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Sherman's attack at the tunnel.

by S. H. M. Byers, Captain, U. S. V.
It was the eve of the battle of Chattanooga. I had lately returned to the Army of the Tennessee, after a very short furlough, from my home in the West. How well I remember it-ten days of furlough out of four years of war! It was the only time in the whole four years that I slept in a bed. We had helped to capture Vicksburg after a hundred days siege, and felt entitled to a rest. My regiment, the 5th Iowa, had already marched 2000 miles in two years. But Rosecrans was in straits, Sherman was called for, and we made the forced march of four hundred miles from Memphis to Chattanooga without a murmur.

Our camp was a concealed one in which no fires or lights were permitted — no noises allowed. In the darkness of the previous night, the command had left bright fires burning in a wood, and had secretly marched to this hidden position. Close beside it, the broad and rapid waters of the Tennessee rolled off into the darkness. On the opposite bank, numbers of rebel pickets kept guard, ignorant of our presence. Behind these pickets were the high hills known as Missionary Ridge, thoroughly intrenched and defended by a large rebel army, just fresh from victory. In a little creek close by lay secreted 116 pontoons. What were they there for? The silence, the secrecy, the mystery of the scene, convinced us that there was work ahead — and that we had to do it.

Before sundown two great soldiers had quietly been inspecting the little camp and the banks of the river. They were Grant and Sherman. Other officers, strangers to us, had come and looked at the pontoons in the creek, and a great wagon-load of boat-oars had been quietly placed beside them. We were at supper when the order came to row over the river and assault at midnight. I laid down my knife and fork, and stopped eating. A strange sensation came over me. Certainly I had been in dangerous places before. The regiment had a record for gallantry. The names of five battles were already inscribed upon its banners. Within two years from enlistment, half the men in the regiment had been killed, wounded, or disabled. We already had our third colonel. Numerous of our line officers had been promoted to higher posts. My own red sash had been given me under the guns of Vicksburg. Yes, we had seen fighting, but I had always been a believer in presentiments, and, somehow, something told me that I was doomed — that some calamity was in store for me.

The critical situation and the vast consequences dependent on success or failure were known to us all as we lay in the shadows that evening, waiting the order to move over the dark river and assault the heights of Missionary Ridge.

Midnight came — but we still lay quiet; 2 o'clock, and we heard some gentle splashing in the water near us, and the noise of muffled oars. Every man seized his rifle. “Quiet, boys — fall in quietly,” said the captains. Spades were handed to many of us — we did not ask what for, we knew too well. Quietly the pontoon-boats had been slipped out of the little creek to our left, and into the river, and quietly we stepped down the bank, two by two, into the rude craft. “Be prompt as you can, boys, there's room for thirty in a boat,” said a tall man who stood on the bank near us, in the darkness. Few of us had ever before heard the voice of our beloved commander. Sherman's kind words, his personal presence, his attention to every detail of the dangerous adventure, waked confidence in every one. He was with us, and sharing the danger.

In a quarter of an hour a thousand of us were out in the middle of the river, afloat in the darkness. Would they fire on us from the opposite shore?--was our constant thought. Those were strange feelings, we soldiers had, out in the middle of the river that night. We were not aware that a boat-load of our comrades in blue had crossed farther up the stream, just at midnight, and had captured the rebel pickets on the bank without firing a shot. We met a boat in the water, full of men — the captured pickets being rowed over to our side of the river. It was a fine ruse that had been played on them. The boys, crossing above, had got in behind them, and then, calling out the “relief,” deceived and captured all but one.

In half an hour we were up the opposite bank and creeping along through the thickets — a spade in one hand and a rifle in the other. What might happen any moment, we knew not. Where was the picket that had escaped? Why was not the whole rebel camp alarmed and upon us? Daylight came; but it found us two thousand strong, intrenched with rifle-pits a mile in length. What a sight for Bragg! Hand about, we worked and digged like beavers. An old Quaker came down to expostulate with us for ruining his farm by such digging. The scene was ludicrous, and the boys gave a derisive little cheer for “Broad-brim.” The noise drew upon us the shells from a hidden battery, and cost us two wounded men. It very nearly cost our friend his life, as an exploding shell left a hole within a yard of him, twice as broad as his big hat.

Still we dug on at our rifle-pits. Other regiments were ferried across. By noon the pontoon-bridge was down behind us, and soon the whole army corps was over.

All the afternoon we manoeuvred and fought for position, chasing the enemy off one high hillspur only to find him better intrenched behind another. These were the outlying hills between Missionary Ridge proper and the banks of the river. The real position was across fields and hollows, and farther up on the mountain. Sullenly and slowly the enemy gave way, preparing in his high position for the battle of the morrow.

That night my regiment stood picket in the wood at the front. All night long we could hear the rebel field-batteries taking position on Missionary Ridge. For a hundred hours we had scarcely slept. [713]

The 25th of November dawned clear and beautiful, and with the sunrise came the bugle-sound for Corse's division at our center to advance on the enemy. All the morning the hills and woods in front of Missionary Ridge resounded with the crash of musketry. The battle raged for over an hour for the possession of a single hill-crest. Once the hail of bullets became so heavy that a temporary halt was made. The enemy had the advantage of position and numbers everywhere. So close were they, and so protected behind rifle-pits, logs, and bowlders, that they could throw stones on the assaulting column and do almost as much harm with them as with bullets. More regiments were sent in to Corse, and the hand-to-hand assault was renewed till Corse himself was borne wounded from the field. Still his men fought on, retreating not a foot. Around to our left, General J. E. Smith's division was gradually getting possession of that part of the enemy's line, and far off across Lookout Valley, Hooker's men, in possession of the heights, were driving in the left flank of the rebel army.

It was 2 o'clock when our division, my own regiment with it, was ordered to fix bayonets and join in the assault on the ridge. We had been concealed from the enemy all the forenoon by the edge of a wood; yet his constant shelling of this wood showed that he knew we were there. As the column came out upon the open ground, and in sight of the rebel batteries, their renewed and concentrated fire knocked the limbs from the trees about our heads. An awful cannonade had opened on us. In front of us was a rail-fence. Its splinters and fragments flew in every direction. “Jump the fence, boys,” was the order, and never was a fence sealed more quickly. It was nearly half a mile to the rebel position, and we started on the charge, running across the open fields. I had heard the roaring of heavy battle before, but never such a shrieking of cannon-balls and bursting of shells as met us on that run. We could see the rebels working their guns, while in plain view other batteries galloped up, unlimbered, and let loose upon us. Behind us our own batteries were firing at the enemy over our heads, till the storm and roar became horrible. The line officers screamed at the top of their voices, trying to repeat the orders to the men. “Steady, steady. Bear to the right! Don't fire! Steady, steady,” was yelled till every one of us was hoarse, and until the fearful thunder of the cannonade made all commands unheard and useless. In ten minutes the field was crossed, the foot of the ascent was reached, and now the Confederates poured into our faces the reserved fire of their awful musketry. It helped little that we returned it from our own rifles, hidden as the enemy were in rifle-pits, behind logs, and stumps, and trees. Still we charged, and climbed a fence in front of them, and charged again. The order was given to lie down and continue firing. Then some one cried, “Look to the tunnel!” There, on the right, pouring through a tunnel in the mountain, and out of the railway cut, came the g ray-coats by hundreds, flanking us completely. “Stop them!” cried our colonel to those of us at the right. “Push them back!” It was but the work of a few moments to rise to our feet and run to the mouth of the tunnel, firing as we ran. Too late! They were through by hundreds, and a fatal enfilading fire was cutting our line to pieces. No wonder the brigade temporarily faltered and gave way, when a whole army of the enemy seemed concentrated on a single point.

“Come out of that sword,” shrieked a big Mississippian at me. “And give me that revolver,” cried another. “And get up the hill quicker than hell,” cried Loth of them. It was time; for our own batteries were now pouring a fearful fire on the very spot where we stood. The rocks and the earth flew about us, and everything seemed to smoke. Not only this, our brigade was rallying to charge again, and other brigades were climbing with them to the hill-top. Still more, Thomas was storming the center.

In a moment I reflected that I was a prisoner, and horrible pictures of Libby and Andersonville flashed through my mind — and with them the presentiment of evil I had had the night before the assault. I took a blanket from one of my dead comrades lying near me, and at the point of the bayonet I was hurried on up the mountain, the fire from our own guns constantly increasing. I passed numerous lines of the enemy standing or lying in the rifle-pits with which the whole mountain-side was honeycombed, both in front of Sherman and in front of Thomas. Once I glanced back and to the right. Glorious sight! The troops of Thomas were storming up the slopes of Missionary Ridge. In a hollow, back of the lines, I was mustered with others of my brigade who had been captured. Three of that night's messmates were among them. We were relieved of our watches, our money, our knives, even our pocket-combs, by a chivalrous young officer of the guard.1

“Why do your caissons hurry so to the rear?” I inquired of this gallant gentleman as I handed him my pocket-book. “For ammunition, of course,” was his prompt reply. “And the cannon,” Iventured further, noticing a dozen brass field-pieces being galloped off with; “do they bring ammunition too?” “Fall in,” was the quick answer. “Guards, fall in: quick, quick!” In five minutes, prisoners and guards, infantry, artillery, and wagons were on the run pell-mell to the rear. Missionary Ridge had been taken.

Twenty-five miles they marched us down the railroad that night without stopping. Whizzing by us went trains loaded with wounded and dying soldiers. Far behind us we heard our own victorious cannon in pursuit.

1 For seven months we officers lingered in Libby prison, and then for eight mouths more in Macon and Columbia. Most of the privates died in Andersonville. When I escaped at Columbia, fifteen months afterward, only sixteen of the sixty of my regiment who were captured with me on that day were alive. Of the nine of my own company (B) who were taken, only one besides myself was left to tell the tale.--S. H. M. B.

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