generally the day selected for moving. Moved our quarters into the house formerly occupied by General Cheatham.

November 30th.—The soldiers are busy preparing log-huts for the winter. The ground is covered with snow. I am trying to redeem the time by reading. My books are Tookes's Pantheon and the works of Byron and Burns.

Sunday, December 1st.—Winter's icy reign seems to be fairly inaugurated, and if we are to prognosticate the season by the first day we may look forward to three months of great suffering from cold weather. Have lost the day-allowed it to slip away without reading a chapter in my Bible.

December 2d.—Snow fell to the depth of one inch this morning. My duties required me to be out on horseback all the morning. Spent the afternoon reading and writing.

December 6th.—Ordered to report for duty to Dr. Currie at the hospital of the ‘Southern Mothers' Association for the Relief of Sick and Wounded Confederate Soldiers.’ My good mother is the [180] President of the Association. While I regret to leave the field of active service, I can but feel that it will be greatly to my interest to spend the winter in the hospital, where I can prosecute my studies. The army has now gone into winter-quarters, and there will probably be no movement before spring.

Colonel Dougherty, who has been a wounded prisoner in our hands since the battle of Belmont, was to-day released, and returned to Cairo.

Sunday, December 8th.—Arrived in Memphis yesterday. Attended service this morning at the Second Presbyterian church, and listened to an eloquent sermon by a refugee from Paducah, Kentucky.

December 9th.—This evening the ladies of Memphis gave a concert for the benefit of the ‘Southern Mothers' Association.’ Miss Bang, of Nashville, was the ‘Evening Star.’ The Theatre was crowded, and the ‘Southern Mothers’ reaped a rich harvest.

December 16th.—Entered upon my duties at the hospital to-day. Read ninety pages of ‘Brodie on Mind and Matter.’ Find it hard to hold my mind to the matter of study after six months of camp-life.

December 18th.—Returning to the city from the country this morning, I was overjoyed to see in the morning papers the announcement that England had demanded the surrender of Mason and Slidell. Attended a concert at the Theatre this evening. The attendance was the largest and most select that I have ever seen in Memphis. Miss Bang, the Jenny Lind of America, was the attraction. I have never heard anything so sweet as her singing.

December 19th.—The morning papers are fraught with interest. John Bull is aroused at the outrage committed by Captain Wilkes in seizing our Commissioners on board a British ship, and if they are not given up immediately England will break the Southern blockade, open trade with the Confederate States, and blockade the Northern ports. Behold how brightly breaks the morning!

December 21st.—There are few cases of interest in the hospital. Patients come in slowly, and we are discharging them rapidly. On Monday the ‘Southern Mothers’ and the ‘Overton’ are to be merged into one hospital, the Confederate Government paying $12,000 per annum for the Overton building.

December 23d.—To-day, the patients were moved from the rooms of the ‘Southern Mothers’ to the Overton hospital, and are under the care of Dr. Currie. The wounded are in charge of Drs. Alex. Erskine and Ware. [181]

December 25th.—Merry Christmas is here again, and the ‘little ones’ in blissful ignorance of the unhappy state of the country, hail the coming of ‘Santa Claus’ with happy faces and joyous hearts. The unfortunate patients in the hospital were not forgotten in the distribution of Christmas gifts. Enjoyed a family Christmas dinner at home.

December 28th.—Have been confined to my bed for the past two days from the effects of a fall on Thursday night. Fell down a flight of stairs, about thirty feet from top to bottom.

Sunday, December 29th.—A beautiful Sabbath day. Attended service at the Second Presbyterian Church, and heard an interesting discourse by Rev. Dr. Grundy, on the ‘Authorship of the Bible.’

December 31st.—This day closes the year 1861, one of the most eventful years in the history of our country. The great Union of America has been dissolved, and there are now two Republics, a Northern and a Southern; the one fighting for the subjugation of the other; the other battling for independence and separate nationality. After a war of nine months the North stands where she did, when the ‘little rebellion,’ which was to be crushed in twenty days, first broke out. Her armies have been vanquished on the field, and the abolition despot who rules at Washington has been made to tremble for the safety of his capitol, and now he is threatened by England unless he surrenders Mason and Slidell. It is rumored that the vile Cabinet at Washington has decided to give up our Commissioners, rather than go to war with England. The American Eagle quails before the British Lion, and ‘Ichabod’ is written on the folds of the ‘Star Spangled Banner.’

Six months of the year I have spent on the tented field, and while it has been of very great benefit to me physically, I fear that I have suffered loss, mentally, morally, and spiritually. But the sacrifice is made upon the altar of my country.

1 Promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and killed in the battle of Chickamauga.

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